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Polio outbreak confirmed in Syria

Posted by Nuttapon_S On October - 29 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

World Health Organisation says 10 out of 22 children confirmed to have polio type one of the communicable disease.

The UN health agency has confirmed an outbreak of polio in war-torn Syria, which had been free of the crippling disease since 1999, and said it feared it would spread.

Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the World Health Organisation’s anti-polio division, told reporters on Tuesday that laboratory tests had confirmed the presence of the disease in 10 out of 22 suspected cases reported almost two weeks ago.

“Out of those 22 being investigated, 10 are now confirmed to be polio type one,” Rosenbauer said in Geneva.

Laboratory results were still being awaited on the remaining 12 suspected cases in Deir al-Zor, he said.

“Of course this is a communicable disease. With population movements it can travel to other areas. So the risk is high for its] spread across the region,” Rosenbauer said.

All 22 children were stricken with acute flaccid paralysis, which is the symptom of a number of different diseases, including polio.

“The other 12 are still being investigated,” he said, adding that test results were expected in coming days.

The cases were clustered in the northeastern Deir Al Zour province, and all affected children under the age of two.

“There are no additional ‘hot’ cases that we know of. Of course disease surveillance is now ongoing across Syria and neighbouring countries as well, to look for other acute flaccid paralysis cases,” said Rosenbauer.

The next step is to analyse the genetic code of the virus to try to track its source.

Last week, as they waited for confirmation of the cases, aid agencies and Syrian health authorities stepped up efforts to vaccinate 2.4 million children against polio, as well as measles, mumps and rubella.

The UN says that 500,000 children in Syria have not been vaccinated against polio in the past two years due to insecurity.

Rosenbauer said that all the children who have caught the virus in Deir Al Zour appeared to have never been vaccinated against polio, or had not received a full course of vaccine.

31 killed in Syrian car bombing as fighting rages nearby

Posted by Rattana_S On October - 20 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — At least 31 people, including Syrian soldiers, were killed in a car bombing Sunday at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

SANA, a state-run news agency, said the death toll — which it said was 30 — could rise because at least 10 more people were seriously wounded.

A suicide bomber detonated more than a ton of explosives in a truck on a busy street near a farm machinery company, SANA said. More than 20 vehicles and some home and stores were damaged, it reported.

Meanwhile, clashes between the Syrian military and rebel brigades keep raging on the eastern outskirts of the government-held city, the London-based Syrian opposition group said.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, reported at least 15 killings in other parts of the country. Eight people were killed in Damascus and its suburbs, six in Aleppo province, and one in Homs province.

According to the United Nations, well over 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 when government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters.

Peace talks tentatively set for November

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said Sunday in Cairo, Egypt, that peace talks were scheduled for November 23 in Geneva, Switzerland, but the date is not firm yet.

“There are many arrangements to be made and many difficulties which must be overcome to make this conference possible,” he told reporters.

The proposed conference between Syrian government officials and opposition leaders, intended to broker an end to the country’s civil war, has been delayed several times.

Syria’s deputy prime minister said Thursday the “presumed dates” had been agreed to during a conference in the Russian Foreign Ministry.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Sunday he plans to meet with Russian and U.S. officials as well other representatives of the U.N. Security council to finalize details.

He also stressed no meeting could be held without a “convincing opposition that represents Syria’s opposition population.”

Humanitarian crisis

The U.N. humanitarian chief on Saturday called for a cease-fire in Moadamiyeh in the rural Damascus region so that aid workers could evacuate thousands of civilians trapped in the conflict.

“The humanitarian community has stressed time and time again that people must not be denied lifesaving help and that the fighting has to stop,” Valerie Amos, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in statement.

Aid groups have been barred from Moadamiyeh for months, she said.

“I call on all parties to agree (to) an immediate pause in hostilities in Moadamiyeh to allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access to evacuate the remaining civilians and deliver lifesaving treatment and supplies in areas where fighting and shelling is ongoing,” said Amos, who is also the U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

Thousands of families also are trapped elsewhere in Syria, including in Nubil, Zahra, old Aleppo town, old Homs town and Hassakeh, she said.

(CNN) — The Nobel Peace Prize has turned the global spotlight back on the conflict in Syria.

The prize committee in Oslo, Norway, awarded it Friday to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international chemical weapons watchdog helping to eliminate the Syrian army’s stockpiles of poison gas.

Its inspectors have just begun working in the active war zone, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it hopes the award offers “strong support” to them as they face arduous and life-threatening tasks.

But the OPCW did not receive the prize primarily because of its work in Syria, committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said. “It is because of its long-standing efforts to eliminate chemical weapons and that we are now about to reach the goal and do away with a whole category of weapons of mass destruction. That would be a great event in history, if we can achieve that.”

Nevertheless, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said he wants the prize to inspire everyone to reach for peace in Syria.

“I truly hope that this award … will help broader efforts to achieve peace in that country and (ease) the suffering of its people,” Uzumcu said told reporters Friday afternoon.

Uzumcu, saying he was “pleasantly surprised” by the award and acknowledging it was a great honor, added that “events in Syria have been a tragic reminder that there remains much work yet to be done.”

“The recognition that the peace prize brings will spur us to untiring effort, even stronger commitment and greater dedication,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the group. A White House statement said “this award honors those who make it their life’s work to advance this vital goal.”

“Today’s award recognizes that commitment, and reinforces the trust and confidence the world has placed in the OPCW, Director-General Ahmed Uzumcu, and the courageous OPCW experts and inspectors taking on the unprecedented challenge of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program,” the statement said.

Team in Syria

A team from the OPCW and the United Nations has been in Syria since October 1, and it oversaw the first destruction of chemical weapons equipment this week.

On Sunday, Syrian personnel used “cutting torches and angle grinders to destroy or disable a range of items,” the OPCW said. “This included missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing and filling equipment.”

Given the danger the inspectors face, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week described the joint OPCW-U.N. mission in Syria as “an operation the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before.”

The joint mission is tasked by a U.N. Security Council resolution with eliminating all chemical weapons in the country by midyear 2014.

Ban has set out the three phases of the mission: establishing an initial presence and verifying the Syrian government’s declaration of its stockpiles; overseeing the destruction of chemical weapons; and verification of the destruction of any and all chemical weapons-related programs or materials.

The team is in Syria is made up of 35 members, but the OPCW is preparing to deploy a second team to strengthen the effort. The group plans to grow the team to 100.

The government in Damascus has been cooperative so far, and there is hope they will reach their goal.

“These developments present a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process,” Uzumcu said.

On August 21, a chemical attack outside Damascus led the United States and its allies to call for military intervention in Syria’s civil war — a confrontation that was defused in mid-September, when Damascus agreed to a U.S.-Russian plan to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

The United States estimates the Syrian arsenal at about 1,000 tons of blister agents and nerve gas. The Syrians provided an initial declaration of its stockpile and must submit a plan for destroying the weapons by October 27, Uzumcu said.

Nobel justification

The award to the OPCW was intended in part as a message to countries still harboring chemical weapons to get rid of them, Jagland said.

In awarding the prize, the Norwegian committee highlighted the widespread use of chemical weapons in World War I and efforts to stop it since.

In 1925, the Geneva Convention prohibited their use. But during World War II, the Nazi dictatorship under Adolf Hitler employed them to extinguish the lives of millions of concentration camp inmates in the Holocaust.

The Geneva Convention left some loopholes open, though, the Norwegian committee said. It does not prohibit the production and storage of chemical weapons.

But in 1997, an international convention banning that as well was instituted.

About the OPCW

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, in the Netherlands, is the independent implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international arms control treaty.

The Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force in April 1997, at which point 87 states had ratified it, and the work of the OPCW to implement its provisions began at that point.

According to the treaty’s wording, signatories are “determined for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons, through the implementation of the provisions of this Convention.”

Sixteen years later, more than 100 additional states have ratified the treaty. In September, Syria became the latest nation to ask to join the convention. It is due to enter into force in Syria on October 14, when it will become the 190th member state.

Peace prize

In the lead-up to the prize announcement Friday, the global media speculated that an individual would win, possibly Congolese physician Denis Mukwege, who treats victims of gang rape, or Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education activist from Pakistan whom a Taliban assassin shot for her work to promote education for girls.

Malala appeared to be the front-runner in headlines around the world.

CNN’s Monita Rajpal asked Jagland why she did not win.

“Fortunately, we have many good candidates every year, actually this year, more than 250. And the woman you mentioned, Malala, is an outstanding woman, but we never comment on why she or others didn’t get the prize,” he said. “The right answer is that she didn’t get the prize because OPCW got it. She and others will probably be candidates in the years to come.”

A Twitter account in Malala’s name sent out a message congratulating the OPCW and thanking it for its work. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, which is to air at 7 p.m. Sunday, Malala said it might be premature for her to receive the Nobel Peace Prize this early in her life.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the OPCW, saying it has “greatly strengthened the rule of law in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.”

“From the battlefields to the laboratories to the negotiating table, the United Nations is honored to work hand-in-hand with the OPCW to eliminate the threat posed by chemical weapons for all people and for all time,” Ban said Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also voiced congratulations. He highlighted the organization’s role in Syria.

“The Nobel Committee has rightly recognized their bravery and resolve to carry out this vital mission amid an ongoing war in Syria,” he said.

Last year, the Norwegian committee awarded the peace prize to the European Union as it grappled with the worst crisis since its founding — devastating debt and the threat of disintegration.

The award was a salute to the struggling 27-nation union for its work in promoting democracy and reconciliation since World War II.

It is common for the Nobel Peace Prize to go to organizations.

Other large organizations that have won it include the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, U.N. peacekeeping forces, the U.N. atomic energy agency, the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The Peace Prize is the fifth Nobel Prize to be awarded this week, preceded by honors in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature.

The final Nobel Prize, recognizing achievement in the field of economics, will be awarded Monday.

(CNN) — Gunmen kidnapped seven aid workers in northwestern Syria on Sunday, officials said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said six Red Cross workers and one Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer were kidnapped in Syria’s Idlib province, where they had traveled to deliver medical supplies.

Ewan Watson, an ICRC spokesman in Geneva, Switzerland, said unidentified, armed men abducted the workers Sunday morning. He called for “the immediate and unconditional release of our seven colleagues.”

Syria’s refugees continue to suffer

“Both the ICRC and the SARC work tirelessly to provide impartial humanitarian assistance for those most in need across Syria on both sides of the front lines, and incidents such as these potentially undermine our capacity to assist those who need us most,” Magne Barth, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Syria, said in a written statement.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that an armed terrorist group opened fire on a vehicle the workers were traveling in and then abducted them.

Last month, a top United Nations official warned that violence in Syria was making it increasingly difficult to deliver humanitarian aid there.

“I am particularly concerned about the continued flagrant violations of international law that make it impossible to deliver life-saving assistance,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said. “Humanitarian space is becoming ever more constrained. Eleven U.N. staff and 22 staff and volunteers from our partners, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been killed since the start of the conflict. Many more have been injured, hijacked and kidnapped.”

Also on Sunday, two car bombs exploded in central Damascus, Syria’s state news agency reported.

Syrian state television aired video of the aftermath of the bombings, showing the charred remains of at least one vehicle that rammed a wall surrounding Umayyad Square in the center of the Syrian capital.

The SANA report said there were no casualties in the attack, although each car contained 100 kilograms of explosives.

Syria’s descent into civil war began in March 2011, when the government of Bashar al-Assad cracked down on anti-government demonstrations in the wake of that year’s “Arab Spring” revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in the region. The United Nations estimates the conflict had claimed more than 100,000 lives.

Fire fell ‘like rain’ in Syria

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