Flooding forces Mosul residents to flee war in rickety boats

(AFP)
Updated 07 May 2017

Flooding forces Mosul residents to flee war in rickety boats

MOSUL: The Iraqi man laid the body of his wife, wrapped in a black shroud, gently on the bow of a small wooden boat and held onto it as a second man rowed slowly to pick up the man’s three children standing a few meters away.
The two teenage girls and young boy climbed in, careful not to disturb the balance, for the crossing taking their mother, killed in an air strike this week, to the east bank of the Tigris River.
This crossing is no ancient rite, however.
It is an extra hardship heaped on the family by the flooding of the Tigris and the disassembly of the last pontoon bridge linking the two sides of Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces have been fighting to oust the Daesh militants who seized the city in 2014.
Loading up everything from clothes and food to injured or dead relatives, hundreds of families exhausted by war have been crossing the river on small, rickety fishing boats capable of holding only five or six people.
Many have been leaving the Musherfa district of western Mosul after US-backed Iraqi forces took it from Islamic State on Friday, hoping to reach the relative safety of the eastern banks of the river.
“We suffered Islamic State’s injustice, and now that we are free we were promised five bridges,” said 45-year-old Mushref Mohamed, an ice factory worker from Musherfa. “Where are the bridges? We have been waiting for two days.”
“So many of my neighbors and friends died. We were freed, but we are not happy because we lost the people closest to us.”
The flooding has cut off all crossing points between east and west and forced the military to dismantle the makeshift bridges linking the two sides of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Mothers carrying babies, men in wheelchairs, and families of up to 15 people have been paying 1,000 Iraqi dinars ($0.86) per head to make the short journey, with many needing to make two or three trips.
Even soldiers carrying green army crates full of military documents and cigarettes have had to use the boats. The army initially planned to transport people using steamboats when they took down the pontoons, but now say they have run out of gas.
“We came from the early morning at 7am and have been waiting until now. It is noon. The steamboats do not have gas. This government cannot provide gas?” asked Mohsen, a pensioner from the Wadi Hajar area in west Mosul.
Mosul’s permanent bridges have mostly been destroyed during the seven-month campaign to take the city back from Islamic State.
The army opened a new front in the war with an armored division trying to advance into the city from the north on Thursday and taking back two areas on Friday.
The militants are now besieged in the northwestern corner of Mosul which includes the historic Old City, the medieval Grand Al-Nuri Mosque and its landmark leaning minaret where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning swathes of Syria and Iraq in June 2014.
The Iraqi army said on April 30 that it aimed to complete the retaking of Mosul, the largest city to have fallen under Islamic State control in both Iraq and Syria, this month.


Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”