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Syria

Syria US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Since March 1963, the Syrian Arab Republic has been ruled by an authoritarian regime dominated by the Socialist Ba'ath Party.
While the ruling Ba'ath party
spouses a largely secular ideology, Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a conservative foundation for the country's customs and practices.
Syria has a developing, centrally-planned economy with large public (30%), agricultural (25%), and industrial (20%) sectors.
Tourist facilities are available, but vary in quality depending on price and location.
Read the Department of State Background Note http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm on Syria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required.
Visas must be obtained prior to arrival in Syria from a Syrian diplomatic mission located in the traveler’s country of residence, although the Syrian visa policy with respect to American diplomats and citizens is currently under review.
Foreigners who wish to stay 15 days or more in Syria must register with Syrian immigration authorities by their 15th day.
Syrian-American men or American men of Syrian origin, even those born in the United States, may be subject to compulsory military service unless they receive a temporary or permanent exemption from a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad prior to their entry into Syria.
(Please see the section on Special Circumstances below.)
Syria charges a departure tax for all visitors except those on diplomatic passports.
As of July 1, 2008, the tax is 1,500 Syrian Pounds if departing from the airport; 500 Syrian Pounds if departing via one of the land borders.

The Syrian government rigidly enforces restrictions on prior travel to Israel, and does not allow persons with passports bearing Israeli visa or entry/exit stamps to enter the country.
Syrian immigration authorities will not admit travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports, Jordanian entry cachets or cachets from other countries that suggest prior travel to Israel.
Likewise, the absence of entry stamps from a country adjacent to Israel, which the traveler has just visited, will cause Syrian immigration officials to refuse admittance.
Entry into Syria via the land border with Israel is not possible.
American-citizen travelers suspected of having traveled to Israel have been detained for questioning.

Syrian security officials are also sensitive about travel to Iraq.
There have been instances in which Americans, especially those of Arab descent, believed to have traveled to Iraq were detained for questioning at ports of entry/exit.
Americans seeking to travel to Iraq through Syria have also on occasion been turned around and/or detained.
On a number of occasions the border between Iraq and Syria has been closed without notice, stranding Americans on either side of the border.
Children under the age of eighteen whose fathers are Syrian or of Syrian descent must have their fathers' permission to leave Syria, even if the parents are separated or divorced and the mother has been granted full custody by a Syrian court.
Women in Syria are often subject to strict family controls.
On occasion, families of Syrian-American women visiting Syria have attempted to prevent them from leaving the country.
This can be a particular problem for young single women of marriageable age.
Although a woman does not need her husband's explicit consent every time she wishes to leave Syria, a Syrian husband may take legal action to prevent his wife from leaving the country, regardless of her nationality.
Once such legal orders are in place, the U.S. Embassy cannot help American citizens leave Syria.
Visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC
20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Syria is included on the Department of State's List of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
A number of the terrorist groups that have offices in Syria oppose U.S. policies in the Middle East.
On September 12, 2006, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus was attacked by assailants using improvised explosives, gunfire, and two vehicles laden with explosives.
On February 4, 2006, mobs protesting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed destroyed the Norwegian and Chilean embassies and severely damaged the Danish and Swedish diplomatic missions.
On April 27, 2004 there was a violent clash in which three people died in an area of Damascus where many foreign citizens reside.
It has never been clear whether the shootout with Syrian security forces involved common criminals or terrorists.
In 1998 and 2000, mobs attacked the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and the U.S. Embassy, respectively.
In 1997, twenty-two people were killed when a public bus was bombed in downtown Damascus.
All of these attacks serve as reminders that Syria is not immune from political or purely criminal violence.
Americans traveling through the area should remain aware that U.S. interests and citizens might be targeted.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.
Additionally, Americans should be aware that conversations on the topics of political, religious and other freedoms are not seen as merely healthy debate in Syria and could lead to arrest.
Note that possession of specific-use electronic devices including GPS, short-wave or handheld radio equipment, or similar devices in Syria is illegal.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Travel Warning for Syria, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
While a few cases of theft, burglary and assault have been reported to the Embassy, crime is generally not a serious problem for travelers in Syria.
It is important to note, however, that Syria is not crime free. Specifically, incidents of credit card and ATM fraud, and physical harassment of women, are on the rise.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to the local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalents for the “911” emergency line in Syria are:
110 for ambulance, 113 for fire and 112 for the police.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in Syria's principal cities, but not necessarily in outlying areas.
Serious illnesses and emergencies may require evacuation to a Western medical facility.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to or foreign residents of Syria.
There are no special immunizations required for entry to Syria.
AIDS tests are mandatory for foreigners’ ages 15 to 60 who wish to reside in Syria.
The AIDS test must be conducted in Syria at a facility approved by the Syrian Ministry of Health.
A residence permit will not be issued until the absence of the HIV virus has been determined.
Foreigners wishing to marry Syrian nationals in Syria must also be tested for HIV.
Syria usually will not give visas or residency permits to students wishing to study religion or Arabic in private religious institutions.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Syria at http://www.syrianembassy.us/ before you travel.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Syria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in Syria is hazardous and requires great caution.
Although drivers generally follow traffic signs and signals, they often maneuver aggressively and show little regard for vehicles traveling behind or to the sides of them.
Lane markings are usually ignored.
Vehicles within Syrian traffic circles must give way to entering traffic, unlike in the United States.
At night, it is very hard to see pedestrians, who often walk into traffic with little warning.
Outside major cities it is common to find pedestrians, animals and vehicles without lights on the roads at night.
Pedestrians must also exercise caution.
Parked cars, deteriorating pavement, and guard posts obstruct sidewalks, often forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Vehicles often do not stop for pedestrians, and regularly run red lights or “jump” the green light well before it changes.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Syrian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel. 202-232-6313.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
Sanctions resulting from the passage of the Syria Accountability Act prohibit aircraft of any air carrier owned or controlled by the Syrian government to take off from or land in the United States.
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Syria, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Syria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus has advised its employees to avoid travel on Syrian Arab Airlines (Syrian Air or SAA) whenever possible due to concerns regarding the airline's ability to maintain its airplanes.
SAA has, on its own initiative, grounded individual aircraft with significant maintenance or service issues; however, concerns persist that some planes still being flown may lack certain safety equipment or may have undergone repairs that have not been reviewed by the manufacturer.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Syrian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Syria of items such as weapons, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco, cheese, fruits, pharmaceuticals, modems, cosmetics, and some electrical appliances.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Syria in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, they will have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Although Syria is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Syrian officials generally do not notify the American Embassy when American citizens are arrested. When the American Embassy learns of arrests of Americans and requests consular access, individual police officials have, on their own initiative, responded promptly and allowed consular officers to visit the prisoners.
However, security officials have also in the past denied Embassy requests for consular access, especially in the case of dual citizens.
Foreign currencies can be exchanged for Syrian pounds only at government-approved exchange centers and licensed private banks.
Syrian pounds cannot be changed back into foreign currency.
Very few places in Syria accept credit cards.
Foreigners visiting Syria are required to pay hotel bills in US dollars or Euros.
Travelers’ checks are not accepted for payment in Syria, and banks will not cash them unless the traveler has an account at the bank in question.
There are no US-based banks operating in Syria.
There are six private banks operating in Syria, with branches and ATMs in most major cities.
These ATMs usually honor major debit/credit systems.
Funds may be transferred into Syria through Western Union.
Wiring of funds through private banks is possible only if the traveler already holds an account with the bank in Syria;, transferring funds through the Commercial Bank of Syria is not possible due to U.S. sanctions.
Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who have never served in the Syrian military and who are planning to visit Syria are strongly urged to check with the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. prior to traveling concerning compulsory military service. American men over the age of 18, even those who have never resided in or visited Syria, whose fathers are of Syrian descent, are required to complete military service or pay to be exempted.
Possession of a U.S. passport does not absolve the bearer of this obligation.
The fee for exemption from military service ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 USD, depending upon circumstances, for Syrian-American and Palestinian-American men who live abroad.
In January 2005 the Syrian government reduced mandatory military service from 30 months to 24 months.
It also announced that Syrians born outside of Syria and residing abroad until the age of 18 have the option of being exempted from their service by paying $2,000 USD.
Those born in Syria who left the country before reaching the age of 11, and have resided abroad for more than 15 years can be exempted by paying $5,000 USD.
Contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, DC, for more information (See Entry/Exit Requirements section above).
President Bush signed an executive order on May 11, 2004, implementing sanctions in accordance with the Syria Accountability Act.
These sanctions prohibit the export to Syria of products of the United States other than food or medicine, and prohibit any commercial aircraft owned or controlled by the Syrian government from taking off from or landing in the United States.
Under the authority provided in Section 5(b) of the Act, the President has determined that it is in the national security interest of the United States to waive the application of these sanctions in certain cases and for certain products, as specified in the Department of Commerce's General Order No. 2.
For additional information about implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, consult the Department of Commerce web site at (http://www.bis.doc.gov/).
Since 1979, the United States has designated Syria a State Sponsor of Terrorism due to its support for groups such as Hizbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations prohibit U.S. persons from receiving unlicensed donations from the Syrian government.
Additionally, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions which a U.S. person knows or has reasonable cause to believe pose a risk of furthering terrorists' acts in the United States.
For additional information about the Terrorism List Government Sanctions Regulations, consult the terrorism brochure on the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/ or via OFAC's info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Syrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Syria are strict and convicted offenders can expect prison sentences and heavy fines.
Penalties for possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are severe in Syria.
Persons convicted in Syria for growing, processing, or smuggling drugs face the death penalty, which may be reduced to a minimum of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Syria are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Syria.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 2 Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh, Damascus.
The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus.
Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State, Washington, DC
20521-6110.
Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 3391-3999, e-mail: acsdamascus@state.gov.
The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday.
Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov
*

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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 20, 2007 to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 21 Jun 2019
Source: WHO/EMRO (Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) [edited]

Situation reports on Al-Hol camp, Al-Hasakah
--------------------------------------------
- Over the past 2 weeks, a total of 633 people have left the camp. This number includes 107 people who returned to their homes in north-east Syria. There were no new arrivals during the reporting period.
- 9 medical points are reporting regularly to the disease Early Warning And Response System (EWARS). Leishmaniasis, acute diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remain the most commonly reported diseases.
- 38 new cases of leishmaniasis were detected. All patients are being treated by a WHO-supported mobile team in coordination with the Al-Hasakeh Directorate of Health.
- 7 suspected cases of measles were reported. No new cases of tuberculosis were detected during the reporting period.
- 30 children with severe acute malnutrition with medical complications were admitted to Al-Hikmah hospital during the reporting period, of whom 22 were discharged, one died, and the remainder are still under treatment. Mortality rates related to severe acute malnutrition remain below the emergency threshold.
- 2 new static health care points have been established, bringing the total number to 12. There is still an acute shortage of health care points in the Foreign Annex.
- 35 water sources were tested for microbial contamination in Al-Hasakeh water national laboratory during the reporting period. All 35 samples tested negative for contamination. WHO continues to test the quality of water from different sources in the camp.
- Stool samples from patients with diarrhoea were tested for
_Salmonella_, _E. coli_, and cholera, with all samples testing negative. Blood samples from patients with suspected measles were also sent for testing, and all samples tested negative.
- Following intensive negotiations by WHO, the local authorities have given their approval in principle to evacuate a patient requiring advanced mental health treatment
===================
[Leishmaniasis has surged throughout Syria during the civil war on all sides and continues to be a health problem in the refugee population. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Syria:
Date: Wed, 22 May 2019 16:52:39 +0200
By Nazeer al-Khatib with Hashem Osseiran in Beirut

Maaret al-Numan, Syria, May 22, 2019 (AFP) - Syrian government air strikes killed 18 civilians, including a dozen people at a busy market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a war monitor said on Wednesday.   Regime forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.   The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.   The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its ally Russia have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.   At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when regime warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory said.

The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.   The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported.    The bodies of market-goers were torn apart.   "Residents are still scared," stallholder Khaled Ahmad told AFP.   Three more civilians were killed on Wednesday by air strikes in the nearby town of Saraqib, the Observatory said.    Two others were killed in strikes on the town of Maaret Hermeh, it added.    Another civilian was killed in air raids on the town of Jisr al-Shughur, the monitor said.   The Britain-based Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carried out strikes according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions.

- 'Worst fears'-
The strikes came as heavy clashes raged in neighbouring Hama province after the jihadists launched a counterattack on Tuesday.   Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 70 -- 36 regime forces and militia and 34 jihadists, the Observatory said.   It said the jihadists had recaptured most of Kafr Nabuda from government forces, who had taken control of the town on May 8.   State news agency SANA on Wednesday however said the army repelled a jihadist attack in the area, killing dozens of insurgents.

Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region and protect its three million residents.   But President Bashar al-Assad's government upped its bombardment of the region after HTS took control in January.   Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks.   The Observatory says nearly 200 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30.   The United Nations said Wednesday that Idlib's civilian population once again faced the threat of an all-out offensive.   "A full military incursion threatens to trigger a humanitarian catastrophe for over 3 million civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as overwhelm our ability to respond," said David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian office.   Swanson said more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the upsurge of violence since April 28.   A total of 20 health facilities have been hit by the escalation -- 19 of which remain out of service, Swanson said.   Collectively they served at least 200,000 people, he added.

- 'Break the status quo' -
The September deal was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone around the Idlib region.   But it ushered in a relative drop in violence until earlier this year, with Turkish troops deploying to observation points around the region.   The Syrian government has accused Turkey of failing to secure implementation of the truce deal by the jihadists.   But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accused the Syrian regime late Tuesday of threatening the ceasefire deal.   "The regime is doing all that it can to break the status quo including using barrel bombs, land and air offensives," Akar told reporters.   "Turkish armed forces will not take a step back from wherever they may be", he however added.   Earlier, the US State Department said it was assessing indications that the government had used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib.   HTS accused government forces of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the northern mountains of Latakia.   But the Observatory said Wednesday it had "no proof at all of the attack".

7 May 2019, Cairo, Egypt: The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly condemns continuing attacks on health facilities in north-western Syria. Since 29 April, in just nine days, twelve health structures have been hit. 

On 5 May, three facilities were struck in one day alone, including two major hospitals that provide secondary healthcare in the area.  One of the structures, a surgical unit, was supported by WHO. Three health care workers lost their lives as a result of these attacks.  There are now no functioning hospitals in northern Hama, and emergency care is provided by only three surgical units supported by WHO.  Close to 300,000 civilians are affected.   

“These attacks against health facilities and other civilian infrastructure are a grave and totally unacceptable development,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region. “International humanitarian law safeguards civilians, even in the most violent of conflicts. And according to the Geneva Convention, health facilities and civilians – especially the most vulnerable – must be protected.  Parties to the conflict in northern Hama and in Idleb are flagrantly disregarding those rules; and it is women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who are suffering as a result.”   

The health facilities that were hit in northern Hama and southern Idleb provided a total of 30,000 consultations, 860 hospital admissions and 700 surgeries per month to a highly vulnerable population. 

“We are also deeply concerned about the people who have had to flee their homes and now have no access to basic health services. Over 150,000 people were displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb in between 29 April and 4 May, doubling the total number of people displaced in the area in the last three months. Saving their lives is our main priority and this requires further strengthening available health services. What is of particular concern is the increasing risk for infectious disease outbreaks due to overcrowding in temporary settlements,” Dr Al-Mandhari added.

WHO continues – with health partners – to ensure the provision of key primary and secondary healthcare and has released emergency health supplies for almost 92,200 treatment courses, including for surgical and trauma care, secondary healthcare, and primary healthcare.

As the conflict in north-western Syria intensifies, WHO reminds all parties to the conflict that attacks on health facilities are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Health facilities must never be attacked or damaged, and health workers should be allowed to provide medical treatment and services to all people in need wherever they are.

Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2019 18:54:39 +0200

Beirut, April 2, 2019 (AFP) - More than 40,000 displaced people in north-western Syria have seen their camps flooded by heavy rains in the past three days, a United Nations spokesman said Tuesday.   Around 14 camps were affected in the north-western province of Idlib, David Swanson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told AFP.

The Idlib region, controlled by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is home to more than 3 million people -- more than half of them displaced by the country's eight-year war.   Civil defence workers known as the White Helmets have been working to save people and their scant belongings from the rising muddy waters.   "For the second day in a row, White Helmets... continue to respond to the catastrophic situation in the northern Syria camps," they said on Twitter late Monday.

One video posted by the group on Sunday showed brown water cascading out of a flooded tent.   In another published the same day, civil defence workers clung on to a rope as they waded through a brown torrent above knee level.   The downpour has affected tens of thousands of civilians, displaced persons, crops and livestock in Idlib, as well as in the Aleppo and Hasakeh provinces since Saturday, Swanson said.

In Aleppo province, tents were destroyed in several camps for the displaced and a hospital in the countryside had to shut down due to the flooding.   Syria's war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.   Tens of thousands of displaced Syrians in the north of the country depend on handouts from humanitarian aid groups, including food, blankets and heating fuel for the winter months.

Thursday 7th March 2019
http://www.emro.who.int/syr/syria-news/unexploded-mines-pose-daily-risk-for-people-in-northern-syria.html

6 March 2019 - Um Hassan, from rural Aleppo, was collecting truffles in the countryside to sell in local markets. At the end of a long day of backbreaking work in harsh winter conditions, she and her children climbed into a crowded lorry to begin their journey home. Half-way through their trip, the lorry drove over an unexploded mine. Um Hassan’s 10-year old daughter Lolo was killed instantly and two of her other children were seriously injured.

Lolo was one of six people killed in the explosion. Another 15 people were rushed to the WHO-supported University Hospital in Aleppo. Um Hassan’s husband was frantic with worry when his family did not return home. He had no way of getting in touch with his wife and she was unable to get in touch with him. Like many people living in poverty in rural areas of Syria, the family has no mobile phone or landline.

“This is such a tragic event,” said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Syria. “Although the security situation in the north has improved recently, tens of thousands of landmines and other unexploded devices continue to pose a severe threat to millions of innocent people. WHO is working to strengthen trauma care and emergency services in Aleppo and other northern governorates, but the underlying problem remains. Sustained efforts must be made to clear mines and other hazards from former conflict areas. Until then, people like Um Hassan and her family will be at risk of similar incidents.”

For Um Hassan and many others like her, there is no choice but to continue working every day, despite the risks. “Life is difficult and we have to keep working in our fields, no matter how hard,“ said Um Hassan. “Our survival depends on it.”

More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

Rhode Island officials announced Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 2 more human cases of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] were confirmed in the state.

The 2 people -- one a Coventry child younger than 10 and the other a person in their 50s from Charlestown -- have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering, according to a statement from the state's Department of Public Health.

Authorities think the 2 people contracted EEE in late August [2019]. The cases were confirmed by tests done at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 3 confirmed EEE cases in Rhode Island this year [2019]. A West Warwick resident diagnosed with the mosquito-borne illness died this month [September 2019].

All 3 people contracted EEE before areas at critical risk for the disease were aerially sprayed with pesticide, state officials said.

EEE is a rare but potentially fatal disease that can cause brain inflammation and is transmitted to humans bitten by infected mosquitoes, according to federal authorities. About 1/3 of infected people who develop the disease will die, officials have said, and those who recover often live with severe and devastating neurological complications. There is no treatment for EEE.

"This [2019] has been a year with significantly elevated EEE activity, and mosquitoes will remain a threat in Rhode Island until our 1st hard frost, which is still several weeks out," said Ana Novais, the deputy director for the state's health department. "Personal mosquito-prevention measures remain everyone's 1st defence against EEE. If possible, people should limit their time outdoors at sunrise and sunset. If you are going to be out, long sleeves and pants are very important, as is bug spray [repellent]."

EEE was also confirmed in a deer in Exeter this week [week of Mon 16 Sep 2019].

In Massachusetts, 8 human cases of EEE have been confirmed this year [2019]. Last month [August 2019], a Fairhaven woman with EEE died.
========================
[The 1st Rhode Island case died. Now there are 2 additional EEE cases who have recovered sufficiently to have been discharged from the hospital. Although most reported cases of EEE this year [2019] have occurred in horses, there have been several recent human cases as well. Individuals living in areas where human or equine EEE cases have occurred should heed the above recommendations to prevent mosquito bites. Avoidance of mosquito bites is the only preventive measure available. Fortunately, horses can be vaccinated, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

The risk of EEE virus infection for humans and horses will continue in Rhode Island and the other affected states until the 1st killing frosts occur, likely in October (2019). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Rhode Island, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/241>]
Date: Tue 17 Sep 2019
Source: Detroit Free Press [edited]

State health officials said Tuesday [17 Sep 2019] that 3 Michiganders have died from the rare and dangerous mosquito-borne virus eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], and 4 others have been sickened by the disease, amid the biggest outbreak in more than a decade.

Those who live in all 8 of the affected counties -- Kalamazoo, Cass, Van Buren, Berrien, Barry, St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties -- are urged to consider canceling, postponing, or rescheduling outdoor events that occur at or after dusk, especially those that involve children, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This would include events such as late-evening sports practices or games or outdoor music practices "out of an abundance of caution to protect the public health, and applies until the 1st hard frost of the year [2019]," according to an MDHHS news release.

The 3 people who died were all adults and lived in Kalamazoo, Cass, and Van Buren counties, [respectively], said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The 4 other confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo, Berrien, and Barry counties.

Animals have also been confirmed to have the virus in St. Joseph, Genesee, and Lapeer counties.

The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services Department also issued a recommendation to local communities and school districts to consider canceling outdoor events at dusk or after dark, when mosquitoes are most active, or move [the events] indoors.  "Michigan is currently experiencing its worst eastern equine encephalitis outbreak in more than a decade," said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. "The ongoing cases reported in humans and animals and the severity of this disease illustrate the importance of taking precautions against mosquito bites."

EEE is one of the deadliest mosquito-borne viruses in the US. One in 3 people who are infected with the virus die. The only way to prevent it is to avoid mosquito bites. The MDHHS says residents should
- apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET or other US Environmental Protection Agency-registered product to exposed skin or clothing, and always follow the manufacturer's directions for use;
- wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors. Apply insect repellent to clothing to help prevent bites;
- maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes outside;
- empty water from mosquito breeding sites around the home, such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires, or similar sites where mosquitoes may lay eggs; and
- use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas.

Symptoms of EEE include
- sudden onset of fever, chills;
- body and joint aches, which can progress to a severe encephalitis;
- headache;
- disorientation;
- tremors;
- seizures;
- paralysis; and
- coma.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit a doctor.

[Byline: Kristen Jordan Shamus]
=======================
[The number of human cases remains at 7. However, 3 of these have died since the 6 Sep 2019 report (see Eastern equine encephalitis - North America (18): USA human, horse, deer http://promedmail.org/post/20190910.6667626). However, even among the survivors, there is a significant risk of permanent neurological damage following clinical encephalitis. CDC reports that many individuals with clinical encephalitis "are left with disabling and progressive mental and physical sequelae, which can range from minimal brain dysfunction to severe intellectual impairment, personality disorders, seizures, paralysis, and cranial nerve dysfunction. Many patients with severe sequelae die within a few years" (<https://www.cdc.gov/easternequineencephalitis/tech/symptoms.html>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Michigan, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/225>
Michigan county map:
Date: Mon 16 Sep 2019
Source: Patch [edited]

The state Department of Public Health is warning that an adult resident of East Lyme has tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). This is the 1st human case of EEE identified in Connecticut this season [2019].  The patient became ill during the last week of August [2019] with encephalitis and remains hospitalized. Laboratory tests, which were completed today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, Colorado, confirmed the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes EEE.  "EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," said DPH commissioner Renee Coleman Mitchell in a release. "Using insect repellent, covering bare skin, and avoiding being outdoors from dusk to dawn are effective ways to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes."  The EEE virus has been identified in mosquitoes in 12 towns and in horses in 2 other towns.

Towns where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE include Chester, Haddam, Hampton, Groton, Killingworth, Ledyard, Madison, North Stonington, Plainfield, Shelton, Stonington, and Voluntown. Horses have tested positive for EEE virus in Colchester and Columbia this season, and the virus has been detected in a flock of wild pheasants.  Other states throughout the northeast are also experiencing an active season for EEE. In addition to the virus being found in mosquitoes, there have been a total of 8 human cases of EEE infection in Massachusetts and one human case in Rhode Island, with one case in each state resulting in a fatality. "This is the 2nd human case of EEE ever reported in Connecticut," said Dr. Matthew Cartter, director of infectious diseases for the DPH. "The 1st human case of EEE reported in Connecticut occurred in the fall of 2013."

The DPH advises against unnecessary trips into mosquito breeding grounds and marshes, as the mosquitoes that transmit EEE virus are associated with freshwater swamps and are most active at dusk and dawn. Overnight camping or other substantial outdoor exposure in freshwater swamps in Connecticut should be avoided. Even though the temperatures are getting cooler, the DPH is advising that mosquito season is not over, and residents should continue to take measures to prevent mosquito bites, including wearing protective clothing and using repellents.  Although EEE-infected mosquitoes continue to be detected in the south-eastern corner of the state, the numbers are declining, and we are not experiencing the excessively high levels of activity seen in Massachusetts. There are currently no plans to implement widespread aerial pesticide spraying in the state.

Severe cases of EEE virus infection (involving encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain) begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting. The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, and coma. Approximately 1/3 of patients who develop EEE die, and many of those who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the DPH.

There is no specific treatment for EEE. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and no effective anti-viral drugs have been discovered. Severe illnesses are treated by supportive therapy, which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, IV fluids, and prevention of other infections. It takes 4-10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito to develop symptoms of EEE.

The management of mosquitoes in Connecticut is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the DPH, together with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Connecticut. These agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the state's mosquito population levels to reduce the potential public health threat of mosquito-borne diseases.

Information on what can be done to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes and the latest mosquito test results and human infections is available online.  [Byline: Rich Kirby]
===========================
[This has been an active year for EEE virus transmission in the eastern USA from the upper Midwest to the northeastern states and south to Florida. Although historically, EEE human cases in Connecticut have been very rare, the occurrence of a human case in the state this year (2019) is not surprising. There have been equine and/or human EEE cases this summer (2019) in the 3 bordering states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Interestingly, pheasants are mentioned in the above report. They are susceptible and, after being infected with the virus from the bite of an EEE-carrying mosquito, become ill or moribund with viremia titers that can reach 10^9 per ml. Ill or moribund pheasant can be attacked and cannibalized by pen mates that, in turn, are infected orally and may become ill and die as well. As the above report cautions, the only way to avoid infection is for people to avoid mosquito bites. Although the incidence of EEE cases and virus-positive mosquitoes may be declining, there is a risk of infection until the 1st killing frost occurs in autumn, when the mosquitoes are no longer active. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Connecticut, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/210>]
Date: Wed 11 Sep 2019
Source: BBC Afrique [In French, trans. Mod.LXL, edited]

At least 18 people died in 10 days after eating pesticide-contaminated food in 2 localities in Burkina Faso. A dozen still remain under observation in hospitals, according to the Minister of Health.  The 1st cases were reported on [1 Sep 2019] in the town of Didyr in the centre-west of the country, said Professor Claudine Lougue, Minister of Health.  About 15 members of the same families felt unwell after eating local dishes made from bean leaves and small millet seeds, which are actually seed remains. Thirteen died later despite medical care.

On Monday [2 Sep 2019], the ministry received another alert, this time from the central-eastern region. Here again, 14 people from the same family were admitted to the health centres. Five have lost their lives. After analysis, doctors diagnosed massive food poisoning, said the minister. Complementary examinations incriminate pesticides, she said.  "Investigations have been made on samples of biological products such as blood and urine, and we found an unusually high level of pesticides in foods that were consumed. There was an abnormally high level of pesticides, and these pesticides were strongly incriminated," said the minister.

The remains of food have been secured, announced Professor Lougue, who calls on citizens to observe strict hygiene measures in the use of plant leaves for consumption. Pesticides are used for the needs of field work, especially in the countryside during this period of wintering.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 16:44:19 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear.   "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement.    The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear.    "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added.   It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."

However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates".   British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts.   Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay.   BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights.   The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place.   As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day.    BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits.   The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros).   However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July.   BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million.   BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:14:44 +0200 (METDST)
By Aishwarya KUMAR

New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.   The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths.   "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.

E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled.   The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful.   They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.

However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine.   Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before.   The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds.   President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.

- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes.   Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.

In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul.   A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue.   The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India.   According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking.   India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.   According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood.   Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 03:56:31 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said.   "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said.   "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said.   As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 01:36:21 +0200 (METDST)

Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday.   The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident.  The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said.   All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.

Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said.   The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country.   Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.

Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones.    "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach.   There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.

The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat.   The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added.   The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month.    Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.