Syria’s Struggle: How 10-Day Span Air Raid Wiped Out Over 100 Civilians

On July 26, 2019, an air raid over Syria caused many casualties and sparked concern about why the violence was not being addressed by media outlets.

Protestor sign in London. chrisjohnbeckett. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Protestor sign in London. chrisjohnbeckett. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Many people have lost their lives in an air-bombing raid in Syria in the past few weeks. The raid killed 103 people in only 10 days. Michelle Bachelet, human rights advocate, blames the government for the mass bombings, condemning the “failure of leadership by the world’s most powerful nations”. Syria, as well as Syria's ally – Russia, have denied the attack on civilians, claiming they are not responsible for the violence.

UN specialist Michelle Bachelet, brought the UN’s attention to what was going on, stating that “These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident,” she added. “Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions.”

The air raids occurred over the Idlib regioni and in rural Aleppo region. Bachelet states, the areas “have experienced civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes in the past ten days alone, causing a minimum of 103 civilian deaths, including at least 26 children”. The reason Bachelet was so passionate about bringing the UN attention to the violence was because no one else was. The events happened over a 10 day span and in those ten days, little to no coverage was happening to address and possibly stop the violence. Bachelet states that she is “concerned that the continued carnage in Syria ‘is no longer on the international radar.’”

The air raids targeted a rebel-populated base, attacking “medical facilities, schools and other civilian infrastructure such as markets and bakeries”. These frequent and malicious attacks are too premeditated to be labeled as an “accident”, claims Bachelet. 

According to a statement made in the Daily Star, “The region under attack is home to some three million people, nearly half of them already displaced from other parts of the country. It covers nearly all of Idlib and parts of Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces. The Idlib region is controlled by jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.” Still, because there was such a lack of response to the air raids, no one is taking responsibility. 

The office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) issued a statement claiming the air raids were seen as the “deadliest days” in the Idlib and Aleppo regions. 

Bachelet states, “This is a failure of leadership by the world’s most powerful nations, resulting in tragedy on such a vast scale that we no longer seem to be able to relate to it at all.”

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

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YEMEN: A Call for Action: The Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

War has torn Yemen apart. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen, “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world”. It states that “An estimated 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need. Severity of needs is deepening, with the number of people in acute need a staggering 27 per cent higher than last year”. This devastating famine is a consequence of the Yemen civil war that started in 2015 and has been ongoing since. 

The civil war broke out in 2015 between two factions of Yemen: the armed movement of the Houthi and the Yemeni geovernemnt led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The fighting started over legitimization of who actually runs Yemen and who gains mass support. Their feud, though, has resulted in their country becoming one of the worst humanitarian crises currently in the world. It has left thousands of adults and children “food insecure”, an official term to identify the starving people in the country. According to an article by the UN, “During the past four years of intense conflict between Government forces and Houthi rebels have left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN”. These people have lost their lives because of a war that took their resources. 

In a video by CNN reporter, Sam Kiley, Kiley asked local businessman, Hussein Al-Jerbi, if he thought it was surprising that Yemen is having a problem with hunger. Al-Jerbi responded with, “Not [a] problem - it is a disaster, it is a disaster”. The famine in Yemen is a direct example of what war can bring to a country. The economy has become so poor that the people of Yemen have resulted to selling Khat - an oral drug. In the same video, Sam Kiley interviewed farmer Mounir Al-Ruba’i about why he grows he grows Khat, Al-Ruba’i states, “We only make a profit from Khat - other crops do not cover our home expenses. This is the only crop that would cover our daily and annual expenses.” 

The UN and UNICEF have on going sites and systems that allow you to donate to the crisis. While the UN focuses donations on multiple issues, UNICEF provides direct support to the children that are growing up or being born into this humanitarian crisis. On the UNICEF page where you can donate, their call to action states, “An estimated 360,000 children under age 5 are acutely malnourished and fighting for their lives”. An instagram account, @wearthepeace, made a post explaining that if reposted on their story or account, the people running the account would donate meals to Yemen. They not only have a link in their bio for anyone who wants to donate can, but their campaign, which is a post explaining that for every 10 times the post is reposted, they will donate $1 to the Yemen crisis. Their intention behind the post was to not only raise money, but also raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis so people are talking and doing something about it. With their 107K following, they have done just that. Their donations also include food baskets (the contents of those food baskets are listed in the post). On June 14th, the post was removed over controversy that the campaign was a hoax, but after contacting Instagram and providing proof of their legitimacy, their post was reinstated on June 23rd. To this day, they are still spreading awareness and raising funds for the Yemen crisis.

This is considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world because of the amount of innocent lives it is affecting. But we can help. With a donation, no matter how big or small, to the organizations listed above, we can make sure the funds are going to the right place. If donation is out of the question, please share and repost articles and stories about Yemen, specifically the account that donates once you repost. Ensuring that this crisis is not forgotten or swept under the rug will aid the people of Yemen. 

The livelihood of the Yemeni people are at stake. With consistent awareness and donations, we can help aid the Yemeni people and ensure the war does not destroy them. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

Aleppo: The Struggle to Rebuild a City After Years of War

A view of Aleppo from above. CC by 2.0

A view of Aleppo from above. CC by 2.0

The Syrian Civil War has put Syria in the headlines since 2011. The War has devastated the entire country of Syria, and the United Nations Envoy for Syria estimates that 400,000 Syrians were killed in the Civil War. The war was fought between the Bashar al-Assad’s regime (backed by Russian and Iranian forces), ISIS, Kurdish Forces, and others (including Jaish al Fateh, Ahrar al-Sham, and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki). Because of the violence of the Syrian Civil War, the United Nations estimates that 5 million refugees have fled Syria thus far.  

One of the most significant battles in Syria during the Civil War has been the Battle of Aleppo, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. Aleppo is one of the largest cities in Syria. Its significance is partially historical, as Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world due to its location on the end of the Silk Road. Before the Battle, Aleppo was controlled by rebel forces, which made Aleppo a target for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was interested in controlling Aleppo due to its significance as an industrial powerhouse. Although the Syrian Civil war is ongoing, the Battle of Aleppo ended in december of 2016 when al-Assad’s forces gained control of the city.

In order to comprehend the damage inflicted on Aleppo during the war, the United Nations recently took satellite photos of Aleppo. The photos reveal that more than half of the buildings photographed have moderate to severe damage, and ten percent of historically significant sites show severe damage. Despite the damage, nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have returned home now that Aleppo is controlled only by al-Assad. Although the Battle of Aleppo is over, there are still safety issues in the city; in early February of this year, an entire block of apartments collapsed killing 11 people, including four children. Much of the city lacks running water and electricity, and Syrian officials estimate that it will cost upwards of $10 billion to rebuild the city which held 2.3 million inhabitants before the war.

United States and European officials are reluctant to support efforts in rebuilding the city due to their distrust of president Bashar al-Assad. The president has been accused war crimes including using chemical weapons against civilians, and torturing his opponents. It is estimated that 5,000 Syrian civilians have died at the hands of his army. Despite international distrust of al-Assad, the United States has shied away from attempting to remove him from office because he is arguably the most promising chance for stability in Syria. Although the United States will not attempt a coup, former United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted in a speech that: "We will discourage economic relationships between the Assad regime and any other country” (including the rebuilding of Aleppo). The Battle of Aleppo may have ceased, but it will take years before Aleppo is restored to its formed status in Syria.

GINNY KEENAN is an NYU student currently studying abroad in London. She intends to major in journalism, and reads in her free time. She is always looking for new travel opportunities.

Wildlife War: Africa's Militaristic Approach to Animal Conservation

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

The plight of endangered elephants and rhinos in Africa is fairly well known to the world: Elephants are hunted by poachers for their tusks, which are carved into jewelry while rhinos are hunted for their horns which are believed in many cultures to carry medicinal value. The widespread poaching of these animals has pushed their population numbers back, causing a ripple effect in local ecosystems and presenting the possibility of extinction for the animals themselves. There is a very real chance that future generations may not grow up with these animals present as the current generation did. What is not as well known is that for years now, Africa has taken a militarized approach to prevent this outcome from becoming a reality, with armed conservation groups authorized to impose the harshest penalties on would-be poachers.

Poaching in Africa reached its zenith in the 1970s and 80s. In 1989 Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi appointed famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey as head of Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, and Dr. Leaky created the first armed anti-poaching units. He then implemented a “shoot to kill” policy for dealing with poachers that drastically reduced environmental crime in the region. Several African nations followed suit and the practice of using arms to protect animals expanded throughout the continent, becoming more sophisticated over the years. Today conservation in Africa is a well known and a viable career path, with militarized conservation groups being trained by ex-soldiers from around the world. Nir Karlon, a former Israeli commando, manages the Maisha Group, a private security firm that focuses on preventing environmental crime in the Congo. In Zimbabwe, a nerve center of the African elephant population, Damian Mander of the Australian Royal Navy heads up the first all-female ranger team called “Akashinga” which means, “Brave Ones”. The group initially faced criticism from male conservationists who doubted that women would be able to perform the arduous physical tasks associated with the job. The Brave Ones, however, proved to be as capable as any man when it came to military conservation. New recruits to ranger units often go through several days of rigorous training before being offered a position. Some groups accept volunteers in unarmed positions, but most conservationists still carry weapons and are still authorized to use deadly force.

The job is not without risks. In the last decade, 1000 rangers have been killed while on duty. Death can come from the poachers they pursue or the animals they protect. Much of Africa’s poaching is carried out by crime syndicates and local militants who have found that ivory can be used as currency to buy weapons and fund campaigns. Encounters between conservationists and poachers have on occasion erupted into full-on firefights, and some critics have expressed concern that the rangers' methods may be too brutal. With this in mind, many ranger groups have made community outreach an even greater priority than battling poachers, as support from the locals will always be more effective than a gun. Education seminars at local schools help the rangers strengthen their relationships with people living in protected areas, with a long term goal of increasing awareness and surveillance of animal poaching in Africa.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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How Yemeni Women Are Fighting the War

Yemeni women take part in a sit-in and a protest against the ongoing conflict in the Arab country, outside the UN offices in Sana'a, Yemen, 16 March 2017. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

Yemeni women take part in a sit-in and a protest against the ongoing conflict in the Arab country, outside the UN offices in Sana'a, Yemen, 16 March 2017. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has waged war against Shia Houthi forces in Yemen. More than 8,000 people have been killed, and more than 49,000 injured; at least 69% of the population is reportedly in need of humanitarian assistance. Million of Yemenis are facing starvation. Weapons circulation is widespread and uncontrolled: in 2016, a UN report estimated that between 40m to 60m firearms were circulating freely in the country.

The conflict has had a devastating impact on the women of the country. Household breadwinners are usually men; many are fighting, injured or killed. There is an economic crisis in the private sector, and many public sector jobs are no longer paying salaries. The health and security of the female population is endangered by exposure to cholera and other diseases. And then there’s the issue of child marriages: the severe poverty crisis means that prepubescent girls are married off to repay debts, or to raise funds to feed the rest of the family.

A woman from the Northern Ibb region, which is occupied by the rebel Houthi army, explained the situation to a research team:

We live in a state of lawlessness: no security, no protection and no functional law enforcement authorities. A person may be shot dead for a trivial thing. The security situation doesn’t look like it did in the past. Now, there are informal groups behaving as if they were law enforcement authorities. These groups have power, and their power is the law. They use force against whoever disagrees with them or criticises their behaviour.

As the feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe has pointed out, women are crucial for war and play supportive roles for the military. Indeed, many Yemeni women are not victims of war or just escaping or hiding from this war. In many contrasting ways, they are actively supporting it, and not only on humanitarian grounds.

Women engaging in war

Although many Yemeni women discourage their family members from taking part in the conflict and very few take up arms themselves, they also help recruit men to the army. They also support combatants by cooking food for them and helping to distribute it.

A young woman, Nasseem Al-Odaini, whose family has fled to the neighbouring Ibb region, stayed behind in Houthi-occupied Taiz and initiated an organisation that assist the combatants that support the former government. As she told Middle East Eye: “We want to encourage the pro-government forces to advance in the province, by raising the spirits of the fighters”.

Other Yemeni women try to mitigate the impact of the conflict the best way possible. For example, women engage in humanitarian relief and in providing social and psychological support for people who have been traumatised by the war. They also engage in peace processes when they initiate discussions of the conflict in their communities.

Since the war is not equally intense in every part of the country, there are better possibilities for women to participate in peace processes around the port city of Aden, in the south, than it is in the north, where the Houthi army has taken control and Saudi coalition airstrikes are part of everyday life. Accordingly, women’s conditions and activities differ from one region to another.

Yemeni women and girls wait to receive free bread provided by a charity bakery during a severe shortage of food in Sana'a, Yemen, 15 August 2017. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

Yemeni women and girls wait to receive free bread provided by a charity bakery during a severe shortage of food in Sana'a, Yemen, 15 August 2017. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

A blocked momentum

In the north, local communities are more divided (between supporters and adversaries of the Houthi government) than in the south. When women enter the public and participate in charity work, they may be questioned by “de facto authorities” (read: the Houthi army) who, according to one woman, would try to prevent them from doing their work. They would also tell women that they are not allowed to appear in public before men:

They [the Houthis] are opposed to women playing a role in public life. According to them, the woman’s role is restricted to cooking and housework. They marginalise women; they deny their role in the community.

Women in Northern and Southern parts of Yemen are not full citizens. According to Amnesty International, they “face discrimination in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody, and the state fails to take adequate measures to prevent, investigate, and punish domestic violence”. Discrimination against women in Yemen go back far beyond the war and are associated with local customs according to several studies. And yet, Yemeni women maintain their engagement in the development of their country.

An old engagement

During the popular uprising in the country in 2011 where hundreds of thousands of Yemenis followed the “youth movement” and protested against the corrupt reign of the then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni women took to the streets to an extent that was unforeseen and unprecedented.

Many women participants were independent of political groups, but in the later stages of the protests the Islamic Reform party – inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood – managed to take charge of the protest movement, raising independent women’s concern that their rights would be disregarded.

However, independent women and women belonging to the political parties, including the Islamic Reform party and the Houthi political wing, Ansar Allah, constituted almost one third of participantsin the UN-guided National Dialogue Conference which followed the forced resignation of the President in November 2011. The aim of the 10 months long conference was to formulate a new and more democratic constitution for a united Yemen. However, the draft constitution which included a general 30% gender quota was rejected  by the Houthi movement in September 2014, before the population had given their voice in a referendum.

By then disappointment with the process towards a new Yemen had given the Houthis wide popular support. They occupied major government institutions in the capital, Sana'a and removed the transition government recognised internationally. Interestingly, it was not the gender quota which made the Houthis reject the draft constitution, but the view to a power-sharing model which did not give them what they expected.

The Houthi movement’s occupation of the capital and seizure of government seemed to mark both the beginning of a war, and the end of momentum for women’s rights in Yemen – a country which generally figures in the lowest ranks of Arab gender equality indexes. In 2014, a group of women from diverse political backgrounds pushed for political solutions instead of war. Since then they have been sidelined from peace negotiations – but that doesn’t mean that Yemeni women have lost all hope.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.




Dr. Connie Carøe Christiansen is a visiting associate professor in Gender Studies. She was an associate professor at Roskilde University in Denmark and a senior advisor at KVINFO, the Danish Centre for Research and Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity, where she managed academic programs in the Arab region, including a program which established an M.A. program on International Development and Gender at Sanaa University in Yemen. She has published research on gender, migration and Islam in Denmark, Turkey, Morocco and Yemen. She has her M.A. in Cultural Sociology and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Copenhagen University, Denmark.