Archive for April, 2018

EU urge Russia, Iran, Turkey to deliver on Syria promises

April 25, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to ensure a halt to fighting in Syria, as international donors gathered in Brussels to drum up aid for the conflict-ravaged country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the three have a “special responsibility” to establish a cease-fire and to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to return to the negotiating table. “We are seeing an escalation in military activities which is exactly the contrary” to what they promised, Mogherini said.

Around 80 countries, organizations and partners backing Syria are taking part in the donor conference. The EU hopes the meeting will give impetus to stalled peace moves under U.N. auspices, on top of gathering several billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Syria and for neighbors like Lebanon and Jordan, struggling to cope with millions of refugees. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country will provide 1 billion euros in new funding for 2018 and subsequent years.

The EU, along with many other partners, refuses to help with serious reconstruction in Syria until meaningful peace moves to end the conflict, now into its eighth year, resume in Geneva. Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said “it’s high time the international community …. takes bold decisions to help Syria and its people get their country back together.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces elections in two weeks, said the plight of Syrians is simply getting worse. “The bitter truth is that despite all our combined efforts conditions have deteriorated. Lebanon continues to be a big refugee camp,” he said.

Britain’s State Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, agreed that Syria’s needs are enormous. “This is the world’s greatest protection crisis. If you look at what’s happened and what’s been done to people — breaches of humanitarian laws, the weakening of multilateral norms that we have seen for a long time — it’s all focusing on Syria,” he said.

“We all know that what we do on a humanitarian basis is only the sticking plaster on the wound. You’ve got to address the wound itself. So we hope that the seriousness of the conflict and the damage that it’s done might be used to further encourage the various parties to get going again.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura has warned that the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib could become Syria’s newest humanitarian crisis area. De Mistura said Tuesday that “Idlib is the big new challenge — 2.5 million people.” He told reporters that “there are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there.”

De Mistura hopes the two-day donor conference “will be an occasion for also making sure that Idlib doesn’t become the new Aleppo, the new eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 177,000 people have fled combat in eastern Ghouta since February. The rest — including about 12,000 fighters — relocated to Idlib.

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UN officials in Sweden for talks on North Korea, Syria

April 21, 2018

BACKAKRA, Sweden (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general and ambassadors from countries on the Security Council assembled Saturday in Sweden for an informal meeting on weighty international issues, including developments on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria.

The annual joint brainstorming session for the United Nations’ movers and shakers is being hosted this year by the Swedish government on the picturesque farm estate of Dag Hammarskjold in southern Sweden.

Hammarskjold was a Swedish diplomat who served as the second U.N. secretary-general before he died in a plane crash in September 1961. Talking to reporters before the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefly commented on North Korea’s announcement that it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests.

He said he was optimistic about North Korea’s decision, saying that “the path is open for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Pyongyang’s statement “clearly shows that when you have a unity within the (U.N.) Security Council, you can achieve things.”

However, Lofven remained cautious about the situation. “To speculate what would happen is perhaps a bit too dangerous, but it does look positive, yes,” he said. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said diplomats were “still deadlocked” over Syria.

The meeting comes just a week after France, Britain and the U.S. launched joint airstrikes at suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma.

Haley said she and the other diplomats welcomed the working meeting as a chance to get a break from their normal routines “Retreats like this are very important for us to get away from New York sometimes and discuss these things in a way that we can really try and find a solution,” she said.

Guterres is set to stay in Sweden until Monday.

UK’s May tells lawmakers: Syria strikes were legal and moral

April 16, 2018

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May told restive lawmakers Monday that military airstrikes on Syria were right both legally and morally, and she accused Syria and its ally Russia of attempting to cover up evidence of a deadly chemical weapons attack.

May faced down her domestic critics as France’s premier defended the “proportionate” response to the use of chemical weapons. European Union foreign ministers united to say they understood the need for the airstrikes and called for a new push for a political solution to the war in Syria.

British Royal Air Force jets joined American and French warplanes and ships in hitting targets in Syria early Saturday in response to a reported chemical attack by the Syrian government in the town of Douma.

The British government is not legally bound to seek Parliament’s approval for military strikes, although it is customary to do so, and many lawmakers expressed anger that they were not consulted. May told legislators in the House of Commons that seeking their approval would have been impractical, both because Parliament was on a spring break until Monday and because some of the intelligence behind the decision was classified.

“We have always been clear that the government has the right to act quickly in the national interest,” May said, calling the military action “not just morally right but also legally right.” “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized, either within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or elsewhere,” May said — linking the chemical attack in Syria with the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter last month with a military-grade nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury.

Syria and Russia have both denied that Syrian government forces carried out the Douma gas attack, suggesting it may have been staged to implicate them. May said the presence of helicopters and the use of barrel bombs pointed the finger of blame squarely at the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. She accused Syria, aided by Russia, of trying to block an investigation into the gas attack by the international chemical weapons watchdog.

“The Syrian regime has reportedly been attempting to conceal the evidence by searching evacuees from Douma to ensure samples are not being smuggled from this area. And a wider operation to conceal the facts of the attack is underway, supported by the Russians,” she said.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Monday that the organization’s team “has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria. He said Syrian and Russian officials who met the OPCW team in Damascus told them “that there were still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place.”

In Britain’s House of Commons, much of Monday’s scheduled business was scrapped for an emergency debate on the airstrikes that stretched late into the evening. But the after-the-fact debate — without a binding vote — did not satisfy angry opposition lawmakers.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called the airstrikes “legally questionable” and accused May of “following Donald Trump’s lead.” Corbyn said May should remember she “is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the U.S. president.

May denied acting at the behest of the U.S. “We have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so,” May said. “We have done it because we believe it was the right thing to do — and we are not alone.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also justified the military action in a speech Monday to the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament. Philippe told lawmakers that France’s “riposte” was “proportionate” and sent a strong, clear message to dissuade Syria’s government from using chemical weapons.

He said the joint action of the U.S., Britain and France was aimed at placing a prohibitive cost on the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s ability to use them. Some French opposition leaders have criticized the strikes, saying they were not legitimate. Under the French Constitution, the government must inform the parliament, but a vote is requested only if a military intervention is expected to last more than four months.

In Luxembourg, the foreign ministers of the 28 EU countries called for a political breakthrough involving regional players to put Syria on track to a peaceful solution for its seven-year conflict. The ministers said the EU “understands” the need for the coordinated U.S, French and British airstrikes following the suspected April 7 chemical attack. They insisted it was executed with “the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU wants to use a major meeting on Syria in Brussels next week to give impetus to U.N. peace efforts following Saturday’s airstrikes. “There is the need to give a push to the U.N.-led process,” Mogherini said.

More than 70 delegations are expected at the April 24-25 donor conference for Syria in Brussels.

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless reported this story in London and AP writer Raf Casert reported from Luxembourg. AP writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

April 14, 2018

President Donald Trump just announced he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Room.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House. “As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180414-trump-us-france-and-uk-launch-strikes-on-syria/.

Israeli PM slams Dublin mayor’s visit to Palestine

April 13, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the mayor of Dublin, Ireland Thursday over his recent visit to Palestine.

Dublin Lord Mayor Micheal Mac Donncha “should be ashamed of himself for attending an anti-Israel conference in Ramallah”, Netanyahu said in a post on his Facebook account.

The conference, held Wednesday, focused on the disputed status of Jerusalem.

Donncha, who is banned from entering Israel for supporting the Palestinian cause, managed to slip through immigration at Tel Aviv airport because authorities misspelled his name on the order barring his entry.

Ireland’s ambassador to Israel was summoned by Israel’s Foreign Ministry to protest Donccha’s attendance of the event.

Earlier in the week, the Dublin City Council passed a resolution calling on Ireland’s government to expel the Israeli ambassador over the recent killings of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.

At least 31 Palestinians have been killed by cross-border gunfire by the Israeli army since March 30 when peaceful rallies began along the Gaza Strip’s roughly 45-kilometer eastern border with Israel.

Demonstrators are demanding that Palestinian refugees be given the “right of return” to their towns and villages in historical Palestine from which they were driven in 1948.

The rallies are part of a six-week-long demonstration that will culminate on May 15. That day will mark the 70th anniversary of Israel’s establishment — an event Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-israeli-pm-slams-dublin-mayors-visit-to-palestine/.

Israel minister calls for assassination of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad

April 12, 2018

Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant has called for Syrian regime President Bashar Al-Assad to be assassinated, Sky News reported.

Israeli media reported that Al-Assad has left his presidential palace yesterday morning accompanied by a Russian military convoy for fear of an American strike, reports Russia has denied.

In preparation for a possible US-led strike on Syria, Russia Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) yesterday recommended all Russia flights exercise caution while travelling through the eastern Mediterranean region.

“Rosaviatsiya has sent telegrams to air transport companies notifying them to give special attention to planning flights in the Eastern Mediterranean region and to the importance of notifications provided by the aviation authority to alert pilots to hazards on the flight course,” a source at the Russian organisation told TASS news agency.

The international air traffic control agency Eurocontrol has also warned flights travelling over the Eastern Mediterranean to exercise extra caution, due to possible strikes over the next 72 hours that could interrupt radio navigation systems. Most flights have avoided the area since the start of the conflict, although Syrian Air and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines continue to use Syrian airspace.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180412-israel-minister-calls-for-assassination-of-syrias-bashar-al-assad/.

University of Sydney academics back BDS, as Israel guns down protesters

April 13, 2018

Dozens of academics at the University of Sydney have declared their support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, reported the Australian.

According to the paper, the move comes as a response to the lethal crackdown by Israeli occupation forces on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.

The Australian notes that signatories to the BDS pledge say they “will not attend conferences sponsored by Israeli universities, participate in academic exchange schemes, or otherwise collaborate professionally with Israeli universities until the stated goals have been fulfilled.”

The BDS campaign, describes the paper, is an international movement “inspired by the success of boycotts in bringing an end to apartheid in South Africa”.

Nick Riemer, a senior lecturer in English and linguistics at the University of Sydney and a member of its BDS group, “said the response from fellow academics was encouraging” and expressed his hope that the pledge would spread to other Australian universities.

“People are already talking at Melbourne about the possibility of something like this,” he said.

According to the Sydney BDS website, some 40 academics have currently endorsed the pledge.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-university-of-sydney-academics-back-bds-as-israel-guns-down-protesters/.

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