Syrian regime steps up offensive on Idlib

Idlib is supposed to be a ‘de-escalation zone’ – set up last year with the backing of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

    Government forces in Syria are stepping up their offensive against opposition fighters in their largest remaining stronghold.

    Idlib is supposed to be a “de-escalation zone” – set up last year with the backing of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

    But the deal appears to have crumbled: President Bashar al-Assad – backed by Russia – is bent on regaining control of the area, to cement his grip on power.

    For civilians, the onslaught is causing misery in freezing winter conditions.

    Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim reports.

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    Palestinian killed in gun battle with Israeli army

    Another Palestinian and two Israeli soldiers injured in the raid by special forces hunting killer of Israeli settler.

      A Palestinian man has been killed during a 10-hour military operation by the Israeli army near the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.

      Another Palestinian and two Israeli soldiers were also injured in Thursday’s incident, which took place in the village of Wadi Burqin before dawn.

      Local media and Israeli sources had initially reported the man killed was 22-year-old Ahmad Nasr Jarrar. However, the Palestinian ministry of health later said it was his cousin Ahmad Ismail Jarrar, 31, who was shot dead.

      Israeli forces encircled the home of Ismail Jarrar based on intelligence information that he and several others in the house had participated in the killing of an Israeli settler last week.

      Reporting from Jenin, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said the overnight operation has left many Palestinians angry. 

      “What Palestinians here are asking themselves is whether this was a case of mistaken identity, or whether it was simply bad intelligence on behalf of the Israelis,” he said. “The Israelis haven’t said who or what intelligence they were using to act upon in this particular raid.”

      According to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, Jarrar used an automatic weapon to fire at the Israeli soldiers. 

      The Israeli army said in a statement on Twitter that Jarrar had used a “self-manufactured weapon”. 

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      Deadly air raids hit Syria's Eastern Ghouta

      At least 17 killed and dozens injured in Syrian government bombardments on the weekend, monitors report.

        At least 17 civilians have been killed in aerial bombardments carried out by Syrian government forces in Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

        A series of attacks carried out on Saturday in the district killed 12 people in the Hammuriyeh area, three in Arbin city and two in Medyara, the British-based monitor said.

        According to the Syrian Civil Defence, four children and two women were among those killed in the raid on Hammuriyeh.

        12 civilians were killed – including 4 children and 2 women – , +40 injured in a horrific attack by #Russian warplanes forces on civilians in #Hamouriyah
        city in #EasternGhouta.

        The death toll from Saturday’s attacks was expected to rise, with at least 25 other people injured, some of whom were in critical condition, the SOHR said.

        The Syrian Civil Defence reported that more than 40 people were injured during the raid on Hammuriyeh alone.

        Government assaults on Eastern Ghouta, situated on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, have been frequent in recent weeks and are believed to be part of the Syrian government’s strategy to retake rebel-held positions.

        At least 23 civilians were killed by government air raids in rebel-held parts of the district on January 3. The total number of casualties in the region has reached 96 – including 40 women and children – since December 29, according to the SOHR.

        Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figures.

        ‘Horrific’ spate of attacks

        Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an adviser to a coalition of medical charities operating in Syria, told Al Jazeera from the UK city of Salisbury that more than 120 children were in need of urgent medical care in the region.

        “The last 10 days have been horrific in terms of the amount of attacks, particularly over the Christmas and the New Year period,” he said.

        “We have seen over 10 hospitals attacked and put out of commission in both Eastern Ghouta and Idlib province, [and] what we absolutely need in Syria is a ceasefire so that those seriously injured children get treated.”

        Eastern Ghouta is one of a handful of so-called de-escalation zones in Syria, where military activity is prohibited under a ceasefire agreement endorsed last year by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

        The area is one of the last rebel strongholds in the country and is home to some 400,000 people. A four-year government siege has led to a humanitarian crisis, with severe shortages of food and medicine.

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        Severe sandstorm hits Egyptian cities, ports

        CAIRO (REUTERS) – Egypt’s capital Cairo and some of its port cities were hit by a severe sandstorm, with strong winds and heavy dust forcing the closure of several ports.

        Pedestrians ducked into buildings for cover as a dark orange cloud descended on Cairo, with many to using surgical masks to shield themsevles against the sand blowing in the wind.

        Motorists complained of reduced visibility on the highways leading and out of the city.

        “The colour of the air is changing. There is some kind of fog. No one can see. So I hope God will get us through this, given that we’re riding motorcycles,” said Mahmoud, a motorcycle driver.

        Sources at Cairo airport said the storm had caused some delays.

        The Red Sea Ports Authority closed the ports of Suez and Zeitiyat at 2pm (1200 GMT) due to bad weather, wind and high waves.

        In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Reda El Ghandour, a spokesman for the Alexandria Port Authority, said that the maritime traffic remained suspended for the fourth consecutive day in the ports of Alexandria and Dekheila.

        The health ministry has advised people suffering from respiratory problems to avoid leaving their homes amidst the storm.

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        Pro-government rallies in Iran ahead of United Nations meeting

        Large shows of public support for the government in Tehran have continued, while the anti-government protests seemed to have wanned.

          Rallies in support of Iran’s government have reached a third day.

          One of the largest was in the capital, Tehran, where people chanted anti-US slogans, blaming Washington for the unrest.

          The protest movement, which never reached the size or momentum of the 2009 demonstrations, appears to have fizzled out – sidelined by the rallies of government supporters.

          Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi reports from Tehran.

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          3,700 arrested during protests in Iran: MP

          Figure cited by Iranian MP on state media much higher than previous estimates of number detained.

            About 3,700 people were arrested across cities in Iran as a rare wave of anti-government protests and unrest gripped the country, according to a parliament member.

            Tehran MP Mahmoud Sadeghi announced the official figure, which is much higher than previous estimates, via the state-run ICANA news agency on Tuesday.

            Different security and intelligence forces arrested the protesters, making it difficult to know the exact number of detainees, Sadeghi was quoted as saying.

            About 1,000 were previously reported to have been arrested during almost a week of demonstrations that began in December.

            Violence broke out at several rallies, leaving at least 22 people dead.

            The unrest spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns late last month as thousands of young and working class Iranians voiced anger at corruption, unemployment, and a deepening gap between rich and poor, in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since 2009.

            Grievances also seemed to revolve around Iran’s foreign policy and its spending on groups in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

            The protests started in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad on December 28 before spreading to other cities.

            The provincial governor in northeastern Mashhad was quoted as saying that 85 percent of detainees there had been released after signing a pledge not to re-offend.

            Iranian authorities have accused the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia of involvement and orchestrating the anti-government demonstrations. 

            The government restricted access to Instagram and Telegram social media apps as a security measure. 

            On January 3, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), declared “the end of the sedition”. 

            Tens of thousands also took part in pro-government rallies to show support for the Iranian leadership.

            Inside Story

            Is the unrest in Iran anti-establishment?

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            Exclusive: Missile attack hits refugee camp in Syria

            Dramatic footage by Al Jazeera shows displaced people, including women and children, seeking cover in Idlib.

              A missile has crashed near civilians in Syria’s Idlib province at a makeshift camp for displaced people from the nearby Hama province. 

              Dramatic footage captured in the countryside area by Al Jazeera showed men, women and children desperately trying to find the nearest cover after the attack – images of which were also included in the film.

              Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Antakya in southern Turkey, said the missile strike was the strongest violation yet of a peace accord agreed in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, recently between Russia, Turkey and Iran.

              “Syrians are not surprised. Many of them believe that it is a kind of the diplomatic leverage game just before the Sochi meeting that is going to be held at the end of January,” she said.

              Violence elsewhere

              A push by the forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad aided by Russian air raids was causing a new wave of displacement from rebel-held territories.

              About 120,000 people have fled their homes in Idlib province in recent weeks.

              At least 179 people were killed in the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta in the past two weeks, according to activists.

              Several people were in hospital after a bombing by government forces in Eastern Ghouta.

              Aid workers on the scene said there were being treated for suffocation after a suspected chlorine gas attack.

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              Powerful storm brings more misery to Syrian refugees

              Torrential rain and strong winds sweeps across Turkey and the Levant.

                A powerful winter storm is sweeping across Turkey and the Levant, worsening conditions for those who have fled war. 

                Torrential rain and strong winds are lashing the region with powerful thunderstorms that are bringing large hail and even the risk of a tornado.

                The severe weather comes just days after another system swept across the Levant bringing winds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (km/h) and heavy downpours. 

                The region is not well equipped to deal with torrential rain and the renewed downpours bring the real possibility of flooding, including in areas home to refugee camps. 

                The rains are likely to lead to torrents of water hurtling down hills, which could sweep away any tents that are constructed on the slopes.

                In flat areas, water is likely to pool on the surface of the soil, which could flood tents and make them unsuitable for living purposes.

                Wet weather will push across the whole of the Levant region, from Gaza to Turkey, tonight and into Tuesday morning. The heaviest downpours are expected from Lebanon northwards.

                Southern Turkey, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, is expected to see some of the worst of the weather.

                This persistent rain will clear into eastern Turkey during the day on Tuesday, increasingly turning into more wintry weather as it does so.

                Even behind this band of rain, the weather will remain unsettled over the next few days with further heavy downpours possible.

                As the system clears away, the weather will turn much cooler behind it. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who live in tents on the Turkey-Syrian border will be subjected to below freezing temperatures at night.

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                Gaza faces 'unprecedented' humanitarian crisis

                Gaza Palestinian economic experts are warning that even if international help is given immediately to the besieged area, a humanitarian disaster might be unavoidable.

                  Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have entered their 11th year under a crippling siege imposed by Israel and Egypt, and are in dire need of international aid.

                  Gaza Palestinian economic experts are warning that even if help is given immediately, a humanitarian disaster might be unavoidable.

                  The blockade dictates day-to-day reality for the two million people living in Gaza, where Israel controls the borders, airspace, and waters.


                  Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reports.

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                  Turkish court orders release of Amnesty's Taner Kilic

                  Taner Kilic was imprisoned over alleged connections to the Gulen movement, accused by Ankara of an attempted coup.

                    A Turkish court has ordered the release of Taner Kilic, chair of the Turkish chapter of Amnesty International.

                    Kilic had been in prison since June 2017, when he was arrested for allegedly having links to a group accused of being behind the 2016 attempted coup.

                    “It’s a great victory for the human rights movement in Turkey and it’s gonna give us more strength to go on and campaign for the acquittal of everyone in this case,” Andrew Gardner, senior adviser on Turkey for Amnesty International told Al Jazeera.

                    “We’re all incredibly happy. This is what we campaigned for, for the last eight months.”

                    Family members and colleagues were on the way to Izmir, the city where Kilic was being held.

                    Authorities say Kilic was using ByLock, an encrypted communication software which the government says is used by members of a group led by Fethullah Gulen, a US-based, self-exiled religious leader who the government blames for last year’s coup attempt.

                    Both Kilic and Amnesty Turkey have strongly denied the allegations.

                    “It’s a completely baseless case that was brought against them because they are human rights defenders,” Gardner told Al Jazeera.

                    Despite Kilic’s release, the case against him will continue in June this year. Pending this hearing, Kilic has been given a travel ban, prohibiting him from leaving Turkey.

                    Kilic’s arrest was part of a purge by the Turkish government in the wake of a failed coup attempt in July 2016. Tens of thousands of people were imprisoned and dismissed from their jobs.

                    Local and international rights groups have accused the government of using the coup attempt as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.

                    The government has said that the purges and detentions are aimed at removing supporters of Gulen from state institutions and other parts of society. 

                    Gardner said despite Kilic’s release on Wednesday, Amnesty would continue fighting for both him and many others in the country.

                    “The fact is that over 100,000 officials have been dismissed from their jobs without due process, and there are more journalists in prison in Turkey than anywhere in the world,” he said.

                    “Our work for them will go on and our work for everyone who has been unfairly imprisoned in Turkey will continue,” Gardner added.

                    “But tonight we’ll take some time off to celebrate Taner’s release.”

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