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Tuesday, March 28

HISTORIC EVENT FOR SYRIA: Government evacuation of 'rebels' from Homs


Robert Fisk presents his report on the evacuation as a highly dramatic literary piece (see below).  SANA, Syria's state information agency, presents a report on the same event that is long on bare facts and short on drama. Both versions are helpful to understanding the significance -- and technical aspects -- of the evacuation.

Because it's shorter than Fisk's report I'll start with SANA's version, datelined March 27, which features a prosaic photograph of the evacuation (shown above).  And note SANA's prosaic labeling of these cutthroats as "gunmen" [smiling] Well, the government is very generous toward those Syrians who want to stop fighting.   

Updated-more than 500 gunmen and their family members leave al-Wa’er Neighborhood in Homs

Homs, SANA – More than 500 gunmen and some of their family members on Monday left al-Wa’er neighborhood in Homs city and headed for the northeastern countryside of Aleppo.

The evacuation of the second batch came within the framework of the reconciliation agreement which aims to evacuate all gunmen and weapons from the neighborhood and pave the way for the return of all state-owned institutions to it.

In a statement to SANA, Homs Governor Talal al-Barazi noted that the reconciliation agreement is being implemented according the set program which extends between 6 to 8 weeks, adding that the third batch of gunmen who reject to join the agreement will leave next Saturday.

He said that more than 600 persons have settled their legal status in the last week, including 120 gunmen.

Head of Homs Health Directorate, Hassan al-Jendi said that a medical team has been prepared to provide vaccine to children in addition to a clinic to provide citizens, who are leaving the neighborhood, with healthcare services.

On March 18th, 423 gunmen, who rejected to follow the reconciliation agreement and 1056 members of their families left the neighborhood, while the legal status of hundreds of persons had been settled according to the amnesty decree No. 15 for 2016.

[END REPORT]
Syria: Final evacuation of Homs begins under close Russian supervision
by Robert Fisk reporting from Homs
March 28 - approx. 4:15 am Syria time
The Independent

Soon the Assad regime will be able to claim complete control of the major city of Homs for the first time in years. Robert Fisk witnesses a day of huge significance in the history of Syria

They came out of the dawn. Young men dressed and scarved in black and carrying Kalashnikovs, old men in wheelchairs, mothers in midnight niqabs, a teenager with a child in one arm and a strapped rifle draped over the other, a serious man with a big gold and green Koran in his right hand and a small figure with a vast shaggy beard, the very last Che Guevara, walking and limping and sometimes marching almost nonchalantly onto the buses. They came from the very last rebel enclave in Homs. And they were, some of them, going to fight another day.

They didn’t look at us. They didn’t look at the Russian soldiers or the Syrian troops or the policemen or the plain clothes Syrian cops or the Red Crescent women; they didn’t bother to glance at the cameras that whirred and clicked their faces off to posterity; not that you could see many of the women behind their face covers and black scarves as they climbed slowly onto the buses. But one young man in a red and white track suit who glowered towards us, turned back once he was on the bus, behind the safety of the window.

And he grinned and put his right finger in the air above his head and turned it round and round for his audience on the street outside. "We are coming back," it said. We are not leaving. We are not surrendering. But of course, no-one had asked these hundreds of men and women to surrender. Months of negotiations and trust and a lot of suspicion are slowly emptying the withered, smashed suburb of al-Wa’er of its armed men. Al-Wa’er means a barren place, a place without flowers, a place where nothing grows.

So what might grow after this exodus of people – Syrians for the most part, although one man must have been a Sudanese and Che Guevara looked as though he was probably a Saudi – and what peace might it bring to central Syria? All were sent in their fleets of buses north to Jerablus on the Turkish border where the Syrian government hopes, without saying so, that they will seep across into Turkey and never return. But that wasn’t what the governor of Homs was telling them. He walked to the buses and pleaded with the departing thousands to stay. You will be safe, he told them. You can stay in your homes. You will not be arrested.

There was a middle-aged man with a limp who sported a sniper’s rifle, burly men with shoulder bags whose contents we could only guess at and so many more young mothers and children, some who looked unwell, and babies who must have been born under siege. The Russians watched impassively, tall, well-fed soldiers in flak jackets and steel helmets, guarding the lives of ferociously opposed enemies – the militiamen emerging from the slums and the Syrian troops watching them leave for the far north. Colonel Sergei Druzon of the Russian army looked on like a little Zhukov. This may not have been a military victory for Moscow – but by heavens it was a political victory for the Russians to have taken over the role of UN peacekeepers – if only for a day – on the Syrian front line.

But epic dramas like this need subjectivity as well as cynical truth. Within two days, 160 fighters had reportedly chosen to stay in a new government-controlled al-Waer, laying down their weapons and choosing to trust the government they have fought. Another 215 men and women, including 50 fighters, chose to leave. A further 450 were to join them. The figures climbed throughout the day. But what was so striking was the normality of it all – maybe "naturalness" gets closer to the feeling – because here were lethal enemies, the armed groups of al-Wa’er (Nusrah/al-Qaeda among them) and the Syrian army and special forces who had fought and killed each other and whose monstrous war still consumes Syria, standing only 15 metres apart, scarcely even bothering to look at each other.

At first, it was all very self-conscious. The Syrians eyed the crowds and especially the gunmen among them, desperate to believe their promises of safe conduct and allowed to carry their small arms and rifles. But the "rebels" – and here the quotation marks are necessary because there were at least 15 different versions of them – tried to look casual, almost bored, as if it was the most tiresome thing in the world to abandon your home (or at least your battleground) and sidle past your enemies to try a new life elsewhere.

Then came the defiant ones. Instead of carrying their weapons in their left hands, between themselves and the buses where the cameras couldn’t snap their guns, they made their way through the tapered columns with their AKs in their right hand, happy to be seen with them although often virtually masked by black scarves, defiant rather than defeated. And then, after a couple of hours, they would approach the front of their queues with a vague curiosity. They looked at the Syrian soldiers with a faint interest. So THIS was the enemy, their eyes said. But they said nothing.

No-one offered a word. No one spoke or prayed or cried – for many were leaving their homes, perhaps forever – and save for the roar of the buses and the Syrian jets which daggered meaningfully through the skies overhead (and surely this was a message from the government), not a sound came from these hundreds of men and women. If this was Hollywood – and none could deny the drama – it was a largely silent movie. Maybe there should have been a piano in the background or a list of captions to tell the audience what the actors were thinking. But all we got were dozens of tourist buses, advertising Syrian tours around a country which no sane person would or could tour, save for those boarding these very same buses for the north.

There were a few named characters in this theatre. There was, for example, the imam in his long gown who walked from the departing masses whose name was Sheikh Attalah and who shook the hands of the mufti of Homs, Sheikh Issam al-Musri, who came to greet him from the government side. Al-Musri pleaded with his friend to stay in Homs, not to board the buses. Attalah – and his words were almost inaudible -- spoke of a decision taken 24 hours earlier to leave. The word went round that he spoke of a "fatwa" issued by some authority (unknown) that threatened anyone who stayed with death. But there was no confirmation of this.

Then the governor of Homs, a tall, deeply thoughtful man – a businessman in Dubai before Bashar al-Assad asked him to take over Homs, a man involved in public relations in the Gulf and who also indulged in film production in his previous incarnation (which surely must have helped him in al-Wa’er), who admitted that, yes, he was “deeply saddened” that so many had chosen to leave. “I pleaded with them,” Talal al-Barazi said. “I told them not to be unafraid, that they could stay in their homes, lay down their arms. I told the Syrian fighters they were our people, that they were welcome to stay in their homes, that they could trust our word.”

There had been bitter disagreement between the "rebel" groups. Some wanted to go to Idlib to join their comrades there. Others opted for the Turkish border. Colonel Druzon admitted there had been much debate about the destination of the buses. The rows between competing armed groups had already caused long delays in the departure programme, which will continue again next week. And what of those who will nonetheless make their way to the big killer zone of Idlib? Will they, too, be bombed once more, even by the air force comrades of the Russian soldiers protecting them on the edge of al-Wa'er?

Mr al-Barazi – and you cannot fault the man’s optimism – said that many would still remain, that 150 had agreed to stay in the past two days, that everyone, the religious leaders, including the Christian clergy, had added their names to their guarantees of safety. But then, looking at those black-clad figures with their guns and children and niqabed wives, would you, reader, trust yourself – if you were them, heavens above -- to the regime you had been trying to destroy for more than six years? War crimes have been committed across this poor country by every side – and no-one has yet dared to produce a figure for the hundreds of kidnap victims in Homs (yes, again, by both sides) since the start of this war.

And so they continued to walk up the red and white tapes towards the buses. Many looked poor and they had the plastic suitcases and zipper-bags of the poor and the children had clothes that were either too pink or two green and who looked as if no-one had combed their hair for many days. They weren’t all like this. There were a few dapper shoes, some niqab-chic and a man faithfully clutching a satellite dish. Perhaps he wanted, up in Jerablus, to plug it in and view his own exodus.

“One by one,” an armed Syrian policemen said loudly to several departing gunmen, and they waited and kept their patience and walked obediently to the buses. But this was the saddest departure, for most of the hundreds who queued to leave were not foreigners and this portended further dispossession and pain and loss and the young man who indicated that he would return meant what he said and he didn’t intend to come back without his gun. Alas, it was the same old story. The Syrians were on the move again.

[END REPORT]

********

Monday, March 27

Greece begins blocking refugees but faces "austerical despair"

"Of course, should Greece really go against Merkel’s dream of assimilation, she will simply unleash further austerical despair on the nation in return for their next bailout." 

"WE’VE REACHED OUR LIMITS” – GREECE BEGINS BLOCKING REFUGEES
March 27, 2017
Zero Hedge via SouthFront

Greece will cease taking back refugees under the controversial Dublin Regulation, as the country’s limited capacities to host people are already on the brink of collapse, the Greek migration minister announced in an interview.
RT reports that as the European Commission pressures Athens to re-implement the Dublin Regulation – stipulating that refugees can be returned to the first EU state they arrived in – the Greek migration minister told Spiegel his country is not in a position to do so. The agreement was put on hold for Greece back in 2011 over problems in the country’s asylum system.
“Greece is already shouldering a heavy burden,” Ioannis Mouzalas, the migration minister, said. We accommodate 60,000 refugees… and it would be a mistake to make Greece’s burden heavier by the revival of the Dublin agreement,” he said, also adding that Germany, the primary destination for most refugees, “wants countries where refugees arrive first to bear a large portion of the burden.”
Asked if Athens is ruling out implementation of the Dublin Regulation, Mouzalas answered in the affirmative, adding, “I want the Germans to understand that this is not because of political or ideological reasons, or failure to appreciate Germany’s assistance.
“Greece simply has no capacities to cope with additional arrival of refugees,” he said. “We’ve just pulled ourselves together, so please, don’t make us falter again.”
At this stage, Mouzalas said, Greece is ready to accommodate only a small number of refugees as a symbolic gesture, showing “that we’re not opposed to the Dublin agreement.” Greece “reached its limits” and “we can’t bring in a single refugee,” he reaffirmed, appealing “to the common sense of Europe.”
Human rights groups warn that imminent transfers from other EU countries back to Greece in line with the regulations are likely to cause more refugees than ever to go underground in western European countries, as many are desperate to stay there because of family links or successful attempts to start a new life. The scheme also adds even greater pressure to existing refugee facilities in Greece and beyond.
Of course, should Greece really go against Merkel’s dream of assimilation, she will simply unleash further austerical despair on the nation in return for their next bailout. How much longer will the Greeks take it?
[END REPORT]
********

4 regions make up largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years. Now what?

"Somalia's emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make the world's largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years, according to U.N. officials."


"The UN is seeking $4.4-billion by the end of March to prevent a catastrophe in South Sudan and three other famine-threatened countries: Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Yet by February, only 2 per cent of this target had been raised."

All right. I'll outline each case one by one. But the first question is how in the hell did this happen, given the vast amounts of aid poured into these regions for decades? 

The answer: In all four cases violent conflicts are making bad situations worse; pile on top governments that don't work well in the modern era, traditional ways of life that don't square with the present climate in worst-hit regions and helped exhaust the land, and much misspent aid/development loans combined with stupid and corrupt officials and religious leaders.   

So why save these people? Many are born permanently brain-damaged because of severe malnutrition in the womb. They grow up physically and mentally stunted and not much use for anything but breeding like rabbits and plying a pastoral or farming way of life that their part of the world can't support in this era.  

First because if the better-off societies can save this sorry lot they can learn to save anybody, including themselves. That represents a vital mastery of hideously complicated survival skills for a not-too-distant future. Amazing but true the disaster aid industry that arose in the post-WW2 era is getting better at problem-solving as it goes along. They are learning from past mistakes.

Second, and related to the first reason, is that the name of the human survival game is becoming "stay in place" to whatever extent can be done. This because we're learning that too many times when we cut and run, the desert wins. Granted, often there's no choice but to run; e.g., when a vital water source completely dries up. But modern technologies and the accumulation of millennia of knowledge now give humanity a slight edge in the unending struggle against the desert's march. 

The idea now is to put all that technology and knowledge to use in the worst-hit regions. No guarantee of success in every instance but the fight is worth it.

So what we're seeing today is a sea change in the entire approach to disaster aid. Just as medicine is focusing more on prevention, so aid strategies are trying to prevent the worst of conditions that spiral into disasters. 

This approach does have drawbacks; for starters, it can make it even easier for governments that want to meddle in a country's politics to do such. This has been a perennial problem, especially since the Cold War. Another drawback is that extended aid done without changes to a country's basic situation helps support the situation.   

But this is not a perfect world.
  
And so the race is on to ward off the kind of famine that between 2010 and 2012 wiped out about 260,000 Somalis. Humanitarian aid workers learned many lessons from the disaster and now they're trying to apply what they learned to avert the looming one.  

The race to save Somalis, however, is up against the hard deadline of April. The rains in Somalia have failed two years in a row; if they fail next month.

The threat of famine in Somalia is joined by the specter of large cholera outbreaks in overcrowded refugee camps in the country. From Drought-Stricken Somalia Battles Hunger and Cholera; Associated Press; March 26, 2017; reporting by Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Baidoa, Somalia: 
[...]
The cholera epidemic is most prevalent among women and children. Cholera outbreaks often occur in refugee camps due to overcrowding and poor sanitation. Water scarcity also remains a major problem among the new arrivals in the refugee camps. In recent weeks, aid agencies have started a cholera vaccination campaign across Somalia.
Somalia's drought is threatening 3 million lives, according to the U.N. In recent months, aid agencies have been scaling up their efforts, but they say more support is urgently needed to prevent the crisis from worsening.
More aid "is very important if we want to prevent the cholera from going out of control and also to prevent famine. We have to get the funding now to prevent it," Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF's representative for Somalia, said standing inside a Baidoa hospital ward.
"We are still ahead of the curve of the famine because now is when we can save lives," he said. "This is not the time to have doubts that funding is not needed."
Somalia's emergency is joined by similar hunger crises in South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen, which together make the world's largest humanitarian disaster in more than 70 years, according to U.N. officials.
In Somalia, drought-stricken families have had to move from one place to another in order to reach international aid agencies that cannot distribute food in areas under the control of al-Shabab, Somalia's homegrown Islamic extremist rebels who are affiliated with al-Qaida.
[...]
Meanwhile in Yemen --

Yemen’s food crisis – ancient trade route represents a lifeline; March 26, 2017; Middle East Monitor:

Captains of small wooden dhows are carrying food and wares from the United Arab Emirates to war-torn Yemen. But supplies are falling even from this centuries-old Arabian sea route that is one of the last lifelines to a country on the brink of famine.

A two-year-old civil war has severely restricted the flow of food into the main Yemeni cargo ports of Hodeidah and Salif on the Red Sea, where all the large grain silos are located.

The small wooden boats sailing from souks in the UAE are moving small but vital supplies by making for the smaller ports to the south coast that are of little use to larger vessels – and often sidestepping military inspections that choke traffic by dropping anchor at secluded coves nearby.

The deals originate in the sprawling Al Ras Market, a collection of dusty alleyways near the Dubai Creek where an array of food and spices are on display including colourful sacks of Pakistani and Indian rice.

The dhows – plying the ancient trade route that once carried the likes of pearls, frankincense and myrrh – supply 14,000 to 18,000 tonnes of foodstuffs a month to Yemen, according to traders. That represents a drop of about 30-40 percent over the past year because of problems with payment, as well as adverse sailing conditions.

“The Yemeni currency is destroyed, sometimes we can’t get paid enough. We can only go once a month because the seas are too rough,” said trader Mohammed Hassan, at a docking station at nearby Port Khaled in Sharjah

“Sometimes we have to wait 40 days.”

The volumes of food carried on this route represent a small fraction of the supply to Yemen, which relies on imports for 90 percent of its food. But it has become increasingly important as fighting has raged, the economy has collapsed and Yemen has needed all the help it can get.

The conflict has choked imports. Sixty percent of Yemenis, or 17 million people, are in “crisis” or “emergency” food situations, according to the United Nations.

While vessels seeking access to Houthi-held areas must face inspections for smuggled weapons, the government-controlled south has less restrictions.

Food imports into Hodeidah have fallen relentlessly, with only a few ships arriving each week – compared with dozens before the war – and more shipping lines pulling out due to the growing risks, according to aid and shipping sources.

In recent weeks damage to infrastructure in the neighbouring port of Salif has also cut food deliveries, aid officials said.

Robert Mardini, International Committee of the Red Cross regional director for the Near and Middle East in Geneva this week said:

"The country is living on its reserves…There is a lack of liquidity, no payment of salaries, which means that the spending power has collapsed and that the price of food is soaring whenever it is available."

"Paying Thugs"

UAE-based dhow captains avoid these snarl-ups by steering clear of the big Red Sea ports and instead ply their trade to the south, often docking at informal inlets.

The average journey takes about five to eight days, with the boats capable of taking up to 2,000 tonnes of goods, still small fry compared with cargo ships that could provide more relief to one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.

Trader Ali Mahdani ships his goods out of Dubai to the southern Yemeni ports of Aden, Mukalla or Mokha, goods worth 4-6 million UAE dirhams ($1.1-1.6 million) per month, around 2,000 tonnes of mostly rice, spices or cooking oil. To avoid payments in the battered Yemeni currency he gets paid in Saudi riyals.

There are few issues upon arrival. That’s a sharp contrast the scrutiny that any vessels hoping to access the north would be subjected to as the Saudi-led coalition search for weapons which may be headed into Houthi hands.

“You may have to pay thugs every once in a while but otherwise it is all good to go,” said Mahdani, dressed in a flowing white robe.

[END REPORT]

See also Yemen wheat stocks to run out end of March.

Now to Nigeria --

In December the country's president, Muhammadu Buhari, claimed that the United Nations and various humanitarian agencies were exaggerating the threat of famine in N.E. Nigeria, and doing so for financial gain:
[...]
The reproach came two days after the United Nations warned that more than five million victims of Boko Haram face serious food shortages in the coming year.
“A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for the third year in a row, causing a major food crisis,” the U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Peter Lundberg, said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Lundberg’s alert followed a similar one issued by a sister agency, UNICEF, in September.
UNICEF, which focuses on humanitarian assistance for children and mothers, said more than two million people remained trapped in Boko Haram-controlled areas while about 400,000 children were at risk of acute malnutrition.
The agency said more than half of the children could die within 12 months unless urgent measures were taken by the concerned authorities.
 Given that the UN and the entire disaster-aid industry are always dialing for dollars, there could be some truth in Buhari's accusation. But from the UN side they're not so much exaggerating as trying to get ahead of a disaster -- to ward it off before it kills hundreds of thousands of people and millions of livestock. 

This was a problem in Somalia in 2010-12; by the time a famine was declared large numbers of people and livestock had already died. And it takes time to set up the pipelines to deliver disaster aid, which translates to many more lives lost during the wait. 

To return to Buhari's side of the debate, there is a problem he didn't go into during the public statements but it is very serious, and this is the merging of disaster aid and development aid, or putting the latter in the disaster budget column. And further, attempts by donor nations to change a society in fundamental ways that masquerade as disaster aid, which can be hard to pin down.

That last is what I thought I heard from the mouth of a U.S. Deputy UN Ambassador, Michele Sison, who was interviewed by Voice of America for a March 15 video report about conditions in N.E. Nigeria. 

Watch the video for yourself but what I heard was talk about protecting the rights of women; e.g., when they went outside the refugee camps. If VOA hadn't cut her off I feared she would've maintained that Nigerians' recognition of LGBT rights was critical to preventing starvation in their northeast region.

It's possible I'm being too hard on her but just to be clear, there has to be a bright line between development and disaster aid. And an even brighter line between disaster aid and programs that introduce your cultural values to other societies.

There is much criticism of rich Muslim Arabs who use disaster situations in Africa and other parts to build more mosques there and send in more Wahhabist clerics. But this is the pot calling the kettle black if the critics are trying to tie disaster aid to their own cultural preferences. And it leads to just the kind of "Cry Wolf!" situation that Buhari complains about.

Now is there really a looming threat of famine in N.E. Nigeria? Here is what Buhari says:
[...]
While acknowledging a decline in socio-economic activities of the people of north-east, Mr. Buhari said his administration is making efforts to resolve the crisis and improve the living conditions there.
“There can be no doubt that the effect of the Boko Haram terrorism and their occupation of communities and destruction of houses, infrastructure and means of livelihood has been manifested in the decline of socio-economic activities throughout the North-East.
 “Arising from this, farming, pastoralism, trade, exchange of goods and services and social interaction among the people have negatively been impacted leading to the displacement of more than two million people, mostly women and children. Consequently, there is death, there is hunger and there is poor nutrition.
“The Nigerian government which has been making the most efforts in the entire endeavour, will continue to work closely with the local and international response groups to overcome this humanitarian crisis. 
At this time when the focus is gradually shifting to towards rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement, recovery and the dignified return of IDPs back home, we can do with all the support out there in the donor community,” the statement said.
 But in the interim, the president warned that humanitarian agencies should desist from continuing to blow the situation out of proportion for financial gratification.
When I add this to what the UN says, I'm seeing a humanitarian crisis that is near the edge of a disaster emergency, but with enough hands on deck to prevent the worst -- provided the present situation with Boko Haram doesn't worsen. So it seems there's a big military component to alleviating the situation for civilians, just as there is in Yemen.   

Onward to South Sudan -- 

“The famine is not a result of drought”

South Sudan leaders blamed for orchestrating deliberate famine
By GEOFFREY YORK in JOHANNESBURG
Published Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 8:20PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017 10:22PM EDT
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The revelation is so disturbing that it might once have shocked the world into action: the mounting evidence that an oil-rich regime is using the brutal tactic of deliberate starvation to crush a revolt by its own citizens.

Yet as famine and death spread in the world’s newest country, there is little sign of any urgent response by the world’s most powerful leaders. Instead there are growing fears that political apathy and U.S. budget cuts will make the catastrophe even worse.

The man-made disaster is unfolding with relentless momentum in South Sudan, where three years of civil war have brought famine and forced nearly two-thirds of its 11 million people to depend on humanitarian aid. At least 79 aid workers have been killed since the war began, including six killed on Saturday in an ambush in government-controlled territory.

The famine, declared last month, is the first anywhere in the world in nearly six years. South Sudan is now one of four countries where 20 million people are on the brink of famine – one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War.

Less than six years ago, the United States and Canada were among the many nations celebrating South Sudan’s hard-fought independence from the Sudanese dictatorship. With its oil wealth and strong Western support, South Sudan seemed to have a bright future.

Instead it has collapsed into deadly anarchy, with repeated warnings that it could be on the verge of genocide. Tens of thousands of civilians have died. Half of the government’s budget is reportedly being spent on weapons and soldiers for the war. And now the government is using its chokehold on relief supply routes to starve its opponents and control the impoverished population.

United Nations officials have reported that South Sudanese soldiers are blocking the roads into regions where aid is desperately needed, demanding money and forcing dozens of relief convoys to turn back, and sometimes even attacking the convoys. In effect, the regime is using food blockades as a weapon of war, at a time when 100,000 people are officially in famine and another million are on the brink of famine.

Because so many roads are blocked or dangerous, the UN has been forced to drop its food aid from airplanes flying above the malnourished regions, at a far higher cost than land routes.

A leaked UN report has concluded that the famine in South Sudan is largely due to the “cumulative toll” of government military operations and restrictions on relief operations. The famine, unsurprisingly, is in an opposition-controlled region.

To make the crisis even worse, the government is creating new obstacles for relief agencies, demanding an extortionate fee of $10,000 (U.S.) for every work permit for a foreign aid worker. (The fee was previously $100.)

“The government’s continued unconscionable impediments to humanitarians … may amount to deliberate starvation tactics,” said Michele Sison, the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council meeting last Thursday.

She said the government was using a “scorched earth campaign” to destroy thousands of homes. “The famine is not a result of drought,” she said. “It is the result of leaders more interested in political power and personal gain than in stopping violence and allowing humanitarian access.”

At the same Security Council meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the government is refusing even to acknowledge the existence of the crisis.

 “The government continues to impede deliveries of life-saving assistance, including through access denials and bureaucratic impediments,” he told the council. “The government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people.”

The disaster is so devastating that South Sudan has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with 1.6 million of its people fleeing across borders into Uganda and other countries.

The UN is seeking $4.4-billion by the end of March to prevent a catastrophe in South Sudan and three other famine-threatened countries: Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria. Yet by February, only 2 per cent of this target had been raised.

The Canadian government this month announced $119.25-million (Canadian) in humanitarian aid for the four famine-threatened countries, and other countries are beginning to chip in. But the UN’s food agency, the World Food Programme, has been so underfinanced for years that it has had to cut rations to refugees and other recipients.

At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump is proposing sharp cuts to foreign aid, including UN agencies. The United States is traditionally the biggest donor to UN relief operations, so the cuts could have a far-reaching effect. The cuts wouldn’t take effect until next year, even if they are confirmed by Congress, but they are sparking fears that the South Sudan crisis could accelerate in the longer term, with less global support.

[END REPORT]

Now let me see if I understand this correctly. After outside governments poured God Only Knows how much assistance into splitting Sudan into two countries, a great many people in the new country didn't like the new government, setting off a civil war, with one result being that the government of the new country turns out to be as nasty as the one in Khartoum.

And so, if the cost of dealing with the four crises is evenly split four ways, more or less, the UN now wants the Trump Administration to have a heart and okay about $1 billion to help alleviate a famine in South Sudan that is the result of said ongoing war and civil unrest.

Is that the gist, or have I missed something? If that is the gist, and the conflict is open-ended, how long is the $1 billion supposed to last in alleviating the ongoing famine? If they're going to die anyway after the billion runs out, why spend the billion in the first place? Or does the UN envision coming back in 6 months and asking for another billion? Then another? 

So I wouldn't put South Sudan in the category of a humanitarian crisis or disaster emergency; it's just the way the country is until things change there. If you want to see a change then you'd first have to get a list of all the nations that are buying oil from Juba, the seat of South Sudan's government, and tell them to stop buying or else you'll slap sanctions on their governments. With oil purchases suspended, then see if Juba wants to block aid delivery routes and charge $10K/aid worker permit.

But if those oil-buying nations happen to include U.S. allies and trading partners? Well, I'm the same person who replied, "Bomb Riyadh. Bomb London. Bomb Rawalpindi," when some fool asked me in 2010 how the US could achieve victory over the Afghan Taliban.

I was overstating to make a point. Most people want to act foolishly and have the situation work out intelligently anyway.

********

Thursday, March 23

In the wake of a terrorist attack, a Londoner's bitter cry: "To this, we have been reduced."

"London is a city so desperate to be seen as tolerant, no news of the injured was released. No clue about who was safe or not."

People make hearts with their hands yesterday during a ceremony in Belgium to commemorate the first anniversary of the bomb attacks in Brussels

A person struck down yesterday by a terrorist driving a 4x4 into pedestrians along Westminster Bridge

Welcome to London: We can say we’re not afraid, light candles and make hearts of our hands but the truth is that we can’t go on like this
By Katie Hopkins
March 22, 2017
Daily Mail

They stood in the centre of Brussels. Row on row.

Hands held high, making hearts to the heavens. Showing the slaughtered they were not forgotten. Reminding themselves they were here with love. Looking to show humanity wins. That love conquers all.

They lay in the centre of London, face down where they fell. Stabbed by a knife, rammed with a car, flung, broken, into the Thames, life bleeding out on the curb.

And the news came thick and fast.

A car rammed deliberately into pedestrians on the bridge. Ten innocents down.

A police officer stabbed at the House of Commons. Confirmed dead.

Another woman now, dead at the scene.

Shots fired. An Asian man rushed to hospital.

A woman, plucked from the water.

And I grew colder. And more tiny.

No anger for me this time. No rage like I’ve felt before. No desperate urge to get out there and scream at the idiots who refused to see this coming.

Not even a nod for the glib idiots who say this will not defeat us, that we will never be broken, that cowardice and terror will not get the better of Britain.

Because, as loyal as I am, as patriotic as I am, as much as my whole younger life was about joining the British military and fighting for my country — I fear we are broken.

Not because of this ghoulish spectacle outside our own Parliament. Not because of the lives rammed apart on the pavement, even as they thought about what was for tea. Or what train home they might make.

But because this is us now.

This is our country now.

This is what we have become.

To this, we have been reduced.

Because all the while those forgiving fools in Brussels stood with their stupid hands raised in hearts to the sky, another mischief was in the making. More death was in the pipeline.

As the last life-blood of a police officer ran out across the cobbles, the attacker was being stretchered away in an attempt to save his life.

London is a city so desperate to be seen as tolerant, no news of the injured was released. No clue about who was safe or not.

Liberals convince themselves multiculturalism works because we all die together, too.

An entire city of monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Blind. Deaf. And dumb.

Immersed in a seething pit of hatred, hidden in pockets of communities plagued by old animosities and ancient strife.

These people may have left their lands. But they have brought every tension, every conflict, every bit of fight here with them.

The Afghans hate the Somalis who loathe the Eritreans. As it was before, it is now. London is a city of ghettos behind a thin veneer of civility kept polished by a Muslim mayor whose greatest validation is his father's old job.

Son-of-a-bus-driver Sadiq.

I see him now, penning a missive about how London is a beautiful and tolerant city, how we are united by shared values and understanding, and how we will not be cowed by terror.

Sure enough, there he was, saying exactly that, just now. Fool.

[video of the mayor's message about the terrorist attack]

This place is just like Sweden. Terrified of admitting the truth about the threat we face, about the horrors committed by the migrants we failed to deter — because to admit that we are sinking, and fast, would be to admit that everything the liberals believe is wrong.

That multiculturalism has not worked. That it is one big fat failure and one big fat lie.

President Erdogan of Turkey said there is a war being waged between the crescent and the cross. But he is wrong. Because the cross is not strong. We are down on bended knee, a doormat to be trodden on, a joke only funny to those that wish us harm.

The war is between London and the rest of the country. Between the liberals and the right-minded. Between those who think it is more important to tip-toe around the cultures of those who choose to join us, rather than defend our own culture.

How many more times?

And how many more attacks must pass before we acknowledge these are no longer the acts of ‘extremists’? That there is no safe badge with which to hold these people at arm’s length, in the way the liberals casually use the term 'far-right' for anyone who has National pride.

These events are no longer extreme. They are commonplace. Everyday occurrences.

These people are no longer extremists. They are simply more devout. More true to their beliefs. Beliefs which will be supported endlessly across our state broadcaster for the next few months until we buy into the narrative that one religion is not to blame.

That in fact we should blame Brexit supporters. For believing in a Britain. As it was before.

Anything but the truth.

This is why there is no anger from me this time, no rage. No nod for those who pretend we will not be cowed, even as they rush home to text their mum they are safe. No surprise that the city of which I was so proud is now punctured by fear, and demarcated even more formally by places we cannot tread; there were always parts in which a white woman could not safely walk.

Now I feel only sadness, overwhelming sadness.

I will walk over to the river tonight and look to the Thames, to the Union flag lowered at half mast, and the Parliament below, and I will wonder, just how much longer we can go on like this.


********


Can't judge a book by its cover. A British politician acted with valor yesterday.

British MP Tobias Ellwood 

My condolences to the victims of the terrorist attack yesterday at Westminster. And my praise for MP Ellwood, who just to look at him would be the last person I'd pick for quick thinking and uncommon courage in the midst of horror. 

British politician tried in vain to save police officer stabbed in Westminster attack
22 Mar, 2017 - 17:41 Edited 23 Mar, 2017 - 09:42
RT

A Conservative MP tried to resuscitate the police officer who died from stab wounds during in the Westminster terrorist attack.

Tobias Ellwood, a former soldier, was described as running in the “opposite direction to everyone else” and toward the injured officer, then giving the officer mouth-to-mouth intervention.

He also tried to stem the blood flowing from the seriously wounded man. He waited with the police officer until the arrival of the air ambulance.

The Foreign Office minister was later pictured with blood smeared on his face and hands, talking to police and Westminster officials.

[...]

Ellwood, who has been an MP for Bournemouth East since 2005, has been vocal on his opposition to British military intervention in Syria. Ellwood has also talked publicly about losing his brother Jon in the Bali bombings of October 2002.

[END REPORT]

********

The Soap Opera continues

Democrat Adam Schiff (bottom left); House Intelligence Committee's chairman Devin Nunes (bottom right)

"Now anonymous government officials accuse Trump aides of giving Russians the 'thumbs up' for election hacks: New claim in growing feud over Obama administration 'snooping' on Donald"

By Ariel Zilber For Dailymail.com
PUBLISHED: 22:05 EDT, 22 March 2017 | UPDATED: 03:48 EDT, 23 March 2017
Daily Mail
  • US officials say FBI has information suggesting Trump campaign aides coordinated release of damaging info about Hillary Clinton with Russia
  • Other officials, however, say the evidence is circumstantial and it is premature to infer that collusion took place between Trump campaign and Moscow
  • The new information adds to statements made Wednesday by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee
  • Schiff told MSNBC that the evidence into alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign is 'more than circumstantial' 
  • Earlier Schiff ripped GOP chairman Devin Nunes for going to the White House with new information about 'incidental' surveillance of Trump associates 
  • Nunes stunned Washington by saying that President Donald Trump was right – sort of – when he said his calls were monitored by Obama 
  • Intelligence collected on his transition team was 'incidental,' meaning neither Trump nor campaign insiders were targeted.
The bitter dispute over President Trump’s claims he was wire-tapped by the Obama administration and counter-accusations that his aides colluded with Russia during the election took another twist on Wednesday night.

A CNN report said the FBI believes President Donald Trump's associates were in communication with suspected Russian operatives possibly to coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.

The cable news network quotes anonymous US government officials as saying that the bureau has information that suggests links between Trump's campaign and the Russian government, though the sources stress that the evidence unearthed so far is 'not conclusive.'

The fact that the claims are being made on CNN is only likely to intensify the president's conflict with the network he has called 'fake news' and lead to further accusations that it is acting as the opposition to Trump.

And they come against the background of a bitter and now nakedly partisan dispute on the House Intelligence Committee over interactions with Russia which boiled over on Wednesday afternoon into an ugly public dispute between the Republican chair and the Democratic ranking member.

One source is cited by CNN as saying that this information is what FBI Director James Comey was referring to in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

Comey told lawmakers on Monday that the FBI had come across 'a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.'

The bureau is now sifting through phone records, travel documents, and human intelligence material in an effort to conclusively determine if laws were broken by individuals with links to Trump's campaign.

The White House has denied any wrongdoing by the campaign.

'People connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready,' CNN quoted one source as saying.

But other officials threw cold water on the circumstantial evidence, saying that it was premature to make inferences from the information gathered.

US intelligence agencies believe that the Russian government was behind the hacking and release of emails belonging to senior Democratic Party officials, including the senior echelons of Clinton's campaign.

There is consensus among US intelligence officials that the aim of the hacks was to aid Trump's candidacy.

Thus far, four individuals involved in Trump's campaign - former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, national security adviser Michael Flynn, and confidante Roger Stone - have been investigated by the FBI for alleged ties to Russia.

All of them deny any wrongdoing.

The latest revelations by CNN appear to bolster statements made earlier on Wednesday by the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff told MSNBC's MTP Daily that the evidence currently in the hands of intelligence officials are 'more than circumstantial' and 'very much worthy of investigation,' though he said he could not get into specifics.

Schiff blasted his GOP counterpart, asking whether the panel's Russia probe can function after chairman Rep. Devin Nunes briefed Trump on new snooping developments.

Schiff, a California Democrat who works closely with Nunes, called the Republicans' debrief of Trump at the White House Wednesday 'deeply troubling,' and demanded the creation of an independent Russia probe.

Schiff was blindsided when Nunes went to tell Trump that intelligence intercepts picked up Trump transition members – as well as Trump himself – seeming to substantiate the president's claims this month.

'The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to at as a surrogate of the White House – because he cannot do both,' Schiff fumed at a Capitol Hill press conference.

'This is deeply troubling along many levels. The most significant level is it really impedes our ability to do this investigation the way we should,' he added.

He declined to get into specifics about the documents Nunes saw – because he said Nunes hadn't shared them with him or with Republican members of the committee yet.

'We have no idea where these documents came from, whether they even show what they purport to show,' he said. He raised the possibility that Nunes brought up the information as a way to help Trump back up his Twitter claim of 19 days ago that President Obama had his phones 'tapped' at Trump Tower – something the head of the FBI and Nunes himself has said didn't happen.

His admonishment was a departure from the normally collegial panel, where the leaders are known as 'chairman' and 'vice chairman' and share the nation's top secrets.

'But even if they do, on the basis of what the chairman said, the underlying fact is still the same: There's no evidence to support the president's contention that he was wiretapped by his predecessor,' said Schiff.

'So I'm not sure what the point of this extraordinary process is. And I have to hope that this is not part of a broader campaign by the White House aimed to deflect from the [FBI] director's testimony earlier this week.'

Schiff suggested that the House Intelligence could be a casualty of Trump's tweets – bringing up an angry clash with the British government over alleged spy cooperation that the British say didn't happen.

'If the incident today is an indication that, after making the baseless claim, the president then aggravated the damage by implicating the British in a potential plot to have the British surveil him on behalf of President Obama, and now is attempting to interfere in the congressional investigation – again, with the effort of trying to provide some substance to a claim without substance – then the damage the wrecking ball of this allegation has just claimed another victim, that being our own committee,' he said.

'I only learned about this the way that all of you did, when the chairman briefed the press in advance of briefing his own committee members,' said Schiff.

Schiff also blasted Nunes in a blistering written statement. ''If accurate, this information should have been shared with members of the committee, but it has not been,' Schiff said.

'The Chairman also shared this information with the White House before providing it to the committee, another profound irregularity, given that the matter is currently under investigation. I have expressed my grave concerns with the Chairman that a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.'

Nunes defended himself from the charges he might have acted improperly in an appearance on CNN about an hour before Schiff spoke.

He said the information 'concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this,' he said.

'It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports,' added Nunes.

'President-elect Trump and his team were put into intelligence reports,' Nunes told the network. He mentioned 'dozens' of intercepts. 'Clearly there was surveillance that was conducted.'

But he didn't back off his earlier statement that Trump was not subjected to wiretapping at Trump Tower.

Schiff's frustration followed Republican committee chairman Devin Nunes' decision to brief the House speaker; the CIA, NSA and FBI chiefs; the White House; and the Washington press corps about a cache of intelligence reports in his possession – without sharing them with fellow committee members.

Nunes told reporters on Capitol Hill that the US Intelligence Community collected 'incidental' information about President Donald Trump and his transition team during the three months following the 2016 election.

He said the information collected was 'legally collected' pursuant to a warrant issued by a FISA judge in a federal court, and concerned 'foreign' surveillance.

But that 'did not involve Russia or any discussions with Russians,' and there's no reason to believe anyone in Trump's circle was the target of an investigation.

The president told journalists that he feels 'somewhat' vindicated after hearing what Nunes had to say.

Trump has been fighting Democrats' charges that he lied on March 4 when he claimed Barack Obama 'wire tapped' him last year.

'I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. I somewhat do,' he said shortly after a meeting with Nunes.

Nunes told NBC he wasn't currently able to show the information to Schiff because he and the committee don't have the documents in their possession.

He said he was waiting for an intelligence official to send over the reports, which he said he was shown by a 'source.'

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Nunes' statements 'would appear to have revealed classified intelligence.'

Schiff refused to make the same charge when asked whether Nunes had revealed classified information.

[END REPORT]

Last night on Bill O'Reilly's show House Intelligence Committee member Peter King resolved the confusion about the type of information given to Devin Nunes. See the video at YouTube; the discussion starts at the 3:35 minute mark.

As to whether Rep Nunes did break the law by spilling the beans to President Trump, well, that's an interesting question for those who don't mind tramping about in the weeds. Here's an informed discussion of the weighty issue at Law Newz.  

By the time all is said and done, it looks as if just about everyone connected with the situation has broken some law or other, although I find it unlikely anyone's going to trial, much less jail.

********

Rep King explains significance of surveillance intel disclosed to Nunes

Discussion with Rep Peter King, member House Intelligence Committee, was aired March 22 on Bill O'Reilly's show; starts at 3:35 minute mark




*********

Wednesday, March 22

"U.S. Bipartisan Bills Aim to Stop Escalation of Syrian War, Arming of Islamists"

"This is another piece of information that the CIA has previously, desperately, sought to avoid as part of its arming program."

Left and Right, US Lawmakers Unite Against Escalating War in Syria
by Jason Ditz
March 21, 2017
Antiwar.com

Bipartisan Bills Aim to Stop Escalation of War, Arming of Islamists

While the Pentagon provides plans for the Trump Administration for a major escalation of the US involvement in the war in Syria, new bipartisan legislation is being pushed in both the House and the Senate aiming to oppose the escalation and put legal obstacles in the way of it. 

[Pundita note: I don't know whether the Pentagon's plans are finalized ahead of a planned meeting today in Washington among coalition members to discuss the Syrian war/fighting Islamic State. See Voltaire Network's March 21 report, What would happen if Washington gave up on the jihad?]

Reps. Barbara Lee (D – CA) and Walter Jones (R – NC) are pushing one such bill, aiming to force Congress to debate US involvement in Syria, and to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to prevent the administration from using it as an excuse for the operation.

With the repeal of the AUMF, the bill would also explicitly forbid the deployment of additional US ground troops to Syria without any permission from Congress. The bill is gaining some support in both parties, though past efforts to repeal the AUMF, and to try to limit the wars in Iraq and Syria, have never gained enough support to pass.

If it does get support, this might force a significant shift in policy, with the US nominally having capped their Syrian force at 503, but having closer to 2,000 by most recent estimates. This mirrors caps that were in place in Iraq, which were similarly long since blown past.

This is just one of the bills aimed at US policy is Syria, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D – HI) and Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) offering a bipartisan “Stop Arming Terrorists Act,” which would forbid US government funds from being used to support al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other terrorist group.

While that seems like common sense, the bill would effectively kill the CIA’s program to arm Syrian rebels, as many of the recipient factions are allies of al-Qaeda, or ideologically similar groups. Rep. Gabbard visited Syria shortly before the Trump inauguration, and met with President Assad.

The Gabbard bill would also require the Director of National Intelligence to provide up to date lists every six months of the individuals and groups forbidden to receive aid, either because they are terrorist groups or are working with them. This is another piece of information that the CIA has previously, desperately, sought to avoid as part of its arming program.

This bill is more likely to get some support from the Trump Administration, as President Trump had similarly argued against arming rebels repeatedly throughout the election campaign, though since the inauguration, there has yet to be a public move to end the CIA program.

[END REPORT]

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