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.


Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

Updated 13 December 2018
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Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

  • The high-speed train usually passes through that station without stopping
  • Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash

ANKARA, TURKEY: A high-speed train hit a railway engine and crashed into a pedestrian overpass Thursday at a station in the Turkish capital of Ankara, killing nine people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The 6:30 a.m. train from Ankara to the central Turkish city of Konya collided head-on with the engine, which was checking the tracks at the capital’s small Marsandiz station, Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan told reporters after inspecting the site. The high-speed train, which the Anadolu Agency said was carrying 206 passengers, usually passes through that station without stopping.
At least two cars derailed, hitting the station’s overpass, which then collapsed onto the train. Three engine drivers and six passengers were killed in the crash, Turhan said. One passenger died after being hospitalized while the others were killed at the scene.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash.
Television footage showed emergency services working to rescue passengers from wrangled cars and debris. Hurriyet newspaper said sniffer dogs assisted efforts to find survivors. Turhan said later no one else was believed to be trapped.
It wasn’t immediately clear if a signaling problem caused the crash. Authorities detained three state railway employees over suspected negligence and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed a thorough investigation.
Passenger Ayse Ozyurt told the IHA news agency that the accident occurred 12 minutes after the train left the main station and that it had not yet gained its maximum speed.
“The train was not fast at that time yet,” she said. “Suddenly, there was a frightening breakage ... and the train was off the rail.”
Konya, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) south of Ankara, is home to the tomb of the Sufi mystic and poet Jalaladdin Rumi, attracting thousands of pilgrims and tourists. The crash occurred during an annual week of remembrance for Rumi, when many travel to Konya to watch Whirling Dervishes, members of a Sufi sect, perform.
Turkey has had a raft of train crashes this year.
In July, 24 people were killed and more than 70 injured when most of a passenger train derailed in northwestern Turkey after torrential rains caused a section of the tracks to collapse. Last month, 15 people were injured when a passenger train collided with a freight train in Turkey’s central province of Sivas.