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Arab Spring promoting bloodshed: Iraq Christian leader
by Staff Writers
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Feb 9, 2013


Water supplies in war-hit Syria cut by a third: UN
Damascus (AFP) Feb 8, 2013 - Syrians living in areas affected by the nearly two-year conflict have seen their water supplies cut by one third, putting children at especially high risk of disease, the United Nations said on Friday.

The results of the first UN Fund for Children nationwide assessment of water and sanitation since hostilities began revealed that populations in contested areas have only 25 litres (5.5 gallons) of water a day, compared with 75 litres two years ago.

Of the estimated four million people in need, 50 percent are children, UNICEF said.

In regions where fighting has been the fiercest, including in Deir Ezzor province in the east, water was being pumped at just 10 percent of pre-crisis capacity.

The other hardest-hit areas are rural areas of Damascus province, the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo and Raqa along the northern border with Turkey and the central province of Homs.

"National production of water treatment chemicals almost ceased because of conflict, increasing the risk that tap water is contaminated," said UNICEF's Syria representative Youssouf Abdel-Jelil.

The agency emphasised that children were particularly vulnerable to waterborne disease because of protracted water cuts, damage to sanitation systems and a lack of access to basic hygiene.

UNICEF reported that conditions were especially dire for displaced people living in collective shelters, including in 1,500 schools where they have taken refuge.

"Living conditions are often unsanitary due to the lack of toilets, showers, hygiene items such as soap, and rationed access to water -- often less than 10 litres per person per day," it said.

The agency noted that many families are forced to buy water from mobile tankers, the quality of which is either poor or questionable. Moreover, the $30 per month cost is far above the means of most families.

UNICEF is struggling to meet its goal of providing 750,000 people in Syria with safe drinking water, soap, hygiene kits, toilets and bathrooms by June, because of a funding gap of 80 percent.

The newly appointed patriarch of Iraq's largest Christian community said on Saturday that the Arab Spring had been hijacked by narrow interests and had promoted tension and bloodshed.

Asked about the impacts on Christians of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East that eventually led to the ouster of strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya and the conflict in Syria, the head of the Chaldean Church Louis Sako said the changes had initially signalled hope.

"But unfortunately, it went in a different direction, and was taken over by a narrow faction," Sako told AFP in an interview.

"We are watching the situation in the Arab Spring countries. Where is the spring? There are fights, there is tension, and there is blood and corruption."

Sako was selected as the new patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean Church on February 1, replacing Emmanuel III Delly who retired in December after reaching the upper age limit of 85.

The Chaldean church, which has 700,000 followers and uses Aramaic -- the language that Jesus Christ would have spoken -- belongs to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

But along with other Iraqi Christian communities, it suffered persecution, forced flight and killings in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, many thousands fled after 44 worshippers and two priests were killed in an attack on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad on October 31, 2010, an atrocity claimed by Al-Qaeda.

White House defends decision not to arm Syrian rebels
Washington (AFP) Feb 8, 2013 - The White House Friday said it had been motivated by shielding Syrian civilians, Israelis and its own security, when President Barack Obama nixed an administration plan to arm Syrian rebels.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a congressional hearing Thursday that he backed plans to arm and train vetted rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces, in an initiative also supported by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and ex-CIA chief David Petraeus.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney argued Friday that the problem in Syria was not a lack of weapons, hinting that rebels were getting sufficient supplies from other regional powers and Assad was getting help from outsiders like Iran.

Carney said that the US priority was to ensure that weapons provided by Americans did not end up in the wrong hands and to create more danger for "the US, the Syrian people or for Israel."

Panetta's admission angered some lawmakers keen to provide more US support to Syrian rebels, including Republican hawk Senator John McCain.

It also sparked speculation of a split in Obama's cabinet, and suggestions that the president was slow to support the Syrian people.

Carney declined to get into internal administration deliberations over Syria policy, which he said was constantly under review, and did not boil down to one simple decision.

The Obama administration has declined to provide anything other than humanitarian or non lethal aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment.

The administration appears concerned that in the eventual post-Assad Syria, some rebel groups could turn to militancy and extremism armed with US-provided weapons.

The rationale for providing weapons under the Petraeus scheme centered not simply on a desire to tip the balance against Assad, but to give the United States influence with groups that control the country should he fall.

The New York Times reported Friday that the Petraeus scheme failed to come to fruition, partly because its author resigned over a sex scandal and Clinton missed many of her final weeks on the job with concussion.

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