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Syria Crisis: Battle for Syria’s Aleppo Heats Up as Rebels Press Offensive

The Russian military has reported that fewer than 200 civilians and 69 militants have fled down the corridors

People walk on the rubble of a site hit by a barrel bomb in the rebel-held area of Old Aleppo, Syria, July 11, 2016. Image source: Reuters
  • At least 6,000 people have been either killed or injured in the past 80 days in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group
  • Analysts believe the battle for Aleppo will have major repercussions, impacting the dynamics of the long-running war
  • Rebels say they have made fast and quick progress with their southern offensive

Despite more than 80 consecutive days of sustained bombardment of rebel-held Aleppo, civilians are barely using humanitarian corridors to flee the war-shattered Syrian city.

A few dozen families have trickled out of Aleppo using the corridors established over the weekend by the Syrian regime, which has been trying to tighten the noose around eastern parts of the city held by opposing rebels since 2012. The Russian military has reported that fewer than 200 civilians and 69 militants have fled down the corridors.

The tiny number that has taken the opportunity to escape is the testimony to the determination of defenders and civilians remaining in rebel-held eastern districts to resist the onslaught, say activists. Up to a quarter of a million people remain in the Syria’s onetime commercial capital.

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But some residents in conversations over Skype with VOA say some families who would like to flee, are afraid of using the four humanitarian corridors that lead into regime-controlled territory because they fear being detained – as happened in Homs in 2014 when there were mass disappearances among those who took up a government offer to leave the then-besieged city.

FILE - Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk with their weapons past rubble after they advanced on the southern side of the Castello Road in Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture by SANA, July 28, 2016. Image source: Reuters
FILE – Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walk with their weapons past rubble after they advanced on the southern side of the Castello Road in Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture by SANA, July 28, 2016. Image source: Reuters

Assad regime and Russian media outlets have claimed rebels are preventing civilians from leaving – a claim residents contacted by VOA dispute.

U.S. officials say the government offer for civilians to flee is an attempt to depopulate rebel-controlled areas, making it easier for the regime to seize them and to further demonstrate the dramatic shift of fortunes in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favour since Moscow launched its military intervention on his behalf last year.

Little hero

At least 6,000 people have been either killed or injured in the past 80 days in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Among those killed was a child actor who became famous as the star of a black comedy about life in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo. Almost 30 episodes were made; the filming itself was an act of defiance amid the daily bombardments.

In a still from the filming of the sitcom that made him famous, Qusai Abtini. Image source: www.bbc.com
In a still from the filming of the sitcom that made him famous, Qusai Abtini. Image source: www.bbc.com

Fourteen-year-old Qusai Abtini was killed last month in July after his father decided they should leave the city. The child star of the first sit-com produced in the rebel-held territory was famous for his toothy grin. The car he was travelling in was struck by four rockets as the family tried to leave before government forces seized the last remaining major route out of the city.

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At a symbolic funeral for the child actor – a video was posted online –  his father is seen sitting in a wheelchair holding a placard reading, “Qusai, Abu Abdu the Aleppan. You are a little hero. You scared the regime with your giant acts so they killed you.”

Surprise offensive

The deaths are not only coming on the rebel side, although the vast number is among insurgents and their civilian supporters. Monitors said Tuesday, August 2, that at least 30 people, including children and women, were killed in government-controlled areas from recent shelling by rebel forces.

The shells, targeting surrounding areas controlled by the Syrian regime near rebel districts, were part of a major, surprise offensive to break the siege launched Sunday by a mixture of Free Syrian Army militias and an alliance of mainly Islamist rebels — this time in southern Aleppo.

The Islamist alliance led by Jabhat Fatah al Sham (known as Jabhat al-Nusra prior to the group’s July 28 claimed split from al-Qaida) has managed to capture two south Aleppo villages and a military centre used by pro-Assad Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

For nearly a month, rebels have tried unsuccessfully to break the siege by seizing back control of the Castello Road, a major road into opposition-held east Aleppo that links to routes into rebel-held territory to the north and west of the city. Last week the rebels came close.

Russian help

The insurgents’ offensive south clearly took regime forces off guard, pushing them back several kilometres and according to the pro-regime media outlet Al-Masdar, forcing the Russian air force to “come to the aid of the government forces in southern Aleppo.”

Analysts believe the battle for Aleppo will have major repercussions, impacting the dynamics of the long-running war.  “The siege of Aleppo looks set to be a major pivot point in the Syrian crisis,” says Charles Lister, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

He adds: “While Russia’s intervention in Syria in September 2015 transformed the balance of power on the ground, it was a later Iranian push from early-2016 that facilitated the siege of Aleppo itself. As Iranian-backed pro-regime forces steadily closed in on key strangle points like the Castello Road, Russia saw itself gradually sucked into a battle in which its airpower is now a crucially important factor. Now that the siege is in place, no party to the pro-regime alliance can afford to let it slip.

“Whatever the ultimate outcome, further military escalation and civilian suffering in Aleppo promises only to make political efforts to solve Syria’s crisis even harder,” he says.

Rebels say they have made fast and quick progress with their southern offensive. Their aim is to capture a major regime artillery base, another 2.5 kilometres from their new frontline in the south-west of the city.



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Rape Survivors in India Still Face Humiliation with Two-Finger tests and Barriers to Justice says Human Rights Watch

Indian Rape survivors still face barriers in justice and humiliation with two-finger tests, reported the Human Rights Watch

Rape Survivors
Rape survivors face humiliation during investigation. Pixabay.

New Delhi, Nov 9: Five years after the Nirbhaya gang rape case in Delhi, rape survivors are still facing barriers to getting justice in India, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Rape survivors in India face significant barriers to obtaining justice and critical support services despite legal and other reforms adopted since the December 16, 2012 gang rape-murder of a 19-year-old physiotherapy intern in the national capital, who came to be known as ‘Nirbhaya’, said the international human rights NGO in an 82-page report “Everyone Blames Me: Barriers to Justice and Support Services for Sexual Assault Survivors in India” released on Wednesday.

The report said women and girls who survived rape and other sexual violence often suffered humiliation at police stations and hospitals.

“Police are frequently unwilling to register complaints, victims and witnesses receive little protection, and medical professionals still compel degrading two finger tests. These obstacles to justice and dignity are compounded by inadequate healthcare, counselling, and legal support for victims during criminal trials of the accused,” an HRW statement said.

“Five years ago, Indians shocked by the brutality of the gang rape in Delhi, called for an end to the silence around sexual violence and demanded criminal justice reforms,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of HRW.

“Today, there are stronger laws and policies, but much remains to be done to ensure that police, doctors, and courts treat survivors with dignity,” she said.

The HRW said it conducted field research and interviews in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan — selected because of their large number of reported rape cases — as well as Delhi and Mumbai.

The report details 21 cases — 10 cases involving girls under the age of 18.

Rape survivors
Rape survivors feel harassed at police stations and hospitals. Pixabay.

The findings are drawn from more than 65 interviews with victims, their family members, lawyers, human rights activists, doctors, forensic experts, and government and police officials, as well as research by Indian organisations.

“Under the Indian law, police officers who fail to register a complaint of sexual assault face up to two years in prison. However, Human Rights Watch found that police did not always file a First Information Report (FIR), the first step to initiating a police investigation, especially if the victim was from an economically or socially marginalised community.

“In several cases, the police resisted filing the FIR or pressured the victim’s family to ‘settle’ or ‘compromise’, particularly if the accused was from a powerful family or community,” the statement said.

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It said that lack of witness protection law in India makes rape survivors and witnesses vulnerable to pressure that undermines prosecutions.

The human rights body said that some defence lawyers and judges still use language in courtrooms that is “biased and derogatory” toward sexual assault survivors.

“The attempt at shaming the victim is still very much prevalent in the courts,” Rebecca Mammen John, a senior criminal lawyer in Delhi, was quoted in the statement. (IANS)

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

Travel Ban
A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.VOA

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive Travel Ban order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel ban order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”(VOA)


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Kurdish Red Crescent: IS Attacks Kill at Least 50 in East Syria

Syrian Democratic Forces
A female fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces stands near a military tank in the village of Abu Fas, Hasaka province, Syria. voa

Islamic State suicide attackers killed at least 50 people in a triple car bomb attack on Thursday among a group of refugees in northeast Syria, a medical source in the Kurdish Red Crescent said.

A large number of people were also injured by the three car bombs, the source said.

The attack took place at Abu Fas, near the border of Deir el-Zour and Hasaka provinces, said a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said earlier that at least 18 people had been killed.

The dead included refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir el-Zour as well as members of the Kurdish Asayish security force, the observatory reported. Syrian state television said dozens had been killed in the attack.

The jihadist group has lost swaths of its territory in both Syria and Iraq this year and is falling back on the towns and villages of the Euphrates valley southeast of Deir el-Zour.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias is pressing it from the north, and a rival offensive by the Syrian army, supported by allies including Iran and Russia, is attacking it from the west.

On Wednesday, Islamic State said it had carried out an attack in the capital, Damascus, where three suicide bombers detonated their devices near a police headquarters, killing two people and wounding six.

Aid agencies have warned that the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that airstrikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.(VOA)