Archive for March, 2016

Trash pickup resumes in Lebanon, ending eight-month crisis

March 19, 2016

NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) — Sanitation workers began removing mountains of trash from the suburbs of Beirut on Saturday in what residents hoped would mark the end of Lebanon’s eight-month garbage crisis. Early in the day, dozens of trucks started carrying trash to the Naameh landfill just south of the capital, one of three landfills opened as part of a temporary solution announced by the government a week ago.

As garbage began piling up in Beirut last year, protesters formed the “You Stink” movement, demanding sweeping reform in Lebanon’s government. Since the peaks of the protest in the summer, authorities managed to blunt the public anger by ensuring that the streets of Beirut were kept relatively garbage-free. However, the trash was instead pushed to the city’s periphery, where it piled up along roadsides and the banks of the Beirut River.

The government said last week that Naameh, the country’s main landfill, will open again for just two months. The crisis began in July, when the Naameh landfill was scheduled to close with no realistic alternatives; Naameh area residents said the dump was over capacity and began blocking the roads to prevent garbage trucks from reaching it.

Despite anger by residents, there were no protests against the reopening of the landfill on Saturday. In the north Beirut suburb of Jdaideh, home to one of the largest trash piles, a bulldozer loaded thousands of trash bags into trucks. Fadwa Saad had to put a mask to avoid the smell of the trash that could be seen from her balcony.

“We are coughing, we have allergies and there are mosquitoes and flies in our homes,” she said. “They say they are removing trash. We hope that they really remove it, not only do it for one day and leave the rest.”

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Putin: Russia can rebuild its Syria forces in ‘a few hours’

March 17, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin warned Thursday that Russia can again build up its forces in Syria “in a few hours” if necessary, and will continue striking extremist groups. Putin, who ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian warplanes from Syria earlier this week, said that Russia has kept some forces in Syria to support the Syrian army’s action against the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other extremist groups. He also emphasized that the Russian military will be ready to use an array of air defense missile systems it has in Syria “against any targets that would threaten our servicemen.”

Putin’s statement underlined Russia’s intention to maintain a strong military presence in Syria to keep its gains after a 5 ½-month air campaign that has helped turn the tide of war and allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to make significant advances.

Speaking during a Kremlin ceremony honoring Russian military officers who have taken part in the Syrian campaign, Putin said that the action in Syria has demonstrated Russia’s “leadership, will and responsibility” in fighting “enemies of civilization.”

Russian warplanes have conducted more than 9,000 combat missions since the air campaign began on Sept. 30, allowing the Syrian army “to gain strategic initiative,” Putin said. He said the action in Syria cost the military about 33 billion rubles (about $480 million), adding that the Defense Ministry already had those funds earlier earmarked for maneuvers and used them instead to finance the Syrian campaign.

“There is no more efficient way of training than real combat,” he said, adding that the military action in Syria allowed the Russian armed forces to test its long-range cruise missiles and other new weapons in real action for the first time.

Putin added that a Russian- and U.S.-brokered ceasefire that began on Feb. 27 has now allowed Russia to reduce its military presence in Syria. The number of Russian air missions flown in Syria has dropped from 60-80 to 20-30 a day, meaning that some warplanes could be sent home, he said without saying how many warplanes will stay in Syria.

Putin said that Assad had been informed in advance about the Russian pullout and supported the decision. Putin praised the Syrian ruler for what he described as his readiness to contribute to a peaceful settlement. “We have seen his restraint, a sincere striving for peace and readiness for compromise and dialogue,” he said.

The Russian president voiced hope that the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria would send an “important positive signal” and help Syria peace talks that began in Geneva on Monday. While praising cooperation with the U.S. in negotiating the truce, Putin warned that the Russian military remaining in Syria would be ready to act against any groups that would violate the cease-fire.

“If it becomes necessary, Russia is capable of building up its groups of forces in the region to the level required by the situation in literally a few hours and use our entire arsenal,” he said. “We wouldn’t like to do it … and we count on common sense of all sides, on the Syrian authorities’ and the opposition’s adherence to the peace process.”

Without naming any specific country, Putin said that “all interested nations have been warned” about Russia’s intention to destroy any target that would threaten the Russian military. The warning appeared directed at Turkey, which downed a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November.

“No one has the right to violate the airspace of a sovereign country, Syria,” he said. He also said the Syrian army will press its offensive on Palmyra and drive out the IS forces controlling it, adding that Russia will continue offering all kinds of assistance to Assad’s military.

“It includes financial aid, the deliveries of weapons and military gear, help in training, organization and teaming of Syrian armed forces, intelligence support, help in planning combat missions,” he said, adding that Russia would also continue to provide direct air cover for the Syrian military.

Iran to send Special Forces to Syria, Iraq

Friday, 18 March 2016

Tehran plans to send Special Forces and snipers to Syria and Iraq, Deputy Chief Liaison of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force General Ali Arasteh revealed yesterday. “At some point we will be ready to send our Special Forces and snipers as military advisers to Iraq and Syria,” Fars News quotes Arasteh saying.

Iran has supported the Syrian regime since the outbreak of the revolution against regime President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime nearly six years ago.

Iranian officials have repeatedly denied reports that they send troops to assist regime forces in Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24560-iran-to-send-special-forces-to-syria-iraq.

UNICEF: 310,000 Syrian children are enrolled in Turkish schools

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Of the 1,400,000 Syrian children living in Turkey, 310,000 are enrolled in Turkish schools, UNICEF announced yesterday.

In a statement issued, the organization said: “UNICEF strives to provide high-quality educational opportunities for Syrian children who fled from the horrors of war in their country.”

“The number of schools that the UNICEF have contributed to in collaboration with the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Department and the Turkish Ministry of Education rose to 41 schools in 12 Turkish states,” stressing that it is determined to continue its support for the establishment and restoration of other schools, caring for teachers, and providing for the needs of children.

The statement stressed on the focus on children’s psychological and social well-being, pointing out that 50,000 children have benefited from psychological and social programs.

It added that it also supports Syrian volunteer teachers in Turkey.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/24428-unicef-310000-syrian-children-are-enrolled-in-turkish-schools.

Trafficked Nepali, Bangladeshi women trapped in Syria

Murali Bhanjyang, Nepal (AFP)

March 13, 2016

Nepali villager Sunita Magar thought she was heading to a safe factory job in Kuwait, but only when she landed in Damascus did she realize “something had gone very wrong”.

Frequently beaten with a baton and given only one meal a day, Magar says she spent 13 months working as a maid for a Syrian household and pleading to be allowed to go home.

“I was just in shock, I couldn’t stop crying,” the single mother-of-two told AFP.

Magar is among scores of poor Nepali and Bangladeshi women who traveled to the Middle East on the promise of a good job, only to be trafficked into Syria, wracked by five years of civil war.

Nepal’s top diplomat in the region said nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries, which, like Nepal and Bangladesh, have large migrant labor populations, stopped working in Syria because of the dangers involved.

“Since then traffickers have been targeting Nepalis,” said Kaushal Kishor Ray, head of Nepal’s diplomatic mission based in Cairo.

“The numbers have gone up hugely in recent years, we estimate there must be around 500 Nepali women in Syria,” Ray told AFP.

In nearby Bangladesh, Shahinoor Begum lies in a Dhaka hospital bed recovering from her seven-month ordeal after being trafficked into Syria as a sex slave.

“I was sold to a Syrian man who tortured and raped me every day, sometimes along with his friends,” Begum, also a single mother-of-two, said.

“I begged for mercy, but they didn’t have any. Instead they used to beat me so badly that I broke my arms,” she told AFP.

Accompanied by labor agents, the 28-year-old and several other women left Bangladesh on the promise of working as maids in Jordan.

But they too were taken to Syria, where fighting between the regime and rebel forces has left more than 260,000 dead and displaced more than half the population.

Begum eventually developed kidney disease, prompting traffickers to contact her ageing mother to demand money for her safe return home.

Lieutenant Colonel Golam Sarwar said his team from Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion are investigating her case and two others — although families of 43 other women have lodged similar complaints.

“Bangladesh is apparently a soft target for the traffickers,” Sarwar told AFP.

– ‘Always afraid’ –

Criminal networks target nationals from Nepal and Bangladesh in part because their governments have little diplomatic influence in the region and no embassy in Syria.

A Nepal government ban on migrant workers travelling to Syria has failed to stop the traffickers, an International Labor Organization (ILO) official said.

“Nepal’s government thinks a ban is the easiest solution, it basically allows them to wipe their hands of the issue,” said Bharati Pokharel, ILO national project coordinator in Kathmandu.

“India has much more diplomatic clout than Nepal or Bangladesh and traffickers are aware of this. They know Nepal is weak and that they will face no legal action for their activities,” Pokharel told AFP.

Illiterate, trusting and desperate to dig herself out of poverty, Magar didn’t hesitate when a labor broker approached her with a promise of a well-paid job in Kuwait. The 23-year-old says she didn’t realize she had been duped until the plane landed in Damascus.

“I was always exhausted, always hungry, always afraid,” Magar said of working 20 hours a day for no pay and sleeping on her employer’s penthouse balcony.

At night, she listened to Nepali songs to try to drown out occasional sounds of gunfire and bombs and chase away thoughts of suicide.

– Corrupt officials –

When a massive earthquake hit Nepal last April, Magar stepped up pleas to her employers, who had confiscated her passport, to return home.

They contacted the broker who then demanded payment from Magar’s family to ensure her release. Her mother then highlighted the case to local newspapers, kicking off a social media campaign. Expat Nepalis as far afield as Finland and Hong Kong raised $3,800 to pay off her employers.

Magar, who finally arrived in Kathmandu in August, counts herself among the lucky few to have escaped.

Rohit Kumar Neupane’s aunt was trafficked to Damascus last spring. She alerted her family via Facebook a few months later, prompting Neupane to repeatedly seek help from government officials without success.

A foreign ministry official said Neupane’s request had been forwarded to its overworked embassy in Cairo, which covers nine countries including Syria.

“Frankly, we are not in a position to manage these cases from Cairo…what we need is precautionary action to prevent them from coming to Syria in the first place,” said diplomat Ray.

But an apparent nexus between local labor brokers involved in trafficking and corrupt Nepali officials means they operate freely, according to experts.

“Even in the rare instance that a case is filed, it will just drag on with no possibility of resolution or a guilty verdict,” said Krishna Gurung, project coordinator at Kathmandu’s Pourakhi emergency shelter house for female migrant workers.

In her village of Murali Bhanjyang in central Nepal, Magar has little hope of seeing the traffickers brought to justice.

“I still have nightmares about that time…I start crying in my sleep,” she said.

“Sometimes it feels like none of this is real, like I am back on that balcony in Syria, dreaming of Nepal.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trafficked_Nepali_Bangladeshi_women_trapped_in_Syria_999.html.

Lebanon running out of space to bury the bodies of Syrian refugees

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Syrian refugees are struggling to find space in Lebanon to bury their dead, according to Sheikh Wesam Anuz, chairman of the displaced file for Lebanon’s Religious Edicts Authority in the Bekaa Valley.

Anuz said in a statement that although there are no official figures on the number of deaths among displaced Syrian refugees, the number is on the rise.

He explained that villages in the Bekaa Valley welcome the refugees and are happy to have the dead buried in their local cemeteries but he said there is a lack of space in the area.

Anuz explained that on three occasions Syrian refugees have had to abandon the bodies of their loved ones outside the offices of the Religious Edicts Authority in the Bekaa Valley because they had nowhere to bury them.

Anuz said that the majority of the dead are elderly people, while others have died as a result of road accidents, fires or during snowstorms.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24421-lebanon-running-out-of-space-to-bury-the-bodies-of-syrian-refugees.

Netanyahu vows to close Palestinian satellite channels

Monday, 14 March 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vowed to close Palestinian satellite channels, accusing them of inciting against Israel.

At the opening of the Israeli Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “We are working against satellite channels that encourage the killing of Israelis, so I spoke over the weekend with the French President Francois Hollande on this subject.”

Netanyahu added: “I previously requested from the French president to stop broadcasting Al-Aqsa TV channel which broadcasts through French satellite, and the channel was indeed removed from these satellites, but this channel returned to broadcasting through another satellite, we are working in other places and through other channels in order to halt these broadcasts.”

Al-Aqsa TV announced last Friday that the Eutelsat ceased its broadcast before announcing its new frequency on the same satellite.

The offices of the satellite channel Palestine Al Yawm were shut down early on Friday by the Israeli army. The office manager was arrested.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24484-netanyahu-vows-to-close-palestinian-satellite-channels.

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