Germany urges Russia, Iran to end regime strikes on Damascus suburb

A man carries an injured boy as he walks on rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh.(AP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Germany urges Russia, Iran to end regime strikes on Damascus suburb

BEIRUT: New airstrikes and shelling of the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital killed at least 60 people and wounded dozens more on Wednesday, a rescue organization and a monitoring group said, adding to a staggering casualty toll that has overwhelmed paramedics and doctors in the past few days.
Syrian government forces and Russian aircraft have shown no signs of letting up their indiscriminate aerial and artillery assault on eastern Ghouta since they stepped up strikes late Sunday.
The situation in Eastern Ghouta is "very sadning" the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteres said while opening a Security Council session to discuss UN Charter and maintenance of international peace & security. The UN chief urged all parties for an immediate halt to fighting in what he described 'hell on Earth' Syria enclave. 
The International Committee of the Red Cross asked Wednesday for access to Eastern Ghouta near Syria's capital where a regime aerial campaign has killed over 300 civilians and wounded 1,400 others this week. "The fighting appears likely to cause much more suffering in the days and weeks ahead, and our teams need to be allowed to enter Eastern Ghouta to aid the wounded," said Marianne Gasser, ICRC's head of delegation in Syria. The worsening situation for the Syrians besieged in Damascus suburb led Germany to urge Russia and Iran to push the Syrian regime to end the deadly airstrikes on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, noting that the two had pledged to be guarantors of peace in Syria.
"One has to ask where is Russia, where is Iran, which had pledged in Astana to guarantee a ceasefire also in Eastern Ghouta," said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to peace talks in the Kazakh capital.
At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, including 10 in a wave of strikes on the town of Kafr Batna on Wednesday.
The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said government forces targeted the town with airstrikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs — crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes. It reported that several other people were wounded.
The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the region outside Damascus.
“We are really alarmed by the information we’re receiving from civilian areas and the very high number of casualties. You cannot continue business as usual,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria.
“Ghouta is a 10-mile drive from the hospitals in Damascus and its heartbreaking to think of children, women, and elderly who are in need, unable to be evacuated, and in a situation of fear, hiding in basements and not being able to go out,” he told The Associated Press by phone from Amman, Jordan.
The Russian military is supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and was instrumental to the all-out assault on the eastern half of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, in late 2016 to eject rebels from their enclave there.
Tens of thousands of civilians ended up fleeing their homes. Many have been unable to return. Hundreds more were killed in indiscriminate shelling and bombardment. A subsequent UN investigation charged that the campaign amounted to forced displacement of a population and rose to the level of a war crime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week eastern Aleppo could serve as a model for eastern Ghouta.
Pro-government forces have been amassing since the weekend on the perimeter of the rebel-held region, a collection of towns and farmland that once provided grain and fruit to Damascus, before nearly seven years of warfare turned it into a landscape of havoc and despair.
At least 400,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, sparked by a violent crackdown on popular demonstrations against Assad in 2011.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.