East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting

In this still image made from video provided by opposition operated Step News Agency, which is consistent with independent AP reporting, a man views scenes of destruction inside a banquet hall, in Deir Qanoun, Barada Valley, Syria, in this Jan. 15, 2017 photo. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2017

East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting

BEIRUT: Fierce clashes gripped the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor on Wednesday, a monitor said, as the Daesh group set tires ablaze to create a smokescreen from regime warplanes.
Daesh launched the brutal assault on Saturday to capture the government-held third of Deir Ezzor city, as well as the adjacent military airport.
More than 150 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting.
Syrian and Russian warplanes have carried out intense bombing raids in a bid to halt the militant advance, according to a military source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Daesh on Tuesday tried to generate a smokescreen to shield its positions from fresh air strikes.
The group “set tires and barrels of crude oil on fire in Deir Ezzor... to block Syrian and Russian jets heavily bombing the city,” the Observatory said.
Since Saturday, 46 regime fighters and 75 Daesh militants have been killed, along with more than 30 civilians, according to the Britain-based monitor.
A local activist group told AFP on Wednesday that Daesh had killed at least 10 Syrian government fighters captured during the clashes.
“IS (Daesh) executed them last night by driving over them with tanks,” said Omar Abu Leila of Deir Ezzor 24, which publishes news on the eastern city.
He said the gruesome killings took place inside Daesh-controlled neighborhoods of the city.
“If IS (Daesh)seizes regime-held neighborhoods, it could carry out massacres. This is a huge source of concern for us,” he said. The militant group, excluded from a nearly three-week cease-fire in Syria, has carried out mass killings of military rivals and civilians, often with particularly grisly methods.
As it advanced on the ancient city of Palmyra in 2015, it killed dozens of civilians and then staged mass executions of government troops in the city’s theater.
The World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday said the clashes had forced it to suspend aid drops to Deir Ezzor, where more than 100,000 people have lived under Daesh siege since early 2015.
The WFP has been dropping humanitarian aid into Deir Ezzor since April 2016, and the government-held area is the only place in Syria where the agency has permission for the drops.

Children return to school
Sifting through ripped up textbooks and writing on broken whiteboards, Syrian children returned this week to a dilapidated small-town school that was used by Daesh militants as a prison for more than two years.
With no chairs or desks, around 250 children huddled in classrooms on mats to stay off the cold concrete at the Aisha Mother of the Believers school in Al-Rai, in the northern Aleppo hinterland near the Turkish border.
The students, aged 5-15, were given notebooks and pens on their first day back on Monday by seven volunteers who teach reading, writing and maths and helped get the school habitable again over the past six weeks.
“(I feel) joy, because I was able to bring back to school this number of students in a short period,” said volunteer Khalil Al-Fayad. “(But also) heartbreak because of the bad condition (of the school).”
The school previously taught 500 students before being seized 2 1/2 years ago by Daesh insurgents, who slapped logos on school bags bearing the slogan “Cubs of the Caliphate,” residents said.
The principal and teachers fled the area when Daesh took over and parents stopped sending their children to the school, which closed after two months and was used to house prisoners of the ultra-hard-line militants.
Volunteers set about trying to return the school to its previous standards last month in Al-Rai after Syrian Free Army rebels backed by the Turkish military ousted Daesh from the area.
With shattered windows, bullet strewn walls, debris and broken equipment still present, there is plenty left to do for the team of volunteers, who say they are seeking funding from local and Turkish authorities.
“(I) fear not being able to continue what we are doing if the situation remains the same and the lack of support continues,” Al-Fayad said.


Sea-Eye ship with 125 rescued migrants docks in Sardinia

Updated 25 September 2020

Sea-Eye ship with 125 rescued migrants docks in Sardinia

  • NGO Sea-Eye says the vessel Alan Kurdi docked at the port of Arbatax on the east of the island

ROME: A ship with 125 rescued migrants aboard reached the Italian island of Sardinia on Thursday, the aid organization Sea-Eye said, adding that the fate of its survivors remains unclear.

The Alan Kurdi docked at the port of Arbatax on the east of the island, having been “instructed by the port authorities to drop anchor and wait for further instructions,” said Sea-Eye, which charters the boat.

However, the NGO said it was unclear whether Arbatax would be a “safe port,” in which the rescued survivors would be able to disembark.

On Wednesday night, Italian authorities had made contact to discuss the “further coordination” and to provide weather protection for the ship, five days since Sea-Eye asked for assistance, it said on Twitter.

Italy’s Interior Ministry said earlier in the day that it had “authorized the request” to dock and “activated the procedure to redistribute” the 125 rescued migrants across Europe.

“Eighty percent of the rescued migrants will be transferred to other European countries,” it added.

The ship — named Alan Kurdi after the Syrian boy who made global headlines when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 — rescued 133 people, including 62 children, from three different boats off the Libyan coast.

Eight people, including a five-month-old baby, were evacuated by the Italian coast guard. More than 50 minors are still on board, including young children, the NGO said.

The ship was initially heading to Marseille in the south of France before French authorities successfully asked Italy to allow it to dock in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye’s chief Gorden Isler said in a tweet.

“We hope that the 125 rescued will be allowed to disembark in Sardinia so they can be adequately cared for there,” Isler added.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that the Sea-Eye ship should “be received in the nearest safe port,” with France implicitly declining any possibility of allowing the ship to dock in Marseille.

The principle of the landing of survivors in the nearest “safe port,” enshrined in international maritime law, generally means Italy or Malta are expected to take in rescued survivors from Mediterranean crossings.

More than 600 migrants have perished this year while attempting the Mediterranean crossing, the deadliest route for those hoping for a better life in Europe.

Almost 50,000 have made the journey so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.