Syrian government forces’ shelling kills 22: war monitor

The government forces’ artillery fire targeted several locations. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 April 2019
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Syrian government forces’ shelling kills 22: war monitor

  • About half of those killed were under 18 years old
  • The northwest, including Idlib province and parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, is home to about 3 million people

BEIRUT: Heavy bombardment by Syrian regime troops of the extremist-controlled Idlib region has killed 22 civilians, a monitor said on Thursday, the latest violence to theaten a seven-month-old truce.

The cease-fire was brokered by the main foreign backers of the warring parties in September to head off a government offensive that prompted UN warnings of humanitarian disaster for the region’s 3 million residents.

But since the region was overrun by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by former Al-Qaeda militants in January, the fragile truce has come under mounting assault.

Walid Muallem, foreign minister of the Assad regime, accused Turkey, which signed the September deal on behalf of the rebels, of failing to honor its commitments and warned that his government’s patience was running out.

The UN humanitarian affairs office said the escalating violence threatened aid deliveries to some 2.7 million people in need.

In the latest flare-up, army artillery and rocket fire on the Idlib towns of Kafrnabel and Maaret Al-Noman killed 13 people on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It came after shelling of adjacent extremist-held areas of Hama and Aleppo provinces killed nine people late on Wednesday, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The UN humanitarian office said that the ecalating violence had already killed 90 civilians in the Idlib region in March, nearly half of them children.

More than 86,500 people fled their homes in February and March as a result of the escalation, it added.

The UN expressed concern over “increased shelling along front lines, an intensification of air strikes and a growing number of attacks involving improvised explosive devices in urban areas.”

The foreign minister said his regime was growing impatient to recapture Idlib, the last region outside its control apart from the Kurdish-held north and northeast where Washington retains a troop presence.

Muallem said Turkey had failed to ensure the withdrawal of extremist forces from a planned buffer zone along the front line as stipulated by the truce agreed in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“It is known that Turkey is responsible for a delay in implementing” the deal, he said at a joint press conference with his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Arreaza.

“Honestly, we are still waiting for the Sochi deal to be implemented but our patience has its limits and we must liberate this land.

“We are losing patience,” he warned.

More than half of the population of the Idlib region have already fled regime offensives on other militant-held regions of Syria.

Many live in tent cities where they are dependent on humanitarian aid and deeply vulnerable to a resurgence of all-out conflict.

At least 370,000 people have died in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011.


Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

Updated 25 April 2019
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Vulture with GPS tracker held in Yemen on suspicion it was used for spying

  • The bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen
  • Govt forces detained the bird on suspicion that the attached GPS tracker was a spy device for Houthi militants

SANAA: Griffon vulture Nelson crossed into war-torn Yemen in search of food but ended up in the hands of Yemeni fighters — and temporarily in jail for suspected espionage.
The sand-colored bird came down in the country’s third city of Taiz, an unusual move for a young vulture that can soar for long distances across continents in search of food and moderate weather.
Nelson, approximately two years old, embarked on his journey in September 2018 from Bulgaria, where his wing was tagged and equipped with a satellite transmitter by the Fund for Wild Fauna and Flora (FWFF).
But he seems to have lost his way, eventually coming down into Taiz — under siege by Houthi rebels but controlled by pro-government forces, who mistook Nelson’s satellite transmitter for an espionage device and detained the bird.
Forces loyal to the government believed that the GPS tracker attached to the bird may have been a spy device for the rebels.
Hisham Al-Hoot, who represents the FWFF in Yemen, traveled from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Taiz to plead with local officials to release the helpless animal.
“It took about 12 days to get the bird,” he told AFP.
“The Bulgarian foreign ministry reached out to the Yemeni ambassador, who in turn contacted local officials (in Taiz) and told them to immediately give the organization the vulture.”
Hoot said that the bird migrated from Bulgaria, to Turkey, to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and then Yemen — where the FWFF lost track of the bird.
Nelson was MIA until April 5, when the conservation group received hundreds of messages from Yemenis concerned about the creatures’ welfare.
Today, the locally-famous vulture is being properly fed and getting stronger every day.
“When we first took him, he was in very bad condition,” said Hoot, adding that the bird was underweight.
Smiling, he puts on gloves and carefully handles the majestic creature — blowing it a kiss.
Hoot said the bird will be released in two months when he believed Nelson will have regained his full strength and his wing — broken somewhere during his journey — will have healed.
“We thought at first it would take six months for him to heal, but now we don’t think it will be more than two months,” he said.
Hoot said that Nelson was not able to find any source of sustenance in Yemen.
“They can eat carcasses of dead animals, but now there is no more with the current situation of war.
“This is what forced him to come down and stopped him from completing his journey.”
The four-year conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
The war escalated in March 2015 when a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, intervened to bolster the efforts of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Since then, at least 10,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization. Other rights groups estimate the toll could be much higher.