Assad is indulging in ‘sham elections’ as Syrians continue to suffer, UN told

Assad is indulging in ‘sham elections’ as Syrians continue to suffer, UN told
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, permanent US representative to the UN. (AP)
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Updated 29 April 2021

Assad is indulging in ‘sham elections’ as Syrians continue to suffer, UN told

Assad is indulging in ‘sham elections’ as Syrians continue to suffer, UN told
  • US envoy says until all Syrians, including refugees, can vote ‘we will not be fooled;’ accuses regime of ‘weaponizing’ humanitarian aid
  • UN’s special envoy for Syria says elections fail to comply with Security Council resolution; highlights suffering of women during conflict

NEW YORK: The permanent US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Wednesday accused the Assad regime of blocking the drafting of a new constitution. She also warned that the “so-called May 26 elections (will) be neither free nor fair, and will not be representative of the Syrian people.”
“While the Assad regime run their sham elections, the people of Syria continue to suffer,” she said.
Elections in Syria must be held under the auspices of a new constitution and supervised by the UN, as was mandated unanimously by the Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield said.
“The Assad regime must secure steps to enable the participation of refugees, internally displaced people and the diaspora in any Syrian election,” she added. “Until then we will not be fooled.”
She reiterated that Washington “will not support reconstruction aid that benefits the regime absent progress in achieving the political reforms called for in (Security Council) Resolution 2254.”
She also condemned Assad for “hindering and weaponizing” the delivery of aid supplies. As the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, the envoy urged council members to reauthorize the Bab Al-Hawa crossing and reinstate the crossings at Bab Al-Salam and Yaroubiyah, a move that has been vetoed by Russia and China.
“Should the UN lose access to cross-border mechanisms, the COVID crisis in Syria will go from dire to disastrous,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
“Four million people inside northwest Syria depend on the 1,000 UN trucks that use the crossing each month. There is no alternative. Nothing can match the scope and the scale of the UN cross-border humanitarian mechanism. In fact, it’s quite clear that one sole crossing point is insufficient for the vast needs.”
She also highlighted what she described as a “deep moral wrong” that is unfolding in the Rukban refugee camp.
“For 16 months the camp’s residents have been without medical aid because the Assad regime and Russia will not allow the UN to make deliveries to these people in need,” she said.
“We urge the Assad regime and Russia to allow unhindered humanitarian access to the camp. These people are not pawns. Aid cannot be politicized.”
Her Russian counterpart on the Security Council, Vassily Nebenzya, responded by defending the Syrian regime and repeating its rhetoric. He blamed the worsening humanitarian situation on “relentless sanctions pressure exerted by the collective West,” and the deteriorating security situation on “terrorists using civilians as human shields.”
He also welcomed the prospect of next month’s elections as part of the Syrian government’s efforts to “ensure the state is functioning.”
“We lament the fact that some countries are up in arms against the very idea of upcoming elections and are ready declaring them illegitimate,” Nebenzya said. “(The) interference in the internal affairs of the Syrians is unacceptable and contradicts the existing norms of international law.”
He added that “the negative background information on the upcoming elections” has nothing to do with the work of the constitutional committee. 
Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, reiterated that the elections scheduled for May 26 were called under the auspices of the existing Syrian Constitution, and are not part of the political process established by Security Council Resolution 2254.
“The UN is not involved in this election and has no mandate to be,” he told the council. “Resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new constitution, administered under United Nations supervision to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.”
He urged council members to prioritize a “proactive search” for a political settlement to the conflict, saying that events in the past month have demonstrated how easily the situation could deteriorate, despite a year of relative calm “by Syrian standards.”
There has been a significant escalation of fighting in northwest Syria, including air strikes on a UN-supported hospital in western Aleppo close to densely populated camps for internally displaced persons, where UN humanitarian aid is delivered. Residential areas in the city have also been shelled.
Meanwhile Daesh continued its assaults in central and northeastern Syria. In one incident dozens of civilians were kidnapped in rural Hama.
“It is all too easy to become immune to these kinds of developments and the dangers they could lead to,” said Pedersen.
He also said that he met with The Syrian Women’s Advisory Board in Geneva this week, and its members voiced fears that “differences among external actors would perpetuate the Syrian conflict.”
“Let us not forget that, in addition to challenges facing all Syrians, many women have also experienced sexual and gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, and trafficking,” he added.
“And with men killed and injured in large numbers, more women than ever are heading households — against the backdrop of violence, terrorism, displacement, instability, destitution and pandemic.”
Pedersen said the women he talked to also stressed the need for progress to be made on the issue of the thousands of people who remain locked up, abducted or missing, as there has been little so far.
“Allow me to stress again the importance of unblocking progress on detainees, abductees and missing persons,” he said. “As long as this file remains largely frozen, many Syrians will be unable to even begin to think of moving on, and Syria’s social fabric cannot begin to be restored.”
Pedersen also expressed concern about the economic destitution that Syrians face, with food prices at historic highs and no sign of inflation abating.
“12.4 million (people) are now food insecure, an increase of 4.5 million in the past year alone,” he said. “Fuel shortages remain a key concern as well.
“A large-scale, cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to save lives. I appeal for the members of the council to focus on achieving consensus to that end.”


Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
  • Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran
  • Taghavi suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes

BERLIN: A German-Iranian woman held in Iran has been given a decade-long jail term by an Iran court for participating in an outlawed group, her daughter said Wednesday.

Nahid Taghavi, 66, was given “ten years for membership in an illegal group” and “eight months for propaganda against the regime,” said her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran, in particular for women’s rights and freedom of expression, according to the rights group IGFM.

According to Claren, Taghavi has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she contracted Covid-19 last month.

Claren has repeatedly flagged up warnings about her mother’s health, saying that she suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Germany’s foreign ministry said in October that it was aware of the arrest of a German-Iranian woman in Iran, but did not name the detained citizen.

Frank Schwabe, who is the spokesman on human rights issues for the Social Democrats, condemned the verdict.

“The charges are baseless and the verdict a farce,” he wrote on Twitter.


UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight

UAE reports 1,519 new coronavirus infections, 5 additional deaths overnight
  • The UAE is one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization

DUBAI: The UAE health ministry on Wednesday reported 1,519 new coronavirus cases and five more COVID-19 related fatalities overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 686,981 with 1,965 deaths.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said it conducted 191,032 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as the Emirates aggressively pursues early detection of the highly contagious disease for necessary treatment and the prevention of community infection.

The UAE, one of leading countries in coronavirus testing and immunization, has deployed an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccines to 79.3 percent of its population, while 70.96 percent have been fully vaccinated.

A total 16,884,412 doses have been dispensed so far, for a vaccine distribution rate of 170.72 doses per 100 people.

The vaccination drive is in line with plans to provide the vaccine to the populace to acquire herd immunity, which will help reduce the number of cases and control the spread of the virus.


Macron seeks $350 million in donor aid for blast-scarred Lebanon

Macron seeks $350 million in donor aid for blast-scarred Lebanon
Updated 04 August 2021

Macron seeks $350 million in donor aid for blast-scarred Lebanon

Macron seeks $350 million in donor aid for blast-scarred Lebanon
  • The Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron aims to raise at least $350 million in emergency aid for Lebanon on Wednesday at a donor conference held on the first anniversary of a massive blast that gutted part of Beirut.
The August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut port killed at least 214 people, traumatizing the nation and bringing an already stuttering Lebanese economy closer to the brink of collapse.
Fuel, medicine and food have all grown scarce, but bickering between Lebanon’s political parties has held up the formation of a new government, delaying a much-needed international bailout.
France says Wednesday’s video conference, which is being co-hosted by Macron and United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, needs to raise $357 million to meet the most urgent needs of the Lebanese people in terms of food, health, clean water and education.
“One year after the tragedy, Lebanon can continue to count on France’s solidarity,” Macron tweeted ahead of the virtual meeting.
US President Joe Biden, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi and Lebanon’s own President Michel Aoun will be among the participants from around 40 countries and multilateral organizations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the International Monetary Fund.
The conference is the third in aid of Lebanon to be organized by former colonial power France in as many years.
Each time, donors have pledged millions in emergency relief but conditioned a broader rescue plan on Lebanese politicians forming a government that commits to tackling rampant corruption, among reforms.
Lebanon has been without a government for all of the past year.
Najib Mikati, the billionaire businessman recently appointed prime minister, had hoped to form a cabinet by the anniversary of the blast but squabbling over cabinet posts continues.
“There is no still no progress on the formation of a government or the implementation of urgent reforms. Given the dramatic deterioriation of the economic, this is irresponsible,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas, who is taking part in the donor conference, said on Wednesday.
The EU said last week it was ready to impose sanctions on members of the ruling elite who obstruct attempts to improve governance and public sector accountability.
France has already barred several Lebanese officials from its territory, without naming them.
“It’s a first step, those who are targeted know it. The pressure will continue to grow,” one of Macron’s aides told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One of the chief demands of the Lebanese population and the international community is that top officials be investigated over the warehouse fire that triggered the port blast.
The depot contained hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate.


Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
Updated 04 August 2021

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army

Rocket fire from Lebanon prompts Israeli shelling: Army
  • The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon

JERUSALEM: Rocket fire from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Wednesday prompting retaliatory shelling, the army said, as tensions rise between Israel and arch foe Iran.

“Three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement, adding that one had fallen short of the border.

“In response... artillery forces fired into Lebanese territory.”

Rocket warning sirens sounded in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, the Israeli military said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The military said in a statement the alerts sounded in at least three communities near the border with Lebanon.

The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas, who have sway in southern Lebanon and advanced rockets.

But small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past, and two rockets were launched at Israel on July 20, causing no damage or injuries. Israel responded to that incident with artillery fire.

 


Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
Updated 04 August 2021

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid

Pope Francis back to full-time work with call for Lebanon aid
  • ‘Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words’

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis returned to work full-time on Wednesday following a colon operation, urging the international community to help a struggling Lebanon.
The 84-year-old took time to bless children and pose for selfies in the Vatican at the weekly general audience one month to the day after the delicate operation, which saw him hospitalized for over a week.
“Today I appeal to the international community to help Lebanon along the path to resurrection through concrete gestures, not just words,” Francis said.
Lebanon was Wednesday marking a year since a cataclysmic explosion ravaged Beirut, killing at least 214 people in its worst peace-time disaster, when the country’s economy was already in tatters.
The spiralling economic crisis has been branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst since the mid-19th century. Lebanon has also had to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis said he hoped an international conference co-hosted by France and the UN on the day of the anniversary to raise humanitarian aid proves “productive.”
According to the Vatican News portal, the general audience marked the resumption of normal activities for the pope, who underwent planned surgery for inflammation of the colon at Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital on July 4.
Francis, who had previously been in fairly good health, had been taking it easy since the operation although he led the Sunday Angelus prayers both from hospital and from the Vatican window on his return.