Agreement reached on ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta in Vienna peace talks

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura (C) looks on before the start of talks on Syria in Vienna on January 25, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 January 2018
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Agreement reached on ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta in Vienna peace talks

VIENNA: A Syrian opposition spokesman says the opposition and government have signed a cease-fire agreement over the fighting in the suburbs of Damascus.
Ahmad Ramadan says the agreement was signed on Friday, on the second and last day of a UN-mediated round of peace talks in Vienna.
The opposition-held eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus has seen more than two months of heavy fighting since rebels tried to break a strict government blockade that has depleted food and medical supplies for nearly 400,000 people trapped inside.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 286 civilians in eastern Ghouta and Damascus have been killed in shelling and airstrikes in the last month because of the fighting.
Reports suggest agreement was also reached on allowing aid organisations to have access to the most beseiged areas as well as a prisoner exchange.


UN chief warns of risk of war in Gaza

Updated 58 min 25 sec ago
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UN chief warns of risk of war in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that Gaza is close to the brink of war and expressed shock over the number of Palestinians killed and wounded by Israeli live fire during protests, in a report obtained by AFP on Monday.
Guterres told the Security Council that he “unequivocally condemns the steps by all parties that have brought us to this dangerous and fragile place” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report was sent to the council last week ahead of a meeting on Tuesday on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The violence in Gaza marks the most serious escalation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
“It is and should be a warning to all how close to the brink of war the situation is,” said Guterres.
“I am shocked by the number of deaths and injuries of Palestinians resulting from the use of live fire by Israel Defense Forces” since protests began on March 30, he said.
At least 132 Palestinian have been killed. The Red Cross says more than 13,000 have been wounded including 1,400 who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, many in the legs.
Israel has a responsibility to “exercise maximum restraint” and protect civilians in line with international humanitarian law, the UN chief wrote.
“The killing of children, as well as of clearly identified journalists and medical staffers by security forces during a demonstration are particularly unacceptable,” he added.
Two Palestinian journalists were killed while covering the protests in April while a 21-year-old medic was shot dead in early June.
Guterres renewed his call for an independent investigation of the shooting deaths in Gaza. Israel has rejected the appeal and argues that the use of force is justified to defend its borders.
The UN chief criticized Hamas and other militant groups for attempting to put explosives near the fence and for shooting rockets at Israel on May 29 and 30.
He singled out “senior Israeli government officials” for asserting that all Palestinians were affiliated with Hamas, signalling a “permissive Israeli policy toward the use of live fire against protesters.”
Israel’s settlement activities “continue unabated,” Guterres added, citing a May 30 decision by Israel to approve 3,500 housing units in the West Bank — the largest batch of new housing since June 2017.
The United Nations considers the expansion of settlements on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state to be illegal. Guterres said the construction must “cease immediately and completely.”