White House accuses Russia of killing civilians in Syria

A wounded Syrian child receives treatment at a make-shift hospital in Douma following Syrian government bombardments on the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018
0

White House accuses Russia of killing civilians in Syria

WASHINGTON: The United States on Sunday made its strongest accusation to date of Moscow’s complicity in civilian deaths in Syria, saying Russian aircraft flew bombing missions over the besieged eastern Ghouta region in defiance of a United Nations cease-fire.
The White House said Russian military aircraft took off from Humaymim Airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 daily bombing missions in Damascus and eastern Ghouta between Feb. 24 and Feb. 28.
It did not say whether the jets dropped ordnance, which could be harder to determine than tracking the flight paths of Russian aircraft on US radar. But the United States directly accused Russia of killing civilians.
“Russia has gone on to ignore (a UN cease-fire’s) terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counter-terrorism operations,” the White House said in a statement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed on Sunday to continue the offensive in eastern Ghouta, one of the deadliest in the war. A local insurgent group called it a “scorched earth” campaign.
With the war entering its eighth year, capturing eastern Ghouta would be a major victory for Assad, who has steadily regained control of rebel areas with Russian and Iranian support.
Government shelling and air strikes have killed 659 people in eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, while rebel shelling of Damascus has killed 27, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that Syrian government air strikes on eastern Ghouta and shelling from the rebel-held zone into Damascus probably constitute war crimes.
The White House called on pro-Assad forces to “immediately cease targeting medical infrastructure and civilians.”
In a separate statement later on Sunday, the White House said President Donald Trump and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi “discussed Russia and Iran’s irresponsible support of the Assad regime’s brutal attacks against innocent civilians.”
“President Trump and President El-Sisi agreed to work together on ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria and achieving Arab unity and security in the region,” the White House statement said.
Russia and Damascus have accused rebels of preventing civilians from leaving eastern Ghouta during daily cease-fires. Rebels have consistently denied the accusation and say people will not leave because they fear the government.
The multi-sided war has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2011.


Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends political tie-up

Updated 25 September 2018
0

Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends political tie-up

  • Efforts to rescue Tunisia's ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil
  • The Ennahda party and Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights

TUNIS: Efforts to rescue Tunisia’s ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil after the president declared his alliance with the Ennahda party at an end, deepening divisions in a fragile coalition managing the country’s transition from autocracy.

The Ennahda party and Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights, limiting the role of religion and holding free elections, which stands out in a region often run by autocrats.

But Tunisia fell into a political crisis again this year after Essebsi’s son, who is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of prime minister Youssef Chahed because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.
His demand was supported by the powerful UGTT union, which rejected economic reforms proposed by Chahed.

Political analysts say Monday evening’s announcement by President Beji Caid Essebsi could make it difficult for the government to enact tough economic reforms sought by international lenders.

“There will be no real risk of toppling the government in parliament, but the problem is that division will deepen, social tension will rise and reforms are threatened under a fragile government coalition,” Nizar Makni, a journalist and analyst said.

“Reforms need broad consensus and the lack of compromise may lead to mass protests in the streets, especially that powerful unions rejected all proposed reforms”, he added.

Although struggling with high unemployment and inflation, the coalition of political parties has been running what has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.​

AUSTERITY

But Ennahda came to Chahed’s defence, saying the departure of the prime minister would hit stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.
In his more than two years in office, Chahed has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms, such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.
The president raised the stakes on Monday evening.
“The consensus and relationship between me and Ennahha has ended, after they chose to form another relationship with Youssef Chahed,” Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in a televised interview.
Analysts said the president’s announcement would probably not lead to the overthrow of the government, which still has the support of at least 110 of a total 217 lawmakers in parliament.
But Chahed could find it difficult to enact tough reforms in the face of a strong opposition front including the unions, the president and Nidaa Tounes party.
Last week the UGTT labour union called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest at Chahed’s privatisation plans.
“The president’s comments will deepen the crisis,” senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun told Reuters.
“Ennahda seeks stability and a dialogue that includes all partners to get out of the crisis.”
By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since its Arab Spring democratic revolution in 2011.
Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with Ennahda and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels.
Since 2011 uprising, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, which include high inflation and unemployment, and impatience is rising among lenders such as the IMF, which have kept the country afloat.