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UN Official: Over 13 Million People Inside Syria Need Aid

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Islamic State militants
People displaced in fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants are pictured at a refugee camp in Ain Issa, Syria. VOA

More than 13 million people inside Syria still need humanitarian assistance and nearly half are in “acute need” as a result of having fled their homes, of hostilities, and of limited access to food, health care and other basic needs, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Monday.

Mark Lowcock told the Security Council the number of Syrians who have been displaced within the country for a long time has dropped from 6.3 million to 6.1 million. But he said “levels of new displacement remain high,” with 1.8 million people reportedly forced to leave between January and September.

Since just the offensive began in November 2016 that ousted the Islamic State extremist group from the city of Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital, airstrikes and clashes resulted in over 436,000 people being displaced to 60 different locations, Lowcock said, speaking via video conference from Amman, Jordan.

In the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, he said, heavy fighting and airstrikes continue to cause civilian deaths and injuries as well as large-scale displacement. The International Organization for Migration reported some 350,000 people forced to flee since August, including more than 250,000 in October, he said.

Lowcock said airstrikes on the city of Al Mayadin in Deir el-Zour in mid-October left hospitals and medical facilities “inoperable,” depriving about 15,000 people of health care. He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organization reported that the attacks destroyed a cold room where at least 140,000 doses of U.N. provided measles and polio vaccines were destroyed.

“This is a particular setback for efforts to check one of the world’s largest polio outbreaks in recent memory, an outbreak which continues to plague Deir el-Zour in particular, with new cases continuing to be reported,” Lowcock said.

He said nearly 3 million people continue to live in besieged and hard-to-reach areas where the U.N. faces “considerable challenges” in meeting humanitarian needs.

Lowcock said there was an expectation that progress in de-escalating fighting would result in increased humanitarian access but “this has yet to materialize.”

On average, he said, only 10 percent of people in besieged locations were reached with U.N. assistance every month this year.

In the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, “one of the four de-escalated areas where nearly 95 percent of Syria’s besieged population lives,” shelling has been reported in recent weeks and humanitarian access has been severely curtailed for months, Lowcock said.

“Since the start of the year, 110,000 people have received food assistance, out of an estimated population of nearly 400,000,” he said. “Today, the U.N. and partners delivered food, nutrition and health assistance to 40,000 people.”

Lowcock said “an alarming number of child malnutrition cases” have been reported in eastern Ghouta and more than 400 people with health problems need medical evacuation.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, called the situation in eastern Ghouta “atrocious,” saying de-escalation should not mean bombardment.

“What we fear is that the de-escalation zone is becoming a starvation zone,” Rycroft said. “So we call on the Syrian regime and their allies to lift the blockade to allow humanitarian aid to get through.”(VOA)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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Islamic State
This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

islamic state
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

ALSO READ  intelligence officials , Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Furqan, war, enemies, threats, US officials, raqqa, National Security Council, isis, Iraq, Syria, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, terrorism, Terror Asymmetrics Project ,

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)

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Yazidi Woman, having escaped from ISIS, Awaits Aid

But on her way to freedom outside the Iraqi town of Hawija, Bashar, 18, lost her sight in a blast from a land mine explosion. Her face was severely disfigured

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Lamiya Hachi Bashar
Lamiya Hachi Bashar, VOA

May 7, 2016:
When Lamiya Hachi Bashar escaped the house of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq in mid-April, she thought months of enslavement and IS terror were finally over.

But on her way to freedom outside the Iraqi town of Hawija, Bashar, 18, lost her sight in a blast from a land mine explosion. Her face was severely disfigured.

“Her right eye is pretty much gone, but her left eye can recover,” said Kurdish doctor Husain Bahrari, who treated her. “She also suffers from extensive facial laceration.”

Lamiya Hachi Bashar
Lamiya Hachi Bashar, Youtube

IS violence

Bashar, one of the thousands of Yazidis who have suffered under systematic violence by IS, is facing a bleak future. Her doctor told VOA that her complex injuries require treatment that is not available in Iraq.

“There needs to be a plastic surgery quickly to avoid scars that are unrecoverable,” Bahrari said. “A young girl her age needs that.”

But Bashar is waiting to get an entry visa to Germany and is facing uncertainty about who is going to pay for medical procedures, a German charity attempting to help her said.

She’s ‘traumatized’

“We are trying to get her to Germany, but the visa process is slow and we’re limited on resources,” said Mirza Dinnayi, head of the German-based Air Bridge Iraq. “The poor girl is traumatized and needs to resettle somewhere else. But this is not possible now.”

When IS attacked Bashar’s village of Kojo in August 2014, she and 12 members of her family were taken prisoner.

Around 5,000 Yazidi men and women were captured by the militants that summer. Some 2,000 of them managed to escape or were smuggled out of IS’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, activists say.

Related Article: ISIS eyes on the land of Tagore and Nazrul (Bangladesh)

“I was kept in a prison with my family for one month before they took me and my two sisters along with hundreds of the girls to [IS capital] Raqqa,” Bashar told VOA.

Lamiya Hachi Bashar before she was taken into slavery by Islamic State in 2014.
Lamiya Hachi Bashar before she was taken into slavery by Islamic State in 2014 (Photo courtesy of Bashar’s uncle, Idris Kojo)

VOA could not independently verify Bashar’s story.

While in IS captivity, Bashar said she was sold five times as a sex slave and faced mental and physical abuse. One IS leader in Mosul forced her into making suicide belts and preparing car bombs.

Marriage refused

IS fighters were coming many times to take them,” she said. “He [one IS militant] asked me to marry him. … I told him, ‘I won’t do this and I won’t help you.He hit me with hoses and floor squeegee handles. There was nothing left he didn’t use to beat me.”

Bashar was later sold to an IS doctor in the Iraqi town of Hawija, where she met two other Yazidi girls, Almas, 8, and Katherine, 20. They were able to secretly contact their relatives, who arranged with a middleman to facilitate their escape.

In mid-April, the girls started their dangerous journey to escape IS slavery to Iraqi Kurdistan. An Arab family also accompanied the girls, Bashar said.

Their facilitator took the group out of the city in a car, Bashar said. Their guide told them to avoid land mines that IS placed to stop people from fleeing.

“Katherine stepped on a mine, and all I saw after that was a bright light in front of my eyes,” Bashar said. “I called Katherine and Almas but all I heard was an ‘ah’ from Katherine.”

The girls died at the scene, their bodies left in a field. Bashar, who was injured, does not remember how she was rescued. Family members say her guide took her to the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Lamiya Hachi Bashar before she was taken into slavery by Islamic State in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Bashar’s uncle, Idris Kojo)

After initial limited medical treatments, Bashar is waiting at the home of relatives.

The German group trying to help her said it could take six months before Bashar can get a resettlement visa.

“To avoid further delays, we have applied for a three-month treatment visa, which I hope will be ready soon,” charity worker Dinnayi said.

Future medical care

When she is in Germany, there will be donation campaigns to get her the funds she needs for medical care.

However, “I can’t say how long this will take,” Dinnayi said.

The mayor of the Yazidi town of Sinjar, Mahma Khalil, said the Kurdistan region has done its best to help thousands of Yazidi victims but has limited resources.

“We ask the U.N., humanitarian organizations and other countries to help them recover,” he said.

Despite her trauma, Bashar remains optimistic and grateful.

I would rather stay here blind than being with them [IS] sighted,” she told VOA.