Nearly 30 civilians dead in heavy bombing on north Syria: monitor

Government airstrikes on opposition-held territory in northwest Syria killed around 30 people. (File photo / Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2018
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Nearly 30 civilians dead in heavy bombing on north Syria: monitor

  • Dozens of air strikes and shelling hit parts of the last swathe of Syrian territory still held by rebels
  • The three areas in northwest Syria are the last major ones still in the hands of fighters seeking to overthrow Assad

BEIRUT: Heavy bombardment killed nearly 30 civilians across northern Syria on Friday, a monitor said, in some of the fiercest shelling of rebel-held areas there in months.
The air strikes and barrel bombs targeted the key opposition-held province of Idlib in Syria’s northwest and a rebel town in the adjacent province of Aleppo.
Idlib is the largest chunk of territory still in rebel hands, and President Bashar Assad has warned it would be his next target.
The province’s southwest was shelled heavily on Thursday and the bombing the next day “moved further east,” leaving 11 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Air strikes by Russian warplanes and barrel bombs from Syrian helicopters hit southern parts of Idlib province today in very heavy shelling,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Friday.
“It’s the most intense bombing since Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone last year,” he told AFP.
The shelling left eight civilians dead in the main town of Khan Sheikhun, and another three including a child died in nearby Al-Tah.
The White Helmets, a rescue force operating in opposition-held areas of Syria, said its volunteers were responding to a bombing blitz on both Khan Sheikhun and Al-Tah.
A White Helmets rescuer in Khan Sheikhun told AFP that residential districts had been hit.
Hours later, air strikes pummelled the main rebel town of Orum Al-Kubra in the neighboring province of Aleppo, the Observatory said, without being able to immediately identify if they were Syrian or Russian.
“The death toll is now at 18 civilians including three children, and dozens of people injured,” said Abdel Rahman.
Rebels have lost swathes of the territory they once controlled in Syria to regime forces over the last few months, including three areas that had been designated as “de-escalation zones” last year.
Assad’s troops now appear to have set their sights on the last such area, Idlib.
The Britain-based Observatory said regime reinforcements, including troops and equipment, had been amassing around the southwestern part of Idlib for several days.
But a full-fledged assault would be devastating for the estimated 2.5 million people living in Idlib, many of them rebels and civilians bussed out of other areas that came back under regime control.
The United Nations appealed Thursday for talks to avert “a civilian bloodbath” in the province, which borders Turkey.
“The war cannot be allowed to go to Idlib,” said Jan Egeland, head of the UN’s humanitarian taskforce for Syria.
Around 60 percent of Idlib is held by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which is led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
Rival factions control most of the rest, but Syrian troops have carved out a small southeastern part.
Government helicopters on Thursday dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s eastern countryside urging people to surrender.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.