UN chief urges halt to war in ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians. (Screenshot)
Updated 22 February 2018
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UN chief urges halt to war in ‘hell on Earth’ Syria enclave

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to fighting in Eastern Ghouta where a Syrian government bombing campaign has turned the rebel-held enclave into “hell on Earth” for civilians.
“My appeal to all those involved is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need” and for medical evacuations, Guterres told the Security Council.
The UN chief said he was “deeply saddened by the terrible suffering” of civilians in Eastern Ghouta where he said 400,000 people “live in hell on Earth.”
“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and I don’t think we can let things go on happening in this horrendous way,” he added.
Guterres said he supported efforts at the Security Council to agree on a draft resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.
Sweden and Kuwait presented the measure to the council on February 9 but negotiations have been tough-going, with Russia raising objections to the proposed truce, diplomats said.
“I fully support that effort, but I believe Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” Guterres told the council.
The negotiations have dragged on as Syrian forces backed by Russia have escalated a fierce offensive on Eastern Ghouta.
Close to 300 civilians have been killed since Sunday including 24 Syrians who died when government warplanes dropped barrel bombs on the town of Kfar Batna on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein attacked what he called a “monstrous campaign of annihilation” on Wednesday against the besieged civilian population of eastern Ghouta.
“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday also called for a truce in Eastern Ghouta to allow for the evacuation of civilians trapped by the barrage of airstrikes.
“France is asking for a truce in Eastern Ghouta in order to ensure the evacuation of civilians and facilitate humanitarian access as quickly as possible,” he told reporters, accusing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime of using the fight against terrorism as a “pretext” to attack civilians.
Macron said that France was “fully committed” to fighting terrorism in Syria as part of the US-led coalition.
“But France clearly, vigorously condemns what is happening today in Eastern Ghouta,” he said, calling for an “immediate” UN resolution on the situation.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog told reporters he hoped that a vote on the draft resolution demanding the cease-fire could take place “in the next few days,” possibly as early as Thursday.
Asked whether there was a consensus on the draft text, Skoog said: “That, I don’t know yet.”
Russia has resorted to its veto power at the council to block resolutions targeting its Syrian ally.
The latest draft text circulated last week calls for the truce to go into effect 72 hours after the adoption of the measure and for aid deliveries and medical evacuations to begin 48 hours after that.


Sudan’s army calls for unconditional talks with protesters

Updated 23 min 8 sec ago
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Sudan’s army calls for unconditional talks with protesters

  • Protest leaders have set conditions for a resumption of talks, including a withdrawal of the military and militias from cities
  • At least 128 people were killed across the country since security forces cleared the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military council said talks on the transition of power should resume without preconditions, signaling a continued standoff with opposition leaders who launched nighttime demonstrations to push for civilian rule.
Protest leaders have set conditions for a resumption of talks, including a withdrawal of the military and militias from cities, the resumption of Internet service and an international investigation of the violent razing of their sit-in camp on June 3.
Transition talks collapsed over the military’s crackdown.
At least 128 people were killed across the country since security forces cleared the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters. Authorities offer a lower death toll of 61, including three from security forces.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the council, told health workers in Khartoum on Wednesday that the council did not have preconditions for returning to the negotiating table with the Forces for Declaration of Freedom and Change, which has represented protesters.
He said neither side should make up-front demands.
“I repeat our invitation to all political forces and the FDFC to come (for talks), and there is no need for preconditions,” he said. “We do not deny their role in the uprising and the popular revolution ..., but the solution should be satisfactory to all Sudanese factions.”
Protest leaders could not be reached immediately for comment.
On Saturday, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association said it would stick to its conditions for the resumption of talks.
Meanwhile, protest leaders launched nighttime protests this week.
Late Wednesday, about 300 protesters, mostly young people, marched in Khartoum’s western district of Abbasiya, waving Sudanese flags and calling for justice for those killed since the sit-in dispersal.
Protesters avoid daytime demonstrations for fear of being quashed by security forces heavily deployed in Khartoum.
The military council has rejected the idea of an international probe and said it had started its own investigation along with another one by prosecutors.
An Ethiopian initiative to resume talks apparently failed to make progress in the deadlock. A top general in the military council pushed back last week against a key demand from the protest leaders to have the majority in a transitional legislative body.
Burhan said that the country cannot remain without a government, more than three months after the military ousted autocratic President Omar Al-Bashir in April.
“We do not want that things (get) out of control,” Burhan said. “Another coup could be carried out because of the country’s impasse.”