The National·The National Today

Syrian refugee camps 'desperately short of resources,' Canada sends $19.5M in aid

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Displaced Syrians at Kelbit refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib province on Jan. 17. Idlib's population has swelled as defeated rebels and their families have fled there, and officials are making a desperate plea for aid. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Syria facing major humanitarian crisis as government forces take aim at final rebel stronghold of Idlib province, UN warns
  • Germany's recording industry ends its annual music awards in midst of roiling controversy over best-album winners' anti-Semitic lyrics
  • Trump is calling Iran nuclear agreement "ridiculous" — here are some of the hundreds of other issues he has described the same way
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

The next Syrian disaster

Syria is on the cusp of another major humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warns, as government forces take aim at the final rebel stronghold of Idlib province. 

"We were and are concerned on the humanitarian side by Idlib. Because Idlib is the big new challenge, 2.5 million people," Staffan de Mistura, the UN's Syria envoy, said as an international donors' conference opened in Brussels yesterday.

"We hope that this would be an occasion for making sure that Idlib does not become the new Aleppo, the new Eastern Ghouta."

Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria, addresses a conference in Brussels Wednesday about conditions in the country. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press)
Fighting in the region has intensified in recent weeks as the forces of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian air power, push for final victory in Syria's eight-year civil war. At the same time, Idlib's population has swelled as defeated rebels and their families fall back to their last bastion.

The United Nations is seeking $6 billion US to deal with the needs of the more than 5.5 million people who have already been displaced by the fighting.

This morning, Canada announced $19.5 million in funds for humanitarian assistance in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, directed towards health, water, sanitation and protective services.

The amount is part of the federal government's 2016 commitment to direct $1.6 billion to the region and its crises over three years.

Syrian rescue teams clear rubble after an explosion earlier this month that destroyed a multi-storey building in the northwestern city of Idlib, killing 10 and wounding 80, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)
"Millions of people affected by the conflict in Syria still require urgent help, with many struggling to meet their basic needs. Today's announcement of funding will provide much-needed relief to help meet the needs of those — too often women and children — most severely affected by this tragedy and help alleviate some of their suffering," said Omar Alghabra, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The UN raised only half of the $3.35 billion it sought for humanitarian relief in Syria last year.

Mark Lowcock, the head of its global aid operations, is warning that programs will have to be cut back if donor nations don't open their wallets this time. "We are quite desperately short of resources," he told the media.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Mark Lowcock, told an international conference in Brussels Wednesday that Syrian relief efforts are 'desperately short of resources.' (Francois Walschaerts/Reuters)
A full Syrian government assault on Idlib could see millions spill across the border into Turkey, which is already hosting 2.9 million refugees, or Lebanon, which has received more than 1 million.

Speaking in Brussels today, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sounded the alarm about the "worsening economic conditions" in his country due to the strain of the crisis, saying they might lead to political and social unrest.

"The threat is real," he said, describing Lebanon as "one big refugee camp."

There are hopes that the donor conference might add some momentum to a UN-led peace process that has seen eight rounds of negotiations, but little progress.

Syrian Civil Defence volunteers carry a victim from the rubble following an explosion in the rebel-held city of Idlib on April 9. Fighting in the region has intensified in recent weeks. (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images)
This past weekend, members of the UN Security Council held their annual retreat in Sweden. The gathering at the secluded country estate of Dag Hammarskjöld, the late Swedish diplomat and UN Secretary-General, delivered only faint hope.

António Guterres, the head of the UN, told reporters that while there is a shared recognition of the need for a political solution to Syria, there is no agreement on how to move forward.

"This is the impasse in which we are, and this impasse is extremely negative and dangerous," he said.

Russia, Iran and Turkey are carrying out their own peace talks, but that process also appears to be stalled. 

Lebanon has already received more than 1 million Syrian refugees, putting enormous strain on its economy. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri says Lebanon is 'one big refugee camp.' (Jamal Saidi/Reuters)
And in the absence of progress, there are only dire warnings.

Idlib will "certainly be the next big battle," Jakob Kern, the World Food Program director in Syria, told the Voice of America this week.

"I just hope for the sake of the 2 million people that are living there, that we find a political solution. Because if we do that again, if we see the same pattern again, it is going to be a much bigger catastrophe than we have seen in east Aleppo."

Quote of the moment

"She was by herself. I checked her pulse and she was alive. I think she was injured on her back and her legs. I covered her and was talking to her. Her name is Samantha, I hope she survived."

Abdellah Massaoudi, who came to the aid of victims in Monday's van attack in Toronto, providing his belt as a tourniquet for one woman, and comforting another. Court documents indicate that there are two injured women with that name, but a number of the dead have yet to be identified.

Abdellah Massaoudi witnessed the van attack in Toronto on Monday and rushed to help victims. (Abdellah Massaoudi)

More on the van attack in Toronto:

Senait Teclom attends a vigil Tuesday night for the victims of the mass killing in Toronto. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

An 'Echo' of Germany's past

The German recording industry has put an end to its annual music awards in the midst of a roiling controversy over its best-album winners' anti-Semitic lyrics.

The Echo Awards, Germany's answer to the Grammys since 1992, no longer exist.

The move follows two weeks of criticism and protests after the rap duo Kollegah and Farid Bang were awarded album of the year for Jung Brutal Gutaussehend 3 (Young, brutal, and good-looking).

Farid Bang and Kollegah perform on stage during the Echo Award show in Berlin on April 12. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Critics have pointed to a number of questionable lyrics on the album, including a reference to a death camp: "My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates," and "I'm doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov."

A video for a song called Apokalypse (Apocalypse) from a previous album by Kollegah featured a sinister-looking banker with a Star of David ring.

Kollegah, a 33-year-old whose real name is Felix Blum, has said that the lines have been "misinterpreted," and offered free concert tickets to Jewish fans as an apology.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says, 'anti-Semitic provocations do not deserve a prize; they are repugnant.' (Florian Gaertner/Getty Images)
His bandmate, Bang, sent a letter to a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor, begging her pardon for any offense.

But those steps failed to quell concerns. Several previous Echo winners have returned their awards in disgust. And a number of politicians have registered their disapproval.

"A line was crossed," Monika Gruetters, the German culture minister, said this week. "It is not a question of taste, but about the responsibility of the art and the artist for our community."

"Anti-semitic provocations do not deserve a prize; they are repugnant," Heiko Maas, the justice minister, told Der Spiegel.

Germans have held demonstrations of solidarity with Jews, including Wednesday's 'Thuringia wears kippa' rally in Erfurt, after a spate of shocking anti-Semitic assaults in the country. (Bodo Schackow/AFP/Getty Images)
The music label that was distributing the album, BMG, has dropped the duo and donated €100,000 to German schools for a program that fights anti-Semitism. 

Anti-Jewish incidents are on the rise in Germany, and there has been widespread distress over an attack in Berlin last week in which two young men wearing skullcaps were assaulted by a man wielding a belt.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the attack, and there were marches across the country today in support of the Jewish community.

  • Like this newsletter? Sign up and have it delivered by email. You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.

The house of ridiculous

Donald Trump doesn't like the Iran nuclear deal. So much so that he tagged it with one of his favourite adjectives yesterday.

"Ridiculous," the U.S. President said during a meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. "It never should have been made."

Russia, China, France and Great Britain, the other signatories to the 2015 agreement, disagree.

So do many arms control experts, who say Iran is actually living up to its commitments to reduce its uranium stockpile and curtail weapons development under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Even the head of Israel's military, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eiskenkot, thinks it's working.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on Tuesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
The truth is that Trump finds a wide range of stuff to be ridiculous.

In the month of April alone, he has used that word to describe California's sanctuary laws, immigration policies along the U.S. border, and the FBI raids on the offices, home and hotel suite of Michael Cohen, his personal attorney.

The U.S. court system is "ridiculous," according to the president. So too are allegations that he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. As is some baroque aspect of federal ethanol policy.

A search of Trump's speeches, interviews, press conferences and tweets turns up 329 "ridiculous" things, dating all the way back to a 1980 sit-down with gossip columnist Rona Barrett, in which he opines on the Iran hostage crisis.

(The president's surrogates like to lean on the word too. Kellyanne Conway recently told Fox News that it was "ridiculous" to assert that he is soft on Russia. Something White House press secretary Sarah Sanders repeated almost verbatim a few days later.)

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway recently called assertions that Trump is soft on Russia 'ridiculous.' (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Trump has deployed the adjective more frequently than the other word he used to describe the Iran deal, "insane" (41 instances), or recent favourite "witch hunt" (48 times), or old standby "failing" (323.)  And just slightly less often than "disgrace" (344 occasions.)

Although it's absurd to suggest that "ridiculous" is in the same league as "crooked" (1,863 uses), "strong" (2,789), or all-time champion "great" — expressed a whopping 18,064 times.

President Donald Trump gestures to the media as he leaves the White House on Feb. 16. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
But the words of the "leader of the free world" do have meaning, even if they are oft-repeated.

Take Trump's warning yesterday that Iran will have "big problems" if it restarts the nuclear program it halted under the deal he wants to tear up.

The price of oil spiked to $75.47 US, a three-year high, in the immediate wake of his remarks.

Later in the day, when Macron and Trump again appeared before the press and the U.S. president suggested that a new nuclear deal could be close — at least between America and France — oil fell, closing at $67.70.

A $7.77 price swing in a single day of trading. Ridiculous.

What The National is reading

  • 10 countries are using Canadian filtering technology to censor the internet (CBC)
  • Danish sub inventor gets life sentence for murdering journalist (BBC)
  • Mexico's outrage after film students kidnapped and murdered (LA Times)
  • Plane with engine trouble lands on Calgary roadway (CBC)
  • U.S. team in refugee camps investigating atrocities against Rohingya (Reuters)
  • Toxic coral in home aquarium blamed for Quebec family's illness (CBC)
  • Japan developing winged 500 km/h train (Asia Times)
  • Hank Azaria 'willing to step aside' as voice of The Simpsons' controversial Apu (Guardian)

Today in history

April 25, 1992: Stephen Harper and John Tory on opposing sides of anti-Reform Party attack ads

The federal Progressive Conservatives were unpopular and under siege in the spring of 1992. Jean Chrétien's Liberals were way out in front in the polls, but the PCs decided to focus on a right-wing foe — the  Reform Party — by running radio attack ads in Ontario. A young Stephen Harper, Reform's director of research, takes on a young John Tory, the PC campaign co-chair.

Stephen Harper shrugs off Tory radio attack ads

30 years ago
Duration 11:52
The head of research for the Reform Party talks to CBC's Don Newman in 1992...

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to ​


Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.