UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

Members of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the ‘White Helmets,’ carry away a body on a stretcher following a reported regime airstrike in the village of Benin, about 30 km south of Idlib in northwestern Syria, on June 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2019

UN chief asks Russia, Turkey to ‘stabilize’ Syria’s embattled Idlib

  • There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political: UN

NEW YORK: UN chief Antonio Guterres called on Russia and Turkey on Tuesday to “stabilize the situation” in the Syrian province of Idlib, rocked by intense fighting that the UN body warned is creating a humanitarian disaster.

“I am deeply concerned about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib and the situation is especially dangerous given the involvement of an increased number of actors. Yet again civilians are paying a horrific price,” Guterres told reporters.

His comments came ahead of a UN Security Council session on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

The world is facing “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes,” Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the council.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib — the last bastion of jihadist forces in Syria — are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September. But it was never fully implemented as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) extended its administrative control over the region. The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region in Syria’s northwest since late April.

“Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children. Hundreds more have been injured,” Lowcock said, adding that an estimated 330,000 have been forced to flee their homes and move toward Turkey since early last month.

“Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop and they need to stop immediately,” Lowcock said.

Several diplomats indicated that the aim of the council meeting was to “renew attention” on Idlib and maintain pressure on Russia and Syria to stop their attacks on civilians.

Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey, as signatories of the September deal, to stabilize the situation “without delay.”

“There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The solution must be political,” he said, stressing the need to respect human rights and international humanitarian law “even in the fight against terrorism.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded that “we never attack civilian installations,” and added that the September accord is being “fully implemented.” His Turkish counterpart disagreed.

“Unfortunately, cease-fire violations are still on the rise. Consequences of the attacks by the regime against civilians are dire,” said Ankara’s Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 14 pro-regime forces and 41 militants and opposition fighters were killed in clashes on Tuesday.

The fighting flared on the edge of Hama province when HTS launched a dawn attack on regime positions, the observatory said.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, explained to the council the contrasting priorities of Russia and Turkey.

HTS’s presence in the de-escalation area “is not tolerable” for Moscow, while for Ankara, “time is required to effectively isolate and address HTS’s most hard-line fighters,” she said.

Tuesday’s Council meeting occurred at the request of Belgium, Germany, the US and Kuwait.

In May, the council held several meetings on Syria and the situation in Idlib.

Syria’s war began in 2011 and has now claimed more than 370,000 lives. Several million more have been displaced.

Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

Enas Khamis’ Cairo workshop spreads the recycling message. (Supplied)
Updated 18 January 2020

Egyptian eco-activist turns agricultural waste into crafts

  • Workshop set up by Enas Khamis in 2007 is recycling agricultural waste into paper crafts
  • An estimated 22–26 million tones of dry agricultural waste is burned annually in Egypt

CAIRO: The sustainable disposal of agricultural waste has long been a challenge in Egypt.
Despite a 2012 government ban on burning rice straw at the end of the harvest, every year thick black clouds choke the nation’s skies as farmers set their waste ablaze.
An estimated 22–26 million dry tons of agricultural waste in Egypt is burned annually, according to figures from the American University of Cairo.
As well as being burned in fields, agricultural waste is often used as fuel in primitive ovens that can cause health problems and damage the environment.
The type and quantity of agricultural waste in Egypt differs from year to year and village to village because farmers cultivate whichever crops are the most profitable at any time.
The five crops with the highest amount of waste are rice, corn, wheat, cotton and sugarcane.
In the past decade, government and civil focus has turned towards reducing agricultural waste, but much more needs to be done.
Enas Khamis, one of Cairo’s leading anti-waste activists, was ahead of her time when she set up El Nafeza, a waste reduction workshop, in 2007.
“The disposal of agricultural waste plays a big role in the pollution of our Egyptian skies. Yet a lot of the wastage can be recycled,” Khamis said.
Her social enterprise turns the huge amounts of dumped rice straw into a resource for both humanity and the environment. The workshop also trains and hires people with disabilities to recycle rice straws into paper products that are sold all over the country.
Proceeds from selling El Nafeza crafts are used to run further workshops for young people, women and people with disabilities, teaching them how to use papermaking skills to create products from agricultural refuse.
“It’s important that we empower these groups and teach them a craft that enables them to live in dignity,” says Khamis.
El Nafeza has established specialized training centers to teach and spread art techniques —especially skills working with rice straws, Nile water lilies and bananas stalks.
“The handmade paper industry is considered a non-traditional source of income in poor areas and the development of these crafts will help to solve the unemployment problem in Egypt,” said Khamis.
The El Nafeza workshop in Cairo produces more than 150 handmade products, including paper, envelopes, notebooks, handcrafted cards and frames.
Khamis relies on this workshop to act as a marketing tool for the brand, which sells to both locals and tourists.
“It is easy to sell our products from there because it is better for the customer to see the steps of our work in detail. They can see what a distinctive product it is and how much craftsmanship goes into it,” she said.
Khamis is busy working on a business and marketing strategy to take her wares into the international arena.
“We have plans to export our products to many countries, such as Germany, Italy and the US.
“We already have beautiful and unique products which we will continue to improve. Now our biggest challenge is selling our products and opening up our markets,” she said.

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.