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Syria ready to fight ‘terror’ alongside US

Posted by pakin On August - 26 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

BAGHDAD – Syria says it is ready to work with the United States to fight “terrorism” as the UN accused jihadists in Iraq of “ethnic and religious cleansing”.

The United States is poised to send spy planes into Syria to track militants, preparing the way for possible air strikes against jihadists there, a senior US official said, as the most senior US military officer warned they will soon threaten America and Europe.

The White House, however, said President Barack Obama had so far made no decision on whether to launch air strikes on Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.

Syria, locked in a civil war with various rebel groups including IS since March 2011, said for the first time that it would work with the international community, including the United States, to tackle the Islamist problem.

But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted at a news conference that any strikes on Syrian territory must be coordinated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Syria is ready for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement UN Security Council resolution 2170,” Muallem said in the Syrian capital.

The resolution, passed earlier this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to the Islamic State and to Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

Western powers fear the IS “caliphate” — a successor state to historic Muslim empires — could become a launchpad for a new round of global terror attacks.

Those fears were exacerbated by the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said abuses by IS and affiliated groups in Iraq against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims involved targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, and destruction of holy and cultural sites.

“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control,” Pillay said.

“Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity,” she said in a statement.

– IS threat to US, Europe –

Iraq is struggling to regain huge tracts of the country after the jihadists fought a lightning offensive, seizing the second city Mosul in June and sweeping through the country’s Sunni heartland.

The IS militants have also taken control of parts of Syria contiguous to the land seized in Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” straddling both countries.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the threat posed by the group will “soon” expand to both the United States and Europe, his spokesman said on Monday.

“He (Dempsey) believes that (IS) must be pressured both in Iraq and in Syria,” Colonel Ed Thomas added.

Washington has ramped up its rhetoric following Foley’s beheading, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country” and said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.

US warplanes for more than two weeks have carried out a limited air campaign against the IS in Iraq, with most of the bombing raids conducted near Mosul dam in the north.

Citizens from various Western countries are fighting for IS, further raising fears that they could carry out attacks at home.

In a statement Sunday claiming a string of attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that killed 24 people the previous day, IS identified two of the three suicide bombers as German.

– Kurds retake villages –

Kurdish peshmerga forces on Monday retook three villages in the Jalawla area northeast of Baghdad from militants, and also held off assaults elsewhere, officials said.

In Syria, the jihadists on Sunday won a bloody battle for the Tabqa military airport, the last stronghold of the Assad regime in the northern province of Raqa, a monitoring group and state media said.

The victory gives the IS jihadists full control of Raqa, the heartland of their “caliphate”.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked Shiite worshippers during prayers in eastern Baghdad, killing 11 people, while at least eight died in two car bombs in the capital’s north, security and medical officials said.

The violence comes three days after suspected Shiite militiamen gunned down 70 Sunni worshippers at a mosque northeast of Baghdad.

After the mosque attack, premier-designate Haidar al-Abadi said there was no place for weapons or armed groups outside Iraqi state control.

Abadi said he welcomes irregular forces fighting against militants, but they “must all be inside the framework of the state, and under the direction of the state, under control of the military and security forces”.

European push for new UN resolution on Gaza

Posted by pakin On August - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

RAFAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) – Britain, France and Germany have launched a fresh bid at the UN to end six weeks of violence in Gaza, after Israeli warplanes killed three top Hamas commanders, inflicting a heavy blow on the movement’s armed wing.

The European initiative on Thursday came as fighting flared on the ground and an Egyptian-led effort to broker peace talks teetered on the verge of collapse.

In a document obtained by AFP, the three countries urged an immediate and sustainable ceasefire that would put an end to the firing of rockets and military operations in the Gaza Strip.

It calls for a lifting of the Israeli blockade and a monitoring mechanism to report on ceasefire violations and verify the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip.

Diplomats said the text was aimed at advancing efforts to reach agreement within the 15-member UN Security Council on a resolution after Jordan’s draft text met with resistance, notably from the United States.

The so-called “elements” document lays out the parameters for a ceasefire deal that would address Israel’s security concerns and meet Palestinian demands.

It asks UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately come up with proposals to “implement the relevant provisions” in a move that could jump-start peace negotiations.

– Bid to shore up Egypt’s mediation –

UN diplomats said they hoped the initiative would shore up the Egyptian-led peace track and lead to a lasting ceasefire that would avoid a relapse into war.

More than 2,083 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict that began on July 8, most of them civilians, according to UN officials.

The European-drafted document calls for the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, which has been under Hamas control for the past seven years.

It provides for the lifting of economic and humanitarian restrictions on the Gaza Strip to allow for a massive reconstruction effort, and for the re-opening of border crossings.

An international monitoring and verification mission would be established with a mandate to report on ceasefire violations and check the flow of goods into Gaza — a key point missing from the Jordanian draft resolution.

Ban has pledged international help to rebuild Gaza but warned that this would be “for the last time” after three wars in six years.

As the six-week war between Israel and Hamas raged on leaving truce talks in tatters, a pre-dawn air strike Thursday killed three members of the Islamist movement’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

The Brigades said they were “senior commanders”, identifying them as Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Barhum, and vowed to make Israel pay.

“The assassination… is a big Israeli crime, which will not succeed in breaking our will or weakening our resistance,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency said Atar and Shamala were among the top five most-wanted Hamas militants.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon hailed their deaths as “a big operational and intelligence achievement”, and warned that Israel would not hesitate to track down the rest of the group’s leaders.

Witnesses said nine missiles blasted the four-storey building in Rafah to smithereens, leaving a huge crater.

Four surrounding buildings had their doors and windows blown out and some outer walls destroyed.

The body of Sabah Yunis, a four-year-old girl, was also pulled from the rubble, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

– Abbas meets Meshaal –

The deadly strikes came 36 hours after Israel tried and failed to assassinate Brigades chief Mohammed Deif, who has topped its most wanted list for more than a decade.

That attack levelled a six-storey building in Gaza City, killing two women and three children, among them Deif’s wife, his infant son and three-year-old daughter, although he escaped unharmed.

Around 27 people were killed in Israeli strikes across Gaza Thursday, day 45 of the bloody conflict. Others died of wounds, raising the overall death toll to 2,083 Palestinians since July 8.

The UN has identified about 70 percent of them as civilians.

On the Israeli side, 67 people have been killed, 64 of them soldiers.

UN aid workers stepped up calls for an urgent ceasefire, warning that spiralling violence endangered their ability to respond to the needs of Gaza’s 1.8 million people.

Despite the collapse of the negotiations, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Qatar with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, official Palestinian and Gulf news agencies said.

Also present were Azzam al-Ahmed, who led the Palestinian delegation at truce talks in Cairo, senior negotiator Saeb Erakat and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.

– Arms embargo? –

Israeli confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has steadily declined during the war, but his 53 percent approval rating is still higher than before the conflict, according to a survey for the private Channel 2 television.

British aid charity Oxfam, meanwhile, urged the international community to “immediately suspend transfers of arms or ammunition while there is serious risk that they could be used to violate international humanitarian law”.

It said the widespread killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure during the Israeli operation was the worst it had witnessed in 20 years of working in Gaza.

World pushes for truce as Israel batters Gaza

Posted by pakin On July - 22 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry were in Cairo Tuesday in a bid to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas after two weeks of fighting which has left over 570 Palestinians dead.

Many of those killed in the relentless Israeli campaign of shelling and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, which entered its 15th day, were women and children. On the Israeli side 25 soldiers and two civilians have died.

World powers have urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire and stop raining rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, demands it has so far resisted.

“Only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence,” Kerry said, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for the violence to “stop now”.

Kerry, who arrived in Cairo to try and intensify truce efforts, pledged $47 million in humanitarian aid for the battered Gaza Strip.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi too urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian proposal to end the fighting it had turned down last week.

Kerry plans to hold his meetings Tuesday with the Egyptian leadership including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

However US officials acknowledge that the truce efforts could prove trickier than in the past as Egypt — long the key regional broker — had little leverage with Hamas after the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year.

The top US diplomat defended ally Israel’s right to strike against Hamas militants, but voiced concern over the massive civilian violence.

“We are deeply concerned about the consequences of Israel’s appropriate and legitimate effort to defend itself,” he told reporters as he met with the UN chief, urging Hamas to accept the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire.

Ban said Hamas “should immediately stop firing rockets,” adding that while he understood Israel’s military response, “there is a proportionality and … most of the death toll (has been) Palestinian people.”

– 100,000 displaced –

Fresh Israeli strikes continued Tuesday and Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra reported the Palestinian death toll since Israel launched its operation on July 8 was now 576.

Israel says its campaign aims to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, and the ground phase of the operation to destroy tunnels burrowed into Israel by Hamas, the main power in the coastal strip.

Since the offensive began huge numbers of Gazans have fled their homes, with the UN saying more than 100,000 people have sought shelter in 69 schools run by its Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed more than 10 Gaza militants who had infiltrated southern Israel, the army said, later announcing it had lost four soldiers in that battle.

The troops lost in that clash were among seven killed in 24 hours, said the Israeli army, adding 30 soldiers were wounded over the same period.

That brought its toll to 25 soldiers killed since the start of the operation, including 13 on Sunday, the bloodiest single day for the Israeli military since the Lebanon war of 2006.

Two Israeli civilians, both hit by rocket fire, have been killed.

– Hamas digs in –

Hamas on Monday reiterated its insistence on a lifting of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the release of prisoners to halt its rocket fire.

“The conditions for a ceasefire are… a full lifting of the blockade and then the release of those recently detained in the West Bank,” its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said on television.

“We cannot go backwards, to a slow death,” he said, referring to the Israeli blockade in force since 2006.

“The conditions of the Palestinian resistance constitute the minimum required for a truce. The resistance and the sons of our people who have made such sacrifices in this mad war cannot accept anything less.”

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Doha, pledging to work together for a ceasefire and to lift the blockade on Gaza.

But there has been no let-up since the operation began with 116 rockets hitting Israel on Monday, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 17 shot down, the army said.

Violence also broke out in the West Bank, where an Israeli shot dead a Palestinian who had been throwing stones at his car, Palestinian security sources said.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the military was investigating the death, which she said took place during “a violent riot”.

Israeli police said Palestinians had also rioted in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods Monday night, with no casualties.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli was seriously wounded after a Palestinian opened fire at him from a travelling car, the army said.

DONETSK (UKRAINE) – Ukraine has vowed to make pro-Russian rebels pay after losing 23 servicemen in clashes across the separatist east, while Russia proposed a UN resolution demanding a ceasefire to Europe’s deadliest conflict in decades.

The Ukrainian defence ministry said Friday the death toll included 19 troops killed in a hail of rockets fired from a truck-mounted Grad rocket launcher system — a type of weapon both Kiev and Washington insist could only have been covertly supplied to the rebels by Russia.

The official spokesman of Ukraine’s intensifying eastern assault added that 93 servicemen had sustained “wounds and contusions of varying severity”.

“The rebels will pay for the life of every one of our servicemen with tens and hundreds of their own,” Ukraine’s Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko told an emergency security meeting.

“Not a single terrorist will avoid responsibility,” he said. “Every single one of them will get their just desserts.”

Friday’s official toll is the highest since Poroshenko tore up a brief ceasefire with the rebels on July 1 and relaunched an offensive that managed to dislodge the militias from key eastern strongholds they had held since early April.

The military separately spoke of “eliminating” nearly 100 fighters in one of Ukraine’s bloodiest days since the start of the crisis last November when anti-government protests spiralled into revolution and a protracted standoff with pro-Russian rebels.

– Russia’s UN push –

Russia meanwhile has circulated a proposal for a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire between Kiev and the pro-Moscow insurgents.

Other elements of the measure would give a greater role to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters Friday.

He added that the Council “should express deep concern about the increasing number of civilian casualties as a result of intensified combat operations.”

He also said Russia would allow OSCE monitors to be deployed at two border crossing points on its side of the frontier — a key issue for the West which claims gunmen and weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.

“There must be a sustainable ceasefire and then measures on the border and contacts,” Churkin said. “We do not want to see a military escalation, we want deescalation.”

Russia has asked the 14 other members of the Security Council to respond by 1400 GMT Monday, although it has yet to request that the panel meet over the matter.

Two previous attempts by Moscow — caught up in a standoff with the West over the situation in Ukraine — to get the Council to agree to a text proved unsuccessful.

Churkin also accused Poroshenko of using a June 20 peace plan as “a smoke-screen for intensifying operations in the east of the country” against the insurgents.

– ‘Abductions and torture’ –

The tide in the eastern uprising turned last weekend when resurgent government forces managed to flush out the separatists from a string of eastern towns and cities that hold historic Russian ties.

Most of the militias have since retreated to Donetsk and the neighbouring industrial city of Lugansk — both capitals of their own “People’s Republic” that refuse to recognise Kiev’s new Western-leaning government and are seeking annexation by Russia.

The conflict has claimed nearly 550 lives and displaced tens of thousands across a rustbelt that had long been the economic engine of the troubled post-Soviet state.

Amnesty International said on Friday it had recorded “hundreds” of abductions and acts of torture committed by the separatists during the uprising.

But it also noted that “excessive force may have been used… by Ukrainian forces” on several occasions — a charge repeatedly made by Moscow.

The conflict has further splintered Ukraine’s culturally fractured society and left some ethnic Russians feeling marginalised by the more nationalistic leaders that have recently taken power. Many have escaped across the eastern border in search of a new home.

“Everything is shutting down,” said a man in his fifties as he listened to the echoes of gunfire rolling in from fierce clashes being waged on Friday morning outside Donetsk International Airport.

“There is nothing to do here. No work — and it is getting too dangerous,” he said.

Poroshenko now finds himself trapped between European pressure to agree an immediate truce and massive domestic support for his troops to finish off an insurgency that has threatened the 45-million-strong nation with disintegration and economic collapse.

Germany and France have been spearheading EU efforts to secure a truce and win promises from the Kremlin to stop meddling in Ukraine. They hope to avoid further European sanctions on Russia that might damage their energy and financial ties with Moscow.

But they have found Poroshenko — boosted by recent successes on the battlefield and bound by promises made at the May election — looking increasingly unwilling to call off the offensive.