Syr­ian army closes in on key Aleppo dis­trict Moscow and Wash­ing­ton trade barbs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Syr­ian regime forces were on the verge yes­ter­day of seiz­ing a ma­jor rebel dis­trict of Aleppo as Moscow and Wash­ing­ton traded barbs over stalled ef­forts to end fight­ing in the battle-worn city. Af­ter re­tak­ing con­trol of about two-thirds of east Aleppo in re­cent days, forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad were ad­vanc­ing Tues­day on the large res­i­den­tial dis­trict of Shaar. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a mon­i­tor­ing group, said if the dis­trict is re­taken rebel forces will be re­duced to a “war of at­tri­tion” with the army. “It is the most im­por­tant neigh­bor­hood in the heart of east Aleppo, and is on the brink of fall­ing,” Ob­ser­va­tory head Rami Ab­del Rah­man said, adding that regime forces were al­ready in con­trol of about a third of the dis­trict. With the cap­ture of Shaar, the army would hold 70 per­cent of east Aleppo, four years af­ter rebels first seized it and di­vided the city.

The regime’s rapid gains have left op­po­si­tion fight­ers scram­bling to de­fend the shrink­ing en­clave they still con­trol in Aleppo’s south­east­ern dis­tricts. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has also strug­gled over how to re­spond, de­spite wide­spread con­cern over the fate of tens of thou­sands of civil­ians still in rebel-held ar­eas. Rus­sia, a key As­sad ally, had an­nounced talks with the United States in Geneva for Tues­day or Wed­nes­day on or­ga­niz­ing a full rebel with­drawal from Aleppo lead­ing to a cease­fire.

‘At­tempt to buy time’

But on Tues­day For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov ac­cused Wash­ing­ton, which has backed rebel groups against As­sad, of back­track­ing. “It looks like an at­tempt to buy time for the rebels to have a breather, take a pause and re­plen­ish their re­serves,” Lavrov told jour­nal­ists, adding that Moscow had the im­pres­sion that “a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion with our Amer­i­can part­ners isn’t work­ing out.” Wash­ing­ton for its part ac­cused Moscow of stalling for time af­ter Rus­sia and China blocked a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion on Mon­day call­ing for a seven-day cease­fire.

Rus­sia said the res­o­lu­tion should have been post­poned un­til af­ter the Geneva talks, say­ing an agree­ment on or­ga­niz­ing a with­drawal was close. The deputy US en­voy to the United Na­tions, Michele Si­son, sug­gested there was no deal, ac­cus­ing Moscow of us­ing a “made-up alibi” to block the res­o­lu­tion. “We will not let Rus­sia string along the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil,” she said. “We will con­tinue bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions (with Rus­sia) to re­lieve the suf­fer­ing in Aleppo, but we have not reached a break­through be­cause Rus­sia wants to keep its mil­i­tary gains.” The rebels have so far re­jected any talk of leav­ing the city, with Yasser AlYoussef of the lead­ing Nured­din Al-Zinki fac­tion de­scrib­ing the pro­posal as “un­ac­cept­able”. “It is for the Rus­sians to leave,” he said. Rebels have been forced to evac­u­ate sev­eral of their strongholds in Syria dur­ing the con­flict, most re­cently a string of ar­eas near Da­m­as­cus.

In many cases, they have reached deals with the gov­ern­ment af­ter months of siege and fierce fight­ing, agree­ing to lay down their arms in re­turn for safe pas­sage to rebel ter­ri­tory else­where. But the loss of Aleppo would be the big­gest blow yet to op­po­si­tion forces in Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011 with pop­u­lar protests call­ing for As­sad’s ouster. More than 300,000 peo­ple have since died and mil­lions forced from their homes. Aleppo, once Syria’s cel­e­brated com­mer­cial and cul­tural hub, has been a key bat­tle­ground of the war and suf­fered some of its worst vi­o­lence. The most re­cent of­fen­sive has left more than 341 peo­ple dead in east Aleppo, in­clud­ing 44 chil­dren, the Ob­ser­va­tory says.

Rebel fire into the gov­ern­ment-held west of the city has killed 81 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 31 chil­dren, in the same pe­riod, the mon­i­tor says. Tens of thou­sands of east Aleppo res­i­dents have also fled to dif­fer­ent parts of the city, in­clud­ing to gov­ern­men­theld ar­eas and other rebel neigh­bor­hoods. Es­ca­lat­ing bom­bard­ment of the neigh­bor­ing rebel-held prov­ince of Idlib has also left dozens dead in re­cent days. At least 85 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 18 chil­dren, have been killed in air strikes on Idlib city and sur­round­ing towns since late Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory. It said both Rus­sian and Syr­ian gov­ern­ment war­planes took part in the bomb­ing raids. —AFP

Se­vere flood­ing kills 14 in south Thai­land

Se­vere flood­ing due to heavy rain in south­ern Thai­land has killed 14 peo­ple, in­clud­ing five stu­dents, the in­te­rior min­istry said yes­ter­day. Six days of floods have af­fected 582,345 peo­ple in 11 of Thai­land’s 76 prov­inces, the min­istry said in a state­ment. One per­son is re­port­edly miss­ing, while three oth­ers suf­fered in­juries. Trains have also been halted in one prov­ince off the Gulf of Thai­land as the rails there were sub­merged un­der ris­ing flood­wa­ters. South­ern Thai­land is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors due to its scenic is­lands and beaches, and the floods are ex­pected to put a dent in the area’s tourist in­dus­try, with the high sea­son run­ning from Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary. How­ever, the wa­ters are re­ced­ing, with three of the 11 prov­inces now off the list of flooded prov­inces. A fourth prov­ince is ex­pected to be de­clared clear as well, an of­fi­cial at the in­te­rior min­istry said. But Thai­land’s Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment fore­casts more heavy rains next week for south­ern Thai­land.

In­done­sian au­thor­i­ties burn mas­sive drug haul

Po­lice be­gan torch­ing about a ton of il­le­gal drugs in Jakarta yes­ter­day, as In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Widodo de­fended his tough war on nar­cotics. Au­thor­i­ties wheeled out gi­ant fur­naces to in­cin­er­ate some of the mas­sive haul on dis­play, in­clud­ing nearly half a ton of metham­phetamine, 190,000 ec­stasy tablets and 420 kilo­grams of mar­i­juana. Widodo and other top of­fi­cials, wear­ing pro­tec­tive gloves and masks, in­spected the drugs be­fore toss­ing bags of pills into the in­cin­er­a­tor. In­done­sia has tough drugs laws but Widodo has made com­bat­ing nar­cotics a top pri­or­ity since tak­ing of­fice in late 2014, re­sum­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of traf­fick­ers af­ter an un­of­fi­cial hia­tus. Eigh­teen con­victed drug smug­glers-in­clud­ing 15 for­eign­ers-have been sent to the fir­ing squad in In­done­sia un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Widodo has de­fended his hard­line stance, claim­ing In­done­sia faces a “drugs emer­gency” and must act to pro­tect the next gen­er­a­tion. “Ev­ery year 15,000 In­done­sian youth die be­cause of drugs. How many drug deal­ers and traf­fick­ers die ev­ery year?” he said.

Cam­bo­dia up­holds drug sen­tences for for­eign­ers PH­NOM PENH:

A Cam­bo­dian ap­peals court yes­ter­day up­held the prison terms of a French­woman, an Aus­tralian woman and a Nige­rian man for try­ing to smug­gle heroin to Aus­tralia. Judge Pol Sam Ouen said the sen­tences given by the Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court in May 2014 to then-19year-old French­woman Char­lene Savarino, 41-year-old Ann Yoshe Taylor of Aus­tralia and 23-year-old Pre­cious Ch­neme Nwoko of Nige­ria were cor­rect and ac­corded with the law. The lower court had sen­tenced Savarino to 25 years in prison, Taylor to 23 years and Nwoko to 27 years. Savarino and Taylor were ar­rested in Septem­ber 2013 at Ph­nom Penh In­ter­na­tional Air­port af­ter po­lice found 2.2 kilo­grams (4.8 pounds) of heroin in Taylor’s lug­gage as they pre­pared to fly to­gether to Aus­tralia. Nwoko, Savarino’s boyfriend, was be­lieved to have mas­ter­minded the smuggling and asked Savarino to make the ar­range­ments. Cam­bo­dia is not a ma­jor producer of il­le­gal drugs but has in­creas­ingly be­come a smuggling tran­sit route.

Hair today, gone tomorrow: Se­rial snip­per strikes Ja­pan

A sus­pected se­rial hair-snip­per has been ar­rested in Ja­pan af­ter be­ing ac­cused of steal­ing tresses from un­sus­pect­ing women on rush-hour trains. Po­lice charged the 23-year-old grad­u­ate stu­dent with as­sault on Mon­day af­ter he ad­mit­ted cut­ting the hair of a woman on a packed morn­ing train in Nagoya, a city west of Tokyo. Akiya Yoshida is also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for pos­si­ble in­volve­ment in about 30 other cases over the past sev­eral years. Yoshida said he had planned on sell­ing his ill-got­ten mer­chan­dise on­line, ac­cord­ing to the top-sell­ing Yomi­uri news­pa­per.

IDLIB: A picture taken from a rebel-held area shows smoke bil­low­ing from build­ings in the pro-regime Shi­ite town of Foua, in north­west­ern Idlib prov­ince yes­ter­day fol­low­ing a re­ported rebel shelling. — AFP

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