Rescuers say cannot keep up with airstrikes battering Eastern Ghouta

As the bombs rain down, rescuers struggling to pull people from the rubble in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 24 February 2018
0

Rescuers say cannot keep up with airstrikes battering Eastern Ghouta

BEIRUT: Rescuers in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.
Warplanes pounded the opposition enclave on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.
Residents holed up in basements and medical charities decried attacks on a dozen hospitals, as the UN pleaded for a truce in Ghouta, the only big rebel bastion near the capital.
The Damascus regime and Russia, its key ally, say they only target militants. They have said they seek to stop mortar attacks injuring dozens in the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.
There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.
A total of 127 children figure among the 510 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the enclave just outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based monitor of the war said at least 32 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. A night of heavy bombardment sparked fires in residential districts, it said.
First responders searched for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma and Harasta, the Civil Defense in Eastern Ghouta said. The rescue service, which operates in opposition territory, said it had documented at least 350 deaths in four days earlier this week.
“Maybe there are many more,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a civil defense spokesman in the suburbs. “We weren’t able to count the martyrs because the warplanes are touring the skies.”
As the bombs rain down, some hitting emergency centers and vehicles, workers have struggled to pull people from the rubble, Mahmoud said. “But if we have to go out running on our legs and dig with our hands to rescue the people, we will still be here.”
A witness in Douma said he woke up in the early hours on Saturday to the sound of a squadron of jets bombing nearby. The streets have mostly remained empty.
The UN says nearly 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under regime siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.
The local opposition council said it was setting up emergency volunteer teams in several districts to reinforce shelters with sandbags and try to link them through tunnels.
“Every day we say God willing tomorrow will be better ... Today, the main sight in the Ghouta is limbs, blood,” Mahmoud said.
“There is no need to dig graves, we will be buried under our houses.”
The UN Security Council was set to vote on Saturday on a draft resolution which demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuations.
The 15-member council postponed voting on the text, which Sweden and Kuwait drafted. The delay followed a flurry of last-minute talks after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, proposed new amendments.
The truce does not cover militants from Daesh, Al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.
Several previous cease-fire attempts have quickly unraveled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and forced 11 million people out of their homes.
The Syrian regime’s media claimed that Ghouta factions fired mortars at districts of Damascus on Saturday, including near a school. Insurgent shelling wounded six people, it alleged, and Assad’s troops heavily pounded militant targets in the suburbs in response.
The Ghouta pocket has become the war’s latest flashpoint, after a string of rebel defeats and negotiated withdrawals. With Russian jets and Iran-backed militias, Assad’s military has restored state rule over the main cities across western Syria.
Insurgents in Eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out the kind of evacuation that ended the liberation battle in Aleppo and Homs after bitter sieges.
Russia has blamed Nusra fighters, from Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, for provoking the situation in the Ghouta region.
The two main radical factions there in turn accuse their enemies of using the presence of a few hundred terrorists as a pretext for attacks.


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 22 January 2019
0

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.”