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Civilians Flee Syria’s Aleppo as Battle for Manbij Continues

The U.S. military reported 11 airstrikes near Manbij, targeting Islamic State tactical units and fighting positions

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Members of Syria Democratic Forces battle Islamic State militants in Manbij, July 29, 2016. Image source: VOA
  • An anti-IS militia is battling the militants in the city, street by street, as coalition forces tighten a circle around Islamic State’s stronghold in the city
  • The special U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura urged Russia to let the world body take charge of any humanitarian corridors in and around Aleppo, allowing civilians to escape the embattled city
  • De Mistura said he was awaiting clarification from Russian authorities on how the plan would work while reiterating the U.N. position that no civilian should be forced to leave Aleppo

Syrian state media report dozens of families have been fleeing the besieged city Aleppo after government forces opened a humanitarian corridor. The city had been sealed off for weeks as Syrian forces bombarded the city. U.N. officials and aid groups have demanded the Syrian government open routes to the city for aid deliveries, warning the estimated 300,000 people there are facing dire food shortages.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State forces has reported more airstrikes on a key city outside Aleppo, where militants have been fighting to retain control of the city centre.

The U.S. military reported 11 airstrikes near Manbij, targeting Islamic State tactical units and fighting positions. The coalition also reported some nine strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.

VOA’s Kurdish Service reports that fighting in the centre of Manbij is continuing amid the airstrikes. An anti-IS militia is battling the militants in the city, street by street, as coalition forces tighten a circle around Islamic State’s stronghold in the city.

Manbij Map. Image source: VOA
Manbij Map. Image source: VOA

One fighter told VOA he saw the bodies of several militants killed in Friday’s clashes on July 29, which started in the afternoon and continued after dark.

Separately, the U.S. military is assessing the third allegation into civilian casualties caused by a coalition airstrike near Manbij.

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Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Friday, July 29, that assessment of those claims is in an “early phase.” Rights groups claim about 25 civilians were killed by an errant airstrike Thursday, following two similar incidents that are already under investigation.

The Pentagon official said the military’s own internal reporting triggered an investigation of the incident. He added: “We will continue to work hard every day to execute our mission while doing our best to minimise the risk to innocent civilians, and to be transparent and accountable about those efforts.”

Aleppo humanitarian corridor

Although Syrian state media reported the Aleppo humanitarian corridor open on Saturday, U.N. officials have expressed scepticism that it will be useful while fighting rages on.

The special U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on Friday urged Russia to let the world body take charge of any humanitarian corridors in and around Aleppo, allowing civilians to escape the embattled city. Russia has proposed opening up four corridors – to be administered by Russian and Syrian government forces – to allow civilians and fighters willing to lay down their weapons to leave rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

But scepticism remains over the plan.

“How do you expect people to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing, fighting,” De Mistura said.

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“The clock is ticking for the Aleppo population,” the U.N. envoy said, adding there is probably only enough food in Aleppo to last three weeks. “There is a strong sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency, I want to believe, was one of the reasons, if not the reason for the Russian side to come up with an initiative.”

FILE - People queue for bread in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016. Image source: Reuters
FILE – People queue for bread in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, July 14, 2016. Image source: Reuters

De Mistura echoed calls by the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, for a 48-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow emergency deliveries of food and other supplies into Aleppo, which has been cut off by pro-government forces since July 17. He also praised a statement from the International Red Cross that welcomed the Russian proposal, but noted such corridors should have the “consent of all parties on all sides.”

De Mistura said he was awaiting clarification from Russian authorities on how the plan would work while reiterating the U.N. position that no civilian should be forced to leave Aleppo.

Details of Manbij investigations

A coalition spokesman announced Wednesday that the U.S. military was formally investigating claims that an airstrike in Manbij on July 19 killed between 10 and several dozen civilians. The military also is assessing whether avoidable civilian casualties occurred during a July 23 strike on a village east of Manbij.

The coalition has conducted more than 520 airstrikes in support of the SAC push to reclaim Manbij from Islamic State fighters. Until now, the U.S. military has said its operations against Islamic State militants have resulted in 55 civilian deaths and 29 civilian injuries.

According to a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, there has been a total of 202 allegations of civilian casualties during operations against Islamic State, but only 59 of those have been deemed credible by the military.

Asked if the U.S. would stop conducting airstrikes until its investigations of the civilian casualty claims are complete, Cook told reporters that halting strikes would only leave local coalition-supported forces vulnerable to attacks by Islamic State extremists. (VOA)

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Sea Levels Rising Faster & Higher Than Expected: UN Varsity

"When migration is the only way out, it turns into forced relocation, an option that is not attractive to many Marshallese families."

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In addition, with 12 inches of sea level rise, visits would be reduced by about 24 per cent, a figure that could mean hundreds of thousands in lost revenue, as per the researchers.  Pixabay

Sea levels are rising faster and higher than previously expected. Long-term sea level rise will vary greatly depending on emissions, but could reach nearly four meters by 2300 if emissions are not reduced, experts with the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) said on Friday.

Extreme events at the coast, such as hurricanes, tsunamis and floods, that used to occur once a century, will hit many coasts every year by 2050, even under low emission scenarios.

This is especially problematic for low-lying islands, such as the Pacific Islands, which will suffer from disasters and see a loss of livelihood as sea water salinizes the soil and freshwater resources, hampering farming activities.

Some islands could become entirely uninhabitable because there is no more access to fresh water.

“Sea level rise is here to stay. Even in a wonderful, but completely unrealistic zero emission scenario, we will see the consequences of sea level rise,” said Zita Sebesvari, a senior scientist at the UNU-EHS.

“This is because the sea level rise we are experiencing at the moment is the consequence of global warming that started from emissions released decades ago. Because large bodies of water like oceans warm up slowly, changes in sea level lag behind warming of the atmosphere.”

According to the recently released IPCC special report on the oceans and cryosphere in a changing climate, for which Sebesvari was a lead author, by 2050 sea levels will rise by 20 to 40 cm globally.

There will be regional differences, but all parts of the world will be affected.

“After 2050, however, we could see anything from stabilization, if we stick to the emissions goals of the Paris Agreement, to the aforementioned four metres by 2300, if we continue with the current emissions.”

“What the report shows is that both mitigation and adaptation will be necessary. We have to reduce emissions to avoid the more extreme scenarios, but we also have to prepare for the extent of sea level rise that we cannot avoid,” said Sebesvari in a statement.

sea levels
People living in coastal areas are highly affected by economic losses caused by frequent flooding and the impact worsens when the sea level rises, making them more frequent, says a new study. Pixabay

As one of the lowest-lying island nation states in the world, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is particularly vulnerable to the rising sea level and other climate hazards, and it is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, such as salinity intrusion and an increase of extreme weather events.

In the last 10-20 years, more than a third of the Marshallese have moved abroad, mostly to the US.

“Marshallese cite many reasons for moving abroad, predominantly work, healthcare, and education,” said Kees van der Geest, a senior migration expert at UNU-EHS.

“Climate change is a big concern to them, but is not yet seen as a reason to move.”

However, a new study by van der Geest, together with colleagues from the University of Hawaii, does show a correlation between climate impacts and migration rates at the household level: Those who experience more severe climate stress, especially drought and heat, also have higher migration rates.

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Despite this finding, the study also shows that most Marshallese fiercely resist the idea that climate change could make their home uninhabitable and they would need to leave their islands someday.

They think that adaptation is possible, and with support of their government and international donors, they are finding ways to adapt. Recently installed fresh water tanks on the islands will ensure the availability of drinking water even with increasing salinity intrusion.

As the world leaders gather for two-week UN climate change conference or COP25, it is countries like the Marshall Islands that urgently depend on solutions and ambitious climate action.

“Adaptation must be considered as the first and preferred option,” concludes van der Geest.

“When migration is the only way out, it turns into forced relocation, an option that is not attractive to many Marshallese families.” (IANS)