Yemeni Houthis halt missile attacks on Saudi coalition, raising peace prospects

FILE PHOTO: A Houthi militant sits guard on the roof of a building overlooking fellow Houthis rallying to denounce the rapid devaluation of the Yemeni Rial in Sanaa, Yemen October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Houthi rebels in Yemen said on Monday they were halting drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies, responding to a demand from the United Nations.

The Iranian-aligned group, which has been battling the Saudi-backed government for nearly four years, also said it was ready for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition “wants peace”.

The Houthis’ decision to halt missile attacks could be a turning point in peace efforts as it ends a direct threat to Saudi Arabia. It is by far the biggest concession from the movement since it left the southern port city of Aden in 2015.

International pressure has mounted on Yemen’s warring parties to end the war that has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed the country to the verge of starvation.

The move from the Houthi group came after the coalition ordered a halt in its offensive against Yemen’s main port city Hodeidah, which has become the focus of the war.

“We announce our initiative…to halt missile and drone strikes on the countries of aggression,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a statement.

The decision was based on discussions with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to show “good faith” and support peace efforts, he said.

Griffiths welcomed the Houthi announcement and called on all parties continue to show restraint “to create a conducive environment for convening the consultations”.

The envoy is trying to salvage peace talks after a round in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up. He hopes to convene talks before the end of the year in Sweden to agree on a framework for peace under a transitional government.

Yemen’s parties have given “firm assurances” they are committed to attending peace talks, Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Friday, with Britain asking the council to back a humanitarian truce in Yemen on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday reiterated the kingdom’s support for U.N. efforts to end the war. The Riyadh-backed government also announced its willingness to take part in the next round of consultations.

TIRED OF WAR

Yemenis cautiously welcomed the announcement on Monday.

“We pray that this will be the real beginning of peace in Yemen, we are all tired of this war,” said Mona Ibrahim, a teacher in the capital Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September 2014.

“We just want to live like other humans,” Mohammed al-Ahdal, a resident of Hodeidah said.

The Houthi defense ministry said it would respond to any hostilities from the coalition.

Graham Griffiths, a senior analyst at Control Risks Middle East, said the announcement was potentially important as it comes in response to the coalition’s pausing of operations around Hodeidah.

“Efforts to resume the peace process remain fragile … given the mutual distrust between the warring parties. Nevertheless, given the renewed pressure from the international community, there is a real chance to begin to move the conflict toward a durable de-escalation,” he said.

Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported on Monday that Houthi forces fired a ballistic missile on Saudi-backed forces in the desert of Midi, bordering Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis say their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia are in retaliation for air raids on Yemen by the Western-backed coalition, which entered Yemen’s war in 2015 to try to restore the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in the impoverished country that have hit schools, markets and hospitals, killing hundreds of people – though it says it does not target civilians.

Western allies including the United States have called for a ceasefire ahead of the renewed U.N. efforts.

Western countries have provided arms and intelligence to the Arab states in the alliance, but have shown increasing reservations about the conflict since the murder of U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden, Hesham Hajali in Cairo and Asma Alsharif in Dubai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Number of hungry children in Africa’s Sahel hits 10-year high

Rural women who have carried their malnourished children for days across the Sahel desert in search of [food] rush into an emergency feeding center in the town of Guidan Roumdji, southern Niger, July 1, 2005. [Niger's severe food crisis could have been prevented if the United Nations had a reserve fund to jump-start humanitarian aid while appeals for money were considered, a senior U.N. official said on July 19. Some 3.6 million people are in need of food, among them 800,000 malnourished children. About 150,000 may die unless food arrives quickly in the impoverished West African nation of 13 million.] Picture taken July 1, 2005. - PBEAHUNYKGE

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of hungry children in West Africa’s Sahel region reached a 10-year high in 2018 due to poor rains, conflict and high food prices, the United Nations said on Friday.

More than 1.3 million children under the age of five suffered from severe malnutrition this year in the six worst hit countries in the semi-arid belt below the Sahara – a 50 percent increase on 2017, said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

“When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa said in a statement.

Hunger is a recurrent scourge in the region, whose growing population grapples with high poverty rates and periodic droughts, the agency said.

This year the problem was particularly acute across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, it added.

An estimated 6 million people did not have enough to eat across the region during the lean season, according to the U.N. food agency (FAO).

Pastoralist communities were among the worst hit because poor rains meant there was not enough vegetation for grazing, said Coumba Sow, the FAO’s regional coordinator for resilience.

The Sahel has only one growing season and if it goes poorly due to climate shocks or conflict people must survive on whatever they have until the next one.

Global warming exacerbates the problem by making rainfall more erratic, said Sow, adding the rains were late and suffered a prolonged break, causing many farmers to lose half their seeds.

U.N. agencies and local governments were currently evaluating production levels for the new season, she said.

“We still hope that we will be able to get some good results in harvest, but it is too early to say,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. to oppose U.N. Golan resolution, wins Israeli praise

FILE PHOTO - Israeli kids play next to an Israeli flag next to the Israeli Syrian border at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States said it would oppose on Friday for the first time an annual resolution at the United Nations calling on Israel to rescind its authority in the occupied Golan Heights, drawing praise from Israeli officials.

The Golan Heights form a buffer between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square km (460 square miles). Israel captured most of it from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognized internationally.

FILE PHOTO - A general view shows the Israeli-Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

FILE PHOTO – A general view shows the Israeli-Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The United States has abstained in previous years on the annual “Occupied Syrian Golan” resolution, which declares Israel’s decision to impose its jurisdiction in the area “null and void”, but Washington’s U.N. envoy Nikki Haley said it would vote against the resolution in Friday’s vote.

“The United States will no longer abstain when the United Nations engages in its useless annual vote on the Golan Heights,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

“The resolution is plainly biased against Israel. Further, the atrocities the Syrian regime continues to commit prove its lack of fitness to govern anyone.”

Her comments came after the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said in September that he expected Israel to keep the Golan Heights in perpetuity, in an apparent nod towards its claim of sovereignty over the territory.

Since early in Donald Trump’s presidency, Israel has lobbied for formal U.S. endorsement of its control of the Golan. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with other world powers, though his national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters in August a similar Golan move was not under discussion.

In the past two years, Trump has twice ordered U.S.-led air strikes against targets in Syria in response to what Washington called the use of chemical weapons against civilians by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Israeli officials praised the U.S. move.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called it “extremely important”, saying on Twitter that “no sane person can believe that it (the Golan) should be given to Assad & Iran”.

Tehran has supported Assad during the civil war and Israel has been warning against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.

Israel has closely monitored the fighting in Syria, where just across the Golan frontier battles have raged in clear view.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel-Gaza border falls quiet after botched Israeli operation

Palestinians inspect the remains of a vehicle that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Monday after a botched Israeli undercover operation in the Gaza Strip led to fighting that killed a Hamas commander, six other Palestinian militants and an Israeli colonel.

Palestinians fired 17 rockets into southern Israel late on Sunday in response to the incursion and air strikes, which Hamas, the dominant armed group in Gaza, said were intended to cover the retreat of a car used by the Israeli troops.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in Israel, but the military said a lieutenant-colonel, identified only as “M”, had been killed in the raid and another officer wounded.

Hamas said the Israeli actions dealt a blow to Egyptian, Qatari, and U.N. efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between the Palestinian group and Israel and ease an Israeli blockade that has deepened economic hardship in Gaza.

But neither side appeared eager to pursue broader conflict.

Hamas received $15 million in Qatari-donated cash via Israel on Friday to pay for civil servants’ salaries and fuel to address Gaza’s energy crisis.

No new rocket launches were reported on Monday morning.

Violence has flared regularly along the Israel-Gaza border since Palestinians began protests there on March 30 to demand rights to land lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its creation.

Israeli gunfire has killed more than 220 Palestinians since the start of the demonstrations, which have included breaches of Israel’s border fence.

Hamas said that during Sunday’s fighting, assailants in a passing vehicle opened fire on a group of its armed men, killing one of its local commanders, Nour Baraka.

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Sal

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A pursuit ensued and witnesses said Israeli aircraft fired more than 40 missiles into the area. Palestinian officials said that in addition to Baraka, five other Hamas men and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees were killed.

In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, Israel’s chief military spokesman said the special forces had not been dispatched to assassinate Hamas commanders, a tactic that led to wider conflict in the past and which has largely been abandoned.

The spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio that covert missions were mounted frequently, comments that suggested the Israeli force may have been gathering intelligence.

“During the operation, it found itself in a very complex situation, faced by enemy forces. The (Israeli) force, including Lieutenant-Colonel M., kept its cool, returned fire and evacuated itself together with the (help of the) air force back into Israel,” Manelis said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris, where he attended World War One commemorations with other world leaders. He returned home early on Monday.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Most big companies failing U.N. human rights test, ranking shows

A worker removes threads on a garment inside a textile factory in Ethiopia November 17, 2017. Picture taken November 17, 2017.REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Most big companies operating in sectors at high risk of labor abuses are failing to meet human rights standards set by the United Nations, according to an analysis of 100 major companies published on Monday.

From tackling child labor to ensuring equal treatment for women, U.N. principles require all businesses prove they are committed to human rights and treat workers fairly.

But an analysis of more than 100 major apparel, agricultural and extraction firms by the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB), a British charity, found many had little to show for.

Sportswear giant Adidas came top with 87 out of 100 points in the ranking that used public information on practices and policies on issues such as transparency, forced labor and the living wage to rank companies.

It was followed by miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, while two Chinese companies – liquor maker Kweichow Moutai and fast fashion brand Heilan Home – were ranked last.

But almost two-thirds of firms scored less than 30 points, putting the overall average at 27.

“The majority are failing to make the grade,” CHRB director Margaret Wachenfeld said in a statement.

The study comes as big brands face growing pressure from regulators and consumers to ensure their global operations are not tainted by modern-day slavery, with campaigners estimating almost 25 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labor.

More than 40 percent of businesses analyzed scored zero on human rights due diligence – the practice of identifying and addressing the risk of abuses.

CONCERNING FINDINGS

“Forced and child labor, gender equality, and protecting activists are some of the most pressing issues of our time,” said John Morrison, the head of the London-based Institute of Human Rights and Business, a think tank.

“Companies need to show how they’re addressing these challenges”.

A low score did not indicate bad practices in a company but showed the company had made available little or no information on its actions to address the risk of human rights violations, CHRB said.

China’s Kweichow Moutai ranked bottom, followed by Heilan Home and U.S. energy drinks maker Monster Beverage. None of these companies replied to requests for comment.

Coffee chain Starbucks and fashion houses Prada and Hermes also ranked among the worst.

A spokesman for Starbucks said the company had zero-tolerance policies for human rights infractions and was dedicated to bringing customers coffee “sourced in the most ethically way possible”.

Hermes said respect of human rights and labor laws was deeply rooted in its core values, organization, and production chain.

Both companies questioned the ranking’s methodology, saying it did not reflect their commitment to human rights.

A spokeswoman for Prada said the company preferred not to comment.

Caroline Robinson, director of the British charity Focus on Labour Exploitation, said the report’s findings were concerning.

“Companies simply aren’t doing enough,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If businesses are not prepared to take meaningful action … then government intervention will be needed to move corporate responsibility from option to necessity”.

CHRB called on investors to help drive change by challenging poorly performing companies to do better.

Insurance firm Aviva, Swedish bank Nordea and Dutch financial services provider APG had already pledged to use the ranking to inform future investment decisions, it said.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Yemen government announces new push to seize key port, U.N. warns of ‘dire’ conditions

FILE PHOTO: A boy cries at al-Thawra Hospital after his brother was injured in a strike near the hospital in Hodeidah, Yemen August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo

By Mohammed Ghobari and Stephanie Nebehay

ADEN, Yemen/GENEVA (Reuters) – Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition launched on Friday a “vast offensive” to take full control of the port city of Hodeidah, the internationally recognized government based in the southern city of Aden said.

The announcement came as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned that many people remained trapped in the city by the fighting. It also said nearly half a million people have fled the area since June.

“A military operation has begun and the national army forces have advanced towards the north and the western sides of the city of Hodeidah, progressing on all fronts with the support of the Arab coalition,” the government said in a statement.

“Fierce battles are taking place at these moments.”

The Red Sea port of Hodeidah has become a key battleground in Yemen’s nearly four-year-long war, which pits the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-allied Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa. The Houthis have held Hodeidah since 2014.

Hours after Friday’s announcement of a new offensive, residents said the progress of coalition forces appeared limited. They said the Houthis had withdrawn from a hospital in the eastern suburbs of Hodeidah where fighting has been concentrated in recent days but they remained in the area.

The Houthis raided the May 22 hospital earlier this week, posting gunmen on its rooftop, according to rights groups who voiced alarm for the fate of the medical staff and patients.

U.N. bodies have warned that an all-out attack on Hodeidah, an entry point for 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports and aid relief, could trigger famine in the impoverished state.

The United States and Britain, which provide arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, have stepped up calls for a ceasefire in Yemen, raising pressure on Riyadh as it faces a global outcry over the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

UNHCR ALARM

The UNHCR expressed alarm over the fate of unknown numbers of people trapped in Hodeidah by the latest fighting.

“As testament to how dire the situation is, some 445,000 people from al-Hodeidah Governorate have been forced to flee since June, according to UN data,” spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.

Some of them have fled to other parts of Hodeidah province and some to other areas of Yemen, she told Reuters.

The province of Hodeidah, including the port city, had a population of 2.6 million in 2011, four years before the civil war erupted, according to Yemeni statistics.

“While the number of those remaining in Hodeidah city is difficult to gauge, UNHCR is worried that people needing to flee for safety aren’t able to do so. They are trapped by military operations, which are increasingly confining populations and cutting off exit routes,” Mantoo said.

The UNHCR appealed to all sides to allow access to its warehouse stocked with emergency shelter and essential aid items that it said had been cut off by an active front line.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday it planned to double its food assistance program for Yemen, aiming to reach up to 14 million people “to avert mass starvation”.

Saudi Arabia is leading a Western-backed alliance of Sunni Muslim Arab states to try to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his internationally recognized government that was ousted by the Houthis in 2015.

The government has fled to Aden, but Hadi and other cabinet members are based in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

The United Nations has no up-to-date estimate of the death toll in Yemen. It said in August 2016 that according to medical centers at least 10,000 people had been killed.

The United Nations’ Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths hopes to convene Yemen’s warring parties for peace talks by the end of the year.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashef in Aden and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Venezuelan migrant exodus hits 3 million: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: Colombian migration officers check the identity documents of people trying to enter Colombia from Venezuela, at the Simon Bolivar International bridge in Villa del Rosario, Colombia August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Three million Venezuelans have fled economic and political crisis in their homeland, most since 2015, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The exodus, driven by violence, hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines, amounts to around one in 12 of the population.

It has accelerated in the past six months, said William Spindler of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which appealed for greater international efforts to ease the strain on the country’s neighbors.

U.N. data in September showed 2.6 million had fled.

“The main increases continue to be reported in Colombia and Peru,” Spindler said.

Colombia is sheltering 1 million Venezuelans. Some 3,000 more arrive each day, and the Bogota government says 4 million could be living there by 2021, costing it nearly $9 billion.

Oil-rich Venezuela has sunk into crisis under Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has damaged the economy through state interventions while clamping down on political opponents.

He has dismissed the migration figures as “fake news” meant to justify foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR said the exodus was straining several neighboring countries, notably Colombia.

“Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have largely maintained a commendable open-door policy,” said Eduardo Stein, UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela.

“…However, their reception capacity is severely strained, requiring a more robust and immediate response from the international community.”

Regional government officials are to meet in Quito, Ecuador from Nov 22-23 to coordinate humanitarian efforts.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)

Lawyer of freed Christian woman leaves Pakistan a ‘prime target’

Saiful Mulook, lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, addresses a news conference at the International Press Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

By Bart H. Meijer

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped free a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy said on Monday he had been forced to flee to the Netherlands for his life, and has no idea where his client is.

Lawyer Saiful Mulook, who defended Asia Bibi in a case that has led to the assassination of two Pakistani politicians, said local United Nations staff had urged him to leave the country on Saturday following her acquittal last week.

“I was put on a plane against my wishes,” Mulook told reporters in The Hague. “I am not happy to be without her. I would have been much happier if I was in the same place as her. But everybody said I was a prime target.”

Mulook said he did not know whether Bibi had already been released from prison, or where she would want to seek asylum after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“Ask the people of the U.N.”, Mulook said. “They are not telling me, for security reasons.”

Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam during an argument with her neighbors, and had been on death row since then.

The court’s decision to overturn the verdict led to violent protests throughout Pakistan by angry mobs calling for the judges in the case to be killed.

Several parties in the Dutch parliament have said they support providing temporary shelter to Bibi if she flees there.

Mulook said Italy had offered asylum to both Bibi and her family and his own family, but that they had not accepted the offer straightaway, as U.N. staff said they would make arrangements.

Islamists have shut down major cities in Pakistan through days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal. They have said they would escalate the protests if she were permitted to leave the country. The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by David Stamp)

Venezuela teen’s political cartoons sketch his country’s downfall

Gabriel Moncada draws at his home in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. Picture taken October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Liamar Ramos

CARACAS (Reuters) – In one drawing, Lady Justice is seen fleeing Venezuela, a sword in her right hand and a suitcase in the left.

In another, a crying boy tells his father he does not want school to start again. His anguished father, gazing at a list of expensive school supplies, answers: “Me neither, my son.”

In a third drawing, a Venezuelan is seen running toward an alien spaceship, begging for help.

The creator of these evocative political cartoons is Gabriel Moncada, a 13-year-old Venezuelan schoolboy.

Gabriel Moncada looks at his drawings at his home in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Gabriel Moncada looks at his drawings at his home in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The mature, bespectacled teen always enjoyed drawing animals and cars, but a few years ago began sketching the despair of his compatriots in the face of hyperinflation, mass emigration, and shortages of food and medicine.

“Kids start to realize (what is happening), because they do not go to the movies as much, they realize they cannot stay in the street late, there is not as much food in the house or the same products,” said Moncada, sitting at the desk where he sketches.

“The drawings are a way to express myself. I think it is a creative, fun, and different way of showing the problems we experience daily,” he said.

His mother, 46-year old radio journalist Cecilia Gonzalez, started to publish her son’s cartoons on her Facebook page in late 2016. An impressed friend quickly asked to publish them on her online news site, TeLoCuentoNews, where every Friday for nearly two years they have appeared in a section called “This is how Gabo sees it,” referring to Moncada’s nickname.

Venezuela’s economic meltdown has forced almost 2 million people to flee since 2015, according to the United Nations migration and refugees agencies. President Nicolas Maduro disputes that tally, saying they have been exaggerated by political adversaries, and that those who have left are seeking to return.

Moncada’s mother said the family initially tried to shield him from the reality of the country’s decay but gave up as the problems became increasingly evident.

Gabriel Moncada looks at his drawings on the floor at his home in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Gabriel Moncada looks at his drawings on the floor at his home in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

“Nothing is like it used to be, and they realize that,” said Gonzalez. “You bring your kids to school and there are three or four children eating out of the garbage on the corner.”

The increasingly common sight of people eating from the trash emerged in one of Moncada’s sketches, which shows two rats standing below a pile of garbage as human hands dig through it.

One rat asks “Where’s the food?” The other responds “They have taken it from us.”

(Additional reporting by Shaylim Valderrama and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer and Brian Ellsworth; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Jordan says nearly 300 Syrian ‘White Helmets’ leave for West

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the 'White Helmets', are seen inspecting the damage at a Roman ruin site in Daraa, Syria December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN (Reuters) – Nearly 300 Syrian “White Helmet” rescue workers and their families who fled Syria for Jordan three months ago have left for resettlement in Western countries under an U.N. sponsored agreement, Jordan said on Wednesday.

In July the rescue workers who had been operating in rebel-held areas fled advancing Russian-backed Syrian government troops and slipped over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, with the help of Israeli soldiers and Western powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time he had helped the evacuation at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders and that there had been fears that the rescue workers’ lives were at risk.

Jordan had accepted them on humanitarian grounds after getting written guarantees they would be given asylum in Canada, Germany and Britain, Jordanian officials said.

The “White Helmets”, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, have been credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing by Syrian government and Russian forces in the country’s civil war.

Its members say they are neutral. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers describe them as tools of Western propaganda and Islamist-led insurgents.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Qatarneh said 279 of the 422 people who took sanctuary in the kingdom had left, with 93 others due to leave by Oct. 25, near the end of a three-month period the authorities had given them to stay.

Another group’s departure would be delayed for two weeks until mid-November as there were new-born babies and people receiving medical treatment among them, al-Qatarneh told Reuters.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Roche and Alison Williams)