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Egypt is only country in which Syrian refugees are not suffering: Aboulatta

Publisher: Daily News Egypt
Author: Menan Khater
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is expected to arrive in New York next Wednesday to take part in the general debate at the 70th United Nations General Assembly, according to Egypt's permanent UN mission.

Over the past year, Egypt has taken part in regional conflicts, including the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. It has also been nominated for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Egypt has also achieved some targets of the Millennium Development Goals agenda adopted by the UN and which will come to an end in 2015. This year, a new developmental agenda will be adopted by member states until 2030.

Daily News Egypt spoke to Egypt's newly-appointed permanent ambassador to the UN, Amr Abouelatta, to review the country's efforts and struggles towards its presence on the foreign relations map.

Does Egypt have a chance of acquiring a non-permanent seat on the Security Council?

This year, five countries have been nominated for Security Council membership, and they all have a clean slate, without opponents. Egypt has been nominated from North Africa, Senegal from West Africa, Japan from Asia, Ukraine from Europe, and Uruguay from Latin America, so there is no opponent, but the challenge is getting a large number of votes. But generally, I don't think there should be a problem to hinder Egypt's chances.

Egypt's official media has been adopting a hostile discourse against US foreign policy towards Egypt, and claims it supports the ousted Muslim Brotherhood regime. To what extent do you think those claims are true?

The relationship between Egypt and the US has its ups and downs, and this is healthy. The US is a superior country internationally, and Egypt is a major country regionally. So it's natural that both countries deal with each other, and it's also natural to have disputes over some issues from time to time, but this does not affect the ties between them, because if the relation is static, this would mean that Egypt is a follower of the US.

What do you think of Egypt's stance towards regional conflict zones, especially in Yemen?

The war in Yemen unfortunately led to the destruction of its infrastructure and a humanitarian disaster, and the UN here is aware of that and is doing its best, but this needs a ceasefire and certain steps to be taken. Egypt is part of the Arab Coalition, which is also encouraging the Houthis to abide by the Security Council decisions. Egypt also has ships near Aden and the Red Sea, and is participating in investigations and strategies with Saudi Arabia and other countries. We also try to play a political role by getting the Houthis to accept the Security Council resolutions, because without the political resolution, nothing will be solved, but it needs ground to start. The ground is not present yet for the political resolution.

The UN can only interfere according to the will of its member states' representatives. Regarding conflicts, the UN can only interfere with peacekeeping forces in areas categorised as conflict zones, but in Egypt, Sinai for example is not one of them. Sinai has a bunch of terrorist groups, and the military forces and police are dealing with them, it's only a matter of time, only a few months and this will end in Egypt, but the problem is with border countries, such as Libya, which face the same threat and also have millions of Egyptians there.

Regarding the video featuring the beheadings of 20 Egyptians in Libya, do you think the Foreign Ministry's response was commensurate with the crisis?

The response was very quick from the Foreign Ministry's side after the video was released, but it's very hard to prevent such incidents in advance, because those militants are in different parts of the country. Every step should be taken by the Egyptian side, and it should take into consideration the safety of millions of Egyptian expats there. After the video, the National Defence Council (NDC) gathered with all its members and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry came here and met with me. He also called on holding the Security Council session the same day, which is what we did. He also discussed the matter with the five permanent countries [on the UN Security Council](P5), and Egypt launched airstrikes immediately on the same day.

According to UNHCR reports, Syrian refugees are facing many struggles in Egypt. How do you think Egypt's Foreign Ministry could help them?

Egypt is the only country where Syrian refugees are not suffering from anything, for two main reasons. Firstly, they receive free education and healthcare, and this is a burden; their numbers [in Egypt] have now reached 400,000. Secondly, they are assimilated within the society, not staying in camps such as those in Jordan and Turkey. They live within the society, and many of them started working.

How do you view the Millennium Development Goals' (MDGs) progress in Egypt?

I do not think we are in the lowest ranks, as is being reported in some global studies. For example, in terms of women's empowerment, I think we have made great progress, but there are many developmental issues in Egypt that are linked with ancient, and deeply-rooted, traditions. I am not saying we are developed, but we are getting there, when it comes to the MDGs as a whole. There is a difference between the success metrics of the MDGs in Western communities and our Eastern communities, such as same-sex marriage. We try to highlight that there should be more customised metrics for MDG progress for each group of countries because of its traditions.

There is also a concept that we are trying to adopt now at the UN, which is sharing a common responsibility, to take global actions. For example, the environment issue, when we look at who destroyed the environment in the beginning, we would find that Egypt is a developing country and still cannot afford or have the tools which can help reduce hazardous gas emissions, such as developed countries in the west. So those developed countries should reach out to other countries which are in need of technical assistance with environmentally friendly methods, instead of just pointing at them and holding them responsible for ruining the planet.

How does civil society also share this common responsibility, along with the country's officials?

NGOs need more support, definitely, but we have to take into consideration that Egypt is currently going through a rough patch. Especially over the past four years, significant changes took place and we are still at the beginning of the development road. Until now, there are terrorist attacks daily in Egypt, with an economy that has almost collapsed, despite attempts over the past year to elevate it, but still tourism figures are down, and we still have a long way to go. NGOs are very important for any country's development. I know there are criticisms on the West over the new NGOs law in Egypt, but eventually if we looked at the NGOs law in the US, you will find it also very restrictive. They should submit financial records and notify the government of their funding and uses of it. It's not open for anyone to do anything, and this is in every country not just in the US, so the criticisms are just not logical.

Many laws have been issued over the past year, including the protest law, which was highly criticised by the US government. How do you respond to those criticisms?

I am not aware of all the laws that were issued, but we have mentioned the protest law a lot here. If you had a look at the American protest law you will find it stricter than the Egyptian one, as nobody here can protest without prior notification.

No one is taking into consideration the circumstances Egypt is currently going through, which are the daily terror attacks. Any assembly could potentially be joined by unknown extremists.

What have you found to be most challenging in your time as an ambassador?

The local circumstances in Egypt and the unjustified criticism towards Egypt from certain countries. But I believe when we have an elected parliament, it will take us to a better level. Yet there was progress from Egypt's side over the past year, as we have participated in many peacekeeping operations and many Middle East-related decisions. Moreover, there were many international events that were hosted in Egypt after several attempts from our side.

Some Iraqis ditch fight against Islamic State for life in Europe

Publisher: Reuters News
Author: By Saif Hameed and Stephen Kalin
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Some Iraqi soldiers are abandoning their posts and joining a wave of civilian migrants headed to Europe, raising new doubts about the cohesion of the country's Western-backed security forces in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Interviews with migrants and an analysis of social media activity show scores of fighters from the national army, police and special forces as well as Shi'ite militias and Kurdish peshmerga have left in recent months or plan to go soon.

They join more than 50,000 civilians who have left Iraq in the past three months, according to the United Nations, part of an even larger exodus from neighboring Syria and other conflict zones across the Middle East.

The inability of Iraq to retain its soldiers threatens to further erode morale in a military that has partially collapsed twice in the past year in the face of the Islamic State militant group.

It could also undermine the efforts of a U.S.-led coalition that has spent billions of dollars training and equipping Iraqi forces to take on the militants.

A spokesman for the Iraqi defense ministry said the military was not concerned about the migration of soldiers, which he put in the "tens" out of a security force estimated to number in the tens of thousands.

"The armed forces are performing their duties. There is no reason to be worried," said General Tahsin Ibrahim Sadiq.

But Saed Kakaei, adviser to the minister of peshmerga forces in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region, said while he could not provide a specific figure for how many peshmerga forces had left, the numbers were "concerning".

The soldiers' departure highlights a pervasive sense of hopelessness among many Iraqis more than a year after Islamic State seized a third of their country's territory, threatened to overrun the capital and declared a modern caliphate.

Despite driving them back in some areas, members of the security forces say they are leaving because they face daily offensives by the insurgents, sectarian violence, and economic depression.

Many in the security forces are also frustrated and disillusioned with elected officials, who they allege abandoned them on the frontlines, while failing to provide adequate resources and enriching themselves through graft.

"Iraq is worth fighting for but the government is not," said a 22-year-old SWAT policeman who decided to emigrate after his brother was killed in battle earlier this year at the northern Baiji refinery where he was also posted.

"There is no concern for us at all. The government has destroyed us," he told Reuters, saying Baghdad's failure to reinforce soldiers had caused avoidable losses in a battle that has dragged on for more than a year.

Control of neighborhoods in Baiji, about 190 km (120 miles) north of Baghdad, has changed hands many times. Authorities said in July they had recaptured most of the town, but Islamic State attacked central neighborhoods days later, forcing pro-government forces to pull back.

Others echoed the policeman's concerns. A 33-year-old special forces member who was based in western Anbar province – an Islamic State stronghold – said he had lost any reason to stay, and joined 16 fellow soldiers who smuggled themselves to northern Europe last month.

"We were fighting while the government and political parties made it their mission to make money and officials sent their children to live abroad," he told Reuters via online messaging.

"What drove us to leave was seeing our guys getting wounded, killed or maimed, and nobody cared."

Baghdad launched a campaign to retake the Sunni heartland of Anbar after the provincial capital Ramadi fell in May, leaving only a few government holdouts across the sprawling desert territory.

But fighting has progressed fitfully with sectarian tensions coming to a head and ground advances delayed by explosives planted by Islamic State along roads and in buildings.

A special operations member based in Ramadi said the elite unit alone had seen more than 100 fighters leave for Europe in the past six months. Reuters could not independently verify this.

Many soldiers who left have changed their Facebook profiles from portraits in fatigues beside tanks or holding machine guns to photos riding bikes or relaxing in parks in Austria, Germany or Finland.


Iraqis have long complained of corruption and mismanagement in the government, including the armed forces. An official investigation last year found 50,000 "ghost soldiers" on the army's books. The "ghosts", the report said, helped fuel the military's collapse in June 2014 in the northern city of Mosul.

These men were on the army payroll but paid their officers a portion of their salaries and in return did not show up for duty, enriching their commanders and hollowing out the military force.

Iraq has since come to rely heavily on Shi'ite militias and volunteer fighters, grouped under a government-run body called the Hashid Shaabi. But even some Hashid, who were called to take up arms by the country's top Shi'ite cleric, are leaving.

A 20-year-old Shi'ite fighter from the eastern province of Diyala, who declined to identify himself or the specific militia he belonged to, said pro-government forces receive inadequate support to fight Islamic State.

He recently made a month-long journey to Sweden to join two cousins who are themselves former Iraqi police officers.

"You cannot fight a war or live in a country under these circumstances," he told Reuters via Facebook from the Stockholm area. The politicians "ransacked the country in the name of religion. Iraq is not ours anymore; we are merely tenants."

Reuters could not independently verify the fighter's identity.

Hashid spokesman Ahmed al-Asadi could not provide an accurate count for fighters who had migrated, but said the government needed to do more to keep young Iraqis from leaving.

Reforms launched last month by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seek to end a system of ethnic and sectarian quotas that has spawned corruption and mismanagement. The reforms also aim to improve accountability in the military and other state institutions.

But the initiative, hindered by bureaucracy and political jockeying, has led to few noticeable gains on the battlefield or improvements in people's daily lives; many lack basic services such as electricity.

Though Iraqis have been fleeing poor government, violence and economic hardship for decades, recent policy shifts in Europe have presented a fresh opportunity to escape.

Looking on this summer as refugees from neighboring Syria received a warm reception in Europe, many decided to leave at short notice, using Facebook and other social media to plan their trips.

The United Nations estimates hundreds of thousands more could leave Iraq in the coming months.

But the soldiers arriving in Europe face an unknown future. A spokeswoman for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said those judged to be former combatants would not be granted refugee status.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Tom Miles in Geneva, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

More aid needed for relief of Syrian refugees in Jordan –– UN official

Publisher: Jordan News Agency (Petra)
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Mafraq, Sept 19 (Petra) – A senior United Nations official Saturday spoke of the dire need for international support to Jordan to help in relief efforts for a growing number of Syrian refugees who had fled the conflict in their country.

Stephen O'Brien, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency relief, said during a tour of the Zaatari refugee camp in the northern governorate of Mafraq, that Jordan is assuming a huge role towards the refugees, offering them assistance, services and protection since they set foot on its territory.

He said his tour of the camp, which houses over 130,000 refugees, is intended to see first-hand the enormous impact the refugees had on Jordan and the burdens it had undertaken despite limited resources.

"I'm here at the Zaatari camp to see these refugees, who were forced to leave their homes and homeland, the suffering they are living and the Jordanian hospitality as well as the services provided by humanitarian organisations operating in the camp", O'Brien said.

The humanitarian situation, he said, is in a desperate need for support, particularly regarding the issue of relief, stressing the ongoing UN efforts to provide services and care in various fields.

O'Brien also said that some of the refugees had the motivation to leave the Zaatari and seek refuge in Europe or other countries, while others would choose to stay or return home and are waiting for the right moment to do so.

Director of Syrian refugee affairs in Jordan Brig. Gen. Waddah Al-Hamoud said Jordan is offering services in Zaatari and other refugee camps as well as refugees outside the camps.

He said the Kingdom is host to about 1.4 million Syrians, including around 630,000 registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Lebanon is doing its bit for its neighbour

Publisher: Independent On Sunday
Author: Elias Bou Saab
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Comment | Refugees have swelled the population by almost a third. It urgently needs help if it is to sustain a generation's hopes

Enrolment for the new school term began on Monday in Lebanon. But this is no ordinary school term. This is the start of a an academic year so different from any other that I want the international community to wake up to the peril we face. By the end of this year the refugee population in our schools could exceed Lebanon's state school numbers.

Last year, we managed to offer school places to 105,000 Syrian refugees. We took them off the streets where they were prey to child traffickers and terrorist propaganda. We did so with a unique double-shift system that allows pupils to study in French and English in the first half of the now extended school day and Syrian refugee students to study in Arabic in the second half.

This year we want to do better. We now have 400,000 school-age Syrian refugees on the streets of our country, and we wanted to offer at least 200,000 places in formal school. We have opened up 100 more schools as double-shift schools. But while we have been able to offer 140,000 places, we are still 60,000 places short of our planned intake.

We simply don't have the money to hire the teachers we need. Yet educating a child under the double-shift system is so economical and cost-effective that we can teach each pupil for about $500 – $600 a year.

But despite our pleas to aid agencies around the world, thousands who could be at school will be left on the streets. The much needed funds have yet to materialise. We have support from the UN agencies, including Unicef, UNHCR, and the World Bank. And governments such as the UK, Germany, the European Union, Norway and the United States have provided much needed support. But we need a broader-based international coalition to support education on a multi-year basis, so we can plan and deliver what is needed.

And if we can't raise the numbers to 200,000 places this year, our plans to meet the longer term goal – to offer schooling to what could eventually be 500,000 refugee children – will be frustrated. If we are able to provide these spaces, young people can learn the valuable skills needed to return home, rebuild their countries and future.

And this is the tragic irony: usually in an emergency the facilities cannot be found, but in Lebanon, the schools are there, and the teachers ready to teach. Certainly we need more help to advertise the offer of places to the Syrian families in Lebanon, but the real gap keeping us from educating more is the absence of money to fund them.

Lebanon is being asked to do what no other country has to face – to take in a refugee population soon to equal one-third of our resident population.

I doubt if any country in the world could cope. But amid all the pressures we daily confront, we have offered to help the refugees. The question I ask leaders of the international community: why will you not help us to do more?

It is in the best interest of the entire international community that this initiative is a success. We all want Syrians to be able to return home to a peaceful Syria. Supporting the education of these children helps families to remain in the region and have hope that they will soon return and no longer need to continue dangerous journeys to Europe and beyond.

Under the leadership of Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, a new plan covering Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan has been drawn up, and he is now trying to raise the vitally needed additional money of nearly $250m from new donors and traditional givers.

But now is the most testing time. We can either deliver the places or have to live forever with a lost generation denied schooling, denied security and worst of all denied hope, on the streets with all the consequences for disconnect and even the stability of our country.

Families I meet do not want to embark on dangerous voyages to Europe. That is not their first choice. They want to ensure their children have hope for the future and they want to be well-placed nearby for their eventual return to Syria. But the people of Lebanon cannot help them without proper funding from the international community.

I urge the world to come to the aid of our troubled country before it's too late.

Elias Bou Saab is Lebanon's Minister of Education

Syrian dilemma: join Europe throng or wait in line in squalor

Publisher: The Australian
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English


When Aliyaa looks at the bare shelves in her kitchen of canvas, she knows what she will do if ever the chance comes.

The widowed mother of four will run from this hot, dusty camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley without a backward glance; she will move to the other side of the world, to Australia, anywhere they like, if it means her children can eat meat with their rice and go to school. For now, she's trapped in Madinah 17, one of the so-called "informal tented settlements" that have grown like weeds on the Lebanese side of the border with Syria.

The human flotsam of war washes up here — an estimated 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, with millions more living hand-to-mouth in a spare room of a friend or relative, or in crowded camps dotted across Turkey, Jordan and the Kurdish homeland in Iraq. The scale and intensity of the suffering has ­finally forced international action. Australia's response, announced by Tony Abbott before the axe fell on his prime ministership, will be to lift its refugee intake by 12,000, nearly doubling the humanitarian quota for this year.

Officials from the Immigration Department flew out last week to get the vetting process under way. The Australian understands that some staff are already on the ground in Jordan, paving the way for the operation to be stepped up in conjunction with the UN's lead refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Mr Abbott indicated that ­priority would go to members of religious minorities persecuted by Islamic State, such as the Yazidi. But picking a few to be saved from this seething cauldron of despair will be testing work.

In Lebanon, people are daring to hope that there may be a way out from the limbo they're in, ­either by joining the throng ­making for Europe, or by trusting that there will be enough places in sanctioned resettlement programs to go around. The only certainty is that many more dreams will be crushed than realised.

Aliyaa has heard about the human pipeline that snakes through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, with open-door Germany the final destination. "Everyone is talking about it,'' she says. "You hear about someone suddenly leaving ... no one knows for sure where they are going, but people just say it's for a better life, and if you have the money to pay to go, you should, because there is zero life here. Zero." A tall woman of 35, she fled her home in Aleppo province in February 2012 — early in the war — carrying not much more than the children. Little Hussein, 7, barely remembers their comfortable life there. The eldest, Ahmad, 16, used to talk about being a lawyer; when his mother mentions it now, his eyes harden. "There is no education here, no school," he says bitterly. "What do you expect me to become?" Hanan, 12, was daddy's girl. He used to say she would be a pharmacist. That's a distant dream when the closest she can get to a classroom is an outdoor recreation area that caters for the camp kids. Mohammad, 14, can't get in to even that.

Hussein is named after their ­father, a kind, smiling teacher who died a few months before he was born. Aliyaa worries about him most of all. She has to leave him with his brothers and sister to work in a vegetable pickling plant. Trucks thunder along the busy road outside Madinah 17 and Hussein has never had the opportunity to learn traffic sense. She shudders at the whispered stories about children being kidnapped and trafficked.

In anguish, she says: "There are too many bad things here, too many bad people." Tonight, the family will eat only boiled rice seasoned with salt. There is sugar for the tea, but not much. As a treat, the children sometimes get a few spoonfuls of labneh, strained yoghurt. There are two jars of dried beans on the shelf next to a plastic bottle of cheap vegetable oil, which they've nearly finished. The bread ran out days ago. They sleep side by side, tossing and turning in the heat. The weather is about to turn, though, and this will be their fifth winter without a proper roof. It snows in the Bekaa and all too soon an icy wind will blow off those tawny peaks to the east, delineating the border with Syria.

The plight of refugees in Lebanon is acute. A country of four million is simply unable to feed so many extra mouths; this is why the gritty encampments are ­rigidly referred to as "informal tent settlements", not refugee centres. To call them that would impose obligations the Lebanese state couldn't, shouldn't, have to meet given its generosity in allowing so many into the country in the first instance. (The Syrian border was closed by Lebanon only in March of this year.) In reality, it doesn't matter much where the refugees find shelter. Whether it is under canvas in a Bekaa camp or in an overgrown lot in Beirut, or with a relative or in a half-finished building, they are for the most part on their own.

Aliyaa earns 246,000 Lebanese pounds ($228) a month from her job and has access to food cards distributed by World ­Vision International worth $95. However, power and rent to the landowner comes out of that budget, and the Lebanese government charges a six-monthly registration fee of $140.

Medical services are limited, to say the least. Aliyaa's neighbour, Abdulkader, is at his wit's end trying to get help for his leukemia-stricken son, Mohammad, 8. The family don't have a refrigerator, so the drugs the boy needs cannot be kept at home. Instead, Abdulkader takes him on the long bus ride to Beirut for chemotherapy. This costs so much time that he has had to give up his job and send ­Mohammad's 11-year-old brother, Yehyia, to work in a lumber yard for $5 a day. "If I don't get help, we will have to go back to Syria," ­Abdulkader says.

Turning to a people-smuggler is not an option for most families, though "snake heads" don't seem hard to find. The going rate, according to NGOs, is $US2000 a head ($2800). Aliyaa says she woundn't pay even if she could. The journey is too dangerous and, besides, she doesn't like the idea of doing something illegal. "If we can't go back to Syria we will wait our turn to go to another country,'' she says.

Of the 560 people languishing in their encampment in the central Bekaa, 90 minutes' drive from Beirut, 300 are aged under 12. This is by no means uncommon. A third of the estimated 3.1 million people displaced in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are children, NGOs say.

According to Cecil Laguardia, of World Vision's Erbil office, Germany and Australia are the destinations of choice for those who have given up on returning home.

Anwar, a 45-year-old musician from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, says there is no going back for his family after the largely Christian city was seized by Islamic State.

"From comfortable houses in Qaraqosh with large bedrooms and kitchens, we now have to live in one room with all of our things stacked,'' he says. "We do not have a village to go back to. I won't allow my family to go back even if it is possible because it is not safe." That most refugees are unwilling to have a surname published when interviewed attests to their yearning to return: they are still thinking about the repercussions in Syria, whether it's from the teetering regime of Bashar al-Assad or the fanatics of Islamic State. Shadijah, 38, was told by her husband last week that their tickets out of Madinah 17 had come through, and they were accepted for foreign resettlement. "I want to go back to my country," she says. "My father, my brothers ... they are all there.'' Aliyaa insists she just wants to feed her children and get them to school. Girls are married off at 12 in the camp and she can't stand the thought of that happening to Hanan.

Fighting in Libya's Benghazi raises U.N. talks tensions

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Heavy fighting erupted over the weekend between forces from Libya's recognized government and Islamist militants in Benghazi, killing at least six and heightening tensions in U.N. peace negotiations.

Benghazi is just one front in a wider conflict in Libya, where a battle between two rival governments and their armed allies is pushing the North African state to economic collapse four years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

At least six people were killed and ten wounded when fighting broke out on Saturday west of Benghazi between General Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army forces and fighters allied to Islamic State, a medical source and local residents said.

The fighting involved artillery shelling and air strikes, they said.

Mohamed Hejazi, spokesman for Haftar's forces, said they had launched a campaign against positions in Benghazi, which has been caught up in fighting for more than year.

Western governments see the best solution in a United Nations-backed peace deal to bring the two sides together in a united power-sharing agreement. But fighting and pressure from hardliners on both sides have complicated negotiations.

The United Nations and U.S and European envoys criticized the increase in hostilities just before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and urged the two factions to finish the U.N.-backed deal. U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon had set Sunday as a deadline for negotiations to conclude.


"This escalation of violence underscores the urgent need to complete the political dialogue process as soon as possible," a U.S.-EU joint statement said.

Four years after their uprising toppled Gaddafi, two loose factions of former rebels and their political allies who once fought together have turned against each other in an battle for control of the OPEC state.

Tripoli was taken over a year ago by Libya Dawn, an alliance of Islamist-leaning brigades and former rebels from the powerful city of Misrata who set up a self-declared government in the capital and reinstated a former parliament known as the General National Congress or GNC.

Since then, Libya's internationally recognized government and the elected parliament, the House of Representatives, has operated out of the east of the country, backed by Haftar's forces and a loose alliance of other armed factions.

Islamist militants and migrant smugglers have taken advantage of the turmoil to gain ground even as the United Nations and the European Union warn the country is edging toward becoming a failed state.

U.N. talks are continuing in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, but both factions from the House of Representatives and the GNC Tripoli parliament warned of growing tensions after the increase in Benghazi fighting.

"Our team in Skhirat is studying suspending our participation in the peace talks because of the military escalation in Benghazi," Abdulrahman Swahili, a GNC parliament member told Nabaa TV.

(Reporting by Ayman El-Warfalli in Benghazi; Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Nearly 4,700 migrants rescued off Libya coast: Italian coastguard

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Nearly 4,700 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya on Saturday as they tried to reach Europe but one woman was found dead, Italy's coastguard said.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year, often dangerously packed into small vessels unsuitable for the voyage.

The coastguard said in a statement it had coordinated 20 rescue operations involving numerous vessels which picked up 4,343 migrants from rubber boats and barges. In one of the inflatable boats a woman's body was found, the coastguard said, without specifying the possible cause of death.

Another 335 people were picked up as part of a rescue mission coordinated by Greece and were being directed to a port in Italy to disembark.

The rescues were carried out by vessels from the Italian coastguard and navy, humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders, the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a merchant boat, a Croatian vessel under the European Union's Triton rescue mission and naval ships from Germany and Britain under the EU's EUNAVFOR Med mission.

Europe is struggling to cope with a record influx of refugees as people flee war in countries such as Syria, and the Mediterranean has become the world's most deadly crossing point for migrants.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Helen Popper)

The choices increasing numbers of Syrians face: hunger or Europe

Publisher: DPA, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Author: By Thomas Burmeister, dpa
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Europe is transfixed by a flood of Syrian refugees. The UN points out that the world has been contributing to this trend by only sending a trickle of aid money to help them stay in the Middle East.

Geneva (dpa) – The plight of millions of Syrian refugees is neatly translated into numbers twice a week at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

At their regular briefings in the 1930s art deco palace, UN aid organizations report on how many migrants have arrived where, how many have drowned, and how many do not have enough to eat.

They have also been providing data on the capacities of countries to take in refugees, and prognoses on migratory trends from conflict areas, giving governments around the world ample opportunities to preempt and prepare for what is often described as a "wave" or a "flood" in the West.

UN refugee agency, UNHCR is one of the bodies that has been not only calling on governments to come up with more generous immigration policies for refugees, but also to help the nearly 4.1 million Syrians who have fled to Middle Eastern countries.

"For hundreds of thousands of them, life is becoming increasingly difficult," UNCHR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told dpa.

There was a trend among refugees to say "I have nothing to lose and will risk my life to attempt to get to Europe," Fleming said.

One of the main reasons for this dynamic is the lack of government contributions to UN agencies and aid organizations, especially when it comes to food aid.

As a result, refugee families have been taking their children out of school and have been sending them to work in fields, making them beg, marrying them off or even prostituting them, UN aid agencies have reported.

UN bodies regularly coordinate financial needs for crisis situations and issue international appeals to governments to donate billions of dollars.

The response, however, is often a trickle of funds rather than a flood of money.

UN agencies had sought 7.4 billion dollars for 2015 for their Syria operations.

Only 37 per cent of this sum has reached their accounts or has been pledged so far.

The situation is hardly better when it comes to their plan of spending 4.5 billion dollars to aid Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries.

The financing of this appeal currently stands at 41 per cent.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has reduced or cut food support for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, the countries that have received the largest numbers of Syrians.

The monthly value of food vouchers per person had to be halved for 850,000 people – to 13.50 dollars in Lebanon, and to 14 dollars in Jordan.

WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said the cuts also affected WFP's operations inside Syria. "Families have to eat smaller meals, less frequently," she said.

"It's horrible if you have to tell a mother who wants to feed her children: 'We can't help you any better because we don't receive enough donations'," Luescher added.

"The inadequate financing is a contributing factor for why people move on to Europe," she said.

U.S. says Assad must go, timing down to negotiation

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has to go but the timing of his departure should be decided through negotiation.

Speaking after talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London, Kerry called on Russia and Iran to use their influence over Assad to convince him to negotiate a political transition.

Kerry said the United States welcomed Russia's involvement in tackling the Islamic State in Syria but a worsening refugee crisis underscored the need to find a compromise that could also lead to political change in the country.

"We need to get to the negotiation. That is what we're looking for and we hope Russia and Iran, and any other countries with influence, will help to bring about that, because that's what is preventing this crisis from ending," said Kerry.

"We're prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table?"

Russia's buildup at Syria's Latakia airbase has raised the possibility of air combat missions in Syrian airspace. Heavy Russian equipment, including tanks, helicopters and naval infantry forces, have been moved to Latakia, U.S. officials say.

Kerry said of Assad's removal: "For the last year and a half we have said Assad has to go, but how long and what the modality is ...that's a decision that has to be made in the context of the Geneva process and negotiation."

Kerry added: "It doesn't have to be on day one or month one ... there is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved."

Kerry said he did not have a specific time frame in mind for Assad to stay. "I just know that the people of Syria have already spoken with their feet. They're leaving Syria."

Hammond, who on Sept. 9 said Britain could accept Assad staying in place for a transition period, said Assad could not be part of Syria's long-term future "but the modality and timing has to be part of a political solution that allows us to move forward."

Hammond said the situation in Syria was now more complicated with Russia's increased military involvement in the country.

"Because of the Russian engagement the situation in Syria is becoming more complicated and we need to discuss this as part of a much bigger problem – the migration pressures, the humanitarian crisis in Syria as well as the need to defeat ISIL," he said.

Kerry and Hammond said they also discussed conflicts in Yemen, Libya and Ukraine.

(Writing by James Davey, editing by Clelia Oziel)

Warring sides in Syria agree local ceasefire: monitor, al-Manar

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

Warring parties in Syria agreed local ceasefires in two Shi'ite villages in northwestern Syria and a town near the Lebanese border on Sunday, a group monitoring the war and the al-Manar TV station controlled by Lebanon's Hezbollah reported.

It marks the third local ceasefire agreed in those areas since August, and follows a renewed offensive by insurgents against the two villages – al-Foua and Kefraya – since Friday. Both previous ceasefires collapsed.

The ceasefire came into effect 12 noon (0900 GMT), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. It did not say how long it was due to last. No clashes were reported after the ceasefire came into force, the Observatory said.

Al-Foua and Kefraya are being defended by pro-government militia supported by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. The border town included in the ceasefire – Zabadani – has meanwhile been targeted in a weeks-long offensive by the Syrian army and Hezbollah. They are seeking to capture it from rebels.

Rebels said the rebel-held town of Madaya, next to Zabadani which is also included in the ceasefire and where thousands of civilians have taken shelter, had witnessed heavy shelling overnight by the army in apparent retaliation against the offensive on the two Shi'ite villages.

The Observatory, which tracks the war via a network of sources on the ground, said at least 106 people had been killed in and around al-Foua and Kefraya since Friday.

On the insurgents' side, the dead included at least 30 foreign fighters including jihadists from the Gulf, north Africa, central Asia and members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, said Rami Abdulrahman, directory of the Observatory.

The dead on the other side included at least 40 militiamen and seven civilians, he said. Abdulrahman said the insurgents including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had seized two positions on the outskirts of al-Foua.

Al-Foua and Kefraya represent the two last pockets of Syrian government influence in the northwestern province of Idlib, though it is being defended by irregular militia rather than the army.

(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter)

Leader says Yemen's Houthis to fight on, but political settlement possible

Publisher: Reuters
Story date: 20/09/2015
Language: English

The leader of Yemen's Houthis said on Sunday his group remained open for a political settlement to end nearly six months of fighting but would resist what he called Saudi-led aggression.

In his first televised speech since an Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia began military operations in Yemen, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi also called on Yemenis to demonstrate in Sanaa on Monday afternoon to mark the anniversary of his group's capture of the capital.

"We call on our people, all strata of our people, to maintain their moves to confront this criminal aggression," Abdel-Malek said, adding that "political solutions were still possible".

More than 4,500 Yemeni have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance began military operations in March, in what they said was an attempt to stop the Iranian-allied Houthi group from expanding in Yemen and to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been pushed into exile in Saudi Arabia.

A delegation from the group, which belongs to Yemen's Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, flew to the Omani capital Muscat earlier on Sunday for talks with the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, on efforts to reach a deal.

The United Nations last week announced peace talks in the region, but Hadi's administration said it demanded the Houthis first publicly accept a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the group to quit cities it seized since last year and allow the government to return to Sanaa.

Abdel-Malek also accused Saudi Arabia of barring most Yemeni pilgrims from traveling to the kingdom to perform the annual haj pilgrimage, which starts this week.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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