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Save Syria’s Idlib from fate of Aleppo, UN envoy pleads

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BRUSSELS: The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura urged the world to prevent a fresh humanitarian disaster in the rebel-held region of Idlib, as officials warned aid funding was running “desperately short”.
Mistura told a major donor conference that Idlib, the likely next target of the Syrian regime’s fightback, risked suffering the same fate as Aleppo, seized in a Russian-backed Syrian offensive in 2016, and Eastern Ghouta, retaken by the regime shortly after an alleged chemical attack in early April.
Donor countries, aid organisations and UN agencies are gathering in Brussels for the seventh annual conference on Syria’s future, as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a new offensive against the so-called Islamic State jihadists entrenched in a southern district of Damascus.
“We were and are concerned on the humanitarian side by Idlib. Because Idlib is the big new challenge, 2.5 million people,” Mistura told a press conference with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini. “We hope that this would be an occasion for making sure that Idlib does not become the new new Aleppo, the new Eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different.”
The head of UN aid agency UNOCHA chief Mark Lowcock said the two-day gathering needed to raise some $8 billion in pledges for work inside Syria and with refugees in neighbouring countries, warning that some programmes may have to be cut back if funds are not forthcoming.
“We are quite desperately short of resources,” he told reporters, saying UNOCHA managed to raise only half of the funds it needed in 2017 and urging Damascus and its main backer Russia to do more to help civilians suffering in the war.
Some 6.1 people are now internally displaced, more than five million have fled Syria and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the UN. More than 700,000 people have been displaced since the start of this year alone.
“Within the resources we can plausibly expect to mobilise this year we cannot meet even all the urgent needs,” Lowcock said.
UN and EU officials held talks with aid groups working in Syria and neighbouring countries on Tuesday to get their views before government ministers arrive on Wednesday.
Save the Children International chief executive, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, urged donors to focus on education, saying a third of Syrian youngsters are out of school and a third of Syrian schools are unusable because of the war.
“We have let Syrian children down. This is the seventh year and they’re still being let down,” Thorning-Schmidt told AFP.
UN children’s agency UNICEF said some 2.8 million Syrian children had missed out on education, warning that in parts of the country simply going to school “has at times become a matter of life and death”.


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Peace talks with Taliban will happen soon: US

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KABUL: The US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan said talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon” but if the insurgents continue to fight, then American forces would support Afghan forces in the war.

Talks between the Taliban and American officials have hit a roadblock after the hardline militants cancelled the fourth round of peace talks last week and rejected the involvement of the Afghan government in the dialogue.

The Taliban threatened to pull out of the peace process with the United States if they diverted from the issue of foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan, a key demand of the insurgents to end the 17-year war.

 

The Taliban’s warning came hours after Zalmay Khalilzad landed in Afghanistan after meeting officials from India, China and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the peace process. “If the Taliban want to talk, we can talk. If they want to fight, we can fight,” Khalilzad told journalists in Kabul.

The White House has said President Donald Trump had not issued orders to the Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but the White House has not denied reports that the United States plans to pull out some of the 14,000-strong force currently deployed.

Khalilzad said: “We hope that they [Taliban] want to make peace. But if they do not choose to come to the table, if they choose to continue fighting, the United States will stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government and support them.”

Speaking about the next date for a meeting with the Taliban, he said: “We are hopeful it will happen very soon. That’s what we’re working towards.” “What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, to continue our partnership with Afghanistan and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us,” Khalilzad told reporters.

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UN approves mission to shore up Yemen truce

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UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deployment to Yemen of up to 75 monitors in a new mission to shore up a fragile ceasefire and oversee a pullback of forces from the flashpoint port of Hodeida.

The observer mission was agreed during talks last month in Sweden between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels and an advance team is already on the ground in the rebel-held city.

The unarmed monitors will be sent to Hodeida city and port as well as to the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months.

 

The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “expeditiously” deploy the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA), led by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert.

Guterres has described the mission as a “nimble presence” that will report on violations in Hodeida, which for months was the front line in the war after pro-government forces launched an offensive to capture it in June.

Human Rights Watch warned of a tough road ahead and urged the council to keep the pressure on the warring sides.

“The countdown for exchanging prisoners is fast approaching, but the parties have missed deadlines, putting the prisoner swap in jeopardy,” said Louis Charbonneau, HRW’s UN director.

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Lift travel ban on opposition leaders: Pak SC asks Imran Khan govt

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court Thursday ordered the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to lift the travel ban imposed on opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the Sindh Chief Minister, and asked the country’s anti-corruption body to probe their involvement in Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’.

As many as 172 suspects were placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on the recommendations of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the apex court.

A person cannot fly abroad if his name is placed on the ECL.

 

The Supreme Court, in a detailed judgement, ordered the government to remove the names of opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the ECL.

It, however, referred the report and material collected by the JIT in the Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’ to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Dawn news reported.

The JIT probe focused on “32 fake accounts” which were allegedly used to give massive financial benefits to former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and several others.

“Removing of the names will not prevent (the) NAB to probe and in case sufficient material is found connecting these individuals with cognisable offences, it will not be precluded from making an appropriate request to the federal government to place their names on (the) ECL again or take any appropriate action provided by law,” according to the judgement authored by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan.

The apex court in its earlier instructions asked the government to delete names of Bilawal and Shah from the ECL but the Cabinet waited for the detailed judgment.

After the judgement, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government will decide whether it should implement the court orders or file a review petition.

Justice Ahsan was part of the three-judge bench that last year took a suo-motu cognisance after it emerged that several big names were involved in money laundering through fake accounts.

Currently, a Karachi court is hearing the case against Zardari and Talpur for alleged money laundering.

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