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UN: 140,000 displaced in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Over 140,000 Syrians have been displaced in the last three days alone by violence in the country’s northwest, bringing the total of those uprooted in a Syrian government offensive against the last opposition stronghold to over 800,000, the United Nations said Thursday.

The U.N. said at least 60% of the more than 800,000 displaced since Dec. 1 are children. The humanitarian crisis in the already overcrowded opposition-held enclave is compounded by freezing weather conditions, and existing severe needs.

The government offensive, backed by Russia, has intensified and expanded to include southern and eastern Idlib province as well as southern and western Aleppo, an area home to an estimated 4 million people. Most have already been displaced from other parts of Syria because of the ongoing conflict.

The humanitarian situation for people in northwest Syria is “at the most critical points,” the U.N. said, adding that the massive scale of human displacement over such a short period of time has increased needs exponentially.

Iraqi women defy radical cleric

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of Iraqi women took to the streets of central Baghdad and southern Iraq on Thursday in defiance of a radical cleric’s calls for gender segregation at anti-government protest sites.

An anti-government protest movement began Oct. 1 to decry rampant corruption, poor services and unemployment in Baghdad and Iraq’s predominantly Shiite south. Over 500 have died since then under fire from security forces using live bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds. The protests have been unique because they have drawn both men and women who have camped out alongside each other in protest squares, a rare occurrence in Iraq, a conservative majority Muslim country.

On Thursday, women protesters waved Iraqi flags and banners in English and Arabic, chanting slogans condemning a recent security crackdown against demonstrators.

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of Parliament’s Saeroon bloc, issued an 18-point code of conduct Sunday for protesters in which he cautioned against the mixing of men and women at sit-in areas.

In response on Thursday, women flooded the streets of Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah.

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