400,000 trapped in Assad’s ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ in Eastern Ghouta

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein described the assault by the Syrian regime forces as a ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation.’ (AP)
Updated 22 February 2018
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400,000 trapped in Assad’s ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ in Eastern Ghouta

BEIRUT: Desperate residents trapped in Eastern Ghouta waited for their “turn to die” on Wednesday beneath one of the most intense bombardments of the Syrian war.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein described the assault by Syrian regime forces as a “monstrous campaign of annihilation” against the opposition-held territory on the edge of Damascus.
At least 310 people have been killed in the district since Sunday night and more than 1,550 injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least 38 people died on Wednesday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to the fighting to allow aid to reach those in need and for the injured to be evacuated.
The bombing meant the 400,000 people trapped in the area “live in hell on Earth,” Guterres told the Security Council.
“We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say,” said Bilal Abu Salah, 22, whose wife is five months pregnant in the biggest Eastern Ghouta town Douma.
“Nearly all people living here live in shelters now. There are five or six families in one home. There is no food, no markets,” he told Reuters.
Images from inside the area showed men searching through the rubble of smashed buildings, carrying blood-smeared people to hospital and cowering in debris-strewn streets.
A doctor working in the area told the BBC that the situation is “catastrophic.” “We don't have anything — no food, no medicine, no shelter,” Dr. Bassam said.
“Maybe every minute we have 10 or 20 airstrikes ... I will treat someone — and after a day or two they come again, injured again.”
He said the international community had abandoned the people living there.
Eastern Ghouta, a densely populated agricultural district, is the last major area near the capital still under rebel control. It has been besieged by regime forces for years.
The bombardment of rocket fire, shelling, airstrikes and helicopter-dropped barrel bombs escalated rapidly on Sunday. The assault has devastated the area, indiscriminately ending lives of men, women and children and inflicting horrific injuries. After one airstrike on Wednesday, rescuers pulled four children from the building, but their father was killed, leaving them as orphans, Reuters reported.
Guterres expressed support for a Swedish and Kuwaiti push for the Security Council to demand a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
Diplomats said the council could vote on a draft resolution in the coming days.
Russia, an ally of President Bashar Assad has called the proposal “not realistic,” but called for a meeting of the council on Thursday to discuss the situation.
A commander in the coalition fighting on behalf of Assad's government told Reuters the bombing aims to prevent the rebels from targeting the eastern neighborhoods of Damascus with mortars.
“The offensive has not started yet. This is preliminary bombing,” the commander said.
Eastern Ghouta is one of a group of “de-escalation zones” under a diplomatic cease-fire initiative agreed by Assad's allies Russia and Iran with Turkey which has backed the rebels.
Mohammad Alloush, the political chief of Jaish Al-Islam, one of the main rebel factions in Eastern Ghouta, said: “There are attempts from some international and local sides for a truce process in Eastern Ghouta and they have not succeeded so far.”


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 22 January 2019
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Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

  • The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule
  • Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar to fend off tear gas

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators in the capital’s twin city Omdurman on Tuesday protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

The demonstration, which came ahead of planned nighttime rallies in both Omdurman and Khartoum just across the Nile, was the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against the three-decade rule of President Omar Bashir.

Bashir has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities.

Chanting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators had gathered near the home of their dead comrade.

The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) said he had died on Monday from wounds sustained when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum on Thursday.

The SPA has taken the lead in organizing the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.

Human rights groups say that several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19, 2018.

The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the protesters’ ranks.

The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency since the breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues, has stoked spiraling inflation and widespread shortages.

Bashir has survived previous protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.

But his efforts to blame the US for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.

Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.

Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces.

“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.

They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.

They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime.”