Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue

Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue
A worker unloads bags and boxes of humanitarian aid from the back of a truck in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 07 July 2021

Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue

Threat to flow of aid to Syria is a ‘life-and-death’ issue
  • A Security Council vote on renewing UN mandate for cross-border humanitarian assistance is due July 10; Irish envoy says millions depend on it to survive
  • Pressure is mounting on Russia to allow flow of aid to continue but Moscow believes it should all go through the regime in Damascus

NEW YORK: With just days to go before the UN mandate for cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria expires, the spotlight is on Russia amid fears of a Security Council showdown between Moscow and the West.
“It’s life-and-death issues we’re dealing with here,” said Ireland’s permanent representative to the UN, Geraldine Byrne Nason, who together with Norwegian counterpart Mona Juul are co-penholders of the file on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The penholder role refers to the member of the council that leads the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular issue.
Nason and Juul have drafted a resolution to extend the cross-border mandate. They want the one remaining aid corridor through Bab Al-Hawa on the border with Turkey to remain open, and in addition to reopen Al-Yarubiya crossing on the border with Iraq.
“We’ve made the evidence-based arguments for months, together,” Nason told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, where the Security Council on Tuesday met to discuss the issue behind closed doors.
“We’ve talked to every single member of the council, individually and collectively, and we’re making good headway, I think, and we’re hoping to see successful renewal later this week.”
Juul acknowledged that the debate within the Security Council on the issue “will get even more intense” in the run-up to July 10, when members will decide whether to reauthorize UN access to Bab Al-Hawa.
Cross-border aid provides a critical lifeline for millions of Syrians in the northwest of the war-torn country, as part of a massive international humanitarian response.
Ramesh Rajasingham, the UN’s acting humanitarian chief said a failure to extend the mandate “would disrupt lifesaving aid to 3.4 million people in need across the northwest, millions of whom are among the most vulnerable in Syria.”
He added: “A cross-line operation would provide a vital addition to the cross-border lifeline but it could by no means replace it. Even if deployed regularly, cross-line convoys could not replicate the size and scope of the cross-border operations.”
Cross-line operations refer to internal shipments of aid from Damascus to rebel-held parts of the country, whereas cross-border aid is shipped direct to those areas by other nations.
The Security Council approved four border crossings when international aid deliveries to Syria began in 2014. In January 2020 Russia used its veto power to force the closure of all but one. Moscow argues that the international aid operation violates the Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, said that Syria has been “liberated” and so all aid destined for the north should go through the capital, Damascus.
But aid agencies have said that humanitarian assistance delivered to Damascus does not reach areas that oppose Bashar Assad’s regime, which is accused of withholding basic goods and services, including food and clean water, from millions of Syrians as a tool of war.
Nebenzia, however, blamed the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the West’s “illegal economic sanctions (and its) continuing attempt to oust the legal authorities of the country through economic suffocation.”
During a side event at the UN on Tuesday about humanitarian assistance to Syria, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the organization, said: “There is no substitute for cross-border aid. We only have four days to ensure that this literal lifeline to women and children does not get shut down.
“And as a mother and as a grandmother, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be not able to provide food, healthcare and shelter to my own children and grandchildren.
“I also can’t imagine what it is like for us not to make that decision that we have to make. And that is what we have to do in the council over the next three-to-four days.”
Thomas-Greenfield implored member states and aid agencies to “engage council members, both in New York and in capitals, to urge them to vote for the renewal and to vote for the expansion.”
The US is the single largest humanitarian donor to Syria. Although the Biden administration has been cautious about articulating any clear goals for Syria, it has treated the humanitarian issue as non-negotiable.
Maintaining the flow of aid into Syria was one of the key requests President Joe Biden made during his meeting last month with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The imminent vote at the Security Council is therefore seen as a test of Biden’s efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Moscow, which are more strained than they have been for years.
Jomana Qaddour, a non-resident fellow at international affairs think tank the Atlantic Council, told Arab News that Washington is not approaching the humanitarian issue in Syria as a negotiation in which it will make “concessions in exchange for what the US believes is common sense.”
She added: “Of course, this is not how Putin perceives it. The Russians have used every step as a platform for concessions from the US and European allies, specifically as it relates to files that (Moscow) knows are a headache for the Biden administration, such as (international) sanctions (on the Syrian regime), normalization (of relations with Damascus), and reconstruction aid.
“These are really the top priorities for Russia, and it is going to use every opportunity to gain concessions from the US and Europe to achieve progress on those fronts.”
Nason and Juul remain focused on the aid issue.
“We understand it’s politically sensitive (but) we’re making a purely humanitarian case,” said Nason.
Juul added: “It’s hard to believe that we will not be able to continue this massive aid operation, which is probably the biggest in the world right now and the most scrutinized and organized of all operations.”
Qaddour laments the fact that the international view of the Syrian conflict seems to have been reduced to this narrow focus on the continued delivery of humanitarian aid while other crucial issues — such as the thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared people, and the return of refugees — are being ignored.
“For all of us who have been working on Syria, it is incredibly frustrating to see all our energy every year spent on renewing what I think should be a no-brainer,” she said.
“I would love for that to be settled once and for all, so that we can actually focus on some of the root causes of the Syrian conflict that prevent the country and its people from living normal, stable and peaceful lives that provide them with some sense of justice, so that they can move on and rebuild.”


Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway
Updated 13 sec ago

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway
  • Banque du Liban holds meeting with IMF executive director 
  • Hezbollah and Amal Movement boycotting Cabinet sessions 

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Thursday woke to news of one of the bleakest moments brought on by the country’s energy crisis, after the smashed-up body of a female Ethiopian worker was found on Al-Zahrani Highway, which links Beirut to the south.

According to a security source, she was killed in a crash during the night but was run over again and again as drivers could not see her body in the dark.

People took to the streets for the second day in a row to protest their ever-worsening conditions, especially the uncontrolled rise in fuel prices and its repercussions on everyday life.

On Thursday, Banque du Liban said a meeting was held with the executive director at the International Monetary Fund during which the government's priorities were discussed, especially with regard to a “comprehensive economic project.”

The IMF’s Mahmoud Mohieldin described his visit to Lebanon and his meetings with officials as “successful, with a positive outcome, compared to previous visits.”

He said: “I saw a better consensus over priorities and a common discourse between the parties regarding the economic crisis and its social effects. The meetings reflect the four priorities that constitute the pillars of future dealings with the IMF, and a framework for the negotiations that the government will carry out with the BDL in the coming weeks. It is important to consider a timeframe.”

Mohieldin stressed the importance of unifying the exchange rate which was, he added, usually a product of comprehensive economic reforms that were being initiated.

“A law to control remittances from inside and outside the country needs to be adopted, along with structural reforms and emphasis on the issue of governance, transparency and sector-related priorities, determined by the state.

“If we succeed in developing a good framework to present to the IMF in the coming weeks, it can then be presented to the IMF’s board of directors, and the form of the program and the financing framework associated with it will thus be determined, in a way that will reinstate confidence in the Lebanese economy and restore financial flows,” he said.

But the Cabinet has yet to convene as the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are refusing to attend a session until Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into last year’s Beirut Port blast, is dismissed and until the deadly street violence from earlier this month is investigated.

The government is also supposed to decide on the ration card for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, coinciding with the lifting of fuel subsidies.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday contacted several officials following statements from the Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada, who is affiliated with the Shiite parties Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, about Shiite ministers resigning from the government.

Mikati also met President Michel Aoun. 

According to a ministerial source, their meeting revolved around “finding a formula” that would lead to the resumption of government work “under the pressure of stressful living conditions.”

"All parties realize that the uncontrolled rise in prices will implode in the street, and the government bears the responsibility to implement rescue measures and secure the required international assistance,” the source added.

Mikati chaired a committee meeting to address the repercussions of the financial crisis on public utilities. 

The committee discussed existing obligations and an agreement to provide a financial, contractual and legal equation that allowed securing public utility services and the continuation or termination of business in a balanced and fair manner that took into account urgent factors.

The majority of contractors that signed with the Lebanese state have stopped their work, including waste removal companies, because the cost was calculated on the official exchange rate of LBP1,507 to the US dollar. But the Lebanese national currency trades at around LBP20,000 to the dollar on the black market.

During the meeting, it was decided that the first Cabinet session would announce measures that would respond to the living crisis, specifically raising the daily transport allowance, and approving a monthly advance as social assistance for workers in public institutions, government hospitals and schools, within an integrated project.


Tunisia president says he will launch dialogue over political system and electoral law

Tunisia president says he will launch dialogue over political system and electoral law
Updated 4 min 7 sec ago

Tunisia president says he will launch dialogue over political system and electoral law

Tunisia president says he will launch dialogue over political system and electoral law

TUNIS: The Tunisian president said on Thursday, that a national dialogue will be launched that includes amending the political system and electoral law, in the clearest sign to end the political crisis since he took control of all authorities in July, a move his opponents described as a coup.


Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood
Updated 21 October 2021

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood

Israelis in West Bank flashpoint dig for new neighborhood
  • "We are clearing the area for the beginning of the new project," said Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for Hebron's Jewish community
  • The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now is suing to stop the project

JERUSALEM: Jewish residents of an explosive settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron said Thursday they had begun work in the construction of a new neighborhood.
“We are clearing the area for the beginning of the new project,” said Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community.
Israel approved the construction four years ago on an Israeli military base and allocated more than $6 million to it.
The Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now is suing to stop the project, which it says is the first major expansion of the Jewish community in Hebron in two decades.
The neighborhood would eventually contain 31 homes, Fleisher said.
About 1,000 Jewish settlers live in Hebron under heavy Israeli military protection among more than 200,000 Palestinians.
Israel occupied the West Bank, including Hebron, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians eye the areas for their future state.
Hebron contains a holy site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque and to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is revered by both faiths.
Palestinian Hebron resident Issa Amro, an activist against settlements, said the new neighborhood would exacerbate friction in the area.
“It means an increase in violence. It means the restrictions on us as Palestinians. It means changing the identity of our own city to an Israeli, Hebrew city,” he said.
The construction was revealed by Peace Now, which published video showing a digger at work.
The Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, COGAT, approved the new settler units in central Hebron in 2017.
Peace Now and the Hebron municipality challenged the apartment project in Jerusalem’s district court and lost, said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now.
The area had previously served as a bus station before the Israeli army closed it for security reasons, Ofran said.
“Now Israel decided there was no military purpose anymore, there is no security need, so it should return to the (Palestinians),” Ofran said. “But instead of returning it, they are taking it and giving it to settlers.”
Fleisher said no court issued an injunction against construction.
Ofran said her group and Hebron are now appealing to Israel’s supreme court.


P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib
Updated 21 October 2021

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib

P5 countries call for protection of civilians amid Houthi offensive on Marib
  • P5: All Yemeni parties should promote dialogue and that “there is no military solution to the crisis”
  • The call took place a day after the UN Security Council condemned Houthi cross-border attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The UN Security Council’s five permanent members called for the unconditional protection of civilians in Marib on Thursday.
During a call with Marib’s governor, the heads of missions of the UK, US, France, Russia and China to Yemen said that “a fully inclusive political solution in Yemen is the only way to end to the suffering of the Yemeni people.”
They added that all Yemeni parties should promote dialogue and that “there is no military solution to the crisis.”
The governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada, briefed the ambassadors on the dire humanitarian situation in the governorate.
The call took place a day after the UN Security Council condemned Houthi cross-border attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia, car-bomb attacks targeting a Yemeni official convoy, and attacks on civilian and commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since early this year when the Houthis resumed a major military offensive to control Marib city.
The Arab coalition has recently been carrying out operations in Marib’s besieged Abedia district which has been under a Houthi siege since Sept. 23.
The militia has been hindering the movement of civilians and impeding humanitarian aid flows.


Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
Updated 21 October 2021

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise

Rival Sudan camps take to streets as tensions rise
KHARTOUM: Tens of thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy took to the streets Thursday, as rival demonstrators kept up a sit-in demanding a return to military rule.
Both sides appealed to their supporters to keep apart and refrain from any violence, but there was a heavy police and troop presence around potential flashpoints.
Security forces fired tear gas as pro-civilian rule protesters rallied outside parliament in Omdurman, across the Nile river from the capital Khartoum, witnesses and an AFP correspondent said.
The two sides represent opposing factions of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the civilian umbrella group which spearheaded the nationwide demonstrations that led to the army’s overthrow of longtime president Omar Al-Bashir in 2019.
The mainstream faction backs the transition to civilian rule, while supporters of the breakaway faction are demanding that the military takeover.
Demonstrators joined the march organized by the mainstream faction in several cities across Sudan including Khartoum, its twin city Omdurman, Port Sudan in the east, and Atbara to the north.
Banners proclaimed “Civilian (rule) is the people’s choice,” while the marchers chanted slogans against Islamists and the military, the two main pillars of the former Bashir regime.
“Give up power, (Abdel Fattah) Al-Burhan,” they chanted in reference to the general who chairs the Sovereign Council, the joint civilian-military body which oversees the work of the transitional government.
“Burhan is dirty, and was installed by the Islamists.”
Jaafar Hassan, spokesman of the mainstream FFC faction, said supporters backed two key agreements — the 2019 power-sharing deal between the civilians the military, and a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups.
The two deals stipulate power will be handed over to civilian rule by the end of a three-year transition period in 2023.
“Our main goal is to have the military hand over the chairmanship of the Sovereign Council to the civilians,” Hassan told AFP. “We also want the armed groups to be integrated in the Sudanese army.”
Their rivals, the pro-military faction, have been holding a sit-in outside the presidential palace since Saturday.
It has drawn support from some of the many Sudanese who have been hit hard by the tough IMF-backed economic reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN economist.
“We are in the right,” said protester Hamada Abdelrahman, standing outside the presidential palace. “This government has not offered the Sudanese people anything for two years.”
The sit-in’s opponents charge it has been orchestrated by leading figures in the security forces with the support of Bashir sympathizers and other “counter-revolutionaries.”
The same groups were blamed for a September 21 coup attempt that was thwarted by the government.
Ahead of Thursday’s demonstrations, leaders of the rival factions appealed for calm.
Ali Ammar, a leader of the mainstream FFC, said pro-government demonstrators would stay away from the presidential palace and the cabinet building, so “there would be no friction with protesters” there.
Prominent ex-rebel figures in the pro-military faction, like Darfur governor Minni Minnawi and Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim, called for the rival demonstrations to remain peaceful.
On Thursday, troops and police sealed off roads leading to the large open space outside army headquarters, where tens of thousands of protesters camped out for weeks before and after Bashir’s ouster in April 2019.
Hamdok has described the deep divisions over Sudan’s transition as “the worst and most dangerous” since Bashir’s overthrow.
The prime minister has made his top priorities addressing the chronic economic woes inherited from the Bashir regime, and making peace with the multiple rebel groups that took up arms during its three decades in power.
A sharp improvement in relations with the United States has led to the lifting of economic sanctions giving some help to the economy.
But a package of painful structural reforms, including the slashing of fuel subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound, has proved widely unpopular and has cost Hamdok’s government much of its support.
In October last year, the government signed a peace deal with multiple rebel groups in Sudan’s far-flung regions with a view to ending the ethnic conflicts that have dogged the country since independence.
The deal was widely hailed as a step forward, but its focus on the three battleground regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan left minority communities in other parts of Sudan feeling sidelined.
Resentment has been particularly strong among the Beja people of the Red Sea coast, who have mounted protests across the east since mid-September, including a blockade of the key trade hub of Port Sudan.