Bombardment kills 25 civilians in Syria's Ghouta, Russia calls for 2 day truce

Syrian civilians arrive at a makeshift clinic during Syrian government air strikes on Zamalka, in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
0

Bombardment kills 25 civilians in Syria's Ghouta, Russia calls for 2 day truce

BEIRUT: Russian defense ministry annouced this afternoon that it was ready to renew a humanitarian truce for eastern Ghouta for two more days. Previous calls for a cease fire in the suburb of Damascus never materialised with casualty numbers rising daily. 
Bombardment by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally killed 25 civilians, among them three children, in the embattled rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, a monitor said.
“At least 25 civilians including three children were killed on Wednesday, most of them in regime air strikes and others in Russian raids on an area controlled by Faylaq Al-Rahman,” a rebel group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Syrian opposition activists say the town of Hamouria, in the southern pocket of eastern Ghouta, was the worst hit, with at least 10 killed there and a rescue center bombed and destroyed.
A doctor in Hamouria says he was overwhelmed and that for four hours, no vehicle was able to move the injured to a medical facility. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for his own safety.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Ghouta Media Center say the towns of Arbeen, Jesreen and Saqba were also targeted. Recent government advances have cleaved eastern Ghouta into a northern and southern pocket. The bombing Wednesday focused on the southern pocket.
A senior UN adviser said on Wednesday Syria could see “tremendous battles” for two remaining rebel enclaves even once a government onslaught on the last insurgent pocket near Damascus is over.
International attention has focused on the battle for besieged eastern Ghouta outside the capital and for Afrin in the far north where Turkey sent in forces to combat Kurdish militia it sees as a threat to its security.
But they are not the last flashpoints as Syria’s war enters its eighth year, three years after the tide began turning in the government’s favor, said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a senior UN adviser on Syria.
“Our fear is that after eastern Ghouta we may see tremendous battles now in and around Idlib (in the far northwest)and, in the south, Daraa,” he said.
Those would be just the latest in a string of increasingly bitter and cruel “end battles” following fighting for Homs, Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, Egeland said.
He said that in each battle, civilians were caught between warring sides who justified their ruthlessness by claiming to be fighting terrorism or dictatorship.
“It’s really not too late to have talks around Idlib, to have talks around Daraa, and to have talks around Afrin,” he said. “Idlib would be a tremendous concern because Idlib is in many ways a gigantic refugee camp.”
To stem one of the worst effects of the fighting — air strikes on medical facilities — Egeland said a new notification system for the coordinates of more than a dozen hospitals had gone into effect in the last few days.
“We have delivered coordinates on hospitals both in eastern Ghouta and in Idlib to the United States and to Russia, and Russia will not only guarantee that they will not attack, we’re asking them also to make sure that Syrian armed forces, the air force, is not targeting the hospitals,” Egeland said.
Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main military ally in the conflict.
“I was in touch with the Russians and the Americans yesterday on this,” Egeland said. “The armed groups have given it to the UN, and the UN has transmitted this to Russia and the US, and they will then transmit it to their allies.” 


Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

Updated 58 min 4 sec ago
0

Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

  • Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, owes thousands of dollars of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than $2 a day
  • Qatar previously has faced criticism for worker conditions as it prepares to host the World Cup

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A contractor involved in building the marquee stadium for Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup did not pay its workers, leaving them stranded thousands of miles from home, according to a report released Wednesday.
Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, owes thousands of dollars of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than $2 a day, Amnesty International said. Those employees helped build projects including Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which will host the opening and closing matches of the soccer tournament.
The company, whose website is now down and offices in Doha are shuttered, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Qatar’s government said it was investigating.
“People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here... Will they ever think what are the stories behind those structures?” one worker reportedly told Amnesty. “I guess not... Blind eyes are common nowadays.”
Amnesty said it examined the cases of 78 former employees of Mercury MENA, interviewing 44 and analyzing documentation of another 34. Of them, 58 came from Nepal, 15 from India and five from the Philippines, Asian nations that send thousands of laborers, taxi drivers and office workers to the Gulf.
Mercury MENA worked on several projects in Qatar, including the stadium, the new Qatar National Library and a worker’s hospital and modern accommodation for laborers, Amnesty said. Workers told Amnesty that the firm owed them on average between $1,370 to $2,470, a huge sum for their families back home. It said one worker was owed nearly $25,000 after over a decade of work.
Some workers found themselves stuck in Qatar without money and unable to leave the country as local laws require workers to get an exit permit supported by their employer before they leave. Earlier this month, Qatar partially ended that requirement, part of its internationally criticized “kafala” system that ties expatriate workers to a single employer.
Amnesty said Mercury MENA’s CEO told them in 2017 that his firm “had been the victim of unscrupulous business partners resulting in ‘cashflow problems’ and a number of disputes over payments with contractors and clients.”
Companies around the Gulf have been suffering from an economic slowdown in part aggravated by oil prices going as low as $30 a barrel in early 2016. Brent crude now is trading at over $80 a barrel. Meanwhile, Doha has faced a boycott by four Arab nations since June 2017 as part of a regional political dispute, further affecting its economy.
In a statement, Qatar’s Labor Ministry said such abuse of workers is “not tolerated” in the country and that there are unspecified “legal proceedings” against Mercury MENA.
“While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation,” the statement said.
Qatar previously has faced criticism for worker conditions as it prepares to host the World Cup in an Arabian Peninsula country where temperatures rise to a humid 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. FIFA already has agreed to a 28-day World Cup tournament from to November to December 2022, which is already a departure from the regular mid-year schedule.
A British worker, Zachary Cox, died after falling nearly 40 meters (130 feet) in January 2017 at the Khalifa International Stadium. A British coroner blamed dangerous working practices for his death. A 23-year-old Nepali worker died at its Al Wakrah Stadium project site in August.