Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

The Egyptian army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents. (AFP)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

  • Human Rights Watch warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
  • Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai.

CAIRO: An Egyptian military campaign to defeat Daesh militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula is choking essential food and medical supplies to thousands of residents in the desert region, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The army denied the charge.
The New York-based organization warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
The army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents over many years.
Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants since then, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai. The army has said it is winning the battle.
A military spokesman denied there were shortages, saying it was providing food and medical support throughout the areas it operated in, The HRW report had used “undocumented sources” in its report, he said.
“Thousands of food parcels have been and are being provided to people in North Sinai,” Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, the spokesman, added.
International news outlets are prevented from traveling to North Sinai to report.
Residents said food supplies, medicine and fuel were insufficient and that movement restrictions meant most people were unable to leave the region, HRW reported.
“A counter-terrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The report said authorities had banned the sale of petrol and cut communication lines, water and electricity in some areas of North Sinai including near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Residents told Reuters last month they often waited for hours for bread handouts which were not guaranteed to arrive.
Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising has been a promise of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.
El-Sisi’s critics say he has presided over Egypt’s worst crackdown on dissent. Supporters say such measures are needed to bring stability and improve the country’s hard-hit economy.
In Sinai, analysts and foreign diplomats say heavy-handed military tactics including air strikes and demolitions of populated areas have failed to defeat the insurgency.


Four parties agree to Western Sahara talks

Updated 2 min 23 sec ago
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Four parties agree to Western Sahara talks

  • The United Nations has repeatedly failed to broker a settlement over the north African territory
  • Seeking to re-launch the political process, UN envoy Horst Koehler has invited the four parties to Geneva

NEW YORK: Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front have accepted a UN invitation to hold talks in December on ending the decades-old conflict in Western Sahara, the UN spokesman said Tuesday.
The United Nations has repeatedly failed to broker a settlement over the north African territory, where Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario fought for control from 1975 to 1991.
Seeking to re-launch the political process, UN envoy Horst Koehler has invited the four parties to Geneva on December 5-6 for a first round of meetings that could pave the way to formal negotiations.
Koehler, a former German president and ex-director of the International Monetary Fund, last month sent letters of invitation to the talks and set an October 20 deadline to respond.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania “have confirmed that they will be attending the talks” in Geneva.

The Berm, an artificial sand barrier, divides the Western Sahara.

The preliminary talks however may quickly hit a wall as Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara.
The Polisario insists that the status of the territory should be decided in a referendum on independence.
Algeria also maintains that a solution to the conflict must uphold the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.
The last round of UN-sponsored informal talks was held in 2012.
The United Nations brokered a cease-fire deal between Morocco and the Polisario in 1990 that provided for a referendum, but the vote never materialized.
A small peacekeeping mission of some 700 personnel is monitoring the cease-fire line but the Security Council has put fresh pressure on the sides to return to the negotiating table.
A settlement in Western Sahara would allow the UN mission there, known as MINURSO, to end its mission at a time when the United States is seeking to reduce the cost of peace operations.
In his invitation to the parties, seen by AFP, Koehler asked the sides to submit proposals for talks and has described the Geneva meeting as a round-table discussion.
The planned talks will be discussed at the Security Council later this month as it weighs a mandate renewal for MINURSO.