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.


Fresh protests in Iraq as medics raise death toll to 11

Updated 22 July 2018
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Fresh protests in Iraq as medics raise death toll to 11

  • Security forces remained deployed around the capital Baghdad
  • Overall medical sources put the death toll in the unrest at 11 people

BAGHDAD: Fresh protests hit southern Iraq Sunday as medical sources put at 11 the number of demonstrators killed in two weeks of unrest sparked by ire over corruption and lack of public services.
Security forces remained deployed around the capital Baghdad after struggling Friday to disperse crowds of angry protesters who took to the streets.
Demonstrations have roiled swathes of southern and central Iraq since erupting in the oil-rich port city of Basra on July 8, when security forces opened fire killing one person.
Overall medical sources put the death toll in the unrest at 11 people, three in each of the cities Basra, Samawah and Najaf, and one in both the cities of Diwaniyah and Karbala.
Most of them were killed by gunfire from unidentified assailants, while one person suffocated to death on tear gas used to disperse the demonstrators.
Protesters on Sunday took to the streets in the cities of Samawah and Nasiriyah, chanting “no to corruption,” a scourge Iraqis say has long blighted their country.
Since the start of the demonstrations those involved have focused their anger on the political establishment, with government buildings and party offices being sacked or set ablaze.
The Iraqi authorities have scrambled to halt the unrest and have blocked social media sites online to try to prevent the spread of protests.
Iraq is in a state of political limbo with Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi overseeing a caretaker government as wrangling to form a new government drags on after elections in May.
A coalition headed by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr topped the polls, campaigning on an anti-graft ticket to claim the most seats in parliament.