The myth of the “Secularism” of the Assads

WRITTEN BY JEAN -PIERRE FILIU, translated by Mary Rizzo

04/07/2014 or 07/04/2014 Oz time

fromwewritewhatwelike

Among the arguments put forward constantly by proponents of the Syrian dictatorship , standing out is the presumed ” secularism” of the Assad regime. It is striking that “secularism” is associated with the illusory protection of minorities (while the percentage of Christians in the Syrian population has halved since the advent of Hafez Assad in 1970) and the promotion of women’s rights.

Yet these two concepts have nothing to do with secularism, which expresses the neutrality of the State towards all faiths, whether they can be labelled as religious or not. The French Republic had built its secularism during the crisis with the Catholic Church and the events that emerged thereof.

The separation of church and state in 1905, in France came 40 years before the right to vote for women. And the French Revolution had, according to the famous formula of one of its members, recognised establishment of the rights of religious minorities as rights due to citizens, and not to a community.

This has not prevented the Arab dictators to enhance the idea of their “commitment” to the emancipation of women (Ben Ali in Tunisia) or for the protection of minorities (Copts in Egypt by Mubarak). This has brought about a paternalistic strategy of their propaganda towards the population (“without me, poor subjects, there exists only the greatest threat), and their seemingly “progressive” appearance on the international scene (I’m the only bulwark against the forces of darkness, Islamism, or Al Qaeda).

Yet, never has been such a lie been brought to the level that the Assad regime has taken it.

Hafez al-Assad, the founder of the dynasty, took power in 1970 against those who drafted – the year before – the only constitution in the history of Syria that could actually be described as “secular “. Assad the father “regulated” his manoeuver with a masquerade election, in 1971, attributing 99.2% of the votes to its sole candidate.

It amended the Constitution in 1973 to guarantee the explicit belonging of the Head of State to the Muslim religion.

The term “secularism” is absent from the official propaganda, which celebrates its successes with the words “socialist” and “nationalist” of the Assad regime. In 1979, the Syrian Baath Party, officially “Arab” and “socialist”, had allied with the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Iraqi Baath Party. This alliance, sealed by the war launched by Tehran against Baghdad in 1980, remains the same until this day.

Assad father and son support a Ministry of Religious Affairs (known as “Waqf”) and a Mufti of the Republic to establish an Islamic bureaucracy. The management of a body of religious officials is the exact opposite of the secular separation of religion and state. In Syria, the Imams are expected every Friday to celebrate the glory of the Head of State and his achievements.

In addition to this ministry integrated with the machine politics of the dictatorship, Assad has co-opted Sunni personalities, responsible for consolidating the presidential legitimacy in the ranks of the majority community in Syria. We should remember that, in the absence of official statistics, the percentage of Sunnis in Syria is estimated at four-fifths (mainly Arabs, with a Kurdish minority) and 12% are Alawites (all ethnically Arabs).

Among these public figures, the most notable were Kaftaro Sheikh Ahmad, who died in 2004, and Sheikh Ramadan al-Bouti, who was killed in a bombing in 2013. Both were known for their unconditional support to the Assad regime, and their vigorous attacks against the principle of secularism, which was considered as godlessness.

In February 2006, it was in Damascus where there were the most violent protests against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in the press of the West: the Syrian secret police organised events that led to the attack of the French Embassy and the destruction of the embassies of Denmark and Norway.

Those who still believe in the “secularism” of Bashar al-Assad could, for example, see this press release by Government Information (SANA) relative to the preaching at the end of Ramadan 2012 (Eid al-Fitr): “The sheikh leading the ceremony praised the struggle of the Head of State at the service of Islam against “conspiracy and terrorism.”

http://sana.sy/fra/51/2012/08/19/437134.htm

But there are none so deaf as those who will not hear …

* Jean -Pierre Filiu is a university lecturer at Sciences Po (Paris).

Arabist and historian, specialist in contemporary Islam.

After a long diplomatic career, he devoted himself to academic research, and has held various positions at prestigious American universities. He is the author of several important books on the Middle East and his essays have been published in a dozen languages ​​.

One of his latest books is dedicated to Syria: “I am writing of Aleppo” (Denoël , 2013).

Original: http://syriemdl.net/2014/04/02/le-mythe-de-la-laicite-des-assad/

Palestinians demand release of jailed leader Barghouti

Published March 27th, 2014

As part of their tit-for-tat negotiations with Israel, Palestinians have demanded the release of political prisoner Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti was arrested in 2002, and convicted by an Israeli court in 2004. He is serving five life sentences, one for each of the murders he is allegedly responsible for, though Barghouti continues to deny allegations that he directly ordered the killings.

Barghouti’s case is a controversial one because despite a significant number of Israelis viewing him as a terrorist, many people, both Israelis and Palestinians, believe he may be their best hope for arriving at a two-state solution.

The Guardian reports Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife, visits him twice a month for 45 minutes at a time. She brings him books — he reads voraciously — news of their grown children, and updates on the peace talks. Several times throughout Barghouti’s imprisonment, the possibility of negotiations for his release have arisen, yet still he remains behind bars.

“He has spent 18 years of his life in an Israeli prison. He was deported for seven years. It has been a long and horrible journey,” says Fadwa. “Despite all this he believes the conflict should be resolved by a two-state solution. He does not believe there is an alternative in a one-state solution except more bloodshed and more agony.”

According to Ziad Abu Ein, his longtime friend and colleague, Barghouti advocates civil disobedience, not armed struggle, to protest Israel’s occupation.

These renewed calls for Marwan Barghouti’s release come at a time when Barghouti has gained considerable political clout as an iconic Palestinian figure. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even asked President Obama to put pressure on Israel to release Barghouti during his visit to the White House last week.

Perhaps because Barghouti seems his likely successor.

Barghouti has tremendous public support — News of Barghouti’s potential release swayed Palestinian opinion, from 75 percent being against talks with Israel to 50 percent now supporting negotiations — and is a strong candidate to replace Mahmoud Abbas as president of Palestine, a development that could make his continued imprisonment a politically compromising position for Israel.

Speaking to the Guardian, Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli politician long opposed to Marwan’s incarceration, said, “If Mahmoud Abbas does not stand again for president and Barghouti does run, he will win easily. Then Israel will have the Palestinian president in jail.”

FGM: UK’s first female genital mutilation prosecutions announced

Via AHA

21 MAY 2013
BBC News

An offence was allegedly carried out by a doctor at the Whittington Hospital in London

The first UK prosecutions over female genital mutilation have been announced by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, 31, of Ilford, east London, will be prosecuted for an alleged offence while working at the Whittington Hospital in London.

Hasan Mohamed, 40, of Holloway, north London, faces a charge of intentionally encouraging female genital mutilation.

Dr Dharmasena and Mr Mohamed will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 15 April.
‘Sufficient evidence’

In a statement, director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders said the CPS was asked by the Metropolitan Police to consider evidence in relation to an allegation of female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM includes procedures that alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
About 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. Dangers include severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and increased risk of death for newborns. (From WHO data)

It was alleged that following a patient giving birth in November 2012, a doctor at the Whittington Hospital repaired female genital mutilation that had previously been performed on the woman, allegedly carrying out female genital mutilation himself.

Ms Saunders said: “Having carefully considered all the available evidence, I have determined there is sufficient evidence and it would be in the public interest to prosecute Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena for an offence contrary to S1 (1) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003).

“I have also determined that Hasan Mohamed should face one charge of intentionally encouraging an offence of FGM, contrary to section 44(1) of the Serious Crime Act (2007), and a second charge of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring Dr Dharmasena to commit an offence contrary to S1 (1) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003).

“These decisions were taken in accordance with the code for crown prosecutors.”

NHS trust Whittington Health, which runs the Whittington Hospital, said it had contacted police and started its own investigation when staff raised concerns following a birth in November 2012.

The CPS has decided to take no further action in four other cases of alleged FGM.

In one of those cases it was alleged that two parents had arranged for their daughter to undergo female genital mutilation while abroad.

In another, a suspect contacted an FGM helpline to request the procedure for his two daughters after misunderstanding the purpose of the service for victims. The CPS is currently considering whether to proceed with four other cases.

Prosecutors have also had discussions with police over investigations into two further cases, which are at an early stage.

‘Unforgivable’

The UK has in the past been compared unfavourably to other countries over the issue, such as France where there have been more than 100 successful prosecutions.

MPs have said it is “unforgivable” that there have been no UK prosecutions since laws against FGM were introduced nearly 30 years ago. This was despite more than 140 referrals to police in the past four years.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 replaced a 1985 Act, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, raising the maximum penalty from five to 14 years in prison.

It also made it an offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to carry out FGM abroad even in countries where it is legal.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the government had “stepped up its response” to “take this crime out of the shadows” and give victims the confidence to come forward.

He said the “key message” was that the government took FGM “extremely seriously”.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is writing to every school in England to ask them to help protect girls from FGM.

Where is Australia at?

South Australian provisions

The ABC reported on Sept. 14 2012 that prosecutions occurred in NSW stating that it was unlikely to be an isolated incident. It is very likely that these procedures are occurring in Australia under Medicare and state Hospital funding. This most often occurs after the infibulated woman presents for pre-natal care etc. and requires reopening in order to safely deliver their baby and is re-stitched after the birth. Many women require stitching after giving birth and these procedures fall under the radar as they receive a few extra to restore their previous pre-admission condition.

Palestinians seek Barghouti’s release as condition for extending talks

Free Marwan Barghouti

Free Marwan Barghouti


A rising star in the dominant Fatah party before he was captured by Israeli troops in 2002. Marwan Barghouti could be the key to keeping talks alive.

By The Associated Press | Mar. 19, 2014 | 11:01 PM

The Palestinians are seeking the freedom of Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences for his alleged role in killings of Israelis, as part of any plan to extend negotiations with Israel beyond an April deadline, several top officials said.

A prominent Palestinian uprising leader imprisoned by Israel, Barghouti could soon emerge as the key to keeping fragile U.S.-led peace efforts alive.

A release of Barghouti, a popular figure among Palestinians, could inject new life into the troubled peace process, boost embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and even provide the Palestinians with a plausible successor to their 78-year-old leader.

But Israel seems unlikely to approve the request, setting the stage for a possible breakdown in the talks.

The Palestinians have two demands for an extension: a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the release of the most senior prisoners held by Israel, first and foremost Barghouti, senior official Nabil Shaath and Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraq told AP.

Israel was already forced to release dozens of prisoners convicted of deadly violence to make the current round of talks possible, but Barghouti remains jailed.
With Israel not expected to halt settlement construction, the Palestinians say they will drive a tough bargain on the prisoner issue. Palestinian officials and Barghouti’s family said Abbas raised the issue of Barghouti’s release in his White House meeting this week with President Barack Obama.

“President Abbas demanded the release of the political leaders in jail like Marwan Barghouti, Ahmad Saadat and Fuad Shobaki,” said Qaraqi, the prisoner affairs minister.

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, said Abbas is “exerting his efforts to release Marwan and he is very serious about it.”

Israeli officials said the matter has not yet come in the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Saadat heads a faction that killed an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001 and is serving a 30-year sentence for allegedly participating in attacks. Shobaki, a former top Palestinian official, is the alleged mastermind of an attempt to smuggle a large shipment of weapons to the Palestinians on a ship that was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in 2002.

But no prisoner is more prized by the Palestinians than Barghouti, who was a rising star in the dominant Fatah party before he was captured by Israeli troops in 2002. Israel says Barghouti, 54, was a leader of the violent uprising in the West Bank early last decade. He is serving five life terms for alleged involvement in the deaths of four Israelis and a Greek monk.

The Palestinians say Barghouti is a politician who had no direct involvement in any of the killings.

Barghouti’s release could be critical for Abbas. The Palestinian leader has seen his popularity plummet due to the lack of progress in peace talks. Winning Barghouti’s freedom would be a huge moral victory for him.

And at almost 79, Abbas has recently acknowledged he cannot serve forever. Yet he has never designated a successor and is facing a rising challenge by an exiled former aide, Mohammed Dahlan. Barghouti is perhaps the only member of Fatah’s next generation of leaders with the gravitas to confront that challenge.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas desperately needs Barghouti’s release, both to justify continued talks with Israel and to finally have a clear successor.

Fadwa Barghouti said her husband remains intimately involved in Palestinian affairs from his cell in an isolated bloc of the Hadarim prison in central Israel.

She said he shares a cell with two other men and is allowed to go outdoors into a courtyard twice a day – one hour each time – for exercise and a walk. She said he starts his day with exercise and then reads four Israeli newspapers. In addition to his native Arabic, Barghouti speaks Hebrew and English.

As a member of Fatah’s leadership, Barghouti is briefed on the negotiations through his wife, who is in close contact with the Palestinian leadership and visits him twice a month.

“He was hoping that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would succeed in striking a deal based on the Israeli commitment to end the occupation on the 1967 borders,” she said.

Barghouti, like other Palestinian leaders, wants to establish an independent state in all of the territories captured by Israel in 1967: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, she said. Several past Israeli offers, by more moderate governments than Netanyahu’s, seemed to come close, but ultimately fell short.

The fate of the roughly 5,000 prisoners held by Israel is deeply emotional in Palestinian society. Virtually every Palestinian has a friend or relative who has served time in Israel, and the prisoners are revered a s freedom fighters.

But the issue is equally emotional for Israelis, who see prisoners like Barghouti as terrorists.

At the outset of talks last July, Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving prisoners in four stages. But the fourth and final stage, scheduled later this month, is suddenly in jeopardy.

The previous releases, including dozens of men who were convicted in deadly attacks, have been accompanied by jubilant celebrations by Palestinians and attended by Abbas himself, angering many in Israel. On Tuesday, Israel’s chief peace negotiator said the final release was not guaranteed unless there was progress in the talks.

For that reason, the release of Barghouti could become a contentious issue in the coming weeks. Israeli officials have rejected repeated attempts to include him in past prisoner releases.

Still, Israel could be tempted. During the peace talks of the 1990s, Barghouti was generally liked by the Israelis, had many friends among them, and was considered a moderate interlocutor. With many Israelis concerned that Abbas will be followed by more radical nationalists or Islamists, a Barghouti ascension, despite his supposed actions during the uprising, might not seem like the worst option.
Without a significant gesture, the Palestinians could soon walk away from the negotiating table.

Shaath gave a glimpse of what could lie ahead, saying the Palestinians would soon resume a campaign for UN recognition if Israel does not carry out the final scheduled prisoner release. Israel bitterly opposes the U.N. campaign, since the Palestinians have said they will use their enhanced international status to press for anti-Israel action. The Palestinians halted the campaign in exchange for Israel’s pledge to free prisoners.

“We committed to not applying to the UN agencies and Israel committed to release 104 prisoners in four batches,” he said. “That was the deal. If Israel breaches it, we will too.”

Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel and the Palestinians restarted negotiations last July, setting a nine-month target for wrapping up a comprehensive peac e deal establishing a Palestinian state and ending a century of conflict. After realizing this was unrealistic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry scaled back his ambitions and said he would aim for a “framework” peace deal by the April deadline.

With even that more modest goal in question, the sides are now searching for a formula that will allow the talks to continue.

The Palestinians have been skeptical about the chances of success, distrusting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A prolonging of the talks means continuing shelving of their previous plans to press for recognition, even without a peace deal, with various international bodies.

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Pussy Riot members beaten by Russian security officials with horsewhips in Sochi

From ABC News
(no author credited) 20 Feb. 2014

Members of Russian protest punk band Pussy Riot were attacked in Sochi by Cossack militia armed with horsewhips.

The scuffles came a day after band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were detained by police in the Russian Black Sea resort for several hours in connection with a theft case.

The latest fracas over their stay in Sochi came as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) warned the women that it would be “wholly inappropriate” to stage actions outside Winter Olympic venues.

The clash took place as Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and one other Pussy Riot member sought to stage an action in the centre of Sochi, about 30 kilometres north of the main Olympic Park.

They donned the coloured balaclavas and tights that are their group’s trademark but were immediately surrounded by uniformed security personnel who appeared to be Cossacks.

The women were whipped repeatedly with horsewhips and roughly handled, video footage showed bruises on Maria Alyokhina.

At one point Tolokonnikova was thrown to the ground and her coat thrown on top of her.

Several uniformed Cossacks, acting as security guards in Sochi, pulled the women’s ski-masks off them, punched them repeatedly and whipped them.

Tolokonnikova herself wrote on her Twitter feed @tolokno that they had been attempting to stage a new performance entitled “Putin will teach you to love the motherland”.

Alyokhina posted pictures on her Twitter feed of her chest, showing severe bruising after the clashes.

“My back hurts from the beatings on my body there are bruises and marks from the whips,” Tolokonnikova said.

“Putin will teach you to love the motherland,” she added ironically.

The women went to Sochi hospitals for medical treatment and Alyokhina later posted a picture of Tolokonnikova in the hospital bed next to her.

Tolokonnikova said her husband Pyotr Verzilov has suffered in particular due to the use of an unidentified spray.

Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region, which includes Sochi, said the incident had to be investigated, even if the views of Pussy Riot do not reflect the majority.

“All the guilty in what took place should be punished,” Mr Tkachev said.

The IOC distanced itself from the controversy over the arrest on Tuesday (local time), which rights groups described as a public relations disaster that cast a new shadow over the Games.

Jordan on slippery slope in Syria war

Summary
Jordanian officials worry that allowing the transport of weapons to Syrian rebels across Jordanian territory could make it a target of retaliation, while opening up its borders to foreign fighters.

From al-monitor

Author Osama Al Sharif
Posted February 18, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s news media regarded King Abdullah’s meeting with US President Barack Obama on Feb. 14 at the Sunnylands estate in southern California a success.

Abdullah announced that the United States would renew a five-year aid package — worth $660 million annually — in addition to guaranteeing $1 billion in loans aimed at supporting Jordan’s frail economy. The two leaders discussed the Syrian crisis and the prospects of US efforts to conclude peace between Israel and the Palestinians, two issues that affect Jordan directly.

The meeting coincided with news from Geneva that the second round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, under UN auspices, had failed. Speaking to reporters in the presence of Abdullah, Obama announced that he would be seeking “a more aggressive” and “immediate” stance on Syria, especially in delivering humanitarian aid. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared earlier that the president wanted to review fresh options on Syria and senior administration officials told reporters covering the king’s visit that all options remain on the table short of putting American boots on the ground.

These options remain undecided but observers here believe that the United States is considering supplying lethal arms to the Syrian rebels and that Jordan will soon find itself involved in this operation. On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal, quoting an unidentified Arab official and opposition sources, reported that Saudi Arabia would deliver Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADs, and anti-tank guided missiles from Russia to the rebels. It said that such weapons were already in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.

And popular columnist Abdel Bari Atwan wrote this week that former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford had asked the Syrian National Council to “heat up” the southern front in Daraa to increase pressure on the Assad regime. Atwan wrote that opening up the southern front, most of which is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, would certainly drag Jordan into the Syria crisis.

Since the collapse of the Geneva talks last week, the Syrian regime has widened the scope of its military operations, launching a sustained attack in the Qalamoun Mountains, north of Damascus, to occupy the strategic town of Yabrud. Kerry accused the Russians of enabling the Syrian government’s “pursuit of a military path.” The Russians retorted by blaming the opposition for the failure in Geneva. It is clear that the coming weeks will witness an increase in military confrontations.

Jordan had always denied reports that it had facilitated the passage of fighters and arms through its borders with Syria. The Syrian regime had warned Jordan not to get involved or bow to US and Saudi pressures. But since the summit in California, Jordanian officials have refused to comment on news that arms would be sent across the borders to Syrian rebels.

In fact, on Feb. 17 the government announced that the armed forces had prevented fighters from crossing from Syria to Jordan, wounding at least three. Jordan’s Salafists claimed that the army is not allowing Jordanian citizens, fighting in Syria, to return to Jordan.

It is not clear how Jordan will react to a Saudi or US request to deliver arms to Syrian rebels in Daraa. If the southern front did heat up, it would be a serious development for Jordan. The kingdom already hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees, mostly from southern Syria. If fresh fighting flared up in that region, it would create new waves of refugees. But more important, it would bring the fighting closer to Jordan’s borders.

Jordan has tried to distance itself from calls for regime change in Syria. In California, Abdullah underlined the need for a political solution in Syria without going into details. Jordan has kept the Syrian Embassy open in Amman while officials have deliberately avoided meeting the head of the Syrian National Council, Ahmad al-Jarba, publicly. Unconfirmed reports spoke of occasional intelligence cooperation between Amman and Damascus over the passage of arms and fighters.

Officials here would neither confirm nor deny Jordan’s participation last week in a secret meeting of top intelligence chiefs from regional and Western countries. The meeting in Washington, reported by The New York Times, included intelligence officials from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Britain, France and the United Arab Emirates, and several others from the 11-nation group known as the Friends of Syria. The purpose of the meeting, the newspaper said, was to discuss “how to best provide that new lethal aid to rebel groups.”

Jordan’s role in facilitating arms delivery through its borders is an open issue. Officials here insist that Jordan will have no such role, but if the southern front does explode then things could change on the ground. Abdullah has described Jordan as an oasis of stability in the region. So far it has avoided getting sucked into the Syrian crisis and averted any spillover. Obama’s fresh options on Syria, which include sending arms to the rebels, could end all that.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/jordan-syria-war-slippery-slope.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=1f1e05ec4f-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-1f1e05ec4f-93145129#ixzz2tpCkRCTZ

Turkey defers to Baghdad on oil from Iraqi Kurdistan

With hundred of thousands of barrels of its oil stuck in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, unable to be sold on the world market because of its continuing row with Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is discovering just how landlocked and boxed in it is in terms of utilizing the vast oil reserves under its control.

Summary
Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Baghdad and Ankara to facilitate an agreement.

From al-monitor

Author Semih Idiz
Posted February 18, 2014
Translator(s)Ezgi Akin

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani shuttled between Istanbul and Baghdad again in the last few days in a fresh attempt at overcoming the problem, but with little apparent success. Baghdad appears determined to stick to its guns and prevent the KRG from selling oil from northern Iraq unilaterally, saying this violates Iraq’s constitution.

Baghdad also has support from Washington, where administration officials fear the energy cooperation between Turkey and the KRG will increase the risk of splitting up Iraq — already in the throes of sectarian strife — and are consequently putting pressure on Ankara over its energy dealings with the Iraqi Kurds.

Iraq’s constitution says oil revenues, regardless of where the reserves are located in the country, have to go through Baghdad and allocates the autonomous Kurdish region 17% of total revenues.

Nouri al-Maliki’s government argues that the KRG can only export its oil after an agreement is reached between Erbil and Baghdad on how to proceed in this matter.

Baghdad has also threatened to cut the KRG out of its share of Iraq’s vast oil revenues, should it go ahead and sell its oil unilaterally.

Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told Reuters in January that the government would take legal action against Turkey and consider canceling all contracts with Turkish firms if Ankara enabled the exporting of KRG oil before an agreement between Erbil and Baghdad is reached.

Such an agreement, though, has been elusive because of Kurdish claims of sole ownership over oil reserves discovered in northern Iraq after the region gained political autonomy from Baghdad following the US invasion in 2003.

KRG officials are disappointed that a comprehensive package of agreements they signed with Turkey in November 2013 has not become fully operational yet.

The package includes an agreement on multibillion-dollar oil pipelines connecting northern Iraq with Turkey, which would enable the KRG to eventually export up to 2 million barrels of oil per day when fully implemented, making it an important regional energy player independent of the central government.

Currently the KRG is using the existing pipeline from Kirkuk — which technically remains under Baghdad’s control — to Ceyhan where Turkey has a storage capacity of 2.5 million barrels set aside for Kurdish oil. As of December, when the KRG’s connection to the Kirkuk pipeline was opened, the 425,000 barrels of Kurdish oil has been stored in Ceyhan waiting to be sold on world markets.

In the meantime, the KRG has been trucking small amounts of crude oil to Turkey for domestic consumption, but this is considered to be negligible compared with the potential that exists if the proposed system of pipelines is fully up and running.

There has been little love lost between the predominantly Sunni government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the predominantly Shiite Maliki government because of Turkey’s cooperation with the KRG in the energy field, as well as sectarian-based differences over Syria.

Ankara nevertheless appears reluctant to aggravate the situation with Iraq further given the increasing instability and turmoil in the region due to the Syria crisis, which has also left the two countries facing similar threats, especially from radical jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

There is also the estimated trade of about $12 billion annually between Turkey and Iraq that experts say has to be factored in by Ankara. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Iraqi capital in November for talks designed to smooth the path for a rapprochement between the sides and to lay the groundwork for a visit by Erdogan to Baghdad and Maliki to Ankara.

Those visits have yet to occur, however, and this may be an indication that differences remain which still have to be ironed out. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are said to be still suspicious of Turkey’s intentions.

“Turkey must now choose either to turn its back on Baghdad and go ahead with its deal with the Kurds, or suspend direct exports from the region until an agreement is reached between the central government and Erbil,” Reuters quoted an unnamed Iraqi official as saying in January.

“Unfortunately, facts on the ground show that Ankara eventually will go ahead with its deals with the Kurds at the expense of its relations with Baghdad,” the official added.

Iraqi suspicions increased after media reports in Turkey indicated that the first batch of KRG oil in Ceyhan, worth $90 million, had been sold through the Trans Petroleum Co. in Singapore without approval from Baghdad.

Ankara, however, has denied these reports. “Even if a barrel of oil had passed through Ceyhan, Baghdad would have been informed of this and a daily receipt would have been given to the central government noting how much of a sale was made,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told members of the Petroleum Platform Association in the city of Kayseri on Feb. 17.

“This is Iraq’s oil, not Turkey’s. Thus, Baghdad will be informed, because it is an issue related to Iraq’s income. So far, there has not been any oil that has gone through Ceyhan, but this does not mean it won’t be transferred in the future. We’ll share all information with Baghdad,” Yildiz added.

Barzani arrived in Istanbul on Feb. 14, where he held talks with Erdogan and Yildiz to see how the problem could be overcome. Two days later, he was in Baghdad for talks on the topic, which reportedly produced little, if any, results.

The KRG and the central government have failed to resolve their differences despite a US-sponsored “seven-point agreement” signed between Barzani and Maliki in April 2013.

Tellingly, though, the sides were not prepared to give the impression of a breakdown in talks after Barzani’s failed mission to Baghdad this week. “Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement over the outstanding issues between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq,” a statement from Maliki’s office in Baghdad said later, indicating that the talks would go on.

Meanwhile, there are those who argue that the KRG and Baghdad are actually making progress. Reuters quoted Mehmet Sepil, the president of Anglo-Turkish firm Genel Energy, on Feb. 6 as saying, “We have never been this close to a deal.” Sepil added, “The issues that caused an impasse have been identified. There’s been quite a bit of progress made.”

While the KRG and Baghdad remain locked in tough negotiations, the Kurdish media are reporting that the KRG is ultimately relying on the presence in northern Iraq of giant international oil companies, including ExxonMobil of the United States, Total of France and Gazprom Neft of Russia, to alter the picture to the KRG’s advantage.

“These companies are so powerful that they can change national policies,” the English-language edition of the Kurdish daily Rudaw reported on Feb. 17, also indicating that “from the very beginning of the row (with Baghdad) it has been obvious that, one way or another, Kurdish oil will flow overseas.”

The Financial Times, in a report on Jan. 26 bound to have displeased the Kurdish leadership, indicated, however, that although Kurdish crude is now flowing to Ceyhan, where it is being stored, major oil companies are shying away from responding to the KRG’s call for bids for this oil.

“We will not be involved in KRG tenders until we have a much better understanding of the ramifications for our relationship with Iraq,” the paper quoted an unnamed senior executive from what it said was one of the world’s largest energy companies.

It’s “obvious that, one way or another, Kurdish oil will flow overseas,” as Rudaw put it, but it seems that this will not be exclusively on Kurdish terms if the emerging picture is anything to go by.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/turkey-baghdad-oil-kurdistan-region-iraq.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=1f1e05ec4f-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-1f1e05ec4f-93145129#ixzz2tp8sMNg8

Campaigners welcome Hamid Karzai’s intervention on domestic abuse law

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has blocked a law that would silence victims of domestic violence, forced marriage and child abuse and demanded major revisions after a campaign by Afghan activists and western diplomats.

The legislation bans relatives from testifying against each other, and in a country where forensic evidence is relatively undeveloped, that would effectively halt prosecution in even the most vicious cases of violence against women, including those mutilated by their husbands or attacked by brothers and fathers.

The provision was inserted into a new criminal prosecution code, much needed and years in the making, at the last minute. It was steered through parliament by a prominent opponent of women’s rights, and conservative MPs resisted efforts to moderate the strict controls.

They apparently also had backing from some sections of government; early on Monday, a justice ministry official told the Guardian that western embassies had simply “misunderstood” the law, and that the expected confusion be resolved soon and without any changes needed.

But just a few hours later, a cabinet meeting chaired by Karzai ordered alterations to the brief section of the law causing the problems, his spokeswoman Adela Raz said. “At the meeting, His Excellency the President, and the cabinet, decided that article 26 needs to be amended.”

She declined to say how the law would be altered, but the public repudiation of what would have been a devastating step backwards for Afghan women was welcomed by activists and diplomats. They had mounted a vigorous lobbying campaign, both in public and behind the scenes, since the legislation first came to light earlier this month.

“Who says advocacy and lobbying does not work? It does and we have seen results!” campaigner Samira Hamidi said, celebrating on Twitter. The European Union welcomed Karzai’s decision to “stop [a] setback for women’s rights”.

The United States, which had previously issued only a brief statement of concern about the law, welcomed Karzai’s decision as a “response to the concerns expressed by many Afghans and their international partners”.

Five years ago, after a similar campaign against a family law that appeared to allow marital rape, the Afghan president ripped up the legislation and shepherded a more moderate version through the houses of parliament.

Raz denied that the president, currently at odds with the US over issues from the election to the long-term presence of foreign troops, had been slow to respond to the latest law in response to foreign or domestic pressure. The draft had been held up by bureaucracy, and Karzai demanded changes as soon as it reached his desk, she said.

“As soon as it arrived, it was brought to the cabinet as any law would be for discussion, and like anyone else who is concerned about women’s rights, they responded,” she said, adding that Karzai had a track record of supporting women. “In the past you have seen that the president is someone who has made sure women’s rights are protected according to the laws of the country.”

Whatever his personal views, Karzai has presided over a strengthening of factions opposed to women’s rights during his latest term in office. In the last year alone parliament has blocked a law to curb violence against women and cut the quota for women on provincial councils, while the justice ministry has floated a proposal to bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery.

Activists also say the change to the law as currently planned would still leave women more vulnerable than they are now. It allows relatives to testify against each other if they wish but does not grant any legal rights to call them to the stand. An amended draft in circulation now says that relatives of the accused have a right “not to answer questions”, according to an international diplomat following the case.

Protections in most countries exempt only husbands and wives from a legal obligation to testify against each other, while the new Afghan law covers a very wide range of relatives, from a mother’s great-uncle to a brother’s grandchildren. Especially in close-knit villages, this could potentially allow dozens of key witnesses to avoid giving evidence.

“We are cautiously optimistic after hearing statements from the palace,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, which first raised concerns about the law. “We need to see the exact language before we can know whether it will really fix the problem.

“President Karzai’s decision today is an indication that this kind of international reaction still makes a difference, and we would beg diplomats not to sit by next time there is an attack on women’s rights, because there will be one,” she added.

However, along with the demands to protect modest gains in women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban, there is also some pressure for a fast resolution of the current standoff, because Afghanistan is in desperate need of a new criminal prosecution code.

Stephen Hawking – “What’s happening in Syria is an abomination”

“We must use our human intelligence to end this war. As a father, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and say: no more.”

by Stephen Hawking

theguardian.com, Monday 17 February 2014 18.00 AEST

‘Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends. But it does not feel intelligent.’

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had existed for ever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set civilisation back to the beginning.

Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing exponentially and, with it, our technology. But humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.

Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends. But it does not feel intelligent to watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where, as Save the Children will document in a forthcoming report, children are having limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities, and newborn babies are dying in incubators for lack of power.

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behaviour throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: no more.

I often wonder what we must look like to other beings watching from deep space. As we look out at the universe, we are looking back in time, because light leaving distant objects reaches us much, much later. What does the light emitting from Earth today show? When people see our past, will we be proud of what they are shown – how we, as brothers, treat each other? How we allow our brothers to treat our children?

We now know that Aristotle was wrong: the universe has not existed for ever. It began about 14bn years ago. But he was right that great disasters represent major steps backward for civilisation. The war in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before long, human beings will surely cease to exist.

• A version of this article appeared in the Washington Post

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And now for inspiring… One Billion Rising is making Valentine’s Day meaningful with these actions to empower women against domestic violence. Ahhooo.

Former Israeli official: Demand for recognition as Jewish state ‘nonsense’

From

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan has dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, calling it “nonsense”.

Dagan stated that ‘If we look at the UN resolution on [partition and] the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947, it clearly says that Israel is a Jewish state. So, now we are demanding such recognition from the Palestinian state? We seek recognition of the character of our country from a country that does not even exist?’

According to the Israeli news website Walla!, Dagan said during a closed lecture in Tel-Aviv that “asking the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is nonsense.”

Dagan noted that: “If we look at the UN resolution on [partition and] the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947, it clearly says that Israel is a Jewish state.”

He continued: “So, now we are demanding such recognition from the Palestinian state? We seek recognition of the character of our country from a country that does not even exist?”

Instead of calling for this recognition, Dagan pointed out that it would be better for Israel to refuse the right of return for Palestinian refugees and insist that they receive citizenship in the states where they are living now, from Lebanon to the Gulf countries. Unlike recognition, he argued, the Palestinian refugees pose a real danger to the Jewish state.

Regarding Jerusalem, Dagan noted that it is not a Palestinian issue, but an Islamic one. Thus, he argued that Israel has “to include Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco in any talks” about the fate of the holy city, because “if Israel reaches a deal with these countries about Jerusalem, Abu-Mazen will be able to take difficult decisions about it,” referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Dagan also warned that Israel needs an agreement with the Palestinians not for the interests of Palestinians, “but for Israel’s interests.”

South African Parliamentary Conference backs boycott of Israel

From

Monday, 10 February 2014

South Africa’s Parliamentary Portfolio Committee held a “Solidarity Conference in Support of the Peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba” on Thursday, 6th February. The session was opened by an icon of the anti-apartheid struggle, Ahmed Kathrada. He was followed to the podium by South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations, Marius Fransman; the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on International Relations, Mr Tisetso Magama, MP; and the Ambassadors of Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara.

The Palestine solidarity human rights organisation, BDS South Africa, welcomed the resolutions and recommendations of the conference. In particular, the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign group was pleased to see the recommendation to forward the 2009 Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report, which found Israel guilty of Apartheid, to international bodies including the International Parliamentary Union, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and the African Union.

The parliamentary conference was attended by MPs as well as a wide range of civil society organisations including representatives from South Africa’s largest trade union, COSATU; the South African Communist Party (SACP); the African National Congress (ANC); the African National Congress Youth League (ANC Youth League); the Congress of the People (COPE); the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF); the Coalition for a Free Palestine (CFP); the Friends of Cuba Society (FOCUS); the Western Sahara Solidarity Forum; Kairos Southern Africa; the Media Review Network (MRN); African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP); BDS South Africa and some members of the South African Jewish community who identify with the struggles of Palestine, Cuba and Western Sahara.

“The solidarity conference is a first of its kind in parliament,” explained Mr Magama. “It is a culmination of extensive work carried out… in response to the call by President Zuma in his successive State of the Nation addresses since 2010, with a message that solidarity should feature as a strong element of South Africa’s internationalism… The primary focus of the conference is to make the people of South Africa aware of the common challenges facing the peoples of Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara relating to the denial of human rights.”

The full list of recommendations and resolutions adopted by the Parliamentary conference on the issue of Palestine follows below.

SOUTH AFRICAN PARLIAMENT’S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS CONFERENCE

RESOLUTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON PALESTINE

06 February 2014

1. South Africa has a legal obligation under the Rome Statute to set up a special court to deal with war crimes, this needs to be urgently setup. South Africa must expeditiously deal with the “Gaza Docket” and deal with South Africans serving in the Israeli Defence Force;

2. The 2009 Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report that found Israel guilty of Apartheid should be adopted by South Africa’s Parliament and by the South African government. The HSRC report must also be referred to international bodies including the International Parliamentary Union, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and the African Union.

3. South Africa has a legal obligation and must stop all financial transactions with Israeli settlement companies as well as banks and companies involved in the Israeli settlements. This would be in line with developments in Europe and other countries.

4. On the global arena South Africa must lobby for the financial and other support of the Palestinians for socioeconomic development after the end of the illegal Israeli occupation.

5. The South African government must support Palestinian students, as a concrete act of solidarity, similar to how India, Cuba and other countries supported South Africa during the 1980s.

6. Entrance into South Africa for Palestinians must be made easier.

7. The Palestinian health system must be supported beyond people capacity. Infrastructure in Gaza, West Bank and refugee camps must be supported.

8. Conference supports the Robben Island Declaration for the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Political prisoners.

9. Conference supports the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) issued by the majority of Palestinians. Complete military, financial and political sanctions must be applied against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law and ends its occupation.

10. All South African political parties must clearly communicate their stance on the plight of the Palestinian people and make it timeously known in the build-up to 2014 elections.

11. Witness and solidarity visits to Palestine should be encouraged, for example, through the World Council of Churches EAPPI programme.

12. South Africa should build and strengthen an international diplomatic block in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

13. The South African government and parliament must campaign for Israel to be suspended from the SWIFT banking network.

14. Palestinian reconciliation efforts must be encouraged and supported.

15. Our government and parliament must table the above at the AU, UN and IPU.

International Women’s Day Delegation to Gaza 2014

Ed. note; While CODEPINK still does International Solidarity with a simplistic bring our dollars home approach, all publicity is good publicity on this front and a delegation to Gaza this March could as they say be very interesting.

END

A call for Delegates.

Answering a call from the women of Gaza, CODEPINK is forming a US delegation of 15 women who will join with a larger international women’s coalition traveling to Gaza for International Women’s Day 2014.

The purpose of the delegation is show solidarity with the women of Gaza, to bring attention to the unbearable suffering caused by the Israeli blockade, to educate people back in our home countries, to push for opening the Gaza borders and to bring solar lamps to help with the electricity shortage.

We will meet in Cairo on March 5. We will attempt to enter Gaza on March 6 and return from Gaza on March 12, 2014. Due to the political and security issues in Egypt, there are no guarantees that we will be able to get into Gaza. If we get to Gaza, we will spend our time meeting with women’s groups, human rights leaders, fisherfolk, farmers, UN representatives, youth activists and journalists. If we do not get into Gaza, we will make your time in Cairo very worthwhile.

Sushil Koirala set to become Nepal Prime Minister

From the Hindu

by Damakant Jayshi

Kathmandu, February 9, 2014

Reconciling their differences over power-sharing that was beginning to deepen the political impasse, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML signed a seven-point agreement on Sunday paving the way for Sushil Koirala as the new Prime Minister.

Soon after, NC President Koirala filed his nomination in the Parliament for Monday’s election and thanked the UML for its support. “The responsibility to draft a democratic Constitution is on the shoulders of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML,” Mr. Koirala told media persons after filing his nomination.

“We will prepare the draft of the Constitution in six months and promulgate in a year.”

With this expression of support, Mr. Koirala is assured of getting elected unopposed. He would still need to enter the election process as per the Interim Constitution, since the election is being held under majority provision.

NC vice-president Ram Chandra Paudel is set to propose his name and the CPN-UML’s newly elected Parliamentary Party leader K.P. Oli would second the proposal.

As per the agreement between the two parties, there would be no election for the post of President and Vice-President for now, a demand that UML had insisted upon until the last moment.

The election for these two posts — and for the Prime Minister and Speaker of the House — would be held after the Constitution is made public (in a year) but before it comes into effect.

However, the NC agreed to the UML’s suggestion of having the President and the Vice-President endorsed by the Parliament. The parties agreed to amend the Interim Constitution incorporating this provision.

They also agreed to draft the Constitution according to the spirit of all the agreements reached in the past — right from the 12-point agreement reached in New Delhi in 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Interim Constitution and the mandate expressed by the people in the November election.

As a sop to Unified CPN (Maoist) and Madhesi parties, the deal says it would own the agreements reached by the last Constituent Assembly, a move likely to be challenged by the fourth largest party, the RPP (Nepal). The pro-monarchy party has opposed any adoption of pacts of the last CA, arguing that it would be a violation of the mandate of the recent election.

The NC also agreed to support the UML nominee as chairman of the Constituent Assembly (who will also function as Speaker of the Legislature-Parliament).

This point was added to an earlier draft agreement.

Within a week of government formation, the Cabinet would announce a common minimum programme and a code of conduct for cabinet members.

The deal was signed after the CPN-UML decided on Sunday to support an NC-led government.

The highest decision-making body of the CPN-UML, the standing committee, took the decision to support Mr. Koirala.

“The UML has decided to support an NC-led government,” CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal told mediapersons after the meeting of the party’s Standing Committee.

Keywords: Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala, Nepal politics, Jhala Nath Khanal
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Six hundred Syrians flee besieged Old Homs in aid convoy

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT Sun Feb 9, 2014 3:14pm EST

(Reuters) – Six hundred people left the besieged ruins of rebel-held central Homs on Sunday, escaping more than a year of hunger and deprivation caused by one of the most protracted blockades of Syria’s devastating conflict.

The evacuees, mainly women, children and old men, were brought out by the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent on the third day of an operation during which the aid convoys came under fire and were briefly trapped themselves in the city.

siege ofHoms

Video footage from inside Homs showed scores of residents, carrying a few bags of possessions, rushing across an open expanse of no-man’s land towards 10 white vehicles with U.N. markings. Gunshots could be heard as they raced to the cars.

“The last vehicle has arrived and the total is 611 people,” Homs governor Talal Barazi told regional Arab broadcaster Al Mayadeen at a meeting point for evacuees outside the city.

The Red Crescent confirmed that around 600 people were evacuated and said 60 food parcels and more than a ton of flour were delivered to the Old City.

Barazi and Red Crescent officials said they were working to extend the operation beyond Sunday, the final day of a fragile and frequently violated three-day ceasefire in the city.

homs_map976x617_2.gif cachebuster=cb00000002 map clickable

Some of those who came out were men of fighting age who were not originally eligible to leave, Barazi said, but they had agreed to hand themselves over to police and judicial authorities and could win their freedom through amnesty.

Authorities suspect all men of fighting age to be part of rebel forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Assad’s authorities and rebel fighters have traded accusations of responsibility for attacks on Saturday which stranded the joint United Nations and Red Crescent team in central Old Homs for several hours after dark on Saturday.

The convoy was targeted as the relief workers were handing over food and medical supplies in the district where the United Nations says 2,500 people had been stranded by an ever-tightening military siege since the mid-2012.

The Red Crescent said one driver was lightly wounded but the rest of the team eventually left safely.

Video footage released by activists showed the team, led by U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria Yacoub el Hillo, taking refuge on Saturday in a basement while explosions rocked the rubble-strewn, devastated streets above them.

In another video filmed inside Homs on Saturday, Hillo said the aid supplies, including food parcels, medicines and hygiene kits, were just a drop in the ocean when set against the conditions endured by people trapped for months on end.

“When I look around me and see the level of need, and suffering of all – especially the children, the women and the elderly – let me say that even though it’s a significant amount of medical and nutritional aid, it’s still just a drop,” he said. “But let’s start with this drop.”

On Friday, the first of the planned three-day humanitarian operation in Homs, 83 women, children and elderly men were evacuated, significantly fewer than the 200 which the city governor had predicted.

Many showed signs of malnutrition, the United Nations said.

BARREL BOMBS IN ALEPPO

Syria’s conflict has killed 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole city districts – particularly in Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted.

The evacuation of civilians and delivery of aid was the first concrete, though modest, result of talks launched two weeks ago in Switzerland to try to end the civil war.

At the Geneva peace talks, which resume on Monday, international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been pushing for agreement on aid deliveries and prisoner releases, hoping progress on those issues could build momentum to address the far more contentious question of political transition.

The view from the Syria talks.

The view from the Syria talks.

Assad’s government has rejected out of hand any surrender of power in Geneva, and on the ground his forces have made gains while rival rebel forces battle each other in the north and east of the country.

If anything the scale of violence – including internecine rebel fighting, clashes with Assad’s forces and government bombardment – has escalated since the delegates held their first face-to-face meeting just over a fortnight ago.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said that 304 people were killed across the country on Saturday, including more than 100 civilians.

And in a sign of deep skepticism towards peace talks shared by the opposing parties inside Syria, neither the authorities nor the activists in Homs credited the Geneva talks for the weekend evacuations and aid deliveries.

Homs governor Barazi said the operation had been planned months ago but had been hit by delays, while several Homs activists – angered by a second day of bombardment which killed five people – bitterly criticized the Geneva negotiations.

“Today we have five martyrs and yesterday we had five,” one activist said, pointing to a row of corpses being prepared for wrapping in burial shrouds. “Every day the world sees this regime’s crimes and it remains silent.”

On Sunday, activists reported at least 11 people were killed in the northern city of Aleppo when helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held neighborhoods.

Video footage purporting to show the aftermath of one such attack in the Haidariya district showed at least nine corpses, including one child, scattered across a wide highway, flooded by a broken water pipe.

Cars were still on fire and black smoke rose from the flames. Wounded men were carried into ambulances and one man could be seen carrying a severed leg from the scene, as women screamed in grief.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)