Deaths mount in Eastern Ghouta as world fumbles for response

A witness in Douma said the early morning bombing on Friday was the most intense so far. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018
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Deaths mount in Eastern Ghouta as world fumbles for response

BEIRUT: A new wave of bombs struck Syria’s Eastern Ghouta district unabated on Friday amid diplomatic scrambling to end one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war.
For a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by regime forces and their allies have pounded the densely populated enclave east of Damascus, the last opposition bastion near the capital.
The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the regime captured opposition-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.
At least 462 people have been killed and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says. The dead include at least 99 children. Syrian state media reported one person was killed and 58 injured from opposition shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital.
Syria’s regime, with its allies Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, has often used the tactic of pushing opposition fighters to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.
Insurgents in Eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.
“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta opposition factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council on Friday.
Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the regime has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the regime army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.
Medical charities say jets have hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded.
The observatory said regime warplanes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours on Friday.
A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days”.
“Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the civil defense vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris from the road,” Bilal Abu Salah said.
The Civil Defense there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in opposition territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people from under rubble in recent days.
Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop opposition shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.
Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish Al-Islam faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-regime militias trying to storm a front in the south-east of Ghouta.
The Security Council was expected late Friday to vote to demand a 30-day cease-fire in Syria.
The resolution being considered does not cover Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front, which Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted in Eastern Ghouta.


Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

Updated 22 September 2018
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Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

  • Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Cessation dashed any hope that Gamal Mubarak could run for public office.
  • Mubarak’s two sons are currently on trial for insider trading.

CAIRO: Egypt's highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their conviction on corruption charges.
The ruling by the Court of Cessation, Egypt's final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, dashed any hope that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and one-time heir apparent, could run for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of Egypt's current president had recently suggested that banker-turned-politician Gamal may have been contemplating the move.
The Mubarak trio was sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces but which they spent on upgrading or building private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. They repaid the funds, a total of 125 million pounds (about $7 million).
Mubarak's sons are currently on trial for insider trading. They are free on bail after a judge on Thursday overturned a surprise Sept. 15 ruling to detain them. The case's next hearing is on Oct. 20.
The rejection of their appeal Saturday and Gamal Mubarak's subsequent ineligibility to run for office came in the wake of recent comments by the chief editor of state-run Al-Akhbar publications, Yasser Rizq, who suggested that frequent public appearances by the younger Mubarak could be a prelude to a future presidential run.
Rizq first warned Gamal Mubarak against harboring presidential ambitions in an article published in May. He repeated the warning in a television interview aired earlier this week.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Rizq said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained. He said it was not improbable that he would strike a political deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to secure the group's return to politics in exchange for its support in a presidential bid in 2022, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi's second term ends.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the main drivers of a 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule, as well as the military's support for it. The years that followed saw Mubarak regime heavyweights tried on corruption or abuse of power charges. Most have since walked free, while second-string regime loyalists found their way back to public life under El-Sissi.