DAMASCUS, 21 September 2020, (The National):  Witnesses said the warplanes struck the western outskirts of Idlib city and that there was heavy artillery shelling

Syrian opposition sources said Russian jets bombed rebel-held northwestern Syria on Sunday in the most extensive strikes since a Turkish-Russian deal halted major fighting with a ceasefire nearly six months ago.

Witnesses said the warplanes struck the western outskirts of Idlib city and that there was heavy artillery shelling in the mountainous Jabal Al Zawya region in southern Idlib from nearby Syrian army outposts. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"These 30 raids are by far the heaviest strikes so far since the ceasefire deal," said Mohammed Rasheed, a former rebel official and a volunteer plane spotter whose network covers the Russian airbase in the western coastal province of Latakia.

Other tracking centres said Russian Sukhoi jets hit the Horsh area and Arab Said town, west of the city of Idlib. Unidentified drones also hit two rebel-held towns in the sub-Sahara Al Ghab plain, west of Hama province.

There has been no wide-scale aerial bombing since a March agreement ended a Russian-backed bombing campaign that displaced over a million people in the region which borders Turkey after months of fighting.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow or the Syrian army who have long accused militant groups who hold sway in the last opposition redoubt of wrecking the ceasefire deal and attacking army-held areas.

The deal between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin also defused a military confrontation between them after Ankara poured thousands of troops into Idlib province to hold back Russian-backed forces from new advances.

Western diplomats tracking Syria say Moscow piled pressure on Ankara in the latest round of talks on Wednesday to scale down its extensive military presence in Idlib. Turkey has more than ten thousand troops stationed in dozens of bases there, according to opposition sources in touch with Turkish military.

Witnesses say there has been a spike in sporadic shelling from Syrian army outposts against Turkish bases in the last two weeks. Rebels say the Syrian army and its allied militias were amassing troops on front lines.

Two witnesses said a Turkish military column comprising at least 15 armoured vehicles was seen overnight entering Syria through the Kafr Lusin border crossing in the direction of a main base in rural Idlib.

CAIRO, 21 September 2020, (Al Jazeera): Videos on social media show demonstrators calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to step aside.

Dozens of anti-government protesters took to the streets in the Egyptian governorate of Giza on Sunday, despite heightened security in the country in advance of anticipated demonstrations.

Video clips circulating on social media showed the demonstrators holding banners and chanting slogans calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to step down. Others set a police car on fire while some threw stones at security forces who tried to stop them.

Egypt went into high alert after former army contractor Mohamed Ali called for anti-government protests on September 20 to commemorate a year since similar demonstrations were launched in the country.



In a rare show of dissent, thousands of people rallied in cities across Egypt in September last year, demanding the resignation of el-Sisi following a call for protests by Ali, also an actor and businessman who said his company used to carry out projects for the Egyptian military.

In response, authorities launched the "biggest crackdown" under el-Sisi's rule, according to Amnesty International, rounding up more than 2,300 people.

Security services pre-empted Sunday's protests by launching a campaign of arrests that included political figures, including the left-wing political thinker Amin al-Mahdi, and a number of activists, especially in the eastern city of Suez.

Several social media users also reported cafes being forced to close over the past week.

In addition to the government crackdown on opposition figures and activists, pro-government media called people who planned to demonstrate part of an external conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the government.

Anger in Egypt over demolition of thousands of illegal homes 

'Take back your country'

Ali, who lives in self-imposed exile in Spain, had expected a strong response to his calls for demonstrations against the government and over deteriorating living conditions.

In an interview with Al Jazeera last week, Ali said: "If five million people took to the streets [on Sunday], no one would be arrested at all.

"Last time [September 2019], the demonstrators returned to their homes, which made it easier for the regime to arrest them," he added.

In a video message, Ali called on protesters to stay out until their demands are met. "Egyptians unite. Out of love for the Egyptian people, take back your country again. Don't leave it in el-Sisi's hands," he said. "Do not go home. If we go home, they will detain us. We're in the streets and now we need to stay there."

William Lawrence, a former US diplomat and a professor of political science and international affairs at the American University, said the protests were "not that large and widespread" largely because "of the actions of the Egyptian regime.

"There were over 1,000 pre-emptive detentions … and there's been a crackdown [with] arrests of intellectuals, university students, common citizens - all to pre-empt larger protests," he told Al Jazeera. "What's important here is not the size of the protests but the fact that they are happening at all in such a tightly controlled situation."

Egypt outlawed all unauthorised demonstrations in 2013 after el-Sisi, as defence minister, led the military's overthrow of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi following mass demonstrations.

Since then, Egyptian authorities have imprisoned and prosecuted thousands of people, according to human rights groups, with a nationwide crackdown intensifying after el-Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97 percent of the vote.

Some Egyptian activists have warned of the danger protesting poses to the lives of demonstrators, given what they called a tight grip on security by authorities.

On January 25, 2011, the Egyptian people began their revolution that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

SAUDI ARABIA, 19 September 2020, (CNN): Saudi Arabia has signed a series of deals to provide more than $200 million in funding to United Nations aid agencies operating in Yemen, just days after a CNN investigation highlighted a crisis in aid funding for the war-stricken nation.

The investigation revealed that support pledged to UN agencies by Saudi Arabia for Yemen had more than halved in 2020, falling from more than $1 billion to just $500 million this year. Of this amount, the UN told CNN only $23 million had so far come through its appeal.

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) announced the additional Saudi funding in a televised statement Friday.

"Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief), signed three important agreements with UN organizations, namely the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR for a total of $204 million," said KSrelief's Supervisor General, Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah.

"The amount was pledged by the Kingdom to support the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020, and the Kingdom hopes that these UN organizations will do their utmost to implement these programs as soon as possible," he added.

The $204 million in funding announced by KSrelief on Friday will form part of the $500 million originally pledged by the Kingdom during a conference hosted by the United Nations and Saudi Arabia in June of this year, $300 million of which was promised to UN agencies.

The funds announced Friday will all go toward the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, with the lion's share -- $138 million -- allocated to the WFP, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A further $46 million has been allocated to WHO and $20 million to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, leaving $94 million of the $300 million pledged to UN agencies to be finalized, OCHA said.

Kuwait also pledged $20 million at a high-level UN meeting on Yemen held Thursday but it is not yet clear how the funds will be allocated, according to OCHA.

"We welcome these developments and continue to urge all donors to fulfill their pledges and increase their support, given the increasingly desperate situation on the ground," an OCHA spokeswoman said.

Funding shortfalls

CNN's report, published Tuesday, revealed the devastating impact of funding cuts to humanitarian aid organizations in Yemen by the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have pushed the war-torn country ever closer to the brink of famine.

A spokesperson for KSrelief told CNN at the time that the country had been ready to fulfill its unmet funding commitments to Yemen in July, but was waiting to finalize agreements with the agencies, citing concerns over appropriation of aid by the Iran-backed Ansarullah -- known as Houthi rebels.

"Previously, there were concerns about the lack of funding, but now we can assume that with the arrivals of the funds this afternoon, the UN organizations will begin to implement their programs tomorrow, now that the money is available," Al Rabeeah said Friday.

"I can assure you that the funds will be transferred today and that I do not anticipate any delays," he added.

The UN Financial Tracking Service (FTS) has since updated the total amount received from Saudi Arabia to $231.1 million in funding to its Yemen humanitarian response plan. However, according to data from the FTS, there is still more than $214 million in unmet funding commitments to Yemen from Saudi Arabia.

In Yemen, 80% of the population is dependent on aid, but UN data has revealed billions of dollars in funding shortfalls this year alone.

The WFP also estimates that more than 66% of people in Yemen are considered "food insecure" and that more than 14 million of them could die if they are no longer able to access food assistance from aid groups operating in the country.

According to KSrelief, Saudi authorities will be "closely following up" the situation in Yemen to ensure that humanitarian programs are being funded to help those most in need.

"We pray that these programs will be beneficial," Al Rabeeah added.

The US, Saudi Arabia and UAE are key actors in the conflict in Yemen, and in 2018 and 2019 they were the biggest donors to the UN response in Yemen.

In 2019, the US contributed almost $1 billion to the UN appeal, but this year, it has donated less than half that so far, giving $411 million, UN data shows. Despite the US' sizeable cut in funding, it is still the biggest donor to the UN's Yemen appeal.

A spokesperson for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) told CNN that the country would resume all operations in the Houthi-controlled north "when we are confident that our partners can deliver aid without undue Houthi interference and account for US assistance."

The Houthis have placed harsh restrictions on UN agencies trying to access parts of the country it controls in the north. Tensions have been high since the World Food Program, along with the US and its allies, accused the Houthis of stealing food aid from other parts of Yemen.

The Houthi rebels overthrew the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2015. A Saudi-led coalition, in which the UAE is a key partner, has waged a campaign against the Houthis for the past five years, destroying much of the Houthi-controlled areas with US backing.

Previous CNN investigations have shown that the US government profited from the war, by selling Saudi Arabia and the UAE American-made bombs and armaments.


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