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UN calls for end to ‘hell on earth’ violence in eastern Ghouta

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The United Nations has called for an end to the “hell on earth” violence in Syria after hundreds of civilians were killed in eastern Ghouta.

Residents in the rebel-held area outside Damascus say they are waiting for their “turn to die” after more than 290 people including dozens of children were killed since Sunday.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said the Syrian government’s bombing campaign had turned the region into “hell on earth” for civilians.

“My appeal to all those involved is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in eastern Ghouta allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need,” he said.




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Moment Syrian airstrike hits rebel-held suburb

French president Emmanuel Macron has called for a humanitarian truce to allow civilians to be evacuated.

Rockets and barrel bombs continued to fall on Wednesday, killing at least 24 people, in an apparent preparation for a government ground assault.

The UN has described the situation as “beyond imagination”, while Amnesty International said “flagrant war crimes” were being committed.

Bilal Abu Salah, who lives in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, said: “We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say.”


Sky's Alex Crawford



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Sky’s Special Correspondent Alex Crawford has the latest

Prime Minister Theresa May has called on President Bashar al Assad’s regime and its ally Russia “to ensure this violence stops and those people in need of help are given that help”.

But the Kremlin said claims the Russian military was responsible for civilian casualties in eastern Ghouta were “unfounded”.

:: Ghouta resident: ‘Bombing and shelling never stops’

An Amnesty International spokesman said: “The Syrian government, with the backing of Russia, is intentionally targeting its own people in eastern Ghouta.

An injured man covered with blood is seen at a medical point in the besieged town of Douma,
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Rockets and artillery fire have been targeting eastern Ghouta

“People have not only been suffering a cruel siege for the past six years, they are now trapped in a daily barrage of attacks that are deliberately killing and maiming them, and that constitute flagrant war crimes.”

The Syrian government maintains it is fighting a war on terrorism and does not target civilians.

State media reported that rebels have been firing mortars on districts of Damascus near eastern Ghouta, killing at least six people on Tuesday and wounding two people on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Russia’s Defence Ministry said there had been a “massive bombardment by illegal armed groups from eastern Ghouta” which had targeted residential areas, hotels and Russia’s Centre for Syrian Reconciliation.

Syrian children cry at a make-shift hospital in Douma following air strikes on the Syrian village of Mesraba in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region
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Syrian children cry at a make-shift hospital in the town of Douma

The UN has called for a ceasefire, saying the situation for civilians in eastern Ghouta is “spiralling out of control”.

It has warned the violence could turn into a repeat of the battle for Aleppo, which endured months of conflict between rebels and government forces in 2016.

Eastern Ghouta was among the first Syrian regions to shake off government rule after popular demonstrations against President Assad swept through the country in 2011, eventually leading to civil war.

Ghaith, a wounded 12-year-old Syrian boy, cries as he receives treatment at a make-shift hospital in Kafr Batna and waits for news of his mother in the operating room
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A 12-year-old boy receives treatment in eastern Ghouta

It is also among the last places to resist Assad’s determined campaign to take back control of every last rebel-held region.

It is supposed to be one of the “de-escalation zones” agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as part of their diplomatic efforts. But a former al Qaeda affiliate, which has a small presence there, is not included in the agreement.

The bombardment of eastern Ghouta by Assad’s forces resulted in the worst 48-hour death toll in Syria since a chemical attack in 2013.

Smoke plumes rise following a regime air strike in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region
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Smoke plumes rise following a regime airstrike in eastern Ghouta

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 106 civilians, including 19 children, were killed in the violence on Tuesday.

It came after 127 people were killed on Monday in eastern Ghouta’s bloodiest day in four years.

The Observatory blamed Russian warplanes, saying Moscow carried out its first strikes in three months on eastern Ghouta.

A person inspects damaged building in the besieged town of Douma
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The UN has described the situation in eastern Ghouta as ‘beyond imagination’

In another development, Assad’s forces were sent to the northern Afrin region, where they came under fire by Turkish forces attacking the Kurdish-controlled area.

Syria is sending in forces to come to the aid of a Kurdish militia known as the YPG, after Turkey and its Free Syrian Army allies made unexpected gains there.

A spokesman for Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there would be “serious consequences” after a convoy of about 50 vehicles tried to enter Afrin on Tuesday but were repelled by artillery fire.

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Gender gap: Ageing societies give more advantages to men than women, researchers say | World News

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Men have more advantages than women in ageing populations, an international study has found.

Researchers say the gender differences in societal ageing suggest men have better resources to cope with the challenges of getting older.

Different gender roles within society not only shape women’s and men’s life opportunities but also their experience of ageing, the research suggests.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 65 years and older is expected to more than double in the next 30 years, rising from 703 million in 2019 to 1.5 billion in 2050.

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Age UK on difficulties facing elderly after lockdown

The study, by researchers from the National University of Singapore and Columbia University in America, found men are especially advantaged when it comes to income and wealth.

They are more likely to be financially secure, have paid work and spend fewer years in ill-health than women in later life.

The first of its kind, the research investigated gender differences in the experience of people growing older in 18 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes the likes of the UK and the US.

Women across the countries analysed were shown to have a three year longer average life expectancy than men, but spend more years in poor health.

They are also more likely to live alone at the end of their lives and earn less than men.

A disproportionately greater risk of disability and ill-health in women increased their likelihood of needing long-term care, the study found, as well.

Researchers used the latest data from the OECD and World Bank between 2015 and 2019 for 18 of the 35 OECD countries with sufficient data to develop a gender-specific ageing index.

The new index accounts for five categories that capture social and economic factors affecting the quality of ageing: wellbeing, productivity and engagement, equity, cohesion and security.

Using the system, researchers calculated the overall index and individual category scores that range from 0 to 100 for men and women.

A higher score suggests a successfully ageing society.

Key differences between men and women in ageing societies according to the study:

  • Men have better resources to cope with the challenges of ageing
  • Women have a three year longer average life expectancy than men
  • Men are especially advantaged when it comes to income and wealth
  • Women spend more years in poor health
  • Men are more likely to be financially secure
  • Women have a greater risk of disability and ill-health, which increases their likelihood of needing long-term care
  • Men are more likely to be engaged in paid work
  • Women are more likely to live alone at the end of their lives
  • Women earn less than men

Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Japan did well for both genders with an overall index score of 66 or above for men and 55 or above for women.

Countries in much of eastern and southern Europe were at the bottom of the rankings.

The UK achieved an overall index score of 57 for men and 47 for women. It also had the largest difference in wellbeing scores between the two genders, with a score of 74 assigned for men and 61 for women.

America’s overall performance score was 55 for men and 47 for women.

Both the US and the UK performed poorly in the study, indicating growing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth.

Lead author Dr Cynthia Chen, from the National University of Singapore, said: “Ageing societies reinforce the prevailing gender norms in which men continue to be allocated the majority of opportunities, resources, and social support.

“With the world’s population ageing at an unprecedented rate, and the ratio of older women to older men expected to increase, there is an urgent need to challenge the structural and policy biases that favour men.”

The authors have suggested four measures to help address gender bias and inequality in societal ageing including assessing minimum income requirements for healthy living in older people and minimum pensions.

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The mystery of the whisky bottle, the US secretary of state and the department searching for answers | US News

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The US State Department is investigating the apparent disappearance of a bottle of whisky worth nearly $6,000 (£4,320).

The Japanese government gave the bottle to Mr Pompeo in June 2019 when the then-secretary of state visited the country.

The department reported the investigation in its annual accounting of gifts given to senior US officials by foreign governments and leaders.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, sits down for a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019, during the G-20 summit. At right is the secretary's senior adviser Michael McKinley. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS
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Mike Pompeo visited Japan as secretary of state in June 2019 and it is believed he was given the bottle then

It noted that it could find no trace of the bottle’s whereabouts and that there was an “ongoing inquiry” seeking an explanation.

A spokesman for Mr Pompeo said he was unaware of the gift and the inquiry into its whereabouts.

It is thought the bottle of whisky was given to Mr Pompeo while he was attending a G20 summit in Japan, along with then-president Donald Trump.

But the state department’s Office of Protocol, which records gifts given to US officials, said that, while every other gift had been recorded, there was no record of the whisky.

If a gift is over a certain value, the recipient can give it to the National Archives or another government entity, or they can keep the gift and reimburse the Treasury Department.

Among the items given to Mr Pompeo during his time as secretary of state were two carpets worth a total of $19,400 (£14,000) from the president of Kazakhstan and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Trump and his wife Melania received more than $120,000 (£86,400) worth of presents from foreign leaders in 2019, including an Ottoman Empire rifle worth $8,500 (£6,120) from the Bulgarian prime minister, a bronze sculpture of an Arabian horse from the crown prince of Bahrain worth $7,200 (£5,100), and a statue of an Arabian oryx worth $6,300 (£4,500) from the emir of Qatar.

The Office of Protocol said all of these were given to the National Archives.

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Greece wildfires: Families reflect on devastation as homes are destroyed – ‘if my mother saw this she would cry’ | World News

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I spot George Kyriakopolous sitting in his car, the door open to blackened surroundings and smouldering earth.

To his left is his house. To the right, the one owned by his 95-year-old mother and 98-year-old father. His parents’ property is burned beyond repair. His own house is badly damaged.

George is a man in shock. He cannot believe what he is seeing. Twenty four hours earlier he was watching a wildfire at what seemed like a distance. In 10 minutes, he says, the fire was upon them in the village of Varympompi, north of Athens.

George Kyriakopolous lost his home, his parents home and his dog in the fire.
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George Kyriakopolous lost his home, his parents’ home and his dog in the fire

He tells me they had to drive through the flames to get out. He is one of the few residents here who have made it back to check on their properties.

George tells me: “If my mother saw this she would cry. She would cry.”

And I think any of us would. Homes that have been lived in and cherished for years were destroyed in minutes. Land cultivated through hard work, now scorched.

The burned-out homes of residents
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The burned-out homes left behind

And this scene is repeated in street after street in this village where hundreds were forced to leave as one of the biggest wildfires in Greece this week penetrated Varympompi. Most who live here have not been allowed to return.

Residents have lost their homes and cars in the fires
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People have lost their homes and cars in the fires

The area is still regarded as extremely dangerous and most residents can only watch the skies from where planes and helicopters dump vast containers of water on the area and hope things will be okay.

Sadly for many of them that will not be the case. Coming back here will be traumatising. It certainly has been for Rula Mantis who shows us around the charred remains of the fruit vegetable store she runs with her boyfriend. So much of it is destroyed and she wonders how they will ever recover.

Rula Mantis's boyfriend owns the grocers in the village that has been ruined by the fires
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Rula Mantis’s boyfriend owns the grocers in the village that has been ruined by the fires

She’s angry the property was allowed to burn but understands fire crews faced impossible pressure.

She tells me: “It’s very hard. It’s a lot of money you have to spend to make this from the beginning. You can’t save anything. As you can see, there’s nothing left.”

The massive flames which lit up the night sky here when the fire reached its peak may have quelled now but the danger for this village isn’t over. Everywhere we drive or walk in Varympompi the ground is smouldering.

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High temperatures have caused the wildfires in Greece – with people being forced to evacuate their homes

Smoke threatens to ignite into fresh flames which on scorched earth could spread again. It is why residents are taking their fire extinguishers and buckets to douse where they can.

But they know they are up against challenging elements. Temperatures are predicted to remain high in Greece in the days to come when all villagers hope for is rain.

They also know they face the pain of seeing neighbours and friends return to a village where there will be so much pain to confront.

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