UN reports that Food has run out in rebel-held Aleppo

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Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005. Fifteen days after an unprecedented disaster struck the nations of South Asia, the international effort to provide relief and assistance to millions of victims is gathering steam in the field and increasing amounts of aid is making its way to those who need it. Attempting to meet the needs of the 12 stricken nations will bring representatives from more than 80 governments together in Geneva today to plan a long-term recovery effort for the region. (KEYSTONE/Laurent Gillieron)
Jan Egeland of Norway, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks during a press conference before the meeting at the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, January 11, 2005.

The last remaining food rations are being distributed in besieged rebel-held eastern districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, the UN has said.

Humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland warned that without a resupply there would be no food left to hand out next week to the 275,000 people living there.

Mr Egeland ruled out airdrops of food, explaining that they were not possible in densely-populated urban areas.

Humanitarian agencies have been unable to get into rebel-held Aleppo since the government siege resumed in September, and the last time significant aid supplies were delivered was in July. The area is under siege by government forces with help from Russian air power.

Government forces launched a major assault on eastern Aleppo in September.

Since then, troops have pushed into several outlying areas with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias and Russian air strikes.

aleppo-map

 

On October 28, an alliance of opposition fighters, including Islamist militants, started a major offensive to break the government siege, which has been in place on eastern Aleppo since July. But their progress slowed after early gains.

Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September
Hundreds have died since the government launched an assault on eastern Aleppo in September

The UN says weeks of air strikes and shelling have killed more than 700 civilians in the east, while rocket-fire has left scores dead in the government-controlled west.

“It is a horrendous situation,” said Egeland, the United Nations’ top envoy on humanitarian efforts in Syria.

The Norwegian diplomat said the UN appealed again last week to the conflict parties to let food, medicine and health workers into eastern Aleppo, and to allow the evacuation of some 300 patients along with their families.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that Russia is continuing its humanitarian pause of air attacks on eastern Aleppo, in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

However, Egeland noted that continuing heavy fighting on the ground has made aid efforts impossible.

In addition, the warring sides have raised various conditions that have further complicated UN efforts.

“I haven’t seen a place where there has been so much politicization, manipulation of aid as we have seen in Syria,” he said at a press briefing.

 Egeland urged the United States, which backs Syrian anti-government rebels, and Russia to use their influence to unblock the humanitarian operation.

“Parties that are sponsoring the parties on the ground have to help us more,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that a solution would be found.

The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.
The Syrian army said it took the strategic 1070 Apartments district on Tuesday.

In the divided city of Aleppo, regime forces made more advances Thursday into areas which were taken by opposition rebels last month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The monitoring group said regime troops and their allies managed to take over the Dahiyat al-Assad region west of the city.

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Divided UN Security Council fails to act to ‘save Aleppo’

Russia on Saturday vetoed a UN draft resolution demanding an end to the bombing of Aleppo, but its own rival measure on a truce in Syria’s war-battered city was rejected.
Russia Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is joined by Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Ramirez as Russia vetoes a French-Spanish resolution on Syria at the UN headquarters, October 8, 2016
Russia Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is joined by Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Ramirez as Russia vetoes a French-Spanish resolution on Syria at the UN headquarters, October 8, 2016

The failure of the two resolutions deepened divisions at the Security Council between Damascus ally Moscow and the Western powers backing opposition rebels in the war.

It was the fifth time that Russia used its veto to block UN action to end the five-year war in Syria, which has claimed 300,000 lives.

As the council meeting got underway, the Syrian regime pressed its assault on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, where 125,000 people are living under siege and facing almost-daily heavy bombing.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged the council to take immediate action to save Aleppo from being destroyed by the Russia-backed Syrian bombing campaign.

“What is at stake today is first and foremost the fate of Aleppo and its people,” Ayrault told the council.

“But it’s more than that — it’s the hope of establishing at last an end to a conflict for which we are all, all of us, paying the catastrophic consequences.”

Ayrault said the council “must demand immediate action in order to save Aleppo.”

In a message directed at Russia, Ayrault said any country that opposes the French measure will “give Bashar al-Assad the possibility of killing even more.”

The draft resolution presented by France called for an end to all military flights over Aleppo and to the aerial bombardments that have escalated since the Syrian army launched an offensive last month.

It won 11 votes in favor in the 15-member Security Council, but Russia and Venezuela voted against. China, which had in the past backed Russia to block resolutions on Syria, abstained, as did Angola.

Waste of time

Shortly after the Russian veto, the Security Council rejected the rival draft presented by Moscow by a vote of nine against, four in favor and two abstentions.

Britain, France and the United States voted against the Russian measure that called for a ceasefire but did not mention a halt in the air strikes.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council presidency, said the two votes represented “one of the strangest spectacles” at the Security Council because all 15 members knew from the outset that they would fail.

“This waste of time is inadmissible,” said Churkin.

British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft described it as “a bad day for Russia, but an even worse day for the people of Aleppo.”

China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela voted in favor of the Russian measure, while Angola and Uruguay abstained.

Following the meeting, Churkin insisted that diplomatic efforts on Syria were not dead.

“No, no, no,” he said when asked if this was the end of diplomacy on Syria. “It’s just the end of one very weird meeting of the Security Council.”

Syrian army advancing

The Syrian and Russian bombing campaign has escalated since the Russian-backed Syrian army launched an offensive to retake the city on September 22.

Since the regime offensive began a few days after a US- and Russian-brokered ceasefire collapsed, at least 290 people — mostly civilians — have been killed in rebel-held areas, 57 them children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

And 50 civilians including nine children have been killed in rebel shelling on regime-held areas of the city, according to the Britain-based monitoring group, which relies on a network of sources on the ground.

It said government forces were making further advances on Saturday ahead of the Security Council session.

“The battle is unfolding in the center, particularly in the Bustan al-Basha district where the army is advancing, in Sheikh Said in the south, and on the northern outskirts where the regime has taken the Uwaija neighborhood,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The monitor reported heavy air strikes on the rebel-held Fardos and Sukari neighborhoods. An AFP correspondent said the raids mostly hit combat zones in the city.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow over the conflict had created a situation “more dangerous” than the Cold War.

“It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War,” Steinmeier said in an interview published by Bild newspaper.

“The current times are different and more dangerous.”

UN peacekeeper killed, others wounded in Mali attack

A UN armored personnel carrier in Timbuktu on September 19, 2016
A UN armored personnel carrier in Timbuktu on September 19, 2016

A UN peacekeeper was killed and eight others injured on Monday in an attack on their camp in northeastern Mali near the Algerian border, the United Nations said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the four coordinated assaults targeting the UN mission known as MINUSMA and said that attacks on peacekeepers are war crimes.

A peacekeeper from Chad was killed in the attacks at the Aguelhok camp in the region of Kidal, said a statement from Ban’s spokesman.

Following a spate of mortar rounds fired at the Aguelhok camp, two military vehicles were dispatched and hit an explosive device “that led to the death of a blue helmet,” MINUSMA said.

MaliNorthern Mali fell into the hands of jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda in early 2012.

France intervened in January 2013 to drive the Islamist fighters away from the north and the UN mission was deployed a few months later, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or UN troops.

Analysts say tribal rivalries have led to a deterioration of the security situation in the north.

Ban expressed concern over ceasefire violations by the armed groups that signed a peace deal for Mali last year.

A UN soldier was killed and four others were injured on August 7 when their vehicle struck an explosive device in Mali’s northeastern Kidal region. The dead soldier and the injured were from Chad.

A total of 32 peacekeepers from MINUSMA have been killed so far this year, according to the UN peacekeeping website.

In light of airstrike on convoy, UN suspends humanitarian aid to Syria

civil_war_in_syriaAfter the ceasefire ended, the UN announced today that it has suspended its supply of humanitarian aid to Syria because several UN officials were injured in an airstrike that targeted an aid convoy of the organization near Aleppo.

At the moment, it is unclear for how long the UN has suspended its supply of humanitarian aid. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Spokesman Jens Laerke said that his organization will not resume its operations until the security situation in Syria is assessed again

U.N. truck damaged in attack
U.N. truck damaged in attack

President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer said that at least one UN official was killed in the airstrike along with many Syrian civilians. “Yesterday’s attack was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and it is unacceptable,” said Maurer. “Failing to protect humanitarian workers and structures might have serious repercussions on humanitarian work in the country.”

 

Mali defense minister fired after jihadists temporarily seize town

Mali
Mali

Mali’s defense minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly was fired Saturday, officials told AFP, a day after jihadists briefly took control of a town in the country’s center.

A decree released by the government stated his post had been revoked after militants stepped up attacks in the country’s center in recent months, targeting government and military installations.

A senior official in the Malian defense ministry told AFP it came following “the latest waves of insecurity in central Mali,” referring to jihadists’ seizure of the town of Boni on Friday and an attack on a central Mali military base in Nampala that killed several soldiers in July.

The Malian army on Saturday regained control of Boni, which is home to several thousand people, from the jihadists who had escaped with a local official as a hostage.

The militants fired on administrative buildings and set fire to the mayor’s office, leading the army to recall its troops from the vicinity.

“The jihadists left Boni in the night and today around 8am (0800 GMT) the Malian army came back to take control of the town,” a Malian security source told AFP.

A source close to the UN mission in the country, which is known by the acronym MINUSMA, said two helicopters were providing cover over the town, “to support the Malian army, who are now in control.”

However, an administrative source in the town said the jihadists “kidnapped a Boni community official” whom they accused of giving information to the security forces.

Ongoing international military intervention since January 2013 has driven Islamist fighters away from major urban centers which they had briefly controlled, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or foreign troops.

Jihadist groups early last year began to carry out attacks in central Mali as well as the long-troubled north.

Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the July 19 attack on Nampala, in which 17 soldiers were killed, 37 were wounded and six were reported missing, according to the official toll.

Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, formerly land minister, was named to replace Coulibaly, according to the government statement.

50,000 Children May Starve to Death Due to Boko Haram

Nigerian childClose to 50,000 children are in danger of starving to death in Nigeria due to a scorched-earth policy by the brutal Islamist group Boko Haram, according to UNICEF, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

In addition, close to 250,000 people are severely malnourished in Borno state. In total, 4.4 million people are affected by the terror inflicted on the population by the group, an affiliate of the Islamic State in West Africa. Half of those people live in areas inaccessible to relief agencies.

Northeastern Nigeria was once the breadbasket of the entire country, with its fertile ground, abundant water and climate suitable for growing crops all year long.  The region produced rice, maize, wheat, millet, sorghum, cowpeas, fruits, peppers, chilies and vegetables. Fish from Lake Chad was sold throughout the country’s marketplaces.

Now, Boko Haram, whose militants kidnapped entire swaths of the population, burned villages and massacred tens of thousands, has left a wasteland behind. Crops that were growing were abandoned as the populations able to flee left the area to save themselves.

“We lost our farmlands and produce to Boko Haram and [were] reduced to a life of begging. We left our produce on the farm, in silos and stores in the market. But all that is gone, we have nothing left,” said Umar Bate, the head of the farmer’s union in Doron Baga on Lake Chad.

Boko Haram’s assault on Dorn Baga, Baga and two towns close by left at least 2,000 dead, including 250 farmers in the union, with satellite pictures showing 3,700 houses destroyed. All markets are closed. Crops left behind were looted by the terror group

Colombia Government and FARC Rebels Announce Peace Deal

Colombia mapAfter 52 years of fighting and nearly four years of grinding negotiations, the Colombian government and the country’s FARC rebel group declared Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to end the longest-running armed conflict in the Americas.

“The war is over,” said Humberto de la Calle, the government’s lead negotiator, after signing the accord with his guerrilla counterparts.

The two sides made the announcement in Cuba, where the negotiations began in 2012 and where Fidel Castro launched a Communist revolution that once inspired guerrilla insurgencies across the hemisphere. Colombia, a nation of 50 million that is among the closest U.S. allies in Latin America, is the one place where the war has yet to end.

“We have finished fighting with weapons, and will now do battle with ideas,” said FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez, a former congressman who took up arms after many other leftist politicians were assassinated by right-wing groups in the 1980s.

The two sides said ending their country’s sordid history of political violence was the accord’s overarching goal.

More than 220,000 Colombians have been killed in fighting over the past half-century, and nearly 7 million have been driven from their homes. But one major obstacle remains for the peace deal to stick.

Colombian voters must ratify the accord at the ballot box in a vote, which Santos said would take place on Oct. 2. That plebiscite is shaping up as a showdown between Santos and his biggest political rival.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace accord, will be campaigning for Colombians to approve it. His nemesis, former president Álvaro Uribe, is leading the drive to sink the deal. He and other critics say it is too favorable to FARC leaders, whose guerrilla war tactics included kidnapping, drug trafficking and murder. Opinion polls have shown mixed results on whether Colombians will approve the peace deal.

One element of the accord made public for the first time Wednesday that is likely to stir controversy governs the FARC’s return to representative politics. Under the agreement, the rebels will be given a limited number of seats in Colombia’s congress and senate for an initial period of time.

The FARC representatives will be allowed to speak in the chambers on legislation, but not vote. Rebel commanders would eventually be able to run for political office as full representatives if they are cleared of war crimes and other criminal charges.

If approved at the ballot box, the peace agreement would become law, and the FARC would begin demobilizing its 7,000 fighters at designated camps and “protected zones” with monitors from the United Nations. The rebels — whose full name is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — would have 180 days to fully disarm under the terms of the agreement.

“This is the final chapter of the Cold War in the hemisphere,” said Bernard Aronson, the U.S. envoy to the peace talks, in an interview before the announcement.

Aronson said he expected the Colombian government to publish a final text of the treaty within days. FARC commanders are planning to return to their remote camps in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, where they will hold a FARC “congress” to build support for the deal among rank-and-file soldiers and prepare for disarmament and demobilization.

Wednesday’s announcement follows days of marathon negotiations between the government team and the guerrilla commanders. A final sticking point has been the timing of a blanket amnesty that will be offered to lower-ranking guerrillas who face only charges of “rebellion,” in contrast with more senior FARC members accused of committing more serious crimes. Under the terms of the accord, those FARC members will be able to avoid prison if they fully disclose their role in the war and make reparations as part of a truth-and-reconciliation process.

One point of concern for the FARC commanders has been when their fighters would leave their mountain redoubts and move into U.N. camps. They have been reluctant to make that move before the plebiscite is completed, fearing that if it fails, the rebels would be stuck in the camps and partially disarmed, even as fighting could resume. Neither side said Wednesday when the guerrillas would begin their demobilization.

Santos did not travel to Havana for Wednesday’s ceremony, which did not occur with the same fanfare as a cease-fire announcement in June attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several heads of state.

Santos has acknowledged that peace with the FARC will end Colombia’s longest war — but not all its armed conflicts.

His government has struggled so far to make progress in talks with a smaller guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Army, or ELN, which will be looking to boost its estimated force of 1,500 fighters with disaffected FARC soldiers who reject a transition to peaceful civilian life. The government insists it will not negotiate while the ELN continues to kidnap civilians and members of the Colombian security forces.