News Article | May 7, 2017
FILE - This Monday, May 12, 2014 file image taken from video by Nigeria's Islamic extremist network, shows the alleged missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. An unknown number of girls kidnapped from their Nigerian boarding school by jihadists three years ago have been released, a government official said Saturday, May 6, 2017. Family members said they were awaiting names and other information before celebrating. (AP Photo/File) ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The Latest on the release of Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram extremists in Nigeria (all times local): The departure of Nigeria's president for more medical checkups in London is renewing fears for his health in Africa's most populous country. President Muhammadu Buhari has missed three straight weekly Cabinet meetings in a row and is said to spend most of his time working from home. His office on Sunday night said 74-year-old leader had delayed leaving for London so he could meet with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls released this weekend from Boko Haram captivity. After a six-week medical leave in London earlier this year, Buhari indicated that further checkups might be needed. The exact nature of his illness is still unclear. The office of Nigeria's president says Muhammadu Buhari is now leaving for London for a medical checkup as fears continue over the state of his health. The announcement Sunday night came shortly after Buhari said he had met with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed after being kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram extremists. The 74-year-old president spent a month and a half in London on medical leave earlier this year and returned saying he had never been so sick in his life. The exact nature of his illness is still not clear. The statement says "there is no cause for worry" and says the length of Buhari's stay in London will be determined by his doctors. The vice president will be in charge. A presidential adviser says Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is promising to do all that is needed to reintegrate the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls back into society. Femi Adesina told reporters Sunday night that Buhari promised the girls he personally would supervise their rehabilitation. He met with the girls at his official residence. Adesina says the freed girls have been handed over to those who will look out for their rehabilitation. He says the president promised they will continue with their education. The girls were part of a mass abduction by Boko Haram extremists three years ago. Nigeria's president says he has met with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed after being kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists three years ago. President Muhammadu Buhari says on Twitter that "we've always made it clear that we will do everything in our power to ensure the freedom & safe return of our daughters & of all BH captives." Photos tweeted by the president show dozens of the freed girls at Buhari's official residence. The 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed from three years of captivity with Boko Haram have arrived at State House, the official residence of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, to meet the leader and the press. The schoolgirls were released by the Islamic extremists in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders. Nigerian journalists gathered at State House, the president's official residence in Abuja, to see President Muhammadu Buhari welcome the 82 Chibok schoolgirls who were released from being held captive by Boko Haram for more than three years. The newly freed young women were flown by helicopters from northeastern Nigeria to Abuja in central Nigeria. The schoolgirls are expected to see their families but be kept in government care for counseling and medical treatment. A Nigerian government official says that five Boko Haram commanders have been released in exchange for the 82 Chibok girls. The confirmation Sunday comes a day after the young women were liberated after more than three years in captivity by the Islamic militants. There was no comment yet from the Nigerian presidency or Boko Haram, an extremist group linked to the Islamic State. The official who confirmed the release spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the matter. Authorities say 113 of the 276 girls abducted from their boarding school back in 2014 remain missing. Girls who escaped said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home either because they'd been radicalized by their captors. Amnesty International says the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls should be quickly released to their families and not be subjected to lengthy government detention. The rights group's Nigeria office also says the girls don't deserve to be put through a "publicity stunt that largely doesn't reckon with their privacy." The newly released schoolgirls were set to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital later Sunday. Amnesty International is calling for more attention to victims of "less-publicized mass abductions" by Boko Haram extremists. The group had seized thousands of captives in less than a decade. The campaign for the release of the nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls seized three years ago by Boko Haram says it is glad Nigeria's government is committed to freeing the 113 girls still unaccounted for. A statement by the Bring Back Our Girls group on Sunday says the campaign is still waiting for a list of the names of the 82 girls released. The girls have arrived in the capital, Abuja, and are set to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari. This is the largest release since Boko Haram seized 276 schoolgirls from Chibok three years ago. A special adviser to Nigeria's president says the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls have arrived in the capital, Abuja, a day after their release. Femi Adesina says the girls have been received at the airport by the president's chief of staff. They are expected to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari later Sunday. This is the largest release since Boko Haram seized 276 schoolgirls from Chibok three years ago. Nigeria's government says the release came in exchange for some suspected Boko Haram members who had been detained by authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross has tweeted what might be the first public image of the Chibok schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram extremists. The ICRC tweet shows a line of girls wearing shirts with the Red Cross logo walking across a runway to a waiting helicopter. "A happy sight for families missing moved ones," the aid group says. The ICRC acted as a mediator as Nigeria exchanged some detained Boko Haram suspects in return for the girls' release Saturday. This is the largest release since Boko Haram seized 276 schoolgirls from Chibok three years ago. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it acted as a neutral intermediary and transported the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls into the hands of Nigeria's government. The ICRC along with the Swiss government had mediated months of negotiations between Nigeria and the Boko Haram extremist group to obtain Saturday's release. The release follows the freeing of a first group of 21 Chibok schoolgirls in October. Saturday's release is the largest since Boko Haram seized 276 Chibok girls in a mass abduction three years ago. ICRC deputy regional coordinator Patrick Youssef says the 82 girls soon will meet with their families. Nigeria's presidential spokesman says President Muhammadu Buhari will meet the newly released Chibok schoolgirls at 4 p.m. local time Sunday. Garba Shehu said that Buhari will receive the 82 schoolgirls in Abuja who were freed Saturday after lengthy negotiations with Boko Haram. The girls were released near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon and will be transported to the capital, Abuja. Before Saturday's release, 195 of the girls had been captive. Now 113 of the girls remain unaccounted for. Nigeria's president says he will meet Sunday with 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed this weekend after being kidnapped three years ago by Boko Haram. President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that he will receive the released schoolgirls in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. The president said the schoolgirls were freed in exchange for detained suspected extremists in the largest negotiated release so far of the nearly 300 girls whose mass abduction in 2014 highlighted the threat of Nigeria's homegrown extremist fighters who are linked to the Islamic State group. Before Saturday's release, 195 of the girls had been captive. Now 113 of the girls remain unaccounted for. As news of the latest release broke, long-suffering family members said they are eagerly awaiting a list of names and their "hopes and expectations are high."
News Article | May 7, 2017
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (C) sits among the 82 rescued Chibok girls during a reception ceremony at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, on May 7, 2017 (AFP Photo/Sunday Aghaeze) Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday vowed to help to 82 schoolgirls who have been freed from more than three years of Boko Haram captivity after a prisoner swap. The girls -- who were among more than 200 kidnapped in 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria -- travelled to the capital Abuja a day after their release to meet Buhari. "I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom," Buhari said in a statement, pledging that the presidency would "personally supervise" authorities charged with ensuring the girls' "health, education, security and general well-being". Presidential aide Bashir Ahmad tweeted a photograph of the girls, most of whom were sitting on the floor of Buhari's official residence, as the president sat in an armchair dressed in white traditional robes. The meeting came shortly before Buhari was whisked out of the country on Sunday evening after weeks of concern over his health, heading to London for "follow-up medical consultation", according to his spokesman Femi Adesina. The teenagers, who had been taken to a medical facility for checks after arriving in Abuja by military helicopter, met with the president for about 45 minutes, said an AFP reporter at the scene. Adesina said they had now been "handed over to those who will supervise their rehabilitation". He did not comment on how many imprisoned members of Boko Haram -- whose fight to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 20,000 dead since 2009 -- had been released in the swap. But AFP understands at least three suspected senior commanders, all of them Chadian nationals, were handed over. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he could not confirm claims that as many five militants were released. The girls arrived from the northeastern town of Banki, on the border with Cameroon, and were met at the airport by Buhari's chief of staff Abba Kyari. "Welcome our girls, welcome our sisters, we are glad to have you back," Kyari told them, describing it as "a very joyous moment". A military source said one of the girls was "carrying a baby with her, a boy of less than two years". The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it "facilitated the safe return" of the girls as a "neutral intermediary" and tweeted photographs of girls boarding a military helicopter. Many of the students wore colourful akara print dresses, visibly tired from their ordeal. The presidency had announced late Saturday that months of talks with the jihadists had "yielded results" some six months after 21 other Chibok girls were freed with the help of the ICRC and the Swiss government. Boko Haram fighters stormed the girls' school on the evening of April 14, 2014, and kidnapped 276 teenaged girls who were preparing to sit high school exams. Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group. Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau claimed in a video message that they had converted to Islam. The audacious kidnapping brought the insurgency to world attention, triggering global outrage that galvanised support from the former US first lady Michelle Obama and Hollywood stars. The girls have become a symbol of Nigeria's brutal conflict. Last month, parents and supporters marked the three-year anniversary of the abduction, describing the situation as an unending "nightmare". Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose two daughters were among those kidnapped, said of the latest releases: "This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. "We hope the remaining girls will soon be released." Accounting for three other girls who have since been found, a total of 113 Chibok girls are now missing, although Shekau claimed last August that some had been killed in military air strikes. Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war, seizing thousands of women and children, and forcibly recruiting young men and boys into their ranks. In a less publicised attack in November 2014, some 300 children were among about 500 people kidnapped from the town of Damasak, on the border with Niger, in the far north of Borno state. Most are still missing.
News Article | May 3, 2017
Protesters carry pictures of jailed Palestinian prisoners during a rally supporting prisoners in Israeli jails, who have been on an open-ended hunger strike for the past 17 days, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. The prisoners launched the protest to press for better conditions, including family visits. The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a rare statement, urging Israeli authorities to stop what it called the "systematic suspension" of family visits for the hunger strikers. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser) RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Several thousand Palestinians rallied in a West Bank square on Wednesday in solidarity with hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Speakers called for a new campaign of civil disobedience against Israeli rule. The prisoners launched the open-ended protest, now in its 17th day, to press for better conditions, including family visits. The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a rare statement Wednesday, urging Israeli authorities to stop what it called the "systematic suspension" of family visits for the hunger strikers. In the West Bank city of Ramallah, protesters gathered in Nelson Mandela Square. They waved Palestinian flags and posters of Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the strike, bearing his quote: "Our chains will be broken before we are." Addressing the crowd, Barghouti's wife delivered a speech on her husband's behalf, calling for "the largest campaign of civil disobedience" against 50 years of Israeli rule. Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Palestinians hope to establish a state in these lands. "The freedom of the prisoners paves the way for the freedom of the entire nation,' Fadwa Barghouti said on behalf of her husband. "Therefore, the people and the leadership should support the strike." Barghouti, a leader of the second Palestinian uprising, is serving five life sentences handed down by an Israeli court for directing two shooting attacks and a bombing that killed five people. Barghouti disputed the court's jurisdiction and didn't mount a defense. He has been in prison since 2002. "This battle (the hunger strike) is part of our battle against the occupation and for independence and dignity," Fadwa Barghouti said. Qadoura Fares, head of a Palestinian prisoners rights group, also told the crowd that Israel had no choice "but negotiate with the leaders of the strike and accept their demands." The international community's silence "is encouraging the Nazi-like occupation," he said. He called for a "popular intifada (uprising) in support of the intifada of the prisoners." The rally coincided with a White House meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Donald Trump. The two men said they were hopeful about reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but did not say how they would get there. About 6,500 Palestinians are currently held by Israel for actions related to the long-running conflict, including stone-throwing, membership in organizations outlawed by Israel and attacks that wounded or killed Israelis. Several hundred Palestinians are held without charges or trial. Family visits are one of the issues at the heart of the hunger strike over conditions in Israeli prisons. The ICRC's statement criticized Israel's cancellation of family visits to hunger striking prisoners in recent weeks, saying "the families are paying the price for this situation." Israel Prison Service spokesman Assad Librati said around 850 Palestinian prisoners are still striking, down from about 1,300 last week. He denied claims that Israel was violating international law, and accused the ICRC of helping create the crisis. Last year, the ICRC reduced the family visits it facilitates from twice a month to once a month, citing an increasing number of "no-shows" by Palestinian relatives of prisoners. The ICRC said the responsibility for family visits rests on Israeli authorities, not the Red Cross. It said Israel's incarceration of Palestinians in Israel, rather than the West Bank, was a violation of international law. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
News Article | May 4, 2017
The conference will feature hundreds of the world's most influential cybersecurity leaders, including intelligence directors, military leaders, CEOs, researchers, political advisors, politicians, professors and journalists from over 50 countries worldwide. The conference will include 45 events, and is expected to host over 7,000 attendees. There will be various panels, workshops and roundtables on topics such as blockchain, cybercrime, fraud, AI and aviation, during which time attendees will have the rare opportunity to hear insights directly from the people who have shaped the modern industry of cybersecurity for nation-states, companies and individuals. Cyber Week is hosted by the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC), Yuval Ne'eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, Tel Aviv University, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Cyber Directorate at the Prime Minister's Office. Esteemed speakers include: "We are thrilled to host Prime Minister Netanyahu and elite international leaders who are at the forefront of modern cybersecurity," said Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, Director, Blavatnik ICRC. "To hear insights from the world's top military leaders, cybersecurity professionals, academics and politicians is an extremely rare opportunity, and offers a glimpse into the future of the cybersecurity world. These are the very people who are going to shape the cybersecurity industry for decades to come." Cyber Week is partnering with a number of distinguished sponsors, including Accenture, IAI, YL Ventures, Check Point, CyberArk, Dell EMC, Deutsche Telekom, GE, hub:raum, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, OPSWAT, RSA, Team8 and ThetaRay, as well as the esteemed contributor Sami Sagol, among others. For more information about Cyber Week 2017 and to register, please visit cyberweek.tau.ac.il
News Article | May 3, 2017
This photo provided by Azaz Media Office, a Syrian anti-government activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian White Helmet civil defense worker extinguishing a burning car at the explosion scene, in Azaz town, north Syria, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Syrian activists say a large explosion in a northern town along the border with Turkey has killed and wounded several people. (Azaz Media Office via AP) BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local): Syria's Foreign Ministry says Damascus is "fully backing" a Russian initiative to establish four areas of cease-fire in the war-torn country. The statement was carried by the state-run SANA news agency late on Wednesday. A Syrian rebel delegation at the talks underway in Kazakhstan said its members were given a copy of the proposal by Russian representatives. The proposal would freeze front lines in four zones in Syria contested by opposition fighters and the government. Rebels said they have requested written clarification from Russia and pushed for nation-wide cease-fire instead. Earlier in the day at a summit in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they hoped the Syrian government and rebels would accept these "de-escalation" zones. Putin said Russian and Syrian government jets would halt flights over the specified zones if all sides respect the cease-fire. The United Nations' envoy for Syria is calling on the armed opposition's delegation to return to the talks underway in Kazakhstan where a proposal to establish safe zones in the country is a top issue. The opposition on Wednesday left the talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital, demanding the Syrian government follow through with an agreement to halt attacks and release detainees. Envoy Staffan de Mistura says he hopes the delegation will rejoin the talks on Thursday. De Mistura was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that he hopes "they will return because it is important to look at the possibility of de-escalation." He appealed to Syrian opposition delegates not to "destroy the possibility of good news related to this issue." The presidents of Russia and Turkey say they support the formation of so-called safe zones in Syria and hope an agreement about them will be reached at the multilateral Syria talks underway in Kazakhstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Wednesday at the Russian presidential complex in the resort city of Sochi. They spoke to reporters at a joint press conference after their meeting. Erdogan says he and Putin discussed Russia's plan for safe, or de-escalation, zones in Syria. The Turkish leader says he hopes "this zone of de-escalation will be accepted" at talks in the Kazakh capital, which also include representatives of Iran and the United States. Relations between Moscow and Ankara deteriorated after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November 2015 and Russia responded with trade and tourism sanctions. But Putin said on Wednesday that relations have been restored. A Syrian opposition official says a Russian proposal for safe zones cannot be accepted in its current form and that armed rebel groups have questions about it. Ahmed Ramadan tells The Associated Press the armed groups will request written answers on a number of issues, including why certain areas have been selected for cease-fires instead of a nationwide truce. Russia has not commented publicly on the proposal, which was being circulated as cease-fire talks resumed Wednesday in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The opposition delegation suspended their participation in the talks, demanding a commitment to a December cease-fire that has been repeatedly violated. But Ramadan says the delegation will remain in Astana to discuss the cease-fire violations and present their questions about the safe zones proposal. The presidents of Russia and Turkey are holding talks on the situation in Syria and the restoration of full economic ties between their two countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of Wednesday's talks their ability to discuss key issues, including Syria, shows that relations are being fully restored. The meeting at Putin's Black Sea residence coincides with Syria cease-fire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, co-sponsored by Russia and Turkey. The cooperation on Syria marks a sharp turnaround for Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the war. The conflicting interests led to the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish jet at the Syrian border in November 2015. Moscow responded with tourism and trade restrictions that badly hurt the Turkish economy. The International Committee of the Red Cross says a convoy of food and medical supplies organized with the United Nations has reached a rebel-held Syrian town near the capital for the first time in six months. Ingy Sedky, a Damascus-based spokeswoman for the ICRC, said Wednesday the overnight convoy of 51 trucks delivered food, clothes and medical supplies to Douma, where some 35,000 people are besieged by government forces. Sieges have been part of the Syrian government's military strategy against its domestic opponents throughout the six-year-old civil war. A number of surrender deals of rebel-held areas have been negotiated under siege. The Syrian opposition says armed groups have suspended their participation in Russia-backed cease-fire talks, demanding the government follow through with an earlier agreement to halt attacks and release detainees. The fourth round of the talks opened Wednesday in the Kazakh capital, Astana. Washington is sending a senior State Department official to the talks for the first time. On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition circulated a document that calls for the creation of "de-escalation" and security zones, to be monitored by observer countries. It said the zones would allow for the voluntary return of refugees. Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is also reportedly circulating a proposal for safe zones. Ahmed Ramadan, an opposition representative, says armed groups' delegation suspended their participation in the talks after presenting a 10-point document that calls for adherence to an earlier cease-fire reached in December. A Kazakh diplomat has confirmed that a Russian proposal to set up safe zones in Syria is under discussion at talks in Astana. The Interfax news agency quoted Aidarbek Tumatov as saying the proposal involves the creation of at least four zones. Russia has not officially released its proposal. Reports in Russian state media say the zones would be patrolled by forces from Russia, Iran and Turkey. The latest round of talks in Kazakhstan's capital began Wednesday, and was joined for the first time by a senior State Department official. The Tass news agency reported that Stuart Jones, an assistant secretary of state, has already met separately with Russia's representative. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, the U.S. and Russian presidents agreed to bolster diplomatic efforts to end Syria's six-year-old civil war. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey and Russia attach great importance to "strengthening" a cease-fire in Syria and will continue to work together to try and end the conflict. Erdogan spoke in Ankara on Wednesday before his departure for Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin on bilateral economic ties and the situation in Syria. The Turkish leader said the two countries' aim for Syria was "to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible, to protect the country's territorial unity and (find) a political solution." Erdogan said: "We are engaged in a productive cooperation in Syria. We jointly took several steps that led to new hopes for a political solution." The Syrian government and the opposition are resuming cease-fire talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on Wednesday. Syrian activists say a large explosion in a northern town along the border with Turkey has killed at least four people and wounded many others. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the death toll in the town of Azaz is likely to climb after Wednesday's blast. Both the Observatory and the activist-run Revolutionary Forces of Syria media office say the explosion is believed to have been caused by a car bomb. Images posted online by the activist-run Azaz Media Center showed a burnt out car and a fire in the area.
News Article | February 24, 2017
BERN, 24-Feb-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — Switzerland has pledged to take direct action to help populations facing starvation, especially in South Sudan. The decision follows a call issued by the United Nations Secretary-General on 22 February 2017. Swiss Humanitarian Aid, a department of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), is to release CHF 15 million from its fund for humanitarian emergencies for countries hit by famine in the beginning of this year. “Switzerland is calling for the rapid mobilisation of aid. Some 100,000 people are already facing starvation in South Sudan, and famine looms in other countries in the region,” declared Didier Burkhalter, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The funds released by Switzerland are earmarked for humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, where the situation is most critical, and in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, which are also on the brink of famine. The funds will be divided among a range of programmes and humanitarian organisations working on the ground in these regions, where the lack of food security could affect more than 20 million people by summer 2017 if nothing is done. South Sudan not only suffered a drought in 2016 but it also has also been in the grip of civil war for the last three years, which has driven 3.5 million people from their homes. The country is now facing a food crisis on an unprecedented scale. Switzerland has been working in this region for several years. “The threat of famine has been looming over this country for quite some time now. Swiss Humanitarian Aid has regularly stepped up its efforts in response to growing needs on the ground,” explains André Huber, head of the Africa Division of Swiss Humanitarian Aid. Work on the ground, which is coordinated by the Swiss Humanitarian Aid office in the capital Juba, aims to offer long-term support and assistance to communities affected by conflict and adverse climate conditions. The CHF 15 million released from the emergency aid fund is on top of the CHF 50 million in humanitarian aid which the SDC already provides in these four countries. The 2017 budget for South Sudan, which totals CHF 20 million, will fund efforts in the water and civilian protection sectors, as well as projects to improve food security and livelihoods. A share will also be allocated to the ICRC and to UN agencies, such as the World Food Programme and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to support their operations on the ground. Swiss Humanitarian Aid itself runs a programme in Aweil, a city in the north of the country, which aims to provide the local population with access to drinking water and sanitation. Switzerland’s contribution will also support NGOs distributing food and providing medical care. The Secretary-General warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people dying of hunger, adding that the timely delivery of sustained and adequate assistance could improve the situation within a few months and mitigate further suffering.
News Article | February 28, 2017
BARCELONA, Spain--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The GSMA today launched the first Humanitarian Connectivity Charter Annual Report, highlighting efforts by mobile network operator (MNO) signatories to support disaster preparedness and response activities around the world during 2016. This annual report maps the progress made under the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, capturing global efforts to address humanitarian emergencies ranging from the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe to reducing the impact of natural disasters. It highlights the critical role of the mobile industry in supporting resilience and serves as a baseline against which to measure progress in the coming years. The GSMA also announced a new humanitarian supporter of the Charter, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which joins 108 MNO members and six endorsing humanitarian and technical partners, with the potential to reach more than 1.3 billion people. “We launched the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter two years ago and since that time, mobile has played an important role in how the global community responds to crises, facilitating advancements in early warning systems, reuniting loved ones, and connecting affected populations to information and assistance,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “The Charter has been an important platform for supporting our industry’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, whether addressing natural disasters or the effects of war and conflict. We thank the many organisations supporting the Charter over the past two years and look forward to expanding its impact in the years to come.” The Charter, launched by the GSMA at Mobile World Congress 2015, leverages mobile connectivity to improve access to communication and information for those affected by crisis, reduce the loss of life, and positively contribute to humanitarian response. The increase in displaced communities and sudden onset of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, continue to impact communities globally. Innovation by Charter signatories demonstrates how mobile can play a role in mitigation, early warning, response and recovery, and the newly published report highlights some of the actions undertaken by signatories: MNOs have worked with the wider ecosystem to provide support to displaced communities. In 2016, Turkcell launched an app called Merhaba Umut (‘Hello Hope’) to help facilitate the integration of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, while Asiacell (Ooredoo Group) worked with Ericsson to implement ‘Connect to Learn’ programmes for children in refugee camps in Iraq, providing ICTs and connectivity to schools to enhance learning. In June 2016, Zain partnered with the MIT Enterprise Forum1 to launch the ‘Innovate for Refugees’ Initiative, a competition intended to promote innovative entrepreneurial businesses, providing tech-driven solutions that cater to the needs of refugees. Following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on 16 April 2016, Movistar Ecuador (Telefónica Group) mobilised 190 technicians and sent out 40 vehicles equipped with satellite phones, enabling more than 82,000 people to call relatives and friends. In addition, MNOs Claro, CNT and Movistar Ecuador provided free voice minutes and SMS to customers in affected areas. After the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes in Japan, NTT DOCOMO provided free Wi-Fi service, constructed an emergency IP network and deployed ‘base stations on wheels’ to restore network coverage. During the period of earthquake activity, Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued 19 earthquake early warning alerts and it is estimated that over 1 million customers received these messages from their operator. Customers of Ncell (Axiata Group) living in areas at high risk of floods and landslides in Nepal are now receiving early warning alerts thanks to an innovative partnership between Ncell and the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), implemented in July 2016. SMS alerts are sent when water levels are dangerously high or when severe weather conditions are forecast, enabling citizens to take necessary precautions. In recognition that partnerships are essential to meet the growing humanitarian needs globally, in addition to the MNO signatories, the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter is supported by a number of organisations and agencies. Key supporting organisations include the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Ericsson and Nokia are technical partners of the Charter. A full copy of the report is available at: www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/programme/disaster-response/hcc-annual-report and further detail on the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter is available at: www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/programmes/disaster-response/humanitarian-connectivity-charter. The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with almost 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Mobile World Congress Americas and the Mobile 360 Series of conferences. For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at www.gsma.com. Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA.
News Article | March 1, 2017
The Essam and Dalal Obaid Foundation (EDOF) has released its annual achievement report for 2016, which details the philanthropic institution's important progress in the fields of medicine and humanitarian work in the past year. This is the second achievement report published by EDOF since its creation in 2014. EDOF was founded by the sons of Essam and Dalal Obaid to honour them. The foundation's core mission is "to support well established operational organisations achieve their goals by creating a human and sustainable legacy for future generations," according to Dr. Nawaf Obaid, EDOF's CEO. In this vein, EDOF has built several partnerships with globally recognised institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNN Freedom Project and the Mayo Clinic. Through its support of the ICRC's Weapon Traumatology and Training Centre (WTTC) in Tripoli, Lebanon, EDOF has helped give life back to victims of the Syrian crisis. The Foundation's commitment to the WTTC has aided over 6,200 people mend from the traumas associated with the war in Syria. In addition, EDOF has also been actively assisting the ICRC's Restoring Family Links Program, which reunites families torn apart by war, armed conflict or displacement. To aid in the fight against human trafficking and modern slave trade, EDOF has partnered with the CNN Freedom Project. The Freedom Project gives voices to the victims of these horrific crimes through powerful and evocative reporting and filmmaking. In 2016 the Project made significant progress: it's documentary, "Canada's Stolen Daughters" was given the 2016 International Media Award; it mobilized students internationally to participate in #MyFreedomDay; it helped put a law into effect in Atlanta, GA forcing convicted traffickers to pay into a fund to aid victims of trafficking. Due to EDOF, the CNN Freedom Project will lend its vast resources to the Italian public school system as part of the Ministry of Education's aim to educate Italian youths on the horrendous nature of human trafficking and slavery. Empathetic to the trauma of bodily disfiguration caused by war and armed conflict, EDOF's founder, Tarek Obaid, made a generous donation to the Mayo Clinic, giving the world-renowned hospital enough resources to open the Essam and Dalal Obaid Center for Reconstructive Transplant Surgery. The Center specializes in two branches of transplantation surgery: face and hand; this year marks the end of their first successful face transplantation. After 56 hours of surgery Andy Sandness was given a second chance at life, having his face completely reconstructed and fully functioning through the use of donated tissue and nerves. "I can't say thanks enough to [the donors], for what they gave me," he said. Tarek Obaid's gift to the Mayo Clinic was made on behalf of his family and their strongly held value that hope provides "the fortitude to persevere" and is "the well from which people draw strength." EDOF has also supported the activities of the National Council on US Arab Relations (NCUSAR), such as its Washington, D.C. Summer Internship Program, which gives university students the opportunity to work closely with Near East and Arab world organisations. In addition, EDOF's contribution to NCUSAR's Model Arab League (MAL) has afforded US students the opportunity to explore Arab world politics through an extraordinary diplomatic simulation and leadership development program. And finally, as benefactor of NCUSAR's Cultural Study Visits Program, EDOF has opened the door for US students and faculty to learn more about Middle Eastern countries as part of a unique travel abroad opportunity. More information about EDOF can be found at https://edof.org
News Article | December 13, 2016
This image released by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) shows Syrians who were displaced with their families from eastern Aleppo gather at the collective shelter, in the village of Jibreen south of Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Syria's military said Monday it has regained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, as government forces close in the last remaining sliver of a rebel enclave packed with fighters as well as tens of thousands of civilians. (ICRC via AP) BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in an effective surrender on Tuesday, as Russia declared all military action had stopped and the Syrian government had assumed control of the former rebel enclave. The dramatic developments, which appeared to restore the remainder of what was once Syria's largest city to President Bashar Assad's forces after months of heavy fighting and a crippling siege, followed reports of mass killings by government forces closing in on the final few blocks still held by the rebels. Damascus confirmed the evacuation deal and the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for immediate access to the former rebel enclave to confirm the end of military operations and to oversee the safe departure of tens of thousands of civilians and opposition fighters. He was at the Security Council where an emergency meeting for Aleppo was underway. Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin took to the floor near the end of the session at the U.N. Security Council to announce fighting had ended. "According to the latest information that we received ... military actions in eastern Aleppo are over," Churkin said. "The Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo." Minutes earlier, he had announced that "all militants" and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, were being evacuated through "agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen voluntarily," including the rebel stronghold of Idlib province. As word spread of the deal, celebrations broke out in the government-controlled western sector of Aleppo, with convoys of cars driving around honking their cars and waving Syrian flags from the windows. Retaking Aleppo, which has been split between rebel and government control since 2012, would be Assad's biggest victory yet in the civil war. Aleppo, the country's former commercial powerhouse, has long been regarded as a major gateway between Turkey and Syria and the biggest prize in the conflict. The agreement Tuesday came after world leaders and aid agencies issued dramatic appeals on behalf of trapped residents, and the U.N. human rights office said that pro-government forces reportedly killed 82 civilians as they closed in on the last remaining rebel areas. That and other reports of mass killings, which could not be independently confirmed, reinforced fears of atrocities in the final hours of the battle for the city. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the emergency meeting he had received "credible reports" of civilians killed by intense bombing and summary executions by pro-government forces. "To the Assad regime, Russia and Iran —three member states behind the conquest of and carnage in Aleppo — you bear responsibility for these atrocities," said U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. In Turkey, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul, chanting against Russia's involvement in the push to retake rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Several residents and opposition activists in Syria told the AP that government forces carried out summary killings of rebels in neighborhoods captured on Monday, but the Syrian military denied the claim, saying such allegations were "a desperate attempt" to gain international sympathy. None of the residents witnessed the alleged killings, and the reports came amid deepening chaos in the remaining rebel-held areas. Mohammed Abu Rajab, the administrator of the last remaining clinic in rebel-held parts of the city, said the dead and wounded were being left in the streets. Bashar al-Ja'afari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, denied any mass executions or revenge attacks, but added it was Syria's "constitutional right" to go after "terrorists," a reference to all opposition fighters. "Aleppo has been liberated from terrorists and those who toyed with terrorism," he said. "Aleppo has returned to the nation." The U.N. children's agency said in a statement that it had received a report of more than 100 unaccompanied children trapped in a building under fire in eastern Aleppo. UNICEF is concerned over reports of "extrajudicial killings of civilians, including children," said the agency's regional director, Geert Cappalaere. The U.N. human rights office said it had received reports of pro-government forces killing at least 82 civilians in four neighborhoods of the rapidly-shrinking rebel enclave, including 11 women and 13 children. Spokesman Rupert Colville, speaking to reporters in Geneva, said the reports described pro-government forces entering homes and killing civilians "on the spot." A news release by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva said that multiple sources reported dozens of civilians were shot dead Monday by government forces and allied militiamen in the Kallaseh and Bustan al-Qasr neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said hundreds of bodies were still under the rubble. There were conflicting reports about the timing and route of the rebel withdrawal. Syria's military media said the gunmen would be evacuated through the Ramouseh crossing and from there to rebel-controlled areas of northern Idlib province. "Aleppo will be declared a secure and liberated city within the coming hours," it said on its Telegram channel. Osama Abu Zayd, a Turkey-based legal adviser for an umbrella group of rebel factions known as the Free Syrian Army, said the cease-fire went into effect Tuesday evening and that the first groups of rebel fighters would begin evacuating later that day. Yasser al-Youssef, a rebel spokesman, confirmed the deal, and another spokesman, Ahmed Karali, said those leaving the city would head to rural areas in western Aleppo province then head north. A government win in Aleppo would significantly strengthen Assad's hand but does not end the conflict — significant parts of Syria are still outside government control and huge swaths of the country are a devastated wasteland. More than a quarter of a million people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests against the Assad family's four-decade rule. Associated Press Zeina Karam reported this story from Beirut and AP writer Edith M. Lederer reported from the United Nations. APress writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa in Beirut, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
News Article | February 19, 2017
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) flag flies at half-mast at the entrance to a centre in Kabul on February 9, 2017 after suspected Islamic State gunmen killed six Afghan employees (AFP Photo/SHAH MARAI) The Red Cross on Saturday called for the unconditional release of two staff members who were abducted when their convoy was ambushed in northern Afghanistan last week, leaving six other workers dead. The aid workers came under insurgent fire in Jowzjan province on February 8 while they were en route to a remote snowbound area to deliver much-needed relief supplies. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had earlier said the two employees were missing, in what was one of the worst attacks on the international charity in the country for years. "We call on the abductors' sense of humanity and request the immediate, safe and unconditional release of our colleagues and to avoid taking any action that could endanger their lives," Monica Zanarelli, ICRC chief in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "We do not want the agony and heartache of this tragedy to deepen." ICRC did not specify who was behind the abduction. No militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the ambush, but Jowzjan's police chief has blamed local Islamic State jihadists. Six employees were killed on the spot, many of them shot from close range. The killings come after a Spanish employee of the ICRC was abducted on December 19 when workers from the charity were travelling between the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and the neighbouring volatile Taliban hotbed of Kunduz. The attacks underscore how aid workers in the country have increasingly become casualties of a surge in militancy in recent years. The violence comes at a time when Afghanistan is in dire need of humanitarian assistance, with more than 100 people killed in recent avalanches and tens of thousands displaced by the wrenching conflict. Following the attack, the ICRC, which has been working in Afghanistan for three decades, said it was putting its nationwide operations on hold but added there were no plans for now to withdraw staff. The Taliban, the largest militant group in Afghanistan which promptly distanced itself from the attack, has assured ICRC of security in areas under their control and urged the charity to resume operations.