France warns of 'new disaster' looming in Syria's Idlib

French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian gives an official statement in the press room after attending an emergency meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP/Michel Euler, Pool)
Updated 15 April 2018
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France warns of 'new disaster' looming in Syria's Idlib

PARIS: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Sunday that a new humanitarian disaster was looming in Syria, in the rebel-held region of Idlib, seen as the next possible target of the regime's fightback.
In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche weekly a day after the US, Britain and France carried out strikes in Syria, Le Drian said: "There are 2 million people in Idlib now, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians evacuated from rebel towns recaptured by the regime."
"There is a risk of a new humanitarian disaster."
Held by an array of jihadists and rebels, Idlib province is the last in Syria largely beyond government control.
Speaking in Damascus this week, a senior Iranian official said he hoped Idlib would be the next area to be "liberated" by Iran ally President Bashar al-Assad, after the Syrian army's recapture of the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus with Russian backing.
The scorched-earth battle for Eastern Ghouta wound up shortly after a suspected chemical attack killed over 40 people and which the West blamed on Assad's forces -- allegations Assad and Russia flatly denied.
Le Drian said he hoped Saturday's strikes, aimed at punishing the regime over its alleged use of toxic gas, would convince Russia to pressure Assad into negotiations on ending the seven-year war.
"We hope that Russia understands...we must combine our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that favours an end to the crisis.
"France is ready to work towards this. Except that currently the one blocking the process is Bashar al-Assad himself. It's up to Russia to put pressure on him," he said.
Le Drian said the first step would be "to begin with a ceasefire which is really respected this time."
He was referring to a 30-day ceasefire called by the UN in February to facilitate the delivery of aid and medical evacuations, which was never really implemented.
On Saturday, the US, France and Britain on Saturday launched a new push at the UN for a ceasefire.
In a draft text seen by AFP they also called for a mechanism to probe chemical attacks -- and also ascribe blame for them -- and demanded that Syria engage in stalled UN-led peace talks.


500,000 children face ‘immediate danger’ in Libya capital: UN

Updated 55 min 39 sec ago
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500,000 children face ‘immediate danger’ in Libya capital: UN

TRIPOLI: Half a million children are in “immediate danger” in Libya’s capital Tripoli due to fighting, the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said on Monday.
Clashes that broke out between rival militias in late August had killed at least 115 people and wounded nearly 400 by Saturday night, according to Libya’s health ministry.
UNICEF said more than 1,200 families were displaced in the past 48 hours as the clashes intensified in southern Tripoli before pausing on Monday.
That put the total number of people displaced by the recent fighting at over 25,000, half of whom were children, it said.
The UN agency’s Middle East and North Africa director, Geert Cappelaere, said children were paying a “heavy toll” and were increasingly being recruited by armed groups.
“We see children being prevented from going to school, we see children not having the vaccination that they urgently need,” he said.
Those whose parents came to Libya with the hope of migrating to Europe by sea suffered doubly, said Cappelaere.
“They are already facing dire living conditions, many of them are held in detention,” a situation made worse by “the violence that is happening today,” he said.
UNICEF also said schools are increasingly being used to shelter displaced families, which is likely to delay the start of the academic year beyond October 3.
It said residents are facing food, power and water shortages, adding that the clashes had exacerbated the plight of migrants.
“Hundreds of detained refugees and migrants, including children, were forced to move because of violence. Others are stranded in centers in dire conditions,” Cappelaere said.
Despite a UN-brokered cease-fire on September 4, fighting broke out again last week in southern districts of the capital.
The clashes have pitted armed groups from Tarhuna and Misrata against Tripoli militias nominally controlled by Libya’s UN-backed unity government.
The Libyan capital has been at the center of a battle for influence between armed groups since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in a NATO-backed 2011 uprising.
The country’s unity government has struggled to exert its control in the face of a multitude of militias and a rival administration based in eastern Libya.