Tunisia plans to increase aid for poor families amid unrest

Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during demonstrations against rising prices and tax increases in Tunisia Jan. 12, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Tunisia plans to increase aid for poor families amid unrest

TUNIS: Tunisia plans to increase support for poor families and needy people, a government source said on Saturday, after protests broke out in the North African country.
The source did not give more details but it was the first time an official talked about increasing aid since protests, some of them violent, broke out on Monday against austerity measures imposed by the government to cut a budget deficit.
Activists and the opposition have called for fresh protests on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the toppling of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to fall in the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests that swept the region.
The protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year’s budget that took effect on Jan. 1.
The government has blamed the opposition and “troublemakers” for stoking unrest, a charge the opposition has denied.
Almost 800 people have been arrested for vandalism and violence such as throwing petrol bombs at police stations, the interior ministry said on Friday.
Prices have increased for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on cars, phone calls, the Internet, hotel accommodation and other items have also gone up.
Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in that year’s uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war. Tunisian politicians were awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for achieving non-violent change.
But Tunisia has had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems. The economy worsened since a vital tourism sector was nearly wiped out by a wave of deadly militant attacks in 2015, and has yet to recover despite improved security. 


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.