Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

Public reports ‘clearly show’ Assad’s use of chemical weapons: McMaster

February 17, 2018


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U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski Reuters

MUNICH (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian government to account.

“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at a major international security conference taking place in Munich.

“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.

McMaster did not specify which public accounts or pictures he was referring to.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Syrian government had repeatedly used chlorine gas, but stressed that the U.S. did not have evidence of sarin gas use.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this is the case.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.

In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the United States have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.

Earlier this month, Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded the areas, two of the last major rebel-held parts of Syria.

Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress towards ending a war now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.


McMaster called on the international community to do more on North Korea.

“We must pressure the Kim regime, using all available tools, to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The United States has appeared to endorse closer post-Olympics engagement between North and South Korea with an eye to eventual U.S.-North Korean talks, but has agreed with Seoul that sanctions must be intensified to push Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.

The prospect of negotiations comes after months of tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader traded insults and threats, while the U.N. tightened sanctions.

“Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly, now is the time to do more,” McMaster said, calling on countries to cut off military and commercial ties with Pyongyang.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrea Shalal and Andrew Bolton)


EU joins US call for Turkey restraint in Syria operation

February 16, 2018


© AFP/File | Federica Mogherini, the EU’s diplomatic chief, has been in Sofia for an informal meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers

SOFIA (AFP) – The EU on Friday urged Turkey to show restraint in its military operation against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, telling Ankara its efforts should focus on the Islamic State group.The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said they recognised Turkey faced real security concerns, but echoed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for Ankara not to go over the top in its response.

Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia has caused alarm in Washington, which views the fighters as important allies in the struggle against IS.

But after talks in Ankara, Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said they had agreed to work together in Syria, easing tensions.

Mogherini said EU foreign ministers had raised the offensive with Turkish European affairs minister Omer Celik, who joined them at a meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

“We have expressed as the European Union and member states in recent days and weeks concern about first of all the civilian casualties, about the humanitarian consequences of this military operation,” Mogherini said.

“The target of military operations needs to continue to be Daesh (IS) and the UN-listed terrorist organisations. I would subscribe to the words that Rex Tillerson said, that we urge our Turkish friends to show restraint in their military actions.”

Syria denies having chemical weapons after Macron threat

February 14, 2018

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Wednesday denied it possessed chemical weapons and branded the use of such arms “immoral and unacceptable,” following a French warning of punitive strikes.
As Damascus dismissed suspicions of chlorine attacks on rebel-held areas including besieged Eastern Ghouta, the first aid convoy since November entered the battered enclave near the capital.
“Syria’s government categorically denies possessing… chemical weapons,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoted by state news agency SANA.
“We consider the use of such arms as immoral and unacceptable, whatever the context.”
On Tuesday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron warned his country would launch strikes if proof emerged that the Syrian regime had used banned chemical weapons against its civilians.
According to Washington, at least six chlorine attacks have been reported since early January in rebel-held areas, resulting in dozens of injuries.
Damascus last month also denied carrying out chemical attacks and its ally Moscow denounced such charges as a “propaganda campaign,” stressing the perpetrators had not been identified.
France, like the United States, suspects the Syrian regime but says it does not yet have concrete evidence on the nature and origin of the attacks.
Damascus has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal between the United States and Russia for Syria to destroy its stockpiles.
The United Nations was among those who blamed government forces for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.
In retaliation for that alleged attack, the United States carried out cruise missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base.
As Assad’s opponents ratcheted up pressure, there was some respite with the arrival of the first aid convoy in months in rebel Eastern Ghouta after intensive bombardments last week killed 250 civilians.
“First UN and Syrian Red Crescent inter-agency convoy this year crossed conflict lines to Nashabieh in Eastern Ghouta to deliver food, health and nutrition supplies for 7,200 people in the besieged enclave,” the UN humanitarian affairs office said.
Some 400,000 people live in the enclave outside Damascus where they have been under siege by the army since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages.
The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow for urgent deliveries of humanitarian aid.
Sweden and Kuwait presented the draft, which would also demands an immediate end to sieges, including on Eastern Ghouta, after regime ally Russia last week rejected as “not realistic” a similar appeal by UN aid officials.
The United Nations has said that violence in Syria has only worsened since it first called for a truce last week, with “some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict” being witnessed.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have bludgeoned their way ahead with the help of Russian air power in the war that has claimed more than 340,000 lives since 2011.
Beyond pounding Eastern Ghouta, the regime is conducting an offensive in the northwestern Idlib province, the only one that had remained completely out of its grip.
Further to the north, Turkey is also carrying out a major operation in the Afrin region against Kurdish miltia that have received backing from the US.

Tillerson says U.S. Mideast peace plan ‘fairly well advanced’

February 14, 2018


AMMAN (Reuters) – The U.S. administration’s work on a new Middle East peace plan is “fairly well advanced” and President Donald Trump will decide when to announce it, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan.

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends a meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (not pictured) in Amman, Jordan February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Tillerson also signed a five-year aid package that extends U.S. support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump’s threat to withhold support from states opposed to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Commenting on the peace plan, Tillerson said: ”I have seen the plan… It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work.

“So I think it will be up to the president to decide when he feels it’s time and he’s ready to put that plan forward. I will say it’s fairly well advanced…”

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.

The move triggered outrage in the Arab and Muslim world, and led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare that he would not cooperate with the United States as a mediator.

Trump has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that backed a U.N. resolution calling for Washington to reverse its Jerusalem decision. Jordan backed the resolution.

King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Amman particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi arrive for a meeting in Amman, Jordan February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi signed the non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) for $6.375 billion in aid starting this year. The previous such MoU between Jordan and the United States was for three years.

“This MOU commitment highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports U.S. objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation, and economic development,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

ISIS is an acronym for the militant Islamic State group.

Conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq have damaged Jordan’s economy, forcing it to borrow heavily from external and domestic sources. Jordan has been an important part of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.


Tillerson is also expected this week to visit Turkey, with which U.S. ties have become badly strained over Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, regarded by Ankara as a terrorist group.

“With respect to my meetings in Ankara, Turkey is still an important NATO ally of the United States … We need to find a way to continue to work in the same direction. We are committed to the same outcomes in Syria,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson expressed concern over Saturday’s confrontation between Israel and “Iranian assets” in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet on Saturday after it bombed a site used by Iran-backed position in Syria.

Tillerson said Iran should withdraw its forces and militias from Syria, where Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad.

Responding to the comments, a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, said Iran’s military presence in Syria was legitimate and based on an invitation from Damascus. He called on U.S. forces to leave Syria.

Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and Yara Bayoumy in Amman; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones

Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created

February 14, 2018

Within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16

This Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a pro-Turkey Syrian fighter waves on Bursayah hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria
This Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a pro-Turkey Syrian fighter waves on Bursayah hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria — AP Photo, File

As Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies push toward final victory and the fight against the Islamic State group draws to an end, new fronts have opened up, threatening an even broader confrontation among regional and world powers.

While large areas of the country have stabilized, giving the impression of a war that is winding down, violence has exploded in other areas with renewed ferocity, killing and injuring hundreds of people in a new and unpredictable spiral of bloodshed. The United States, Israel and Turkey all have deepened their involvement, seeking to protect their interests in the new Syria order.

The recent chaos has been exceptional: within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Syria areas of control as of February 10, 2018
Syria areas of control as of February 10, 2018Reuters

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held enclaves of Eastern Ghouta and in the northern province of Idlib, amid accusations that the Syrian government is once again using toxic agents such as chlorine against its opponents.

In the east, the U.S. military launched rare airstrikes on pro-government fighters following a coordinated assault on U.S.-backed forces accompanied by U.S. advisers. That has increased fears that American troops meant to fight Islamic State militants increasingly are being dragged into the war.

Over the weekend, a battle erupted along Syria’s border with Israel, which shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace before one of its own fighter jets was downed by Syrian air defense missiles. It was the most serious flare-up between the neighbors since fighting began in Syria in 2011.

All this happened while Turkey’s air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria rages on with no end in sight.

“The specter of the world’s worst civil war in decades is becoming demonstrably worse by the week — and even more complicated by the actions of outside forces — creating a perfect storm of chaos and suffering in Syria,” the Soufan Center said in an analysis of the situation.

Here is a look at some of the new and old fronts in Syria’s war:

Turkey’s war on the Kurds

Turkey opened a new front in Syria’s nearly 7-year-old war on Jan. 20, launching an offensive against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia in the northwestern enclave of Afrin. It is the latest effort by Turkey to limit Kurdish expansion along its border with Syria and aims to drive out the militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a “terrorist” organization.

The Turkish campaign has strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, which has partnered with the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey’s president is threatening to expand the offensive east, toward the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops maintain bases, while U.S. officials accuse Turkey of hampering the fight against IS with its Afrin operation.

Residents speak of a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation, adding that medical supplies are running low. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says around 80 civilians have been killed so far, along with more than 160 Kurdish fighters. Turkey says it has lost 31 soldiers in the slow-moving offensive.

Assad’s war on the rebels

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, have in the past two weeks dramatically escalated attacks on two of the largest and most important remaining opposition-held areas, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria and on Eastern Ghouta, a besieged area near the capital of Damascus.

The sprawling region, where rebels launch rockets on Damascus, has been a particular thorn in the government’s side for years, and Assad appears determined to recapture it at all costs.

The recent violence has left hundreds dead and wounded amid relentless airstrikes that have transformed the besieged area into a death trap. In Idlib, the bombardment has hit hospitals and created yet another wave of displaced civilians.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Saturday for urgent international action, saying the past week in Syria “has been one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

The commissioner said the “no-holds-barred nature” of the assault included attacks on nine medical facilities and the death of 277 civilians between Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. There were also reports of the government using toxic agents in residential areas.

In Eastern Ghouta, nearly 400,000 residents are trapped by the violence and a tightening government siege. At least 2 million people live In Idlib, the largest area controlled by the opposition.

Israel’s war on Iran

The downing of an Israeli fighter jet this weekend by Syrian air defenses suggest yet another frontier in the conflict is opening up, risking a wider and possibly regional conflagration.

Israel, which has struck targets inside Syria more than a 100 times in the course of Syria’s war, with raids often launched from neighboring Lebanon’s airspace, has been warning of an Iranian buildup in Syria for months, vowing to prevent Tehran from building bases near its border. On Saturday, Israel’s military said it shot down an Iranian drone that took off from a base in Syria and infiltrated Israeli airspace. It carried out about 12 strikes targeting Syrian army and Iranian sites in Syria before Syrian air defenses shot down an F-16, marking the first time an Israeli jet was downed since 1982.

According to the Syrian government and its allies, the downing of the Israeli jet signals new rules of engagement in Syria, following more than 100 Israeli strikes that went without any retaliation.

“The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park. This has the potential to turn into a regional war,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

U.S. war on ISIS

The U.S. policy in Syria has always been vague and often inconsistent. But earlier this year, U.S. officials confirmed Washington’s intention to keep troops indefinitely in northern Syria even after the defeat of IS. The U.S. says it seeks to prevent an IS resurgence as well as to counter Iranian influence in Syria.

But as IS shrinks, the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria find themselves caught in a highly unpredictable and shifting battlefield, as demonstrated by an unexpected attack by pro-Assad fighters on U.S.-backed forces who were accompanied by U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour.

The U.S. responded with a deadly barrage of bombs and artillery that U.S. officials say killed about 100 of the attackers. Russian news reports said Tuesday that an unknown number of private military contractors from Russia were among the dead, illustrating the risks foreign forces face on Syria’s crowded battlefields.

Many of the U.S. troops in Syria are operating with local, Kurdish-dominated allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern oil-producing Deir el-Zour region along the Euphrates River. The area had been a stronghold of IS militants until late last year.

But they are competing for control of Deir el-Zour with Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias.

Keeping U.S. forces in areas that Assad’s government hopes to reclaim inherently increases the probability of more clashes.

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of trying to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria.

France’s Macron threatens Syria strikes if chemical weapon use proven

February 14, 2018

BBC News

French President Emmanuel MacronImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Macron reiterated his stance that chemical weapons use in Syria is a “red line”

French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to “strike” Syria if proof emerges that its government is using chemical weapons against civilians.

“We will strike the place where these launches are made or where they are organised,” he told reporters.

But Mr Macron said French intelligence had so far found no evidence that banned chemical weapons had been used.

His comments follow numerous reports of suspected chlorine attacks in Syria since early January.

Nine people were treated for breathing difficulties after a bomb believed to be filled with the chemical was dropped on a rebel-held town earlier this month.

The Syrian opposition said a government helicopter dropped the bomb on Saraqeb, in the north-western province of Idlib.

The Syrian government strongly denies using chemical weapons and says it does not target civilians.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following a Syrian government air strikes on the town of Saraqeb rest at a field hospital (4 February 2018)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPeople brought to hospitals in Saraqeb earlier this month suffered breathing problems, a doctor said

Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Mr Macron reaffirmed his stance that the use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” for his government.

“Today, our agencies, our armed forces, have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population,” he said.

“As soon as such proof is established, I will do what I said. The priority is the fight against the terrorists.”

Last year, Mr Macron told Russian President Vladimir Putin

that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would draw an “immediate response” from France.

In a telephone call with Mr Putin on Friday, Mr Macron expressed concern over “indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine” against civilians in recent weeks, his office said.

Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun (May 2017)

Following a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damascus in 2013, the United States and Russia agreed a plan with Syria to remove and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile within a year.

But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has continued to document the use of toxic chemicals in the country.

In April 2017, an attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun left hundreds of people suffering from symptoms consistent with use of a nerve agent.

Witnesses said they saw warplanes attack the town and shocking footage showed victims – many of them children – convulsing and foaming at the mouth. More than 80 people were killed.

In response the US carried out a missile strike against a Syrian air base.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia have repeatedly said the incident was fabricated

They say an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical munitions.

Tillerson rejects Israeli official’s claim that US is ‘not in the game’ in Syria — “almost no leverage on the ground”

February 14, 2018

Secretary of state characterizes as ‘false’ Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren’s assessment that Washington has ‘almost no leverage on the ground’

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures at a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO RAGGIO)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures at a press conference in Buenos Aires on February 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO RAGGIO)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday rejected an assessment by an Israeli deputy minister that Washington has little leverage in Syria and is “not in the game.”

Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren (Kulanu) told Bloomberg on Sunday following the recent flare-up along the country’s northern border that America “has almost no leverage on the ground” in Syria.

“The American part of the equation is to back us up,” he said. ““America did not ante up in Syria. It’s not in the game.”

Tillerson pushed back against this notion.

“The United States and the coalition forces that are working with us to defeat (Islamic State) today control 30 percent of the Syrian territory, and control a large amount of population, and control a large amount of Syria’s oil fields,” he told reporters. “So I think…this observation that the US has little leverage or role to play is simply false.”

Kulanu MK Michael Oren, June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He added that Washington was “very active” in international talks to resolve the ongoing conflict in the Arab nation, “and we’re working very closely with Russia, who has the greatest influence on the Assad regime and can bring Assad and the regime to the negotiating table.”

Israel has held talks with both the US and Russia in its efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, where Moscow has a military presence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held a series of meetings in recent months with Putin on Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon. The prime minister has been seeking to persuade Russia to limit Iran’s presence near Israeli territory and to stop it from gaining a military foothold in Syria.

And following the weekend’s aerial clashes along the Syrian front, Israel appealed to Russia to intervene and prevent further escalation.

Over the weekend, an Iranian drone penetrated Israel’s airspace from Syrian territory, which elicited an Israeli military response of cross-border strikes targeting Iranian assets in Syria. Returning from the mission, one of Israel’s F-16 fighter jets crashed in northern Israel after being hit by anti-aircraft fire from Syrian forces.

A picture taken on February 10, 2018, shows Israeli solders taking positions in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria. (AFP/ JALAA MAREY)

This lead Israel to launch a widespread retaliatory offensive in Syria. The IDF said it hit four Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites, including the Syrian military’s main command and control bunker.

The White House expressed supportfor Israel’s retaliatory military strikes in Syria and called on Iran to “cease provocative actions” in the region.

“Israel is a staunch ally of the United States, and we support its right to defend itself from the Iranian-backed Syrian and militia forces in southern Syria,” a statement by US President Donald Trump’s office read, echoing earlier comments by the State Department and the Pentagon.

Tillerson has said he does not plan to add a stop in Jerusalem during his visit to the Middle East this week, despite the flare-up.


Anti-IS coalition grapples with future of Syria

February 13, 2018


© AFP/File | US Defense Secretary James Mattis headed for Rome for talks on Tuesday with other members of the anti-IS coalition

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group was locked in a debate Tuesday over the future of its campaign in war-ravaged Syria and the fate of foreign jihadist fighters captured there.

Months of intense fighting saw US-backed forces liberate the IS stronghold of Raqa in October, leaving the group’s one-time “caliphate” in tatters.

But the US fears that the jihadists could regain a foothold in the bombed-out region.

At Tuesday’s meeting, “we’re going to speak about the future,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told journalists as he travelled to Rome.

The thorny issue of what to do with the hundreds of foreign jihadists now detained in Syria will also be a key issue at the meeting in the Italian capital.

Those detainees include two Britons said to have carried out numerous beheadings.

The problem has sparked intense debate in the West about whether such fighters should be returned to their home countries to face justice.

Pentagon official Kathy Wheelbarger, accompanying Mattis, said: “We are working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees and generally expect those detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”

But the fate of the two Britons, Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh — captured by US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in January — remains uncertain.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told The Sun newspaper last week: “I don’t think they should ever set foot in this country again.”

The suspects’ cell, known as “The Beatles” because of their British accents, is accused of abducting and decapitating around 20 hostages.

The victims included American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded in 2012.

The 14 defence ministers of the anti-IS coalition are also set to discuss operations in the Euphrates valley, the last refuge for fleeing jihadists in Syria.

They will also broach Turkey’s controversial military offensive in the Syrian border region of Afrin against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG has received US backing but is considered by Ankara to be a “terror group”.

Daesh yet to suffer ‘enduring defeat,’ says US Secretary of State Tillerson

February 13, 2018
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 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (right) meets with Rex Tillerson. AFP photo
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that “the end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
KUWAIT: The end of major combat operations against Daesh does not mean the US and its allies have achieved an enduring defeat of the militant group, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.
Tillerson, speaking at a meeting in Kuwait of the US-led global coalition against Daesh, also said Washington had decided to provide an additional $200 million of aid to stabilize liberated areas in Syria.
“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said, referring to the group using an acronym.
“ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands, and other parts of the globe.”
The hard-line militants, who lost all territory they held in Iraq and are on the cusp of defeat in Syria, are trying to gain territory in other countries where they are active, he said, adding that “History must not be allowed to repeat itself elsewhere.”
“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa, and others it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens.”
Tillerson said he was concerned over recent events in northwest Syria, where Turkey launched an assault last month on a US-allied Kurdish militia it considers a threat on its southern border, adding that he was keenly aware of Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns.”

CAIRO, Feb 12 – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday the United States supports Egypt’s fight against Islamic State but reiterated that it advocated free and fair elections in the Arab country.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Tillerson also said that Washington remained committed to achieving a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Tillerson arrived in Egypt at the start of a regional tour amid heightened tensions between Israel and Syria after an Israeli F-16 aircraft was shot down. It also follows a major security operation by the Egyptian military to crush Islamist militants who have killed hundreds of people since 2013.

“We agreed we would continue our close cooperation on counterterrorism measures,” Tillerson said.

“The Egyptian people should be confident that the U.S. commitment to continue to support Egypt in fight against terrorism and bringing security to Egyptian people is steadfast.”

The Egyptian military campaign comes ahead of presidential election in March, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking a second term in office.

Asked about the Tillerson said the United States supports a credible, transparent election in Egypt and Libya.

“We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections not just in Egypt but in any country,” Tillerson said.

“The U.S. is always going to advocate for electoral process that respects rights of citizens,” he told journalists, adding that the United States was also keen to continue supporting Egypt in its economic recovery

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Putin, Russia Become Key To Israel, Middle East

February 13, 2018
 FEBRUARY 13, 2018 07:51


Both Trump and Abbas are relying more heavily on Russia to play a larger role in their relations with Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in Moscow. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON —  Facing Iranian adventurism across its northern borders and an irritated Palestinian leader seeking to internationalize his cause, Israel has found itself increasingly reliant on Russia to quell its most pressing diplomatic and national security concerns.

Senior Trump administration officials — including the president — have themselves turned to Moscow in recent days, hoping to diffuse a sharp military escalation along the Golan Heights border between the forces of Israel and those of Iran and its allies.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s been to Moscow,” one senior State Department official noted in a briefing with reporters on Monday, traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson across the region.

“The Russians certainly understand the character of that threat,” the official said. “The party that doesn’t seem to appreciate the consequences are the Iranians, and Hezbollah, with Iran, and that worries us.”

Israeli media noted that a phone call between Netanyahu and Putin was timed with the end of Israel’s largest assault on Iranian and Syrian regime assets in Syria in several years.

And on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with US President Donald Trump, who called to express his condolences over the downing of a Russian passenger jet with 71 on board.

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Then they discussed issues of “mutual concern.”

“President Putin noted that he would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later today, and President Trump said that now is the time to work toward an enduring peace agreement,” the White House said in a readout. Russian state media was even more detailed, claiming it was Putin who was pushing for a peace effort— one with Moscow at the table.

Abbas’s visit was part of his sustained campaign to minimize America’s historic role in the conflict— a goal that Putin holds for US influence in the region writ large.