International Briefs

Bloody 24 hours as Syria, Russia escalate punishing attacks

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition rescue teams pulled babies from incubators in a hospital under attack, rushing them to safety in a pick-up truck. Elderly patients lay motionless on the ground and rescue workers searched for survivors in the rubble of a destroyed apartment building as stepped up airstrikes by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies on the country’s last remaining rebel strongholds killed at least 28 civilians on Monday.

“It is like the end of days,” said Raed Saleh, the head of the first-responders known as White Helmets, describing the last 24 hours of attacks on the opposition-held eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta and northwestern Idlib province.

The escalating offensive, which included a suspected chlorine attack a day earlier, reached a new ferocity after insurgents downed a Russian Su-25 over the weekend, the first time they scored such a major hit against the government’s main ally, Moscow.

Russia has waged a punishing aerial campaign against Syria’s armed opposition since intervening in the civil war on the side of its ally, President Bashar Assad, in 2015. Cease-fire deals have failed to quell the violence or restore humanitarian aid to besieged Ghouta, were 400,000 residents are holed up amid warnings of a looming humanitarian disaster.

“If a Russian plane was downed, revenge should not be on civilians and children,” Saleh said. “Now more than any other day, we need the international community to restore the humanity it has lost in Syria.”

The al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee, which is the dominant militant group in Idlib, said its fighters shot down the Russian jet near the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province and killed its pilot after he ejected from the plane. Rebels have previously claimed to have downed Syrian government planes or drones, but it was the first time they hit a Russian aircraft.

Russia’s military bases in western Syria were also hit last month in a series of drone attacks, challenging Moscow’s gains in the country still torn by conflict.

Since then, activists say Russian and Syrian government forces have stepped up their attacks.

Activists and rescue workers reported at least 28 civilians, including six children, were killed on Monday in Ghouta, where nearly 40 airstrikes hit the suburb that is the last opposition stronghold in Damascus.

In Idlib, two hospitals have been hit with airstrikes since Sunday and at least 14 people killed. Rescue workers continued Monday to sift through the wreckage of a six-story building flattened a day earlier, pulling out three bodies after daylight. At least eight residents remained missing when the search was suspended at nightfall, one rescuer said.

In Idlib, a hospital in the town of Kafranbel was bombed early Monday, according to the activist-run Edlib Media Center and the Observatory. Another hospital, in Maaret al-Numan, was struck three times late Sunday and put out of service, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which runs the facility.

Maldives declares state of emergency amid political standoff

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency Monday as the political crisis deepened in the Indian Ocean nation amid an increasingly bitter standoff between the president and the Supreme Court.

A surprise Supreme Court ruling last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders has led to growing turmoil, with President Yameen Abdul Gayoom lashing out at the court, opposition protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting.

The president’s main rival urged people not to obey what he called an “unlawful order.”

“This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal,” former President Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, said in a statement. Nasheed, who lives in exile, was one of the opposition leaders that the court ordered freed.

The extent of the emergency order was not immediately clear.

“During this time though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected,” Yameen said in a statement issued after the state of emergency was announced on state television.

Yameen, in a letter to the court released by his office earlier Monday, said the order had encroached on the powers of the state and was an “infringement of national security and public interest.” He urged the court to “review the concerns” of the government.

Officials say the court has not properly responded to a series of letters citing problems with implementing the order, including that the cases against the political prisoners are at different legal stages. A Supreme Court statement on Sunday said “there are no obstacles in implementing the ruling … and that this has been informed to the Prosecutor General’s office.”