Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Mystery grows over pro-Saudi tabloid ‘The New Kindgom’ making rounds in the US

  • ,Courting the Saudis,
  • ,Publicity for the prince?,
  • ,The Trump connection,

It landed with a thud on newsstands at Walmart and rural supermarkets last month: ninety-seven fawning pages saluting Saudi Arabia, whose ambitious crown prince was soon to arrive in the US ,on a PR blitz to transform his country’s image,.

As questions swirled about the glossy magazine’s origins, the Saudis said they were just as perplexed as everyone else, declaring on Twitter: “If you find out, we’d love to know.”

But files obtained by The Associated Press show that a digital copy of the magazine, produced by American Media Inc. (AMI), was quietly shared with officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington almost three weeks before its publication.

How the early copy made it to the Saudis is unclear. Yet the revelation adds another mysterious twist to a murky tale playing out against the backdrop of bids by both President Donald Trump and David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who supports him, to build goodwill with the Saudi kingdom’s leaders.

Courting the Saudis

The worlds of Trump, the Saudis and AMI have overlapped before, often in dizzying ways. The Trump administration has aggressively courted the Saudis and found a willing partner on a range of issues, including Iran, counterterrorism and Middle East peace, in the kingdom’s royal family. And AMI’s flagship publication, The National Enquirer, has been accused by critics of acting as a keeper of secrets for Trump.

AMI denies that it shared an advance copy of “The New Kingdom” with the Saudis or consulted with them on the project, and AMI says the Saudis did not pay the company to produce the magazine. But an individual with knowledge of the situation said AMI indeed reached out to Saudi officials in the US before publication to seek help with the content. The Saudis never responded, said the individual, who wasn’t authorised to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

Merely sharing an advance copy with the Saudis, while a deviation from traditional journalistic practice, is not legally problematic for AMI. But the unusual circumstances and continuing mystery of the magazine’s origins have led legal experts to point out a separate issue in federal lobbying law: if the Saudis or any other foreign government did direct or pay any company to produce such a magazine, that company would be required to register with the government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

There is no evidence any such direction, in this case, occurred.

Publicity for the prince?

Why would American Media, best-known for publishing salacious stories of sex and scandal, sink money into printing 200,000 copies of a magazine with a grinning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman splashed across the cover?

Read: ,MBS: Reformist crown prince with firm vision,

The crown prince is no household name in the US, especially in states like Nebraska where the magazine showed up. And at $13.99 a copy and with no advertisements, the publication seems unlikely to be a money-maker.

Prince Mohammed has won praise in the West for trying to ,modernise Saudi Arabia, and improve some rights for women, but the magazine omits any criticism on such core issues as his hard-hitting tactics, Saudi Arabia’s restrictive political system and the country’s bloody intervention in Yemen’s civil war and strong-handed tactics toward Lebanon.

AMI spokesman Jon Hammond said he expected the magazine to turn a profit by selling 60,000 copies, comparing it to other AMI special editions on the Olympics, the Kennedys and Elvis Presley — topics that, unlike the Saudi crown prince, are of obvious widespread interest to tabloid readers in the US.

“Absolutely not,” Hammond responded when asked by the AP if American Media had collaborated with the Saudis on the magazine or been paid by them.

Saud Kabli, the Saudi Embassy’s communications director, said the embassy had “no role in the production of the magazine”.

“We don’t have a problem with the magazine, but we just don’t think it is effective,” Kabli said.

Metadata embedded in the PDF file, obtained by the AP from two different individuals, show it was produced by an AMI production employee at 8:41 pm on Feb 19. Shortly thereafter, it started circulating internally among Saudi officials, including the embassy’s military office, according to individuals familiar with the situation. It was also passed to Nail al-Jubeir, the former embassy spokesman and brother of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, recently named Saudi ambassador to Ireland, the individuals said.

By the next day — Feb 20 — Saudi officials had started forwarding it to Washington foreign policy contacts, giving them an early look, said the individuals, who weren’t authorised to discuss the situation and requested anonymity.

A month later, on March 19, Prince Mohammed arrived in the US, with the magazine serving as his literary red carpet.

Explore: ,Saudi crown prince’s globe-trotting charm offensive,

“Meet the next king,” the cover exclaimed, describing the crown prince as “our closest Middle East ally destroying terrorism” and the visionary behind a “city of the future” which “will be operated by robots”.

The magazine draws heavily from newswire photos and stock images — many with no connection to Saudi Arabia, according to Tineye, a reverse-image search tool. Among the supposed Saudi Arabian highlights pictured are sand-dune surfing in Namibia, a massive indoor greenhouse in the Netherlands and wildlife pictures taken in Zambia and Israel.

“There are lots of things that warrant answers,” political law attorney Josh Rosenstein said about the pro-Saudi magazine.

The Trump connection

As Saudi Arabia starts to open up to Western entertainment, American Media has sought to expand its media empire into the Kingdom — the kind of lucrative opportunity that often comes with the blessing of the Saudi royal court. Last summer, Pecker dined at the White House with Trump and a French businessman with close business ties to the Saudis, and later traveled to Riyadh to pitch Saudi investors on helping AMI acquire Time magazine, The New York Times reported. AMI denied making such an ask.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner, has also tried to enlist Prince Mohammed’s help with his ambitious Mideast peace initiative. Kushner paid an unannounced visit early in the administration to Saudi Arabia, which also was Trump’s first overseas destination as president.

Kushner’s family real estate firm, The Kushner Cos., once sought money from a Saudi investor to buy out its partner in a Manhattan skyscraper that had been losing money for years.

Pecker is close to Trump and his struggling tabloid empire also has ties to the president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Following an FBI raid on Cohen’s office this month, investigators are believed to be examining whether The National Enquirer was involved with Trump’s campaign.

The Enquirer endorsed Trump’s quest for the presidency. During the 2016 race, the tabloid paid a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump $150,000 to keep silent about the relationship. Last week, the company agreed to let the model, Karen McDougal, out of that contract.

The AP has also reported that AMI had made a $30,000 payment eight months earlier to a former doorman at a Trump building who had a juicy tip about him, requiring the doorman to sign a contract that effectively prevented him from going public. AMI said it paid the doorman not for his silence, but for exclusive rights to the story, which AMI never published because it said the story could not be authenticated.

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Jirga held in Miranshah to discuss compensation for local shopkeepers, says ISPR

    A jirga was held in Miranshah, North Waziristan Agency (NWA), on Sunday to discuss the issue of compensation to affected shopkeepers the area, the military’s media wing reported.

    According to Inter-Services Public Relations, the jirga was attended by 30 shopkeepers, Additional Chief Secretary Fata, Political Agent and Assistant Political Agent of NWA, Anjuman Tajiran Pakistan President Ajmal Baloch and other civil and military officials.

    The attendees discussed the issue related to the provision of “financial assistance to shopkeepers for the perishable commodities which were there in shops before the start of military operation”.

    Know more: ,Robbing Fata,

    During the meeting, it was decided that a committee comprising affected shopkeepers — headed by the Political Agent of North Waziristan — will prepare an estimate regarding the amount of compensation to be given to the local shopkeepers.

    The shopkeepers present during the meeting reportedly expressed their “confidence in the administration and state for resolution of their problems”.

    The committee will meet on weekly basis till the payment of compensation, so as to ensure speedy progress, the military’s media wing said.

    Last year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra had ,promised the announcement of a new financial package, for the militancy-hit businessmen and traders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

    The governor said that the federal government had been approached for the provision of Rs90 billion annually under the NFC Award for Fata reforms in the next 10 years.

    He also said that entrepreneurs and traders should contribute the due, significant role to national development by availing themselves of the opportunities offered under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

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    Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - April 22, 2018 at 7:25 pm

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    Can Macron’s White House visit save the Iran deal?

    • ,’He hates the deal’,
    • ,No Plan ‘B’,

    French President Emmanuel Macron seems, as much as any world leader, to have developed some kind of rapport with his American counterpart Donald Trump.

    But will their apparent bond prove productive as European capitals struggle to save the ,Iran nuclear deal, from Trump’s impulsive wrath?

    The idea will be tested on Monday when the young French leader begins a state visit in Washington, and European diplomats have a lot invested in what seems a tricky task.

    There is not much time. Trump is due to decide by May 12 whether ,talks with Paris, Berlin and London, on tougher anti-Iran measures have advanced far enough.

    If he feels the “flaws” in the 2015 deal have not been adequately repaired, he may decide to withdraw his support, opening the way for renewed US sanctions that could torpedo the whole accord.

    Europe would see this as a disaster, both in terms of the deal itself — a central plank in their non-proliferation strategy — and in terms of relations with Washington.

    If anyone can talk down Trump, it might be Macron, who has better relations with the White House than his British and German counterparts Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

    Paris was the first European ally to suggest tougher measures against Iran’s ballistic missile programs to “supplement” the nuclear deal — but will that suffice?

    Trump also wants to reform the agreement itself to end the so-called “sunset clauses” that would allow Iran to progressively restart parts of its nuclear program after 2025.

    But the West cannot unilaterally reopen the text.

    Iran has said the deal is final and warned it is ready to relaunch its nuclear program — which the West alleges is designed to produce an atomic bomb — if it fails.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York on Saturday that Iran is not seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but that its “probable” response to a US withdrawal would be to restart production of enriched uranium — a key bomb-making ingredient.

    In addition, the agreement was the fruit of months of intense diplomacy between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — under EU auspices.

    Only Trump wants to rip it up.

    “It’s a dialogue of the deaf,” complained one European envoy. A US diplomat acknowledged that getting Trump to buy in will be the “trickiest” part of the problem.

    British, French and German representatives have been in deep talks with the US State Department’s head of policy Brian Hook on what a supplemental deal would look like.

    ‘He hates the deal’

    But the representatives complain privately that, despite progress with their American counterparts, they have no idea whether they are close to an agreement that the mercurial president would accept.

    To appease Trump, European capitals are working on a document that would amount to a political engagement to prevent Iran from returning to the nuclear path after the 2015 deal starts to expire.

    The Europeans could even call such a statement a new “deal” if it convinces the US leader to stay within the terms of the original and “true” agreement.

    Therein lies the rub.

    “He hates the deal,” another European diplomat acknowledged.

    All Hook can say is that once he comes to terms with his European partners, it will be up to Trump, in consultations with his hardline new National Security Advisor John Bolton, to decide.

    “If we can reach an agreement, then that will be presented to the president by the secretary of state and the NSA, and then he will make a decision on whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions,” Hook said.

    “We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to engage in it.”

    The ,appointment of Bolton,, an avowed Iran hawk, fueled Europe’s pessimism, as did the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to become the next US secretary of state.

    But Pompeo, who has always talked tough on Iran, played down the significance of the May 12 deadline in his Senate confirmation hearing.

    “I want to fix this deal. That’s the objective,” he told US lawmakers concerned that he might push for war.

    “If there is no chance to fix it, I’ll recommend to the president we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and better deal. Even after May 12th, even after May 12th, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”

    No Plan ‘B’

    As the deadline looms, even some of the more hawkish Washington pundits — critics of the deal when it was signed — have begun to suggest that the return of US nuclear-related sanctions could be postponed until a new fixed date.

    But if all the talk fails and Trump follows his clear inclination to tear up the “terrible deal”, there appears to be no Plan B, at least from Europe.

    “Anyone who wants to blow up the Iran deal has first to tell us what he will do if Iran relaunches its uranium enrichment program,” France’s ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud tweeted in exasperation.

    After Macron’s visit, there is only one from Merkel, whose chemistry with the US leader appears more toxic than productive, and then the ball in Trump’s hands.

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    Bahrain sentences 24 Shia citizens to jail, revokes nationality

      DUBAI: A Bahrain court sentenced 24 Shia citizens to prison and stripped them of their nationality after finding them guilty of forming a “terrorist group”, a Bahraini judicial source said on Thursday.

      Other charges included travelling to Iraq and Iran for “weapons and explosives training” and attempted murder of police officers.

      The High Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced 10 of the defendants to life in prison, 10 to a decade behind bars and the other four to jail terms ranging from three to five years.

      The Sunni-ruled, Shia-majority kingdom has stripped hundreds of its citizens of their nationality and jailed dozens of high-profile activists and religious clerics since protests demanding an elected government erupted in early 2011.

      The Bahraini government has accused Shia Iran of backing the protests and attempting to overthrow the government. Tehran denies involvement.

      Authorities on Wednesday also referred to trial seven Bahrainis accused of attacking an oil pipeline to Saudi Arabia in November.

      That trial is set for May 10.

      The blast cut off the pipeline linking Bahrain’s Bapco refinery with oil giant Aramco’s main pumping station in neighbouring Saudi Arabia’s Dhahran province.

      Manama in February said it had arrested four men suspected of attacking the pipeline, accusing Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran of training and arming two of them, which Tehran denied.

      Under Bahrain’s citizenship law, amended after political protests broke out in 2011, the authorities can revoke the nationality of individuals who engage in acts deemed “disloyal” to the state.

      Human Rights Watch in February accused the kingdom of “stripping away the citizenships of people whom they find undesirable”.

      Bahrain earlier this year deported eight people to war-torn Iraq after revoking their citizenship and making them stateless.

      Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2018

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      Six killed in clash near Pak-Iran border

        TEHRAN: Three Iranian security personnel were killed by militants in an attack along the ,country’s border with Pakistan, on Tuesday.

        An Iranian police officer was killed in an ambush on a border post in the city of Mirjaveh in Sistan-Balu­ch­estan province, and two soldiers died when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said.

        According to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, three of the attackers were also killed by security forces in retaliatory fire.

        The guards and the attackers, whom IRNA identified as terrorist suspects, exchan­ged gunfire for two hours before dawn on Tuesday at the Mirjaveh border crossing.

        The guards were identified as Maj Vahid Hossein­zadeh and Abolfazl Gholampour.

        Iran has criticised Pakis­tan in the past for supporting the Jaish al-Adl jihadist group, which it accuses of ties to Al Qaeda and carrying out numerous attacks in Sistan-Baluchestan.

        Security forces also frequently clash with drug traffickers in the restive province, which lies on a major smuggling route for Afghan opium and heroin.

        On Monday, Iran said security forces had confiscated a large amount of weapons and ammunition from militants in the area.

        In April last year, 10 Iranian border guards were killed by militants in Mirjaveh.

        From 2005 to 2010, Sistan-Baluchestan suffered a prolonged insurgency by the jihadist group Jundallah, although violence was largely curbed after the killing of its leader in mid-2010.

        Sunni militant groups which have carried out several deadly attacks in recent years say they are fighting against discrimination.

        Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018

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        Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - April 18, 2018 at 6:25 am

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        Pakistan calls for making global non-proliferation regime fair, equitable

          ISLAMABAD: Pakistan continues to remain engaged with global non-proliferation regime despite its politicisation and other defects and calls for making the regime fair and equitable.

          Speaking at a seminar at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) on Tuesday, retired Lt Gen Mazhar Jamil, who retired as the director general of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) a few months ago, said: “There is a concern that the non-proliferation regime is becoming increasingly politicised and discriminatory. Despite these abnormalities in the nuclear order, Pakistan remains positively engaged.”

          The statement follows last week’s meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s consultative group that deliberated on the criteria for admitting non-NPT countries into the 48-member cartel controlling the international nuclear trade. Stalemate on the issue of admission of non-NPT countries persisted at the last meeting of the consultative group.

          The US is spearheading India’s campaign for inclusion in the group and contends that after attaining membership of other multilateral export control regimes like Missile Techno­logy Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Agreement Indian case is ripe for membership. However, a small albeit depleted group is holding out preventing consensus on new admissions.

          Pakistan believes that key decisions at NSG, like admission of new members, are politicised. The decisions instead of following an equitable and non-discriminatory approach are motivated by geo-political considerations.

          Gen Mazhar Jamil said: “Pakistan does what it can, the non-proliferation regime should also do what it must to become equitable and rule-based.”

          He recalled that Pakistan had voluntarily committed itself to the ideals such as non-proliferation and prevention of arms race in outer space. “Pakistan is a responsible nuclear power and shall continue to exercise restraint and responsibility,” he added.

          Speaking about the regional situation, he asked India to “shun belligerence and war-mongering and resolve disputes peacefully”.

          Comparing the Indian strategic thinking with that of Pakistan, the former SPD chief said Pakistan’s strategic culture, in contrast, “has always been characterised by restrained responses, pursuit of conflict resolution and closing the space for war”.

          SVI president Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema, on the occasion, said Indian National Security Strategy (NSS) objective was to maintain an overwhelming conventional and nuclear weapons capability by developing strategic and conventional offensive capabilities for full spectrum of military conflicts.

          The main instruments of India’s force posture were deterrence, coercion and coercive diplomacy, he said. The joint Indian armed forces doctrine contemplated the use of military force aimed at destruction, disruption and constraining its adversaries in South Asia, with specific concentration on Pakistan, he added.

          Meanwhile, the Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad hosted a Public Talk on “The 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR): Global and Regional Security”.

          Ambassador Munir Akram said that although South Asia had not been mentioned in the NPR, the region had been covered in the context of non-proliferation.

          The NPR, which endorses nuclear modernisation and sustenance programme of the US, he believed, would trigger arms race and also increase greater likelihood of use of weapons. He said the NPR would affect Iran and North Korea.

          Director General Strat­egic Studies Dr Shireen Mazari said Pakistan had increasingly become the target of US criticism, especially in the context of its nuclear weapon. She reiterated that Pakistan should remain wary of the US-India strategic partnership.

          Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018

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          Iran’s security forces kill 2 Pakistanis trying to sneak across border

            Two Pakistani nationals were killed and five others were arrested when Iran’s border security forces acted against a group of people allegedly trying to enter into Iran illegally.

            Gwadar Assistant Commissioner Jamil Ahmed told DawnNewsTV that the bodies and arrested men were handed over to Balochistan Levies personnel by Iranian border authorities on border-post 250 located on the Pak-Iran border near Gwadar.

            The bodies were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital Gwadar, while the arrested persons were handed over to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) where a case will be registered against them under the Passport Act.

            Officials at the DHQ hospital said the deceased, identified as Shahzeb Khan and Mohammad Sadiq, belonged to Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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            Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - April 17, 2018 at 10:25 am

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            Putin predicts global chaos if West hits Syria again

              MOSCOW: Russian President Vlad­imir Putin warned on Sunday that further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to world affairs, while signs emerged that Moscow and Washington wanted to pull back from the worst crisis in their relations for years.

              Putin made his remarks in a telephone conversation with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani after the United States, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Syria on Saturday over a suspected poison gas attack.

              A Kremlin statement said Putin and Rouhani agreed that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the multi-sided, seven-year conflict that has killed at least half a million people.

              “Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the UN Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” a Kremlin statement said.

              The attacks struck at the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, Washin­gton said, in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week ago. All three participants insisted the strikes were not aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad or intervening in the conflict.

              The bombings, hailed by US President Donald Trump as a success but denounced by Damascus and its allies as an act of aggression, marked the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and ally Russia, whose Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called them “unacceptable and lawless”.

              Putin’s comments were published shortly after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov struck a more conciliatory note by saying Moscow would make every effort to improve political relations with the West.

              When asked whether Russia was prepared to work with the proposals of Western countries at the United Nations, Ryabkov told TASS news agency: “We will work calmly, methodically and professionally, using all opportunities to remove the situation from its current extremely dangerous political peak.”

              In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, met inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW for about three hours in the presence of Russian officers and a senior Syrian security official.

              The inspectors were due to attempt to visit the site of the suspected gas attack in Douma on April 7, which medical relief organisations say killed dozens of people. Moscow condemned the Western states for refusing to wait for OPCW’s findings before attacking.

              Russia denounced allegations of a gas attack in Douma and said it was staged by Britain to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.

              In an indication that the West, too, would prefer to lower tensions, the United States and Britain both reiterated that their military action on Satu­rday was not aimed at Assad, Putin’s ally, only at his use of chemical weapons.

              Speaking to the BBC, Britain’s Fore­ign Secretary (Minister) Boris Johnson said that Western powers had no plans for further missile strikes, though they would assess their options if Damascus used chemical weapons again.

              “This is not about regime change… This is not about trying to turn the tide of the conflict in Syria,” he told the BBC, adding that Russia was the only country able to pressure Assad to negotiate an end to the conflict.

              Asked about US-Russia relations, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said ties were “very strained” but that the United States still hoped for a better relationship.

              Haley said that the United States would not pull its troops out of Syria until its goals were accomplished.

              Speaking on Fox News on Sunday, Haley listed three aims for the United States: ensuring that chemical weapons are not used in any way that poses a risk to US interests, that so-called Islamic State group is defeated and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

              In Damascus, Assad told a group of visiting Russian lawmakers that the Western missile strikes were an act of aggression, Russian news agencies reported.

              Syria released video of the wreckage of a bombed-out research lab, but also of Assad arriving at work as usual, with the caption “morning of resilience” and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

              Russian agencies quoted the lawmakers as saying that Assad was in a “good mood”, had praised the Soviet-era air defence systems Syria “used to repel” the Western attacks and had accepted an invitation to visit Russia at an unspecified time.

              Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2018

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              Saudi king slams Iran’s ‘interference’ in Arab affairs

              • ,Donation for East Jerusalem,
              • ,Tough, unified stance against Iran,

              Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday slammed Iran’s “blatant interference” in regional affairs as Arab leaders met in the kingdom for an annual gathering.

              Opening the 29th Arab League summit, the king also criticised the US decision to transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and described “terrorism” as the biggest challenge facing Arab countries.

              Seventeen leaders from across the Arab world — minus Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — gathered in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran for the summit, which this year comes as world powers face off over Syria and tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran.

              The meeting opened only 24 hours after a ,barrage of strikes, launched by the United States, Britain and France hit targets they said were linked to chemical weapons development in Syria, which was suspended from the league seven years ago.

              But King Salman avoided any mention of Syria in his address, as a seat marked “Syrian Arab Republic” sat empty in the hall.

              Instead, the king focused on rivalries with long-time foe Iran — only 160 kilometres (100 miles) across the Gulf from Dharan.

              “We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” the king said.

              A general view of the 29th Arab League Summit in Dhahran. —AFP

              A general view of the 29th Arab League Summit in Dhahran. —AFP

              Donation for East Jerusalem

              Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday announced a $150 million donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage in East Jerusalem.

              “Saudi Arabia announces a $150 million grant to support the administration of Jerusalem’s Islamic property,” the monarch said at the opening of the Arab League summit in the kingdom’s eastern city of Dhahran.

              “I name this summit in Dhahran the Jerusalem Summit so that the entire world knows Palestine and its people remain at the heart of Arab concerns,” he said.

              The funding announcement came as the king reiterated criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city.

              The move has sparked deep anger among the Palestinians — who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state — and across the Arab world.

              “We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” Salman said. “East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories.”

              Arab ministers at a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday focused heavily on blocking the move, unanimously condemning Trump’s decision.

              Israel occupied mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

              Islamic holy sites in the city — including the revered Al-Aqsa mosque — are administered by a Jordanian-run trust known as the Waqf.

              King Salman also announced a $50 million donation to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

              The organisation, which provides aid to more than three million people, faces serious financial difficulties after the US announced it was cutting its funding of the body.

              Tough, unified stance against Iran

              Saudi Arabia is pushing for a tough, unified stance against its regional arch-rival Iran. The two regional titans back opposing sides in a range of hotspots across the Middle East, including Lebanon and Syria and in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour Yemen.

              Saudi-Iranian rivalries in the Middle East. —AFP

              Saudi-Iranian rivalries in the Middle East. —AFP

              Last month the Security Council issued a statement ,condemning Huthi missile attacks on Saudi,, but did not name Iran.

              In February, Russia ,vetoed a Security Council resolution, that would have expressed concern over Iran’s failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

              The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and Qatar locked in a ,months-long diplomatic standoff,, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Iran.

              Tensions have eased slightly in recent months but Qatar still only sent its representative to the Arab League for the Dhahran summit.

              Among the leaders in attendance was Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who walked the red carpet and was greeted by King Salman. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

              Summits of the Arab League, established in 1945, rarely result in action.

              The last time the bloc made a concrete move was in 2011, when it suspended Syria’s membership over the Assad regime’s role in the war.

              Syria’s war, the most complex of the region’s conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

              Gulf Arab states have made massive donations to Syria but have not officially offered asylum to Syrians.

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              Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - April 15, 2018 at 6:25 pm

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              Key world reactions to Syria strikes

              • ,Russia,
              • ,China,
              • ,Iran,
              • ,Israel,
              • ,Middle East/North Africa,
              • ,Nato,
              • ,United Nations,
              • ,Saudi Arabia,
              • ,Turkey,
              • ,Europe,
              • ,Cuba,
              • ,Amnesty International,

              PARIS: Here is a roundup of key reactions to the strikes by the United States, Britain and France against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

              Russia

              “Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement. It said it was calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

              China

              China said it was “opposed to the use of force” in international relations.

              It called for a political solution and a “return to the framework of international law”.

              Iran

              Assad’s key regional ally, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, branded US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May “criminals”.

              Israel

              “A year ago I gave Israel’s total support for (US) President Donald Trump’s decision to mobilise against the use of chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to American strikes against the Syrian regime in April 2017 after a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town.

              “Israel’s support remains unchanged,” he added.

              Middle East/North Africa

              Qatar was the first Gulf country to react. An official statement expressed support for strikes to stop attacks by the Syrian regime against civilians.

              Egypt’s foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” saying the strikes undermined the “safety of our brotherly Syrian people, and threatens the understandings reached regarding the de-escalation zones.” Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said his country regretted that the strikes came “at a time when the international community was waiting for an inquiry team to be sent to verify” the chemical arms claims.

              “These strikes will create an atmosphere which will weigh negatively on moves to resolve the Syrian crisis through a political settlement.”

              Nato

              Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement backed the strikes, saying they “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons”.

              Nato expressed “full support for this action intended to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter further chemical weapon attacks against the people of Syria,” the alliance said in second statement.

              “Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity or become normalized. They are an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security.”

              United Nations

              “I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement.

              Saudi Arabia

              “Saudi Arabia fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime’s crimes,” a foreign ministry statement said.

              The strikes were prompted by the “Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, including women and children”, it added.

              Turkey

              “We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

              It accused Damascus of “crimes against humanity”.

              Europe

              European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that the European Union supported the strikes and “will stand with our allies on the side of justice”.

              German chancellor Angela Merkel called the strikes a “necessary and appropriate military intervention”.

              The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain defended the strikes as justified by evidence of a chemical attack.

              Cuba

              “Cuba’s Revolutionary government expresses its strongest condemnation of this new attack by the United States and its allies” against “military and civilian infrastructure”.

              The strikes are “a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and the charter (of the UN Security Council) and an outrage against a sovereign state which will only worsen the conflict in (Syria) and the region,” it added.

              Amnesty International

              “All precautions must be taken to minimise harm to civilians in any military action,” Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at rights watchdog Amnesty International USA said in a statement.

              Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2018

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              Trump’s strikes on Syria risk retaliation, escalation in a war he wants to avoid

                LAST week, President Donald Trump promised to withdraw from Syria. This week, he opened a new front against Syrian leader Bashar Assad that risks drawing the US into a broader conflict there.

                By attacking Assad late Friday, the Trump administration sought to warn the Syrian leader against continuing to use illegal chemical warfare agents, following the gassing of civilians near Damascus last weekend.

                The administration calculated that the need to send a signal to Assad over chemical weapons outweighed the possibility of provoking a response from his allies, Russia or Iran, on the battlefield in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East or even in cyberspace.

                The risk, analysts say, is that the US would then end up in a cycle of escalation that entangles the American military more deeply in the Syrian conflict than the administration intended.

                “Given the linkage between Russia, Iran and Assad, an attack that we would consider limited and precise might be misconstrued by one or more of those three parties and justify from their perspective a retaliatory strike,” said retired US Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War. “Then what do we do?”

                Read: ,Trump says ‘Mission Accomplished!’ after Syria strikes,

                Possible scenarios for a retaliation include attacks by Iranian-backed militias against US forces in the Middle East, stepped-up incidents against US forces and their allies within Syria or “asymmetric responses” such as cyberattacks entirely outside the theater itself.

                It remains unclear whether the strike will prevent Assad’s forces from turning to chemical weapons in the future as the leader seeks to extend his reach across the country while consolidating gains in the civil war.

                ‘Will have to do this again’

                Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Syria and fellow at the Middle East Institute and Yale University, said military action would deter Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons only if the US conducts follow-up strikes when new atrocities occur.

                “I don’t think, in order to make the deterrent stick, that this can be the last attack,” Ford said. The former US diplomat, who said Assad’s forces were using chemical weapons in part because they lack manpower, predicted the Syrian leader “will test us – and we will have to do this again.”

                Trump promised that the strikes wouldn’t necessarily be a one-off. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” the president said in an address at the White House late Friday night.

                Some who support the strikes say that even if they fail to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, they will send the message that the international community is watching and intends to enforce the ban on chemical weapons that countries instituted after World War I.

                British Prime Minister Theresa May said the strikes, which the UK and France participated in, would “send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”

                Referring to the recent nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy living in Salisbury, England, she said, “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – within Syria, on the streets of the UK or anywhere else in our world.”

                Assad’s consolidation

                But the military intervention also comes as Washington has all but given up on seeking the removal of Assad more than seven years into Syria’s civil war. Trump wants the Pentagon to withdraw US troops after the Kurdish-led militia Washington is backing in Syria finishes off the remnants of the so-called Islamic State terror group.

                The departure of US troops, military strategists say, will likely pave the way for Assad’s consolidation of control in the country, backed by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

                The result is what Defence Secretary Jim Mattis described in congressional testimony on Thursday as “contrary impulses”. On the one hand, Trump wants the US to have nothing to do with Syria. On the other, he wants to dictate norms of behaviour on Syria’s battlefield that upset him when violated.

                Those who take a dim view of selective strikes in response to chemical weapons usage say the US has given up trying to ensure the departure of Assad, which means his forces will continue to kill whomever they wish as they consolidate control, even if they do so with conventional weapons.

                “As long as you have a strategy that leaves Assad in place and allows him to slaughter his people as he sees fit, he is going to do so,” said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “And he is probably going to use chemical warfare agents.”

                But for Washington to stop Assad from killing his own citizens more broadly, “we’re getting closer to a regime-change scenario because he’s bombing almost every day,” said Ford, the former US ambassador. “To me, that’s drawing us in. I have zero confidence that we could control where that goes then.”

                Russian motive

                Pollack suspects that the Syrian regime and Iran won’t retaliate against the US because they are ascendant on a battlefield that Trump has promised to leave, and they won’t want to engage in any action that could prevent a US departure that would amount to a big win for them.

                Russia could have more of a motive to retaliate, Pollack said, even though before last year’s attack on Assad’s airfield, US forces warned Russia in advance.

                “Russia is the wild card out there,” Pollack said, because President Vladimir Putin’s interests are bigger than Syria. “They are about how much [the US is] allowed to act unrestrained and how much does he want to demonstrate that he can fight back.”

                The strike also raises thorny questions for Trump administration officials about why they are willing to intervene when Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians but won’t act in instances where his forces are killing far more with conventional weapons.

                Slippery slope

                Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Mattis suggested chemical weapons differed from conventional arms in their barbarism.

                “Some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the Chemical Weapons Convention, but of civilisation itself,” Mattis said, explaining why the Trump administration decided to strike last year.

                For some political scientists, that logic represents a slippery slope, where the US is compelled into military action on humanitarian grounds only depending on the type of killing that is occurring.

                “How horrific is it that we are particularly disturbed by one way of killing Syrian children but not the other?” asked Mara Karlin, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

                The allure of such strikes, Pollack said, is that they are “feel-good military operations,” which make the American public think they have done something to help Syrians.

                “No we didn’t,” Pollack said. “Five hundred thousands of them have died, and we’ve done nothing.”

                —By arrangement with The Washington Post

                Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2018

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                Trump says ‘Mission Accomplished!’ after Syria strikes

                • ,’Crimes of a monster’,
                • ,Defiant Assad,
                • ,Rally in Damascus,
                • ,UN chief urges restraint,
                • ,Foreign Office condemns use of chemical weapons,

                President Donald Trump on Saturday hailed a ,US-led missile assault, on Syria’s regime as “perfectly executed,” despite the limited nature of the strikes and Russia’s condemnation, which further heightened tensions between the Cold War foes.

                The UN Security Council was set to meet at Moscow’s request at 1500 GMT over the operation, which was unleashed by the US, Britain and France in response to an alleged ,chemical weapons attack, on the rebel-held town of Douma.

                The strikes were targeted to inflict maximum damage on sites linked to chemical weapons development. A top Pentagon official, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, said the action would set back Syria’s chemical weapons program “for years.”

                The sounds of massive explosions rang out across Damascus just before dawn on Saturday, ushering in 45 minutes of explosions and the roar of warplanes, AFP‘s correspondent in the city said.

                Flashes flared in the distance and by daybreak, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the city’s north and east.

                “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military,” Trump tweeted early Saturday.

                “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

                Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White later told reporters: “We successfully hit every target.” Both the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and its ally Russia have denied all responsibility for the deadly Douma attack, and Moscow slammed the “aggressive actions” of the Western coalition, but it has not yet responded militarily.

                ‘Crimes of a monster’

                US President Donald Trump announced the joint action against Assad’s regime from the White House late Friday.

                Trump said the strikes were a direct response to the April 7 attack on Douma, outside Damascus, that rescuers and monitors say killed more than 40 people.

                “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.

                US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the strikes a “one-time shot” with no additional military action planned for now.

                The strikes were the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria’s regime.

                The targets included a scientific research facility near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs, and a third location near Homs that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility, the US military said.

                The facilities hit had however reportedly been evacuated in recent days.

                Syrian state media reported only three people injured, while Russia’s defense ministry said there were “no victims” among Syrian civilians and military personnel.

                Defiant Assad

                Assad, who has denied ever using chemical weapons against his opponents, responded to the strikes with a defiant vow.

                “This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country,” he said.

                Assad’s key ally Iran also slammed the attack, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei describing Western leaders as “criminals.”

                The targets appeared to steer well clear of any Russian personnel or equipment in Syria, where Moscow launched a military intervention in support of Assad in 2015.

                The Russian military claimed Syrian air defense systems had intercepted 71 Western missiles, though the Pentagon disputed that.

                Rally in Damascus

                In central Damascus, dozens of Syrians arrived on bicycles, on foot and in cars spray painted with the red, white, and black colors of the Syrian flag, blaring patriotic tunes.

                Nedher Hammoud, 48, claimed to have seen missiles “being shot down like flies.”

                “Let them do what they want, kill who they want… History will record that Syria shot down missiles — and not just missiles. It shot down American arrogance.”

                Despite the strikes, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was still planning on carrying out its investigation into the Douma attack.

                Thousands of rebels and civilians have since been bussed out of the town under a Russian-brokered deal.

                Syrian internal security forces entered Douma on Saturday and were poised to declare their control over it within “hours.” Jaish al-Islam, the group that held Douma, said it only abandoned the town because of the chemical attack.

                Leading Jaish al-Islam member Mohammad Alloush said Saturday the Western strikes had not gone far enough.

                “Punishing the instrument of the crime while keeping the criminal — a farce,” Alloush wrote on Twitter.

                And Ahmad, a 25-year-old mechanic who had been displaced from Douma, told AFP the Western strikes were too little, too late.

                “Assad won’t collapse. They’ll bomb for a day or two and then the regime will take it out on us,” he said.

                The spectre of military strikes had hung over Syria since harrowing footage of victims in Douma sparked outrage from Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

                France said it fired cruise missiles from frigates in the Mediterranean and deployed fighter jets from home bases on Saturday.

                Britain’s defense ministry said four British Tornado jets had fired Storm Shadow missiles at a base 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of Homs.

                UN chief urges restraint

                The Russian military had vowed to respond to any attack, and President Vladimir Putin’s administration had repeatedly warned Trump was taking America down a dangerous path.

                Despite the warnings, Washington, Paris and London insisted their own secret intelligence belied Assad’s guilt.

                A US spokeswoman said on Friday the allies had “proof.”

                UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who delayed a planned trip to Saudi Arabia and was to brief the Security Council, called for calm.

                “I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances,” he said in a statement.

                Foreign Office condemns use of chemical weapons

                The Foreign Office (FO) on Friday urged all the parties involved in the Syria conflict to refrain from actions inconsistent with the UN Charter.

                “Pakistan condemns the use of chemical weapons anywhere by anyone,” the FO said in a statement. “It is important to establish facts through urgent and transparent investigations by the OPCW. We call upon all parties to strive for an agreement within the OPCW framework and extend full support to the organization.

                “At this time our thoughts are with the people of Syria who have suffered as a result of ongoing turmoil in that country. We hope that all the parties will work to find an urgent solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people.”

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                Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by PAK NEWS - April 14, 2018 at 10:25 pm

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                US, UK and France’s attack on Syria draws ire from Assad, allies

                • ,Syria says West’s ‘brutal, barbaric aggression will fail’,
                • ,Attack on Syria was “right and legal” — Western allies voice their support for missile strikes,

                Western strikes early on Saturday hit Syrian military bases and chemical research centres in and around the capital, a monitor said, as the United States (US) announced a joint operation against the Damascus government.

                “The Western coalition strikes targeted scientific research centres, several military bases, and the bases of the Republican Guard and Fourth Division in the capital Damascus and around it,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

                The US, France, and Britain announced a joint operation against Syria’s government, a week after a suspected chemical attack outside the capital Damascus ,left more than 40 people dead,.

                The world leaders announced that the strikes targeted positions linked to the chemical weapons facilities of the Syrian government.

                Moments after the announcement, loud blasts could be heard from the capital and large plumes of smoke emerged from its northern and eastern edges.

                Syrian state media reported the joint operation and said there was preliminary information that a research centre northeast of the capital had been hit.

                Since then, the Kremlin has condemned Western air strikes on Syria where its armed forces are backing President Bashar al-Assad.

                “Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement, its first reaction to the strikes.

                Russia also said that is calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council — where it is a permanent member — over Western strikes on Syria.

                “Russia is calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the aggressive actions of the US and its allies,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

                The US and Europe have both slapped sanctions on the Syrian Scientific Studied and Research Centre for its links to chemical weapons production in Syria.

                Syria says West’s ‘brutal, barbaric aggression will fail’

                Syria’s government denounced the strikes on its military installations as a “brutal, barbaric aggression” that violated international law.

                “The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” the foreign ministry said.

                State news agency SANA also reported the attack, but said it was “doomed to fail”.

                Western powers blamed President Bashar al-Assad, but Syria and its ally Russia categorically denied the claims and accused the West of “fabricating” the incident to justify military action.

                The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was set to begin its investigation inside the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on Saturday, just hours after the strikes.

                Syria’s foreign ministry said the strikes aimed to block their work.

                “The timing of the aggression coincides with the arrival of the OPCW mission to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and mainly aims at hindering the mission’s work and preempting its results,” it said in comments carried by state news agency SANA.

                The ministry said it was an “attempt to block the exposure of their lies and fabrications”.

                It said the United States, Britain and France launched around 110 missiles on Syria, but air defences shot most of them down.

                The Russian military also said that Syrian air defence systems intercepted 71 out of 103 cruise missiles that were launched.

                An ally of the Assad regime, Russia reacted with fury at West’s strikes on Syria and called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. In a statement, Kremlin said that it “severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism”.

                Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov also warned that “such actions will not be left without consequences”.

                The Iranian government, another Syrian ally, called the attacks a “clear violation of international rules and laws” while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei termed the US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May as “criminals”.

                Three civilians were wounded in the Homs attacks, the Syrian ministry said, but it did not give a toll for Damascus or mention any combatant casualties.

                Lebanese movement Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian regime, sharply condemned the strikes, saying the attackers would not achieve their objectives.

                “America’s war against Syria, and against the region’s peoples and resistance movement, will not achieve its aims,” the group said in a statement published on its War Media Channel.

                Several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, “destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre,” SANA reported.

                State media published images of a cloud of reddish smoke hanging over the capital and said that air defences were activated to block the attack.

                But it said skies were clear over Aleppo in the north, Hasakeh in the northeast, and Latakia and Tartus along the western coast, where key Syrian and Russian military installations are located.

                Attack on Syria was “right and legal” — Western allies voice their support for missile strikes

                As explosives lit up Damuscus skies, Trump spoke from the White House, saying that the US and its allies had launched an attack on Syria in order to deter Assad from carrying out more chemical attacks.

                “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.

                Talking to reporters on Saturday, British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted the West’s attack on Syria was “right and legal to take military action together with our closest allies to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability”.

                German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it a “necessary and appropriate military intervention”, while Turkey “welcomed the operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma”.

                Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also issued a statement, favouring the strike on Syria, saying that it “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons”.

                The European Union also announced that it will “stand with its allies on the side of justice”.

                Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all member states to “show restraint” and avoid any actions “that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people”.

                Rights organisation Amnesty International asked Western forces to take precautions in order to “minimise harm to civilians in any military action”.

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                US, UK and France’s attack on Syria draws ire from Assad and allies

                • ,Syria says West’s ‘brutal, barbaric aggression will fail’,
                • ,Attack on Syria was “right and legal” — Western allies voice their support for missile strikes,

                Western strikes early on Saturday hit Syrian military bases and chemical research centres in and around the capital, a monitor said, as the United States (US) announced a joint operation against the Damascus government.

                “The Western coalition strikes targeted scientific research centres, several military bases, and the bases of the Republican Guard and Fourth Division in the capital Damascus and around it,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

                The US, France, and Britain announced a joint operation against Syria’s government, a week after a suspected chemical attack outside the capital Damascus ,left more than 40 people dead,.

                The world leaders announced that the strikes targeted positions linked to the chemical weapons facilities of the Syrian government.

                Moments after the announcement, loud blasts could be heard from the capital and large plumes of smoke emerged from its northern and eastern edges.

                Syrian state media reported the joint operation and said there was preliminary information that a research centre northeast of the capital had been hit.

                Since then, the Kremlin has condemned Western air strikes on Syria where its armed forces are backing President Bashar al-Assad.

                “Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement, its first reaction to the strikes.

                Russia also said that is calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council — where it is a permanent member — over Western strikes on Syria.

                “Russia is calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the aggressive actions of the US and its allies,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

                The US and Europe have both slapped sanctions on the Syrian Scientific Studied and Research Centre for its links to chemical weapons production in Syria.

                Syria says West’s ‘brutal, barbaric aggression will fail’

                Syria’s government denounced the strikes on its military installations as a “brutal, barbaric aggression” that violated international law.

                “The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” the foreign ministry said.

                State news agency SANA also reported the attack, but said it was “doomed to fail”.

                Western powers blamed President Bashar al-Assad, but Syria and its ally Russia categorically denied the claims and accused the West of “fabricating” the incident to justify military action.

                The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was set to begin its investigation inside the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on Saturday, just hours after the strikes.

                Syria’s foreign ministry said the strikes aimed to block their work.

                “The timing of the aggression coincides with the arrival of the OPCW mission to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and mainly aims at hindering the mission’s work and preempting its results,” it said in comments carried by state news agency SANA.

                The ministry said it was an “attempt to block the exposure of their lies and fabrications”.

                It said the United States, Britain and France launched around 110 missiles on Syria, but air defences shot most of them down.

                The Russian military also said that Syrian air defence systems intercepted 71 out of 103 cruise missiles that were launched.

                An ally of the Assad regime, Russia reacted with fury at West’s strikes on Syria and called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. In a statement, Kremlin said that it “severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism”.

                Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov also warned that “such actions will not be left without consequences”.

                The Iranian government, another Syrian ally, called the attacks a “clear violation of international rules and laws” while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei termed the US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May as “criminals”.

                Three civilians were wounded in the Homs attacks, the Syrian ministry said, but it did not give a toll for Damascus or mention any combatant casualties.

                Lebanese movement Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian regime, sharply condemned the strikes, saying the attackers would not achieve their objectives.

                “America’s war against Syria, and against the region’s peoples and resistance movement, will not achieve its aims,” the group said in a statement published on its War Media Channel.

                Several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, “destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre,” SANA reported.

                State media published images of a cloud of reddish smoke hanging over the capital and said that air defences were activated to block the attack.

                But it said skies were clear over Aleppo in the north, Hasakeh in the northeast, and Latakia and Tartus along the western coast, where key Syrian and Russian military installations are located.

                Attack on Syria was “right and legal” — Western allies voice their support for missile strikes

                As explosives lit up Damuscus skies, Trump spoke from the White House, saying that the US and its allies had launched an attack on Syria in order to deter Assad from carrying out more chemical attacks.

                “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.

                Talking to reporters on Saturday, British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted the West’s attack on Syria was “right and legal to take military action together with our closest allies to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability”.

                German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it a “necessary and appropriate military intervention”, while Turkey “welcomed the operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma”.

                Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also issued a statement, favouring the strike on Syria, saying that it “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons”.

                The European Union also announced that it will “stand with its allies on the side of justice”.

                Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all member states to “show restraint” and avoid any actions “that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people”.

                Rights organisation Amnesty International asked Western forces to take precautions in order to “minimise harm to civilians in any military action”.

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                Military strikes on Syria are meant to deter Assad from chemical attacks, claims Trump

                  The United States (US), France and Britain ,launched military strikes in Syria, to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced on Friday.

                  Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump spoke from the White House.

                  Syrian television reported that Syria’s air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack.

                  After the attack ceased and the early morning skies went dark once more, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.

                  Trump said the US is prepared to sustain pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.

                  “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.

                  British Prime Minister Theresa May said in London that the West had tried “every possible” diplomatic means to stop Assad from using chemical weapons. “But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted” by Syria and Russia, she said.

                  “So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime,” May said. “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change.”

                  French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that a target of the strike was the Syrian government’s “clandestine chemical arsenal”.

                  Trump did not provide details on the joint US-British-French attack, but it was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace.

                  He described the main aim as establishing “a strong deterrent” against chemical weapons use. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

                  The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria. He authorised a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.

                  At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the strike was “harder” on the Syrian regime than the 2017 strike and targeted “Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure”.

                  He described it as a “a one-time shot,” adding: “I believe it has sent a very strong message.”

                  Mattis said there were “no reports of losses” on the part of US and allied forces participating in the strike, which included manned aircraft.

                  Mattis estimated the air campaign was about twice the size of the 2017 strike. He added that the US expects the Syrian government and its allies to conduct a “significant disinformation campaign,” which the Pentagon would rebut with additional information Saturday morning.

                  The air campaign could frustrate those in Trump’s base who oppose military intervention and are wary of open-ended conflicts.

                  Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.

                  “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilised nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump said. “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran but maybe not.”

                  The US missile strike a year ago, which targeted the airfield from which Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack, was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons.

                  Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.

                  The strikes that hit early on Saturday in Syria came hours before inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were set to arrive to inspect the site of the apparent attack.

                  A broader question is whether the allied attacks are part of a revamped, coherent political strategy to end the war on terms that do not leave Assad in power.

                  The strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the US more deeply into the Syrian conflict. Just weeks ago, Trump said he wanted to end US involvement in Syria and bring American troops home to focus on the homeland.

                  The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.

                  Gen Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US did not coordinate targets with or notify the Russian government of the strikes, beyond normal airspace “de-confliction” communications.

                  In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.

                  “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home,” Trump said. “And great warriors they are.”

                  The US has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State (IS) fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.

                  Jarrod Agen, Vice President Mike Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said Pence called congressional leaders from his hotel suite in Lima, Peru, to notify them of the president’s plan to address the nation about the Syrian air strikes.

                  Pence spoke to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi before Trump’s speech. Agen said Pence was unable to reach Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer before the speech but spoke with him after.

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                  Iran eyes CPEC with growing interest after port visit

                    KARACHI: Iran’s Minister for Roads and Urbanisation Abbas Akhoundi expressed keen interest in exploring avenues available under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

                    The minister is leading a high level Iranian delegation which visited Karachi Port Trust (KPT) on Friday.

                    Akhoundi also showed interest in transshipment cargo handling. He said that Iran is keen to work with Pakistan for interconnection linkage between Karachi Port and Bandar Abbas as well as the development of tourism and facilitation of ‘zaireen’ (religious pilgrims).

                    He further said there was ample space of 204,000 hectares available at Bandar Abbas for promoting transshipment cargo handling facility.

                    KPT Chairman Rear Admiral Jamil Akhtar briefed the Iranian delegation about various projects.

                    He said the port is currently working on the expansion programme under the 10-Year Karachi Port Improvement Plan.

                    The Iranian delegation took keen interest in the deepwater container port project of KPT along with other future projects including the multipurpose bulk terminal, cargo village, LNG terminal and port elevated expressway.

                    The KPT chairman said that special care has been taken for opening up investment opportunities in marine sector for private sector.

                    The Iranian delegation was also given a tour of the South Asia Pakistan Terminals Ltd at the Deepwater Container Port.

                    Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2018

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                    West is hypocritical about chemical warfare in Middle East

                      OH, the hypocrisy of it. The ignoble aims. The distraction. The outrageous lies and excuses.

                      I’m not talking about America’s tweet-from-the-hip president and his desire to escape from the cops’ raid on his lawyer’s office — there’s a Russian connection, all right. And I’m not talking about his latest sleaze. Life with Melania might not be great at the moment. More distracting to sit with the generals and ex-generals and talk tough about Russia and Syria.

                      I’m not talking about Theresa May, who wants to step out of the Brexit ditch with any distractions of her own: Salisbury attacks, Douma — even Trump. So Trump telephoned Macron, when the poor lady thought she’d won his hand. What is this nonsense?

                      Macron has now ,hitched his own wagon to the Saudis against Iranian “expansionism”, — and no doubt arms sales to Riyadh have something to do with it. But how sad that the desire of young French presidents to act like Napoleon (I can think of a few others) means that they devote themselves to joining in a war, rather than pleading against it.

                      Now we have our spokespersons and ministers raging about the need to prevent the “normalisation” of chemical warfare, to prevent it becoming a part of ordinary warfare, a return to the terrible days of the First World War.

                      This does not mean any excuses for the Syrian government — though I suspect, having seen Russia’s Syrian involvement with my own eyes, that Putin might have been getting impatient about ending the war and wanted to eradicate those in the last tunnels of Douma rather than wait through more weeks of fighting.

                      Remember the cruelty of Grozny (the Chechen capital).

                      But we all know the problems of proof when it comes to chemicals and gas. Like depleted uranium — which we used to use in our munitions — it doesn’t, like a shell fragment or a bomb casing, leave a tell-tale hunk of metal with an address on it.

                      When all this started with the ,first gas attack in Damascus,, the Russians identified it as gas munitions manufactured in the Soviet Union — but sent to Libya, not to Syria.

                      But it’s a different war that I’m remembering today. It’s the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. When the Iranians re-crossed their own border and stormed into Iraq years later, Saddam used gas on thousands of Iranian soldiers — and civilians, for there were nurses and doctors at the war front.

                      Funny how we forget this now. We don’t talk about it. We have forgotten all about it. Talk about the “normalisation” of chemical warfare — this was it!

                      But in our desire to concentrate minds on Syria, we’re not mentioning the Iran gassings — Iran being another one of our present-day enemies, of course — and this may be because of our lack of official memory.

                      More likely it’s because of what happened: the institutionalisation of chemical warfare, the use of chemicals by Saddam who was then an ally of the West and of all the Gulf states, our frontline Sunni hero.

                      The thousands of Iranian soldiers who were to die were referred to on Iraqi radio after they crossed the frontier. The “Persian insects” had crossed the border, it announced. And that’s how they were treated.

                      For the precursors for the Iraqi gas came largely from the United States — one from New Jersey — and US military personnel later visited the battlefront without making any comments about the chemicals which were sold to the Iraqi regime, of course, for “agricultural” purposes. That’s how to deal with insects, is it not?

                      Inconvenient truth

                      Yet not a soul today is mentioning this terrible war, which was fought with total acquiescence of the West. It’s almost an “exclusive” to mention the conflict at all, so religiously have we forgotten it. That was the real “normalisation”, and we allowed it to happen.

                      Religious indeed, for it was the first great battle of the Sunni-Shia war of our time. But it was real.

                      Of the thousands of Iranians who were asphyxiated, a few survivors were even sent to British hospitals for treatment. I travelled with others on a military train through the desert to Tehran, the railway compartments packed with unsmiling young men who coughed mucus and blood into white bandages as they read Quran.

                      They had blisters on their skin and, horrifically, more blisters on top of the first blisters. I wrote a series of articles about this obscenity for The Times, which I then worked for.

                      The Foreign Office later told my editors that my articles were “not helpful”.

                      No such discretion today. No fear of being out to get Saddam then — because in those days, of course, the good guys were using the chemicals. Don’t we remember the Kurds of Halabja who were gassed by Saddam, with gas which the CIA told its officers to claim was used by the Iranians?

                      For this war crime, Saddam should have been tried. He was indeed a “gas-killing animal”. But he was hanged for a smaller massacre with conventional weapons — because, I have always suspected, we didn’t want him exposing his gas warfare partners in an open court.

                      So there we are. Theresa May holds a “war cabinet”, for heaven’s sakes, as if our losses were mounting on the Somme in 1916, or Dorniers were flying out of occupied France to blitz London in 1940.

                      What is this childish prime minister doing? Older, wiser Conservatives will have spotted the juvenile quality of this nonsense, and want a debate in parliament. How could ,May follow an American president, who the world knows is crackers, insane, chronically unstable, but whose childish messages — about missiles that are “nice and new and ‘smart’”— are even taken seriously by many of my colleagues in the US?

                      We should perhaps be even more worried about what happens if he does turn away from the Iran nuclear deal.

                      This is a very bad moment in Middle East history — and, as usual, it is the Palestinians who will suffer, their own tragedy utterly forgotten amid this madness. So we are going to “war”, are we?

                      And how do we get out of this war once we have started it? Any plans, anyone? What if there’s a gigantic screw-up, which wars do tend to usually produce? What happens then?

                      Well, I guess Russia comes to the rescue, just as it did for president Barack Obama when gas was used for the first time in the Syrian war.

                      By arrangement with The Independent

                      Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2018

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