Russia saved Assad but Syria peace settlement elusive

Russia saved Assad but Syria peace settlement elusive
This Jan. 23, 2017 file photo shows Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 bombing Daesh targets in Syria. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
Updated 03 November 2017

Russia saved Assad but Syria peace settlement elusive

Russia saved Assad but Syria peace settlement elusive

MOSCOW: Russia’s decision two years ago to intervene militarily in Syria appears to have saved Bashar Assad’s regime but a peace settlement seems ever more elusive, analysts say.
On Friday, Syrian government troops retook Deir Ezzor, the last major city where the Daesh group had a presence. Assad’s forces did so with Russian air support.
The successful action edged the Syrian president closer to what looks like victory in the six-year-long war.
“Russia has won the war,” foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov told AFP, “but it remains unclear if it can win peace in Syria.”
When the Russian army began its bombing campaign in support of Assad’s government in September 2015, the regime seemed fragile and its army was exhausted and demoralized by major setbacks against rebel groups and jihadists.
Moscow demonstrated its military force by sending helicopters, submarines, bomber aircraft and long distance missiles to hit groups fighting the regime.
Supported by Russia’s unrelenting bombing, Assad’s forces regained control of more than half the country, recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra from Daesh in a symbolic victory and chasing rebel groups out of their stronghold of Aleppo in the north.
The difficulty for Moscow now is to balance its military success with a political process and put an end to a conflict that has killed more than 330,000 people and displaced millions.
“The strategy is simple: get out of Syria through the negotiation process,” said Alexander Shumilin, a Middle East scholar at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies.
“It is clear that these military operations will not lead to political solutions, without which nothing can be achieved.”
The attempts for peace talks under Moscow’s watch started in January this year with the first conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, when regime envoys and representatives of Syrian rebel groups that still control considerable territories gathered for the first time.
Initiated by Assad’s allies Russia and Iran, the Astana negotiations led to the creation of “de-escalation zones,” which limit the violence inside designated areas without implementing a real cease fire.
Under the agreement that also involves rebels’ backer Turkey, Russian military police were deployed to monitor the zones.
The Astana talks have run in parallel to repeated negotiations held in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations. The latter have failed to gain traction.
The fate of Assad remains a huge stumbling block, preventing global players from reaching a peace settlement over Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly blocked Western efforts to oust Assad but his departure remains a critical point Syrian opposition groups insist on.
Frolov said Moscow could not and did not want to remove Assad.
“Russia expects Assad’s regime to stay forever with slight modifications and embellishments sold internationally as an all-inclusive national reconciliation government,” he said.
Alexei Malashenko, head of research at the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, added: “Russia has found itself in a never ending trap because it cannot reach a consensus on Syria.”
He also said that Moscow cannot bear the costs of reconstructing the country alone.
Aware of the deadlock, Russia, Turkey and Iran announced a new initiative this week, pledging to bring Assad’s regime and its opponents together for a “congress” in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on November 18.
Moscow said 33 Syrian organizations including pro-regime forces and the full spectrum of opposition groups had been invited.
But Syrian opposition groups in exile have said they will boycott the talks, calling them a joke.
“Sochi will not work because Assad, supported by Iran, is uncompromising and thinks he has nothing to sacrifice,” said Shumilin.
“Assad wants a military victory while Russia wants negotiations.”


US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion
Updated 31 July 2021

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion

US-led coalition says provided Iraq military with weapons worth $5 billion

DUBAI: The US-led coalition has provided the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth more than $5 billion since 2014, the bloc’s spokesman said Friday.

“Only in the last week, the international coalition equipped the Iraqi security forces with equipment worth 35 million dollars,” international coalition spokesman Colonel Wayne Morato said.

“This is part of From the Fund for financing, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, which was supported by the American forces,” he added. 

This includes communications and intelligence equipment as well as other support, Morato added in a statement to the Iraqi News channel, carried by the Iraqi News Agency (INA). 

“The support will continue to support the Iraqi forces, and perhaps in the future and in light of the decision to withdraw combat forces, and it will be left to a decision by the Iraqi and American governments,” the spokesman said. 

Last week,  an Iraqi army official said that Iraq's relationship with the international coalition will be based on  fighting terrorism, providing training and equipment to Iraqi forces, and intelligence effort, the INA reported.


Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
Updated 31 July 2021

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says

Houthi-controlled areas largest hotbeds for human trafficking, Yemeni minister says
  • Yemeni official calls on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes

DUBAI: Areas in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militias have become the largest hotbeds of human trafficking, Muammar Al-Eryani, the conflict-ridden country’s information minister, said.

Al-Eryani issued the statement as the world celebrated International Day for Combating Human Trafficking on July 30.

The Houthi militia’s coup and war have undermined the efforts made by the state before 2014 in combating human trafficking in terms of regulations, laws and field procedures, the official said, in a report from state news agency Saba.

The militia’s “policy of child soldier recruitment, disappearance of women in secret prisons, sexual abuse, enforced waves of internal and external displacements, and high rates of poverty and unemployment, have made the areas under Houthi control the largest hotbeds of human trafficking in the world,” Al-Eryani said.

The Yemeni official called on the UN, the international community and human rights groups to help the victims of the Houthi militia’s crimes in human trafficking and to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice by treating them as “war criminals.”


UN: 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s Tigray face deadly hunger

A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
Updated 31 July 2021

UN: 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s Tigray face deadly hunger

A youngster assists with food distribution organized by the Amhara government near the village of Baker, 50 km southeast of Humera, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. (AFP)
  • Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children ... are being confirmed

ADDIS ABABA: The UN children’s agency said on Friday that more than 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a 10-fold increase to normal numbers.
UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said that one-in-two pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Tigray were acutely malnourished.
“Our worst fears about the health and well-being of children ... are being confirmed,” she told a briefing in Geneva.
Spokespeople for the prime minister and a government task force on Tigray — where fighting between rebellious regional and federal forces have continued since November — did not immediately respond to requests for comment on UNICEF’s statement.
Babies like 20-month-old Aammanuel Merhawi are suffering the most. He is a third below normal weight for his age. His feverish eyes glisten and his ribs are visible as he heaves, vomiting supplementary food fed through a nasal tube. All are signs of severe malnutrition.
“My milk dried up,” his mother, Brkti Gebrehiwot, told Reuters at Wukro General Hospital in northern Tigray on July 11.
Aid agencies say they are about to run out of the formula used to treat 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

FASTFACT

Aid agencies say they are about to run out of the formula used to treat 4,000 severely malnourished children every month.

At least three children have died in Wukro hospital since February, nurse Tsehaynesh Gebrehiwot said.
She provided their medical records: Four-month-old Awet Gebreslassie weighed 2.6 kg, a third of normal weight; one-year-old Robel Gebrezgiher weighed 2 kgs, less than a quarter of normal weight; and Kisanet Hogus, also a year old, weighed 5 kgs — just over half of normal weight.
All died within days of admission.
In Adigrat General Hospital further north, Reuters saw medical records confirming the death of three more malnourished children.
Doctors in both hospitals said they saw between four to 10 severely malnourished children monthly before the conflict erupted in November. Now numbers have more than doubled. The UN says that around 400,000 people are living in famine conditions in Tigray, and more than 90 percent of the population needs emergency food aid.
In a statement on Thursday evening, the Ethiopian government blamed Tigray regional forces for blocking aid and said it had stockpiled reserve wheat in the region.
It gave no details on the stockpile’s location or plans for distribution.
The TPLF was unavailable for comment but has previously said it welcomes aid. The UN says Tigray needs 100 trucks of food daily to prevent mass starvation; only one 50-truck convoy has gotten through in the past month.


Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
Updated 31 July 2021

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
  • Rached Ghannouchi says President Kais Saied's locking of parliament's doors was a "very serious error"
  • Saied took over executive powers last week "to save Tunisia" as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and economy faltered

TUNIS: Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired party Ennahda, has warned that “if there is no agreement on the return of parliament, on the formation of a government and its presentation to parliament, the Tunisian street will undoubtedly mobilize.”

Ghannouchi, who is also the parliament speaker, claimed that President Kais Saied had “put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.”

He was speaking after the president froze parliament and took over executive powers, saying he had to save Tunisia, which is suffering from a coronavirus outbreak and a failing economy.

Ghannouchi said: “Since the start, we have called on the people to fight the coup d’etat with all peaceful means, and this resistance will continue with peaceful means.”

Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to Ennahda.

FASTFACT

Ghannouchi claimed that President Kais Saied had ‘put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.’

Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.

The probes follow Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.

Ghannouchi admitted there had been “mistakes in the economic and social fields, and Ennahda bears a part of the responsibility, which corresponds to the part of power it has held.”

He said the parties in parliament had made the mistake of not managing to establish a constitutional court and that Saied had used the absence of a constitutional court “to monopolize the interpretation of the constitution and to make himself the constitutional court, and that’s an error in which we all bear a part of the responsibility.”

Ghannouchi voiced regret at the lack of dialogue with the presidency. “We are ready to make all concessions so that democracy can return to Tunisia,” he added.

“There is no dialogue today with the president nor with his advisers. But we think we need a national dialogue. We are trying to use all peaceful means — dialogue, negotiations, street pressure, pressure from organizations ... internal and external pressure — to bring back democracy.”


German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 31 July 2021

German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT: German NGO Sea-Watch said on Friday it had rescued nearly 100 migrants in the Mediterranean, many of whom were injured, some with severe “fuel burns” — chemical burns caused by exposure to gasoline mixed with seawater.
Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.
Late on Thursday, the vessel Sea-Watch 3 rescued 33 migrants from two boats which had been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in the search and rescue zone of the Mediterranean assigned to Malta, the NGO said.
Among them were nine unaccompanied minors, of which three were very small children, and a woman who was seven months pregnant.  The rescued came from South Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali, according to a Reuters witness aboard the Sea-Watch 3.

BACKGROUND

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.

Many migrants were already on a coast guard ship but jumped into the sea when they saw the NGO vessel approach, according to the witness. All were brought onboard the Sea-Watch 3 by its crew.
In a second operation at dawn on Friday, Sea-Watch 3 rescued over 60 people from an overcrowded wooden boat within the Libyan search and rescue zone. Most of the rescued were Libyans, the Reuters witness said.
Among the migrants being treated for their injuries on board the Sea-Watch 3 on Friday were a father and son who suffered burns after a fire broke out on their boat, while others suffered fuel burns.
“As it is often the case with such boats, many of the people suffered fuel burns, some of them severe,” Sea-Watch said in a statement.