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United Nations’ Wake Up Call: Another alleged chemical attack reported in Syria’s Hama province

Accusations of chemical attacks in Syria by government forces and Islamic State militants are central to the conflict and the UN needs to act fast !

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This photo provided by the Syria Press Center (SPC), an anti-government media group, shows civilians leaving the town of Suran, in Hama province, Sept. 1, 2016. Source: VOA

Sept, 08, 2016:Fighting between Syrian government army and insurgents in Syria’s central Hama province forced about 100,000 people to leave their homes between August 28 and September 5, the U.N. humanitarian agency said Wednesday.

OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) said figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced from Hama arrived in the neighboring rebel-held Idlib province.

Others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters, OCHA said. In rural areas of Hama province dozens of schools were also converted into shelters.

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However, many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks in Idlib, OCHA said, due to a shortage of shelter space.

Chlorine attack

Meanwhile, an official in Syria’s rebel-held Aleppo, Mohammed Abu Jaafar, said that at least one person died of heart failure from a suspected chlorine attack reported Tuesday.

FILE - Civilians breathe through an oxygen mask at al-Quds hospital, after a hospital and a civil defence group said a gas, what they believed to be chlorine, was dropped alongside barrel bombs on a neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria, early August.
FILE – Civilians breathe through an oxygen mask at al-Quds hospital, after a hospital and a civil defence group said a gas, what they believed to be chlorine, was dropped alongside barrel bombs on a neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria, early August. Image Source: VOA

The Syria Civil Defense group said helicopters dropped several barrels containing chlorine on the opposition-held al-Sukkari neighborhood.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported a barrel bomb attack in the area, but could not confirm whether chlorine was involved.

Accusations of chemical attacks have been a fixture of the Syrian conflict with both the government and rebels blaming the other during the past five years.

International inspectors issued a report last month saying government forces and Islamic State militants had each carried out chemical attacks. United Nations experts said Tuesday more investigations are ongoing into alleged chemical attacks earlier this year, including in Aleppo. (VOA)

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US Backed Fighters Say, ‘They Have Taken Position in Islamic State Enclave in Syria’

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them

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Fire is seen during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave, in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 17, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed fighters said they had taken positions in Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria and air strikes pounded the tiny patch of land beside the Euphrates River early on Monday, a Reuters journalist said.

Smoke rose over the tiny enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it. Another witness said the jihadists had earlier mounted a counter attack.

“Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter late on Sunday.

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.

Backed by air power and special forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.

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The Islamic State group’s last pocket of territory in Baghouz, Syria, as seen from a distance on Sunday, March 17, 2019. VOA

But while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.

The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.

Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.

People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.

Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.

Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.

Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.

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Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.

The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the area. (VOA)