Humanitarian fears grow as Russian and Syrian FMs signal all-out attack on last rebel-held stronghold is imminent.
The Syrian government and its major ally Russia have signalled that an all-out offensive to retake the last rebel-held province in Syria is only a matter of time, raising fears of a major humanitarian crisis.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem following a closed-door meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the majority of Syria had been “freed of terrorists”, save for Idlib, a northeastern province bordering Turkey.
“What we need to do now is to wipe out those terrorist groups which persist, particularly within the de-escalation area of Idlib,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that those terrorists particularly al-Nusra Front are using the de-escalation area of Idlib to attack the Syrian army and to also attack through drones the Russian military bases in the area,” he added referring to Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by a rebel faction previously known as al-Nusra Front before renouncing its ties to al-Qaeda.
For his part, al-Muallem said the Syrian forces will “go all the way” in Idlib but added that the army will do everything possible to avoid civilian deaths.
Idlib is home to nearly three million people, up to half of whom are rebels and civilians transferred en masse from other areas such as Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and Deraa after they fell to Syrian pro-government forces following heavy fighting.
The situation on the ground is further complicated by the direct presence of Turkey, which backs certain rebel groups in the area and operates as a guarantor power to ensure a “de-escalation zone” agreed upon with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s allies Russia and Iran at a meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
In recent weeks, Turkish-backed opposition groups in Idlib have attempted to unify into a new coalition, with some 70,000 fighters pledging to fight against forces loyal to Assad. But HTS, the most dominant rebel force in Idlib and in control of about 60 percent of the province, has not joined the coalition.
A major military operation in Idlib would pose a particularly threatening humanitarian situation because there is no opposition territory left in Syria where people could be evacuated to. Observers have previously warned as many as 2.5 million Syrians could try to flee to the closed Turkish border, creating a new refugee crisis.
“The question is how costly the assault on Idlib is going to be,” said Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow.
“It’s not a question of if it will happen, it is a question of when and the severity of it,” he added, noting that the Russian and Syrian governments believe that the seven-year war will largely be over if they capture Idlib.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Warnings and reconstruction
Speaking at the press conference, Lavrov called on the international community to join in the reconstruction process of Syria and “actively get down to work on modernising the infrastructure which has been devastated”.
“We can see that there is a very swift mobilisation of the international community taking place particularly with regards to the return of the refugees and the revival of socioeconomic assets and facilities to make sure the country gets back to working order,” he said.
“The Russians know that as the pre-eminent military force in Syria, some of the responsibility of rebuilding Syria falls on them,” Challands said, “but they don’t want to shoulder all the bill, so they’re encouraging as many foreign powers as they can to chip in essentially and get the country back on its feet.”
Al-Muallem said Russia and Syria are united in their views regarding the next stage of rebuilding Syria.
“It’s natural to think about Syria to find a reconstruction programme and to find a role for our partners in Russia to play a key role and priority in this,” he said, adding that both countries are very near to “putting an end to terrorism” in the country.
Both ministers warned against any “act of aggression” from Western countries, particularly from the United States, citing staged chemical attacks by “provocateurs” such as the Syrian civil defence group the White Helmets being used as a pretext for such assaults.
“This kind of provocation is being staged as to complicate the whole issue of combatting the terrorists in Idlib,” Lavrov said. “We have warned our Western partners clearly that they should not engage in this kind of activity.
Al-Muallem accused the US and its allies of preparing for “another aggression to save al-Nusra Front” and protract the Syrian conflict.
“We will practise our legitimate right in defending ourselves, but the consequences of the aggression will hit the political process definitely and everyone will be [affected],” he said.
Nature of offensive unknown
Turkey, which hosts some three million Syrian refugees, has already stated that it will not open its borders to accept further refugees in the event an assault takes place.
The Syrian government said that it will open “humanitarian corridors” for civilians to evacuate, but according to Al Jazeera’s correspondent Zeina Khodr, many of the residents do not trust the government and remain fearful of their fate.
“Many of these people are considered terrorists or are wanted by the state simply because they engaged in opposition activities,” Khodr said, reporting from Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. “Being a medic according to the Syrian government is terrorism.”
Earlier on Thursday, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura warned that a potential “perfect storm” is looming over Syria’s Idlib province, and expressed his willingness to “personally and physically” involve himself to ensure a corridor to evacuate civilians would be feasible.
While it is not yet clear what kind of offensive the Syrian government will engage in Idlib, Khodr said that there are still “behind the scenes negotiations between the Russians and the Turks” on this matter.
“What we understand from some sources is that Turkey is trying through its contacts in Idlib to convince Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham to disband itself to prevent this all-out offensive,” she said.
“We even heard Lavrov tell the Syrian government ‘we are talking about the need to reconcile with some groups’ telling them in one way or another that there will not be a wide-scale attack.”
Russia pushing forward
According to Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert with the Russian International Affairs Council, creating another refugee crisis will be contrary to Russia’s main priorities and interests.
“This is why Russia is now trying to negotiate with Turkey to reach a compromise on the deal to minimise damage inflicted on the population in Idlib,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Now, Russia’s message to the West is to get on board and join in the reconstruction process and humanitarian aid [which] basically goes in line with that message of retaking Idlib and not creating another refugee flow.”
But Khodr said that Western countries are not prepared to join in the reconstruction, insisting first on a “meaningful, credible, political transition” to Syria.
“[The Russians] have sidelined the political transition which will involve the Syrian government sharing power with the opposition,” she said, noting that Russia is trying to cement Assad’s hold onto power.
The narrative for Russia and Syria is that they have won the war and now want to talk about rebuilding the country and returning the refugees, she said.
“They’ve appealed to the international community, particularly to the West, to give them money to rebuild the towns so that refugees will return and leave Europe but it seems they do not have the support as of yet,” Khodr said.
to be continued here
Define the Holocaust, explain why it happened.
Why focus on Jews?
The most important events of the Holocaust
The importance of the event and the reaction of the Arabs
What we learned from the Holocaust.
No fan of Sacha but this is unbelievable !
Suddenly a world where a Turkish referee tells Messi what’s what and a black African referee blows the whistle on European whites
Jun 28, 2018 12:36 AM
Suddenly – another world. Suddenly a sense of justice. Suddenly solidarity with minorities, suddenly a chance for the weak. Suddenly, a world without Israel at its center. Without Israel at its navel. Without Israel at all. No referee or usher. Not even security advisers and economic manipulators from Israel, and the world is getting by.
No cherry tomatoes and no Jewish genius. No Benjamin Netanyahu, at least until the finish. Suddenly it’s not important whether it’s good for the Jews or not. Suddenly no America, either. A world without America. Without Donald Trump. Without even China. Suddenly, Croatia is an empire. Nigeria is hope. Egypt shed a tear. Uruguay schooled everyone in its group. Iranians are human beings, determined, sympathy-inspiring fighters, may they only succeed. People in Bat Yam are waving their flag and crossing their fingers for them shamelessly. Another world.
Suddenly a world with equal rules for everyone. With an international law everyone respects. No Holocaust discounts. No chosen people. With a Turkish referee who tells Lionel Messi what’s what and a black referee from Africa who blows the whistle on whites from Europe. Suddenly a nation. Not of hatred, but of pride. Turns out there is something like that, who knew?
Even a nation that isn’t yours can move you and fill you with pride. A nation free of nationalism. Suddenly also an anthem. Loud, but without belligerence. No religion. No race. A black player in Denmark’s uniform, a white player in Nigeria’s uniform. The French team’s tricolor. Only Iceland is all white, and Korea is all Asian. But they too are on the map. And Russia is a model of good taste and organization. Who knew you were like that, mother Russia.
Suddenly even Arabs are human beings. Arabs, imagine that. Arabs. Like in Halhul. Arabs are better than the Israelis, at least in something. How will we hide our shame and what will we do with the cognitive dissonance. They’re better even than Eran Zehavi. And no Eli Tabib. You have to pinch yourself to believe it.
And yet, an Israeli broadcaster wishes Saudi Arabia and Egypt a tie, so neither is humiliated. Would you believe it? Suddenly no “displays of anti-Semitism” around every corner, no Israeli-flag burning, which the knee-jerk broadcasters keep searching for. Suddenly there are no Jews, either. No Jewish organizations. No Jewish philanthropists.
Suddenly there’s something to talk about with the children. Suddenly it’s okay to get excited without restraint. Emotions can overflow. Let Sweden win. Let Germany sweat and be embarrassed, if only for a moment. God help Senegal. Let Egypt not be degraded. Let Peru go home with points. Let Morocco and Tunisia’s fans get some joy.
Suddenly a chance for the weak. Suddenly perhaps they all really are human beings. Even the Iranians, including the Saudis. And all this without America, this must be said again and again, a world without America. Even without Jared Kushner. A world without Roni Daniel and Amit Segal, who always know everything, without Nir Dvori, who recites Israel’s military successes, no Ayala Hasson and no Yonit Levy. A global world without Nadav Eyal. Another world. With Latin America and black Africa, without Miri Regev’s baloney, Bezalel Smotrich’s racism, Avi Dichter’s nonsense, Ofir Akunis’ flatulence, Stav Shafir’s struggles and Avigdor Lieberman’s barking. Can you imagine that?
A world without yarmulkes and without settlers. A tournament without a divine promise, apart from Maradona. Almost without any racist or chauvinist remarks from the broadcasters, except for the Messi and Western Wall affair, which is also, praise God, behind us.
A world almost without blood, and very little violence. No arrogant babble, no “we’ll retaliate at the appropriate time and place” and “prepared for every scenario.” Only the ball speaks and anything can happen.
A world without generals and politicians. Without lawyers and strategic advisers in the studios. A beautiful world, If only for a moment. And look, already a headline is flickering on the news site, putting an end to all this: “Zionist Union in crisis.” End of the world.
IN 2014, the Mexican author Valeria Luiselli, waiting for her green card application to be resolved, took her family on a road trip through the American southwest. As she and her husband and young children drove to Roswell, New Mexico, they joked about their own status as “resident aliens” and informed Border Patrol officers at checkpoints that they are “just writers and just on vacation. … We are writing a Western, sir.”
As they drove, the family followed the news of tens of thousands of Central American children crossing the border just hours south of them, most of them alone. They listened to radio reports describing the children being warehoused, overcrowded and underfed, in detention centers known as as hieleras, or iceboxes, for ICE, but mostly for their frigid temperatures. They saw photos of protesters in Arizona with signs saying “return to sender” and “illegal is a crime.” They overheard patrons at a diner trading rumors about a millionaire offering his private plane to personally deport the children.
Ultimately, between April 2014 and August 2015, more than 102,000 unaccompanied children were detained at the border, and their fates haunted Luiselli to such an extent that on her return to New York, she started volunteering as an interpreter for children facing deportation in federal immigration court. She has written a new book about her experience, “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay In Forty Questions,” and it couldn’t be more timely.
President Trump’s capricious and xenophobic actions on immigration have elevated the issue to national attention and sparked protest, but Luiselli’s book is a reminder that not all of this started with the 45thpresident. Luiselli’s book is a slim, readable primer on what ought to be considered one of the most unsettling episodes of Obama’s presidency, capably explaining how his administration did exactly the opposite of what was needed in response to the arrival of the children.
It’s also a potent meditation on questions the Trump administration has brought to the fore: Who is, and most determinedly, who isn’t, a citizen? Who should enjoy the freedom to travel, not to carry documents everywhere, to go to school, to go to the doctor, to make mistakes, to be happy, to be unhappy? What indignities should no one have to suffer, regardless of legal status? What do people deserve, as citizens or non-citizens?
The book opens with the first question Luiselli has to ask each kid she helped in immigration court — “Why did you come to the United States?” — and the book returns again and again to that question throughout. The answer is never simple.
Israeli prosecutors concluded that the two soldiers acted properly when they shot and killed an unarmed teenager 10 meters away as he ran away from them
Jun 14, 2018 4:57 AM
A.G. and A.D. presumably celebrated. Maybe they raised a toast with their lawyers at some fashionable pub, or perhaps they just basked in the good news with their families. It was the relief of their lives. The poor souls’ nightmare is over. How they harassed them when the teenager was killed, but all’s well that ends well: The central district prosecution decided last week to withdraw the indictment against them, two-and-a-half years after it was filed.
True, it was sickeningly ridiculous that they were charged with “an act of haste and negligence” for shooting an unarmed, already wounded teenager in the back as he was running or his life. Still, it was an indictment, which itself was only filed after the deceased’s family and B’Tselem petitioned the High Court of Justice.
For a moment it seemed as if the two would be given a suspended sentence of maybe a day, or even a one-penny fine for killing a boy who had not yet turned 16, even though he didn’t pose any danger or threat to them. But even this faint hope for a remnant of delayed and symbolic justice – for even the faintest likeness of justice – was dashed, and what could be more predictable than that?
The indictment was withdrawn. A.G. and A.D. acted properly when they shot an unarmed teenager from a range of 10 meters as he ran from them. They violated nothing. Their act of killing wasn’t even hasty or negligent. They are good soldiers, excellent ones, even though the day after the killing a senior officer said, “Something that wasn’t right happened there.” Not right, but apparently not wrong enough. So go ahead, dear soldiers; continue to kill Palestinian teenagers who don’t endanger you. You can even kill them as they run away, because no harm will come to you.
A.G. and A.D. were a platoon commander and a soldier from the 71st Battalion of the Armored Corps. They shot from behind and killed Samir Awad, who tried to cross the fence that constricts his village, as he ran from an ambush the soldiers had set up in the prickly-pear bushes. They shot him in the back and will never be punished for their act. They shot him in the leg first, and after he fell wounded and got back on his feet they managed to grab him by the arm, but he got away from them. Then they shot him twice from behind, a bullet to the back of his neck and a bullet in his back, killing him. So now they can calmly fly off to India or Costa Rica for their post-army trip – perhaps they’ve already done so – and forget everything. But the home of the boy they killed in Budrus will never be the same again.
to be followed here
Watch film on John’s website
John Pilger first made the film ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue’ in 1977. It told how almost a million Palestinians had been forced off their land in 1948, and again in 1967. Twenty five years later, John Pilger returned to the West Bank of Jordan and Gaza, and to Israel, to ask why the Palestinians, whose right of return was affirmed by the United Nations more than half a century ago, are still caught in a terrible limbo – refugees in their own land, controlled by Israel in the longest military occupation in modern times.
“If we are to speak of the great injustice here, nothing has changed,” says Pilger at the start of the film, “What has changed is that the Palestinians have fought back. Stateless and humiliated for so long, they have risen up against Israel’s huge military regime, although they themselves have no army, no tanks, no American planes and gunships or missiles. Some have committed desperate acts of terror, like suicide bombing. But, for Palestinians, the overriding, routine terror, day after day, has been the ruthless control of almost every aspect of their lives, as if they live in an open prison. This film is about the Palestinians and a group of courageous Israelis united in the oldest human struggle, to be free.”
Pilger distills the history of Palestine during the twentieth century into an easily comprehensible struggle for land – the loss of seventy-eight per cent of that belonging to Palestinians when the state of Israel was founded in 1948 and their claim to only the remaining twenty-two per cent, which had for thirty-five years been occupied by Israel.
In a series of extraordinary interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians, he speaks to the families of suicide bombers and their victims. He witnesses the humiliation of Palestinians at myriad checkpoints with a permit system not dissimilar to apartheid South Africa’s infamous pass laws. One Palestinian woman tells of how she was stopped from passing through a checkpoint when she went into labour and had to return home to give birth with her mother-in-law using a razor to cut the umbilical cord. The baby later died. He goes into the refugee camps and meets children who, he says, “no longer dream like other children, or if they do, it is about death.” He is shown round the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah after a recent Israeli attack where he discovers faeces smeared on walls and floors and a room of children’s paintings vandalised.
Archive footage shows pledges by successive American presidents in support of Israel. Pilger describes the Israeli administration as “America’s deputy sheriff” in the oil-rich Middle East, receiving billions of dollars and the latest weapons: F16 aircraft, bombs, missiles and Apache helicopters. He reveals that Britain also fuels the conflict even though it condemns Israel for its illegal occupation. “During the first fourteen months of the Palestinian uprising, the Blair government approved 230 export licences for weapons and military equipment to Israel… Tony Blair has said, and I quote him, “We are doing everything we can to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.'” As a result, Israel is now the fourth-largest military power in the world.
On a hillside overlooking Jerusalem, Pilger concludes. “The truth is that Israelis will never have peace until they recognise that Palestinians have the same right to the same peace and the same independence that they enjoy,’ he said. ‘Recently, that great voice of freedom, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked this: “Have the Jewish people of Israel forgotten their collective punishment, their home demolitions, their humiliations so soon?” Israel’s own dissenting voices have not forgotten and those who speak out in this film honour the best traditions of Jewish humanity… The occupation of Palestine should end now. Then, the solution is clear: two countries, Israel and Palestine, neither dominating nor menacing the other. Is that impossible or is history to witness the consequences of yet another silence?’”
Palestine Is Still The Issue was a Carlton Television production for ITV first broadcast on ITV1, 16 September 2002. Director: Tony Stark. Producer: Chris Martin.
Awards: The Chris Statuette in the War & Peace division, Chris Awards, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2003; Winner, War & Peace category, Vermont International Film Festival, 2003; Certificate of Merit, Chicago International Television Awards.