Syrians braced for their worst winter since the war began, UN says

Syrians braced for their worst winter since the war began, UN says
Syrian refugee women carry children as they walk at an informal camp, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon October 18, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 October 2022

Syrians braced for their worst winter since the war began, UN says

Syrians braced for their worst winter since the war began, UN says
  • Latest report warns humanitarian needs are higher than ever due to cholera outbreak and rising fuel prices forcing people to choose between food or heat
  • US ambassador calls for establishment of a new standalone entity to address issues of detainees and missing persons

NEW YORK CITY: Members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday expressed dismay at the ongoing hostilities in northwestern Syria that in the past two months alone have caused the deaths of more than 90 civilians, including 35 children.
This, a cholera outbreak across all of the country’s governorates, and rising fuel prices that are forcing families “to choose between keeping warm or eating” have further increased the humanitarian needs in the war-ravaged country to the point where they have reached their highest-ever levels, according to the latest UN report.
As Syrians once again prepare for a bitterly cold winter, 6 million people need assistance to survive, a figure that has grown by 30 percent since last year.
Levels of severe food insecurity are “staggering,” according to UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres, who said Syrians can now only afford one-sixth of the amount of food they could buy in 2019.
During a Security Council meeting to discuss the report on the latest developments in Syria, members also said they were “appalled” by the number of detainees in Syrian prisons who are “tortured and killed on a daily basis,” and by the number of enforced disappearances in the country.
They called on warring parties to stop politicizing the UN-facilitated Constitutional Committee and return to serious negotiations in line with Resolution 2254, which includes calls for the release of all those who have been arbitrarily detained, a nationwide ceasefire, unhindered humanitarian access to all areas and people in need, the voluntary return of refugees to their homes, and free elections in accordance with a new constitution.
Geir Pedersen, the secretary-general’s special envoy for Syria, lamented the fact that the political process so far has not “delivered for the Syrian people, and they continue to suffer not least from acute violence.”
He said that although a “strategic stalemate” persists across the country the conflict remains very active, with infighting between armed opposition groups, including Security Council-listed terrorist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham and Daesh, along with continuing pro-government airstrikes in Idlib and Azaz in the northwest, and violence in the northeast where there are frequent drone strikes and mutual shelling by the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by Turkey, and armed opposition groups. In addition, Israeli strikes have hit targets in Syria, including at Damascus and Aleppo international airports.
This violence persists at a time when Syrians are enduring what Pedersen described as “the worst economic crisis since the war began.” He warned that “it will only get worse this winter for the vast majority.”
The envoy called for efforts to provide lifesaving assistance to be ramped up and urged all parties to grant humanitarian workers unfettered access to areas and people in need.
The issue of detainees also figured prominently in the secretary-general’s report, and Pedersen said the UN continues to receive reports of arbitrary arrests throughout Syria.
“Meanwhile, six months after the presidential amnesty decree, there is nothing new to report,” he added. “Despite our continued engagement, official information is not forthcoming, nor has independent monitoring been facilitated.
“On this, and more generally, families stress the concerns that arise from a lack of transparent communication and the vulnerabilities and lack of confidence that this gives rise to.”
Pedersen previously described engagement on issues of abductees, detainees and missing persons as important “confidence-building measures” that are essential for any serious return to diplomacy.
He has also discussed the efforts of his office to facilitate contacts between the parties to the Constitutional Committee — from the government, the opposition and civil society — with the aim of reconvening the committee in Geneva before the end of the year.
The Syrian government recently refused to take part in a new round of talks, apparently because Russia objected to Geneva as the choice of venue. Moscow has said the Swiss capital cannot be said to be an impartial actor. Switzerland has supported EU sanctions on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The UK and the US accuse Russia of stalling the work of the committee.
Notwithstanding the disagreements over the venue for the meetings, Pedersen observed that the real problem in reconvening the committee is a lack of progress on issues of substance.
During previous sessions of the Constitutional Committee, the members have not been able to engage in any meaningful discussions about their amendments to proposals on constitutional principles.
Pedersen said he is seeking to reconvene the committee’s co-chairs and elicit their political will to “engage in a spirit of compromise, with a faster pace, better working methods and more substance.”
US Ambassador Robert Wood, who is the alternative representative for special political affairs at the American mission to the UN, said his country supports the establishment of a standalone entity to address the issue of Syrian detainees and missing persons “with a humanitarian mandate focused entirely on clarifying the fate of all of Syria’s missing persons; people that have gone missing at the hands of the Assad regime, (Daesh) or other parties to the conflict.”
He added: “Confirming the whereabouts and status of the thousands of missing Syrians and releasing the arbitrarily detained are essential to achieving a stable, just and enduring peace in Syria. And we believe this new entity will be vital to this work.”

Turkiye: Erdogan to be sworn in for third term as president

Turkiye: Erdogan to be sworn in for third term as president
Updated 15 sec ago

Turkiye: Erdogan to be sworn in for third term as president

Turkiye: Erdogan to be sworn in for third term as president
  • Erdogan’s inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in the capital Ankara
ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to be sworn in on Saturday as head of state after winning a historic runoff election to extend his two-decade rule for another five years as Turkiye’s economic woes worsen.
The inauguration in parliament will be followed by a lavish ceremony at his palace in the capital Ankara attended by dozens of world leaders.
Turkiye’s transformative but divisive leader won the May 28 runoff against a powerful opposition coalition, and despite an economic crisis and severe criticism following a devastating February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
Erdogan won 52.18 percent of the vote while his secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu 47.82 percent, official results show.
Turkiye’s longest-serving leader faces immediate and major challenges in his third term driven by a decelerating economy and foreign policy tensions with the West.
“From a geopolitical point of view, the election will reinforce Turkiye’s recent pursuit of an independent foreign policy,” said Matt Gertken, chief geopolitical strategist at BCA Research.
“This policy aims to extract maximum economic and strategic benefits from eastern and autocratic states while still preventing a permanent rupture in relations with western democracies,” he said.
“Tensions with the West will likely increase again, within that framework, now that Erdogan has a new mandate.”
Addressing the country’s economic troubles will be Erdogan’s first priority with inflation running at 43.70 percent, partly due to his unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to stimulate growth.
Late on Saturday the president is due to unveil his new cabinet with media speculating that former finance minister Mehmet Simsek, a reassuring figure with international stature, could play a part.
A former Merrill Lynch economist, Simsek is known to oppose Erdogan’s unconventional policies.
He served as finance minister between 2009 and 2015 and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy until 2018, before stepping down ahead of a series of lira crashes that year.
“Erdogan’s government looks like it will pursue an orthodox stabilization program,” said Alp Erinc Yeldan, professor of economics at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.
“What we see now is that the news about Mehmet Simsek and his team is greeted with enthusiasm by the markets,” he said.
Turkiye’s new members of parliament started being sworn in on Friday in a first session after the May 14 election, also attended by Erdogan.
His alliance holds a majority in the 600-seat parliament.
Erdogan’s victory came against a unified opposition coalition led by Kilicdaroglu, whose future as leader of the CHP party remains in doubt following the defeat.

UNSC condemns Sudan violence, calls on parties to honor ceasefire agreements

UNSC condemns Sudan violence, calls on parties to honor ceasefire agreements
Updated 03 June 2023

UNSC condemns Sudan violence, calls on parties to honor ceasefire agreements

UNSC condemns Sudan violence, calls on parties to honor ceasefire agreements
  • Council members urge Burhan and Dagalo to honor Jeddah Declaration and African Union Roadmap
  • More than 700 Sudanese have died and thousands have been injured in six weeks of clashes

NEW YORK: The UN security council on Friday expressed concern over the continued fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces and condemned attacks on civilians and UN and humanitarian workers, as well as on medical workers and facilities, and the looting of humanitarian aid. 

In a statement issued after a meeting on Sudan late on Friday afternoon, council members called on the warring parties to grant humanitarians safe and unimpeded access across the country, in line with international law and UN principles. 

According to the UN, at least 730 people have been killed and 5,500 injured since the outbreak of hostilities last month. The actual toll could be much higher. 

Clashes between military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan’s Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF, and the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, a paramilitary group led by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, have continued across several parts of the country, including in the capital Khartoum, and in Zalingi, Central Darfur, Al-Fasher, North Darfur and Al-Obeid. 

Security Council members stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire to allow for humanitarian access, and to arrange for a permanent ceasefire as well as “resume the process toward reaching a lasting, inclusive, and democratic political settlement in Sudan.” 

Their statement reaffirmed the council’s support of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS, and urged its continued engagement in the war-ravaged country. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday rejected a request from Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan to remove his office’s special envoy, Volker Perthes, who serves as the special representative for Sudan and head of UNITAMS. Guterres said that the Security Council had the final say on the fate of the mission. 

The 15-member body, tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, underscored the need for “strengthened international coordination and continued collaboration,” and reiterated its support for African Union, or AU, efforts to establish mechanisms to address the conflict. 

They also welcomed UN and Arab League efforts toward a viable peace process and the resumption of the transition to democracy in Sudan. They also backed the AU Roadmap toward those goals. 

The Security Council statement welcomed the May 11 signature in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by the SAF and RSF, of the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan — or the “Jeddah Declaration” — and called on both parties to implement its provisions. 

Council members encouraged international support for the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement, which “remains binding for all its signatories (and) must be implemented in full, in particular its provisions on a permanent ceasefire in Darfur.” 

The statement concluded by reaffirming the Security Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, unity, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sudan in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of good neighborliness, non-interference and regional cooperation.”

After Daesh and bombs, refugee sisters sing of Kurdish sorrow

After Daesh and bombs, refugee sisters sing of Kurdish sorrow
Updated 03 June 2023

After Daesh and bombs, refugee sisters sing of Kurdish sorrow

After Daesh and bombs, refugee sisters sing of Kurdish sorrow
  • They have twice been driven from their family home in northern Syrian town of Kobani
  • Kurdish folk songs are our favorite type of music. They tell the plight of the Kurds, the wars, the tragedy of displacement and the killings

IRBIL: When the Syrian Kurdish sisters Perwin and Norshean Salih sing about loss, it comes from the heart.

Aged in their early 20s, they have twice been driven from their family home in the northern Syrian town of Kobani — once by the Daesh group, and again by the threat of Turkish bombs.
Now they have found a safe haven in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, where they carve out a living by performing the often melancholy music of their people in a restaurant.
“Kurdish folk songs are our favorite type of music,” said Perwin Salih, 20, who plays the santoor, tambourine and Armenian flute. “They tell the plight of the Kurds, the wars, the tragedy of displacement and the killings.” The Kurds, a non-Arab ethnic group of between 25 million and 35 million people, are spread mainly across Turkiye, Syria, Iraq and Iran, with no state of their own.
They have long complained of oppression but endured special horrors during Syria’s 12-year civil war, especially the Daesh onslaught.
When the jihadists attacked Kobani in late 2014, and heavy fighting turned the town into a symbol of Kurdish resistance, the sisters fled across the border to Turkiye.
After several unhappy months in Istanbul, they moved to the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in Turkiye’s southeast where they continued their music studies.
They moved back home in 2019, after Syrian Kurdish-led forces drove Daesh out of their last territorial stronghold, with US backing. Turkiye has kept targeting parts of northern Syria in what Ankara says is a fight against Kurdish militants.
Once, the sisters say, mortar shells hit their family home, thankfully without exploding.
Late last year, when Turkiye launched major air and artillery strikes, the Salih sisters fled once more, this time to Iraq, where they and two more siblings now rent a modest two-room house in Irbil.
The two women said they grew up in a household of music lovers, with their mother singing to them before bedtime while their father played the tambourine.
But the trauma they have endured since has left deep scars.
“A vision of Daesh still haunts me,” said Perwin. “Men in black clothes, holding black flags, on a quest to turn life itself black.”
At a recent concert, Perwin played the flute while Norshean, 23, captivated the audience with a Kurdish folk tune about displacement.
“I am a stranger,” she sang softly. “Without you, mother, my wings are broken. I am a stranger, and life abroad is like a prison.”
Norshean, a classical music afficionado, also plays the piano, guitar and kamanja, an ancient Persian string instrument, and dreams of making it as a violinist.
But for now she has recurring nightmares of the jihadists.
“The Daesh still haunts my dreams,” she said. On their latest escape from Kobani, the sisters faced another nightmare.
At the border, Syrian soldiers demanded that they play, warning that they would confiscate the instruments if they didn’t like the music. “We cried while we played, and when we were done they smiled and said: now you can pass,” recounted Norshean.
The sisters now mainly perform at a restaurant called Beroea, an ancient name for the once-vibrant Syrian city of Aleppo.
Co-owner Riyad Othman said he was not surprised by the dangers the women have had to face.
A Syrian Kurd himself, he said his people “spend their entire life fleeing, estranged and suffering.”


Tunisian president proposes taxing the wealthiest

President Kais Saied. (REUTERS)
President Kais Saied. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 June 2023

Tunisian president proposes taxing the wealthiest

President Kais Saied. (REUTERS)
  • Saied did not say how such a plan might operate as employees’ taxes are deducted at source and many Tunisians in the private sector do not declare their full income

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has proposed taxing the North African country’s wealthiest citizens as a way of avoiding what he has called the “diktats” of the International Monetary Fund.
Despite reaching an agreement in principle last October on a bailout package worth nearly $2 billion, talks with the IMF have stalled for months over demands to restructure public bodies and lift subsidies on basic goods.
Saied said during a meeting with Prime Minister Najla Bouden that the current subsidy system benefits all Tunisians, including the wealthy, a presidency statement said.


• Saied said that the current subsidy system benefits all Tunisians, including the wealthy.

• He floated the idea of ‘taking surplus money from the rich to give to the poor.’

He floated the idea of “taking surplus money from the rich to give to the poor,” citing a quote attributed to Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, one of Islam’s first caliphs.
“Instead of lifting subsidies in the name of rationalization, it would be possible to introduce additional taxes on those who benefit from them without needing them,” Saied added.
He said he believed such a mechanism would mean the country would not have to bow down to “foreign diktats.”
Saied did not say how such a plan might operate as employees’ taxes are deducted at source and many Tunisians in the private sector do not declare their full income.
The IMF has called for legislation to restructure more than 100 state-owned firms, which hold monopolies over many parts of the economy and in many cases are heavily indebted.
The country is going through a financial crisis marked by chronic shortages of basic food products.
Political tensions are also running high since Saied launched a sweeping power grab in July 2021, rocking the democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts over 10 years previously.


UAE assumes Security Council presidency with vow to tackle ‘deep divisions, polarization’

UAE assumes Security Council presidency with vow to tackle ‘deep divisions, polarization’
Updated 02 June 2023

UAE assumes Security Council presidency with vow to tackle ‘deep divisions, polarization’

UAE assumes Security Council presidency with vow to tackle ‘deep divisions, polarization’
  • Emirati envoy pledges to ‘build bridges and find space for consensus’
  • Signature event will highlight role of climate change in fueling conflict around the world

NEW YORK: The UAE will continue to play a constructive role in creating space for agreement and consensus on the many important issues facing the Security Council, the Gulf country’s UN ambassador pledged as she assumed the presidency of the 15-member body for the second time in the UAE's two-year tenure.

Lana Nusseibeh said that apart from the familiar issues on the council’s agenda, which include Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Iraq and Sudan, the UAE will host a ministerial-level signature event on “Climate Change and Peace and Security,” which will be chaired by Mariam Almheiri, the Emirati minister of climate change and the environment.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time,” Nusseibeh told a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York.

“Its scale, its complexity and the responses it demands are really unprecedented. (And) we’ve seen clearly how climate change impacts (the Security Council’s) ability to maintain international peace and security,” she said.

“So many of the discussions on the council’s agenda speak to this alarming dynamic and that will be the core focus of our meeting.”

This link between climate change and international peace and security requires “a carefully calibrated role” for the council, and the UAE aims to “build a common view on what this role could be in the future,” Nusseibeh said.

In November, Dubai will host the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28. Since 1992, the forum has brought together governments in an effort to agree on policies to limit global temperature rises and mitigate the impact of climate change.

The UAE has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, the first Middle Eastern government to make such a commitment. It was also the first country in the region to sign the Paris Agreement in 2016, and has also invested $50 billion in clean energy internationally, with a promise to invest an additional $50 billion by 2030.

“We’re really honored to be hosting COP28,” said Nusseibeh, “not only because it’s an existential issue for all countries, including the countries of the Middle East, but because we hope to be able to contribute with our long-standing experience in the field of climate change and renewable energy to the deliberation.”

Another ministerial meeting will tackle “the values of human fraternity in promoting and sustaining peace,” and will be attended by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb.

Nusseibeh said that this event “couldn’t be timelier.”

She said: “It’s a time when the world is experiencing the highest number of armed conflicts since 1945, and across the globe we’re seeing an increasingly worrying rise in intolerance, hate speech, racism and extremism, all of which undoubtedly fuel violence and divide communities.”

The UAE envoy added that “these are threats to international peace and security, and they’re not limited to a single country or region.”

She said that the Security Council “has not always consistently addressed hate speech, racism and other forms of extremism as threat multipliers that drive the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict.

“So, we think this is an opportunity to elevate that issue.”

Nusseibeh said the world “urgently needs political leaders to renew their commitment to peace, tolerance and human fraternity, and their actions should be reinforced by a whole-of-society approach centered on these shared values.”

On June 8, the UAE presidency will also host a briefing on “Enhancing Cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States.” It will be chaired by Khalifa Shaheen, Emirati minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and will be attended by Guterres, as well as Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League secretary-general, who will deliver a brief.

During the UAE’s last presidency in March 2022, the Security Council welcomed “the strong cooperation between the UN and the Arab League,” and vowed to solidify the partnership.

Council members also highlighted the importance of “women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the prevention and resolutions of conflicts and in peacebuilding, as well as the positive contribution of youth.”

Nusseibeh said that this month her country will continue to build on those commitments, including through promoting the role of women and youth, combating terrorism, and fostering a culture of tolerance to strengthen and sustain regional peace and stability.