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EU provides $368 mln boost for refugees in Turkey

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The European Union said on Thursday it was injecting around $368 million (325 million euros) for refugees in Turkey, part of a huge funding plan for the country, which hosts the world’s largest refugee population.

The EU approved a plan in June to provide Turkey with three billion euros from 2021 to 2024 to help it host millions of refugees from Syria.

The 325 million euros will be loaded on to the debit cards of refugees, helping more than 1.5 million to cover their most essential needs, such as food, rent, transport and medicine.

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“This support is a critical lifeline for thousands of families, many of whom have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” Janez Lenarcic, EU commissioner for crisis management, told a news conference in Ankara.

“This cash assistance enables them to decide for themselves what they need most urgently, whilst contributing to the Turkish economy.”

A new study carried out by the Turkish Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has revealed that debt levels among refugees in Turkey have more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic, with just under half of those surveyed not having acceptable levels of food intake.

The debit card practice, in force since 2016 and aligned with the existing Turkish safety net, currently supports around one-third of the vulnerable refugee population in the country.

Turkey is home to up to five million refugees and migrants, most of them from war-scarred Syria, and remains one of the preferred routes for migrants and refugees to enter Europe.

In 2016, the EU pledged to provide Turkey with up to six billion euros a year after the migrant crisis when more than one million refugees entered Europe.

Turkish officials had repeatedly said the amount was not enough to tackle the number of refugees it hosts.

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Aramco CEO says oil demand nearing pre-pandemic levels: Report

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Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Al Nasser said that the demand for oil is nearing pre-pandemic levels, Asharq Business reported in a tweet on Monday.

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Syrian prison battle death toll tops 150, concern over fate of minors

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Kurdish forces locked down a Syrian city Monday to trap ISIS fighters who attacked a prison there five days earlier, leaving more than 150 dead in fierce battles.

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The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) charged that the ISIS militants were using hundreds of minors as “human shields” inside the Ghwayran prison in the northeastern city of Hasakeh.

The UN childrens’ agency UNICEF called for the protection of some 850 minors detained inside the jail, some as young as 12, warning that they could be “harmed or forcibly recruited” by ISIS.

More than 100 ISIS fighters late Thursday stormed Ghwayran prison using suicide truck bombs and heavy weapons, setting off days of clashes both inside the facility and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The fighting died down Sunday evening as the US-backed SDF consolidated control over areas around the jail and declared the entire city locked down for a week.

“To prevent terrorist cells from escaping… the Kurdish administration in northeast Syria announces a complete lockdown on areas inside and outside Hasakeh city for a period of seven days starting on January 24,” the administration said.

Businesses were ordered to close with the exception of essential services, such as medical centers, bakeries and fuel distribution centers.

Civilians were hunkering down Monday in their homes as Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition combed the area for hideout terrorists, said an AFP correspondent.

The SDF erected several checkpoints at the entrances to Hasakeh, with even tighter security measures imposed in neighborhoods adjacent to the jail, the correspondent said.

The SDF said in a statement its advances inside the prison were stymied by the use of hundreds of minors as “human shields” by IS jihadists holed up in a dormitory.

The group said the adolescents, who had been detained over suspected links to ISIS, were being kept in a “rehabilitation center” in the jail.

The Britain-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that a precarious lull in fighting continued to hold, as holdout terrorists were refusing to surrender.

The group raised the death toll from the clashes to 154 killed since Thursday, including 102 terrorists, 45 Kurdish fighters and seven civilians.

In other parts of Syria’s northeast under the administration’s control, a nighttime curfew was set to go into force Monday from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m.

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Lebanon to respond to confidence-building measures proposed by Kuwait before Saturday

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Lebanon’s response to confidence-building measures proposed by Kuwait will be ready before Saturday, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told reporters on Monday.

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Kuwait’s foreign minister presented a 12-point proposal to Lebanese officials to end a diplomatic rift with Gulf states.

It included Lebanon committing to the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war, tightening border controls to prevent drug smuggling to the Gulf and stepping up security, diplomatic sources told Reuters on Sunday.

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