Aid group warns of crisis in Syrian opposition enclave

A photo taken on February 8, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising following a reported regime air strike in the rebel-held enclave of Jisreen in the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Aid group warns of crisis in Syrian opposition enclave

BEIRUT: Relentless bombardment by the Syrian military of the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta is hampering vital relief operations, an international aid group warned on Friday.
The intensity of the airstrikes, which have killed more than 220 civilians in just four days, has made it extremely difficult for relief workers to assist the estimated 400,000 people who live in the enclave under siege, CARE International said. “Our partners are having a hard time moving around, so how can they reach vulnerable people?” the group’s communications director for Syria, Joelle Bassoul, asked.
A CARE-supported community center in the town of Douma was among the buildings hit, forcing those using it into underground shelters.
More than 4,000 families in Eastern Ghouta are living in basements and bunkers, according to Save the Children.
The enclave, just east of the capital, is supposed to be one of four “de-escalation zones” declared last year in a bid to reduce the bloodshed.
But Damascus has intensified its bombing of the district’s towns and is also conducting a major offensive in another of the zones — Idlib in the northwest.
UN aid officials appealed for a month-long humanitarian truce to allow aid to be delivered and the sick and wounded brought out for treatment. But on Thursday the Security Council failed to back the proposal which regime ally Moscow described as “not realistic.”
Bassoul warned that without a truce, the consequences for civilians would be disastrous. “If there is no cease-fire, if this is all left unheard, we cannot imagine the scale of the humanitarian disaster,” she said.


Palestinians join two UN agencies, chemical weapons treaty

Updated 54 min 5 sec ago
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Palestinians join two UN agencies, chemical weapons treaty

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians have joined two UN agencies and the global convention to halt the spread of chemical weapons, a UN envoy said Wednesday, despite a threat of US funding cuts.
At the United Nations, the Palestinians have the status of a non-member observer state that allows them to seek membership of agencies and become a party to international treaties.
The move will raise the Palestinian profile in international diplomacy and comes amid a rift with the administration of President Donald Trump over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for the Middle East, told the Security Council that the Palestinians had joined the Geneva-based UN trade organization UNCTAD, Vienna-based industrial development agency UNIDO and the chemical weapons convention.
“On May 15, Palestine acceded to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the Convention on the Prohibition, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons,” Mladenov said.
The envoy did not address whether the decision will have an impact on funding from the United States for these agencies and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The OPCW, UNCTAD and UNIDO rely on voluntary contributions from UN member-states to fund its activities as well as its regular budget.
The United States withdrew some funding for UNESCO when the Palestinians joined the cultural and education agency in 2011 and last year pulled out of the agency altogether.
The Trump administration has also cut funds to the UN Palestinian refugee agency that have left UNRWA struggling to fill a major gap in its education and health programs.
The OPCW announced in The Hague earlier that the state of Palestine will become the 193rd state to join the chemical weapons convention.
Only four countries — Israel, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan — have yet to ratify the chemical weapons convention, which aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.
The Palestinians angered Israel when they became a state-party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2015.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki this week met with the ICC chief prosecutor to push for an investigation of Israeli war crimes after more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, the worst violence since the 2014 war.