2017 was the deadliest year of Syrian war for children, says Unicef

Report advises generation faces psychological wrecking, with most vulnerable the hardest hit

A generation of Syrian children face psychological ruin and ever increasing peril, with child deaths rising by 50% last year and the number of young soldiers tripling since 2015.

A report by Unicef saw 2017 was the worst year of the war for young Syrians, with 910 killed in a conflict that has spared them no mercy and has taken a vastly disproportionate toll on the country’s most vulnerable people.

The figures undermine claims that the war, which will soon enter its eighth year, is losing steam. Those most at risk face escalating menaces of being permanently maimed by opposing, or emotionally scarred by a litany of abuses including forced labor, matrimonies, food scarcity and minimal access to health or education.

” There are scars in children and there are scars on children that will never be erased ,” said Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s director for the Middle East and north Africa.” The protection of children in all circumstances that was once universally embraced- at no moment have any of the parties accepted .”

Syrian children in numbers

More than 13 million people inside Syria need humanitarian assistance, more than half of whom are children, the UN says. Of the 6.1 million internally displaced, roughly half( 2.8 million) are children. Figures for last year depict an average of 6,550 people were displaced each day in Syria.

During the first months of 2018 there has been a sharp escalation in violence in Idlib, eastern Ghouta on the suburbs of Damascus and in Afrin on the Turkish perimeter. The Syrian regime and Russia have been besieging Idlib and east Ghouta, while Turkey and a proxy Arab force launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January. There also remains a lethal threat from mines and unexploded bombs left over from opposing in Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

In eastern Ghouta a besieged population of nearly 420,000 people, half of whom are children, are suffering a month of airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jets, which are attempting to oust opponent fighters and the communities that support them from Damascus’s doorstep. Calculated death tolls in Ghouta range from 1,000 to 1,300 people. Children are thought to account for at least several hundred casualties.

Reaching children in need has been relentlessly difficult, the UN has said, with requests to deliver aid to opponent communities routinely denied and convoys allowed to enter often stripped of essential medicines. Humanitarian access was denied 105 times in 2017 alone- a year marked by sieges of east Aleppo and east Ghouta, which had both been strongholds of the anti-Assad opposition throughout the war.

Healthcare facilities, including hospitals and ambulance basis, have been repeatedly targeted in eastern Ghouta, recurring a pattern set elsewhere in Syria. In opposition-held east Aleppo, the healthcare network was destroyed before the area was overrun by pro-regime forces-out in late 2016. Last year alone, there were 175 assaults on health and education centres, the Unicef report says.

Medecins Sans Frontieres tells 15 of the 20 hospitals and clinics it supports in eastern Ghouta have been hit by airstrikes or shelling. Local authorities inside the enclave say the healthcare system is being systematically targeted and the capacity to care for high numbers of wounded has shrunk tremendously as a result.

” Their[ Assad regime’s] strategy is brutally clear ,” said Ghassan Chamsi, a resident in the Douma neighbourhood of eastern Ghouta.” They want to terrorise everyone into running for the borders. Either submit, or die. But don’t expect to be treated by our own .”

On almost every economic indicator, children in Syria experienced worse conditions last year than in 2016. The scarcity of food has soared across the country, with the young again suffering most for the absence of adequate nutrition. Up to 12% of young Syrians are considered to be acutely malnourished, the report says.

The psychological impact on young generations who have spent at the least half their lives in conflict, deprived of adequate food, education and healthcare, is among the most difficult risk categories to gauge.

” Their conditions require specialised therapy and services ,’ said Cappelaere.” As children, their needs differ from those of adults: as their bodies and abilities change, so must their care. These children face a very real risk of being forgotten and stigmatised as the unrelenting conflict continues .”

With opposing raging in north and central Syria, the majority of the population displaced and regional powers now more deep invested in the war than before, there appears to be little hope of the humanitarian situation easing anytime soon.

Syrian refugee numbers

Russia and Iran have both strengthened their support for Bashar al-Assad, who was losing on the battlefield until Vladimir Putin sent the Russian us air force to prop up the Syrian leader in September 2015. Iranian-led ground troops have been central to clawing back lost ground, while opposition groups, splintered and divided , no longer pose a sustained menace to the regime.

However, Idlib and east Idlib, despite sustained assaults, remain formidable obstacles to a leadership that has pledged to return all of Syria to central control. As yet, there is no plan for what to do with eastern Ghouta’s population if they are forced to flee. In Idlib, more than 2.5 million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in the country, are crammed into a small province faced with ever increasing humanitarian needs.

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Why is the world at war?

Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ukraine the globe is scarred by violence

We live in a world of difficulty. Conflicts today may be much less lethal than those that scarred the last century, but this brings little convenience. We remain deeply anxious. We can blame terrorism and the fear it inspires despite the statistically unimportant number of casualties it inflicts, or the contemporary media and the breathless cycle of” breaking news”, but the truth remains that the wars that seem to inspire the fanatics or have made so many headlines in recent years prompt deep nervousnes. One reason is that these wars appear to have no end in sight.

To explain these conflicts we reach for easy binary schema- Islam v the west; haves against have-nots; nations that “play by the rules” of the international system against “rogues”. We also look to grand geopolitical theories- the end of the Westphalian system, the west faced by” the rise of the rest”- or even merely attribute the violence to “geography”. None of these explanations seems to adequately allay our concerns.

This week Mohammad bin Salman, the young Saudi Arabian crown prince, will be in London. One topic he will be discussing with British policymakers is the war raging since 2015 in its neighbour Yemen, where Saudi forces-out lead an alliance of regional powers against Houthi rebels. The war, part of a Saudi policy of adopting a more aggressive external posture, is not going well. It is a standstill which has left thousands of civilians dead.

Last week Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s embattled chairwoman, announced a bold plan to draw the Taliban into a binding peace process. Commentator spoke of a last desperate gamble to bring an end to conflict that has gone on so long that there are western soldiers soon to be deployed to the country who come into nappies when it beginning in 2001.

In Syria, where the civil war is now in its seventh year, “were not receiving” respite either. Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, is under daily bombardment after years of siege. Militia manoeuvre for advantage across the country. If anyone guessed the autumn of Raqqa, the headquarters of Islamic State( Isis ), would bring an end to hostilities, the latter are sadly mistaken.

Nor are these” long wars”- which could include Somalia( at war since 1991) or Libya( since 2011) or Mali( since 2012)- restricted to the Islamic world. There is South Sudan, where a vicious four-year-old civil war is intensifying, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more protests ended in bloodshed last week. The east of the DRC was the crucible of a huge conflict that killed 5 million people between 1997 and 2003 and has remained unstable ever since. Thousands have died and millions have been displaced by conflict there in the last 18 months as anarchy overcomes swaths of the vast country.

It is more than four years since Russia annexed Crimea and helped to provoke a rebellion in Ukraine’s industrial east. Since then about 10,000 people have died, including 3,000 civilians, and more than 1.7 million been displaced .~ ATAGEND Despite a ceasefire bargain, a low-intensity conflict has become the grind everyday backdrop for a region that no longer watches a way out of its misery.

To understand the duration of these conflicts we need to understand their nature. Most analysis focuses on states. This is inevitable. Our maps show the world divided into nations. These are the building blocks of our political, legal, social and economic systems and, as has become so obvious in recent years, key to our identity. In Afghanistan, the war is both to establish a state, and about differing visions of what form it is appropriate to take. In Syria, the war is to maintain, or depose, a state. In Yemen, the war is to control one. In the DRC, the conflict’s roots lie in the weakness of the state.

States have also prolonged these conflicts and, in some cases, caused them. Russia’s irredentist aspirations in Ukraine, Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan. The involvement of so many regional and international performers in Syria fuelling, whether purposely or accidentally, violence.

Yet, however important, nations are far from the only protagonists in these conflicts. In two decades of covering dozens of conflicts around the world, I have reported on only two that involved military forces of two nations in direct showdown. One was the short war between India and Pakistan in 1999; the second was the war in Iraq in 2003. According to researchers at the University of California, there are none more recent.

The front lines in these new conflicts often follow boundaries that divide clans or castes , not countries. They lie along frontiers between ethnic or sectarian communities, even those dividing, for example, pastoralists from herders or the landed from the landless, from those who speak one dialect or language from neighbours who speak another. These frontlines are not difficult to tracing, on the map or on the ground.

In fact, if we look around the world at all its many conflicts, and if we define these wars more broadly, then we find frontlines everywhere, each with its own no man’s land strewn with casualties. In Mexico, Brazil, South Africa or the Philippines, there is huge violence associated with criminality and the efforts( by states) to stamp it out. There is violence perpetrated against females by the individuals who dread progress in the struggle for a more equitable distribution of power, status and wealth. There is economic violence- how else to describe the deaths of 1,000 people in a building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 or, in DRC again, the traumata to miners excavating out critical commodities to the world’s industries?

Our world may not be racked by conventional conflicts between nation states of previous ages, but it is still a very violent place. The harsh reality may be that we should not be wondering why wars seem so intractable today, but why our time on this planet makes such intractable wars.


A boy injured boy by bombing in Damascus, Syria. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/ Getty

The conflict in Syria will soon enter its eighth year and, though the fighting that once consumed much of the country has now been restricted to a much smaller region, the chance of real peace still looks very distant. The best that anyone can hope for is a slow evolution towards a precarious pause punctuated by bouts of appalling brutality as the regime of Bashar al-Assad, bolstered by supporting from Moscow and Tehran, makes efforts to reassert its authority over the shattered country.

What such efforts involve has become clear recently. In the last few weeks, air strikes by Syrian airplanes have killed more than 600 civilians in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus held by the opposition since 2013.

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In an attempt to convey the desperate and unyielding misery, the United Nations Children’s Fund released a blank statement on 20 February. A footnote said the agency has no words to describe the” children’s suffering and our outrage “.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, did have words:” Hell on earth.”

An calculated 400,000 civilians, already starved from years of siege, are trapped amid relentless air strikes. Hundreds of people have been killed in the barrage that started on 18 February. Humanitarian groups are pleading for an urgent ceasefire to allow them inside.

Aid workers say Syrian helicopters have been falling barrel bombs – metal drums packed with explosives and shrapnel – on marketplaces and medical centres.

Photograph: Mohammed Badra/ EPA

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Although Isis has now been forced from almost all of its territory in Syria, other hardline Islamist groups remain very active, including one powerful organisation links between al-Qaida. Armed opposition groups continue to receive logistical support and funding from the United States, Turkey and several Gulf countries. A Kurdish group has confiscated a swath of territory in the north-east. Successive efforts at peace negotiations have all failed.

Why has the war lasted so long? The Syrian war has always been vastly complex, fought out along national, sectarian, ideological and ethnic divides. This alone would have guaranteed a lengthy conflict, even without the involvement of regional and international performers. The UN has been marginalised by power politics. The US has stood back. The result has been massive agony and a broken country which, even if peace can be achieved, will need up to a trillion dollars to rebuild itself. The toxic effects of the conflict have been felt across the world.


A Huthi rebel inspects bomb injury in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: AFP/ Getty Images

The chaos, and resulting war, in Yemen is now in its seventh year. The immediate roots of the current conflict lie in the aftermath of an Arab spring-inspired uprising in Yemen, the Arab region’s poorest country, that forced its veteran leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down in favour of his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in 2011.

But other causes lie deeper.

Yemen, once a British colony, has never been stable, and was only united after brutal conflicts in the 1990 s. For more than a decade before the crisis of 2011, corruption, unemployment, food shortages, a powerful tribal system, entrenched separatism in the south, and the involvement of regional powers had combined to maintain high levels of instability.


Yemen’s civil war

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2011 An Arab Spring-inspired uprising forces Yemen’s authoritarian chairman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to agree to leave office.

2012 Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, previously Saleh’s deputy, takes over as chairperson following an electoral. He was the only candidate. He fights to unite the country’s divided political scenery, cope with food insecurity and al-Qaida threats.

2014 Houthi rebels( who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam) make advances and begin capturing the northern part of the country, an region they have historically controlled. In September they enter the capital, Sana’a. Hadi flees to Aden.

2015 A renewed rebel offensive forces-out Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, which views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy force-out. It begins bombing what it says are” military targets” associated with the Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, Saleh. The Saudi air campaign receives backing from a alliance of Sunni Arab states, as well as logistical support from the US, UK and France.

June 2016 The Saudi-led alliance is included on a UN blacklist of states and groups that contravene children’s rights in conflict, reporting it is responsible for 60% of child deaths and injuries. After Riyadh protests, the UN removes it from the listing. Human Rights Watch warns of” political manipulation “. At least 6,200 people have been killed, 2.8 million displaced.

October 2016 An airstrike by the Saudi coalition hits a funeral in Sana’a, killing 140. The UN announces a 72 -hour ceasefire, which is allegedly broken by both sides.

2017 Devastated by two years of fighting, Yemen is described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Millions facing famine and the risk of being cholera.

November 2017 Saudi Arabia imposes a siege on Yemen’s ports, in accordance with the firing of a missile at Riyadh from rebel-held province in Yemen. Medications, inoculations and food are prevented from entering the country. The heads of the World Food Programme, Unicef and the World Health Organisation advise” untold thousands of innocent victims, among them many children, will die “.

Rebecca Ratcliffe

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Jihadi fighters had long been a force in Yemen, developing into a powerful local al-Qaida affiliate. A popular backlash against US counter-terrorism operations, which included droning strikes, and overspill of activists from Saudi Arabia worsened a complicated situation. This meant President Hadi was faced by huge challenges on taking power.

Chief among them was insurgency led by the Houthis, a minority Shia rebel group based in the north of Yemen with a long history of uprising against the Sunni-dominated government.

The insurgents seized Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in January 2015, forcing Hadi and his government to resign. This inspired regional participation which has led to a humanitarian crisis putting millions at risk of starvation. A alliance of Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia- which received US, British and European logistical and intelligence support- launched air strikes against the Houthis. It has also blockaded Yemen to stop Iran smuggling weapons to the rebels. Tehran denies the charge.

Why has the war lasted so long? Fiendishly complicated tribal and sectarian dynamics ensure that no single faction is strong enough to win, while external involvement ensures all can stay in the fight. The conflict has depicted in more than a dozen country level is linked to broader regional contests for power. A federal bargain might bring peace but seems unlikely right now.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Government soldiers before an attack on rebels in Kimbau, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/ Reuters

Should the Democratic Republic of the Congo slide back into the kind of conflict seen in the vast country between 1997 and 2003, it is likely that the intervening years of very relative calm will be forgotten. The six-year war, that started more than 20 years ago, was prompted by the autumn of President Mobutu Sese Seko and exacerbated by the involvement of all regional powers, many attracted simply by the opportunity to loot the country’s mineral and metal resources. These still remain a draw, even if there is no current appetite among its neighbours to risk the sort of chaos that led to the deaths of more than 5 million people.

Yet the signs of deterioration are there: a weak central authority under President Joseph Kabila , who has outstayed his mandate by 15 months; disintegrating law and order in places where there was never much government control; a growing conflict between warlords and ethnic communities; a fractured opponent; a distracted international community; and huge humanitarian need.

Will the war restart? The killing and the succumbing has started already, with a violent rebel motion in the Kasai region inspiring a brutal government reply that contribute to mass displacement. Cholera and other illness surge through vulnerable populations. The United Nation deployment in the DRC suffers increasing attacks, with the deaths of 14 peacekeepers in December, the worst single loss suffered by the organisation since 1993.

Elections are due to be held in December, though many doubt they will take place. The polls are a chance to arrest the slide of one of Africa’s most important states back into even greater poverty and conflict. Few are optimistic.


A roadside checkpoint in Herat, Afghanistan. Photo: Jalil Rezayee/ EPA

Afghanistan has not known peace since the mid-1 970 s. The present conflict, which pits the Taliban and other Islamist extremists against the government in Kabul, started in 2001 with the US-led invasion that followed the 9/11 assaults. The US has supported, first President Hamid Karzai and then his successor, Ashraf Ghani, with huge amounts of military and other aid. More than 2,000 US soldiers have died, 10 times as many Afghan soldiers, and at the least 30,000 civilians. Yet the Taliban today is active in more than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s administrative districts, though it controls fewer than one in 20. In 2015, the movement temporarily confiscated northern the city of Kunduz.

Why has the war lasted so long? One reason is strategic mistakes made by the US and allies in the immediate years after the 2001 invasion. The effort in Afghanistan was poorly resourced and misdirected. Missed early opportunities to construct a stable political settlement and score relatively easy military victories demonstrated expensive.

Another key factor is the involvement of regional powers, principally Pakistan. Islamabad assures having a friendly government in Kabul as critical to its strategic security and has backed the Taliban as a proxy, logistic aid and a safe haven to leaders.

But there are other reasons. Almost all areas where support for the Taliban is high are dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, especially those controlled by certain tribes. Opium-growing zones are also prominent. It is striking how closely the map of Taliban influence today mirrors that of 20 years ago, when the movement surged to power. Then, as now, Afghanistan’s reputation as the” graveyard of empires” rests on solid, if fractured, ground.


A rally in Ukraine against Russian aggression. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/ Reuters

In February, it was four years since Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, annexed Crimea and helped provoke a insurrection in the industrial east of Ukraine,” a former’ Soviet republic” independent since 1991 that lies on one of the greatest culture and linguistic fracture lines in the world today.

Thousands- fighters and civilians -have died. Late last year, aid agencies warned that 4.4 million people have been directly affected by the continuing hostilities, while 3.8 million need urgent assistance.

The war’s roots lie in 2013, when tens of thousands protested in Kievand elsewhere, accusing the then government of backtracking on plans to sign a EU trade deal following pressure from the Kremlin. The government employed violence against protesters, who ousted President Viktor Yanukovychthe following year. This led to unrest in Russophone areas in east and south Ukraine. Fighting between government forces-out and Russia-backed separatists continued into 2015, with Moscow denying Kiev’s claims that it was sending troops and heavy weapons to the region.

The” Minsk arrangement” stipulated a ceasefire and a special constitutional status for the rebel-held provinces of the Donbass region, which would reintegrate into Ukraine and hold elections. None of that has come into consequence and the number of ceasefire violations operates into the thousands. More than 100 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donbass region last year, according to official figures. A squalid but deadly conflict has ground on since on the very perimeters of Europe, receiving ever less attention from the international community.

Why has the war lasted so long? Moscow has little intention of abandoning hard-won gains, despite pressure from economics sanctions. Europe and the US do not want to risk a confrontation. Sentiments within the Ukraine are as polarised as ever. Dubbed an “invisible” or “frozen” conflict, there is little sign of any shifting that might breach the deadlock.

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Moscow mired in Syria as Putins gameplan risks a deadly ending

The Russian leader took a gamble to back Bashar al-Assad against Syrian opposition forces-out but increasingly it seems as if both men miscalculated

From his spot in the wreckings of east Ghouta, Arif Othman insures the current phase of Syria’s war as savagely simple. The longer he holds out against Bashar al-Assad and his allies, the worse it will get- especially at the hands of the Russians.

” We were supposed to have surrendered by now ,” he said at the end of the most intensive week-long onslaught anywhere in Syria in the past three years.

” When we didn’t, the bombs were bigger, the planes more regular, and the injuries like nothing we’ve seen. All sent from Moscow .”

The Russian-led air blitz has been the sum of all dreads for the besieged population on the ground. Up to 400,000 people, with nowhere to running, have been pinned down by Vladimir Putin’s air force as Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops edge closer to the largest and most important opponent area anywhere south of Idlib.

For Assad and Putin, Ghouta is the key to controlling the capital, and winning the war. But outside the Syrian cauldron, friends and foes alike are starting to believe both men have miscalculated.

Nearly 18 months into Russia’s intervention to prevent Assad’s defeat at the hands of rebel groups that were advancing on his heartland areas of Latakia and Tartous, it is increasingly unclear just how Moscow will recoup its investment in the world’s most complex and intractable conflict.

While it no longer appears Assad is in danger of falling, what remains of Syria seems nothing like the prewar country he used to rule. Central authority in the once-rigid police state has been subsumed several times over – first by opposition groups, and then by regional players also increasingly invested in shaping postwar outcomes in their own interests, which only partly align with what Putin wants. Protagonists on both sides are drowning in a swamp they did not see ahead.

Putin, including with regard to, is learning that Syria in its present form is ungovernable. His December claim of “victory” at a Russian airbase near Idlib has been followed by a dizzying series of events which, on the contrary, have described Russia further into the war. At the same day they have uncovered the Assad regime’s near-total dependence on proxy support to hold its positions, let alone secure more gains.

The statement is appearing every bit as premature as George W Bush’s claim of” mission accomplished”, stimulated in a speech on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 at the end of the war in Iraq. In attempting to showcase a superpower’s military strength, the former president instead uncovered its diplomatic limitations.

Firefighters arrive to extinguish a flame in eastern Ghouta after an airstrike by pro-Assad troops. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images

Across Syria, and in the region itself, alliances that were more or less predictable are now splintered and opaque. A chessboard once easy to read could now outwit a grandmaster of global geopolitics.

From Ghouta north to the Turkish perimeter, from Hama in the west to the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, where up to 200 advancing Russian mercenaries were killed by a US counterattack on 7 February, a new regional order is being fought out.

” And we will be trampled like mice under the feet of buffaloes ,” said Ayman Thaer, a volunteer at an assistance centre in Ghouta, where at least 500 people were killed this past week by Russian and Syrian bomb.” May God damn them all .”

Just how to balance the increasingly potent interests on display in Syria is bedevilling all who have tried.

” The only winner in so far is Iran ,” said Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian envoy who defected from the regime in mid-2 013.” It achieves what it wants without too much noise. Iran enjoys Russian-American conflict because it induces Russia more dependent on Iran to survive .”

The clash between the US and Russian mercenaries sent to Syria was kept quiet by Moscow, which- in different circumstances- would have complained bitterly if 200 of its citizens had been killed by a rival power. For Putin to admit even that “the mens” were there would have belied his claim of victory and withdrawal from a war that no longer needed him. Recognise they were advancing on an petroleum refinery held by US Kurdish proxies would have been an equally tough sell, at a time when procuring Syria from the risk of being terrorism and US hegemony remains the official narrative.

US intelligence officers believe the company that recruited the Russians- the Wagner Group- are dominated by a Putin confidant, Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

Also staking its assert in Deir ez-Zor is Iran, with which Russia has partnered to ensure that what remains of the anti-Assad opposition can no longer win the war. Russian officials have complained to counterparts in Turkey that Iranian aims are increasingly at odds with their own.

A senior Turkish diplomat told the Observer Moscow feels especially threatened by what it sees as Iran’s determination to build a state security structure in Damascus modelled on its Revolutionary Guard Corps- the most powerful institution in Tehran 40 years after the Islamic Revolution.” But how can they stop them ?”, the diplomat said.” Putin won’t have it his own style from here. And we can see[ the Russians] get irritated by it .”

From mid-2 016, Putin started to draw Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan into an alliance with Iran which aimed to bringing the war to an end on words to Assad’s benefit.

The alliance was a death knell for an opposition that Turkey backed in the north. It culminated in a trilateral summit in Sochi last November, which was supposed to deliver a diplomatic victory that had evaded all others- and at the same time sideline a moribund UN-backed process. It was an embarrassing failing. Diplomacy has since collapsed and violence, first in Idlib and now in Ghouta, is nearing record levels.

Turkey has reframed its involvement in the war, was beginning to oust Assad but now aimed at maintaining Kurds from controlling the Turkey-Syria border. Last month Turkey sent troops– and Arab militia- into the Syrian border enclave of Afrin to oppose Kurdish militias. The move was quietly sanctioned by Moscow. But in the past week, forces loyal to Assad were allowed into Afrin to counter the Turks. Russia’s position on this development is unclear.” Russia always says it does not have the leveraging on Assad the route the world guess. This is true ,” said Barabandi.” Iran has greater influence on Assad. Put simply, Iran came to stay in all of Syria and to challenge the US by threatening Israel. Syria will be the theater in any coming war between Hezbollah and Iran against Israel. At least “thats what” the Iranians are hoping.

” And Iran is happy that Russia has taken the lead in Syria and let them empower their forces without distraction. None of the players trust one another and what we see is short-term contracts that may change at any time. The only thing they have in common is they want the US to be out of Syria .”

Meanwhile, Russia- which had high hopes that Syria would be a launching pad for a new power projection, ensuring Assad’s survival and securing its own lead role in shaping order in the region, and perhaps far beyond- is focusing on more short-term gains.” As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons ,” said Vladimir Shamanov, head of the Russian Duma’s defence committee.” Today our military-industrial complex constructed our army look in a way we can be proud of .”

With little to bank, Russia will continue to find its veto at the UN Security Council a potent tool. It has vetoed UN resolves against Assad 11 times.

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Syria: fresh fighting in eastern Ghouta despite UN-ordered ceasefire

Assad forces-out have launched new air and ground offensive on battered enclave, witnesses say

Fresh fighting has broken out on several fronts in eastern Ghouta, the besieged opposition-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, despite a 30 -day ceasefire across all of Syria ordered by the United Nation.

After days of intense debate, the UN security council had voted unanimously on Saturday for a temporary truce to let the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical assistance.

But first reports from eastern Ghouta on Sunday said forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s Russian-backed president, had launched a new air and ground offensive in a bid to “storm” rebel positions.

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Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held enclave bordering the Syrian capital, Damascus. Since 2013, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have imposed a suffocating and deadly siege on the area. Yet several rebel factions have retained control.

This month, Syria’s army launched one of the most intense bombardments of the war, saying their assault was necessary to end rebel mortar ten-strikes on the capital. Residents accuse Russia of also bombing Ghouta, a mixture of dense suburbs and fields that once served as the breadbasket for Damascus.

Photograph: Mohammed Badra/ EPA

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Witnesses told al-Jazeera regime forces were attacking opposition groups on multiple fronts, while Syrian warplanes kept up their bombardment of the battered enclave for an eighth consecutive day.

Residents and human rights observers also described renewed attacks by planes and artillery, although the bombing was less intense than on previous days, Reuters reported. Clashes were resulting along several frontlines, and rebel fighters were said to be struggling to hold their positions. The Syrian military attained no comment.

About 520 civilians have died and more than 2,500 have been wounded in Ghouta since a relentless barrage of regime rocket fire, shelling and airstrikes began last Sunday. The dead include more than 120 children, in agreement with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The new fighting appeared to deal a blow to the authority of the UN and justify scepticism expressed by Russian officials about the viability of a ceasefire enforced from outside. If confirmed, a ground offensive proposed to the regime may be attempting to finally eradicate all resistance in Ghouta before the ceasefire takes effect.

The UN resolution called for the truce to begin “without delay” but did not set a specific timeframe, following Russian objections. Nor did it say how a ceasefire would be implemented, how the injured would be evacuated, or how returning assist employees would be protected.

Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said the fight against terrorism would continue regardless , noting the ceasefire resolution excluded named organisations such as Islamic State and an al-Qaida affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham( HTS ), formerly the al-Nusra Front.

” Our government will reserve the right to answer as it deems appropriate in case those terrorist limbs groups are targeting civilians in any part of Syria with even one single missile ,” Ja’afari said.

The two main rebel factions in Ghouta- Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Islam- said after the vote that they would applied by the truce and facilitate aid access. But they also vowed is in response to any attacks.

Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards and militiamen are fighting alongside Assad’s forces, said both it and Syria would respect the UN resolution. But General Mohammad Baqeri, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, insisted the ceasefire did not apply in areas of Damascus’s suburbs” held by the terrorists”, Iran’s Tasnim new agency reported.

The 30 -day ceasefire was also binding on US troops and other members of the anti-Isis coalition present in Syria, and on Israeli forces-out based in the occupied Golan Heights, the Syrian government said.

Previous ceasefires in the seven-year-old Syrian civil war have had limited success. A truce agreed by the regime and backed by Russia during the siege of Aleppo in 2016 collapsed on its first day.

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New Russian stealth fighter spotted in Syria

Two Su-5 7 planes are the latest high-tech military system Russia has deployed in Syria conflict

Moscow appears to have deployed an advanced new stealth fighter to its airbase in Syria, reports in Russian news media and online videos of the aircraft indicated on Thursday, in what analysts say could be a risky attempt to gain publicity and operational experience for the jet in one of the world’s most tangled conflicts.

Their appearance comes at a fraught moment in the seven-year war, as the US and Russia occasionally scramble airplanes to intercept each other over Syria and pro-regime warplanes pound the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta despite protests from the UN. More than 330 people have been killed there since the bombing began on Sunday, according to reports.

The deployment of two Su-5 7 fighter aircraft, which were filmed landing at Russia’s Khmeimim airbase along the Mediterranean coast, would represent the latest high-tech military system Russia has exhibited in Syria, a conflict that has already been used to demonstrate the prowess of Russian cruise missile and combat helicopters.

Both the Kremlin and the Russian ministry of defence declined to comment on whether the fifth-generation Russian fighter jets, which are still in combat testing phases, had been deployed. Russian news agencies, including the respected RBC business daily, published provides information on Thursday saying sources in the ministry of defence had confirmed the presence of the advanced fighter jets in Syria.

The military had previously announced it would begin testing the fighters in combat. They have been touted as a future competitor to the Lockheed Martin F-2 2 Raptor, which the US employs in patrols over Syria.

Yuri Borisov, the deputy defense minister, said earlier in February:” We are buying Su-5 7 airplanes for exam combat utilize. First stage state trials are over .”

US-led forces-out wounded and killed dozens of Russian mercenaries and pro-Assad militiamen earlier this month, in a battle near the city of Deir ez-Zor in which US drones and warplanes immediately targeted Russians fighting on the government side for the first time in the war.

Russia has regularly use existing conflicts as a testing ground for its latest military technology and has even credited it for an uptick in arms sales. The Su-5 7, the first operational Russian plane to use stealth technology, has been beset by cost and day overruns, and analysts said there could be a business rationale behind the deployment.

” There is some operational merit in doing this, but there’s also a advertising element ,” said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Survey in London. He noted that a successful demo of the plane in Syria could assuage concerns of potential buyers such as the Indian government.

It is still unclear whether the aircraft used to play any role in day-to-day operations.” We haven’t seen it fire anything. We haven’t seen it drop anything ,” Barrie said.

Ruslan Pukhov, a defense analyst and the director of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technology, said it could be risky to deploy the new planes to Syria.

” If I were the minister of defence, I probably wouldn’t do it ,” he said.” If you lose one of these planes, it is unable to make for big problems. And what happens if the technology falls into the incorrect hands ?”

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Medical crisis in east Ghouta as hospitals ‘systematically targeted’

Syrian government and allies accused of deliberately destroying civilian healthcare

The medical system in eastern Ghouta is near collapse, medics and doctors say, after nearly a week of airstrikes that have reached 22 hospitals and clinics and led to widespread claims that civilian healthcare in the besieged area is being systematically annihilated.

Medics inside Ghouta claimed only three medical facilities remained fully operational and all were overwhelmed with mass casualties that continued to arrive throughout Thursday- the fifth day of a blitz by Russian and Syrian airplanes across the opponent enclave. Medecins Sans Frontieres said 13 hospitals it supported had been destroyed or injury in the past three days alone.

As the damage and death toll from the ten-strikes continued to mount, international organisations that monitor the Syria crisis alleged there was clear evidence that hospitals were purposely targeted.

” The unspeakable agony we are witnessing was intentionally schemed and meticulously implemented over period ,” said Susannah Sirkin, the director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO.” The current situation is the lethal result of a conscious strategy of besiegement, blocking of aid and, ultimately, the illegal demolition of civilian targets with bombs- a tactic the Syrian government and its allies initiated in Aleppo, and are now repeating with brutality in eastern Ghouta .”

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Bodycam footage shows children being rescued from rubble in eastern Ghouta, Syria- video

Advocacy group the Violations Documentation Centre, which has compiled data on attacks in Syria, said hospitals were being targeted with different munitions to those used elsewhere in Ghouta.” We have observed and documented that the Syrian government targeted the medical phases with directed rockets ,” said Mona Zeineddine, its director of communications.

” This is important to note because the Syrian regime is largely utilizing unguided and improvised bombs, but when it is necessary to hospitals and medical points, guided and directed rockets are used. Also when a particular medical site is hit once, it is then made again when first responders arrive .”

Authorities in Ghouta have also detailed assaults on up to six civil defense centres, which have been used to coordinate rescue tries.” We are being directly targeted by airplane ten-strikes ,” said Abu Saleh al-Ghoutani, an ambulance driver.” Even as we’re rescuing people from under the rubble or driving them to the hospitals we are mercilessly and directly targeted. They wait and see where we’re driving and they bomb us.

” We have 250 documented deaths, and 1,700 injured until Wednesday. The death toll will rise because some are gravely injured .”

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, at least 403 people have been killed and 2,116 injured in eastern Ghouta since Sunday night. On Thursday Russia blocked a ceasefire proposal at the UN security council for the area, describing the widespread reporting of heavy civilian casualties as a product of” mass psychosis “.

One Ghouta doctor, who uses the pseudonym Abu Bakr, said:” We’ve been targeted immediately. It’s an ungodly situation; we weren’t prepared for this brutality. Civilians did not expect such cruelty. Those who aren’t able to reach shelters are exposed to their demises. We’re targeted by barrel bombs and all types of rockets. There is scarcity of food and water. We cannot do our chores properly as well, it’s impossible. Our hands are tied. There is no electricity. We do not know what’s coming in the next few days .”

The sustained air campaign contribute to strident criticism from aid agencies, but has generated little diplomatic momentum despite repeated claims that the two attacks have constituted war crimes.

Dr Ghanem Tayara, the chairman of the Union Of Medical care And Relief Organisations, said:” Even war has rules and their actions violate countless UN resolves. In military combats, even the dead and wounded are allowed to be cleared. The civilians of Ghouta are afforded no such dignity. Their hospitals, schools, food warehouses are destroyed and they are denounced to a slow and painful death.

” Shouldn’t there be an emergency security council fulfilling to resolve this ?,” said Ghoutani.” We’ve had no electricity for four years; children are succumbing , no milk , no food and no water. The shelters that the families and women and children are hiding in are in terrible conditions; they have no floors, or windows.

” We had one’ sugar dealer’ who was a pro-regime man, and a kilogram of sugar expense us 17,000 Syrian pounds[ PS56 ]. We are now resorting to devoting our kids sugary[ fluids] as food .”

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My staff are trying to save lives in the rubble of Ghouta. Who will help us? | Raed Al Saleh

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been abandoned to starvation and bombing. How dare the world turn its face away, writes Raed Al Saleh, the head of the Syria Civil Defence or White Helmets

As Syrians, we have experienced death in so many more routes than we ever dared to imagine: we have been killed by barrel bombs, chemical weapons, starvation, drowning, torturing, napalm and cluster munitions. This month, in eastern Ghouta, another encounter with death was added to the listing: a mother’s corpse dig from under the rubble by her own son, a White Helmet volunteer.

The situation in Ghouta would transgress any heart. Some in the international community have run out of words and have stopped describing the horror. But the suffering of my people compel me to speak in direct terms: the world has left hundreds of thousands of civilians to starve or be bombed to death by the Syrian regime and its allies.

Ghouta has endured a barbaric siege for five years, cut off from food and medication, but nothing has prepared us for the past 48 hours. Dozens of barrel bombs- improvised weapons filled with explosives, shrapnel and anything that will rip through scalp- have been dropped on homes. Hundreds of rockets have been fired. Eight hospitals have been hit. More than 250 people have been killed and the death toll is rising by the hour. Thousands have been injured. All of this in an area of a little over 40 square miles.

Families in eastern Ghouta have been hiding in cellars for weeks at a time, too scared to go above ground, but even these makeshift shelters are being shattered by relentless bombardment.

White Helmet rescuers in Ghouta are facing hell: they’ve left their families, often without the basic necessities, to rescue others. Some have returned to find their families had been forced to flee. White Helmet squads were targeted while on a rescue mission, and a volunteer was killed. This is not a war: this is a massacre.

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Bodycam footage presents children being rescued from rubble in eastern Ghouta, Syria- video
Quick guide

What is happening in eastern Ghouta?

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Where is it and why is it important ?

Eastern Ghouta is a rebel-held enclave that borders the city of Damascus. Once a breadbasket of the Syrian capital, since 2013 it has been under a siege that has tightened severely over the last year. In 2013 the region was targeted in a chemical attack by the Syrian regime that killed more than a thousand civilians and nearly prompted a US intervention in the war.

Who controls it ?

The enclave is controlled by a mix of rebel groups dominated by the Islamist leaning Jaysh al-Islam, though the day-to-day affairs of the towns in the area are run by local civilian councils.

How bad is the humanitarian situation ?

The situation is catastrophic for the 400,000 civilians who still live in eastern Ghouta. Prices for basic foodstuffs have skyrocketed and medical furnishes are largely absent because of the siege. Treating the injured is especially difficult because of the repeated bombing of hospitals and clinics.

An calculated 700 civilians have been killed in the area in the last three months alone , not including those killed over the last week of escalation.

The first aid escort to the region in months arrived a week ago but did not do much to alleviate the suffering.

Photograph: Hamza Al-Ajweh/ AFP

Thank you for your feedback.

The deteriorating situation across the country is stretching the White Helmets like never before. We have lost nine volunteers since the start of the year and more than 50 have been injured. The assaults on our centres and missions have destroyed much of our life-saving equipment and ambulances, inducing the work of saving lives much more difficult. My medical colleagues are suffering the same strain.

In our run, we have saved more than 100,000 lives over the past four years, often by carrying civilians in our limbs to the safest place we can find. In eastern Ghouta , nowhere is safe and there is no escape. All we can do is rescue people from immediate danger and hope and pray that the hospital or home where we leave them is not struck immediately. Can you imagine making such decisions, with airplanes overhead?

All this is happening only a 20 -minute drive from Damascus, from UN headquarters and the palace of Bashar al-Assad; a few hours on a plane to Geneva, where “peace talks” are occur. But as you look at the pictures of dust-covered people emerging from rubble or kids calling out in pain, it could be another planet- one where the worst of humanity is in charge. For we have never seen anything like this before in this world.

I am a Syrian humanitarian , not a legislator, so forgive me if I seem naive when I fail to believe that the world’s most powerful countries cannot protect children from waking up tomorrow in the rubble of their homes, their parents nowhere find work. The Syrian people hold international leaders responsible for failing to prevent their suffering, and demand that they use all measures available to stop the aerial assaults, violate the siege and immediately evacuate the hundreds of people in need of urgent medical attention. The White Helmets’ motto is:” To save a life is to save all of humanity .” I ask those who can to join us in our mission.

* Raed Al Saleh is the head of the Syria Civil Defence or White Helmets

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Israel launches ‘large-scale’ attack in Syria after fighter jet crashes

Military spokesman says four Iranian targets near Damascus were destroyed in retaliation

Afrin residents say Syrian ‘curse’ has arrived as war hits Kurdish enclave

Incursion into border enclave divides conflict into new direction for already displaced refugees

US military to maintain open-ended presence in Syria, Tillerson says

US secretary of state says forces shall be kept in country in move against Isis, Bashar al-Assad and Iranian influence