UN, EU call for return to Syria peace talks

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (L) and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speak to the media following a meeting as part of an international conference on the future of Syria and the region in Brussels. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018
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UN, EU call for return to Syria peace talks

BRUSSELS: The European Union and the United Nations on Tuesday called for swift political talks to end the long war in Syria, saying the latest territorial gains by Damascus and its allies had not brought peace any closer.
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke at an international donor conference hosted by the European Union in Brussels, which will seek more than $6 billion in aid for the country.
“We’re seeing in last few weeks, days ... that military gains, territorial gains and military escalation do not bring a political solution, has not brought any change. On the contrary,” he told a joint news conference with the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini.
Mogherini also spoke of the need to “return to the political process under the UN auspices ... to start real, meaningful political negotiations that are clearly the only way forward for the country.”
The EU and UN on Tuesday began a two-day push to drum up fresh aid pledges for war-torn Syria and reinvigorate the faltering Geneva peace process as the conflict enters its eighth year.
Donor countries, aid organizations and UN agencies are gathering in Brussels for the seventh annual conference on Syria’s future as international inspectors probe a suspected gas attack in the town of Douma, highlighting the brutal nature of the war.
The meeting comes in the wake of strikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syrian military installations, carried out in response to the alleged chemical weapons incident in Douma which has been widely blamed on Damascus.
EU officials hope to beat the $6 billion (5.6 billion euros) pledged at last year’s gathering, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launched a new offensive against Daesh militants entrenched in a southern district of Damascus.
The UN has warned that its own appeal for money for humanitarian work in Syria this year is less than a quarter funded, receiving less than $800 million of the $3.5 billion needed.
“Within the resources we can plausibly expect to mobilize this year we cannot meet even all the urgent needs,” Mark Lowcock, the head of UN humanitarian agency OCHA said at the start of the conference.

Lowcock said $8 billion needs to be raised at a donor conference in Brussels to help Syrians, adding resources for work inside Syria and with refugees in neighbouring countries were "desperately short."
“Our focus is now to ensure the 5.6 m people we assess as being in acute need inside Syria are made the focus.”
Some 6.1 people are now internally displaced, more than five million have fled Syria and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the EU.
Lowcock said the “intensity of the humanitarian crisis has escalated again in 2018,” with more than 700,000 people displaced since the start of the year.
UN and EU officials are holding talks with aid groups working in Syria and neighboring countries on Tuesday to get their views before government ministers arrive on Wednesday.
Save the Children International chief executive Helle Thorning-Schmidt urged donors to focus on education, saying a third of Syrian youngsters are out of school and a third of Syrian schools are unusable because of the war.
“We have let Syrian children down. This is the seventh year and they’re still being let down,” Thorning-Schmidt told AFP.
“2018 has been a very bloody year for Syrian children, and one of the things they are missing out on enormously is education.”
UN children’s agency UNICEF said some 2.8 million Syrian children had missed out on education, warning that in parts of the country simply going to school “has at times become a matter of life and death.”
According to EU figures, the total given by the international community after last year’s conference was $7.5 billion — 25 percent more than pledged — with Germany, the United States and EU institutions leading the way.
Eight rounds of talks under UN auspices in Geneva have made little headway, while Russia, Iran and Turkey launched a rival process in the Kazakh capital Astana last year.
Russia and Iran are Assad’s key allies and their military intervention in Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the civil war.
But the EU still insists the Geneva process is the best way to bring an end to the war.
“The only way to avoid that the Syrian crisis spirals into wider conflict is to put pressure on all parties including the Syrian regime to come to Geneva for meaningful discussions,” Mogherini said last week.
EU foreign ministers said the conference should be used to “reinvigorate” the Geneva process, but it is not clear how effectively the gathering will be able to do this.
As with previous editions of the conference, neither the Syrian government nor opposition groups will be represented. It also remains unclear who, if anyone, will come for Russia, Turkey and Iran.


Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

Updated 24 min 40 sec ago
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Nearly a year since fall of Iraq’s Mosul, hunt for bodies goes on

  • “The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city
  • The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery

MOSUL: Atop an enormous mound of rubble under blistering sun in Iraq’s second city Mosul, fire crews and police chip away at a grim but vital task.
Some 10 months after dislodging the Daesh group, they are still extracting bodies from the ruins of the shattered Old City.
“Over three days, 763 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and buried,” Lt. Col. Rabie Ibrahim says.
Despite the overpowering stench, the men work relentlessly, braving unexploded munitions in an area devastated by the nine-month battle.
“The operations will continue until all the corpses are extracted” from the heart of the city, Ibrahim says.
Civilians’ bodies that can be identified are handed to their families, while the remains of Daesh combatants are buried in a mass grave on the western outskirts of Mosul.
Some of the putrefied corpses are sent to Nineveh province’s health services, Ibrahim adds.
The workers, their faces covered with masks or scarves, move with great caution.
The bodies of jihadists are sometimes still clad in suicide belts.
Grenades, homemade bombs and other crude contraptions left by Daesh fighters during their retreat to Syria pose a constant threat.
The improvised boobytraps are hidden under multiple layers and obstacles — the rubble of collapsed homes, disemboweled furniture and uprooted trees, in some places subsiding into the waters of the Tigris that meander murkily below.
Where a maze of cobbled streets was once lined with homes and market stalls, there is now a formless mess populated by stray animals, insects and disease.
The destruction is so great that some residents cannot pinpoint the remnants of their homes or even their street as they try to direct salvage workers to the remains of loved ones.
The rubble makes it impossible to bring in heavy construction machinery, says General Hossam Khalil, who leads Nineveh province’s civil defense force.
His men therefore have to rely on smaller vehicles, but Mosul “only has a few,” he says.
There is a pressure to work as quickly as conditions will allow: residents are exhausted by three years of Daesh rule, nine months of brutal urban combat and now the slow pace of reconstruction.
“But it’s impossible, with this stench, this pollution and the epidemics they can cause,” says Othmane Saad, an unemployed 40-year-old whose home in the old city is entirely destroyed.
Another resident, 33-year-old Abu Adel, wants the authorities “to clear all the corpses as quickly as possible” and to “compensate residents so they can rebuild, then establish public services.”
But the task is titanic.
Since Mosul was retaken in July, “2,838 bodies, including 600 Daesh members, have been retrieved from the rubble,” governor Naufel Sultane says.
Even after the corpses are taken away and buried, they leave harmful bacteria which the Tigris can carry far beyond the old city.
The authorities insist drinking water stations are unaffected and that they pump water from the Tigris’ central depths, avoiding the banks and other shallows.
But gastroenterologist Ahmed Ibrahim advises caution.
“You must boil water before drinking it and don’t use river water, either for bathing or washing,” he says.
Birds and fish “can carry typhus, bilharzia and gastroenteritis,” he adds.