US threatens action over ‘sham’ Syria cease-fire

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasilly Nebenzia talks with his US counterpart Nikki Haley before the start of a UN Security Council meeting concerning the situation in Iran, January 5, 2018 in New York City. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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US threatens action over ‘sham’ Syria cease-fire

NEW YORK: US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on Monday that a Syrian cease-fire approved two weeks ago “has failed”.
“This is no cease-fire. This is the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia continuing to wage war against their political opponents,” Haley said.
The ambassador spoke as Syrian regime forces continued attacking Eastern Ghouta despite a 30-day UN truce.
She added that the US “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the UN fails to do so. The US asked the Security Council to demand an immediate 30-day cease-fire. 
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres again likened the chaos in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta to “hell on earth”
Guterres told the UN Security Council that “Syria is bleeding inside and out” and, despite some aid truck deliveries to the besieged Damascus suburb, the UN cease-fire deal of Feb. 25 had not been implemented.
“There has been no cessation of hostilities. Violence continues in Eastern Ghouta and beyond — including in Afrin, parts of Idlib and into Damascus and its suburbs,” Guterres told envoys in New York. 
“Particularly in Eastern Ghouta, airstrikes, shelling and ground offensives have intensified after the adoption of the resolution and claimed many hundreds of civilian lives — some even reporting the toll at more than 1,000.”  
The Syrian army’s offensive in Eastern Ghouta, backed by air and artillery strikes, has killed at least 1,160 people since Feb. 18, a war monitor said, as President Bashar Assad seeks to crush the last major rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.
Russia, an ally of Assad, and Damascus say the UN cease-fire does not protect the fighters in Eastern Ghouta, arguing that they are terrorists.
The assault is one of the heaviest in the war, which enters its eighth year this week. 
The ferocity of the Eastern Ghouta assault prompted condemnation from Western countries and calls for a cease-fire. 
Hadi Al-Bahra, a member of the Syrian Negotiation Commission, was due to address the Security Council later on Monday. He urged Western powers to help civilians in Eastern Ghouta.
“I’m asking for the US and other permanent (UN council) members to put pressure in front of their own responsibility that it’s not permissible for the killing of civilians and for continuing the siege on Ghouta and other areas in Syria,” Al-Bahra told Arab News in an interview.
The US and other powers saved lives by intervening when Daesh overran Yazidi communities in Sinjar, Iraq, in 2014, and again in Kobani, Syria, the following year, Al-Bahra said. They should do the same for civilians in Eastern Ghouta now, he said.
Al-Bahra, who was president of the Syrian National Coalition from 2014-2015, urged Western governments to use targeted sanctions and trade curbs to pressure Assad and his backers, rather than draft more UN documents.
“We are tired of statements,” Al-Bahra said. “They need to find a way to turn this resolution into an implementable, enforceable resolution. If somebody is against providing real protection for civilians, let them show it.” 


Iraq plans manual election recount only for suspect ballots

Updated 27 min 12 sec ago
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Iraq plans manual election recount only for suspect ballots

  • The parliamentary election has been marred by historically low turnout and fraud allegations

BAGHDAD: Iraq will conduct a manual recount of votes from a May election only for ballots mentioned in official reports on fraud or in formal complaints, a move likely to speed up the ratification of final results and the formation of a new government.
The parliamentary election has been marred by historically low turnout and fraud allegations.
The outgoing parliament this month passed a law mandating a nationwide manual recount of votes, but the panel of judges now in charge of the recount said it would only be conducted for problematic ballots.
Interpreting a ruling from the Supreme Federal Court, a panel of judges who are now in charge of the elections commission said on Sunday they would only manually recount problematic ballots “out of respect for the will of voters and their rights ... and to preserve their vote which came without any violation.”
The law passed by parliament had also suspended the Independent High Election Commission’s nine-member board of commissioners and replaced them with judges.
Ballot boxes from areas where there were fraud allegations will be moved to the capital Baghdad, where the recount will be held in the presence of United Nations representatives at a time and place to be determined later, the panel said in a statement.
The historically slow and complex process of forming an Iraqi government after an election has been further complicated this time round because of the fraud allegations and subsequent recount. Now that only specific ballots will be recounted, a new government could be formed faster.
The full recount was voted for by an outgoing parliament in which a majority of lawmakers, including the speaker, failed to retain their seats in the May poll. The vote came after a government report said there were serious electoral violations, but the report only recommended a partial recount.
Parliament met on Sunday to discuss another law that would allow it to remain in session until final results are ratified, even though its term constitutionally ends next week on June 30.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who’s electoral list came third in the poll, and the winner, cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, entered into a political alliance on Saturday night, less than two weeks after Sadr announced a similar alliance with second-placed Iran ally Hadi Al-Amiri’s bloc, thus bringing the top three blocs together.
Sadr’s bloc has been boycotting parliament’s sessions. He and Amiri were against a full recount. Both Sadr and Abadi oppose the idea of the current parliament extending its mandate.