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Rocket fire into the Lebanese border town of Arsal killed at least seven people and wounded 15 on Friday, Lebanon's state news agency said, in one of several such salvoes to hit towns bordering war-torn Syria.
At least 20 rockets launched from across the border struck Lebanese frontier areas, according to the Lebanese army, in further spillover from Syria's civil war that has raised tensions across Lebanon.
Lebanon, itself shattered by civil war from 1975 to 1990, has been struggling to keep itself out of the nearly three-year conflict raging in its much larger neighbor, with more than 100,000 people killed there.
But with sectarian sympathies aligning different Lebanese groups with Syria's warring parties, spillover has become increasingly frequent. Lebanon is now coping with increased car bombings, some of them hitting the heart of the capital Beirut.
The National News Agency said a single rocket was responsible for the death toll in Arsal, an area sympathetic to the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Three aid workers with the Czech humanitarian organization People In Need were killed by a mortar strike in the Syrian city of Aleppo last week, the organization has announced.
The aid workers, all of whom were Syrian, were helping manage a bread distribution point in a rebel-controlled part of Aleppo, a city that has been divided and brutalized by more than two years of steady warfare.
They were killed along with five children who were in line to receive bread, according to Petr Stefan, a media coordinator for People In Need. Two other staffers of the organization were wounded.
The decision by People In Need to go public with the news of employees' deaths marks a continuing trend among some aid organizations and others who work in Syria to forgo security concerns in favor of publicizing what they have come to see as an intractable situation.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a news release that it has received reports in the past two weeks of a succession of mass executions of civilians and fighters who were no longer participating in hostilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa by hardline armed opposition groups in Syria, in particular by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
"While exact numbers are difficult to verify, reliable eyewitness testimony that we have gathered suggests that many civilians and fighters in the custody of extremist armed opposition groups have been executed since the beginning of this year," said High Commissioner Navi Pillay.
Reports suggest that in the first week of January, numerous individuals were executed in Idlib by armed opposition groups. On 6 January, in Aleppo, three individuals who had reportedly been held by ISIL at its base in Makhfar al-Saleheen were found dead, handcuffed, with bullet wounds in their heads.
"The execution of civilians and individuals no longer participating in hostilities is a clear violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes," she stated.
The Syrian government allowed supplies to enter two besieged areas under opposition control near the capital, a relief official said Thursday, as activists say weeks of infighting between rebel forces and an al-Qaida group-linked group have killed more than 1,000 people.
Khaled Iriqsousi, who heads the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, told The Associated Press that enough supplies to feed 10,000 people for a month entered the Damascus suburbs of al-Ghezlaniya and Jdaidet al-Shibani on Thursday. The areas are east and west of the capital of a region known as Ghouta.
On Tuesday, Syria's government and the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, agreed to allow humanitarian aid into some blocked-off areas.
I thank all participants for your commitment and support. Today, more than $2.4 billion dollars were pledged by delegations and I really thank you for all your strong support.More precise figures will be announced shortly. Seven new countries pledged this year that did not pledge last year. Twenty donors increased their pledges in comparison to 2013 pledges.Your pledges prove that the people devastated by this conflict are not forgotten. You are also sending a strong signal to the neighbouring countries – that you appreciate their generosity, and that they will not be left to shoulder the burden alone.This Conference has succeeded in raising support for the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan and the Refugee Response Plan over the next six months.This money will allow humanitarian agencies and their partners to fund urgent priorities.
They discussed the situation in Syria and the forthcoming Geneva Conference on Syria next week, together with the need for increasing humanitarian assistance for Syrians. They discussed the participation at the conference and the positive role that countries of the region could play during the process. They agreed on the need for a political solution to the crisis. They also expressed concern about the rising extremism in Syria and its possible dangerous spillover in the region, in particular in Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Wednesday at the Syrian Donors Conference in Kuwait City. Kerry announced $380 million more in humanitarian aid for Syrians affected by the ongoing crisis, bringing the total of US aid to Syria to $1.7 billion. REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool
Global solidarity in action
“Today, we have now seen global solidarity in action,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, commenting on the generosity of Member States at the first Kuwait conference on 30 January 2013. “We have brought a message of hope to the millions of Syrians who have been affected by this terrible crisis.”
Last year some 60 countries gathered in Kuwait to show their support. Hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, and chaired by the Secretary-General, Bani Ki-moon, the pledging conference gave Member States an opportunity to continue supporting the much-needed humanitarian response to help millions of people affected by the Syria crisis.
Some of the countries that pledged the most funding included Kuwait ($300 million), the United States ($155 million), the European Commission ($133 million), the United Kingdom ($81 million), Saudi Arabia ($78 million), Japan ($65 million), Norway ($38 million), Canada ($25 million) and Sweden ($23 million).
Kick-starting support for UN humanitarian appeals
Last year, over 40 donors pledged a total of $1.54 billion during the conference. The funding helped to fulfil critical aid efforts listed in the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) and the Regional Response Plan (RRP) – two major appeals launched by UN agencies and humanitarian partners to reach 6.8 million people with aid in 2013.
The SHARP and RRP, which were 70 per cent funded by the end of the year, helped aid organizations reach 10 million people in Syria with clean water, over 4 million people with food aid and agricultural support, 3.6 million with health care and 1.5 million children with school supplies.
Syrian refugee families received tents, blankets, warm clothes and psychosocial support in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The generosity of donors allowed millions of Syrian children to be vaccinated against measles, rubella, mumps and polio.
Expectations for the 2014 pledging conference
“We hope that donors will continue to give generously,” said UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos during a recent Twitter Chat on the Syria crisis. Humanitarian agencies and their partners need increased funding for 2014 to keep pace with increased needs, as the conflict continues and intensifies.
Last year an estimated 6.8 million people in Syria needed assistance. That figure now stands at 9.3 million. Funding requirements for the SHARP and RRP have increased dramatically since 2013, from $4.4 billion to $6.5 billion in 2014. UN agencies hope that the pledging conference will meet some of these funding requirements.
Humanitarian aid plans in 2014
In 2014, aid organizations hope to provide more emergency assistance in order to meet the growing demands of the crisis. They also aim to provide longer-term support to help families who have lost their homes and incomes to rebuild their lives and communities. Many Syrian refugees do not have access to the most basic public services and host communities in neighbouring countries need support to cope with the growing influx. Through the SHARP and the RRP, aid agencies and NGOs have costed and prioritized their plans to meet the most urgent needs as quickly as possible.
The 2014 SHARP will be used to strengthen the operational capacity of national and international aid organizations, whose staff risk their lives every day to reach people with aid. Since 2011, nearly 50 aid workers have died, many of them from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
A regional crisis
“The crisis is now regional, not limited to Syria,” said Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, adding that it is important that UN agencies and partners recognize this fact “in all discussions and negotiations.”
Joint studies by the UN and the World Bank have confirmed the devastating effect of the refugee influx on economies across the region. The UN is working with host governments and other partners to build the resilience of host communities and neighbouring states through a Comprehensive Regional Strategy, which will be finalized in April 2014.
The UN Refugee Agency calls the crisis “one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history with no end yet in sight.” It has warned that if the conflict continues, the refugee population in the region could reach over 4 million by the end of 2014. In Lebanon, refugees now make up more than 20 percent of the entire population.
“UN agencies as well as national and international NGOs are working together to address the needs of Syrian refugees and assist the countries in the region who have so generously taken them in,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “The RRP calls for further efforts to benefit host communities, who offer front-line protection and essential support to refugees.”
The money earmarked for Syria can be used only by U.N. agencies and regime-approved local and international humanitarian aid agencies, of which only a few are authorized by the government of President Bashar al-Assad to work in Syria. These groups do vital work under difficult circumstances and do need funding. But they are held hostage to a government that manipulates the distribution of aid for its own ends. The regime limits the number of visas it gives international aid workers and also controls access to war-torn areas, meaning that organizations are frequently prevented from administering aid to rebel-held areas not fifteen minutes from their offices in Damascus, according to representatives of several aid organizations working in Syria, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation. Government officials maintain that those areas are inhabited solely by armed rebels, so they do not have the same rights as a civilian population. Yet numerous reports coming out of these besieged areas indicate that civilians are suffering as well. "The sick and wounded have not been able to leave, we've not been able to get food in," U.N. Humanitarian Affairs chief Valerie Amos told the BBC on Sunday. "There are reports of people on the brink of starvation, including in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp close to the center of Damascus."White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated that the United States expects the Syrian opposition to come to the Geneva 2 peace conference.
"ISIL took full control of the city of Raqqa after days of clashes," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Raqqa is the only provincial capital the rebels have managed to fully prise from government control and subsequently became an ISIL stronghold.
A brigade loyal to the Nusra Front, which is also Al-Qaeda-linked, has been battling ISIL fighters in Raqqa, even though the group has largely stayed out of the fighting within rebel ranks elsewhere in Syria.
The Nusra Front is recognized by the Al-Qaeda leadership as the network's branch in Syria. It recognizes ISIL's operational command only in neighboring Iraq.
Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy
11-13 January 2014
Syrian women and men, as well as the international community, are focused on the Geneva II peace conference.
We are Syrian women of diverse backgrounds and positions, and we represent a broad range of women’s and civil society organizations. We have come together to prepare this set of demands and priorities based on our first-hand experience of the suffering of the Syrian people, which has become intolerable. We share the hopes of the Syrian people that the Geneva II conference will be a serious step towards ending the violence and bloodshed in Syria.
We believe that the Geneva I Communique provides a foundation to end all forms of tyranny and to initiate the transition to a civil, democratic, pluralistic, and united state.
Priorities as related to ending the fighting, promoting the peace process and improving the humanitarian situation
1. Adopt the Geneva 1 Communique (stop the fighting and achieve a cessation of armed violence, the release of arbitrarily detained women and men, freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists, respect for freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully). To this we add: release the women and men who have been abducted by the various armed groups.
2. Lift the siege and allow for the timely provision of humanitarian and medical aid to all affected regions, under the supervision of an independent commission with international oversight.
3. Implement an immediate ceasefire as a first step towards the permanent cessation of military operations. This can be achieved by relying upon mutually reinforcing negotiation tracks at local, national and international levels, with the robust participation of Syrian civil society.
4. Call upon the United Nations Security Council to support the efforts of the UN Arab League Joint Mission, by authorizing the appointment and deployment of negotiators, observers and peacekeepers, as needed.
5. Take immediate measures to stop gender-based violence as per UN Security Council Resolutions 1820 1888, 1960; adopt gender-sensitive policies and protect women and girls against sexual exploitation, early marriage, human trafficking and rape.
6. Cooperate with neighboring states and secure international guarantees to ensure the expulsion of all non-Syrian combatants.
7. Put an end to all arbitrary detentions, court rulings and administrative decisions, and lift all travel restrictions on activists and politicians so as to assure their freedom of movement.
8. Ensure the safe and dignified return of all refugees and internally displaced people to their former cities and places of residence, with provisions for compensation, family reunification, and guaranteeing gender equality in this process.
9. Put an immediate end to the recruitment of child soldiers as per UN Security Council resolutions 1261, 1612, and 1882. Immediately establish a national education program that suspends all ideological curricula and which adopts modern unified curricula that respect human rights, the equality of citizens regardless of gender, and which addresses the issue of children who have been unable to attend school.
10. Demand the lifting of economic sanctions on the Syrian people immediately upon signing of the agreement between the parties and the launching of a transitional process. This demand does not include the lifting of sanctions imposed on individuals and private corporations.
11. Dismantle all arbitrary tribunals, terror-related courts, as well as sharia commissions, and reinstate civil law throughout Syria.
12. Develop a national plan that protects vulnerable structures, including economic, security, administrative and cultural sites, as well as the country’s infrastructure.
13. Take measures to secure all official records and documentation in cooperation with appropriate civil society organizations.
14. Restructure and reform security and police institutions in line with international norms of human rights and gender sensitivity.
15. Bring to justice and render accountable the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and launch the process of transitional justice.
Demands on the Negotiation Process
1. Adopt the Geneva 1 Communique as the baseline for a political solution and as the starting point for the negotiation process that seeks to build a comprehensive and lasting peace, and which lays the foundation for a state based on citizenship and the rule of law.
2. Start the democratic transition process to end tyranny in all its forms and lay the foundations for a pluralistic, civil and democratic state in which all components of society are equal, and which upholds human rights in accordance with international norms and guarantees freedom of speech and belief.
3. Affirm that the State should be based on the principles of peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, rule of law and neutrality of the military.
4. Reject any political solution based on ethnicity, confessionalism, religion or military balance on the ground, to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and the unity of its people.
5. Demand that the constitution guarantees the equality of women and men and penalizes all forms of discrimination and violence against women.
6. Demand a constitution that guarantees the rights of equal citizenship to the Syrian people in all their diversity and affiliations.
7. Establish a clear timetable for the negotiation phase.
8. Urge all relevant international actors to end all forms of military support to the parties and call upon neighboring states to control their borders with Syria in accordance with international laws.
9. Develop a national Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration program.
10. Incorporate strategies to guarantee gender-sensitive transitional justice.
11. Prohibit the transitional government from entering into contractual agreements that extend beyond its tenure or from signing contracts that may bind the country beyond the transitional stage or threaten its independence in any way.
Demands related to the participation of women in the peace process
1. We call on the United Nations to uphold its commitments to implement Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, regarding the status of women in armed conflict. We ask the United Nations pressure on the international community and on the negotiating parties to guarantee the effective participation of women on all negotiating teams and committees in a proportion of no less than 30% for the duration of the negotiation process.
2. Ensure that representatives of women’s organizations and civil society organizations be included as observers in the negotiations.
3. Ensure the meaningful participation of women in the entire political process, including in the formation of the transitional governing body, the constitutional drafting committee, the drafting of the election law, mechanisms of transitional justice, the local administration and local committees for civil peace.
4. Appoint a Syrian gender advisor to the mediation team and establish communication channels to enable joint action and coordination with women’s and civil society organizations.
5. Exert pressure on all the parties and mobilize public opinion campaigns to uphold international commitments and ensure the implementation of the outcomes of the Geneva 2 conference.
6. Work with the mediation team to ensure that the negotiating parties adopt the document produced by this meeting.
7. Take all necessary measures to protect women who participate in negotiations and throughout the political process.
8. Build the capacity of Syrian women activists and civil society organizations in the areas of negotiation and peacebuilding skills.
I stand here humbled by what I have seen in this Kawrgosik refugee camp. I am particularly saddened to see so many young children and women and vulnerable groups of people who suffer from this man-made tragedy.
I am here to send our strong solidarity and support to all the refugees who came from Syria, on behalf of the United Nations and the international community. I am very happy to be joined by our distinguished High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres, and also Ms. Valerie Amos who is the head of humanitarian [affairs] and Emergency Relief Coordinator. We are also here to listen to the concerns and aspirations of all the refugees here.
What I have seen is heartbreaking. I have just met with a family in a refugee tent who have two young girls. I was very much saddened by their suffering. Families shared their struggles to survive, find their loved ones and cope with the sadness of those who have been lost. These families, they really wanted to have a better future –but they are now living in fear and uncertainty for their future.
The Syrian government has retaken territory around the northern city of Aleppo, the military said on Tuesday, after two weeks of rebel infighting that has weakened the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.
The internecine conflict among some within the chaotic plethora of rebel groups will allow Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative in Syria to a radical Islamist regime when peace talks begin in Switzerland on January 22.
His military advances will give the Syrian government delegation greater leverage at the negotiating table.
An army statement said government forces had pushed out from their base at Aleppo's international airport, southeast of the city, and were moving towards an industrial complex used as a rebel base and the al-Bab road, urgently needed by insurgents to supply the half of Aleppo under their control.
It said that government forces, along with militia loyal to Assad, were in "complete control" of the Naqareen, Zarzour, Taaneh and Subeihieh areas along the eastern side of Aleppo, which was the major Arab country's commercial hub and most populous city before the conflict erupted in 2011.
Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.
Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn't obtain medical aid, residents said.
"There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin," said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.
"Children are crying from hunger. The hospital has no medicine. People are just dying," she told the AP by telephone, adding that her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were rapidly losing weight from lack of food.