August 23, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Zambia regulator suspends three private broadcasters

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Authorities in Zambia have suspended the licences of three private broadcasters, including the country’s biggest non-public TV station, saying that they had posed a risk to peace and stability during this month’s presidential election.

President Edgar Lungu narrowly won the August 11 vote and his opponent Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development party, have filed court papers to challenge the result, claiming the vote was rigged. The ruling party and the electoral commission have rejected the UPND’s accusations.

Muvi TV, the largest private television station, Komboni Radio, and Radio Itezhi Tezhi had before, during and after the election conducted themselves in an “unprofessional manner”, the Independent Broadcasting Authority said in a statement on Monday.

The broadcasters’ actions “posed a risk to national peace and stability”, the regulator said without giving further details.

The three private stations closed down were considered opposition mouthpieces.

‘Stifling media freedom’

Opposition leader Hichilema criticised the move, saying Zambians were left with only government-owned media sources.

“This closure is meant to stifle media freedom,” he said.

“Zambians should unite to protect themselves from a brutal dictator. Let us unite to protect our country from thugs.”

The suspended stations have 30 days to appeal the ruling, the regulator said.

READ MORE: Zambia arrests 133 protesters after contested election

The run-up to the presidential poll was tense, with fighting between opposition and government supporters. Police had also broken up opposition campaigning.

According to the Zambian Elections Information Centre, at least three people were killed and many injured during a wave of pre-election violence.

Source: Agencies

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at 6:35 pm

Rana Plaza court case postponed in Bangladesh

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A court in Bangladesh has postponed the case of some 18 people facing trial for alleged construction code violations related to the Rana Plaza tragedy, when nearly 1,130 people lost their lives in a building collapse.

The April 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing garment factories in Dhaka ranks among the world’s worst industrial accidents. It prompted a global outcry for improved safety standards in the country’s massive garment industry.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of ready-made garments.

Tuesday’s scheduled court case was expected to give some of the 130 witnesses a chance to take the stand in a case where it is alleged that three extra storeys were added to the structure.

“Justice delayed again,” said Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from outside the court in Dhaka.

The case was postponed after the defendants appealed to the judge for a delay on the grounds that they had filed a petition challenging their charges with the high court.

“The judge complied with their request and postponed the hearing until October 26,” Chowdhury said.

The owner of the building, Mohammad Sohel Rana, and former chief engineer are in custody, but at least five of the accused are on the run.

Victims are demanding justice and they want the court to speed up the process. But whether that happens remains to be seen, Chowdhury said. 

“Bangladesh does not have a good track record of bringing people to justice in any major industrial accident,” he said.

Hundreds of witnesses are scheduled to give evidence when 41 people appear on murder charges in a second trial in September.

‘Not enough’

The Rana Plaza disaster put pressure on global brands such as Gap, JC Penney and Walmart to improve conditions in Bangladesh where they have garments made. 

But rights groups say not nearly enough has been done.

“In 2015, the workers get some money from the Trust fund but still the manufacturers and the government couldn’t pay them any compensation,” Nazma Akther, the president of the combined Garment Workers Federation, told Al Jazeera.

“And now most of the injured workers are severely injured and they need proper treatment and healthcare. It is very absent and nobody takes care of them.”

READ MORE: When workers die, no company can walk away

Almost three in four survivors of Rana Plaza have been unable to work owing to physical ailments and trauma.

Low labour costs and shortcuts on safety standards make Bangladesh the cheapest place to make large quantities of clothing, critics says.

Companies are split over how to improve conditions.

Big European firms signed an accord that would make them legally responsible for safety while US groups such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc have broken ties with non-compliant factories.

In 2013, the Bangladesh government raised the monthly minimum wage for garment workers by 77 percent to $68, and amended its labour law to boost workers’ rights, including the freedom to form trade unions.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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at 6:35 pm

South Sudan’s Riek Machar in Khartoum for medical care

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South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar has arrived in Khartoum for medical treatment, according to Sudanese officials, days after fleeing to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following deadly clashes last month.

“Sudan has received, lately, Dr Riek Machar, for pure humanitarian reasons, especially his need for treatment and medical care,” Sudan’s Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said on Tuesday.

“Dr Riek Machar’s health is stable currently and he will remain in the country under comprehensive healthcare until he leaves to a destination of his choice,” Osman told state media.

Hundreds died last month – and tens of thousands displaced – when forces loyal to Machar clashed with President Salva Kiir’s government troops in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

Following the fierce fighting, Machar withdrew to the bush with his forces and was later replaced as vice president by party rival Taban Deng Gai.

Sudan’s announcement of Machar’s presence in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday comes just a day after Deng wrapped up his first official visit to Khartoum.

Aides of Marchar confirmed last week that he had left South Sudan and was in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. It was also reported that Machar had a leg injury, though it was not believed to be serious.

South Sudan was founded with optimistic celebrations in the capital on July 9, 2011, after it gained independence from Sudan in a referendum that passed with close to 100 percent of the vote.

Two years later, a brutal civil war erupted between supporters of newly-formed South Sudan’s President Kiir and Machar. The two sides reached a peace deal in 2015, under which Machar returned to Juba to resume his role as vice president, but last month’s fighting threatened to send the country back to all-out civil war.

The UN Security Council voted on Friday to authorise sending an extra 4,000 troops to the country to bolster the existing UN mission.

South Sudan officials said they were considering the UN proposal.   

Source: Agencies

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at 6:15 am

Libya’s UN-backed government gets ‘no confidence’ vote

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Libya’s UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli, has suffered a major setback following a vote of no confidence by the country’s eastern parliament.

The vote on Monday by members of the House of Representatives, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, rejected the Tripoli administration’s proposed line-up for a government of national unity.

“The majority of lawmakers present at the parliament session voted no confidence in the government,” Adam Boussakhra, parliament spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

A Government of National Accord (GNA) – led by prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj – was the result of a UN-brokered power-sharing deal struck in December.

Monday’s vote was the first since January, when the parliament rejected an initial list of ministers put forward by the GNA’s leadership, and the first since the UN-backed government began installing itself in Tripoli in March.

But the GNA, which had been seeking the Tobruk parliament’s endorsement for months, has struggled to unite the country and assert its authority beyond the capital city.

A rival government in the country’s east has refused to cede power until the House of Representatives passes a vote of confidence.

READ MORE: Libya factions agree to sign national unity deal

A total of 101 deputies attended Monday’s session, with 61 voting against the GNA, 39 abstaining, and only one voting in favour, according to officials.

Parliamentary sessions in Tobruk have been repeatedly delayed or blocked as opposition to the GNA has hardened.

GNA supporters, many of whom did not attend Monday’s vote, have previously complained that opponents of the UN-backed government have used physical force and threats to prevent voting from taking place.

Western powers have been counting on the GNA to tackle Libya’s security vacuum, revive oil production, and stem the flow of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

While forces aligned with the GNA have largely recaptured the coastal city of Sirte from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, it has struggled to assert control in other areas, losing support because of its inability to resolve a liquidity crisis, widespread power cuts and other problems.

The conflict has turned the country into a nexus for people-smuggling to Europe and has enabled ISIL, also known as ISIS, to gain a foothold on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Source: Agencies

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at 6:15 am

Syria war: Russian raids from Iran base ‘over for now’

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Iran has said Russia is no longer using one of its air bases to launch strikes on targets in Syria, but the US said it is unclear whether Russia’s use of the base has actually stopped. 

“It was a specific, authorised mission and it’s over for now,” Bahram Ghasemi, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, told reporters in Tehran on Monday.

Ghasemi left open the possibility of Russia utilising the Hamedan base in the future, saying it would depend on “the situation in the region, and according to our permission”.

Levan Dzhagaryan, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran, said that all Russian planes had left Hamedan, but  added that Russia might use the base again in the future.

“There are no reasons to worry. If the leaders of our two countries consider it necessary and reach the relevant agreements, what sort of problems can there be?” Dzhagaryan told Russia’s Interfax news agency on Monday.

“For the time being, there are no [Russians] remaining in Hamedan” airbase, he added.

READ MORE: Russia defends using Iran base for Syria air raids

Iran and Russia are key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said signs of the deal souring emerged late on Sunday when Hossein Dehghan, Iran’s defence minister, said that Russia should have kept things quieter and criticised Moscow of “showing off” in making the operation public.

Challands also said a “political split in Iranian leadership” could be the real reason behind the end of the operations.

“There were certainly voices in Tehran that were saying that this might be anti-constitutional; that Iran should never have allowed a foreign power to use its airbases.” 

Later on Monday, US officials said it was not clear whether Russia had actually stopped using the base.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner reporters that Washington was closely monitoring the cooperation between Russia and Iran and that “it’s not clear … whether their (Moscow’s) use of this air base has definitively stopped”.

Shorter flight times

The flights from Iranian territory started on August 16, significantly shortening flight-times for Russian warplanes and allowing them to carry increased firepower.

Russia said it had struck targets linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previously known as the al-Nusra Front rebel group, in Aleppo, Deir Az Zor and Idlib.

Tehran oversees thousands of troops fighting for Assad on the ground, while Russia provides air power.

Activists in Syria, however, accuse Russia and Iran of aiding the Assad regime in targeting civilian neighbourhoods and infrastructure. 

READ MORE: Civilian deaths mount after Syrian regime loses ground

The two countries oppose calls for Assad to step down as a way of resolving the conflict, which began as a mostly unarmed uprising against Assad in March 2011, but quickly escalated into a full-blown civil war involving opposition groups and the regime as well as several foreign governments backing opposite sides.  

Monitoring groups estimate that more than 280,000 Syrians have been killed and millions having been displaced.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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at 6:15 am

Bangkok blast trial begins with many suspects at large

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Two Chinese nationals are going on trial for their alleged roles in a deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine one year ago, but more than a dozen suspects allegedly involved in the incident remain at large.

The trial, which has started on Tuesday, is being held at a military court in Bangkok and is expected to last more than a year.

It is taking place just days after a wave of unexplained explosions hit Thailand’s resort areas, killing at least four people and wounding 35 others, including tourists. 

The August 2015 bombing – the worst assault of its kind in Thailand’s recent history – killed 20 people and wounded more than 100 others. The motive of the attack remains unclear.

The attack, which was carried out with small but powerful bomb packed with ball bearings, targeted the Erawan shrine in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district.

READ MORE: Analysis – Thailand shields tourist trade after wave of bombings

The Hindu shrine is popular among ethnic Chinese visitors, who made up a majority of the dead with five from Malaysia, five from China and two from Hong Kong.

Members of China’s Muslim minority Uighur population, Yusufu Mieraili and Bilal Mohammed have been charged with involvement.

“The suspects appearing at the court are alleged to act as foot soldiers in the attack. However, more than a dozen suspects officials are trying to get hold of are still at large,” said Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from just outside the court.

He said analysts and officials believe the Erawan shrine blast and the recent bombings around the country were not related on the basis of available evidence, including the differences in the ammunition used.

‘Uighur connection’

Analysts have largely coalesced around the theory that the srhine bombing was in revenge for the Thai military government’s forcible return of 109 Uighurs to China weeks earlier.

Thai authorities insist the bombing was carried out by a people-smuggling gang angered by policing successes against human trafficking.

The Uighur minority say they face cultural and religious repression in their homeland of Xinjiang in northwest China, and many are believed to have fled the region in recent years.

The military government’s deportations led to international condemnation and violent protests outside Thailand’s diplomatic missions in Turkey, which has given refuge to many of the Turkic-speaking group.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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August 22, 2016 at 5:56 pm

BDS campaign ‘winning battle for hearts and minds’

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An international campaign to exert economic pressure on Israel to end its violation of Palestinian rights has not been defeated, one of its founders has said, despite claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are winning the global battle for hearts and minds,” said Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist who co-founded the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2005.

Since its launch, the BDS has aspired to campaigns such as those seen during the anti-apartheid era, when people were called on to boycott goods from South Africa and divest from the country. 

Netanyahu’s recent claims that the BDS is in retreat are “laughable”, Barghouti told Al Jazeera.

“This [was] Netanyahu’s desperate attempt to deflect internal condemnation of his failure to stop BDS,” he added.

‘Hits on many fronts’

Addressing Israel’s Knesset State Control Committee meeting in July, Netanyahu said that the BDS was “on the defensive”.

“They are taking hits on many fronts. We have beaten them”, Netanyahu said, according to media reports.

But several Israeli politicians at the meeting criticised Netanyahu’s administration for not doing more to defeat the BDS.

OPINION: BDS is a war Israel can’t win

Participants also wanted to discuss two reports by Yosef Shapira, Israel’s state comptroller, which listed Israeli failures against the BDS movement.

As the committee’s chairwoman Karin Elharra said: “Israel is facing a strong de-legitimisation campaign”. 

‘Build bridges, not boycotts’

Launched over a decade ago as a global, nonviolent campaign seeking to exert pressure on Israel through boycotts on its goods, deterring investment and calling for sanctions, the BDS has been accused by its critics of anti-Semitism.

Addressing the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in February, US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton described the BDS movement as “alarming”, particularly “at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise”.

In May, Israel’s mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress held a day-long conference at the UN’s headquarters in New York titled “Build Bridges, Not Boycotts” to denounce the efforts of the BDS.

A month later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order blacklisting organisations and businesses which supported BDS. 

That order led to a backlash and protests by those who accused Cuomo of limiting basic rights.

BDS founder Barghouti says the movement has nothing to do with religion and “never targeted Jews, or Israelis as Jews”.

“This is a movement that calls for the equal rights for all people, irrespective of identity,” he said.

‘Fundamental rights’

Cuomo’s executive order blacklisting BDS supporters “violates fundamental constitutional rights”, said Rahul Saksena, a lawyer at Palestine Legal, which is dedicated to protecting the rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom.

“The government cannot create blacklists based on First Amendment-protected speech, and the government may not condition the receipt of government benefits on the requirement that we forgo constitutional rights,” Saksena told Al Jazeera.

Despite the renewed focus on BDS by Israel, the movement has recently enjoyed an increase in support, particularly at the grassroots level, and among trade unions, academic associations, artists, church groups and some governments, Barghouti said.

READ MORE: The BDS question at US universities 

Although the movement continues to gain attention, it is yet to have a significant economic effect on Israel, said Marwan Hanania, a scholar of Middle East history and politics.

BDS should focus strictly on Israeli activities inside the West Bank and Gaza, which could even draw support from left-wing Israelis, Hanania said.

“It is important for activists to broaden their horizons and attempt to be more inclusive,” he said

“Their message has to resonate with people who are not particularly knowledgeable or interested in the Palestinian cause on its own terms.”

It is a view shared by US academic and political theorist Noam Chomsky, who described the BDS as “too broad”, in an interview with Al Jazeera in February.

“I support the aspects of BDS aimed at the occupied territories. Those are the ones that have been successful; they are principled and correct,” Chomsky said, explaining that he opposed actions being taken “against Israel itself”.

That would be like boycotting the US for the policies of its government.

“I do not suggest boycotting Harvard University and my own university, even though the United States is involved in horrific acts … You might as well boycott the United States,” Chomksy said. 

Boycotting Israeli businesses and products outside the occupied territories would be ineffective, he added.

Source: Al Jazeera

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at 5:56 pm

Reports: Turkey child bomber ‘accompanied by adults’

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A child who blew himself up killing at least 54 people at a crowded Kurdish wedding in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province was accompanied to the scene of the attack by two adults, according to media reports.

The adults “fled in a vehicle just before the blast”, said Turkish daily Hurriyet on Monday, citing security officials who examined CCTV footage from the area.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously said the child bomber was aged “between 12 and 14” and that initial findings showed Saturday’s attack had been “perpetrated by Daesh”.

Daesh is another name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.

OPINION: From sporadic to systematic ISIL attacks in Turkey

A Turkish security official told the Reuters news agency that they were investigating the possibility that adult fighters could have placed the explosives on the child without his or her knowledge and detonated them remotely, or that a mentally disabled child was duped into carrying the device, a tactic seen elsewhere in the region. 

“It could be that someone was loaded with explosives without even being aware of it and it may have been detonated remotely,” the official said, adding that a search was under way for suspects who may have played a reconnaissance role.

The Hurriyet daily said that DNA tests were under way to ascertain the identity and nationality of the bomber.

‘Same device’

The device used in Saturday’s bombing, which contained scraps of metal, was the same type used in 2015 attacks on a peace rally in Ankara and on the border district of Suruc, Turkish media also reported on Monday, citing security sources.

Both the Ankara and Suruc attacks were blamed on ISIL, reinforcing the suspicion that the armed group was also behind the Gaziantep bombing, the official said.

The group has targeted Kurdish gatherings in Turkey for over a year. The Ankara bombing was the deadliest of its kind in Turkey, killing more than 100 people.

INTERACTIVE: Timeline of attacks in Turkey

Meanwhile, three more people receiving treatment at hospitals after the attack in Gaziantep succumbed to their wounds in the early hours of Monday. 

A total of 66 wounded are still receiving treatment at hospitals in the province, with 14 in a critical condition.

“Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara.

Cavusoglu said Turkey, a member of NATO and the US-led coalition against ISIL, had become the “No.1 target” for ISIL fighters because of its work to stop recruits traveling through Turkey across its over 800km border into Syria to join the armed group.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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at 5:56 pm

Japan: Typhoon Mindulle lashes Tokyo area

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A powerful typhoon has battered the Greater Tokyo area in Japan, leaving at least one person dead and dozens injured, according to media reports.

Typhoon Mindulle made landfall at noon (local time) on Monday, moving upwards from the Japanese capital to the northern Tohoku region, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Bringing winds up to 180km per hour, the storm was heading north at a speed of 25km per hour from Miyake island in early morning, the agency said.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, a 58-year-old  police was swept away by flood waters and later died in hospital, according to Kyodo

READ MORE: Japan sees three tropical cyclones at once

Dozens of people were injured, many of them in falls caused by the strong wind, the DPA news agency said.

Hundreds of thousands were urged to evacuate their homes in the Greater Tokyo area and the north-east, broadcaster NHK reported.

As Mindulle was heading off to the north-east and the island of Hokkaido, weather authorities were warning of mudslides, flooding, swollen rivers and high waves in those regions and eastern Japan.

The storm forced airlines across the country to cancel more than 500 flights, while runways of the Narita International Airport were temporarily closed.


Japan Airlines said it cancelled 145 domestic flights through mid-afternoon, affecting 26,910 customers, while All Nippon Airways cancelled 96 domestic flights, affecting 21,300 passengers.

There were also reported delays and cancellation of train services, including the super fast bullet trains.

Rainfall of up to 200 millimetres was predicted for Hokkaido by Tuesday evening, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

READ MORE: A warming world: July marks ‘hottest month on record’

Separately, typhoon Kompasu, which hit Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido on Sunday, had been downgraded to a temperate depression by early on Monday and moved away into the Sea of Okhotsk, according to the weather agency.

A man was found dead on Monday on an inundated street in the city of Kitami on Hokkaido, where Kompasu caused flooding the previous day, DPA reported.

A third tropical storm called Lionrock was south of the island of Shikoku, but is not expected to hit Japan directly.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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at 5:51 am

Syria’s war: Calls for truce to get aid into Aleppo

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The UN special envoy to Syria has called for a truce again around the city of Aleppo as activists report more deaths in fighting around the country.

Activists said 33 people were killed in fighting in Aleppo on Saturday when air strikes targeted the city’s southern edges and intense battles raged, the AFP news agency reported.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in a three-week surge of fighting in the city and bombardment, according to a monitoring group.

READ MORE: Syria’s Civil War: One conflict, multiple battles

Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy, has long called for a 48-hour halt in fighting each week to allow aid delivery and medical evacuations from both rebel-held eastern and government-controlled western Aleppo.

“You may wonder what’s the good of a truce in such a terrible war. Well, I can assure you and I’ve seen it in the past that a truce can save lots of lives and is a breath of fresh air for people being besieged,” De Mistura said on Saturday.

“A truce can give the possibility for people to stop and think that it is probably best to negotiate because no one is winning and those who are losing their lives are the Syrians.”

Images of five-year-old bombing survivor Omran Daqneesh shocked the world [Al Jazeera]

Among those who died in Aleppo on Saturday was the older brother of Omran Daqneesh, the little Syrian boy who was pictured sitting in an ambulance dazed and covered in blood after an air strike.

Ali Daqneesh died from wounds sustained in the August 17 attack on the family’s apartment in Aleppo, according to the SOHR.

“Ali, aged 10, succumbed to his injuries. He was badly wounded in the same bombardment as Omran …”

‘Humanitarian pause’

Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s defence ministry spokesman, announced on Friday that his country was “ready to implement the first 48-hour ‘humanitarian pause’ to deliver humanitarian aid to Aleppo residents” next week.

De Mistura welcomed the move and said the UN was counting on Russia’s help to ensure “the adherence of the Syrian armed forces to the pause, once it comes into effect”.

The toll of 333 civilians in Aleppo since July 31, when rebels launched a major push to break a government siege of districts under their control, includes 165 – among them 49 children – killed in opposition fire on the city’s government-held western districts.

Another 168 civilians have died in Russian and Syrian government air strikes and shelling on its rebel-controlled eastern neighbourhoods, according to the SOHR.

Russia has been carrying out air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria since September 2015.

Meanwhile, in northeastern Syria 25 people have been killed in air strikes in Hasaka, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Activists said government forces attacked the mainly Kurdish city for a third day on Saturday.

More than 290,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in March 2011 and international efforts at putting an end to the war have faltered.


Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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