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KABUL, Afghanistan, July 15, 2018 (AP) — The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in the first half of this year has increased by 1 per cent, compared to the same period last year, according to a report released on Sunday by the United Nations.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said the number — 1,692 killed in violence — is the highest 6-month death toll since the systematic documentation of civilian casualties started in 2009.

In its report, UNAMA said 3,430 Afghan civilians were wounded in the January-June period. The killed and wounded add up to a total of 5,122 civilian casualties, which is a 3 per cent overall decrease from the first six months of 2017.

The UN mission renewed its call on parties to the conflict to increase efforts to protect the civilian population and work towards reaching a peaceful settlement.

Sunday's report and others like it reflect the grim reality of Afghanistan today.

Since the US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, a resurgent Taliban have stepped up their attacks across the country and an Islamic State affiliate has also emerged to launch horrific high-profile attacks that have claimed the lives of scores of civilians.

The UN report also cited a lull in June, when the Taliban accepted a three-day cease-fire over the Eid al-Fitr holiday that caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The insurgents later rejected a subsequent call by President Ashraf Ghani to extend it.

Ghani has repeatedly extended calls to the Taliban for peace talks but they have rejected them outright. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul, Ghani said the NATO summit last week in Brussels fully backed his government's efforts and peace initiatives.

"The brief cease-fire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war," the report quoted Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan.

"We urge parties to seize all opportunities to find a peaceful settlement - this is the best way that they can protect all civilians," added Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA.

According to the report, 157 women were among those killed and 387 were wounded in the January-June period, the report said. The mission also recorded a total of 1,355 child casualties, with 363 deaths and 992 children wounded in the first six months of the year.

"UNAMA continued to document the toxic consequences of this conflict, with Afghan boys and girls killed, maimed, sexually assaulted, abused, recruited and used by parties to the conflict," said Danielle Bell, mission's human rights chief.

The violence, she added, "continued to erode the rights of children to education, health-care, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, as well as family life, playing outdoors and simply enjoying a childhood free of the brutal effects of war."

The use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, remained the leading cause of civilian casualties, according to the report. The combined use of suicide and non-suicide bombings caused nearly half of all civilian casualties.

The report attributed just over a half — or 52 per cent — of civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks in the first half of the year to the Islamic State group, mainly in the capital of Kabul and the eastern Nangarhar province, where IS has gained a foothold.

On Thursday, at least 10 civilians were killed in Nangarhar's Khogyani district after the army launched an operation against insurgents there, said Ajmal Omar, a member of the provincial council. The dead were mostly shopkeepers caught in the cross-fire.

The Taliban were responsible for 40 per cent while the remainder were attributed to unidentified anti-government elements, the report said.


CAIRO, July 15 ,2018 (MENA) - Egypt allocated about 55 percent of development aid for upgrading the infrastructure in order to incentivise investments, according to a report prepared by the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation.

Investment Minister Sahar Nasr will read out the report on Sunday during a high-level forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), currently taking place in New York.

The report - under the theme of investment in development to attain sustainable development goals - said about 17 percent of the development assistance Egypt has received went for supporting the housing and utilities sector as well as renovating slum areas.

SEOUL, July 11, 2018 (News Wires) - There is “very clear evidence of humanitarian need” in North Korea, the top UN aid official has said during the first visit of its kind to the isolated country since 2011.

UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock arrived in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on Monday.

He met Kim Yong Nam, the nominal head of state and president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, on Wednesday, the North’s state media said.

Lowcock posted a video online outlining his observations after travelling to several areas in the southwest of the country.

“One of the things we’ve seen is very clear evidence of humanitarian need here,” he said in the video, posted to his official Twitter account and the UN website.

“More than half the children in rural areas, including the places we’ve been, have no clean water, contaminated water sources.”

Although humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt under UN Security Council resolutions, UN officials have warned that international sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes are exacerbating humanitarian problems by slowing aid deliveries.

About 20 per cent of children in North Korea suffer from malnutrition, highlighting the need for more funding for humanitarian aid, Lowcock said.

Access for humanitarian workers was improving, he said without elaborating, but he noted that funding was falling short.

The United Nations says it had to stop nutrition support for kindergartens in North Korea in November because of a lack of funds, and its “2018 Needs and Priorities Plan” for North Korea is 90 per cent underfunded.

While visiting a hospital that is not supported by the United Nations, Lowcock said there were 140 tuberculosis patients but only enough drugs to treat 40 of them.

More than 10 million people, some 40 per cent of the population of North Korea, need humanitarian assistance, the United Nations said in a statement.

Lowcock was also due to meet humanitarian agency representatives and people receiving assistance to get a better understanding of the humanitarian situation, the United Nations said.

JERUSALEM, July 10, 2018 (News Wires) - United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, on Tuesday called on Israel to reverse a decision imposing economic sanction on the Gaza Strip through partial closure of its only commercial crossing.

"I am concerned by the consequences of Israel's decision to temporarily suspend imports and exports with the exception of basic humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom (Karm Abu Salem) crossing,” said Mladenov in a statement.

“Humanitarian assistance is no substitute for commerce and trade. I urge the authorities to reverse this decision.”

Israel said it imposed the sanctions to punish Hamas, which is in control of Gaza, for the incendiary kites flown into Israel and which cause fire in border areas.

AMMAN, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Almost all the Syrians who fled an army offensive in the southwest to gather in a free trade zone at the Jordanian border have gone back into Syria, a senior UN official said on Sunday.

Several thousand people had congregated near the Nassib-Jaber crossing. Only about 150-200 remained there, said Anders Pedersen, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Jordan.

The United Nations says the Russian-backed offensive against insurgents has uprooted more than 320,000 people in the past two weeks, the biggest exodus of the seven-year war.

Around 60,000 have sought shelter near the border with Jordan and thousands more at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Both Israel and Jordan said they would not let refugees in. They beefed up their borders and distributed some aid inside Syria.

Syrian government forces deployed at the Nassib crossing on Saturday, seizing a vital trade route that rebels held for three years.

Pedersen called for access to people in the Syrian provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, adding that an aid convoy was waiting to go to Mtaaiya village, which the army took in recent days.

"What we are asking for: unimpeded access" to southwest Syria, he told a news conference on Sunday.

He said there were protection concerns about the safety of displaced Syrians returning home.

Rebels agreed on Friday to give up arms in a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal, surrendering their parts of Deraa in another victory for President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

GENEVA, July 7, 2018 (MENA) - Egypt's Permanent Representative to the UN Alaa Youssef called for combating the misuse of internet in promoting terrorism, violence and hatred speech.

Also, he demanded facing the exploitation of World Wide Web in criminal offenses such as money laundering, child selling, sexual exploitation and smuggling of artifacts.

His call comes during the 38th session of UN Human Rights Council that was held in Geneva today to adopt a number of UN resolutions, including a decision to strengthen and protect human rights on the internet.

During the session, Youssef stressed Friday that the UN human rights' efforts should be inclusive and put into consideration all challenges that hinder human rights protection on the internet.

Moreover, Youssef asserted the need to respect the sovereignty of states in protecting their societies, security and stability, in addition to preventing the commission of crimes and incitement to violence and hatred speech.


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