Trump Gets Reactions for Syria Blast

U.S. President Donald Trump will not find things easy for now as Congressional Democrats have attacked him for not seeking Congress authorisation before striking Syria on Friday.

While the Democrats call the strikes “unconstitutional” and questioning the strategy, many Republicans, applauded the president’s move.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, who has pushed Congress to pass a new authorisation for the use of military force, deemed the president’s action “illegal” because he proceeded without approval from lawmakers.

“President Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress’s approval is illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless,” Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said in a statement.

“Today, it’s a strike on Syria — what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next? The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this president a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat representing San Francisco, California, said in a statement that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack was a “brutally inhumane war crime that demands a strong, smart and calculated response.” However, she said Trump must present a more comprehensive strategy on Syria to Congress and seek lawmakers’ approval.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, also representing part of California, tweeted that it was the same as when Trump struck Syria last year without congressional approval.

“What changed? Zero,” Swalwell tweeted. “They’re still using chemical weapons. This is the result of a failure to have a strategy and engage Middle East countries to solve this problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, from New York, said “A pinpointed, limited action to punish and hopefully deter Assad from doing this again is appropriate, but the administration has to be careful about not getting us into a greater and more involved war in Syria.”

The president announced in an address to the nation from the White House that U.S. airstrikes, in tandem with the United Kingdom and France, were underway in Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus last weekend.

At a later Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the president had the authority to launch the strikes under Article II of the Constitution because Mattis said Trump was defending U.S. interests.

Key Republicans on Capitol Hill said Friday night that they supported Trump’s decision.

“The United States has taken decisive action in coordination with our allies,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican representing Wisconsin.

Ryan had said at his weekly news conference Thursday that he believed that Trump had authority to act against Syria with any new congressional approval.

“We are united in our resolve that Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons cannot go unanswered. His regime’s unconscionable brutality against innocent civilians cannot be tolerated.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Senator from Kentucky, said he supports “both the action and the objective.”

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican Senator who is also the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “I applaud the president for taking military action against the Assad regime for its latest use of chemical weapons, and for signaling his resolve to do so again if these heinous attacks continue.”

Of note was Florida Democrat Senator Bill Nelson, who faces a tough re-election fight against Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and who backed Trump’s response to Syria, tweeting, “I support the attack because Assad must be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons.”

Syrian Government Shipped Hundreds Of New Fighters- Monitoring Groups

The Syrian government has been accused of shipping in hundreds of new fighters to take part in its plan to capture the last rebel-held stronghold outside the capital Damascus.

This allegation was made by monitoring groups on Wednesday. Recall that the UN and Red Cross, which delivered a small aid shipment this week to Eastern Ghouta, have reported a desperate humanitarian situation, including hunger and shortages of medicines. People are living underground to avoid airstrikes.

“No fewer than 700 fighters from the Syrian government’s allied militias took new positions on the Eastern Ghouta fronts,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The regime is preparing to continue its offensive hoping for new advances in the area,” Rami Rahman, head of the Observatory, told dpa.

According to the Observatory 805 civilians, among them 178 children, were killed in Eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18.

The UN Security Council in February voted for a nationwide ceasefire which specifically urged parties to the conflict to allow aid into Eastern Ghouta.

However, nearly half the enclave has been taken by government forces in recent weeks.

The aid shipments made this week were not sufficient for even 10 per cent of the population and the government reportedly removed vital supplies, including medical goods.

Many of the trucks were unable to fully unload their contents due to violence.

Russia pledged to let the insurgents and their families leave Eastern Ghouta, but rebels have been sceptical of the offer from Moscow, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian airstrikes are hitting Eastern Ghouta.

 

Air Strike Kills 33 Civilians In Syria

A monitor has revealed that regime air strikes have killed 33 civilians in the past 24 hours in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib where government forces are fighting jihadists, a monitor said on Monday.

On Monday, strikes killed 16 civilians alone including 11 in a vegetable market in the town of Saraqeb, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The 17 others were killed on Sunday in raids on various areas of the province, large parts of which are controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is dominated by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.

“Regime war planes have intensified their strikes over the past 24 hours after relative calm due to bad weather,” Observatory chief Rami Abdul Rahman said.

Syrian troops had been advancing on Idlib as part of a fierce offensive launched in late December with Russian backing.

At the market in Saraqeb, an AFP correspondent saw pools of blood on the ground. Small trucks loaded with sacks of potatoes stood abandoned after their windows were blasted from their frames.

In front of a hospital in the town, a motorbike and a car were trapped below the rubble and twisted metal.

An alliance of jihadists and rebels overran the vast majority of Idlib province in 2015.

On January 21, Syria’s army said it had captured the vital military airport of Abu Duhur on the edge of Idlib province, in a breakthrough for the government in the last Syrian province beyond its control.

 

Seven Civilians Killed In Syria Air Strike

Seven civilians including five children have been killed by an air strike in Syria’s north western Idlib province.

Government and allied forces backed by Russian warplanes have been battling jihadist fighters and rebels for over a week in an area straddling the border between Idlib and Hama provinces.

The air strikes targeted the town of Khan Subul in the centre of Idlib province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“There were at least seven dead, five children and two women,” an Observatory said.

“We do not know if these were air strikes by the Syrian regime or the Russians,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The government push on the edge of Idlib province follows two months of sporadic fighting that the United Nations says has displaced more than 60,000 people.

“Displacement sites are reportedly overwhelmed. Some services are 400 per cent above their planned capacity to serve,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

An AFP correspondent said there were fresh clashes Tuesday.

 

UN Accuses Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad of Mass Murder

The United Nations has accused Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad of being responsible for the  Sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun, Syria, on the 4th of April this year that killed close to 100 people with spine-chilling videos showing even children gasping for air while foaming in their mouth. This was revealed in a report, Thursday, six months after the attack.

 

Assad has been accused of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity by the U.N, which his regime backed by Russia, has continued to deny, saying they don’t have chemical weapons claiming an airstrike hit a chemical weapons depot in the region.

 

Donald Trump, angered by the Syrian attack, which he said ‘no child of God’ should experience, ordered the U.S Military to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

 

“‎Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. And in spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now,”  Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement, Thursday night.

 

“The panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Sheikhun on 4 April 2017,” the UN report says. The report released Thursday was compiled by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations’ Joint Investigative Mechanism, the investigative panel probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

 

Israeli Defence Chiefs Warn Iran, Syria After Air Strike

Israel’s defense minister on Thursday issued a veiled warning to Syria, without confirming or denying what Damascus said was an Israeli air strike on its territory.

Syria’s army accused Israel of hitting one of its positions, killing two people in an attack earlier the same day that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons.

“We are determined to prevent our enemies harming, or even creating an opportunity to harm, the security of Israeli citizens,” Avigdor Lieberman said in Hebrew, in remarks broadcast on Israeli television.

“We shall do everything in order not to allow the existence of a Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus.”

The site struck near Masyaf, between the central city of Hama and a port used by the Russian navy, is reportedly used by forces from Syria’s allies Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Israeli planes have previously carried out strikes believed to have targeted the transfer of weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006.

Israel has long warned it would not allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and has accused Iran of building sites to produce “precision-guided missiles” in both Syria and Lebanon.

In comments made earlier, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Major-General Herzl Halevi, did not mention Thursday’s strike directly but warned his country’s enemies “near and far”.

“Serious security threats to Israel are presented by armed organizations most of them financed and aided by Iran,” he said in a public address.

“We are dealing with these threats, both near and far, with determination and our enemies in every arena know very well the combination of (our) precise intelligence and operational capabilities.”

 

 

Source: The Guardian

ISIS Beheads Russian Officer In Syria

The Russian Defence Ministry and the FSB security service have not been immediately available for comment concerning the reports that an Islamic State has issued a video showing the beheading of a Russian intelligence officer captured in Syria, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring website reported on Tuesday.

The 12-minute Russian-language video, released on the day Russia celebrates the anniversary of the 1945 victory over Nazi Germany with military parades, showed the man dressed in a black jumpsuit kneeling in a desert scene and urging other Russian agents to surrender.

“This idiot believed the promises of his state not to abandon him if he was captured,” he said before a bearded man beheaded him with a knife. The authenticity of the recording and the identity of the man could not immediately be verified, nor was it clear when the killing occurred. Russian forces are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants seeking to oust him.

The video showed scenes of what it described as the aftermath of Russian bombing raids in Syria. The Russian defense ministry says about 30 Russian servicemen have been killed since the start of the Kremlin’s operation there in September 2015.

Russia Accuses US of Playing The Terrorism Game in Syria

The United States is “playing the terrorism game”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday during his first phone talks with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson since the US air strikes on Syria last week.

“A country which battles against terrorism is just playing the terrorism game,” and “creates regional and global security threats”, Lavrov warned Tillerson, according to a Russian foreign ministry statement.

Lavrov also reaffirmed Russia’s position that accusations that the Syrian regime had launched a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun last week “are not in line with reality”.

The United States on Thursday fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield near Homs in central Syria.

The previous day US President Donald Trump said pictures of the Khan Sheikhun victims in agony, had “an enormous impact” on him.

Saturday’s phone call was the first between the top diplomats of Russia and the US since the strikes on the Syrian airfield.

US Secretary of State Tillerson is due to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday for two days of talks.

On Friday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow expects “explanations”, during Tillerson’s visit, for the US air strike on the Syrian airbase

For his part, Tillerson on Friday said he was disappointed” by Russia’s reaction “because it indicates their continued support” for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Oil Prices Flip Flop After Syria Chaos

Oil prices surged more than 2 percent to a one-month high on Friday after the United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria. But prices later dropped back as there seemed no immediate threat to supplies.

U.S President Donald Trump said he had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched earlier this week, declaring he acted in America’s “national security interest” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After tepid trading before the attack, Brent crude futures jumped to $56.08 per barrel, in what traders called a knee-jerk reaction, before easing to $55.51 per barrel at 0623 GMT, still up 1.1 percent from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also climbed by more than 2 percent, to a high of $52.94 a barrel, before receding to $52.35, up 1.26 percent.

Both benchmarks hit their strongest levels since early March.

“The U.S cruise missile strikes have seen crude oil jump over 2 percent in a straight line,” said Jeffrey Halley of futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

Although Syria has limited oil production, its location in the Middle East and alliances with big oil producers raised worries about spreading conflict that could disrupt crude shipments.

“What will be the response of Iran and Russia, two of the world’s largest oil producers and staunch allies of the Assad regime?,” Halley asked.

Russia and Iran both condemned the American attacks.

The strikes also rattled global markets. While safe-haven products like gold jumped, stock markets and the U.S. dollar slumped.

“Outside of the energy sector, investors have been moving into defensive sectors today, particularly utilities and gold miners,” said Gary Huxtable of Australia’s Atlantic Pacific Securities.

U.S. officials said the military had fired 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase controlled by Assad’s forces, in response to a poison gas attack on Tuesday in a rebel-held area.

Officials said the United States had informed allies and Russia before strikes, and that they did not target sections of the Syrian base where Russian forces were believed to be present.

In oil supply fundamentals, markets remained oversupplied, even with efforts led by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut supplies to prop up prices.

Oil trading data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that globally shipped crude volumes stood at 1.4 billion barrels in March (around 45.6 million bpd), up from 1.1 billion barrels in February, although on a daily basis the figure was similar to February’s 45.5 million bpd due to that month’s fewer days.

Shipped oil flows also remain higher than at any time during the second half of 2016, before the OPEC-led cuts were implemented, implying either poor compliance with the supply reductions, or plentiful alternative supplies.

Reuters

Russia Mocks US’s Air Strike Effectiveness

Russia has said that only 23 out of the 59 cruise missiles fired from US warships at a Syrian air base hit the target.

The Syrian army’s air defense system will be reinforced by Russia in the near future to protect the most vital infrastructure facilities.

According to Russia’s data recording equipment, Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Friday said the effectiveness of US strike was low.

“The combat effectiveness of the US massive missile strike on Syria’s airbase was thus very low,” he said.

“According to the data recording equipment, only 23 missiles reached the Syrian air base.

“The place of the fall of the other missiles is unknown,” the spokesman said.

Russian radar data show that the Tomahawk missiles were fired from the US destroyers Porter and Ross in the Mediterranean between 03:42 and 03:56 Moscow time, the general said.

In 2016, several batteries of Russia’s air defense system S-300 were moved to the naval logistic facility at Tartus to provide protection for the base and Russian ships off Syria’s shores.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said a multi-tier defense system had been created around Tartus and the Hmeymim air base.

At the end of November the newest air defense system S-400 was delivered to Syria after a Turkish F-18 fighter shot down Russia’s Sukhoi-24 bomber.

Pantsir systems protect Russian military facilities from low-flying aircraft and missiles.

Also, the defense of Russian facilities incorporates the system Bastion, capable of hitting naval and ground targets 350-450 kilometers away.

Russia has helped Syria to restore the operation of its S-200 air defense systems that protect Russian bases from potential attacks from the east. Also, the Syrian army uses air defense systems Buk

The US missile strike in Syria had been planned in advance, while the chemical weapons incident was used just as a pretext, Konashenkov noted.

“It is obvious that the US cruise missiles attack on the Syrian air base had been planned well beforehand,” he said.

NAN

Syrian Star Turned Pizza Boy Dreaming of Hollywood Ending

It’s an all-too-familiar Hollywood story: the out-of-work actor eking out an existence in cheap housing, earning minimum wage delivering pizzas, desperate for his big break.

But for Jay Abdo — one of the Arab world’s biggest stars before the conflict in Syria made him just another anonymous refugee on the mean streets of Los Angeles — it has been particularly tough.

Just a few years ago, the 54-year-old actor could not walk the streets in any Middle Eastern country without being mobbed by fans or dine out without being offered free meals.

A household name and a veteran of 43 movies and more than 1,000 TV episodes, Abdo was admired not just for his acting skills but his willingness to speak his mind in public.

“I had a pretty beautiful life,” he told AFP. “People loved me, on screen and on talk shows when I spoke to people and expressed my culture and points of view.”

Known in Syria by his real first name, Jihad, Abdo is best known for his role in “Bab al-Hara” (“The Neighborhood Gate”), one of the biggest soap operas in history, with up to 50 million viewers per episode.

His path to Hollywood started in 2011 as tensions in Syria were escalating in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

His wife, painter and human rights lawyer Fadia Afashe, was a senior official in Syria’s department of culture, and found herself having to flee Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime after being caught meeting opposition activists during a trip to France.

– Torture –
She went to study public policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, intending to return to Syria after graduating.
But Abdo himself was beginning to become a major annoyance to Assad’s crumbling regime after turning down numerous invitations to back the president at rallies and TV talk shows.

Matters came to a head when he gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times during a trip to Beirut in which he accused Syria’s secret service of torture and corruption.

Strangers threatened him on his return to Syria, his car windows were smashed and he faced repeated demands to apologize to Assad on television.

Having seen friends arrested or disappear — some are still missing — he uprooted in October 2011, leaving behind almost all his wealth and property, to join his wife in Minneapolis.

The couple applied for asylum and drove for three days to Los Angeles with everything they owned so Abdo could find work.

“I met so many people who were shocked that my name was Jihad,” he says, explaining why he became Jay.

“They didn’t know it was Christian and I was named after a Christian lawyer in Damascus — a very good friend to my family.”

Even with a more palatable name, more than 100 failed auditions followed as the couple lived a desperate existence on just $3 a day.

It took more than a year to find work with a florist and delivering pizzas for Domino’s, earning up to $300 a week.

– ‘Destiny brought me’ –
Abdo’s break finally came when he landed a part alongside Nicole Kidman and James Franco in “Queen of the Desert,” Werner Herzog’s biopic of the British archeologist Gertrude Bell, due for release in spring.
“All my scenes were with Nicole,” Abdo says. “I can’t praise her enough. She’s very sweet, extremely professional, a very good hearted woman — very smart and sharp. Above all, she supported me from the first minute.”

Herzog has since described in interviews finally grasping how famous his Syrian hire was when they visited a souk in Marrakesh during filming in Morocco.

“Everyone wanted a photo with him. The merchants in the souk gave us everything for half price,” the filmmaker told The Wall Street Journal.

In a sign that Tinseltown really does like its happy endings, the actor’s career is finally back on track.

He has a part in the Amazon television series “The Patriot” and “Bon Voyage,” a short film he made with Swiss director Marc Raymond Wilkins, has just been shortlisted for an Oscar.

Last year, he appeared alongside Tom Hanks in “A Hologram for the King,” a comedy about a failed corporate salesman trying to do business in Saudi Arabia.

Devastated by the worsening plight of the Syrian people in the five years since he escaped the Assad regime, Abdo is unsure whether he’ll ever return. But he believes he couldn’t be in a better place.

“From the beginning, Hollywood wasn’t my objective,” he said. “I didn’t plan to come here. It’s destiny that brought me.”

AFP