20 April 2018

syria

Militants prevent OPCW access to Syria's Douma: Russia

KONFRONTASI-Russia's deputy foreign minister says foreign-backed terrorists in Syria have been preventing inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) from reaching the Damascus suburb town of Douma. 

Mikhail Bogdanov warned on Thursday that Douma militants still pose a threat to both citizens and the OPCW experts.

Arab leaders mute on Syria strikes at Saudi summit

KONFRONTASI-Leaders at the Arab League summit have failed to discuss the US-led strikes that came as a result of the "criminal" alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The summit took place in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, a day after the coordinated attacks by the US, UK and France on three sites allegedly linked to the production of chemical weapons in Syria.

According to a summit spokesman, the leaders were to discuss the Syrian conflict but not the strikes that targeted the sites near Damascus as well as in the province of Homs.

The leaders called for an international probe while condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after the summit.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar have previously issued statements in support of the action while Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon expressed concern.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has denied using or possessing chemical weapons, was not present at the meeting after the country was suspended from the group in 2011.

Al Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said it was "odd" that the recent strikes in Syria were not on the agenda.

"It couldn't get more odd," he said. "It's what you call a bottomless summit."

Jerusalem move 'null and illegitimate'

In their closing statement on Sunday, Arab leaders rejected President Donald Trump's decision of recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel "null and illegitimate". 

Breaking with years of US policy, Trump also announced the US embassy would move to Jerusalem, drawing international condemnation and sparking a wave of heated protests around the world.

In response, Saudi Arabia renamed this year's summit "Quds [Jerusalem] Summit". 

"We confirm that East Jerusalem is an inseparable part of the Palestinian land," Saudi King Salman said. 

The status of Jerusalem, which is home to holy religious sites and has particular significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews, has long remained a sensitive topic and one of the core issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

"Washington says it has taken the Jerusalem file off the negotiation table," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"This violates international law and is a precedent that we consider a major setback."

U.S. says air strikes cripple Syria chemical weapons program

KONFRONTASI-Western powers said on Saturday their missile attacks struck at the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program, but the restrained assault appeared unlikely to halt Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s progress in the 7-year-old civil war.

The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles overnight in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Syria a week ago, targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities, including a research and development center in Damascus’ Barzeh district and two installations near Homs.

The bombing was the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and his superpower ally Russia, but the three countries said the strikes were limited to Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and not aimed at toppling Assad or intervening in the civil war.

The air attack, denounced by Damascus and its allies as an illegal act of aggression, was unlikely to alter the course of a multisided war that has killed at least half a million people.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the operation a success.

He proclaimed on Twitter: “Mission accomplished,” echoing former President George W. Bush, whose use of the same phrase in 2003 to describe the U.S. invasion of Iraq was widely ridiculed as violence there dragged on for years.

“We believe that by hitting Barzeh in particular we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program,” U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said at the Pentagon.

However, McKenzie acknowledged elements of the program remain and he could not guarantee that Syria would be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Trump told her that if Syria uses poisonous gas again, “The United States is locked and loaded.”

The Western countries said the strikes were aimed at preventing more Syrian chemical weapons attacks after a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7 killed up to 75 people. They blame Assad’s government for the attack.

In Washington, a senior administration official said on Saturday that “while the available information is much greater on the chlorine use, we do have significant information that also points to sarin use” in the attack.

Speaking at a summit in Peru, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence seemed less sure of the use of sarin, saying that Washington may well determine that it was used along with chlorine.

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Threat of U.S.-Russia clash hangs over Syria

KONFRONTASI-The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russia hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign that a U.S.-led attack was imminent.

International chemical weapons experts were traveling to Syria to investigate an alleged gas attack by government forces on the town of Douma which killed dozens of people. Two days ago U.S. President Donald Trump warned that missiles “will be coming” in response to that attack.

The allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were eager on Friday to lay blame for the crisis not with him but with Trump.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said international relations should not depend on one person’s morning mood, in apparent reference to Trump’s tweets.

“We cannot depend on what someone on the other side of the ocean takes into his head in the morning. We cannot take such risks,” said Dvorkovich, speaking at a forum.

Russia has warned the West against attacking Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, a town near Damascus which had been held by rebels until this month.

Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he “cannot exclude” war between the United States and Russia.

“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” he told reporters. “We hope there will be no point of no return.”

 

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was in contact with Washington but the atmosphere was alarming. “God forbid anything adventurous will be done in Syria following the Libyan and Iraqi experience,” he told a news conference.

Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria: “The conditions do not point to a total war happening ...unless Trump and (Israeli leader Benjamin) Netanyahu completely lose their minds.”

U.S. allies have offered strong words of support for Washington but no clear military plans have yet emerged.

British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on Thursday to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria.

Some national leaders appeared anxious to avert a U.S.-Russian showdown.

 

Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday France had proof the Syrian government carried out the Douma attack and would decide whether to strike back when all necessary information had been gathered.

But on Friday he appeared conciliatory. Macron’s office said he spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing concern about the deterioration of the situation in Syria and calling for more dialogue with Moscow.

NATO members Germany and the Netherlands have said they will not take part in any military action.

Tayyip Erdogan, president of Syria’s neighbor Turkey, said on Friday he had spoken by phone with Trump and Putin and told both that increasing tensions in the region was not right.

UK Labour leader Corbyn says MPs should have say on military action in Syria

KOPNFRONTASI-The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, says members of parliament (MPs) should decide if British Prime Minister Theresa May can join the United States in any military action against Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Corbyn, a veteran anti-war campaigner, also demanded a political process for ending the war in Syria and preventing an escalation of the crisis.

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Trump vows quick action on 'barbaric' Syria chemical attack

KONFRONTASI-U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday promised quick, forceful action in response to a “barbaric” suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, appearing to suggest a potential military response.

Speaking at a meeting with military leaders and national security advisers, Trump said he would make a decision by Monday night “or very shortly thereafter” on a response, adding that the United States had “a lot of options militarily” on Syria.

“But we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed ... we can’t let that happen in our world ... especially when we’re able to because of the power of the United States, the power of our country, we’re able to stop it.”

The suspected chemical weapons attack late on Saturday killed at least 60 people, with more than 1,000 injured in several sites in Douma, a city near the capital, Damascus, according to a Syrian aid organization.

Two days later, the White House was still only able to say that the attack fit the pattern of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapon use.

Initial U.S. assessments have so far been unable to determine conclusively what materials were used in the attack and could not say with 100 percent certainty that Assad’s government forces were behind it.

Asked at a Cabinet meeting earlier on Monday if Russian President Vladimir Putin bore any responsibility for the attack, Trump said: “He may, yeah, he may. And if he does, it’s going to be very tough, very tough.”

On Sunday, the U.S. president who had sought warmer relations with Russia criticized Putin by name on Twitter as he castigated Russia and Iran for backing “Animal Assad.”

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said Washington “will respond” to the attack regardless of whether the U.N. Security Council acts or not.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied involvement in the attack.

International bodies led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were trying to establish exactly what happened in Douma, a rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta district.

Syria says ready to hold dialog with Eastern Ghouta terrorists

KONFRONTASI - The Syrian government has expressed its readiness to engage in negotiations with the Jaish al-Islam Takfiri group that is still holding Douma, the last terrorist bastion in Eastern Ghouta.

"Jaish al-Islam terrorists have requested negotiations with the Syrian state, which will start the talks within two hours from now," state TV cited an official source as saying on Sunday.

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As Syrian rebels quit Ghouta, Douma stands alone

KONFRONTASI- The Syrian army paused its bombardment of Douma, the last rebel bastion near Damascus, after midnight, a war monitor said on Saturday, as insurgents prepared to leave the rest of their former enclave of eastern Ghouta.

Thousands of fighters and their families departed neighboring Harasta by bus on Friday after a deal with the government to surrender the town. Insurgents in several other towns nearby have agreed to leave on similar terms.

State television broadcast footage from a crossing point on Saturday where it said preparations had been completed for those rebels’ departure to northwestern Syria.

It showed trucks and bulldozers at a major highway intersection that for years was a front line and impassable to traffic. At one point, machinery was used to lift barricades under a road bridge. Soldiers walked around the area.

The army was advancing into towns the rebels had retreated from in preparation for their exit, state media said.

It means only Douma is left of the opposition’s eastern Ghouta enclave which a month ago the United Nations said was home to 400,000 people and constituted the rebels’ main stronghold near Damascus.

The army offensive to capture it, heralded by one of the heaviest bombardments in the seven-year war with warplanes, helicopters and artillery, has killed more than 1,600 people, said the war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Residents and rights groups have accused the government of using weapons that kill indiscriminately - inaccurate barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, chlorine gas and incendiary material that sets raging fires.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his close ally Russia, which has helped his air campaign, have denied using all those weapons and say their offensive was needed to end the rule of Islamist militants over civilians.

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Syrian rebels, Russians to negotiate end to Ghouta suffering-rebel group

KONFRONTASI-A Syrian rebel group in one besieged eastern Ghouta pocket said on Friday it would try to negotiate an end to an army assault there, while insurgents in another nearby enclave withdrew.

Ending the opposition’s hold on eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, would represent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s biggest blow against the rebels since they were driven from Aleppo in December 2016

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Assad closer to Ghouta victory, as some rebels prepare to quit

KONFRONTASI-The Syrian government moved closer to ending rebel resistance in eastern Ghouta as civilians streamed out of one of its besieged, bomb-battered towns on Thursday and insurgents prepared to surrender another.

The army assault on eastern Ghouta, an area of towns and farmland just outside Damascus, has been one of the most intense in Syria’s seven-year-old war, killing more than 1,500 people in a relentless bombardment with war planes, shells and rockets.

A Reuters witness said 15 buses had driven into the town of Harasta to transport fighters and their families to opposition areas in northwestern Syria in a deal brokered by the government’s ally Russia.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said more than 4,000 people had fled the larger rebel-held town of Douma since Wednesday, crossing over into government-held territory.

The Ahrar al-Sham group’s decision to surrender Harsata leaves only Douma and another rebel pocket in eastern Ghouta that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka.

They are all that remain of the main insurgent stronghold near the Syrian capital Damascus, the biggest prize for President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against the rebels since the recapture of Aleppo in late 2016.

Air strikes pummeled parts of eastern Ghouta on Thursday morning, striking Arbin and Zamalka and killing 19 people, according to the Observatory.

An army officer interviewed on state television urged rebels who had not yet negotiated a deal to quit. “Death is coming for you if you do not surrender,” he said.

On Sunday, Assad drove himself to a newly captured battlefront in eastern Ghouta, a demonstration of his seemingly unassailable position in the war that has been going his way since Russia sent its air force to help him in 2015.

The deal to surrender Harasta is the first by eastern Ghouta rebels and began on Thursday with a prisoner swap. In an interview with state television, a Syrian soldier freed by rebels wept and thanked God and the army for his release.

The Reuters witness at the crossing with Harasta said the army had removed barriers from the old frontline lying across the road into the town to allow the buses to pass.

The Russian Defence Ministry website showed what it said was live footage from the al-Wafideen crossing point from Douma into government areas. Over a period of several minutes, it showed dozens of people in small groups coming around a corner and trekking along the dirt road past armed soldiers.

Some bore bundles of their possessions, others carried small children or pushed prams. Behind were fields and trees. At one point in the road a man could be seen in a red shirt with the logo of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Douma is the most populous area in eastern Ghouta, and for more than a week it has been entirely surrounded by the government. The Jaish al-Islam rebel group that holds the town has said it is determined to fight on after a month-long government offensive that has taken 70 percent of the former opposition enclave in eastern Ghouta.

However, the Observatory said people leaving the area were doing so under an agreement between the group and the government’s closest ally Russia.

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