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Syrian Rebels Launch Offensive on Government-Held City

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In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, speaks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, left, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, March. 24, 2015. Al-Jaafari said they discussed “Syrian and Iraqi issues, and the common dangers that threaten our security.” (AP Photo/SANA)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, speaks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, left, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, March. 24, 2015. Al-Jaafari said they discussed “Syrian and Iraqi issues, and the common dangers that threaten our security.” (AP Photo/SANA)

RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels launched an offensive Tuesday against a major government-held city in the country’s northwest, shelling the outskirts and warning residents to remain indoors in the coming days.

The target of the operation is Idlib, a city of some 165,000 people and the provincial capital of a province with the same name. Opposition fighters have controlled the countryside and towns across the province since 2012, but President Bashar Assad’s forces have maintained their grip on Idlib city.

Activists said Syrian government helicopters attacked the nearby town of Binish with chlorine gas Tuesday night. The Local Coordination Committees did not give details about casualties but Muayad Zurayk, an activist based in Idlib province, said 30 people were rushed to the hospital after suffering breathing problems.

The alleged attack came a week after the opposition claimed that the government carried out a poisonous gas attack on the nearby town of Sarmin, killing six and wounding dozens. Damascus denied the allegation.

Armed opposition factions announced the campaign to capture Idlib in a message posted online Tuesday. They told residents that the rebels “are at the walls of Idlib” and “have decided to liberate this good town.” The message also asked locals to remain indoors in the coming days.

Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that government forces are repelling “attempts by terrorist groups to infiltrate the outskirts” of Idlib. The official said clashes were ongoing, adding that troops inflicted “heavy losses” on the attackers. The government refers to the rebels as terrorists.

Zurayk, the activist based in Idlib province, said the offensive began Tuesday morning and was being led by several factions including al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, as well as the ultra-conservative Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa groups.

“The rebels have captured five checkpoints so far and are getting close to the gates of Idlib,” Zurayk said via Skype. He said rebels are advancing from four directions, adding that there were two suicide car bombs in the afternoon that targeted an army base near the city.

He said the operation to capture the city is dubbed “Fatah Army,” adding that two opposition fighters have been killed and several others wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels are shelling the city, but have yet to try to push into Idlib itself. The Idlib Media Center also said the rebels are targeting government positions on the city’s outskirts.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said the opposition groups involved in the operation include the Nusra Front as well as Islamist rebel factions. The Observatory said rebels shelled the city, killing and wounding about 15 people.

Rebels have tried in the past to enter the city of Idlib but did not succeed.

More than 220,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011. The crisis started with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms and escalated into civil war following a brutal government crackdown.

Meanwhile, in Damascus, Iraq’s visiting foreign minister held talks with Assad that focused on threats facing both countries, including the Islamic State group. Assad said coordination and consultations between the two countries would bolster successes against militants, the state news agency SANA reported.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said they discussed “Syrian and Iraqi issues, and the common dangers that threaten our security.” He told reporters he hopes to boost Iraq-Syria ties to defeat those threats. Al-Jaafari also met with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, during the visit.

The Islamic State group has seized about a third of both Syria and Iraq.

The Observatory said Kurdish gunmen killed at least 28 Islamic State fighters in a special operation in the northern province of Raqqa. It added that members of the main Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, were able to capture the bodies of the dead militants.

YPG fighters have been battling the IS group for months, capturing scores of villages. The Kurds blamed IS for two bombings last week that killed 49 people celebrating the Kurdish New Year in the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh.

Also on Tuesday, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said the next round of Syria talks in Moscow will be between April 6 and 9. The first round of Moscow peace talks was held in January and was boycotted by most rebel groups as well as the main Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. Russia is a key ally of Assad’s government.

“We think it’s time for a breakthrough in a political settlement,” Churkin told reporters.

___

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Cara Anna at the United Nations, and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Commentary

COMMENTARY: Muslims in France Face Worsening Climate of Hate Under Leadership of President Macron

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

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A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.
A demonstration in France by Muslims protesting their treatment under President Macron in 2020.

By Larbi Ben Krima

Editor’s Note: We are accustomed to hearing travel advisories telling us to avoid countries in the midst of civil war or government repression. Last month a Muslim civil rights organization warned Muslims not to travel to a country that many consider to be the birthplace of liberty. The author of this article, a French citizen, explains how France has become an oppressive place for Muslims.

I was born and raised in France to an Algerian family. I, like millions of other French citizens, heard about colonization and the mistreatment it created. There was some progress made, and now, piece by piece, that is being erased.

One year ago, in October 2020, French President Macron decided to launch his 2022 re-election campaign with a speech targeting Muslim people. He used terrorism as an excuse. Everybody in France knew it was really about politics, although the citizens of the world did not know that.

Macron’s government followed up by dissolving organizations that had criticized his Islamophobic government.

Schools, humanitarian NGO’s, mosques, publishing offices, and civil right movements with Muslim participants have been shut down by a government looking for Far Right votes in the next election.

France is still pretending to fight for rights around the world, but these rights are never really applied to its Muslim citizens, who are always seen as a Fifth Column and who always have to prove that they are French enough.

Every Muslim act is seen as a danger to the country. It seems that Muslim prayers threaten the French republic; Muslim food is seen as a challenge to the religion of other French people; and Muslim clothes are seen as an attempt to change France’s way of life. Most religions have special foods, and prayers and clothing. Having these customs should not be made so difficult for us after all these years. What’s the big deal?

For France, which colonized Algeria for more than a century, the idea that people from the former colonies should live the life they want seems unbearable. Many white French people seem to have a fear that those from the former colonies may want to treat the descendants of the European French in the same way that the colonial masters treated us. Assuming always the worst for its Muslim citizens says a lot about the country and its beliefs.

That may explain why this country, which refuses to take accountability for its colonial past, can’t accept the kids who are born and raised here.

Quoting the world-famous psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon, “It should not be said that such and such a country is racist, but there are no lynchings or extermination camps there. The truth is, all of this and something more is on the horizon.”

We can say that racism runs deep in France’s institutions and politics, cheered on by the media, with applause from a substantial group who likes what they are hearing.

This is a country where an openly racist media pundit has growing support in his campaign for president, just as Donald Trump did.

France, which always despised the USA, has now became one of the United States of Islamophobia, along with China and India.

A former great country, known for its ideals, France has used its former glory around the world. Recently, the world has come to know what a very small country France has actually become a country that should stop preaching to others what it obviously refuses to apply to itself.

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Business

Opinion: Different Summit, Same Story for the Polluters, Politicians, Privileged and Poor at Global Climate Meeting

So far, Glasgow has heard a lot of talk. President Biden and other world leaders touted two ‘major’ agreements earlier this week. One commits to ending deforestation by 2030, and the other to cut planet-heating methane emissions by 30%. But these aren’t binding. They are promises, an invitation to take leaders at their word. Many of these leaders promised to halve deforestation by 2020 back at a New York summit in 2014, a promise that was quietly broken.

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Despite the looming catastrophe, a tour of the COP26 premises makes it very clear that at these talks, nothing has changed.
Despite the looming catastrophe, a tour of the COP26 premises makes it very clear that at these talks, nothing has changed.

By Louis Wilson, Special to California Black Media Partners

Global negotiations kicked off this week in Glasgow, Scotland, in what John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, described as our ‘last best chance’ to avoid environmental disaster.

These talks matter to California – so much so that a delegation of elected and government officials led by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis made the 5,000-mile trip.

The goal is simple: agree to a plan to reduce the emissions that cause dangerous heating. To do that, governments need to end our reliance on fossil fuels, and support less-wealthy nations and communities in their decarbonization process.

We’ve been here 25 times before. The 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference COP26 is a gathering of over 100 nations in search of a solution to the climate crisis. Sadly, since the first meeting in Berlin in 1995, global emissions have increased. By almost every measure, the climate crisis is getting worse. That’s visible to Californians in the record wildfires, drought, and extreme weather that has intensified in the past two years.

The science is clear – something needs to change right now, otherwise the climate will change it for us. The current business-as-usual trajectory is set to make the world somewhere between 4.5 degrees F to 5.4 degrees F hotter than it was before we started burning fossil fuels. That would mean more droughts, fire, hurricanes, famines, climate refugees, and the list goes on.

So far, Glasgow has heard a lot of talk. President Biden and other world leaders touted two ‘major’ agreements earlier this week. One commits to ending deforestation by 2030, and the other to cut planet-heating methane emissions by 30%. But these aren’t binding. They are promises, an invitation to take leaders at their word. Many of these leaders promised to halve deforestation by 2020 back at a New York summit in 2014, a promise that was quietly broken.

Despite the looming catastrophe, a tour of the COP26 premises makes it very clear that at these talks, nothing has changed. The same old faces are here – the politicians, the polluters, the big companies, and people representing privileged and largely white interests.

Companies sponsoring the talks for a seat at the center of the action include one of the world’s largest plastic polluters (Unilever), a bank (NatWest) that has financed billions of dollars’ worth of fossil fuel projects since 2015, and a consumer goods company (Reckitt) whose suppliers included, until very recently, companies tearing down one of the world’s last remaining tropical rainforests in Papua New Guinea.

One of these sponsors, SSE, is currently building a new fossil gas plant, even while hosting a friendly stall touting unproven future technologies that might eventually help reduce emissions. Reckitt, meanwhile, is organizing an official side-event titled ‘Changing Consumer Behaviour,’ which appears aimed at deflecting responsibility onto individuals.

Presumably, the main recommendation will be to steer clear of their products until they can remove deforestation from their supply chain.

While companies that have had a hand in causing the crisis are overrepresented, notably underrepresented are BIPOC communities, or representatives from the worst affected countries. It is, as many have called it, the richest, Whitest COP ever.

That’s a problem ethically, but it’s also a big problem because clearly, ‘business as usual’ hasn’t worked. If we want to prevent the worst of what is to come, we need to focus on the interests of people on the frontlines: those who lost their homes in wildfires this year, or who were forced off their land by agribusinesses, or whose air is being polluted by mining projects. We can no longer prioritize the narrow interests of a very noisy but destructive business community.

This matters for California – the state which has long been a leader in the U.S. on climate action but is suffering the most immediate impacts of the climate crisis right now. If Californians want this state to be liveable for future generations, we need to see through ambitious action at home – but we also need these global negotiations to be a success.

Right now, we’re on track for more warm words, more bold, unmet promises, and more degrees of global heating. Unless this COP and all future climate summits put the worst affected, most vulnerable communities first, we will continue on this disastrous path which will see California and many other parts of the globe become inhospitable for our descendants within generations.

Louis Wilson is a senior communications advisor with Global Witness, a climate advocacy group.

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Black History

U.N. Climate Summit: Black Caucus Member Isaac Bryan Is Representing California in Scotland 

Elected to his Assembly seat in May, Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) is mainly known for his work on social justice issues. But he has received praise for the multifocal approach he takes to standing up for environmental justice.

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During his campaign for the Assembly, Bryan received an endorsement from California Environmental Voters (EnviroVoters). The Sierra Club California also gave Bryan a score of 100% on its 2021 Legislative Report Card.
During his campaign for the Assembly, Bryan received an endorsement from California Environmental Voters (EnviroVoters). The Sierra Club California also gave Bryan a score of 100% on its 2021 Legislative Report Card.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) is the only Black member of the California Legislature attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland this week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is not present at the summit as he abruptly opted out last week, citing personal reasons.

“Due to family obligations, Governor Newsom will no longer be traveling to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and will instead be participating virtually, focusing on California’s landmark climate change policies,” Newsom’s spokesperson Erin Mellon said October 29.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is attending the conference in Newsom’s place.

The conference began Sunday, October 31 and will last through Friday, November 12. It is co-hosted by the United Kingdom and Italy.

Bryan, who represents California’s 54th district and serves as the Assembly’s Assistant Majority Whip, joins 22 government officials attending the conference. He is also a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC).

Elected to his Assembly seat in May, Bryan is mainly known for his work on social justice issues. But he has received praise for the multifocal approach he takes to standing up for environmental justice.

During his campaign for the Assembly, Bryan received an endorsement from California Environmental Voters (EnviroVoters). The Sierra Club California also gave Bryan a score of 100% on its 2021 Legislative Report Card.

“Isaac Bryan is a bold, visionary leader whose intersectional approach to policy is much needed in the California legislature,” said EnviroVoters CEO Mary Creasman.

“We do not have time to waste when it comes to climate justice, and California needs leaders who are willing to stand up to big oil and polluters. Isaac has proven that he will lead the charge and do what is right at this critical point. Assembly District 54 needs an Assembly member who will take bold action on the community values of racial, criminal, economic, and environmental justice, and Isaac Bryan is clearly that candidate. EnviroVoters is excited to endorse Isaac Bryan for Assembly District 54,” Creasman continued.

Bryan responded to this endorsement and another one from Equality California (EQCA) in a statement.

“This is our moment. The support of these two frontrunners for progress is an important call to protect our vulnerable communities, prioritizing the needs of our LGBTQ+ and BIPOC neighbors; ensure clean air and water for all; and lift people out of poverty by preparing for jobs in emerging technologies,” Bryan said.

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