Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

A picture taken on April 22, 2018, shows smoke billowing from the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, south of the Syrian capital Damascus, during regime strikes targeting the Daesh group in the camp. (AFP / Rami al Sayed)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Syrian army pounds Palestinian camp; UN warns of dire conditions

AMMAN, Jordan: The Syrian army on Thursday intensified its bombardment of a besieged camp for Palestinian refugees and nearby rebel-held areas in southern Damascus, the last area near the capital outside government control.
Most civilians have long since fled the Yarmouk camp, once the largest in Syria for Palestinian refugees, but enough have stayed behind that the United Nations has called on the warring parties to spare civilians.
The Russian-backed Syrian army launched a major offensive last week to capture the south Damascus enclave that includes Yarmouk and neighboring areas, which have been held for years by rebel fighters and Daesh militants.
The Yarmouk campaign is part of a wider offensive to recapture remaining rebel areas that has shown no sign of letting up since Western countries launched air strikes on April 14 to punish the government for a suspected poison gas attack.
President Bashar Assad’s is now in by far his strongest position since the early months of the seven-year civil war.
Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency which runs camps for Palestinian refugees, warned of the “catastrophic consequences of the escalation” in the camp, which had “endured indescribable pain and suffering over years of conflict.”
State media showed footage of a ground assault led by tanks on the fringes of Hajjar Al-Aswad, which adjoins the sprawling Yarmouk camp. Aerial strikes and bombardment have relentlessly pounded residential areas for days.
The army said it had made advances and killed dozens of militants. Rebels in the area say however that there has been no significant push inside Hajjar Al-Aswad or the camp, despite hundreds of strikes.
At least 19 civilians have been killed and 150 injured since the campaign began, mostly women and elderly, according to Ayman Abu Hashem, a lawyer and former camp resident in touch with residents who have stayed. The sprawling camp was part of a densely populated, impoverished squatter belt only few kilometers away from the heart of the capital.
Two sources inside the camp said around 1,500 families remain there.
Christopher Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said the plight of remaining civilians had worsened: “Many are sleeping in the streets, begging for medicine. There is almost no water or electricity. Their suffering is unimaginable.”
The camp has been under siege by the army since rebels captured it in 2012. Most civilians fled when Daesh militants drove out comparatively secular rebels in 2015, but thousands remained behind, many of whom have fled this week.
At least 3,500 Palestinian refugees from the camp have in the last week taken shelter in the nearby town of Yalda, according to UNRWA and a resident who confirmed the figure.
Yalda is not controlled by Daesh fighters but by rebels who have long abandoned fighting under de facto cease-fire deals with the army. The government aims to push them to leave the area for northern Syria under an evacuation deal. 


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.