Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin

A picture taken from the Syrian village of Atme in the northwestern province of Idlib shows smoke plumes rising in the village of Deir Ballut in the Afrin region. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Syrian Kurdish official: deal for Syrian army to enter Afrin

BEIRUT: Syrian Kurdish forces and the Damascus government have reached an agreement for the Syrian army to enter the Afrin region to help repel a Turkish offensive, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters on Sunday.
Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in north Syria, said army troops will deploy along some border positions and could enter the region within the next two days.
The agreement underscores the increasingly complex situation in northern Syria where Kurdish groups, the Syrian government, rebel groups, Turkey, the United States and Russia are tangled in a complex web of enmities and alliances.
The complex relationship between the Damascus government and the Syrian Kurds, which each holds more territory than any other side in the war, will be an important element in determining the future course of the conflict.
Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on Syria’s Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war to target Kurdish fighters in the autonomous canton in the north.
The Kurdish YPG militia, which has received arms from the United States, has seized swathes of northern Syria from Daesh during the conflict, and has a rival vision for the country’s future to that of the Damascus government.
But while the United States has a military presence in the much larger area of Syria the YPG and its allies control further east, it has not given any support to the YPG in Afrin.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has had a complex relationship with the YPG during the conflict. They have mostly avoided direct conflict and both sides have at times suggested a long-term agreement between them might be possible, but they have also sometimes clashed and espouse utterly different visions for Syria’s future. Assad has said he wants to take back control of the whole country.
Jia Kurd said the agreement that had been reached with Damascus was purely military and that no wider political arrangements had been made yet.
“When it comes to the political and administrative matters in the region, it will be agreed upon with Damascus in the later stages through direct negotiations and discussions,” he said.
He added that there was opposition to the deal that could prevent it being implemented: “We don’t know to what extent these understandings will last because there are sides that are not satisfied and want to make (the understandings) fail.”


UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

Updated 8 min 36 sec ago
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UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

  • The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month some families were found eating leaves to survive
  • Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities

CAIRO: The UN and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities.
The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month The Associated Press found some families eating leaves. But in a sign of the difficulties in tracking Yemen’s near-famine, conditions appeared to be as bad or worse in a neighboring district, Khayran Al-Maharraq.
On a recent day, Shouib Sakaf buried his 3-year-old daughter, Zaifa, the fifth child known to have died in the district this year from malnutrition-related illness. Sakaf prayed over a grave marked by piles of stones and tangled, dry branches from the surrounding mountain shrubs.
Zaifa was as old as Yemen’s civil war, waged between rebels known as Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Born in the war’s early days, Zaifa succumbed to the humanitarian crisis it has caused — widespread hunger, the collapse of the economy and the breakdown of the health system. In her final weeks, she wasted away, her ribs protruding, her face and feet swollen. At a local medical facility which did not have enough supplies, her father was told she had to be taken to a hospital further away to treat kidney complications. He had no way to pay for transportation there.
“Death came at 2:30 p.m.,” Sakaf said with a deep sigh. “Then we left.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body’s General Assembly, saying, “We are losing the fight against famine” in Yemen.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
Lowcock spoke after the AP alerted UN relief officials to the villagers in Aslam district, an isolated area in Hajjah province.
After the AP report, activists launched an online campaign called: “Rescue Aslam” with bank account details to collect donations. Some 30 food baskets financed by individual donors were distributed over the past days.
The UN’s World Food Program carried out an investigation in Aslam and found that aid hasn’t been reaching all targeted beneficiaries. It has since sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to the district, each meant to feed one family for a month. Distribution of the aid is still pending the finalization of registration lists.
Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities. Critics accuse those authorities of favoritism in putting together the lists.
Stephen Anderson, the director of the WFP, said there is a “retargeting exercise” underway to make sure that “the poorest and hungriest and most marginalized people, wherever they are, are targeted first.”
The agency is introducing a biometric registration to establish a database of beneficiaries, including their finger prints to avoid forgery and duplications.
Anderson said the system “will help give us an assurance” that situations like those in Hajjah are prevented or at least minimized.
A senior relief official said local authorities have resisted implementing biometric registration and the main Houthi-run aid body, known by the acronym NAMCHA, has sought to do registration and control the database. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of problems with authorities.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic.