Aid reaches Syria’s Ghouta as strikes hit rebel enclave

An aid convoy from the International Committee of the Red Cross makes its way to Rastan, a besieged town in Homs province, on April 21, 2016 (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2018
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Aid reaches Syria’s Ghouta as strikes hit rebel enclave

DOUMA, Syria: An aid convoy managed to deliver food to hunger-stricken Eastern Ghouta on Friday despite renewed bombardment by Syrian regime forces who have seized more than half of the besieged rebel enclave.
Nearly 950 civilians have been killed since Russia-backed government forces launched a blistering assault on the last opposition bastion near Damascus on February 18.
Fresh air strikes killed six civilians in the area of Jisreen, a war monitor said, even as the regime and businessmen held talks about the possible evacuation of residents from parts of the enclave.
The Doctors Without Borders charity called for desperately needed medical supplies to be allowed into the enclave, where exhausted doctors have been struggling to treat hundreds of wounded.
Air strikes hit the areas of Jisreen and Harasta after stopping briefly in the early morning, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Earlier, 13 trucks loaded with 2,400 food parcels crossed into Eastern Ghouta, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, entering what UN chief Antonio Guterres has called “hell on earth.”

But renewed bombardment near the main town of Douma soon threatened the joint ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations convoy.
“Shelling in proximity of Douma, east Ghouta today, is putting the UN/ICRC/SARC convoy at risk, despite assurances of safety from parties including the Russian Federation,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Zaatari, said.
The aid was delivered with helicopters hovering overhead and warplanes targeting areas outside Douma, a correspondent in the town said.
There were no medical supplies on board Friday’s convoy, which was carrying food that aid workers were unable to distribute on Monday.
The enclave’s 400,000 inhabitants have been living under government siege since 2013, with food and medicines in very short supply even before the latest assault.
The renewed artillery fire came as representatives of Damascus and businessmen pressed negotiations on a solution that would allow civilians or fighters to leave the enclave, the Observatory said.
Syrian state news agency SANA said dozens of civilians were expected to leave Eastern Ghouta on Friday.
In the town of Hammuriyeh, dozens of people took part in a protest calling for an end to the bloodshed, the Observatory said.
“Enough destruction and death! We want to save our children and all those who have not died,” said Abu Riyadh, a 47-year-old man in the town.
A negotiator from the town said a “civilian delegation” was “to negotiate with the regime toward a solution to end the fighting” in the area.
A tribal leader said more than 300 civilians from the areas of Kafr Batna, Saqba and Hammuriyeh wanted to leave.
He told journalists there had been discussions for “500 fighters to hand over their weapons to the army.”
Ambulances and green buses — usually used to evacuate people from areas retaken by the regime — waited near a key checkpoint out of the enclave, an AFP reporter there said, as national songs blared on loudspeakers.
The air and ground assault has left medical staff exhausted.
Doctors and nurses in the enclave have run out of several life-saving items, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Friday.
“The need for a massive medical re-supply, without life-saving items being removed, is increasingly urgent with each passing hour,” MSF said in a statement.
The Paris-based charity urged the warring parties to pause the bombardment to allow for the evacuation of critically ill or wounded patients.
More than a week ago, the United Nations said those already numbered more than 700.
The charity said 15 of the 20 medical facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta have been hit by air strikes or shelling.
Regime forces have advanced rapidly through farmland in the enclave since last week, the Observatory says, taking control of more than half of the territory from the armed opposition.
On Monday, 46 trucks entered the area in the first aid provision since February 18 — but had to cut their deliveries short due to bombardment.
The United Nations said Syrian authorities removed some medical supplies from the trucks.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday called the conflict a “colossal human tragedy.”
“The conditions faced by civilians inside Syria are worse than ever, with 69 percent languishing in extreme poverty,” he said.
UN-backed peace talks have failed to end the war, and a nationwide cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council last month has not been implemented.
In northern Syria, Turkey-led rebels have been pressing an assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin since January 20.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that his forces and allied rebels could enter the center of Afrin town “at any moment,” a day after they seized another key town in the area.


Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 33 min 38 sec ago
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Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”