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‘Dozens dead’ amid renewed fighting in besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta

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Syrian forces have renewed their attack on rebel areas in eastern Ghouta after talks to arrange a withdrawal failed.

A heavy bombardment of the opposition holdout of Douma, outside Damascus, left 40 civilians dead on Friday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A further eight civilians were killed on Saturday, the Observatory added.

It was hoped a deal had been struck to allow fighters to withdraw from the area, which has been dubbed “hell on Earth” because of the conditions in which people live.


Douma, eastern Ghouta



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Young man pulled from rubble in Douma

Fighters from Jaish al Islam were last week reported to have agreed to leave the last remaining Ghouta suburb under rebel control.

But, in an apparent attempt to pressure the Islamist rebel group, Syria’s government began attacking targets in Douma again after a lull of more than a week.

On Saturday, rescue worker Firas al-Doumi said: “The bombing still hasn’t stopped. There are three warplanes in the sky and two helicopters.”

Buses carrying Jaish al Islam fighters from Douma arrive in the town of Azaz
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Buses have taken Jaish al Islam fighters from Douma to Azaz

A ground assault on the fields surrounding Douma was being carried out simultaneously with attacks from the air.

State TV said the airstrikes were in response to Jaish al Islam fighters attacking Damascus with mortar fire, killing six civilians and wounding more than 30.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said: “The regime is trying to tighten the noose around Douma from the west, east, and south.”

Tens of thousands of civilians and fighters from a different group have already left eastern Ghouta in the last few weeks in response to an earlier agreement.

Some from Jaish al Islam were also pictured leaving Douma on Thursday.


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‘Months… weeks… eastern Ghouta will fall’

State television and Syrian newspapers said last Sunday that the deal with Jaish al Islam would have involved the group handing over heavy and mid-sized weapons and acknowledging Syrian government sovereignty over Douma.

Around 95% of eastern Ghouta, of which Douma was one of a number of areas under the control of several rebel factions, has now been recaptured by the regime of Bashar al Assad.


Eastern Ghouta has been under heavy bombardment for several days by Assad and his allies, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries.



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Feb: Mothers’ screams after bombs fall in Ghouta

The top political figure in Jaish al Islam blamed Syria’s international allies for the failure of the latest talks.

Mohammad Alloush said on Twitter: “The negotiations were going positively, but power struggles between the aggressor’s allies and the aggressors had caused lots of problems.

“Their only shared interests is the blood of civilians,” he added.

He later accused the regime and its allies of genocide.

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Afghanistan: Gunmen kill two female Supreme Court judges in Kabul car ambush | World News

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Gunmen killed two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in an early morning ambush, which also saw their driver wounded.

The attack happened as the two judges, who have not yet been named, were driving to their office in Kabul in a court vehicle on Sunday, a court official said.

It was the latest attack in the Afghan capital during peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials in Doha, Qatar.

No one has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack. A spokesman for the Taliban said its fighters were not involved.

A woman cries at the scene of the deadly ambush. Pic: AP
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A woman cries at the scene of the deadly ambush. Pic: AP

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement on Sunday condemning attacks on civilians by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Mr Ghani said “terror, horror and crime” was not a solution to Afghanistan‘s problem and urged the Taliban to accept “a permanent ceasefire”.

Government officials, journalists, and activists have been targeted in recent months, stoking fear particularly in Kabul.

The Taliban has denied involvement in some of the attacks, but has said its fighters would continue to “eliminate” important government figures, though not journalists or civil society members.

Rising violence has complicated US-brokered peace talks taking place in Doha as Washington withdraws troops.

Sources on both sides say negotiations are only likely to make substantive progress once US President-elect Joe Biden
takes office and makes his Afghan policy known.

The number of US troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001.

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COVID-19: First person in Brazil inoculated as two coronavirus vaccines approved | World News

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A nurse has become the first person in Brazil to receive a coronavirus jab just hours after the country’s health regulator approved two vaccines.

Monica Calazans, 54, who works on the coronavirus frontline, was vaccinated in a ceremony in Sao Paulo.

The rollout of the vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca comes after months of delay and political disputes over the immunisation programme.

SP - Sao Paulo - 01/17/2021 - SAO PAULO, FIRST VACCINATE CORONAVAC - The nurse at the Emilio Ribas Institute, Monica Calazans, 54 years old, living in Itaquera, east of Sao Paulo, celebrates after receiving the first dose of the Coronavac vaccine that was authorized for emergency use by ANVISA, in a decision taken this Sunday 17 after a meeting that lasted 5 hours at the institution's headquarters in Brasilia. Photo: Suamy Beydoun / AGIF
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The 54-year-old nurse celebrates the milestone

Brazil currently has six million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days, and is awaiting the arrival of another two million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University jab.

“This is good news for Brazil, but six million doses are still very few,” said Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Espirito Santo.

“It will not allow the entire population at risk to be fully immunised, nor is it clear how quickly the country will obtain more vaccines.”

Jair Bolsonaro
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Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic

Vaccination in Brazil is beginning later than neighbours such as Argentina and Chile despite a robust public health system and decades of experience with immunisation campaigns.

The process to present and approve the COVID-19 vaccines was fraught with conflict, as allies of President Jair Bolsonaro sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinovac shot which had been backed by his political rival, Sao Paulo state’s governor Joao Doria.

Health professionals on the frontline against coronavirus will be the first to receive the jabs.

It will then be extended to others including the indigenous population, people over 60 years of age and people with pre-existing conditions.

Brazil coronavirus cases pass four million
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Brazil has the second highest COVID-19 death toll behind the US

The South American country has now registered 8,455,059 cases since the pandemic began.

Its death toll has risen to 209,296 meaning only the US has suffered more fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

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Uganda: After contentious election, people needed answers but opposition could not provide any | World News

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We were expecting a cacophony of noise after the Ugandan Election Commission declared the result in a presidential poll that was both contentious and shockingly violent.

However, we did not see any angry chatter, nor collective calls to arms on popular social media sites because the government had switched the internet off.

The streets of the capital Kampala were quiet as members of the military, carrying short-barrelled machine guns, walked languidly down the side of city streets.

Ugandan security forces on patrol a checkpoint Kampala, Uganda, Saturday Jan. 16, 2021, after Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was declared winner of the presidential elections.
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Ugandan security forces on patrol at a checkpoint in Kampala (Pic: AP)

The 38-year old opposition leader Bobi Wine, who visibly connected with tens of thousands of younger Ugandans during the campaign, had been removed from public view. The security services are surrounding his home and blocking anyone from entering.

In effect, the government has used the tools of state to turn down the noise – to dissipate the heat – after its long-time leader, President Yoweri Museveni, took 58% of the vote.

Mr Wine, a popular pop star turned politician, garnered a respectable but insufficient 35%.

And the authorities’ masterplan seems to be working, at least for now.

We were invited to a press conference by Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party where they were expected to outline their immediate plans, address their leader’s absence, and introduce newly elected parliamentary members to the nation.

The deployment of  soldiers around  Bobi wine`s home in Magere, Kampala, Uganda, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021,  after president Yoweri Museveni was declared  winner by electoral commission this afternoon..(AP Photo/Nicholas Bamulanzeki).
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Soldiers patrol outside Mr Wine’s home (Pic: AP)

But the event proved to be nothing short of a shambles.

The NUP’s spokesman, Joel Senyonyi, began by saying that Mr Wine was now, “effectively under house arrest, an illegal detention”.

He criticised the election as an exercise in mass fraud, “with outcomes from the Election Commission that are as curious and amazing as anyone can imagine”.

But when I asked him what they planned to do about it, the spokesman was unable to offer anything specific.

“What do you want people to do?” I asked.

“Our simple answer to that is we are urging Ugandans to use every means available in the constitution to keep pursuing the change of leadership that we want.”

Supporters of Ugandan President  Yoweri Kaguta Museveni celebrate in Kampala, Uganda, Saturday Jan. 16, 2021, after their candidate was declared winner of the presidential elections. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
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Supporters of President Museveni celebrate (Pic: AP)

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Use every constitutional avenue to achieve change. I think that is very clear. Now pardon us, our colleagues (have been raided)…”

The press conference ended abruptly, before any of the new MPs had been introduced, with Mr Senyonyi signalling that some sort of emergency situation had developed.

He left through the gate of the NUP’s headquarters with several party officials and two-dozen members of the media, including Sky News, in tow.

We drove at not insignificant speed to a slum in the capital, then ran down a sewage-strewn track to a small clearing where a man, sitting in a plastic seat, relayed a story about an attack meted out by the security services.

His name was Andrew Natumanya and said he was a volunteer polling agent for the NUP party. He had been collecting declaration forms with results from individual polling stations in central and eastern Uganda when a group of plain clothes policemen had grabbed him, roughed him up and confiscated the documents.

I noticed that journalists and camera operators began to drift away as the young man outlined his experience. His allegations are disturbing and deserving of attention – but they are not unique.

Over the past few months, dozens of NUP party members and supporters have lodged allegations of harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests as they attempt to challenge a system of government that does not tolerate organised dissent.

Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years in Uganda
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Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years in Uganda

But the National Unity Platform had a crucial opportunity at the press conference to outline their plan, to come up with an approach which exploits and builds on the momentum they have manufactured over the past year.

Should young Ugandans take to the streets? Does the NUP support non-violent protest? How do concerned citizens challenge an election result that many believe is fraudulent?

Today, the people needed answers and the country’s biggest opposition party, minus its leader, could not provide any.

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