According to a new report compiled by a Cluster Munitions Coalition, more than 400 people were killed by cluster bombs in 2015, with most of the deaths being reported in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen.
Cluster bombs scatter explosives a wide area and often fail to detonate on impact. The report indicates that 248 deaths were recorded in Syria, followed by Yemen (104); and Ukraine (19). Civilians made u 97% of the death toll while more than a third of the casualties recorded from 2010 – 2015 have been children, who are at a particular risk. The report indicates that the weapon is not banned in all three of these countries, adding that they are not signatories of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of the weapons.
The Syrian military has denied possessing or using cluster munitions and in December 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry, which supports the Syrian government, also insisted that “Russian aviation does not use (cluster munitions).” The report however suggests that despite Russia’s denial, “there is compelling evidence that it is using them” in Syria.
A nationwide seven-day ceasefire began in Syria on Monday 12 September after a weekend of air strikes, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that it was mostly holding across the country at the start of its second day on Tuesday.
The monitoring body has reported that some air attacks and shelling were reported in the first hours of the truce on Monday evening, adding that incidents were reported in areas including the north Hama countryside, East Ghouta and north of Aleppo. This however appeared to die down, with the Observatory reporting that it had not recorded a single civilian death from fighting in the fifteen hours since the ceasefire came into effect at 7 PM (1600 GMT) on Monday.
The deal was rached late on Friday (9 September) in Geneva, after months of talks between Russia and the United States. It is the second attempt this year to halt Syria’s five-year-old civil war. Russia is a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the US supports some of the rebel groups that are fighting to topple him. Syrian state media has reported that President Bashar al-Assad has welcomed the deal. Under the plan, Syrian government forces will end combat missions in specified opposition-held areas. Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadist groups, including the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (known until recently as the Nusra Front). The 10-day truce is due to be followed by co-ordinated US-Russian air strikes against jihadist militants.
Ahead of the ceasefire, the Syrian government carried out heavy airstrikes in several rebel areas over the weekend, killing about 100 people. Syrian activists have reported that Russian warplanes have also been in action in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. On Monday, the first day of the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, fighting had raged on several key fronts before the ceasefire, including in Aleppo and the southern provinces of Quneitra. The Observatory has disclosed that at least 31 people were killed by airstrikes on rebel-held Idlib province and eastern Damascus, and by bombardement of villages in the northern Homs countryside and rocket attacks in the city of Aleppo on Monday, before the truce began.
While the ceasefire appears to be holding on its second day, it currently remains unclear whether rebel factions will abide by it to the end. The Free Syrian Army group has written to the United States administration stating that while it would “co-operate positively” with the ceasefire, it was concerned that it would benefit the government. Another rebel group, the influential hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, has rejected the deal. In a video statement, the group’s second-in-command, Ali al-Omar, stated, “a rebellious people who have fought and suffered for six years cannot accept half-solutions.” However the group’s commander stopped short of explicitly stating that it would not abide by its terms. If the truce does prove to hold, jihadist groups like IS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham will face directly face the power of Russian and US air forces; moderate rebels and civilians in the areas that they hold will no longer face the threat of indiscriminate air strikes, such as barrel-bombing, however the Syrian air force will not be grounded completely; aid deliveries will be allowed to areas that are currently under siege; and President Assad will be in a stronger position as the US and Russia engage two of his most effective military opponents while moderate rebels observe the truce with his forces.
The conflict in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Assad, has now been going on for five years and has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Millions have fled abroad, many of them seeking asylum in the European Union, but nearly 18 million people remain in Syria, which ahs been carved up by fighting between government and rebel forces.
Syria’s History of Failed Agreements
- February 2012 – Syrian government “categorically rejects” an Arab League plan, which calls for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission.
- June 2012/January 2014/January 2016 – Three failed UN-sponsored peace conferences in Geneva.
- September 2013 – Kerry and Lavrov negotiate a deal to strip the Syrian government of its chemical weapons in return for the US backing away from air strikes. Since then, the government has again and repeatedly been accused of using toxic chemicals against rebel-held areas.
- February 2016 – World powers agree in Munich on a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria excluding jihadist groups. There is no agreement on any joint US-Russian operations. The “pause” quickly unravels as President Assad promises to regain control of the whole country.
- March 2016 – Russian President Vladimir Putin declared “mission accomplished” in Syria and orders the removal of “main part” of Russia’s air army in Syria. Russian air strikes however have continued ever since.
World leaders on Friday reacted with anger after North Korea carried out its fifth, and reportedly biggest, nuclear test.
The latest test was announced on state TV after a 5.3 magnitude tremor was detected near the Punggye-ri underground nuclear site. Estimates of the explosive yield of the latest blast have varied, with South Korea’s military reporting that it was about 10 kilotonnes, enough to make it the North’s “strongest nuclear test ever.” Other experts have disclosed that initial indications suggest 20 kilotonnes or more. The bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1045 had a yield of about 15 kilotonnes.
In its statement announcing the underground test, North Korea disclosed that it was aimed at further developing the miniaturisation of nuclear warheads so that they could be mounted on ballistic missiles. In its statement, the North disclosed that it could not produce “at will, and as many as it wants, a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.” While the North ahs previously made claims on “miniaturised” nuclear warheads, they have never been independently confirmed. North Korea also expressed anger at the “racket of threat and sanctions…kicked up by the US-led hostile forces” to deny a “sovereign state’s exercise of the right to self-defense.” The country has also been angered by a US and South Korean plan to install an anti-missile defense system in the South and by the allies’ massive annual joint military exercises, which are still taking place. The test comes on the country’s National Day, which celebrates the founding of the current regime and which is often used in order to show its military strength.
Shortly after the confirmation of the nuclear test, South Korea accused North Korean leader Kim Jong-un of “maniacal recklessness,” adding that “such provocation will further accelerate its path to self-destruction.” China also “firmly opposed” the test, while Japan “protested adamantly,” adding that North Korea is an “outlaw nation in the neighbourhood.” Russia disclosed in a statement “we insist that the North Korean side stop its dangerous escapades and unconditionally implement all resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile the United States warned of “serious consequences,” including “new sanctions,” with President Barack Obama stating that he had agreed with South Korea and Japan to work with the UN Security Council “to vigorously implement existing measures imposed in previous resolutions, and to take additional significant steps, including new sanctions.” The United Nations Security Council is due to meet later behind closed doors in order to discuss the issue. Such nuclear tests are banned by the UN, however this is Pyongyang’s second test in 2016.
Since its first test in 2006, the isolated communist country has been targeted by five sets of UN sanctions. Talks involving world and regional powers have failed to rein in the North’s nuclear programme. In recent months, the North has conducted a series of ballistic missile launches and has in the past often stated that its aim is to hit US targets. The North’s recent actions have tested its relations with its only ally, China. China condemned January’s test and repeated that on Friday after the latest. China’s foreign ministry stated that it would lodge a diplomatic protest and urged North Korea to avoid further action that would worsen the situation. Analysts have also reported that Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric is increasingly becoming aggressive.
Ukraine’s security service reported this month that it had blocked channels that were being used by jihadists travelling to fight with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, adding that they detained an ‘IS recruiter’ from one of the former Soviet republics.
In a statement, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) disclosed that “the Ukrainian security service, prosecutor’s office, police and migration service have blocked several channels for the transit of foreign fighters to the IS international terrorist group throughout state’s territory,” adding that the discovery was made in a wave of security sweeps that were carried out across several major cities in the country. The SBU further reported that an apartment in the government-held northeastern city of Kharkiv was being used as a temporary shelter by alleged IS members who intended to travel to both Syria and Iraq. The statement says that “this ‘transit point’ had four nationals from Asian states,” adding, “two of them had been earlier deported from Turkey in connection with their involvement in terrorist activity.” The SBU also disclosed that they held several fake passports from various countries and that two of them had been waiting to receive forged Ukrainian documents so that they could enter Syria through Turkey. The Ukrainian service indicated that the four were being financed and assisted by foreign countries, however they did not reveal which ones, adding, “two of the foreigners have already been expelled from the territory of our state…Investigations into the other two are continuing.”
The SBU also disclosed that it had also detained an “IS recruiter from one of the former Soviet republics that was being sought by Interpol” pan-European police organization. It reported that security agents had detained another “IS supporter” in the Kiev region who had undergone training in “Syrian terrorist camps.” The individual, who has not been named, is facing a court hearing and has not yet been charged.
In January and June the SBU disclosed that it detained four alleged IS fighters headed for Europe from Central Asia and Russia.
Ukraine has been riven by a 27-month pro-Moscow insurgency in its industrial east that has claimed the lives of more than 9,500 people and left around 400 kilometres (250 miles) of its southeastern border with Russia under rebel control. Ukraine’s security service has been under increasing pressure to show its strength as the pro-Western government in Kiev ties to meet President Petro Poroshenko’s pledge to apply for EU membership by 2020. Some EU nations and leaders however have called the bid far too optimistic as Ukraine not only lacks control of its separatist east and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, but it also remains riddled with other security threats. This includes what appears to be the increasing use of Ukraine and its porous borders to ship IS fighters to stage attacks in Europe or to joint he group in Syria and Iraq.
In a nine-minute video posted on YouTube on Sunday, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has called on its members to carry out jihad in Russia.
The video, which has subtitles, depicted footage of armed men attacking armoured vehicles and tens and collecting arms in the desert. One of the subtitles read, “breaking into a barrack of the Rejectionist military on the international road south Akashat.” In the last minutes of the video, a masked men driving a car in the desert yells “Listen Putin, we will come to Russia and we will kill you at your homes…Oh Brothers, carry out jihad and kill and fight them.”
While it was not immediately possible to independently verify the video, the link to the footage was published on a Telegram messaging account used by the militant group. Furthermore, while it was not immediately clear why Russia would be a target, the country, along with the United States, are talking about boosting military and intelligence cooperation against both IS and al-Qaeda in Syria. IS has called on its supporters to take action with any available weapons targeting countries it has been fighting.
Over the past several weeks, there has been a string of deadly attacks that have been claimed by IS. Last week, assailants loyal to IS forced an elderly Catholic priest in France to his knees before slitting his throat. Since the mass killing in Nice, southern France on 14 July, there have been four incidents that have occurred in Germany, including the most recent suicide bombing that occurred at a concern in Ansbach.