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UN green light for aid to Idlib puts miseries of Syria’s war into stark relief

WASHINGTON D.C.:  Airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure in the rebel-held enclave of Idlib in Syria have become so common in recent months, they have ceased to be considered news by many Western media outlets, human-rights campaigners say. According to Syrian Civil Defense, the rebel-affiliated first responders also known as the White Helmets, attacks by the Bashar…

WASHINGTON D.C.:  Airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure in the rebel-held enclave of Idlib in Syria have become so common in recent months, they have ceased to be considered news by many Western media outlets, human-rights campaigners say.

According to Syrian Civil Defense, the rebel-affiliated first responders also known as the White Helmets, attacks by the Bashar Assad regime and its foreign military backers have intensified, maiming and killing scores of children.

One photograph released by the White Helmets in mid-November shows first responders lifting the lifeless body of a little girl from the rubble of what used to be her home. Such images were once front-page news. Now they barely register on the news media’s radar.

Syria’s White Helmets volunteers search through the rubble of a building destroyed by an exploding bomb in Idlib. (AFP file photo)

Since June this year, the White Helmets have documented the deaths of 63 children in air and artillery attacks on rebel-held northwest Syria. To highlight the issue, the group has launched a social media hashtag campaign, #ChildrenUnderAttack.

Northwest Syria does receive a modicum of media attention every time the UN extends a measure that allows cross-border aid into the region for a period of six months, as happened on Monday. Roughly three million people live in Idlib, which remains outside the Assad regime’s control.

The green light for continued passage of humanitarian supplies through the crossing at Bab Al-Hawa, on the Syrian-Turkey border, was given even though the Assad government did not approve the move and the Security Council did not vote on the matter.

Many analysts argue that Assad has “won” the Syrian civil war and therefore the international community ought to accept the new status quo. However, teachers in rebel-held areas have said it is wrong for the world to simply turn a blind eye to the regime’s crimes.

School staff in Idlib recently published an open letter with the help of a UK-based charity, The Syria Campaign, urging world leaders not to forget the region’s children who live under almost daily bombardment.

“We are the teachers of students in northwest Syria who are deliberately targeted in their homes, classrooms and as they walk to school,” the letter states. “We go to work afraid of another attack, and of another traumatizing day, which we know will affect our pupils for the rest of their lives.

“Our letter could not be more urgent. Early on Wednesday, October 20, four students and our colleague, Arabic teacher Qamar Hafez, were tragically killed on their way to school when Syrian government forces attacked the town of Ariha in southern Idlib with artillery shells.

Children attend the first day of school in a village in the countryside of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Oct.  9, 2021. (Omar Haj Kadour / AFP)

“One million children in Idlib are terrified they might be next or they might lose their best friend at any moment. Like teachers everywhere, we are deeply committed to the children we teach, and we do all we can to try to protect them, but it is not enough. We need world leaders to stop the attacks, and ensure that children are safe and able to continue their education.”

Children have suffered the brunt of the Syrian conflict, which began more than a decade ago when anti-government protests met with violent repression, sparking a civil war.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, another UK-based monitor, at least 29,661 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011 — 22,930 of them at the hands of regime forces.

In its latest report, published on Nov. 20 to coincide with World Children’s Day, the network said at least 1,197 schools and 29 kindergartens had been completely or partially destroyed across Syria since March 2011.

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

An estimated 2.5 million children in Syria are out of school, with another 1.6 million at risk of dropping out, according to UNICEF, which estimates that nine in 10 children in Syria live in poverty and more than 5,700 children — some as young as seven — have been recruited to fight.

According to UNICEF, 512 children were killed in attacks last year, most of them in northwest Syria. Around 1.7 million vulnerable children reside in the rebel-held areas, most of whom have been displaced multiple times by successive regime offensives. There are currently at least 2.5 million displaced children in Syria.

First responders have catalogued the impact of the war on the mental health of children living in the region’s displacement camps. Humanitarian aid workers have referred to the trend as a “psychological disaster that threatens this generation, and future generations of Syria.”

Speaking to Arab News, Layla Hasso, a Syrian advocacy director for the Hurras Network, a child protection NGO, said: “The goal is to terrify the half million children who live in Idlib province and to send a clear message to their families that there is no future for their children here. It’s why civilians are being targeted at their homes, schools, hospitals.

Pictures of Syrian regime victims are displayed during a protest in Koblenz, Germany, during the trial of two former Syrian officials accused for crimes against humanity. (AFP file)

“This is what I call terrorism and it has to stop. The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this horror.”

However, anecdotal evidence suggests news consumers across the world are fatigued by the unending stream of images of devastation emanating from the region. As a result, global concern over Syria and its people has declined noticeably in recent years.

Analysts say this indifference, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, has emboldened the regime to continue its bombing campaign. By giving the Syrian crisis a human face, The Syria Campaign hopes to revive international interest in the plight of Idlib’s children.

“Teachers joined together to write this letter to remind world leaders that Syrian and Russian forces continue to bomb civilians, including children, in northwest Syria with zero accountability,” Sara Hashash, communications director at The Syria Campaign, told Arab News.

Children in northwest Syria are unable to go to school due to constant bombing and displacement. (AFP photo)

“Children in northwest Syria are traumatized and unable to go to school due to constant bombing and displacement. A child has been killed almost every other day for the past four months.

“On Nov. 15, two children were killed by Syrian regime artillery shelling on Kafr Nouran in the Aleppo countryside. It’s frustrating that many of these attacks no longer get widespread media coverage.”

The result of the media silence on the issue has been political inaction. Already the Assad regime is being welcomed back into the regional fold. Many feel it is perhaps only a matter of time before Western and moderate Arab powers accept that Assad is here to stay.

In remarks to reporters on Nov. 11, Ned Price, the US State Department spokesperson, said: “This (Biden) administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar Assad, who is a brutal dictator.”

A Syrian air force MiG-23 jet drops a payload during an air strike in the rebel-held town of Arbin in Eastern Ghouta region, outskirts of the Damascus, on Feb. 7, 2018. (AFP)

He said: “There has been no change in our position and Bashar Assad certainly has not said anything that would rehabilitate his image or that would suggest that he or his regime is changing its ways.”

In his column in Asharq Al-Awsat, the Syrian commentator Ibrahim Hamidi recently wrote: “As it stands, the room for confrontation is now limited to two options: The first is engaging Assad and ending Damascus’ isolation with the hope of easing Iran’s influence. Some Arab countries have indeed forged ahead with normalization, demanding that Damascus begin reining in Iran in Syria and the region.

“The second option lies in banking on the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ability to rein in Iran. This option stems from the position that the war had brought together Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in Syria, but peace and normalization will pull them apart.”

INNUMBERS

2.5 million Children out of school in Syria.

9/10 Living in poverty.

5,700 Recruited to fight.

(Source: UNICEF)

For better or worse, according to Sara Hashash, the normalization effort is still limited to regional leaders. “On an international level, Assad is still largely isolated and dependent on the backing of Russia and Iran, and heavily sanctioned by the US and EU,” she told Arab News.

“Regional leaders who seem to be ready to move on from Assad’s crimes must be reminded that there can be no real peace in Syria without justice and accountability.”

According to the White Helmets, the number of civilian casualties has increased dramatically since the regime and Russia began using Krasnopol laser-guided artillery. The group says several members of the same family are often killed in such strikes.

The White Helmets allege that regime artillery and Russian jets have deliberately targeted schools and deprived children of an education.

In many cases, entire families are killed in indiscrimate shellings and bombings by the Assad regime. (AFP file photo)

Reports from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic corroborate many of their claims that residential areas, markets and medical facilities have been deliberately targeted, often indiscriminately.

With the Russian military in control over Idlib’s airspace and operating an airbase in neighboring Lattakia province, local medical and aid workers are unequivocal in pointing the finger of blame.

The Russian government has consistently and strenuously denied responsibility for the airstrikes, as well as accusations that its forces indiscriminately attack civilians.

Against this backdrop of conflicting accounts, Hashash has a message for the international media: It must speak to Syrians to amplify their voices and ensure their narrative is highlighted when reporting on the war-torn country.

“When stories are told, the world will listen,” she said.

________________

• Twitter: @OS26

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Serie A on the verge of financial ruin, says Inter CEO Marotta

Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver…

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Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two E-Prix victories to date – one that set the course for De Vries to eventually clinch a dramatic maiden championship for both himself and his team. Last year, under lights for the first time in the series’ history, and swaying between the 21 turns that sweep the street circuit of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there was a real romance to the races in Saudi Arabia. And De Vries – who won the first of February 2021’s season-opening double-header – was one of many that were left captivated. “It’s probably unfair to ask a driver what their favourite track is because we’re biassed, but Diriyah is definitely my favourite track on the calendar,” said De Vries on the eve of the 26-year-old’s first defence of his world title. “It treated me well last year and also in my first Formula E race back in 2019. I really like the layout because it’s twisty but fast at the same time, the slowest corner is not actually considered a slow-speed corner according to Formula E metrics. “I enjoy racing there and competing at night makes it a bit more special and unique, at night everything becomes a bit more intense and there’s more emotion.” In ABB FIA Formula E, all of that intensity, all of that emotion, is played out at speeds of up to 280 km/h and Diriyah’s third year on the E-Prix circuit set the tone for a thrilling championship in 2021. De Vries, who also emerged victorious in Valencia two stops later, eventually held out on the final race of the year to secure the drivers’ championship by just seven points. His efforts helped his Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team seal the double by an even finer margin, with four points all the separated Mercedes and Jaguar Racing by the time the chequered flag fell on the final race in Berlin last August. De Vries and Mercedes are now well-polished outfits going into the 2022 championship, but the same couldn’t be said when they entered ABB FIA Formula E hand-in-hand with Diriyah three years ago. “In 2019, I started my Formula E season before I could end my Formula 2 season so there was very little time for me to adapt and get ready,” De Vries reflected. “I did a test in the summer but I remember that we didn’t have a lot of time. It was still a very new team. Not only was I very much a rookie, but I felt like we all were as a team.” Clearly, both driver and team have come a long way since and there has been no let up for either since becoming the first ABB FIA Formula E winners under the FIA’s banner. After the final race in Berlin last year, De Vries went on to contest two rounds of the European Le Mans Series before the year was out and produced fastest times in testing for both IndyCar and FIA Formula One in December. Having described his team’s pre-Christmas testing in Valencia as going “very smoothly”, De Vries – one of the most sought-after drivers in motorsport – says the variety of his packed personal schedule helps ensure the Uitwellingerga-native remains razor sharp behind the wheel. “The only way to keep myself on my toes is to continue to race,” he explained. “I certainly want to stay in Formula E, no doubt about it. I personally believe that it’s important for a driver to stay active and continue practising racing skills in different disciplines.” Despite heading to Saudi Arabia as champion, De Vries isn’t feeling any extra pressure as he moves from being the hunter to the hunted. He added: “I’m very much looking forward to a new season and a new championship. We’re the reigning champions and I’m looking forward to being in a position to defend those championships. We have a lot of positivity and excitement in our team, we’re growing as a family and I’m very much looking forward to a new season. “There’s always pressure, I’m always nervous and I’m always stressed on race days because I care and I want to do well and I want to deliver. But being the reigning champion doesn’t change anything. I’m very grateful that I was privileged enough to experience winning the championship and everything that comes with it but there’s no added pressure.” With that being said, all eyes will be on De Vries when he returns to Diriyah for the first E-Prix of the new campaign from 28-29 January. He will no doubt be looking to write another memorable chapter of his career at the circuit he loves and, with fans back in the grandstands, De Vries was quick to share some advice for any young Saudis looking to take a leaf out of his book and pursue a career in motorsport. “Follow your passion and your dreams,” said De Vries. “No one has the right to take courage away from you or say something is impossible. “It’s a tough journey if you set yourself a goal and you always keep that in mind and work towards that then hard work pays off and further down the line you will get to where you want to be. It’s not always that straight forward but I’d say follow your passions and your dreams and believe in them.”

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Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix

RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two…

RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two E-Prix victories to date – one that set the course for De Vries to eventually clinch a dramatic maiden championship for both himself and his team. Last year, under lights for the first time in the series’ history, and swaying between the 21 turns that sweep the street circuit of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there was a real romance to the races in Saudi Arabia. And De Vries – who won the first of February 2021’s season-opening double-header – was one of many that were left captivated. “It’s probably unfair to ask a driver what their favourite track is because we’re biassed, but Diriyah is definitely my favourite track on the calendar,” said De Vries on the eve of the 26-year-old’s first defence of his world title. “It treated me well last year and also in my first Formula E race back in 2019. I really like the layout because it’s twisty but fast at the same time, the slowest corner is not actually considered a slow-speed corner according to Formula E metrics. “I enjoy racing there and competing at night makes it a bit more special and unique, at night everything becomes a bit more intense and there’s more emotion.” In ABB FIA Formula E, all of that intensity, all of that emotion, is played out at speeds of up to 280 km/h and Diriyah’s third year on the E-Prix circuit set the tone for a thrilling championship in 2021. De Vries, who also emerged victorious in Valencia two stops later, eventually held out on the final race of the year to secure the drivers’ championship by just seven points. His efforts helped his Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team seal the double by an even finer margin, with four points all the separated Mercedes and Jaguar Racing by the time the chequered flag fell on the final race in Berlin last August. De Vries and Mercedes are now well-polished outfits going into the 2022 championship, but the same couldn’t be said when they entered ABB FIA Formula E hand-in-hand with Diriyah three years ago. “In 2019, I started my Formula E season before I could end my Formula 2 season so there was very little time for me to adapt and get ready,” De Vries reflected. “I did a test in the summer but I remember that we didn’t have a lot of time. It was still a very new team. Not only was I very much a rookie, but I felt like we all were as a team.” Clearly, both driver and team have come a long way since and there has been no let up for either since becoming the first ABB FIA Formula E winners under the FIA’s banner. After the final race in Berlin last year, De Vries went on to contest two rounds of the European Le Mans Series before the year was out and produced fastest times in testing for both IndyCar and FIA Formula One in December. Having described his team’s pre-Christmas testing in Valencia as going “very smoothly”, De Vries – one of the most sought-after drivers in motorsport – says the variety of his packed personal schedule helps ensure the Uitwellingerga-native remains razor sharp behind the wheel. “The only way to keep myself on my toes is to continue to race,” he explained. “I certainly want to stay in Formula E, no doubt about it. I personally believe that it’s important for a driver to stay active and continue practising racing skills in different disciplines.” Despite heading to Saudi Arabia as champion, De Vries isn’t feeling any extra pressure as he moves from being the hunter to the hunted. He added: “I’m very much looking forward to a new season and a new championship. We’re the reigning champions and I’m looking forward to being in a position to defend those championships. We have a lot of positivity and excitement in our team, we’re growing as a family and I’m very much looking forward to a new season. “There’s always pressure, I’m always nervous and I’m always stressed on race days because I care and I want to do well and I want to deliver. But being the reigning champion doesn’t change anything. I’m very grateful that I was privileged enough to experience winning the championship and everything that comes with it but there’s no added pressure.” With that being said, all eyes will be on De Vries when he returns to Diriyah for the first E-Prix of the new campaign from 28-29 January. He will no doubt be looking to write another memorable chapter of his career at the circuit he loves and, with fans back in the grandstands, De Vries was quick to share some advice for any young Saudis looking to take a leaf out of his book and pursue a career in motorsport. “Follow your passion and your dreams,” said De Vries. “No one has the right to take courage away from you or say something is impossible. “It’s a tough journey if you set yourself a goal and you always keep that in mind and work towards that then hard work pays off and further down the line you will get to where you want to be. It’s not always that straight forward but I’d say follow your passions and your dreams and believe in them.”

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Family of murdered Yasmin Chkaifi praise ‘hero’ driver who tried to stop attacker

LONDON: A UK Muslim leader said on Tuesday that the findings of a survey on Islamophobia had highlighted “the pervasive nature of the problem” in Britain. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, revealed that Islamophobia had passed the so-called dinner table test in being considered suitable for polite conversation and socially acceptable.…

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LONDON: A UK Muslim leader said on Tuesday that the findings of a survey on Islamophobia had highlighted “the pervasive nature of the problem” in Britain. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, revealed that Islamophobia had passed the so-called dinner table test in being considered suitable for polite conversation and socially acceptable. Titled, “The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain,” the survey found that Muslims were the UK’s second least-liked group after gypsy and Irish travelers, with 25.9 percent of the British public feeling negative toward Muslims, and 9.9 percent very negative. Speaking at the report’s launch, Zara Mohammed, the first female secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Islamophobia was definitely real, contrary to what some people thought, and that it impacted on all aspects of society. “I think what’s really great about this report and its contribution to the body of evidence is that it shows us not just the pervasive nature of the problem but also that Muslims are some of the least-liked people in the population. “In my one year so far as the secretary-general of the MCB, what we have seen is unfortunately a very changing landscape for British Muslims and one that is becoming increasingly hostile. “This is the reality of how Muslims are perceived in everyday Britain, and that is in 2022 as well,” she added. More than one-in-four people quizzed for the survey, and nearly half of Conservative Party supporters and those who voted to leave the EU, held conspiratorial views that “no-go areas” in the UK existed where Shariah law ruled. And 26.5 percent of those questioned agreed with the statement that, “there are areas in Britain that operate under Shariah law where non-Muslims are not able to enter,” the study said. Among Conservative Party voters and those who elected to leave the EU, the figure increased to 43.4 percent. A further 36.3 percent of Brits said they thought that “Islam threatens the British way of life,” and 18.1 percent supported, and 9.5 percent strongly supported, the idea of banning all Muslim migration to the UK. “British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught. “In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgement, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic. Prejudice toward Islam is not simply ignorance, then, but miseducation and misrecognition,” the study report added. Mohammed pointed out that Islamophobia had a very real knock-on impact on the everyday lives of Muslims, and she welcomed the academic evidence contained in reports such as the latest one written by Stephen Jones and Amy Unsworth. She noted that it was important to document the problem and share data with policy makers when asking for change. “In some ways it empowers Muslim communities to say, ‘don’t think it’s in your heads, actually something needs to be done.’ “The government’s own evidence on hate crime found that 40 percent of all those facing hate crime were Muslims. This is very much a real problem and I’m hoping that on the back of the work that Prof. Jones has done, we will all be able to benefit from it and use it in our campaigns, activism, and conversations. “Whilst Islamophobia has certainly passed the dinner table test, it’s time for us to be able to move forward and make a real change, and the MCB remains committed to doing that,” Mohammed said. MP Nusrat Ghani speaks during a session in Parliament in London, Britain. (File/Reuters) The survey launch has coincided with news headlines about British Muslim Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani’s claims that her faith was given as a reason for her sacking as a government minister in 2020. She said she was told that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting and that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable.” “It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless,” she added. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into the claims. On Ghani’s allegations, Mohammed said they “highlighted just how systemic and institutional the problem of Islamophobia is. It hits hard, and it hits deep.” She added that Islamophobia, “isn’t just in our heads, and just over this weekend we have seen at the heart of politics how this also plays out. “What is actually being done? What is the approach of decision makers to tackling the problem, if any?” She said the MCB had been working to push for the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. According to the APPG definition, Islamophobia was rooted in racism and was a type of racism that targeted expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness. The definition was widely endorsed throughout Muslim communities, political parties, and civil society. However, the ruling Conservative Party rejected the APPG definition in 2019 and said it needed “more consideration.” The late James Brokenshire, Britain’s communities secretary at the time, told the House of Commons that the APPG definition was not in line with the Equality Act 2010, and that two advisers would be appointed to come up with a definition that was. However, an imam appointed by ministers as a key adviser on Islamophobia, said on Monday he had been ignored by No. 10 and Michael Gove, the UK’s secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government. Imam Qari Asim, who was asked to help draw up a definition of Islamophobia, told The Times that he had not received replies to emails and letters that he sent to the government over more than two years since he was appointed.

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