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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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Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei: Company Can Withstand Increased US Pressure

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei.

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A Huawei company logo at Shenzhen International Airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. VOA

By Joyce Huang

Despite the U.S.-China trade deal signed last week, the two countries appear headed for more confrontation, especially over high science and technology.

One of China’s highest-profile tech executives, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei. But he vowed that the world leader in building 5G networks is prepared to withstand further restrictions on its foreign markets and suppliers.

Analysts say his remarks suggest that the Chinese may be ready to directly confront Americans in the global competition for high-tech advancements, which are seen at the core of trade frictions.

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Ren Zhengfei, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Huawei Technologies gestures during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Tech war is on

“He [Ren] is fully aware that the tech competition between the U.S. and China will escalate. The U.S. has no plan to cut China some slack simply because they have just signed the Phase 1 deal. Both are now entering the battleground of their tech disputes,” said Lin Tsung-nan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Beijing’s critics say Huawei acts as a virtual arm of the Chinese government, benefitting from favorable policies and funding that have sped its expansion around the world. They warn countries that allow Huawei to build their new wireless data networks that they are giving Beijing’s authoritarian government enormous influence over their security. Instead, U.S. officials argue, countries should trust American, European, Korean and other companies.

Provisions in the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement aim to root out Chinese state policies that encourage intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. However the deal leaves open questions about enforcement. Many, including Huawei chief Ren, remain skeptical that the countries will reach an agreement on such issues.

Speaking to the audience in Davos, Ren said he believes the United States will escalate its crackdown on Huawei, but that the impact will be minimal as the company has adapted to restrictions imposed since last year.

Huawei and its 46 affiliates were targeted in 2019 after the U.S. government concluded that the company has long engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security. Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, is fighting an extradition case in Canada stemming from allegations she committed fraud by lying about Huawei’s relationship with an affiliate doing business in Iran.

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Richard Yu (Yu Chengdong), head of Huawei’s consumer business Group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones “Mate 30” and “Mate 30 Pro” in Munich, southern Germany. VOA

Huawei’s Plan B

Analysts have mixed views about the long-term impact of the blacklisting on Huawei. Ren said he is optimistic because Huawei has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its own core technology over the past few years, including chips and software. Last year, the company released its own operating system, called HarmonyOS, though, so far, it hasn’t been installed in any of the company’s smartphones.

It has also released a flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, without licensed Google Android software. Sales in China have been in line with expectations, although its global sales target of 20 million units is yet to be met.

But Professor Lin said the ultimate challenge facing Huawei lies ahead.

“The real test will come after the U.S. completely cuts off [Huawei’s] access to American technology and relevant exchanges. Huawei will then have to prove if its products, manufactured based on its so-called plan B, will continue to be competitive in overseas markets,” the professor said.

More tech restrictions

After having restricted Huawei’s access to American technology, the United States is reportedly looking to introduce a stricter rule that could block Huawei’s access to an increased number of foreign-made goods.

Media reports said the United States plans, among other things, to force Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, to limit its supplies of 14 nanometer chips to Huawei.

Washington is also lobbying other countries, such as Britain and Germany, to bar Huawei — which it accuses of spying for the Chinese government — from the buildup of their next-generation mobile networks known as 5G.

Whether U.S. allies will be persuaded to block Huawei from building their 5G networks remains uncertain, but Lin said the stakes in the standoff are clear.

“If China succeeds in using Huawei to dominate [the global 5G network], the free world will gradually fall into China’s high-tech iron curtain. That’s why the U.S. has turned aggressive in blocking Huawei, which has strived after having had copied code from Cisco’s [router software] technology a decade ago,” Lin said.

Escalating tensions

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Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver home with her security detail for an extradition hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court. VOA

Song Hong at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said he’s worried the U.S. may widen its target to include more Chinese tech firms.

But he said Beijing is adapting to the new reality by gradually cutting its dependence on the U.S. technology.

“China has greatly strengthened its tech capabilities. I think Huawei’s [Ren] speaks on behalf of most Chinese businesses. That is, if you try to block me, I have no choice but to work to find other solutions,” he said.

An executive from China’s tech sector, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said he’s not worried that the U.S.-China tech war will escalate. But he said China should respond to U.S. concerns.

“The U.S. has made a great contribution [to the world’s tech development] and now come up with some requests. I find that reasonable, right? I think China, as a responsible country, should respect and communicate well [with the U.S.] on a reasonable basis,” he said.

Warning from Meng’s case

While tech executives look at how the long-term competition between the two countries will play out, the fate of Meng — the daughter of Huawei’s founder — will impact relations in the short term. Canada has begun week-long court hearings to determine whether to extradite Meng to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

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Meng, who was arrested in late 2018 in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, said Lin of National Taiwan University, the United States has succeeded in sending a warning to those who have harmed or plan to go against U.S. tech interests.  (VOA)