Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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Turkey’s deepening disarray

David Barchard

Turkey’s political scene is sinking into ever deeper disarray. In Ankara, attempts to form a coalition government after the 7 June elections have finally broken down. This weekend President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gains the right to dissolve parliament and call early elections. It will be a desperate no-holds barred struggle between the parties.
Worse still, the situation in eastern Turkey looks steadily more alarming and its impact on Turkey’s national politics is growing. Exactly a month ago now, the Turkish government, supported by the US, ended the two year old peace process after the killing of two policemen and launched Operation Martyr Yalcin,  massive air strikes against PKK encampments in northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. Since then, it claims, 490 PKK militants have been killed as well as 43 soldiers and police.
If the intention was to subdue the PKK and restore law and order in eastern Turkey, so far the operation has failed. Not only is the death toll of police and soldiers climbing inexorably with an average of three deaths most days, the PKK has now taken a radical step which throws the entire future of Turkish-Kurdish relations into question.  
Last weekend, in at least eleven towns in southeastern Anatolia, sections of the local population – some PKK members and sympathetic local officials belonging to the KCK (Group of Communities in Kurdistan, a PKK civilian offshoot) – declared complete autonomy from Ankara’s rule.
In Varto, a remote mountain town in Mush province, supporters of autonomy held the town for more than 12 hours. Government control was restored after the enforcement of 20 hour curfew with the use of helicopters. There was also a spate of “autonomy declarations”  in at least eleven other communities including Van, Sırnak, Hakkari, Varto, Bulanık, Sur, Silvan, Silopi, Cizre, Nusaybin and Yuksekova. Four mayors, including the co-mayor of the region’s capital Diyarbakir, have so far been arrested for alleged involvement in the autonomy declarations.
Why has this happened? Outside the more radical extreme south eastern areas of the Tigris valley (where many of the autonomy declarations have been made), many, perhaps most, Kurds do not call for outright independence. War conditions, however, have handed a strong military opportunity to PKK hardliners who do want to break away from Turkey and enabled them to outflank Kurdish moderates politically.
Militarily they have been able to rain down a stream of violent attacks on police stations and key security points, aimed at systematically degrading Turkey’s security structure in the south east. In some towns the population is digging trenches in what looks like preparations for an insurrection.
Though very brutal, the attacks on police and soldiers are not simply random local violence. They clear the way for more radical separatist political initiatives of which the weekend’s declarations of autonomy may be the first. This poses an almost hopeless dilemma for the authorities. If, as in the past, they crack down hard, hostility in Kurdish-populated areas - and violence - will grow. But with elections looming and tough promises already made to finish off the PKK, a soft line is unthinkable.
Some Kurdish officials said they had declared autonomy to oppose the AKP because political options had been closed to them.
Events since the elections have demonstrated fairly clearly to the country as a whole that the AKP is not prepared to share power, still less to hand it over to another party. The coalition negotiations did not start for more than a month. They then took an entire month, and were pronounced a failure by the AKP Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, just before the expiry of the time limit.
Normally the second largest party would then be given a try. President Erdogan, however, indicates that he may not allow the CHP, (Republican People’s Party) a chance to try and form a government, even though it would certainly at least get the votes of the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party).
The HDP itself has been blasted by AKP leaders as tantamount to terroristic and accused of supporting bombings, even though it has made continual appeals to the PKK to stop the violence. Judicial moves to prosecute the HDP leaders on terrorism charges have been started. Harshest of all, Nihat Zeybekci, minister of the economy, even suggested that the war with the PKK was a “war with kafirs” (infidels).
It is not hard to see why radicals among the Kurds currently feel they have little to gain from conventional national politics. If left unresolved, their discontent could spiral into a full-blown independence movement.
Turkey does only not have to worry about the deadlock in Ankara politics and a war against the PKK. Alongside all Turkey’s other problems, the confrontation with the Islamic State group (IS) is growing largely unnoticed even though the last IS bombing at Suruc, in eastern Turkey, a month ago killed 34 people – far more than any PKK attack to date. 
IS this week renewed threats against Turkey. Polls suggest that, even though 90 percent of Turks fear IS, the movement may have as many as two million IS supporters.
As yet, however, it seems to be a relatively low political priority and only a couple of Turkish jet attacks seem to have been launched from the Incirlik base so far.
Will elections help make all these problems more tractable? It seems doubtful. Though the AKP and the president now look set on holding snap elections, the majority of polls say the AKP’s share will either stay about the same or drop a percent or two. There is no sign yet that the HDP is likely to decline.
Ozer Sencer of Metropoll, a leading Turkish pollster whose predictions proved sound at the last elections, says the HDP might even get 17 or 18 percent and thus become Turkey’s third party. He warns that thanks to an influx of discontented AKP Kurdish voters, the post-election HDP will have probably be less conciliatory.  
Such considerations do not seem to worry the decision-takers in Ankara. The AKP strategy seems to be to press on, denouncing its rivals and refusing all compromises without regard to the middle and long term consequences, as the war in eastern Anatolia already tragically shows.
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What’s Behind Russia’s Latest Round of Syrian Diplomacy?

Andrew Korybko

The past couple of weeks have seen Russia intensify its efforts to resolve the War on Syria and coordinate an inclusive anti-ISIL coalition.

The War on Syria experienced a noticeable escalation ever since the Iran nuclear agreement was signed, with Turkey committing to “fight ISIL” in the country and the US gaining access rights to use the nearby Incirlik air base for its bombing missions in Syria.
What’s really going on is that the American-Turkish Tandem is racing against the clock to accomplish The Brookings Institute’s plan for splitting Syria as soon as possible, knowing that Iran will likely send some of the billions of dollars of frozen funds that it’s set to receive around January to its embattled ally, and in turn irreversibly augment Damascus’ defensive capabilities against external aggression from then on out.
In a valiant effort to stave off a full-scale Turkish-American regime change invasion, Russia has initiated a flurry of diplomatic activity, including the series of Moscow meetings held over the past week that received barely any Western mainstream attention. Given how Russia saved Syria almost exactly two years ago, it’s fitting to look at its latest set of initiatives to see how it plans to do so again.

The Blueprint

Before examining the four interconnected meetings that just took place in Moscow, it’s necessary to briefly outline Russia’s grand strategy for resolving the War on Syria so that the reader can properly grasp the context and motivation for everything that transpired. Here’s the three-step plan that Russian diplomacy is working to achieve:

1. Coordinate Internal Forces Against ISIL

ISIL is without a doubt an existential threat to Syria, and it’s in the interests of every patriotic citizen to unite with their brethren in combating this scourge.
Up until now, however, that’s been hampered by self-interested anti-government groups that continue to attack the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), thus provoking the authorities to respond in self-defense and ultimately keeping them from adequately targeting the terrorists instead.
So long as these militantly seditious forces see regime change as a more important goal than anti-terrorist efforts, then the country will be mired in divisions that prevent an effective and united anti-ISIL front from forming.
Therefore, as first attempted during the Moscow I and II talks earlier this year, Russia wants to help bring the non-terrorist anti-government opposition (NTAGO) to a truce with the SAA so that both bodies can work together in eliminating ISIL and then dealing with their differences later

2. Coordinate External Forces Against ISIL

In the event that the SAA, NTAGO, and other armed forces in Syria (e.g. the Kurds) can work together in fighting ISIL, the next logical step would be to expand this format to the international level and include the forces combating it in Iraq.
The terrorists’ transnational nature means that it’s necessary to counter them in both theaters at once, as this strategy prevents the group from recouping its losses in Syria with gains in Iraq, for example, and it also puts added pressure on them by compelling its commanders to divide their forces instead of concentrating them on swarming one city at a time.
As such, because of the international scale involved and the fact that the US-led coalition is already active in both countries (to differing degrees), it’s suggested that all entities coordinate their existing anti-terrorist measures and that no new coalition (let alone one with an official command) is thus required.

3. Prepare For Geneva III

Although not explicitly stated, it’s very probable that Russia is preparing for a third round of Geneva diplomacy.
The first two conferences failed to resolve the crisis, with the regime change elements refusing to back down from their goal, but the initiatives did yield the Geneva Communique which is cited by all sides as the document that must be abided by in any forthcoming reconciliation.
Now that the anti-government militants are facing extermination by ISIL and could be ready to urgently cooperate with the SAA in countering it (see Step 1), they might finally be coming to their senses in realizing the futility of further dividing Syria in the face of such a foe.
It’s at this juncture that Geneva III would be relevant, but if it happens at all, it’s most likely to occur after ISIL is defeated, not before it, since neither the legitimate authorities nor the NTAGO can afford a drawn-out process (which if the previous conferences are any indication, is exactly what the third one would be like, too) that prevents their anti-terrorist cooperation as soon as possible.

The Moscow Meetings

Having explained Russia’s end game, let’s look at how each of the four meetings in Moscow this past week were organized specifically to advance one of these objectives:

* Saudi Foreign Minister:

The visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir was mostly about Moscow’s efforts to have Riyadh agree to coordinate its anti-ISIL activity with the SAA, albeit with no formal success. But then again, Saudi Arabia is such a minor player in the coalition’s bombing campaign as it is that such an agreement would be more symbolic than substantial.
In an unofficial capacity, however, it stands to reason that Lavrov also spoke to his counterpart about a much more impactful pivot proposal, which would be the Saudis cutting off their support for anti-government militants in Syria and/or encouraging them to work together with the SAA against ISIL. It’s not known how successful this latter attempt may have been, but Al-Jubeir’s statement right afterwards that his country is interested in purchasing Russian Iskandar ballistic missiles suggests that a grand deal (missiles-for-militants) might be in the works.

* “Syrian National Coalition” (SNC):

The SNC is an externally based player in the War on Syria at the moment, but nonetheless, they’re recognized as one of the most well-known NTAGO groups. Their visit to Moscow saw Russia suggesting that they get their Syrian-based militants to form a united “opposition” entity with their counterparts, join the Moscow Inter-Syrian Dialogue process (Moscow III?), and focus on curbing terrorism.
Basically, it was Russia’s strongest move yet to promote the first step of its grand strategic blueprint for Syria, and unlike the meeting with Al-Jubeir, this one wasn’t met with any explicit refusals.

* Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD):

PYD leader Saleh Muslim’s trip to the Russian capital wasn’t his first (he was there in April for Moscow II), but this time the topic of discussions was different.
He met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Mideast Envoy Mikhail Bogdan and discussed Russia’s proposed anti-ISIL coordination coalition.
This is significant because if Moscow can get the Syrian Kurds on board with its idea, then it would create a stepping stone for getting the Iraqi-based Kurdish Regional Government to do the same later on (despite their differences with the PYD), which could bring about the transnationalization of the coalition.

* Iranian Foreign Minister:

Lavrov’s meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif saw their respective countries agreeing to coordinate their anti-ISIL efforts. Zarif stated that “Our states hold a common position on regulating the Syrian crisis…
The Syrians must themselves decide their fate and their future, and foreign states should only make this easier”, and Lavrov seconded this by firmly declaring that “If some of our partners believe that it is necessary to agree in advance that at the end of the transition period, the president will leave his post, for Russia, this position is not acceptable.”
Although not officially commented upon, it can also be inferred that both Foreign Ministers talked about the latest Iranian-authored peace plan for Syria, which might ultimately set the stage for the fabled Geneva III meeting and finally result in the national reconciliation that’s eluded the war-torn country for so long already.

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UNICEF: Children Bearing Brunt of Saudi War on Yemen

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said children are bearing the brunt of Saudi aggression against Yemen with an average of eight kids getting killed every day in the ongoing airstrikes against the impoverished country.

"Nearly 8 children are being killed or maimed every day in Yemen’s deadly conflict," UNICEF said in a report titled “Yemen: Childhood Under Threat”, on Wednesday, Sputnik News reported.
It said at least 398 children have been killed and 605 others injured since the start of the Saudi war on the Arab country in March, adding that children are "bearing the brunt” of the aggression. 
According to the report, about 10 million of Yemeni children are in strong need of humanitarian assistance and about 1.8 million are expected to suffer from malnutrition.
On March 26, Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab allies, including the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, began to launch deadly airstrikes against the Houthi Ansarullah movement in an attempt to restore power to the fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.
More than 4000 people, many of them children and women, have been killed in the Saudi-led aggression against the Arab country so far.


The human-rights-abusing kingdom calls on the West “to confront ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance.”

Saudi Arabia recently preached to the international community about the need to confront “intolerance, extremism and human rights violations.”
If this sounds surreal, consider the following excerpts from a July 26 report in the Saudi Gazette (emphasis added):
Saudi Arabia has reiterated its call on the international community to criminalize any act vilifying religious beliefs and symbols of faith as well as all kinds of discrimination based on religion.
Saudi Arabia wants Western cartoonists, comedians, and others—people who represent only their individual selves—to stop mocking the religious beliefs and symbols of Islam, even as the Arabian kingdom’s owninstitutionalized policy is to vilify and discriminate against the religious beliefs and symbols of all other faiths.
Not a single non-Muslim worship building is allowed there; the highest Islamic authority decreed that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”  Whenever Christians are suspected of meeting in a house for worship—or as one Saudi official once complained, “plotting to celebrate Christmas”—they arearrested and punished.
Any cross or other non-Muslim symbol found is confiscated and destroyed. Anyone caught trying to smuggle Bibles or any other “publications that have prejudice to any other religious belief other than Islam” can be executed.
In 2011, a Colombian soccer-player “was arrested by the Saudi moral police after customers in a Riyadh shopping mall expressed outrage over the sports player’s religious tattoos, which included the face of Jesus of Nazareth on his arm.”  In 2010 a Romanian player kissed the tattoo of a cross he had on his arm after scoring a goal, causing public outrage.
And yet, Saudi Arabia has the unmitigated gall to ask the West—where Islam is freely practiced, where mosques and Korans proliferate, and where Muslims are granted full equality—to cease “discrimination based on religion.”
Continues the Saudi Gazette:
Addressing an international symposium on media coverage of religious symbols based on international law, which started in this French city on Saturday, a senior Saudi official said the Kingdom emphasized years ago that the international community must act urgently to confront ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance, which has become widespread in all communities and peoples of the world.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, few countries exhibit as much “ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance” as does the Arabian kingdom.  Along with the aforementioned discrimination and intolerance against all other religions, Saudi Arabia is notoriously clannish and racist.
Ten percent of the population is denied equal rights because of their race; back men are barred from holding many government positions; black women are often put on trial for “witchcraft”; castrated African slaves are sold on Facebook in the birthplace of Islam and its princes are known to beat their black slaves to death. Human Rights Watch has described conditions for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia as resembling slavery.
Worse of all is if you’re black and Christian.  After 35 Christian Ethiopians were arrested and abused in prison for almost a year, simply for holding a private house prayer, one of them said after being released: “They [Saudis] are full of hatred towards non-Muslims.”
This is unsurprising considering that the Saudi education system makes it a point to indoctrinate Muslim children with hatred, teaching that “the Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians.”
According to Saudi novelist Hani Naqshabandi, “Our religious institutions do not give us room to exercise free thought….  They [Saudi institutions] said that the Christian is an infidel, a denizen of hell, an enemy to Allah and Islam.  So we said, ‘Allah’s curse on them.’”
Again, bear in mind that all this is official Saudi policy—not the “free expressions” of individuals, which the Saudis are condemning as creating “ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance” around the world.
The Saudi Gazette goes on to quote one Abdulmajeed Al-Omari, “a senior Saudi official.” Speaking at a recent international symposium in France which hosted representatives from 16 European nations, he said that Western “freedom of expression without limits or restrictions” are “abuses [that] bred intolerance, extremism and human rights violations…”
Again, it bears reemphasizing that in the West individuals are free to express themselves.  And it’s just that—expression, not action (as in murder, terrorism, rape, enslavement, church bombings, or the slaughter of “apostates”). 
As for Western governments, thanks to political correctness, not only do they discourage freedom of expression but honest, objective talk concerning Islam is suppressed (hence every Western leader maintains that ISIS “has nothing to do with Islam,” AKA, “the religion of peace”).
Meanwhile, it is precisely Islamic teachings that breed “intolerance, extremism and human rights violations,” and not just in Saudi Arabia but all throughout the Muslim world.  And it is precisely these teachings that prompt Western peoples to criticize Islam, including through cartoons.
None of this is enough to embarrass the Saudis from their farce:
Al-Omari said the Saudi participation in the symposium falls in line with its efforts to support the principles of justice, humanity, promotion of values and the principles of tolerance in the world as well as to emphasize the importance of respecting religions and religious symbols.
Actually, because of Saudi Arabia’s absolute lack of “justice, humanity, promotion of values and the principles of tolerance,” even the U.S. State Department lists the home of Islam and Muhammad as one of eight “Countries of Particular Concern.”
Thus in ultra-hypocritical manner, Saudi Arabia asks the international community to stop exercising freedom of expression—even as it openly and unapologetically persecutes, discriminates, and violates the most basic human rights of non-Muslims and non-Saudis on a daily basis.
It still remains to determine which is more surreal, more unbelievable: that Saudi Arabia, which tops the charts of state-enforced religious intolerance and ethnic discrimination, is calling on the West “to confront ethnic, religious and cultural intolerance,” or that the West deigns to participate in such disgracefully hypocritical forums.

U.S. Official: Saudis Have Used Cluster Bombs in Yemen


Deployment of the weapons comes as the U.S. has taken a more hands-off approach to conflicts in the region.

The U.S. knows the Saudi government has employed cluster bombs in its ongoing war against Shiite Muslim rebels in neighboring Yemen, but has done little if anything to stop the use of the indiscriminate and deadly weapons during what has become a human rights catastrophe in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.
With watchdog groups warning of war crimes and attacks striking civilians in Yemen, the Pentagon declined to comment publicly on whether it has discussed cluster bombs with Saudi Arabia or encouraged its military to cease using them, deferring all such questions to the State Department. But a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells U.S. News "the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen."
Deferrals by the Pentagon on the topic are nothing new, though the use of the weapons by the Saudis – some of which were reportedly supplied by the U.S. – appears to be only a recent tactic. Former spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters in May the Defense Department was looking into claims the Saudis were using cluster munitions and called on all sides to "comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians." Warren's successor, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, was asked about similar reports in July and did not at that time have any new information.
Multiple groups are fighting in Yemen, but the heart of the conflict lies between forces loyal to U.S.- and Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. They're fighting against Shiite Houthi rebels aligned with, if not directly backed by, chief Saudi rival Iran. Deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has also re-emerged and allied himself with the Houthis.
The U.S. supports the Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations battling the Houthis with an operations center in Saudi Arabia and another in Bahrain. Through them, the American military provides intelligence and logistics support as well as air tankers to help refuel the coalition's jets.
That assistance, however, doesn't grant the U.S. much sway over the way Saudi Arabia is waging its war.
"This is quite new for Saudi Arabia to be so assertive in their foreign policy and the use of their military, which is precisely why the Pentagon is bending over backward [for them]," says Charles Schmitz, a Towson University professor and expert on Yemen. "They want to reassure the Saudis that the U.S. is still on their side, so they're letting them do whatever they want." 
Clashes have taken place throughout Yemen, but have been focused on recent weeks in and around the key port city of Aden, where Saudi-led forces established a beachhead against the Houthi stronghold earlier this month and have slowly expanded outward.
The conflict has grown increasingly deadly, and the deployment of cluster bombs has only added to the carnage. Almost 4,000 people have been killed, with 19,000 injured and more than a million displaced from their homes, according to accountings by the Red Cross and other organizations. 
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are among 80 countries that have not signed The Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty banning the use of such weapons, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition. The Defense Department also has deemed the bombs "legitimate weapons with clear military utility."
Indeed, from a pure military perspective, a cluster bomb is ideal. The ordnance – which breaks apart in flight to disperse multiple, smaller explosives – is an excellent "area denial weapon" in military-speak, with its ability to cause massive destruction over wide swathes of territory while using relatively few military personnel. In Yemen, a largely arid country that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, such weapons can be used to great effect.
But cluster bombs are also very difficult to control and extraordinarily dangerous to noncombatants. The explosives disperse more widely than precision-guided weapons and may not detonate on impact, making them potentially deadly long after combatants have left a battlefield.
"These weapons should never be used under any circumstances," Human Rights Watch arms director Steve Goose said in May, when his organization released a report alleging the use of cluster bombs in Yemen. "Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the U.S. – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians."
However, since the U.S. is not leading the current war in Yemen – and since it hasn't sworn off such weapons itself – it is no position morally or militarily to dictate the actions of a partner like Saudi Arabia.
"Actual U.S. strategy in the Middle East right now is to try and get allies and proxies to take the lead on actual fighting, a variant of the 'lead from behind' approach [taken] in Libya," says Chris Harmer, a 20-year Navy officer now with the Institute for the Study of War. "It is simply not possible for the U.S. to tell allies and proxies who are doing the fighting what weapons to use. If the U.S. wants to minimize the use of cluster munitions against terrorist-affiliated groups such as the Houthis in Yemen, then the U.S. needs to take the lead in the fight. 
"Absent a willingness to do so, the U.S. has no standing to tell its allies how to conduct the fight." 
Like most in the Middle East, the Saudi military has dedicated itself largely to internal security, not external operations. That has changed during the tenure of President Barack Obama, who has encouraged allies in the region – the beneficiaries of expensive U.S.-developed military equipment – to fight neighborhood wars for themselves instead of expecting American intervention. 
One of the main exceptions aside from Yemen was when Saudi Arabia quietly launched a ground campaign into neighboring Bahrain during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in an effort to rescue the ruling government's fellow Sunni Muslims from bubbling discontent among the Shiite majority there. Saudi-backed government forces were accused of heavy-handedness, though those reports were largely drowned out by larger uprisings elsewhere at the time. Many believe the harsh response was meant also to send a signal to Iran, believed to have been involved in stirring the uprising in Bahrain. 
In Yemen, reports from the ground indicate the violence has reached new heights in recent weeks, following the collapse of a humanitarian cease-fire in late July after less than a day.
"The situation is getting worse again," Pitambar Aryal, the acting country representative for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, tells U.S. News by Skype from Sana'a, Yemen's capital. Workers with his group tell him "it's getting very difficult in managing bodies and injuries" amid heavy airstrikes and ground fighting in the country's predominantly Shiite south.
Red Crescent ambulances have fallen under direct attack and four volunteers have died, Aryal says, though it's unclear who initiated the attacks. A branch office building in the southern region of Taiz also was attacked.
Supply lines additionally have been cut off, accounting for massive shortages in food, water and medicine, Aryal says. There are up to two-day delays at gas stations, and the scarcity of fuel means power is only available for roughly an hour every three to four days.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, visited Yemen this month and called the situation there "nothing short of catastrophic."
"Every family in Yemen has been affected by this conflict," he said. "The people are facing immense hardship. And it is getting worse by the day. The world needs to wake up to what is going on."
Amnesty International released a report on Monday highlighting the unnecessary deaths of Yemeni civilians in air and ground attacks, saying these noncombatants are bearing the brunt of the raging conflict. Houthi fighters and forces loyal to the government have killed civilians in small-arms crossfires and with the use of land mines, the report said, while the death toll also is climbing due to what the advocacy group calls the Saudi-led coalition's "unlawful airstrikes which failed to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects in [Houthi]-controlled areas."
Among the thousands of airstrikes that have taken place since March, Amnesty investigated eight that it said accounted for at least 141 civilian deaths and more than a hundred injuries.
Reports Saudi Arabia targeted and destroyed the Houthi group's symbolic shrine also contribute to concerns its air campaign is designed to punish the Yemenis, Schmitz says, not simply to operate militarily against them. 
"They don't care," Schmitz says. "They have not used their military very much at all. This is a new adventure for them."

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Angelina Jolie’s new film to depict the life of a young Afghan girl

The latest of film by the American actress, filmmaker, and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie Pitt will depict the life of a young Afghan girl putting into the screen the courage of the girl who disguises herself as a boy to become the breadwinner of her family.
According to the reports, Angelina is set to produce the animated film by becoming the director of the movie.
The movie will be based on the novel of Deborah Ellis and will be titled “The Breadwinner” which will tell the story of a young girl named Parvana, who lives in the reign of Taliban in Afghanistan.
Parvana acts bravely and disguises herself as a boy to become the breadwinner of her family despite her life comes to a standstill when her father is wrongly imprisoned.
Angelina quoted in a statement cited in a report by The Hollywood Reporter said “Millions of young girls like Parvana are growing up today under oppression or conflict and helping their families to survive in those conditions. This story is a reminder of the immense value of their contribution.”
The statement further added “I am delighted to be working with a talented team of artists who I know will do justice to the richness, creativity and strength of Afghan culture and to little girls like Parvana.”
The project is expected to be taken up by the Irish animation studio and production company and Irish animator and filmmaker Nora Twomey to direct the film.
The screenplay of the film will be written by the Ukrainian/Canadian film director and screenwriter Anita Doron who is best known for her work in the films, “The End of Silence” and “The Lesser Blessed.”
The rich culture, history and natural beauty of Afghanistan would also be depicted in the film which will also be released in Dari, one of the official languages of Afghanistan.

Ties with Pakistan tense as Afghanistan celebrates independence


Afghanistan has summoned Pakistan's ambassador to explain fighting between the two countries' security forces that killed up to eight Afghan border police.
Cooperation between the two neighbors, both battling militant insurgencies is seen as key to peace in Afghanistan, since Pakistan is widely believed to wield considerable influence over the Taliban and allied militants.
In the meeting with Ambassador Syed Abrar Hussain, Afghanistan's foreign ministry expressed serious objections to the heavy artillery firing in the border province of Kunar, the ministry said in a statement. Eight police were killed, it said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has worked in his first year in office to improve ties with measures such as intelligence sharing, but after bombs in Kabul killed dozens this month he furiously blamed Pakistan for "exporting war".
"The fight against terrorism must be the top priority for countries in the region, Ghani said in speech to mark Independence Day on Wednesday.
"Nobody can force us to accept their demands by threat," he said.
That anger was also felt on the streets of Kabul where the city's residents celebrated the holiday wrapped in Afghan flags.

"I've come to celebrate our Independence Day, we're celebrating against Pakistan," said city resident Mohammad Zamir, as drummers and dancers performed by the ruins of houses and shops destroyed by a massive truck bomb on Aug. 7.
Pakistan has condemned the recent attacks and blamed "spoilers and detractors" for trying to create mistrust between the two countries, which are divided by a border defined in a 1919 treaty recognizing Afghan independence from the British empire, although the country was never fully colonized. The treaty is celebrated on Aug. 19.
Many feel Afghanistan's sovereignty is still tested by the presence of foreign troops and militants. The Taliban issued a statement on Tuesday saying Afghans should fight for freedom as their forefathers did from the British.
Ties with Pakistan have also been strained by the news in July of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar two years ago. Afghanistan says he died in a Karachi hospital and that authorities concealed this from Kabul.
The announcement appeared to cause rifts at the top of the militant Islamist group fighting for power in Afghanistan, and cast doubts over an incipient peace process, with a round of talks postponed last month.
An Afghan delegation to Pakistan last week led by Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani demanded "serious and practical measures" from Islamabad over militant attacks it said came from across the border.

Music Video - Da watan Afghanistan De

Video - Pashto song dedicated to Dr Najibullah

UN Chief Urges Restraint After India-Pakistan Clashes In Kashmir

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged India and Pakistan to show restraint following clashes in the disputed region of Kashmir that have caused deaths on both sides.
Ban said an upcoming meeting of the countries' security chiefs on August 23-24 in New Delhi could help bolster dialogue between the two countries, which have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.
In the latest violence, a policeman and a civilian were killed August 18 when suspected rebels opened fire outside the Muslim shrine Tujjar Sharif, northwest of Srinagar in Indian Kashmir, police said.
On August 16, a woman was killed and eight others wounded in cross-border shelling by India. Six other civilians died over the weekend in Indian Kashmir after firing and shelling by Pakistani troops from across the border.
Ban expressed "serious concern about the recent escalation of violence" and urged both India and Pakistan "to exercise maximum restraint and take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians."
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by both, since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.