Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight

Syrian children are seen at a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey in this photo taken on April 3, 2015. Five years on, little has changed about their plight as the Syrian conflict continues, say aid groups. (Shutterstock photo)
Syrian children are seen at a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey in this photo taken on April 3, 2015. Five years on, little has changed about their plight as the Syrian conflict continues, say aid groups. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 26 February 2021

Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight

Russia unmoved as Security Council again warned of Syrian children’s plight
  • UN’s humanitarian chief says malnutrition is so common, parents can no longer notice the signs in their own children.
  • Aid is restricted because most border crossings have closed; Russian envoy rules out reopening them as it would be ‘supporting terrorists’

NEW YORK: In what might be his final briefing on Syria to the Security Council, the UN’s humanitarian chief on Thursday once again warned of the dire situation in the country, and the terrible toll it is taking on children in particular.

Mark Lowcock, who this month said that after four years in the role he is stepping down to spend more time with his family in the UK, sounded the alarm about a humanitarian crisis which, 10 years into the civil war, is only getting worse. A fragile economy is suffering shock after shock, the currency is in free fall, food prices have spiked by 200 percent, unemployment is rising, and 60 percent of the population lacks access to safe and nutritious food, he said.

Millions are forced to resort to “desperate measures” to survive, he added. Parents are going without food so that they can feed their children, who are having to find work instead of going to school. More than half a million under-fives are affected by stunting, which is impaired growth and development as a result of chronic malnutrition.

Although this crisis is affecting people throughout Syria, it is particularly bad in the northwest and northeast, where Lowcock said one in three children is suffering from the irreversible effects of stunting. He said malnutrition is so common that parents no longer even notice the signs in their children.

“The effects this will have on their development and learning will be lifelong and irreversible,” he added.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, told the council that about half of Syrian children are growing up “having known nothing but conflict, which has permeated all aspects of their lives and robbed them of their childhoods.”

She added: “Children today are facing a graver reality than at any other point in the 10-year conflict. They are more likely to be in need of humanitarian assistance, to go hungry, to die from preventable diseases, to miss out on school and face protection risks.”

Khush said the combined effects of the conflict, during which thousands of children have been killed, displacement, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic have created conditions in which millions of Syrian young people are missing out on an education, girls are being married off to support their families, boys are being sent to war, and child labor is becoming more prevalent.

Schools are supposed to be safe places for children to learn and thrive, she added, but instead they have been attacked, used by armed groups and are littered with unexploded ordinance.

Of the five million people across northern Syria in need of cross-border assistance, two million are children and half of them have been displaced, in some cases more than 10 times, Khush said.

Lack of access to adequate supplies of food and water has resulted in an alarming nutritional crisis.

“This means they have gone for months without eating nutritious food that is vital to their survival and development, and the number of children who go to bed hungry every day is in the millions,” Khush said.

In the past year, the UN has lost access to three of four border crossings through which it delivered humanitarian aid to Syria from neighboring countries. Under pressure from Russia and China, on behalf of the Assad regime, closed crossings have not been reopened. In the northwest, the entire humanitarian aid effort to help 2.4 million people has to pass through a single checkpoint on the border with Turkey.

“Without the cross-border operation, doctors in northwest Syria, like some of those I spoke to, would not be able to provide those children with the care that they need to survive,” Lowcock said. “They would not have the resources and supplies to carry on, within quite a short period of time, they said. The situation would go from terrible to catastrophic.”

Lowcock, who is also the emergency relief coordinator, reiterated the stance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that “when it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need, all channels should be made, and should be kept, available.”

Should the Security Council again fail to extend its authorization for cross-border assistance, Lowcock warned that it would “trigger suffering and loss of life potentially on a very large scale.”

Despite the dire warnings, the Russian stance on the issue of cross-border assistance remained the same.

“There is no doubt that keeping the cross-border mechanism will also mean keeping supporting terrorists, who are living on what they have extorted and also on how they are controlling smuggling,” said Vassily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN.

“If we all had to make a decision on the extension of the cross-border mechanism tomorrow, I fear that we would not have any convincing grounds to do so.”


Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait condemn failed coup attempt in Sudan

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan, Al-Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday, citing the kingdom's foreign ministry.

The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also condemned the failed coup attempt in Sudan and renewed their support for the Sudanese people.  

Sudanese authorities reported a coup attempt on Tuesday by a group of soldiers but said the attempt failed and that the military remains in control. 

It said the plotters were loyal to ousted president Omar al-Bashir.  


UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places
Updated 22 September 2021

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

DUBAI: The UAE government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in some public places, the country’s health ministry announced Wednesday. 

The decision means it is no longer obligatory to wear masks while exercising outdoors, sitting at the beach, or by the pool.

Individuals driving in a private car alone or with members of the same household will also not be required to wear them.

Masks will also not be required in indoor places such as hair salons when people are alone. 

The decision came after the number of daily Covid-19 cases decreased by 60 per cent in August this year as compared to the same period last year.


Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
Updated 22 September 2021

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge

Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib struggles with coronavirus surge
  • The total number of cases seen in Idlib province has more than doubled since the beginning of August
  • Extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible

BEIRUT: Coronavirus cases are surging to the worst levels of the pandemic in a rebel stronghold in Syria — a particularly devastating development in a region where scores of hospitals have been bombed and that doctors and nurses have fled in droves during a decade of war.
The total number of cases seen in Idlib province — an overcrowded enclave with a population of 4 million, many of them internally displaced — has more than doubled since the beginning of August to more than 61,000. In recent weeks, daily new infections have repeatedly shot past 1,500, and authorities reported 34 deaths on Sunday alone — figures that are still believed to be undercounts because many infected people don’t report to authorities.
The situation has become so dire in the northwestern province that rescue workers known as the White Helmets who became famous for digging through the rubble of bombings to find victims now mostly ferry coronavirus patients to the hospital or the dead to burials.
“What is happening is a medical catastrophe,” the Idlib Doctors Syndicate said this week as it issued a plea for support from international aid groups.
Idlib faces all the challenges that places the world over have during the pandemic: Its intensive care units are largely full, there are severe shortages of oxygen and tests, and the vaccination rollout has been slow.
But extreme poverty and the ravages of Syria’s civil war have made the situation in Idlib uniquely terrible. Half of its hospitals and health centers have been damaged by bombing, and the health system was close to collapse even before the pandemic. A large number of medical personnel have fled the country seeking safety and opportunities abroad. Tens of thousands of its residents live in crowded tent settlements, where social distancing and even regular hand-washing are all but impossible. And increasing violence in the region is now threatening to make matters worse.
Large parts of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo province remain in the hands of Syria’s armed opposition, dominated by radical groups including Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants who have struggled to respond to the outbreak, which intensified in August, apparently driven by the more contagious delta variant and gatherings for the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.
Cases and deaths have also been increasing in recent weeks in government-held areas and those under the control of US-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the east, but the situation appears to be worse in Idlib, though it’s hard to measure the true toll anywhere.
In response, the political arm of the insurgent group that runs Idlib has closed some markets, forced restaurants to serve outdoor meals only, and delayed the opening of schools by a week.
But most residents are daily laborers who could not survive if they stopped working, making full lockdowns impossible.
“If they don’t work, they cannot eat,” said Idlib resident Ahmad Said, who added that most people cannot even afford to buy masks.
What’s more, a population that has suffered through so much already is often too weary to follow restrictions that have tested people even in easier circumstances.
“It is as if people have gotten used to death,” said Salwa Abdul-Rahman, an opposition activist who reports on events in Idlib. “Those who were not killed by regime and Russian airstrikes are being killed now by coronavirus.”
The vaccination campaign meanwhile, has been slow, though the arrival of some 350,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine earlier this month could help. According to the World Health Organization, only about 2.5 percent of Idlib’s population has received at least one shot.
The new virus outbreak also comes amid the most serious increase in violence in Idlib, 18 months after a truce reached between Turkey and Russia who support rival sides in Syria’s conflict brought relative calm. In recent weeks, airstrikes and artillery shelling by government forces have left scores of people dead or wounded.
At Al-Ziraa hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah says there is no sign that the outbreak has reached its peak yet.
But for some Idlib residents, getting infected is the least of their worries.
“We have gone through more difficult situations than coronavirus,” said resident Ali Dalati, walking through a market without wearing a mask. “We are not afraid of coronavirus.”


Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy
Updated 22 September 2021

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

Houthis not willing to make peace, Yemen’s parliament leader tells US envoy

DUBAI: The Iran-backed Houthi militia are unwilling to make peace in Yemen and are actually undermining efforts for hostilities to cease in the conflict-ridden country, a senior Yemeni politician said.

“We’re ready to achieve peace, but the Houthi militia has not yet agreed to do so, it has continued to deliberately undermine peace efforts and proposals, going on fighting. These indicators show they have never been willing to make peace,” Parliament speaker, Sultan Al-Barakani said as he met US envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking to discuss peace initiatives for Yemen.

The Houthis are to blame for blocking peace efforts and initiative and escalating military actions targeting civilians and facilities including Mocha port, state news agency SABA quoted the parliament leader as saying.

Al-Barakani pointed to the recent public execution of nine people, who were accused of being involved in the killing of Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018, as an example of the militia’s crimes against the Yemeni people.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms claimed it had documented 6,476  violations committed by the Houthis against women in more than five years, involving mostly deaths and injuries caused be artillery shelling, as well as mines and other explosive devices detonating.

The rights group also said there had been 770 cases of arrests and kidnapping, 195 cases of enforced disappearance and 70 cases of torture of women in Yemen during the period from Jan. 1, 2015 to June 1, 2021.

It also confirmed cases of torture and degrading treatment against 70 women who were detained in secret and public prisons of the Houthi militia.

This amounted to false charges against their honor, as well as trafficking in their honor – according to what was reported – in the testimonies of some of the released women, the group said, leading to some of them to commit suicide.


COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
  • The leaders of the US, Egypt and Turkey raised the issue of Palestinian rights and statehood, and called for a just and comprehensive solution
  • Iran’s president took aim at Washington, saying it has ‘no credibility; Qatar’s emir hailed the resolution of the dispute with neighboring countries

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first day of speeches by world leaders during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. But some also took the opportunity to raise the question of Palestinian statehood and express their fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

The leaders of the US, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among the premiers who addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. The speeches continued late into the evening, with many running over their allotted 15-minute slots.

US President Joe Biden declared that the US is back on the world stage and remains committed to multilateralism. As evidence of this he cited the nation’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and its contribution to the international Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward the global COVID response,” said Biden, who was making his first in-person speech to the UN as president. “We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” with “no strings attached.”

Moving on to other issues, he called for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, saying that this is the “best way” to safeguard Israel’s future.

“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said. “The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question, and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal.

“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state.

“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Biden said: “We’re prepared to return to full compliance (with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) if Iran does the same.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“There can be no stability in the Middle East without a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian question, which remains the central cause of instability for the Arab region,” he said. “This must happen in accordance with international resolutions to establish a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Egypt also calls upon the international community to take the necessary measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.”

Turning his attention to matters closer to home, El-Sisi said Egypt is “immensely proud” of its African identity but decried the lack of progress in negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Located upriver on the Nile, Egyptian authorities say it threatens their country’s existence due to its reliance on Nile water.

In his prerecorded speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office this year, took aim at the US over its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Capitol riots in Washington on Jan. 6, saying that America has “no credibility.”

He also blamed American authorities for causing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran, accusing them of preventing the country from obtaining vaccine supplies. He failed to mention that in January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of Western-produced vaccines, falsely claiming they could not be trusted. The ban was subsequently reversed but left Iran facing relentless waves of COVID-19 infections.

Raisi also attempted to convince world leaders that his country does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. “Nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy,” he said.

He also made a plea for sanctions relief, saying: “The Islamic Republic considers useful the talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”

The leaders of Qatar and Turkey called on the international community to cooperate in delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani also urged the world to take action to fight what he called the “other pandemic:” COVID-19 misinformation.

He also celebrated his country’s return to the fold of Middle East diplomacy in January, after a dispute with a number of neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia, was resolved through the AlUla declaration.

“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and our commitment to settling any differences through constructive dialogue,” he said. “The AlUla declaration came as an embodiment of the principle of settling differences through dialogue.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would soon start to provide vaccines produced there to the international community. He also echoed the comments by other leaders about the importance of working to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Heads of state will continue to address the General Assembly throughout the week. The speech by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.