Poorer countries need $2bn of international humanitarian aid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said in launching a major donation appeal on Wednesday.
“COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity – and the whole of humanity must fight back,” Guterres said in announcing the initiative. “Global action and solidarity are crucial. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”
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Just last week, as the novel coronavirus spread to more and more countries, killing thousands and infecting many more, Guterres warned that unless the world came together to curb the spread, millions of people could die.
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In recent days, Guterres has called for much stronger global coordination on the response to the pandemic.
In a Monday letter to the G20 group of leading economic powers, he pushed for a “war-time” stimulus bill “in the trillions of dollars” to help poor countries.
According to the UN chief, the plan “aims to enable us to fight the virus in the world’s poorest countries, and address the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially women and children, older people, and those with disabilities or chronic illness”, said Guterres.
If fully funded, “it will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies and NGOs with laboratory supplies for testing, and with medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers”, he added.
The amount of money sought by the plan is small compared to the $2 trillion that the United States Congress is poised to approve as a rescue effort for devastated US consumers, companies and hospitals as the world’s largest economy grinds to a sudden halt.
The UN plan is designed to last from April to December – suggesting the world body does not see the health crisis abating any time soon.
The exact total of $2.012bn is supposed to flow in in response to appeals that various UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, have already made.
Guterres said in parallel, humanitarian aid provided yearly by member states to help 100 million people around the world must continue.
Otherwise, he said, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to rampant outbreaks of other diseases such as cholera and measles, as well as higher levels of malnutrition.
“This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable,” Guterres said.
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As spelled out in an 80-page booklet, the UN plan will be carried out by UN agencies that work directly with nongovernmental organisations.
It will be coordinated by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, of the United Kingdom.
The money will be used for a variety of purposes: to set up handwashing facilities in refugee camps, launch public awareness campaigns, and establish humanitarian air shuttles with Africa, Asia and Latin America, the UN said.
The exact needs of some countries are still being identified.
The plan names 20 or so nations as deserving top priority for aid, including some enduring war or some degree of conflict, including Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela and Ukraine.
But countries such as Iran and North Korea are also analysed in the booklet.
The plan foresees two general scenarios as to how the pandemic might evolve.
Under the first, the pandemic is brought under control relatively quickly as its rate of spread slows over the course of three or four months. This, the UN said, would allow for a relatively swift recovery in terms of public health and the economy.
But under the second model, the pandemic spreads quickly in countries that are poor or developing, mainly in Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas.
“This leads to longer periods of closed borders and limited freedom of movement, further contributing to a global slowdown that is already under way,” said the UN.
Syria launches parliamentary elections amid war, economic woes |NationalTribune.com
Damascus launches parliamentary elections across government-controlled areas of the country on Sunday, as President Bashar al-Assad marked 20 years in power amid a continuing war and deep economic woes. More than 2,000 candidates, including businessmen under recently-imposed United States sanctions, will be running in the legislative election – the third since the start of the…
Damascus launches parliamentary elections across government-controlled areas of the country on Sunday, as President Bashar al-Assad marked 20 years in power amid a continuing war and deep economic woes.
More than 2,000 candidates, including businessmen under recently-imposed United States sanctions, will be running in the legislative election – the third since the start of the 2011 protests and ensuing civil war.
The elections, originally scheduled to be held in April, were postponed twice due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Although several lists are running in the polls, real opposition to al-Assad’s Baath Party is absent in the election.
Opposition groups traditionally tolerated by the government are expected to boycott the polls and the Baath Party is guaranteed to monopolise the new parliament as it has done in previous elections.
In the last vote in 2016, the Baath and its allies took 200 of the 250-seat parliament while the remaining posts went to independent candidates.
Observers say the contest lacks credibility with the majority of candidates being either part of al-Assad’s Baath Party or loyal to his regime.
“The majority of Syrians believe the election is only a process controlled by the regime to represent itself as a legitimate authority in Syria,” said Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House and co-founder of the Syrian Centre for Policy Research.
“People know that the majority of MPs are nominated by the Baath party and all of them need to have security approval based on loyalty and not qualifications,” he added.
Karam Shaar, an expert on Syria at the Middle East Institute, said: “The al-Assad regime uses parliamentary elections to reward loyalty. This time around, warlords and militiamen are expected to gain yet more seats for their contributions to the state over the past four years.”
Syrian children living in Atmeh camp, near the Turkey-Syria border [File: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
More than 7,000 polling stations have been set up across about 70 percent of the country where the al-Assad government maintains control.
Government forces have been pushing to regain control over areas overtaken by opposition and rebel groups since the start of the war.
Al-Assad’s troops regained control over Eastern Ghouta in 2018 and southern parts of Idlib after the launch of a Russian-backed offensive to retake the northwest province in late 2019.
Other parts of Idlib remain as the last rebel-held bastion in the country, while large swaths of land along the Turkey-Syria border house millions of internally displaced Syrians from the war.
Syrians living abroad, including millions of refugees forced to leave their homes because of fighting, will not be taking part in the election.
Citizens casting their ballots in Sunday’s vote are expected to focus on soaring living costs and the country’s dire economic situation.
“As nearly 90 percent of the country plunges into poverty, people are increasingly focusing on meeting their basic needs,” said Shaar.
Syria’s economy has been in freefall over the past few months with the pound losing about 70 percent of its value, making the price of basic commodities now unaffordable to many Syrians.
Still, observers say most Syrians believe the parliament is not the right channel to solve their economic problems.
“The economic situation is choking the average Syrian in both government and rebel areas,” said independent researcher Malak Chabkoun.
She explained a deteriorating economy and US sanctions will be at the forefront of the voting agenda, but people will be casting their ballots for candidates “they were told [by the government] to vote for”.
“The Baath Party candidates have [also] added US sanctions to their platform this time around to garner support and cry victim,” she added, referring to a range of newly-imposed US sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, that target companies, institutions, and individuals doing business with the al-Assad government.
While analysts say the legislation affects the al-Assad government and its local and foreign backers, humanitarian efforts and civilians in Syria, and neighbouring Lebanon, have also been affected by the sanctions.
Displaced Syrians walking past their makeshift tents in Idlib, Syria [File: Getty Images]
Lack of international recognition
After the vote, the new parliament plans to approve a new constitution, and al-Assad is expected to name a new prime minister. The new parliament will also be expected to approve candidates for the next presidential election.
But experts say the international community will not recognise the vote.
“The international community and political opposition groups will not recognise this parliament as a legitimate one,” said Mehchy.
“A new constitution can be only approved by a new parliament based on a transparent election in which refugees and Syrians outside the country have the right to vote,” he explained, adding the coming parliament will only approve candidates “nominated and approved by the security agencies”.
Al-Assad came to power at the age of 34 in 2000 after nearly 30 years of his father’s rule. He was elected for a third seven-year term in 2014, with the government claiming more than 88 percent of the votes were in his favour.
His time in power has been marred by a bloody civil war that has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions of Syrians displaced inside and outside of the country.
Commenting on al-Assad’s 20 years in power, Chabkoun said: “Bashar has continued the same pattern [as his father’s] of quelling any opposition, disappearing people who speak out against his government, and continuing to control the goods and resources of the country for his family and friends’ own gain.”
According to Freedom House, the Syrian government is considered “one of the world’s most repressive regimes”, which along with “other belligerent forces”, has severely compromised Syrians’ political rights and civil liberties.
According to Mehchy, al-Assad’s rule has been “a catastrophic era, especially the years of conflict since 2011”, which he said the government’s policies during the first 10 years contributed towards as “root causes”.
“These policies neglected the economic and political exclusion that the majority of Syrians were suffering from,” said Mehchy.
Ofek 16: Israel launches new spy satellite |NationalTribune.com
A new Israeli spy satellite, called Ofek 16, is shot into space from a site in central Israel [Reuters] Israel has launched a new spy satellite that it said would provide high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence. In a statement on Monday, Israel’s Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries said “Ofek 16” was shot…
A new Israeli spy satellite, called Ofek 16, is shot into space from a site in central Israel [Reuters]
Israel has launched a new spy satellite that it said would provide high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence.
In a statement on Monday, Israel’s Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries said “Ofek 16” was shot into space at 4am local time [01:00 GMT].
The “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities … will undergo a series of tests,” it added.
The first images are expected in about a week.
There were no further details on the satellite’s mission, but Israeli public radio said it would be used to monitor the nuclear activities of regional rival Iran. Tehran denies its nuclear programme has any military dimension.
Minister of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said intelligence capabilities are “essential” to Israel’s security.
“We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”
State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries was the main contractor for the project and the satellite’s payload was developed by defence firm Elbit Systems.
Libya’s GNA launches counterattack after deadly rocket barrage
Libya’s UN-supported government launched a counterattack on Sunday against a strategic military base used by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar to pound the capital Tripoli with rocket fire. The response came after a missile barrage damaged Tripoli’s main airport and set fuel tanks and several aircraft ablaze, with at least six civilians killed in surrounding residential…
Libya’s UN-supported government launched a counterattack on Sunday against a strategic military base used by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar to pound the capital Tripoli with rocket fire.
The response came after a missile barrage damaged Tripoli’s main airport and set fuel tanks and several aircraft ablaze, with at least six civilians killed in surrounding residential areas in the attacks on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Turkey – the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) main ally defending Tripoli against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) – threatened to step up its attacks against the eastern-based LNA, which has attempted to seize the capital for more than a year.
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“The forces of war criminal [Haftar] fired more than a hundred rockets and missiles at residential areas in the centre of the capital,” the GNA said in a statement on Facebook.
The airport was badly damaged and came under renewed rocket fire on Sunday morning, it said.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said the GNA launched the counter-offensive in an effort to take a key LNA base using advanced weaponry to strike the city centre.
“The government’s military commanders say they are trying to recapture a military camp in southern Tripoli, which has been under the control of Haftar’s forces for the past few months. Haftar’s troops have been using that camp to fire rockets into residential areas and the airport,” said Abdelwahed.
“Military sources say it is also important because it is run and protected by Russian military experts from the Wagner Group, who have been fighting with Haftar’s forces.”
More than a dozen people have been killed over the past two days in missile attacks, the Tripoli-based government said.
Adding to the misery of Tripoli residents, the main water supplier to northwest Libya said armed men in the south had stormed one of its facilities, reducing supply.
‘Responsible for the suffering’
Turkey said on Sunday that it would deem the Haftar’s forces “legitimate targets” if their attacks on its interests and diplomatic missions in Libya persisted.
On Thursday, Turkey and Italy said the area around their embassies in Tripoli had been shelled.
Turkey backs Libya’s internationally recognised GNA. It has signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and deployed military trainers and equipment, including armed drones that have helped repel Haftar’s offensive.
Ankara views Haftar’s forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, as “putschists”.
“If our missions and our interests in Libya are targeted, we will deem Haftar’s forces legitimate targets,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, in which it also slammed the United Nations for not taking action over the LNA’s attacks.
“It is unacceptable for the United Nations to remain silent against this carnage any longer,” it said. “Countries providing military, financial and political aid to Haftar are responsible for the suffering that the people of Libya are enduring and the chaos and instability the country is being dragged into.”
It also said attacks on Tripoli’s Mitiga airport early on Saturday, part of an intensified barrage of artillery fire on the capital, were war crimes.
“The attacks on diplomatic missions including our Tripoli embassy, Mitiga airport, civilian planes preparing to take off and other civilian infrastructure, and those which kill civilians or injure them, constitute a war crime,” the statement added.
Haftar’s LNA has been fighting for more than a year to capture Tripoli from the GNA, frequently shelling the capital. The United Nations said four-fifths of the 130 civilian casualties recorded in the Libyan conflict in the first quarter of 2020 were caused by LNA ground fighting.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the LNA was in a “period of regression” after NATO member Turkey threw its support behind the GNA.
“Even the efforts of countries that provide him [Haftar] with unlimited financial support and weapons will not be able to save him,” Erdogan said.
Pro-GNA forces have retaken some territory from the LNA around Tripoli during an escalation of fighting in recent weeks with the help of Turkish-supplied drones.
The LNA says Turkey has established a military drone base at the Mitiga airport, but the GNA denies this.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called the bombardment “an all too familiar but frightening spectacle”.
“These horrifying attacks occur on a regular basis in close proximity to civilian neighbourhoods,” UNSMIL said on Twitter.
It called the shelling “one in a series of indiscriminate attacks, most of which are attributable to pro-LNA forces, killing more than 15 and injuring 50 civilians since 1 May”.
Since Wednesday, 17 civilians and two police officers have been killed and more than 66 other civilians wounded in rocket fire targeting several areas of the capital, according to the GNA.
UNSMIL slammed the attacks for hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure, and called for “those responsible for crimes under international law to be brought to justice”.
But the GNA said international condemnation was not enough.
“We no longer pay any attention to the timid condemnations of the international community … The senseless acts are proof of his weakness and desperation after the successive defeats of his militias and mercenaries,” it added.
Haftar’s forces have suffered several setbacks in recent weeks, with GNA fighters pushing them from two key coastal cities west of Tripoli in April.
GNA troops now surround the LNA’s main rear base at Tarhouna, 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital.
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