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Severe Malnutrition Confirmed In Syria’s Madaya, 32 Deaths Reported In Month: U.N.

By John Davison and Stephanie Nebehay

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF on Friday confirmed cases of severe malnutrition among children in the besieged western Syrian town of Madaya, where local relief workers reported 32 deaths of starvation in the past month.

A mobile clinic and medical team of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was on its way to Madaya after the government approved an urgent request, and a vaccination campaign is planned next week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Two convoys of aid supplies were delivered this week to the town of 42,000 under a months-long blockade. The United Nations said another convoy was planned to Madaya, sealed off by pro-government forces, and rebel-besieged villages of al-Foua and Kefraya in Idlib next week, and that regular access was needed.

“UNICEF … can confirm that cases of severe malnutrition were found among children,” it said in a statement, after the United Nations and Red Cross had entered the town on Monday and Thursday to deliver aid for the first time since October.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told a news briefing in Geneva that UNICEF and WHO staff were able to screen 25 children under five and 22 of them showed signs of moderate to severe malnutrition. All were now receiving treatment.A further 10 children aged from 6 to 18 were examined and six showed signs of severe malnutrition, he said.

UNICEF staff also witnessed the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy in Madaya, while a 17-year-old boy in “life-threatening condition” and a pregnant women with obstructed labor need to be evacuated, Boulierac said.

Abeer Pamuk of the SOS Children’s Villages charity said of the children she saw in Madaya: “They all looked pale and skinny. They could barely talk or walk. Their teeth are black, their gums are bleeding, and they have lots of health problems with their skin, hair, nails, teeth.

“They have basically been surviving on grass. Some families also reported having eaten cats,” she said in a statement. “A lot of people were also giving their children sleeping pills, because the children could not stop crying from hunger, and their parents had nothing to feed them.”

She said her agency was working to bring unaccompanied and separated children from Madaya to care centers in quieter areas just outside the capital Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people in critical condition were evacuated to a hospital in the city of Latakia, on Syria’s government-controlled Mediterranean coast, from Kefraya and al-Foua on Friday.

 

DYING OF STARVATION

World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said that the local relief committee in Madaya had provided figures on the extent of starvation, but it could not verify them.

“Our nutritionist…was saying that it is clear that the nutritional situation is very bad, the adults look very emaciated. According to a member of the relief committee, 32 people have died of starvation in the last 30-day period.”

Dozens of deaths from starvation have been reported by monitoring groups, local doctors, and aid agencies from Madaya.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday Syria’s warring parties, particularly the government, were committing “atrocious acts” and he condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war in the nearly five-year-old conflict.

“It can also be a crime against humanity. But it would very much depend on the circumstances, and the threshold of proof is often much more difficult for a crime against humanity (than for a war crime),” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing in Geneva on Friday.

The United Nations says there are some 450,000 people trapped in around 15 siege locations across Syria, including in areas controlled by the government, Islamic State militants and other insurgent groups.

 

(Reporting by John Davison and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

 

In Under Two Days, Boko Haram Kills Nearly 170 In Nigeria

By Aminu Abubakar with Ola Awoniyi in Abuja, AFP

Kano, Nigeria — Boko Haram waged fresh attacks in northeastern Nigeria, locals said Friday, bringing to nearly 170 the number of people killed this week in violence President Muhammadu Buhari blasted as “inhuman and barbaric.”

Militants have launched multiple attacks in restive Borno state since Wednesday, with people attending evening prayers during the holy month of Ramadan gunned down, women shot at home, and men dragged from their homes in the dead of night.

A young female suicide bomber also killed 12 worshippers when she blew herself up in a mosque in Borno and while there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram has used both men and young women and girls as human bombs in the past.

“President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the latest wave of killings by Boko Haram in Borno state, describing them as most inhuman and barbaric,” the presidency said in a statement.

Bodies ‘Lying Unattended’

The wave of attacks, which took place over less than 36 hours, is the bloodiest since Buhari came to power in May, vowing to root out the insurgency that has claimed more than 15,000 lives.

News of the violence first emerged on Thursday, when survivors described raids on three different villages in Borno the previous evening that left at least 145 people killed and houses burnt to the ground.

On Friday, fresh details of these killings emerged from a resident of Kukawa, the worst-affected village.

Baana Kole told AFP that he and others had managed to escape into the bush where they spent the night, before returning to bury the dead, only to find that the militants had laid mines everywhere.

“Some residents who hid in trees saw them planting the mines and alerted us when we returned to the village and started burying our dead,” he said.

Bomber ‘Aged Around 15’

“So many dead bodies are still in Kukawa lying unattended. We had to abandon them because we could not carry them with us.”

Less than 24 hours later, a girl blew herself up in a mosque in Malari village, more than 150 kilometers away from Wednesday’s attacks.

“The bomber was a girl aged around 15 who was seen around the mosque when worshippers were preparing for the afternoon prayers,” Danlami Ajaokuta, a vigilante assisting the military against Boko Haram, told AFP.

“People asked her to leave because she had no business there and they were not‎ comfortable with her in view of the spate of suicide attacks by female Boko Haram members.

“She made to leave‎ but while the people were inside the mosque for the prayers she ran from a distance into the mosque and blew herself up,” he added — an account corroborated by resident Gajimi Mala.

And early Friday morning, as people were sleeping, Boko Haram militants dragged men out of houses in Miringa village and shot them for escaping forced conscription.

They “picked 13 men from selected homes and took them to the Eid prayer ground outside the village where they opened fire on them,” resident Baballe Mohammed said, adding 11 died and two managed to escape.

He and another resident said the victims had been targeted because they had fled their home village after Boko Haram tried to force them to join their ranks.

The armed group has intensified its campaign of violence since Buhari came to power on May 29, launching raids, explosions, and suicide attacks that have claimed more than 420 lives.

Boko Haram Has ‘Regrouped’

The spike in violence has sparked concern that earlier victories claimed by the armies of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon in the region are being eroded.

The four countries — all of which border Lake Chad, a focal point of Boko Haram unrest — launched offensives against the militants early this year as it became apparent that the armed group was gaining too much ground in Nigeria.

They managed to push the militants out of captured towns and villages, but the recent attacks highlight that Boko Haram is not defeated.

“The drawdown of counterinsurgency initiatives, in addition to the fact such undertakings remain limited to Nigerian territory only, have seemingly allowed Boko Haram to regroup, rearm and mobilize their forces ahead of a renewed offensive,” said Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the Red24 consultancy group.

A new regional fighting force comprising 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Benin is due to deploy at the end of the month.

Photo: A police officer in northeastern Nigeria at the scene of a suicide bombing after at least 20 people were killed when a young woman detonated explosives at a bus station on June 22, 2015. AFP/File

Four Worshipers Killed In Attack On Jerusalem Synagogue

By Batsheva Sobelman and Laura King, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JERUSALEM — A pair of attackers armed with axes, knives, and firearms stormed a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, killing at least four worshipers and injuring others before a police officer shot them dead, in the most serious strike in the holy city in years, police said.

Palestinian media named the attackers as Udai Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal, cousins from the Palestinain village of Jabel Mukabar in south Jerusalem. Fresh clashes broke out Tuesday as police arrived to arrest several of their relatives.

According to eyewitnesses and initial Israeli news reports, the attackers burst into the four-story synagogue in the devoutly religious western Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof, attacking a crowd attending early morning prayers.

Israeli media cited witnesses as describing worshipers wrapped in their prayer shawls felled in mid-prayer, on the floor in pools of blood. Among the victims was a prominent rabbi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convening a special security meeting, and said Israel would “respond harshly” to what he called “the cruel killing of Jews…by despicable murderers.”

In a phone call to Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed condolences for the attack and condemned it as “senseless brutality.” Kerry was in neighboring Jordan for talks aimed at calming tensions, and met separately last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry’s demand for Palestinian condemnation prompted a statement from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who denounced “killing civilians from any side” including the Jewish worshippers.

At the same time, Abbas demanded a halt to what he called Israeli “intrusions” into a contested holy site in Jerusalem’s old city.

In the Gaza strip, the attack was welcomed with celebratory gunfire and a statement from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who called it a response to the “continuing crimes of the occupation.” Another official, Hussam Badran, called it an “heroic act.”

While recent Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been punctuated by “lone wolf”-type of attacks, such as stabbings, Tuesday’s assault represented a marked escalation, chillingly reminiscent of large-scale strikes in Israeli cities that took place during two previous Palestinian uprisings during the period from the late 1980s to the early 2000s.

The fact that the attack took place at a Jewish house of worship was certain to further inflame religious tensions. This month has seen fiery attacks on a northern Israeli synagogue and a West Bank mosque, however these caused property damage and no loss of life or injuries.

Police said preliminary indications were that the assailants were Arabs from east Jerusalem, which for months has been the scene of near-daily clashes between police and Palestinians.

In Har Nof, those living near the synagogue were told to remain indoors while authorities ruled out the presence of another assailant, but eventually were given the all-clear after the presence of a third attacker was ruled out.

Helicopters circled overhead, and windows glowed with reflections of the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. Residents in their ultra-Orthodox garb filled the streets, wandering among the emergency personnel.

The attack was the latest in a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem and other locations, against a backdrop over friction over the holy site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Other issues, such as stepped-up plans for Jewish buildings in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, plans to enlarge West Bank settlements, and the summer’s war in the Gaza Strip have also generated fury and resentment among Palestinians.

“We’re at war,” Israeli lawmaker Aryeh Deri, a resident of the typically quiet ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood where the attack took place, told Israel radio. “If every synagogue in the country needs protection, we have returned to bad times.”

At least six people have died in attacks over the past month, including four people killed by vehicle attacks at tramway stations in Jerusalem, a soldier who was stabbed to death in Tel Aviv and a Jewish woman settler who was killed in the West Bank.

Photo via Wikicommons

Israeli Airstrike Kills 3 Senior Hamas Leaders

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

TEL AVIV, Israel — The militant group Hamas said three of its senior military leaders were killed early Thursday in an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip that also killed at least seven other people.

The Israeli military confirmed carrying out the attack in response to continuing rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza.

The latest strikes appeared to mark a tactical shift on the part of Israel, which until this week had largely refrained from targeting specific Hamas leaders. On Tuesday, Israeli forces made an apparent attempt to assassinate Hamas’ top military commander, killing his wife and infant son in an airstrike. Hamas said the commander, Mohammed Deif, was not present at the time.

Thursday marked a third day of renewed hostilities in Gaza after two weeks of relative calm, during which the two sides had for the most part observed a series of temporary cease-fires while holding indirect talks in Cairo. The negotiations collapsed along with the calm; there was no word on when or whether those talks would resume.

Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said in a brief announcement that the three men killed in the southern town of Rafah were Mohammad Abu Shamaleh, Raed Attar, and Mohammad Barhoum. Witnesses said Israeli warplanes fired a volley of missiles at a five-story building in the Tel Sultan neighborhood, leveling it.

Rafah was the scene of heavy fighting earlier in the Israeli offensive.

The three Hamas men killed were known to be senior members of the Qassam command structure. Attar was the local commander in Rafah, and was believed to have overseen the building of a network of tunnels in the area, and the smuggling of weapons from Egypt. Abu Shamaleh was a commander in southern Gaza, and Israel says he and Attar masterminded the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held prisoner in Gaza for five years before being freed in a large-scale prisoner exchange.

Attar was years ago sentenced to death by the Palestinian Authority for killing a police officer, but that sentence was commuted by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The death toll in Gaza since fighting broke out on July 8 is now above 2,000. Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

Los Angeles Times special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Thomas Coex

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