2 million residents of war-ravaged Aleppo without running water

The United Nations is calling for an immediate halt to the fighting and at minimum a two-day weekly humanitarian cease-fire to allow for the city’s water and electrical systems to be repaired. But there’s another round of fighting ongoing in the strategically significant city.

Aleppo is divided in two: the rebel-held east and government-held west. But for civilians, it’s “a city now united in its suffering,” as U.N. officials put it. “These cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases,” Hanaa Singer, the UNICEF representative in Syria, said in the statement.

“Syrian state media say government and Russian warplanes continue to target rebel positions,” NPR reports. “And rebels, led by a former al-Qaida affiliate, are vowing to take the entire city.”

In western Aleppo, aid groups have been delivering emergency water to an estimated 325,000 people.

[NPR]

Israel accuses UN employee of helping Hamas

Israel indicted an employee of the United Nations Development Programme on Tuesday, alleging that he helped the militant group Hamas.

This news comes just days after Israel accused a World Vision employee of funneling millions to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

As The Two-Way reported last night, World Vision has cast doubt on Israel’s accusations, saying they seemed implausible.Israel, for example, says World Vision’s Gaza director, Mohammad El Halabi, diverted up to $50 million to Hamas, but World Vision says its entire operating budget in Gaza during the past 10 years adds up to about $22.5 million.

“World Vision’s accountability processes cap the amount individuals in management positions at his level to a signing authority of $15,000,” said Kevin Jenkins, president and CEO of World Vision.

Hamas also called the claims “baseless.”

[NPR]

Devastation in South Sudan triggers grave humanitarian crisis

South Sudan is reeling from an unprecedented humanitarian crisis a month after deadly clashes between government and opposition forces set off a fresh cycle of violence and displacements, the UN has warned.

About 6 million South Sudanese – more than half of the country’s population – are now in need of humanitarian assistance, with 4.8 million facing severe hunger.

In Juba, the most recent surge in violence has left hungry, displaced families with a heart-wrenching choice: to stay inside the UN camp for displaced people and watch their children starve, or to fetch food from outside but risk attacks by marauding soldiers. More than a hundred women driven out of the camp by hunger were raped in the aftermath of the most recent violence, according to UN figures.

Experts fear that the country is on the brink of famine. An outbreak of disease could push mortality rates – one of three indicators used to define a famine – much higher.

Restrictions on movement and attacks against aid workers have further hampered relief efforts. Since the beginning of the year, the UN has recorded 261 incidents of violence against humanitarian staff or assets.

[The Guardian]

Aid dropped by crane reaches 75,000 Syrians on Jordan border

Cranes hoisted huge white bags with rice, lentils and dates from Jordan into tent camps on the Syrian side of a border berm–an unprecedented way of delivering U.N. aid to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians cut off from outside help for almost two months. Distribution was monitored by Jordanian army drones.

The number of Syrians stranded on the Jordanian border, awaiting entry, has grown from a few thousand to more than 75,000 over the past eight months, according to U.N. figures. Relief over getting badly needed aid to the Ruqban and Hadalat camps was muted by concern over deteriorating conditions there. Some camp residents have dug holes for sleeping after selling flimsy shelters for scarce food and water. Clean water has become scarce. Aid agencies have said disease such as hepatitis and dysentery, malnutrition and dehydration are on the rise.

This week’s shipment of 650 metric tons of food and hygiene kits was a one-off–Jordan has said it would bar future deliveries from its soil on security grounds. On June 21, Jordan sealed the border for good after a cross-border suicide attack by the Islamic State group killed seven Jordanian border guards near the Ruqban camp. The closure also halted what until then had been regular aid deliveries from Jordan to the camps.

The international community is scrambling for alternatives, but no viable option has emerged. Sending supplies from war-ravaged Syria appears risky, while U.N. officials say aid dropped by planes could end up in the wrong hands.

“This should be a wake-up call for everyone,” Shaza Moghraby, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Jordan, said of the growing suffering at the berm. “The world has a moral obligation to do something about this.”

[AP]

Israel says Gaza World Vision director diverted millions to Hamas’s military wing

Israel’s domestic security agency accuses the Gaza head of the U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization World Vision of funneling as much as $7 million a year, some 60 percent of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza, over the past 10 years to Hamas’s terror activities.

World Vision is among the largest Christian charities in the world and receives considerable funding from the United Nations and Western governments. Operating in more than 100 countries, it has a budget of $2.6 billion. In a statement Thursday, the charity said it was “shocked to learn of the charges” against Mohammed el-Halabi and called for Israel to facilitate a fair legal process.

The Shin Bet accusation said, “[Halabi] established and promoted humanitarian projects and fictitious agricultural associations that acted as cover for the transfer of monies to Hamas,” “Examples of these projects and associations include: greenhouse construction; restoration of agricultural lands; psychological and public health projects for Gaza residents; aid to fishermen; a treatment center for the physically and mentally disabled; and farmers’ associations. All of these projects and associations were used to transfer funds to Hamas.”

Halabi’s brother Hamed el-Halabi said his brother has been working for World Vision for 13 years and has managed the Gaza branch for the past 10. Halabi said of his accused brother: “He is a workaholic person; he travels a lot, so I don’t believe that he had time to meet with Hamas or any of its other factions.”

Halabi also said that World Vision had recently looked into the financial situation of its office in Gaza and spent about a month auditing documents, “without finding anything.”

A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza said that Israel’s accusations were simply “propaganda.” Hazem Qasem said that international organizations worked freely in Gaza and that Hamas did not interfere with their work or budgets. “Israel can arrest anybody at the Erez Crossing and claim he is a Hamas activist, but that doesn’t mean it is true,” Qasem said.

[Washington Post]

Washington to increase US aid to Israel by billions of dollars

Washington is preparing to increase US aid to Israel by billions of dollars, with a ten-year ironclad agreement that couldn’t be altered by President Obama’s successor.

While Donald Trump is fervently pro-Israel, he has said that the Israelis, like our NATO allies, are going to have to start paying for their own defense. This [being an election year] the uncertainty has the present Administration and Israel racing to sign an agreement before President Obama’s term is up in January. And it also has inspired the inclusion of a novel clause: a ten-year guarantee that aid will remain at the agreed level, with no possibility that the new President–whoever that may be–will lower it.

The Israelis currently receive over half the foreign aid doled out by Uncle Sam annually, most of it in military assistance with an extra added dollop for “refugee resettlement.” That combined with loan guarantees comes to roughly $3.5 billion per year–with all the money handed to them up front, in the first weeks of the fiscal year, instead of being released over time like other countries.

So how much is this increase going to amount to? … The New York Times is reporting the final sum could “top $40 billion.” And aside from the “haggling”–as the Times put it–over the amount, there is another issue: the Israeli exception to a rule that applies to all other recipients of American aid. Other countries must spend their welfare check in dollars–that is, they must buy American. Not the Israelis. They’re allowed to spend up to 25% of their aid package at home.

Glenn Greenwald points out in The Intercept, the Israelis have cradle-to-grave health care. Their life-expectancy is nearly a decade longer than ours. Their infant mortality rate is lower. By any meaningful measure, their standard of living is higher. They should be sending us aid: instead, the opposite is occurring. What in the heck is going on here?

[excerpts of Antiwar.com article by Justin Raimondo]

Closing a final chapter in the five-year Syrian war?

The Syrian Arab Army and Russian forces may be about to close the final chapter in the five-year Syrian war – and the Western media don’t seem to want to know about it. Indeed, most media coverage is given to [the presidential candidates]. While [they are] declaring how [they] would wipe out Islamist terrorists in the Middle East, the Syrian army and its Russian allies were actually getting on with that very job.

Syria’s northern city of Aleppo – which was the country’s biggest city before the onset of the war in 2011 – is about to be fully retaken by the Syrian army, supported by Russian air power. Humanitarian corridors have been created to allow civilians and surrendering fighters to escape before the final assault begins on anti-government militias holed up in the east of the city. These militants are an amalgam of illegally armed groups, including the proscribed terrorist brigades affiliated to al-Qaeda. Western governments and media meanwhile engage in cynical word games by referring to some of the fighters as “moderates” and “rebels”.

What Syrian and Russian forces seem to be about to achieve in the recapture of Aleppo is nothing short of a historic victory. It is not just the symbolism of regaining Syria’s second city, which has the strategic significance for government-controlled Damascus. With its proximity to the Turkish border, Aleppo has been a bastion for illicit flow of weapons and mercenaries that has fueled the entire Syrian conflict.

In many ways, Aleppo represents the last stand for the regime-change forces.

[Sputnik]

Costa Rica expects asylum claims to quadruple as refugees head south

Tens of thousands of Central Americans from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have fled their homes in recent years to escape violent criminal gangs who regularly target civilians for murder, rape and extortion.

While most of this migrant flow still heads north toward the United States, some refugees have found homes elsewhere on the Central American isthmus.

While Belize and Panama have also seen spikes in migration, Costa Rica, one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the region, has become an attractive alternative for Central American refugees.

Asylum claims in Costa Rica are set to quadruple this year from 2014 as stricter controls in Mexico and the US force Central Americans fleeing violence and political instability to find new migration routes.

[The Guardian]

Australia accused of abusing refugees

Since 2012, refugees arriving in Australia by boat have been transferred to offshore centers in small Pacific nations such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

As of the end of June, Australia government records say that 442 people were in detention on Nauru, including a number of children, from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, among other places. The Nauru government operates the detention center with support from Australia and private contractors.

Daily violence, suicide attempts and children left without medical treatment were among some of the allegations documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during a visit to Australia’s detention center on the remote Pacific Island of Nauru in July.

Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division senior counsel Michael Bochenek was one of two researchers who visited the island with a legal visa, but without notifying authorities directly of his intent or who he worked for.

“In my experience there is no other developed country that I can think of who has pursued this course of conduct with people who are fleeing persecution, who are seeking freedom, who are accused of no crime,” Bochenek told CNN. “There is no parallel for this.”

The rights groups said the Australian government was well aware of the issues on Nauru and appeared to be using them to deter other potential asylum seekers. Australian officials said they had not been contacted about the allegations and strongly denied “many” of them.

[CNN]

Europe loses track of thousands of child refugees

European governments are losing track of significant numbers of children who have entered the continent without their parents as refugees from war-torn areas in the Middle East and beyond.

In Belgium, for example, authorities can’t account for 156 migrant children who entered the country unaccompanied since January 2015, and the number is growing.

The figures from Belgium and other parts of Europe show unaccompanied children slipping through the cracks in Europe’s social-safety net.

Lone children, according to officials and advocates, remain at the greatest risk of falling victim to labor and sexual exploitation. Some officials also worry young refugees, including those who have disappeared, could be targeted for recruiting by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

In 2015, 88,245 unaccompanied children—91% of them boys—sought asylum in the European Union, and officials estimate that there are as many as 10,000 missing migrant children. This year, 90% of migrant children arriving in Italy were unaccompanied.

[Wall Street Journal]