Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

US National Security Adviser McMaster says now is the time to act against Iran

February 17, 2018

 

Herbert Raymond McMaster, National security adviser to the US President, delivers his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Feb. 17, 2018. (AFP)
MUNICH: Iran is building and arming an increasingly powerful network of proxies in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq that can turn against the governments of those states, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday.
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“What’s particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more …destructive weapons into these networks,” McMaster told the annual Munich Security Conference.
“So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran,” he said.
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With regards to Syria, McMaster told the Conference that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian government accountable.
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“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at the major international security conference taking place in Munich.
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“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.
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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 was the case.
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The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.
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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.
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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.
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Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress toward 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.

 

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

February 17, 2018

Reuters

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

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.

NORTH KOREA

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)

Kurdish doctors report suspected Turkish gas attack in Syria

February 17, 2018

In this Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a plume of smoke rises from inside Syria, during Turkish forces bombardment, on the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syria, as seen from the border with Syria, in Kilis, Turkey. (AP)
BEIRUT: Six civilians suffered breathing difficulties and other symptoms indicative of poison gas inhalation after an attack launched by Turkey on the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syrian Kurdish news outlets and Syria’s state-run news agency reported Saturday.
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The news outlets quoted local doctors in Afrin as saying the hospital treated six cases of people who suffered shortness of breath, vomiting and skin rashes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also quoted local doctors in its report.
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The claims could not be independently confirmed, and videos released from the hospital showed people being fitted with oxygen masks who did not otherwise show symptoms of gas attack inhalation such as twitching, foaming at the mouth or vomiting.
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SANA on Saturday said Turkey fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village in Afrin on Friday night, causing six civilians to suffer suffocation symptoms.
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The Turkish military repeated in a weekly statement published Saturday that it does not use internationally “banned ammunition” in its Afrin operation and said, “the Turkish Armed Forces does not keep such ammunition in its inventory.”
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The army also said it is careful to not harm civilians and only targets “terrorists” and their positions in the Afrin region.
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A Turkish diplomatic source said that Turkey never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians.
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“These are baseless accusations. Turkey never used chemical weapons. We take utmost care about civilians in Operation Olive Branch,” the source said.
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The source also described the accusations of wounding six civilians through a suspected gas attack as “black propaganda.”
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The Turkish military launched an aerial and ground offensive on Afrin, in northwestern Syria, on Jan. 20. It says the aim of the operation is to push out the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from the enclave. Turkey considers the group to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgents it fights inside Turkey.
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SANA, as well as Kurdish news outlets including Kurdistan 24, quoted doctor Khalil Sabri at the Afrin hospital as saying the attack occurred on the village of Aranda and that victims suffered shortness of breath, skin rashes, vomiting and low blood pressure.

Syria denies having chemical weapons after Macron threat

February 14, 2018

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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.
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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.
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“Syria’s government categorically denies possessing… chemical weapons,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoted by state news agency SANA.
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“We consider the use of such arms as immoral and unacceptable, whatever the context.”
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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.
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According to Washington, at least six chlorine attacks have been reported since early January in rebel-held areas, resulting in dozens of injuries.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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In retaliation for that alleged attack, the United States carried out cruise missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base.
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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.
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“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Related:
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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

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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.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43053617

Anti-IS coalition grapples with future of Syria

February 13, 2018

AFP

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

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”.

Israel, Iran Lurch Toward Confrontation as Border Region Boils

February 11, 2018

Bloomberg

By Donna Abu-Nasr and Gwen Ackerman

 Updated on 
  • Strikes in Syria after Iranian drone reported downed in Israel
  • Israeli F-16 crashes as situation threatens to escalate
The remains of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel on Feb. 10. Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Israel and Iran moved closer to confrontation in Syria as rising tensions erupted into the most serious standoff between the sides since the Syrian civil war began seven years ago.

The Israeli military on Saturday said it struck 12 targets in Syria, including four belonging to Iran, in a “large-scale attack” after an Iranian drone penetrated its airspace. An F-16 fighter plane crashed in northern Israel after coming under fire from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, and the pilots were hospitalized with moderate to severe injuries.

Saturday’s confrontation comes amid Israeli warnings that it won’t let Syria become an Iranian base or a conduit for weapons bound for Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Iran and allied militias have fought alongside government troops against rebels and Islamist factions in the Syrian war.

“The question is whether the Iranians will respond or lower the fire at this stage,” said Ephraim Kam, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “My feeling is that they don’t have an interest in escalation.”

‘Right and duty’

On Saturday night, after hours of consultations with the defense minister and military chief of staff, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian drone flight as a “brazen” attempt to violate Israel’s sovereignty, and said it was Israel’s “right and duty” to respond.

“Israel’s face is turned toward peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any Iranian attempt to base itself in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said. “Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel.”

Iran disputed Israeli officials’ narrative, saying claims that the military drone is Iranian or that the nation had any involvement in downing the Israeli fighter were “ridiculous.”

“Iran’s presence in Syria is essentially advisory and based on requests from that country’s legal government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said on Saturday, according to the state-run Mehr news agency.

Israel has attacked inside Syria frequently since the civil war began in March 2011, targeting Syrian military posts and arms shipments bound for Hezbollah. Until this weekend, occasional responses by Syria and Hezbollah against Israel had caused little damage.

Israeli officials wouldn’t confirm if the F-16 had been downed by a Syrian missile, as teams combed the crash site for remains to analyze. Across the border the event was taken as a victory, with dozens of Lebanese celebrating and waving Hezbollah’s flag.

New rules

The downing of the plane marks “the beginning of a new strategic stage that puts an end to violations of Syrian airspace and territory,” Hezbollah said.

Israeli media reported that the Iranian military drone was shot down near Beit Shean, close to the border with Jordan, after flying for about 90 seconds in Israeli airspace. Hadashot News reported the Israeli counterattack in Syria was believed to have destroyed a significant portion of the country’s air-defense system.

Netanyahu has made a number of visits to Russia, the dominant player in Syria, to lay out Israel’s red lines and ask President Vladimir Putin to rein in Iran. Netanyahu said he spoke to Putin again Saturday, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and that the Israeli and Russian militaries would continue their coordination to avoid inadvertent confrontation in Syria.

In a statement on its website Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was concerned about the Israeli attack and said it was unacceptable to create threats to the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria.

‘Red Card’

Israeli politicians from across the spectrum largely backed the government’s response. Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said that after Israel’s repeated warnings on Iran in Syria — what he called a “yellow card” for the Islamic Republic — Saturday’s strike represented a “red card.” Tzipi Livni of the opposition Zionist Union faction said the government must do more to build international backing for Israeli attacks in Syria.

A statement attributed to a war operations room that includes the Syrian army and allied militias said the Israeli strike targeted a drone base in the Tayfour military airbase, calling claims that the drone entered Israeli airspace “lies.” It said the drones collect information on militant groups, including Islamic State, for the Syrian army, and said the drone was on a routine mission Saturday morning targeting Islamic State remnants.

“Any new aggression will be met with a tough and serious response,” the statement said.

The remains of a missile that landed in the southern Lebanese village of Kaoukaba on Feb. 10.

Photographer: Ali Dia/AFP via Getty Images

The current violence is the first direct engagement between Iran and Israel, said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.

“Before, it was done through proxies,” for example by the Syrian regime or the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, Nader said. “The risk is a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran that will encompass Syria and Lebanon.”

— With assistance by Nadeem Hamid, Anatoly Medetsky, David Wainer, and Ladane Nasseri

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-11/israel-iran-lurch-toward-confrontation-as-border-region-boils

Russia’s Putin discusses Syrian peace process with France’s Macron (Putin wants Macron to be Quiet) — French journalists speak of “Poutine le Barbare”

February 9, 2018

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the Syrian peace process by phone on Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

 Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and suit
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron. Getty Images

The two men discussed the importance of increasing Franco-Russian cooperation on Syria, options to rebuild the country, and the need to move forward with inclusive peace talks in Geneva, the Kremlin said.

Macron’s planned visit to Russia in May, to the St Petersburg Economic Forum, and the crisis in Ukraine were also discussed, it said.

France urges halt to air strikes and opening of humanitarian aid corridors in Syria

February 9, 2018

Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Friday called for an end to air strikes in Syria and the opening of humanitarian corridors, saying it was unacceptable that civilians were being targeted.

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Smoke rises after an airstrike over the eastern Ghouta region of Damascus, a de-escalation zone in Syria. Photograph from Anadolu Agency-Getty Images

Parly highlighted the fighting in rebel-held areas of Idlib province and eastern Damascus, where waves of Syrian government and Russian strikes have killed dozens of civilians in recent days.

“We are very worried. The air strikes need to end,” Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable,” she added.

The Syrian civil war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, while drawing in regional countries and global powers supporting client factions on the ground.

Parly did not specify who was carrying out the strikes.

Her comments came after the United Nations on Tuesday called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria of at least a month. U.N. war crimes experts have also said they are investigating several reports of bombs allegedly containing chlorine gas being used against civilians.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose military support has helped government forces claw back territory, on Thursday said a ceasefire was unrealistic.

Standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer, French leader Emmanuel Macron said any failure to open humanitarian corridors in Syria represented a “red line”, as did the use of chemical weapons.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

 A man carries a child through rubble after a regime airstrike in Douma, Syria. Photograph credit Bassam Khabieh-Reuters

France and the United Nations have repeatedly called in past months for the opening of aid corridors to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The Paris government has also urged Moscow in private to consider ways to alleviate the crisis, but those efforts have not materialized into results on the ground.

France’s foreign minister is due in Russia before the end of February.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Richard Lough and Matthew Mpoke Bigg