Doctors Ask Syria To Lift 7-Year Ban On access To Medical Charity

    Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday called on Syria’s government to reverse its seven-year ban on the medical charity,



Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday called on Syria’s government to reverse its seven-year ban on the medical charity, issuing an urgent appeal for access to wounded people in the regime-held territory.

Since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011, the medical charity knew by its French initials MSF has been repeatedly denied permission to work in government zones, but has operated in opposition-held territory.

On Wednesday, it issued its first ever public appeal to Syria’s government to reach those in need, regardless of location.

“Our actions are based on the needs of patients alone, not on the politics of war,” said MSF general director Meinie Nicolai.

“We could begin working within days if given authorisation, and could play a deeply beneficial role alongside other Syrian and international healthcare providers,” she said.

The statement said MSF had submitted a request to Syria’s foreign ministry in April but had not received a response.

“If our offer is again dismissed, we will continue to do what we can, where we can, because there are a great many people in great need of medical care in Syria today,” said Nicolai

Syria’s regime lost swathes of territory to rebels early in the uprising but has since made a comeback and recaptured large parts of the country.

In recent months, it has used military pressure and population transfers to flush fighters and civilians out of territory around Damascus, most notably the Eastern Ghouta suburb.

“The levels of trauma, both mental and physical, caused during the March offensive to take control of eastern Ghouta are beyond my comprehension,” said Nicolai.

– UN ‘frustrated’ –
Hospitals backed by MSF in the rebel enclave treated more than 5,600 wounded in the first two weeks of the offensive alone.

“The number of affected people and the gravity of the needs mean that a significant and urgent medical response is required for these patients, regardless of who is in control of the territory,” she added.

Prior to the assault, Ghouta’s 400,000 residents had suffered five years of crippling regime siege that made food and medicine nearly impossible to access or afford.

The government has imposed sieges on opposition territory across Syria as a military tactic, restricting access for relief groups and even the United Nations.

But even when it recaptures a rebel zone and the siege ends, the Damascus government does not improve aid access, the UN said.

“The end of besiegement hasn’t necessarily resulted in access for humanitarians,” said the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis.

“From a humanitarian point of view, we’re still frustrated about not being able to go in.”

This year, UN aid had only reached a slim seven percent of two million Syrians in “hard-to-reach” areas, he said.

The UN has requested access to tens of thousands of desperate people still living in Ghouta but has been told by the government that it still is not safe.

“There shouldn’t be any excuse for not going there,” Moumtzis told journalists in Beirut last week.

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More Syria Health Facilities Hit So Far In 2018 Than All 2017

File Photo.   More Syrian health facilities were attacked in the first four months of 2018 than all of last

File Photo.


More Syrian health facilities were attacked in the first four months of 2018 than all of last year combined, the United Nations said Friday, slamming the escalation as “shocking”.

They included four facilities hit after their locations were provided by the UN to the United States and Russia, which co-chair a humanitarian task force on Syria, in an effort to “de-conflict” the clinics.

“Syria is the worst place in modern history in terms of attacks against health care,” said Panos Moumtzis, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.

“Syria today accounts for nearly 70 percent of all reported attacks on health facilities worldwide.”

Speaking to reporters in Beirut, Moumtzis said 79 health facilities were hit from the start of 2018 until May 4, killing 89 people including medical staff and patients.

That was more than the entirety of 2017, when the UN said 73 medical facilities were targeted in attacks that left 73 people dead.

Nearly half of this year’s attacks took place in Ghouta, a sprawling suburb of Damascus that Syria’s government seized from rebels in mid-April after a blistering two-month offensive.

Another 37 attacks took place in the northwestern province of Idlib, where hospitals, blood banks, and ambulance stations have been hit this year.
The increase came despite a mechanism introduced by the UN earlier this year to try to reduce attacks on health facilities by informing warring parties of their locations.

– ‘Not collateral damage’ –
The GPS coordinates of 661 health facilities had been shared since the start of this year with Russia and the United States, said Moumtzis, adding the system “came pretty late” in a conflict infamous for its impact on health infrastructure.

“There were four specific incidents where despite the notification, an attack took place. Two were in Eastern Ghouta, and two were in northern Homs,” he said.

According to the UN, the two sites hit in Ghouta were a hospital in the town of Arbin in late March and a children’s hospital in the town of Douma in early April.
In Homs, two facilities in the town of Zafraniyeh were hit in late April. Troops also recaptured opposition-held villages in the northern part of Homs province this week.

“The assumption is not that these attacks have been on accident. If a health facility gets targeted, some of them multiple times, it’s not collateral damage,” said Moumtzis.

Reports of the incidents were submitted to the UN’s humanitarian task force.

The US has denied being militarily active in either area and Russia is conducting investigations into the incidents, according to taskforce head Jan Egeland.

Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against the government but has since evolved into a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people and trigged a staggering humanitarian crisis.

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France Freezes Company Assets Over Syria Chemical Weapons

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus. PHOTO: REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah.

France on Friday froze the assets for six months of companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China after they were linked to an alleged chemical weapons programme in Syria.

The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus, Technolab in Lebanon, and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government’s official gazette.

Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes, as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not specified.

The asset freezes were signed by French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

In January, France sanctioned 25 people and companies based in Syria, but also French, Lebanese and Chinese, over suspicions of fuelling the development of chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country.

The companies targeted included importers and distributors of metals, electronics, logistics and shipping.

Some thirty countries meet in Paris on Friday to put in place mechanisms to better identify and punish those responsible for using nerve agents such as Sarin and chlorine in attacks.

After hundreds of people were killed in chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, a landmark deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stash, staving off US air strikes.

Despite the deal, a suspected chlorine and sarin attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 triggered a wave of punitive missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria by the United States, Britain and France.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to soon release a fact-finding report into the suspected Douma attack.


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Sharp Rise In Yemen Civilian Casualties In April – UN

Deaths and injuries among Yemeni civilians jumped to the highest monthly level so far this year in April, the UN

Deaths and injuries among Yemeni civilians jumped to the highest monthly level so far this year in April, the UN said on Friday, pointing out that the Saudi-led military alliance has been causing most of the harm in the war.

“In April, 236 civilians were killed and 238 suffered injuries in the conflict,’’ Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman of the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva said.

In total, the UN office has counted almost 6,400 civilian deaths and some 10,000 injuries since the conflict intensified in the past three years.

“The vast majority of these 10,185 civilian casualties were as a result of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition,’’ Shamdasani told a news conference.

In March 2015, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels advanced on the government’s temporary capital of Aden, prompting Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and its allies to start an air campaign.

“Monday’s Saudi-led airstrikes against the Presidential Office in Sana’a that killed six people raise serious questions whether international rules about protecting civilians in war are being honoured,’’ the spokeswoman said.

According to information collected by the UN Human Rights Office, the strikes hit a densely populated area twice within seven minutes, causing casualties among the first responders who had rushed to the scene after the first strike.

“The Houthis have also caused death and injury through indiscriminate shelling,’’ Shamdasani said, pointing to incidents on May 1 and May 2 which left five people dead. (dpa/NAN)


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Eight Killed In Suspected Israeli Strike On Syria

FILE PHOTO                                     

FILE PHOTO                                                                                                                   Rami al SAYED / AFP


Eight Iranians were among 15 foreign pro-regime fighters killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Syria on a weapons depot of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, a war monitor said Wednesday.

The raid struck the area of Kisweh south of Damascus late Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Syria‘s official news agency SANA said the army had intercepted two Israeli missiles fired towards Kisweh, with state television broadcasting images of fires in the nearby area.

“The death toll of the missile strike has risen to 15 pro-regime fighters — eight from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and others not of Syrian nationality,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The monitor previously reported nine pro-regime combatants had died in the raid, without specifying their nationality.

SANA quoted a medical source saying that two civilians had died on a highway linking Damascus with the southern city of Deraa as a result of an explosion linked to “the Israeli aggression”.

Late Tuesday, the Israeli-occupied section of the Golan Heights was placed on high alert due to “irregular activity by Iranian forces” across the demarcation line in Syria.

It is not the first time that Kisweh has been targeted. In December, Israel reportedly bombed military positions in the area south of Damascus, including a weapons depot.

Since the start of Syria‘s civil war in 2011, Israel has repeatedly targeted positions of the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement backing it inside the country.

On April 29, missile strikes — “probably Israeli” — fired on regime military positions killed at least 26 mostly Iranian fighters, according to the Observatory.

On April 9, missiles targeted the T-4 air base in the central province of Homs, killing up to 14 fighters, including seven Iranians, two days after an alleged chemical attack carried out by the Syrian regime.

Damascus accused Israel of carrying out the strike.

Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war, though the armistice line on the sector of the Golan Heights which the Jewish state seized from its Arab neighbour in 1967 was largely quiet for decades until the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.

In an interview late last month, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to strike at any attempt by Iran to establish a “military foothold” in Syria.


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Syria Rescuers Face ‘Freeze’ On U.S. Funding

  Syria’s White Helmets rescue force are facing a “freeze” on funding from the US, its chief told AFP Saturday,


Syria’s White Helmets rescue force are facing a “freeze” on funding from the US, its chief told AFP Saturday, saying he was worried President Donald Trump would suddenly cut support.

Raed Saleh said that Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, would continue its programming but that financial support coming from the US was under review.

“We were not formally told of any halt to funding, but what we were informed of was a freeze to some of the Middle Eastern projects by American organisations, in order to review their feasibility,” he said.

“Among them are projects linked to stabilisation in Syria, which includes part of the White Helmets’ work,” Saleh added.

Speaking from Turkey, he told AFP the group’s plans were being “completely reviewed.”

“This happens every year but this year, no one can predict President Trump’s decisions,” Saleh said.

The US State Department said in April that funds earmarked for Syria’s “stabilisation” were being re-assessed, but did not say whether funding for the White Helmets would stop.

Media reports said the White House had instructed the State Department to freeze over $200 million funds for “recovery efforts” in Syria.

The White Helmets’ 3,700 members work in opposition-controlled swathes of Syria, which has been caught up in conflict since 2011.

The first responders rescue civilians trapped under rubble or caught up in fighting. Since they began work in 2013, more than 200 rescuers have died and hundreds more have been injured.

Last year, a Netflix documentary called “The White Helmets” won an Academy Award for best short documentary, while a second film focused on the group, “Last Men in Aleppo,” was a 2018 Oscars nominee.

But they have also been the subject of smear campaigns by supporters of Syria’s government and its ally Russia, who accuse the White Helmets of being a front group for Al-Qaeda or acting in Western interests.

The White Helmets fund their work through government programmes in the US and Britain, as well as from individual donations.

Saleh said the White Helmets also recently signed contracts with Turkish and Qatari organisations.

In February, the group’s vice-president Abdulrahman Almawwas warned it faced a $6 million (five million euros) budget shortfall compared with 2017.

The fall from $18 million to $12 million led the group to delay taking on new workers, Almawwas told journalists.

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Israel Vows To Strike Any Iran ‘Military Foothold’ In Syria

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP   Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed in an interview

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP


Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed in an interview Thursday to strike at any attempt by Iran to establish a “military foothold” in Syria, following an attack this month attributed to his country.

Speaking with a news website run by a Saudi businessman that regularly interviews Israeli officials, Lieberman also threatened firm retaliation if Israel was attacked by Iran.

“If they attack Tel Aviv, we’ll strike Tehran,” he told the Elaph website.

The comments came as Lieberman visited Washington to meet US National Security Adviser John Bolton and other officials to discuss what his office called Iran’s “expansion” in the Middle East.

“We don’t intervene in the war, don’t fight there, but Iran is trying to establish bases there and attack us from there with advanced arms it brings to them,” Lieberman said of neighbouring Syria.

“I can’t stand by when I see Iran do that close to the Golan, and when it supports Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon and tries to establish a foothold in Syria in order to attack Israel.”

He added that “any site in which we see an Iranian attempt to achieve a military foothold in Syria will be struck. We won’t let that happen, regardless of the price.”

On April 9, seven Iranian personnel were among 14 people killed in a strike on the T-4 airbase in Syria, with regime allies Iran and Russia blaming Israel for the attack.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility, but has repeatedly said it cannot accept Iran establishing itself militarily in Syria.

Lieberman’s visit to Washington comes ahead of a May 12 deadline US President Donald Trump has set to decide on the fate of a nuclear deal with Iran.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly called for the deal to be scrapped or improved, though others say it is working as intended to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for the time being.


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British-Made Smoke Grenades Found In Syria – Russia

Russian President, Vladimir Putin.                                 

Russian President, Vladimir Putin.                                                         Credit: Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP


Russia said Thursday that Syrian government forces found German “chlorine containers” and British “smoke grenades” in the country’s Eastern Ghouta, an ex-rebel enclave that was taken over by regime forces in April. 

“In the liberated territories of Eastern Ghouta, Syrian government troops found containers with chlorine — the worst kind of chemical weapon — from Germany, as well as smoke grenades made in — attention — Salisbury,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Salisbury is the British town where a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were poisoned on March 4.

The incident sparked a bitter diplomatic crisis between Moscow and London. Britain says Russia was behind the attack on the pair, a charge Russia furiously denies.

Moscow, an ally of the Syrian regime, has long claimed an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma this month was “staged” by Syrian rebels and the civil defence organisation, the White Helmets.

Western powers accuse Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma.

The United States, France and Britain carried out air strikes on what they said were Assad’s chemical weapons installations in response.


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Iran will make or buy any weapon it needs – President Rouhani

Reuters/NAN President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would make or buy any weapons it needed to defend itself in a region


President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would make or buy any weapons it needed to defend itself in a region beset by “invading powers”, as the military paraded missiles and soldiers in front of him on National Army Day.

Fighter jets and bombers flew overhead as Rouhani told the Tehran crowd and a live TV audience on Wednesday that Iran’s forces posed no threat to its neighbours.

“We tell the world that we will produce or acquire any weapons we need, and will not wait for their approval.

“We tell our neighbouring countries that our weapons are not against you, it’s for deterrence,” Rouhani said.

“We are not living in a normal region, and we see invading powers have built bases around us.

“Disregarding the principles of international law, they intervene in regional affairs and invade other
countries without UN permission,” Rouhani added.

U.S., British and French forces pounded Iran’s ally Syria with air strikes early on Saturday in retaliation
for a suspected April 7 chemical weapons attack, which they blame on Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government.

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, in a bid to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump has delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories to fix what he saw as the “terrible flaws” of the deal, threatening to refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

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Syria Strikes ‘Solve Nothing’, Says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron                                 

Macron Takes To Airwaves Amid Rail Strikes, Syria Crisis
French President Emmanuel Macron                                                        PHOTO: LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP


President Emmanuel Macron admitted Tuesday that air strikes in Syria “solve nothing” but said France, Britain and the United States had been forced to step up and defend the “honour” of the international community.

Missile strikes by the US, Britain and France at the weekend were in response to an alleged chlorine and sarin gas attack in Douma on April 7 in which 40 people were said to have been killed.

In an impassioned defence to the European Parliament, Macron said the Western allies acted to defend global rules and accused Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad of being “at war with his people.”

“Let’s look our principles in the face and ask where we want to go. These strikes will resolve nothing but they will end a system to which we are becoming used to, which is that, somehow, the right side has become the weak side,” Macron said.

“Those that are shocked by images of women, of children who have been attacked by chlorine, we need to stand up to defend our rights. What are we going to say, our rights and principles just for us? No, that simply isn’t acceptable,” Macron said.

With the rest of the EU and the west having held back from the military action, Macron added: “Three countries have intervened, and let me be quite frank, quite honest — this is for the honour of the international community.”

He said that the strikes were conducted “within a legitimate, multilateral framework, and in a very targeted way without any human victim, not a single human victim, to destroy three sites where chemical weapons were being produced or processed.”

“These strikes don’t necessarily resolve anything but I think they were important,” he said.

Macron’s comments came as the French government said Tuesday it was “highly likely” that evidence would disappear from the site of the suspected chemical attack before international weapons experts arrive in the area.

“It is highly likely that evidence and essential elements disappear from the site, which is completely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies,” the French foreign ministry said, echoing concerns by the US that have been rejected by Russia.


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