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