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
0

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. 


Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

Updated 21 March 2019
0

Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

  • Research group warns of ‘dire humanitarian consequences’ over disputed Al-Nahda project
  • Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam

CAIRO: An international research group has warned of “dire humanitarian consequences” if a controversial Ethiopian project to dam the Nile leads to conflict with Egypt and neighboring Sudan.

The $5 billion dam is a source of friction between the three countries that could spill over into open hostility, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report.

Egypt and Sudan fear the dam, now being built near the Sudanese border, could reduce available water to both countries.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Al-Nahda dam, has been under construction since 2011 and is due to be completed in 2022. When finished it will be the largest dam in Africa, generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity for domestic use and export.

Dr. Abbas Al-Sharaki, a water resources expert at the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, told Arab News that Egypt is likely to face a water crisis in the future because of the dam.

Planned negotiations on the dam between the leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia are unlikely to succeed, he said. 

Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam, which would affect the 55.5 billion cubic meters of water that Egypt currently gets from the Nile. Ethiopia’s leaders insist the dam will also benefit all three countries.

Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Egyptian minister of irrigation, said that the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Egyptian water quota is inevitable, but Egypt is looking to reduce its effects and delay it as long as possible until other resources are raised.

Dr. Hisham Bakhit, professor of water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt is conducting large-scale research to reduce the impact of the dam.

Egypt has many sustainable solutions to manage the Nile’s water, he said.

The country gets 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water from the Nile, and has “historical rights” over the river guaranteed under treaties in 1929 and 1959, Bakhit said.

MP Mustafa Al-Jundi said that Egypt has the right to appeal to the African Union, the African Parliament, the UN and international courts in the case of Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati, Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, said this week that Cairo does not oppose the development ambitions of any country “as long as they don’t harm any shares in water or threaten national security.”

The ministry is working to tap all sources of water and implement modern methods in irrigation. Desalination and wastewater treatment plants, and experimental studies into salt water farming are among Egypt’s plans to ensure reliable future supplies, he said.

The Al-Nahda dam was 60 percent complete before work stopped in August as a result of a funding crisis. In January, a Chinese company, Voith Hydro Shanghai, signed a deal to build the turbine generators at the dam.