Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

JEDDAH: French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to help ease civilian suffering caused by Syrian regime attacks on opposition positions.
In a telephone call, the French leader “asked Vladimir Putin to do everything so that the Syrian regime puts an end to the unbearable deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib,” a statement said.
The opposition blamed Moscow, President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, for playing a dubious role. “There are parties in the Syrian conflict that are not interested in finding any solution or any decrease in tensions. Russia has taken the UN Security Council hostage without permitting any sort of penalty or punishment for the regime or stoppage of its violent raids,” Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman, told Arab News.
Russia, he said, is participating with its jets in attacks on markets and hospitals where civilians are being killed in their hundreds. “What we can do is once again call on the international community to stand up to the implementation of UN resolutions and stop aggressors from carrying out such brutal acts against civilians.” 
Russia has intervened alongside Syrian regime forces in the civil war and Putin is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over Assad. Fresh airstrikes hit the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Friday, AFP correspondents reported, the fifth straight day in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 220 civilians.
Macron added that he was “worried about indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine on several occasions against the civilian population in Syria these last few weeks.”
Al-Aridi said: “With the situation turning into an international case, all sorts of conflicting interests are being settled in the Syrian arena. Russia is angry with the US. They just use the Syrian arena to settle such accounts with no attention being paid to civilians.”
Diplomacy is making no progress toward ending a war that is approaching its eighth year, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes, with millions forced out as refugees.
“We are very worried. The airstrikes need to end,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable.”
Russia said on Thursday a cease-fire was unrealistic. The UN called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.
In the north-western province of Idlib, Daesh terrorists clashed with Syrian insurgent factions on Friday, an opposition commander said, accusing pro-regime forces of opening a corridor for the radical militants to reach the region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had allowed the Daesh fighters to leave a besieged pocket of territory at the intersection of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, and to go to southern Idlib.
Al-Aridi said: “We believe that the coordination between Daesh and regime forces has been going on for a long time.” 
He cited the example of Palmyra which was first taken by Daesh and then given back to the regime. 
“Many a time, Daesh fighters have been given protection or corridors by the regime to attack the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and civilians. This is done in order to reduce the degree of attention on the regime’s crimes, he said. “In Idlib too, the regime has opened a corridor in order to put the FSA face to face with Daesh and let the Daesh fighter do all sorts of atrocities against civilians.” 
Hasan Hajj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army, said his fighters were taking part in clashes with some 200 Daesh terrorists who had arrived in southern Idlib early on Friday.
“This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh,” he told Reuters. 
Al-Aridi said the opposition has been calling on the UN to stop the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. “The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) had a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy (for Syria), on Feb. 7 where the issue was discussed and the Security Council will also be updated next week,” he said. “But every minute counts in Syria and Syrian time is blood.”


Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

Updated 50 min 27 sec ago
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Christian leaders urge Israeli PM to nix church lands bill

  • Christian leaders are urging Netanyahu to stop a bill that the churches say would allow the state to appropriate land sold to buyers
  • The government’s Ministerial Legislation Committee will reportedly vote on the bill on Sunday

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches on Friday called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block draft legislation they said was aimed at expropriating their property.
In a letter to Netanyahu seen by AFP, heads of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and a senior Roman Catholic official condemned the bill as “disgraceful.”
They said its inclusion on the agenda of a government committee meeting scheduled for Sunday reneged on previous commitments to withdraw the law.
Swathes of Jerusalem are held by various churches, in many cases under long-term leases from the state.
The churches then sublet the properties on the commercial market.
In February, Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property — excluding places of worship.
Separately, parliament was working on a law that would allow the state to intervene in the resale of leases to commercial property developers.
The religious leaders protested by closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
Israeli authorities then froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the churches over the issues.
In their letter Friday, the churchmen said Netanyahu himself had written to them in July giving “assurances to withdraw the legislation.”
“We were astonished to realize that this disgraceful bill was listed on the agenda of the ministerial committee for legislation this coming Sunday,” it said.
“We are therefore compelled to call yet again for Your Excellency’s urgent intervention to stop this bill once and for all.”
The cabinet office listed the bill among several “added to the agenda” of Sunday’s meeting.
Listed as a bill for tenants’ rights, it aims to safeguard residents of properties assigned to “various bodies” on 99-year leases during the 1950s.
The bill’s sponsor, MP Rachel Azaria of the centrist Kulanu party says it was meant to solve the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”