Tuesday, 28 January 2014 10:34

Assad starving Syrians

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been starving its people and blocking humanitarian access to them as a “war strategy,” which can be considered a war crime or a crime against humanity, said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

The Syrian government will demand the international community to support it in its "fight against terrorism", sources said in Damascus.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the decision taken on Saturday by the opposition National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Armed Forces to participate in this week’s international conference that aims to peacefully resolve the on-going conflict.

The US secretary of state has urged all sides to attend next week's talks in Switzerland aimed at ending the conflict in Syria.

PARIS: Moscow and Washington made a joint call Monday for Syria’s regime and rebels to agree to cease-fires in parts of their battle-scarred country ahead of peace talks this month.

Thursday, 09 January 2014 12:18

First Batch of Chemical Weapons Leaves Syria

The first consignment of Syrian chemical weapons materials has left the country on a Danish ship.

Preparations for the long-sought international conference on Syria are moving ahead, with the United Nations reaching out to the more than 30 participating Member States and with a call on the Syrian opposition to name members of its delegations.

The top United Nations humanitarian official today expressed concern about the deteriorating situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where hundreds of people have been killed or injured by indiscriminate attacks in recent weeks.

“I join UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in strongly condemning the attacks against civilians in Aleppo and in many other parts of Syria,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.

Mr. Ban last week voiced grave concern about the continued and indiscriminate use of heavy weapons and mortar shelling in the on-going conflict, particularly in hard-hit Aleppo which the Government has targeted with “barrel bombs,” or oil drums filled with explosives and shrapnel and dropped by aircraft.

“People have suffered enough,” Ms Amos said, adding that insecurity continues to have a major impact on efforts to reach people with life-saving assistance.

“I remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation under international humanitarian and human rights law, and their responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians,” she said.

The Security Council adopted a non-binding presidential statement three months ago in which it underscored that humanitarian organizations operate in a neutral and impartial manner, and need unhindered access to safely reach all people.

Over 100,000 people have already been killed in Syria and 8 million driven from their homes, with 2 million of them seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, since the conflict first erupted in March 2011.

There is now an average of 127,000 people pouring out of Syria each month, according to the latest figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which added that the number of registered refugees is expected to surpass 4 million at the end of next year.

Across the region, some 400,000 refugees live in formal camps, but nearly 2 million reside outside formal settlements, the UN agency noted.
To keep pace with the exodus, more than 196,000 tents and 809,000 plastic tarpaulins were distributed to refugees residing in camps and informal sites.

Danish and Norwegian vessels have taken off towards Syria as planned to escort a shipment of chemical weapons for destruction, despite a missed deadline and delays in the international effort to rid the country of its arsenal.

The ships left the Cypriot port of Limassol on Friday, but the weapons' arrival to the Syrian port of Latakia for transport remains delayed by logistical problems, bad weather, and Syria's on-going war, according to the joint United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission overseeing the operation.

The stockpiles of chemicals, including precursors for sarin gas, remain in their original locations despite a December 31 deadline to have them ready for transport and destruction.

On Tuesday, Wael Nader Al Halqi, Syria's prime minister, said security concerns and bureaucracy had caused delays in transporting the weapons to the Syrian port of Latakia.

The Danish task group commander, Commodore Torben Mikkelsen, said no new date has been set for the shipment to arrive to Latakia, but that the Danish and Norwegian vessels would hold station outside Syrian territorial waters and wait for new orders.

"We don't know but what we know is that we are ready for the task and, if called upon, we are ready to be at short notice," Mikkelsen said.

The year-end deadline was agreed under a deal reached by Russia and the United States, and backed by the UN Security Council, that aims to get rid of all of Syria's chemical arms by mid-2014.

Under a plan agreed upon in Moscow on Friday, the Danish and Norwegian ships will be joined by Chinese and Russian vessels. The chemicals will eventually be taken to a port in Italy where they will be transferred to a US Navy vessel.

The US ship is expected to head out to an undisclosed location, possibly in the Mediterranean, to begin the task of neutralising them, AFP news agency said.

Syria’s deepening refugee hunger crisis is one of the worst in the 50-year history of the UN World Food Programme, its top official in the country said Wednesday.

More than 2.3 million people have already fled to makeshift camps in neighbouring countries, and the U.N. believes the number will grow next year if the deadly civil war continues. Some 6.5 million people are displaced inside Syria.

Fear of the winter has given rise to desperation in the refugee camps where nothing more than tent sheeting stands between the displaced and the bitter cold.

“If the conflict continues, the refugee crisis could cause serious instability throughout in the region – the outcome could be catastrophic,” said Matthew Hollingworth, UNWFP’s Country Director in Syria.

Hollingworth said the cost of feeding Syria’s refugees was almost $1 billion in the past year, and would likely increase further
Hollingworth’s comments came as the heads of the UN and European Union aid agencies called for a "humanitarian ceasefire" in Syria to allow convoys to deliver help to areas that aid workers cannot reach.

The UN leaders were in Brussels to sign contracts which committed the European Commission to provide $202 million in aid to people affected by the Syrian crisis.

"A humanitarian ceasefire would allow aid convoys to deliver assistance to communities which remain out of our reach," a statement by the UN and EU leaders said, describing the Syria conflict as “the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our times.”

Aid workers have regularly complained that restrictions have been placed on their movement in Syria, particularly by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Blockades have been used mostly by the government but also on a smaller scale by rebels to prevent food and medicine entering besieged areas.
The UN plans to airlift more food, blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets to the northeast over the next two weeks after plans for ground shipments were scrapped due to the difficulty of negotiating with different factions on the ground.

Source: Reuters

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