Archive for September 4, 2016


Paris (AFP)

Aug 18, 2016

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Thursday said it was evacuating its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen after 19 people were killed in an air strike on one of its facilities earlier this week.

Monday’s Saudi-led coalition strike on Abs hospital in the rebel-held province of Hajja was the fourth and deadliest attack yet on an MSF facility in war-torn Yemen, according to the charity.

The decision to pull staff out “is never taken lightly”, the Paris-based aid agency said in a statement, accusing the coalition of “indiscriminate bombings and unreliable reassurances”.

“Given the intensity of the current offensive and our loss of confidence in the SLC’s (Saudi-led coalition’s) ability to prevent such fatal attacks, MSF considers the hospitals in Saada and Hajjah governorates unsafe for both patients and staff,” it added.

The hospitals will continue to be manned by local workers and volunteers, MSF said.

Yemen has been gripped by unrest since Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and allied loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014.

The violence increased after a Saudi-led Arab coalition launched a military campaign in March last year to help shore up the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The coalition stepped up its air strikes this month after UN-mediated peace talks between the rebels and Yemen’s internationally backed government were suspended.

– ‘Indiscriminate attacks’ –

Monday’s bombing of Abs hospital drew international condemnation, prompting the coalition to announce an independent investigation into the attack.

MSF said it had shared the hospital’s GPS coordinates with all parties involved in the conflict.

“Coalition officials repeatedly state that they honour international humanitarian law, yet this attack shows a failure to control the use of force and to avoid attacks on hospitals full of patients,” it said.

“MSF is neither satisfied nor reassured by the SLC’s statement that this attack was a mistake.”

It also accused all sides in Yemen’s war of “indiscriminate attacks without any respect for civilians”.

One MSF worker was among those killed in the Abs hospital attack, while another 24 people were wounded.

The group’s emergency coordinator Laurent Sury told AFP that “several dozen” international and Yemeni MSF workers were affected by the decision to pull out of the six hospitals.

“Our aim is to open programs, not close them, especially considering the enormous needs in the north,” he said. “But today, the minimum security conditions can no longer be guaranteed.”

He said that civilians were paying a heavy price in the conflict.

“Today in Yemen, you risk your life when you seek out care, whether you are a pregnant woman needing a Cesarean or child requiring antibiotics.”

The hospital strike was the latest in a series of coalition raids that have allegedly hit civilian facilities — including a school in the rebel stronghold of Saada on Saturday where 10 children were killed.

The UN says more than 6,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since last March and more than 80 percent of the population needs humanitarian aid.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/MSF_evacuates_staff_from_6_Yemen_hospitals_after_air_strike_999.html.

By Allen Cone

Aug. 23, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Iraqi forces moved to within 37 miles of Mosul on Tuesday, storming into Qayyarah as the United Nations relief agency scrambled to assist more than 1 million people expected to be displaced.

Troops entered Qayyarah from three locations.

“Priority of the operation is to save and protect civilians in the area, as they are being used by ISIS as human shields,” Maj. Gen. Sami Al-Ardedi, commander of special operations for the Iraqi army, said in a statement.

Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and the Islamic State’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Qayyarah was captured by the Islamic State in 2014. The air base near the city was recaptured in July.

Gen. Najim al-Jobouri, the commander of Iraq’s Nineveh operations, said his forces are weakening ISIS. “I think that they have a lack of foreign fighters,” he told CNN.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has urged Qayyarah residents to evacuate within this week and head toward a settlement near the district’s airfield or to Tibna village, which is under the control of Iraqi forces.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced plans Tuesday to set up additional camps for those displaced with a prediction of up to 1.2 people affected.

Contingency plans have been drawn up to provide shelter for up to 120,000 people fleeing Mosul and the surrounding areas.

“Already, in recent months, some 213,000 people have fled their homes in different parts of the country,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UNHCR told journalists at the regular press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. “This includes 48,000 people from the Mosul area; 87,000 from the Fallujah region; and 78,000 from Shirqat, Qayyarah and surrounds.”

Since January 2014, some 3.38 million people have fled their homes – including families being displaced multiple times, UNHCR said.

“UNHCR is doing what it can amid enormous challenges to build more camps to accommodate people and mitigate suffering, but additional land for camps and funding is still needed,” Edwards said.

The U.N. agency provides shelter, emergency relief kits and legal aid.

UNHCR’s overall appeal for $584 million for displaced Iraqis was only 38-percent funded.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/08/23/Iraqi-troops-enter-Qayyarah-in-push-to-Mosul/3111471978543/.

September 04, 2016

NEW DELHI (AP) — Bangladeshi authorities executed a top Islamist party leader convicted of war crimes involving the nation’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan, officials said. Mir Quasem Ali, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, hours after several dozen family members and relatives met him for the last time inside Kashimpur Central Jail near the capital, Dhaka, said Proshanto Kumar Bonik, a senior jail superintendent.

“We are doing our necessary formalities now. We will send the body soon to the ancestral home in Manikganj district for burial,” Bonik said. Immediately after the execution, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said security measures were put in place to prevent unrest by Ali’s supporters, including deployment of paramilitary border guards and additional police in Dhaka and other cities.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party in a statement protested Ali’s execution and called for an eight-hour general strike beginning Monday morning. The execution took place a day after Ali refused to seek presidential clemency. The president had previously rejected appeals for clemency by other Islamist party leaders facing execution.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal for reviewing Ali’s death sentence handed out by a special tribunal two years ago. After the ruling, the Jamaat-e-Islami party called for a daylong general strike across the country last Wednesday, but got little response.

A special tribunal dealing with war crimes sentenced Ali to death in November 2014. The 63-year-old member of Jamaat-e-Islami’s highest policy-making body was found guilty on eight charges, two of which carried the death sentence, including the abduction and murder of a young man in a torture chamber. Ali was sentenced to 72 years in prison on the other charges.

Ali built his fortune by establishing businesses from real estate to shipping to banking, and he was considered one of the party’s top financiers. He became the fifth Jamaat-e-Islami party leader to be executed since 2010, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the special tribunal to try suspected war criminals. Also executed was a close aide of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Jamaat-e-Islami is a key partner of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the opposition against Hasina. Hasina’s government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women in the 1971 independence war.

Jamaat-e-Islami, which had openly campaigned against independence, has denied committing atrocities. Hasina has called the special tribunal trials a long overdue effort to obtain justice for the victims of war crimes, four decades after Bangladesh split from Pakistan. Her government has rejected criticism from abroad that the trial process did not meet international standards.

The international human rights group Amnesty International noted that the United Nations had raised questions about the fairness of the trials of Ali and other Islamist party leaders. “There is no question that the people of Bangladesh deserve justice for crimes committed during the War of Independence, but the death penalty is a human rights violation and will not achieve this. It is a cruel and irreversible punishment that most of the world’s countries have now rid themselves of,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, in a statement released Saturday.

September 03, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish tanks have crossed into Syria to the west of a frontier town seized from the Islamic State group last week, in a “new phase” of an operation aimed at sealing off the last stretch of border controlled by the extremists.

The private Dogan news agency reported at least 20 tanks and five armored personnel carriers crossed at the Turkish border town of Elbeyli, across from the Syrian town of al-Rai. The new incursion is unfolding about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west of Jarablus, where Turkish forces first crossed into Syria ten days ago.

The tanks entered from the Turkish border village of Elbeyli and linked up with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels at al-Rai, who are participating in the operation, dubbed Euphrates Shield. The official Anadolu News Agency said that “with this new phase of the operation, the Azaz-Jarablus line is expected to be cleared of terror elements.”

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels meanwhile said they had captured three more villages to the west of Jarablus from the Islamic State group, bringing them to 21 kilometers (13 miles) from those positioned at al-Rai. The gap is the last remaining stretch of the Syrian border under IS control.

Three rockets fired from IS-held territory in Syria meanwhile struck the Turkish border town of Kilis, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Elbeyli, according to the Turkish governor’s office, which said one person was lightly wounded.

The governor’s office said five others were wounded last Monday when three rockets hit Kilis. Anadolu said the wounded were children. Dogan says rockets have killed 21 Kilis residents and wounded scores since January.

The Turkish Armed Forces responded to the rockets with howitzers, striking two weapons pits and bunkers, and “destroying the locations and the Daesh terrorists there,” Anadolu said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym.

Turkey’s military says its right to self-defense as well as U.N. resolutions to combat the IS group justify its Syria incursions. Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have also fought U.S.-backed Kurdish forces known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, around Jarablus. Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, which Turkey and its allies consider a terrorist organization.

The U.S. has provided extensive aid and airstrikes to the YPG-led Syria Democratic Forces, which have proven to be highly effective against IS. The Syria Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab fighters, has taking a large swath of territory from the extremists along the border with Turkey and closed in on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremist group’s self-styled caliphate.

Associated Press writer Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.

3rd of September 2016, Saturday

By Dylan Collins

Buses carrying more than 300 Syrians left the besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh on Friday, in the first stage of a deal that will enable the government to retake control of the rebel-held area.

In the first stage of the deal, 303 people, including 62 gunmen who agreed to lay down their arms and accept a presidential amnesty deal, were bused out of the area and taken to the nearby government-controlled town of Horjelah, according Syrian state news agency SANA.

The Moadamiyeh agreement comes just a week after a deal was struck in neighboring Daraya that brought about the full evacuation of the suburb, a move heavily criticized by the international community as forced displacement.

Those who left Moadamiyeh on Friday were originally from Daraya, having fled heavy bombardments earlier in the year.

“The heroic acts of the Syrian army in Daraya led to the achievement in Moadamiyeh,” Alaa Ibrahim, the governor of rural Damascus, told Syrian state TV.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said the concept of “forcing deals on local populations” has been criticized by the United Nations and the international community as something “that would give the government precedent to continue starving its own population into surrender”.

The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura voiced concern that the Daraya agreement was part of a larger strategy by the government to empty rebel enclaves and that it may soon be extended to other areas.

There are “indications that after Daraya we may have other Darayas,” he told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

“There is clearly a strategy at the moment to move from Daraya” to other besieged areas “in a similar pattern”.

Jan Egeland, the UN humanitarian chief, said the UN humanitarian task force for Syria had “failed the people of Daraya”.

The UN has underlined that it was not consulted on the Daraya deal, and described the evacuation of the suburb as a forced displacement.

Fears of ‘demographic change’

In the second stage of the Moadamiyeh deal, rebels who refuse to hand over their weapons will be forced to leave the suburb, probably to rebel-controlled Idlib province.

It was not clear when the second stage would be implemented or when government security forces would take over control of the suburb.

The deal was reportedly reached on Tuesday in a meeting between Moadamiyeh’s local council, government officials and Russian military officers at the army’s 4th Armored Division headquarters in the mountains on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

“It wasn’t a negotiation or a conversation, it was a threat,” Moadamiyeh-based media activist Dani Qappani told Al Jazeera. “They basically told us: ‘Either surrender or we burn Moadamiyeh.'”

“They know the situation here. There’s little to no food or medical supplies,” said Qappani, adding that residents of the besieged suburb could not hold out much longer.

“Once they finish evacuating people of Daraya who are living here, they’ll try to begin the process of surrendering arms and dismantling the revolutionary establishments inside the city.”

Moadamiyeh was hit with toxic sarin gas in 2013, according to the UN, and has suffered a three-year government siege, leaving its 28,000 residents with little food or medical supplies.

Rebel fighters in Moadamiyeh have negotiated several local truces with the government since 2012, and the suburb has been spared much of the destruction and bombing that occurred in Daraya, just a mile away.

“At the core of the matter is the clearing of the area,” said Qappani.

“A large portion of people don’t want to leave their homes because they don’t want the regime to forcefully change the demography of the area.”

Abo Kanan al-Dimashqi, a member of the Moadamiyeh local council, told Al Jazeera he believes the government “clearly wants to do what it did in Daraya”.

“They want to clear the area and put a different sect here. That’s their plan – a demographic change.”

After last week’s deal in neighboring Daraya, government troops took control of a completely empty suburb – once home to a quarter of a million people.

“The government is now gaining some momentum on the outskirts of the capital with this new tactic, forcing the population into leaving their areas through years of siege,” said Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra.

“Now after Daraya, today is Moadamiyeh. There are concerns that the government is going to further replicate the resettling of the Sunni community in different parts of the capital. There are fears that Douma, a major opposition stronghold near the capital, could be the next.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/syria-fear-rises-moadamiyeh-evacuation-begins-160902132143798.html.

September 03, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — In a statement ahead of President Islam Karimov’s burial Saturday, Uzbekistan’s government hailed the authoritarian leader as a statesman and democrat though he was widely criticized abroad for harsh repression of dissent,

The 78-year-old Karimov, whose death from a cerebral hemorrhage was announced Friday, was being laid to rest in his birthplace of Samarkand, the ancient Silk Road city. Karimov’s coffin was placed in the Registan, the renowned square flanked on three sides by madrassahs covered in intricate, colorful tiles and topped with aqua cupolas. The Interfax news agency said the square was packed with thousands of men — women were excluded — to hear a mufti give a funeral prayer that said “Islam Karimov served his people.”

The body was then taken to the Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, another architecturally significant site. Karimov became leader of Uzbekistan in 1989 when it was a Soviet republic, then held power with ruthless determination throughout all of Uzbekistan’s independence. He crushed opposition, repressed the media and was repeatedly denounced by activists abroad for human rights violations including killings and torture.

His Cabinet, however, said in a statement that Karimov “attained a high authority in the country and in the international community as an outstanding statesman, who has developed and implemented a deeply thought-out strategy of building a democratic constitutional state with a civil society and a market economy.”

Karimov cultivated no apparent successor, and his death raised concerns that the predominantly Sunni Muslim country could face prolonged infighting among clans over its leadership, something its Islamic radical movement could exploit.

“The death of Islam Karimov may open a pretty dangerous period of unpredictability and uncertainty in Uzbekistan,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the Tass news agency on Friday.

Given the lack of access to the strategic country, it’s hard to judge how powerful the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan might be. Over the years, the group has been affiliated with the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, and it has sent fighters abroad.

Under the Uzbek constitution, if the president dies his duties pass temporarily to the head of the senate until an election can be held within three months. However, the head of the Uzbek senate is regarded as unlikely to seek permanent power and Karimov’s demise is expected to set off a period of jockeying for political influence.

Karimov was known as a tyrant with an explosive temper and a penchant for cruelty. His troops killed hundreds unarmed demonstrators with machine guns during a 2005 uprising, he jailed thousands of political opponents, and his henchmen reportedly boiled some dissidents to death.

September 02, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s state news agency is citing the government of Uzbekistan as saying that President Islam Karimov has died. The 78-year-old Karimov was the only leader independent Uzbekistan ever had. He was reported to have been hospitalized last week and rumors of his death have circulated for days.

The RIA-Novosti news agency on Friday cited the Uzbek government as saying his funeral would be held on Saturday.