Israel has hit nearly all Iranian infrastructure in Syria, military claims

Most intense Israeli incursion since 1973 follows Irans alleged firing on Golan Heights

Israel has claimed it reached nearly all Iranian infrastructure in Syria during airstrikes launched in response to a rocket attack on its troops in the occupied Golan Heights it blamed on Iran.

The alleged Iranian bombardment just after midnight , which Israel told failed to hit its targets, and extensive reply appeared to be the most serious showdown ever between two foes who have long warned of war.

It would be the first time, if corroborated, that Iran has fired rockets directly at Israeli forces in existing conflicts that for years has been opposed through proxies such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Israel’s response was the most significant strike in Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The confrontation follows a months-long shadow war campaign during which Israel has been accused of recurred air assaults in Syria, the latest of which was reported on Tuesday night.

Its military said on Thursday it had attacked dozens of targets included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centres used by Iranian forces.

The Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told a security meeting:” We hit nearly all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria … They need to remember the saying that if it rains on us, it’ll blizzard on them. I hope we’ve finished this episode and everyone understood.

” We don’t want an escalation, but won’t let anyone attack us or build an infrastructure to attack us in the future .” Hesaid Iran had also been attempting to bring anti-aircraft systems close to the Israeli border.

Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria

The Israeli military said a” wide-scale assault” included the logistics headquarters of the Iranian Quds forces and military compounds south , north and east of Damascus, including a munition warehouse at the capital’s international airport.

Observation and military posts near the occupied Golan Heights were also hit, while Syrian air defense engaged its anti-air batteries to incept Israeli missiles.

The Israeli military’s Arabic-language Twitter account told early on Thursday that it was moving against Iranian targets in Syria and alerted Damascus not to intervene.

The Syrian capital was shaken with detonations as jets flew overheard before dawn. Residents posted videos online of what appeared to be air defence rockets operating bright streaks through the night sky and repored loud noises rocked their buildings.

Syria’s state news told Damascus had intercepted dozens of missiles, but that several had reached radar and other military posts.

Israel said raids were in response to about 20 rockets fired from an Iranian-operated launcher at its forces in the Golan Heights. The rockets either fell short of their targets or were intercepted, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

” At approximately 12.10, 10 minutes past midnight, forces belonging to the Iranian Quds Force fired approximately 20 bullets- most of them are likely rockets but that is yet to be determined- towards the forward line of IDF positions in the Golan Heights ,” he said.

In subsequently comments, he added:” Not a single[ rocket] impacted in Israel. Four were intercepted by the Iron Dome defensive system and the rest did not reach their targets .”

Conricus accused the general in charge of the Quds force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ external operations branch, of orchestrating the attack.” It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose ,” he said.

He said Israel had notified Russia before the ten-strikes began. Moscow, which supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, said 28 Israeli warplanes took part in the raid and 70 missiles were fired.

Tensions between Iran and Israel soared in February when the IDF said it downed an Iranian droning penetrating its airspace. Since then, Syria and Iran have not retaliated to what they claimed were multiple Israeli assaults, although Israel’s intelligence community had braced itself for a response.

Thursday’s clash followed Donald Trump’s decision on Tuesday to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, a move Israel have all along been advocated but that military analysts had cautioned could ignite regional violence. The occupied Golan Heights has been on high alert ever since.

A statement from the office of the French chairman, Emmanuel Macron, said:” The chairwoman has been kept regularly updated. He calls for a de-escalation in the situation .” Macron will discuss the Middle East in a meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Iran did not immediately comment.

Throughout the Syrian war, Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes, largely on weapon convoys believed to be heading for Hezbollah, but the most recent overnight raids were the most intense to date.

It has alerted it will not permit Iran to establishes a permanent military presence in Syria, and has accused it of moving drones and missiles onto its Arab neighbour’s territory. Iranian forces have been sent to aid the Syrian government in the devastating seven-year civil war against insurgents.

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Macron begins Trump charm offensive with Fox News interview

French leader set for state visit to Washington from Monday, seeking to stop US withdrawals from Syria and Iran nuclear deal

Touting” a very strong personal relation” with Donald Trump, the French chairman, Emmanuel Macron, on Sunday began an ambitious charm offensive intended to strengthen US commitments in Syria and Iran while heading off menaces of a transatlantic trade war.

Prior to his departure for an official country visit to Washington, Macron likened himself to Trump in an interview with Fox News Sunday, a venue with a wide following among Trump advocates and likely to be watched including the president himself.

” Both of us are probably the maverick of the organizations of the system on both sides ,” Macron told.” I believe President Trump’s election was unexpected in your country and probably my election was unexpected in my country. And we are not part of the classical political system .”

But if his emphasis was on political affinities, Macron faces a substantial challenge to guide his occasionally errant counterpart away from stances popular with his base and, in the case of Syria, at odds with his own recently stated intentions.

” I want to get off, I want to bring the troops back home, I want to start rebuilding our nation ,” Trump said of Syria at the White House earlier this month, before proclaiming the US” mission achieved” with weapon ten-strikes outside Damascus and Homs.

Macron will arrive in the US with the opposite message.” We will have to build a new Syria after war ,” he said.” And that’s why I suppose the US role is very important to play .”

Macron described a similarly ambitious plan to keep the US in the Iran nuclear deal, which the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee last week predicted Trump would withdraw from in May.

” Is this agreement perfect ?” said Macron.” No. But for nuclear- what do you have? As a better option? I don’t see it .”

Macron has been framed as the best hope for co-opting Trump to European policy priorities, with a recent Der Spiegel cover depicting him standing next to a fiery Trump, holding a fire extinguisher as German chancellor Angela Merkel stands by.

Macron will have an unusually strong opportunity to induce his example in his multi-day country visit. He and Trump are to dine privately on Monday at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, before an official White House welcome on Tuesday and an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

As a gift, Macron will offer Trump an oak sapling taken from Belleau Wood , north-east of Paris, where in June 1918 US Marine repulsed a German offensive with such ferocity that they earned from their beaten enemies the nickname “teufelhunden”, or” Devil Dogs “.

Macron does seem to have outdid other world leaders in establishing a rapport with Trump, whose envy he won when he hosted the US president for a military parade on Bastille Day-” We’re going to have to try to top it ,” Trump told.

Macron told Fox an interminable handshake between the two was not the competition of wills it appeared to be, but a moment of comity.

” It was a very natural moment, I have to say ,” he told.” And a very friendly moment. Don’t worry .”

One of the sharpest splits between Macron and Trump, however, may be over another world leader, Russian chairman Vladimir Putin, who Macron, unlike Trump, has a history of confronting.

” He’s strong and smart ,” Macron said of Putin.” But don’t be naive. He’s preoccupied by interferences in our democracies .”

If the French chairwoman can persuade his American counterpart on that point , no assert of a diplomatic coup might be denied him.

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The teachers of Idlib on the impossible struggle to educate their students

In a city under siege, schoolchildren take public quizs in cellars to escape the shelling, and class are conducted by WhatsApp. Their educators describe what its like to run local schools in a war zone

Abdulkafi Alhamdo is an English teacher in Syria. He loves Coleridge and Shakespeare and is currently teaching his students Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In 2016, he was evacuated from Syria’s very own heart of darkness- Aleppo- where he taught traumatised school children in cellars and bombed-out houses throughout the siege, even as they starved. Now he lives and works in the rebel-held north-west province of Idlib, where he and fellow teachers are struggling with few resources and little support to educate the next generation, those who will shape the future of Syria.

Idlib, the largest province in Syria to remain outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has assured a steady increase in violence in recent months with bombing raids by Russian and Syrian jets and the arrival of refugees fleeing from other war-ravaged zones, which- according to Alhamdo- stimulates the ongoing work of Syria’s teachers all the more vital.” We want education to continue because we don’t want these young children or students to think of handguns ,” he says.” Without schools, they would carry firearms but, because of their attendance at school, the objective is students .”

According to Anna Nolan, director of the human rights group The Syria Campaign, at least 2.5 million locals and refugees are now packed into Idlib, which has been described as” a kill box “. There is great humanitarian need and no state education, but Nolan says that remarkable attempts are afoot on the ground to conserve other members of civil society, with educators organising their own colleges and university classes, often running voluntarily without pay to build an extraordinary patchwork of DIY education.

Some have set up their own after-school clubs offering formal lessons, creative arts and vocational training, while others forced out of buildings by armed rebel groups are teaching classes in the open air and on WhatsApp.” There’s a real determination ,” says Nolan.” What we hear again and again is that they know that education is the key to the future and this is the generation that will rebuild Syria. The depth and imagination of the services being provided is unbelievable .”

The
The first day of word at local schools in Maarat al-Nu’man in Idlib province. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images

Many of the educators now working in Idlib are themselves displaced, among them Alhamdo, who fled Aleppo with his wife and young daughter and nothing else. In Idlib, the bombs are still falling-” There’s always bombing. This is our life ,” says Alhamdo- but it’s nothing like his experience in Aleppo.” Aleppo was something unusual ,” he tells.” Every day when I went to school to watch my students- they are like my children- I just check who is absent, who is alive and “whos not”, and then I start teaching them. We would stop many times because there were bombings. For one or two hours, we go to a cellar then, after the bombing stops, we go back again to our class and teach. If the bombing was heavy, we let our students go home .”

In April 2015, Saad Al-Ansari school, where Alhamdo was teaching, was hit by a rocket. He was returning from the playground when an detonation rent through the building, killing four both teachers and three students and injuring dozens more.” My heart jumped out of my body ,” he recalls.” I find the students running out, blood on their faces. They were in traumata, crying:’ Did you insure my little brother? Did you consider my sister ?’ They did not know what to do. Most of them were running out without shoes, without their volumes. I went inside and saw blood everywhere .”

From that point on, the large-scale schools were abandoned and educators organised their classes in small, makeshift schools in local neighborhoods, so that the children did not have so far to travel to school and- should another rocket hit- the number of potential victims would be fewer.

” When you teach in such circumstances, you are more psychologist than teacher ,” tells Alhamdo.” You have to be so careful about their trauma and their personal narratives. When there’s heavy bombing, you tell the children they are heroes because they are still learning. It was a very, very difficult job .”

The infants, traumatised by their experiences, found it hard to concentrate, but their teachers tried to preserve some normality for them. They still sat their public exams, hidden in cellars away from the shelling.” The conditions were very, the worst, but we could not let the war or their situation affect their progress. They are the future of Syria for us .”

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Boys played with plaything handguns in the suburbs of Idlib. Photograph: Omar Haj Kadour/ AFP/ Getty Images

Now in Idlib, he is teaching linguistics and the modern fiction at the Free Aleppo University in the Idlib countryside to students who have fled from regime-held areas. The university opened in 2016 as one of the country’s few remaining centres of higher education. On days when shelling is intense and the hazard is too great, students have lessons via WhatsApp, and some medical students have lectures online from physicians in the US.” I am proud of my students and I’m proud of teaching … My students are my heroes ,” says Alhamdo.

In one recent incident, students and teachers defied an attempted takeover of the university by the armed military clique Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham( HTS ). When they refused to sign the university over, HTS threatened the university and prevented them from employing the building for lectures, so Alhamdo and his colleagues took their lessons outside.” It might not be safe for me as a educator but we cannot surrender .”

In Atmeh, a village in the north of Idlib near the Turkish perimeter, Sawsan Abbar has opened the” Read and Rise” primary school for girls. Her spouse is the headteacher. The school is attended by 120 daughters, all of whom have been displaced from their home towns and cities by the war. There are few teach resources so Abbar and her colleagues have to be creative, sourcing materials from the internet and publishing them out for their students.

In the absence of so much else, the school has taken on a central nurturing role in the children’s lives.” Some of the children call me and other educators Mama or Auntie ,” tells Abbar, adding:” What keeps me awake at night is aerial bombardment. We have to skip school sometimes and it’s very worrying .”

Girls
Girls in school in Idlib. Photo: Aimen Al Halabi

Meanwhile, in the city of Maarat al-Nu’man, also in Idlib province, teacher Mariam Shirout has set up her own after-school provision for children in the area. In the morning she teaches in the city schools that are still functioning- they were once country schools but have been taken over by non-governmental organisations( NGOs)- and in the afternoon she opens the doors to her own school for children aged four to 15. It is called Bilelem Nartaqi, which entails” with education, we advance “. It started small in 2013 but has grown and now educates between 150 and 200 children from all over the city.

” Education is the backbone of the region ,” she says.” No matter what happens, I will be working until the last minute. When I consider the children coming to the centre under the bombardment because they want to spend time with their friends and me, I can’t think about stopping anything, ever .”

Shirout and five colleagues teach reading, writing, maths, English and Arabic. They also offer extracurricular activities including drama and singing and vocational training such as stitch.” My school also provides psychological and social support to the children to help them deal with the traumatic experiences they are going through.

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Children playing the shelled ruining of their school in western Idlib. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/ AFP/ Getty Images

” The shelling can really affect their work ,” she tells.” They are trying to be ambitious and believe they can continue with their work, but sometimes they have to stop for a few days because the shelling is unbearable. They are really afraid. Sometimes the schools stop for around 10 days or a month because of the intensive shelling .”

Shirout, who is single and has no children of her own, says her pupils are becoming adults prematurely.” They just want to survive. They are always distracted, always thinking of something else. Their intellects are always busy. They love school. They want to come, but they are still truly confused and that makes it hard to learn.

” I worry about my students all the time- not just about their physical safety but their mental health and their future. The education services available are not enough – it’s like a sticking plaster. If the situation continues as it is, the future of the majority of members of the students will be lost.

” My students are not infants any more. We can’t ask them what they want to be in the future. The future is not clear .”

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Syrian medics ‘subjected to extreme intimidation’ after Douma attack

Doctors say the individuals who treated patients after assault have been told they and their families will be targeted if they speak out

The head of the largest medical relief bureau in Syria claims that medics who responded to the suspected gas attack in Douma have been subjected to” extreme intimidation” by Syrian officials who seized biological samples, forced them to abandon patients and demanded their silence.

Dr Ghanem Tayara, the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations( UOSSM) said doctors responsible for treating patients in the hours after the 7 April attack have been told that their families will be at risk if they offer public testimonies about what took place.

A number of doctors who spoke to the Guardian the coming week say the intimidation from the regime has increased in the past five days, a timeframe that coincides with the arrival in Damascus of a squad from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons( OPCW ), which aims to determine whether chemical weapons were used. All the medics insisted on anonymity, quoting the dread for their lives and those of their families.

” There has been a very heavy security presence on the ground ever since the attack and they have been targeting doctors and medics in a very straightforward style ,” said Tayara, a Birmingham-based physician , now in Turkey where he is supervising the deviation from Syria of some of the Douma medics.” Any medic who tried to leave Douma was searched so vigorously, especially for samples. At one medical phase, seven casualties were taken away. The Russian military police were heavily involved. They were directing things.

” They were looking through their WhatsApp messages and phones. The doctors were treated abusively and have been threatened ever since. Their households have been threatened that they will pay a price and they themselves have told they will be arrested, and much more if they devote any evidence, or interviews about what happened in Douma .”

Testimonies of first responders and witnesses are crucial to building a picture of what took place in Douma around 7.30 pm on 7 April when, in the middle of a prolonged series of airstrikes, medics in the area say they were overrun by patients, many of whom displayed symptoms of exposure to a nerve agent.

” We hadn’t seen anything like that in Douma ,” Tayara said.” We knew what chlorine did, but these were convulsions, foaming and something that had affected the central nervous system .” He said he believed the death toll was higher than previous estimates of between 40 and 70.

A former senior policeman in the Syrian military chemical weapons programme, Brig Zaher al-Saket, who deserted in 2013, told Douma residents “hes working with” had buried close to 50 bodies in an undisclosed site in the field, hoping that they could be eventually recovered and used to confirm distrusts that some kind of nerve agent was used in the attack.

The OPCW has been racing against the clock to collect samples from the site of the attack, a three-storey house in Douma, in which ratings of people died in a basement. Jerry Smith, who helped supervise the OPCW-led withdrawal of much of Syria’s sarin stockpile in 2013, told samples of nerve agent rapidly degrade in normal environmental conditions.

A cylinder of the type used by the Syrian military to fell chlorine remains on the roof of the building, multiple witnesses have said. The Russian military and Syrian officers have had access to the house since last Thursday, creating fears that the site may have been tampered with. However, Smith said it was likely that residual samples of nerve agent would remain for at least another week, even after an attempted clean-up.

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Russia opposes western resolution on Syria at UN- video

Medics and survivors who have remained in Douma, and others who have fled for northern Syria, ridiculed vying claims that the two attacks either did not take place, or did not use gas. In the hours after the attack, the main opposition militia surrendered. Since then, thousands and thousands of locals have been exiled to northern Syria, and the Syrian military has taken full control of the area.

Abu Walid, a survivor of the attack, whose pregnant wife and merely son died, said:” I saw my son coughing. I told him pull it together and run up the stairs. I grabbed my spouse and ran after him. Next thing I recall was someone opening and closing my eyelids and dousing me with water. For five hours I lost consciousness, and “d no idea” where I was. They told me a chemical attack took place, they told me I lost my wife and son and everybody else was martyred. I told them I wish you didn’t rescue me .”

Some physicians have appeared on Syrian television to deny that anything took place in Douma. A doctor who spoke to the Guardian said:” Our colleagues who appeared on television were coerced, because some hadn’t served in the military or completed their degree, and for other reasons, some had family in Damascus. They decided to stay in exchange for being reconciled with the regime. But the regime utilized them .”

Another medic who treated victims said:” Anyone who has knowledge of what happened cannot testify. What was being said is that the medical centres would be destroyed on top of those working in it.

” The evidence of people under pressure cannot be relied on. Imagine if you spoke out while for the purposes of the control of those that you were speaking out against, what will your fate be ?”

Another doctor said:” We were receiving threats since the siege began, prior to the chemical weapons assault. When the attack took place, things became much more dangerous. They’re wiping out evidence that would demonstrate the crime, and they are forcing the physicians and residents who are witnesses to say that nothing took place .”

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Syrian refugees don’t ‘want to go to US’, envoy says in defense of Trump ban

America resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees in 2016. Under Trump, merely 3,024 were allowed in during 2017 and merely 11 in so far in 2018

Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United nations organization on Sunday defended the president’s ban on letting Syrian refugees into the US by claiming that people displaced due to the country’s civil war did not actually want to leave the region.

When asked how she justified the Trump administration admitting almost no Syrian refugees while also bombing Assad regime targets in the country, Nikki Haley cited dialogues she said she had had with refugees at camps in Jordan and Turkey.

” Not one of the many that I talked to ever told we want to go to America ,” Haley said on Fox News Sunday.” They want to stay as close to Syria because they can .”

The number of Syrians resettled in the US has fallen sharply under Trump because the president enforced a blanket ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, and added further checks to America’s tough vetting system for immigrants.

According to the US state department, America resettled 15,479 Syrian refugees in 2016 during Barack Obama’s last year as chairperson. That figure was criticised as insufficient by many activists. Under Trump, however, merely 3,024 Syrians were allowed in during 2017 and merely 11 in so far in 2018.

Haley said the US had expended more than$ 6bn on the Syrian conflict.” I will tell you, from a humanitarian standpoint, the US has been a massive donor in such situations ,” she told.” But also when I talk to the refugees, they want to go home .”

The ambassador to the UN made her statements after Trump tried to defend his use of the loaded phrase” mission accomplished” to declare success in Friday’s US-led military ten-strikes in Syria.

Trump was criticised for using the phrase, which became notorious in US politics in 2003 after then chairperson George W Bush appeared in front of a flag decorated with those terms soon after the start of the war in Iraq. Thousands of US troops remain in Iraq today.

On Sunday, Trump claimed in a tweet that the attack was ” so perfectly carried out, with such accuracy, that the only route the Fake News Media could demean was by my utilize of the term’ Mission Accomplished .'”

He added:” I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often !”

Donald
Donald Trump addressed the nation on the situation in Syria on Friday at the White House. Photo: Mandel Ngan/ AFP/ Getty Images

The US, Britain and France launched the ten-strikes on Friday night in response to a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma a week ago that killed at least 40 people.

Opponents of Trump said his declaration seemed premature. Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine , noted that the regime’s attack on Douma proceeded despite earlier ten-strikes from the US in April last year.

” I think it is very difficult to say’ mission accomplished’ if the mission is to deter the use of chemical weapons ,” King said on CNN’s State of the Union.” We hope that will be the case. But we did a strike a year ago for that same intent, and it was deemed a success, but the chemical weapons have continued to be used .”

Haley defended Trump’s use of the phrase, saying that he was referring to the completion of one short-term objective. She said this was the term’s common usage in military circles despite its wider political connotations.

” We of course know that our work in Syria is not done ,” said Haley, who reiterated that the US was prepared to attack Assad’s positions again if his forces carried out similar atrocities.

John Brennan, the CIA director under Barack Obama and a consistent critic of Trump, said the administration’s action against Syria was ” exactly right” but cautioned that it may not impede Assad’s capabilities significantly.

” I’m sure this ten-strike, which was a tactical and surgical success, has been a setback to the program ,” Brennan said on NBC’s Meet The Press.” But that doesn’t mean that the Syrians cannot recreate the chemical weapons to use once again .”

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Donald Trump’s address on the launch of attacks on Syria the full text

Britain, France, and the US have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality

My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch accuracy ten-strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both.

Tonight, I want to speak with you about why we have taken this action.

One year ago, Assad launched a savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people. The United States responded with 58 rocket ten-strikes that destroyed 20 per cent of the Syrian Air Force.

Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians- this time, in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This murder was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.

The evil and the despicable assault left mothers and fathers, infants and children, flailing in pain and gasp for air. These are not the actions of a human; they are crimes of a monster instead.

Following the horrors of World War I a century ago, civilized nations joined together to ban chemical warfare. Chemical weapons are uniquely dangerous not only because they inflict gruesome suffering, but because even small amounts can unleash widespread devastation.

The purpose of our actions tonight seeks to establish a strong discouraging against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British, and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power- military, economic, and diplomatic.

We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of proscribed chemical agents.

I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.

To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, females, and children?

The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rascal nations, brutal dictators, and murderous dictators.

In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. Assad’s recent attack- and today’s response- are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise.

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

I will say this: The United States has a lot to offer, with the greatest and most powerful economy in the history of the world.

In Syria, the United States- with but a small force-out being used to eliminate “whats left of” ISIS- is doing what is necessary to protect the American people. Over the past year, virtually 100 per cent of the territory once controlled by the so-called ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been liberated and eliminated.

The United States has also rebuilt our friendships across the Middle East. We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing large amounts of money for the resources, equipment, and all of the anti-ISIS endeavor.

Increased involvement from our friends, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, and others can ensure that Iran does not profit from the eradication of ISIS.

America does not attempted an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.

Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny.

No amount of American blood or rich can make lasting peace and security in the Countries of the middle east. It’s a distressed place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.

In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human spirit. We considered the anguish that can be unleashed and the evil that can take hold. By the end of the World War I, more than 1 million people had been killed or injured by chemical weapons. We never want to see that ghastly specter return.

So today, other countries of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

Tonight, I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our friends as they carry out their missions.

We pray that God will bring convenience to those suffering in Syria. We pray that God will guide the whole region toward a future of dignity and of peace.

And we pray that God will continue to watch over and bless the United States of America.

Thank you, and goodnight. Thank you.

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The Syria bombing is a disgraceful act disguised as a noble gesture | Moustafa Bayoumi

The US-led barrage proves just how little interest the global powers have in objective Syrias ghastly war

The bombing of Syrian government targets by the United States, Britain, and France is a disgraceful and ineffectual act masquerading as a noble gesture. Far from preventing a more vicious war, the bombing instead legitimizes the continuation of the conflict. In fact, what this barrage of weapons genuinely reveals is how little interest the global powers have in objective Syria’s ghastly war.

Similar to the attacks on Syrian government targets that Donald Trump ordered merely over a year ago, the airstrikes this time will not seriously injury Bashar al-Assad’s larger military capability , nor are they intended to. Instead, we’re told that the western bombing campaign has specifically aimed munitions at localities where the storage and testing of chemical weapons occurs.

But wasn’t last year’s attack “ve been meaning to” put an end to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and aren’t these the weapons that he was supposed to have destroyed under international auspices in 2014? At this rate, should we expect that an aerial bombing mission to finally and completely destroy Assad’s chemical weapons will be launched every April?

The question is ridiculous, of course, but so is the idea that this attack will achieve anything beyond boosting the war-making egoes of its protagonists and enabling Assad, his reprehensible regime, and his allies to complain of being the perpetual victims of western aggression. Beyond the bombast on both sides, Syria’s daily misery will continue.

These strikes mark the first timeTheresa May of Britain and Emmanuel Macron of France have committed their respective militaries into combat, and they have said and done, according to May,” to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons, but also because we cannot allow the corrosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons .”

May’s words might sound more intelligent than those of Donald Trump, who in his statement about the attacks told the American people:” Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not .” But what May’s words truly disclose is not the ethical reasoning of a head of state but the devastating absence of moral fear by the international community when it comes to the people of Syria.

The fact that three of the world’s most powerful militaries have now been mobilized into action, even for a limited campaign such as this one, to prevent” the corrosion of the international norm” of using chemical weapons is far from comforting. Since the war began, Assad’s regime has engaged in the repeated and dreadful use of barrel bombs and mass starvation, the systematic torture of thousands of citizens and the laying siege to multiple cities, the killing of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of more than half the population. Yet, all of this horror does not seem to” erode an international norm” and certainly has not motivated these western leaders to any meaningful action to end the war.

On the contrary, regional and global powers now exploit Syria for their own advantage and apportion out its territory for repeated bombing. At this point, the country has been bombed by the Assad regime, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Rather than restriction war, this latest bombing of Syria normalizes the war’s ongoing brutality. Forget the chemical weapons for a moment. The bombing of Syria by the western powers essentially and unconscionably establishes near total warfare on civilians as an acceptable” international norm .” Our legislators will wallow in their most recent action, calling the bombing a great success for our civilization. In fact, it’s much more akin to our demise.

Moustafa Bayoumi is a Guardian US columnist

US says it has proof Syria carried out Douma gas attack

White House and state department say with very high confidence that regime was responsible

The US has said it has proof that the Syrian regime carried out a chemical weapon attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday, rejecting a Russian assert that it had been staged by British intelligence.

Both the White House and state department announced on Friday that the US had” a high level of confidence” about the regime’s culpability for the use of poison gas in Douma.

The declaration marked a transformation from a statement by the defence secretary, James Mattis, on Thursday, that the US was still looking at the evidence. But the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, told the security council that the Trump administration had still not decided on a military response.

The UK denounced as” a blatant lie” Russian claims that the country’s intelligence services were responsible for staging” the fake chemical weapons assault” in Douma, as a pretext for launching a wider military assault on the Syrian regime forces.

Moscow has hitherto said there was no traces of any chemical assault in Douma. Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) are due to visit the scene on Saturday. However, France, UK and the US have said their own proof already points to Damascus.

Western diplomats would not rule in military action while the OPCW is on the ground, but said their capitals would try to avoid a situation in which inspectors could be vulnerable to harm or being taken hostage.

Asked about the Russian accusation against the UK, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders said:” Our intelligence tells us otherwise … We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible “.

The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, told:” We can say that the Syrian government was behind this attack … We know there are only certain countries, like Syria, that have delivery mechanisms and have those types of weapons .”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he had obtained documentary evidence showing that” special services of a country, which is now seeking to be in the first ranks of the Russophobic campaign, were involved in this staged event “. The UK Foreign Office said the claims were preposterous.

Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to London, told reporters the UK-funded Syrian civil defence forces, the White Helmets, were responsible for staging fake chemical attacks by the Syrian army in an attempt to mislead the world. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defence ministry spokesman, went further saying:” We have … evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organising this provocation .”

He said Russia had proof that London put pressure on the White Helmets to stage the attack. The White Helmets is a humanitarian organisation made up of 3,400 volunteers who rescue civilians from the rubble after airstrikes.

Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, described the claims as” grotesque, bizarre and a blatant lie “. She added:” I want to country categorically … that Britain has no participation and would never have any participation in the use of a chemical weapon .”

A Foreign Office spokesperson told:” Russia has wielded its UN security council veto six days since February 2017 to shield the Assad regime from scrutiny for its use of chemical weapons. These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no assault ever happened.

The accusations plunged the two countries’ intelligence agencies into yet more conflict, and came as the first each member of a UN weapons inspectors fact-finding mission arrived in Damascus to see whether evidence remained to prove a chemical weapons assault had passed, as photograph, blood samples and accounts from witness have shown. The inspectors are expected to be given access to Douma on Saturday.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, insisted labour inspectors from the OPCW must be given full and unfettered access to witnesses and houses.

Russia, in conjunction with the forces of the Syrian chairperson, Bashar-al Assad, is in charge of the Douma area.

At another highly charged session of the UN security council on Friday, Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia repeated the claim that the two attacks was staged. Hayley, his American counterpart, said she was ” in awe” that Nebenzia could make such asserts “with a straight face”.

Pressed outside the UN chamber on when the US would decide whether to launch a military ten-strike, Haley said:” You don’t hurry-up decisions like this .” She added that if there was haste,” you make a mistake “.

On Thursday Trump called Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and the two agreed” it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not run unchallenged “. But the US delay in taking action appears to be caused by divisions between the White House and Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, on the viable targets that could be struck in an effort to wipe out Syria’s alleged chemical weapons stores and factories.

The hesitation in Washington devoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, a chance to consult with Vladimir Putin to see whether they can construct a compromise that will avoid a military attack but still satisfy western demands that Russia stops protecting Assad’s breaches of the chemical weapons conventions.

Macron, who on Thursday said he had proof of use of chemical weapons by Syrian regime- also called for dialogue with Russia.

But the glimmer of hope for diplomacy came alongside continued planning for a military assault. Britain’s military chiefs have been working on a range of scenarios over the last few days. The focuss of an attack would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons research and storage facilities.

Other targets under consideration by the Ministry of Defence, working in coordination with the US and France, include Syrian command and control centres as well as airbases, airliners and helicopters.

An attack on Assad’s presidential palace in the hills above Damascus has been ruled out as a step too far. May will be challenged by MPs to spell out her military schemes on Monday, if no weekend assault has been launched.

The planners are anxious to avoid destroying Russian equipment or killing Russian personnels based in Syria, potentially eliciting a reaction from Moscow. They insist weapons and intelligence are better than in the 1991 Iraq war in which the Amiriyah bomb shelter was made killing more than 400 civilians, or the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

A spokesperson for the French defense ministry, chiming with MoD partners, told Macron had specified there would be no targeting of Russians in Syria and the focus would be on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons capabilities.

A prime target is the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, west of Damascus, which the US has claimed have engaged in the preparation of chemical weapons.

Targets could include airbases where the chemical weapons are alleged to have been stored, as well as aircraft which have allegedly been used attacks.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an expert who led the UK and Nato chemical weapons reply squads, said it was highly unlikely that an attack on Syrian chemical facilities risked spreading the poison.

” The best style to destroy chemical weapons is to blow them up ,” he said.

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US-Russia tensions build as Moscow hits back at Trump’s Twitter threat

Trump tells Russia to get ready for US missiles fired at Syria which Russia has vowed to shoot down

The US and Russia went significantly closer to a direct clash over Syria on Wednesday when Donald Trump fired off an incendiary tweet that told Moscow to “get ready” for incoming US weapons, which the Russian military has vowed to shoot down.

A standoff over a poison gas attack on a rebel-held suburbium of Damascus on Saturday has since spiraled into the most dangerous confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers since the high levels of the cold war, driven by Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising backing for the Assad regime in Damascus and the volatility of the US president.

” Russia vows to shoot down any and all weapons fired at Syria ,” the US president tweeted.” Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and’ smart !’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it !”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called for calm.

” We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy ,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax.” We support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation .”

Despite the president’s menacing tweet, both the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, suggested a decision on military action was still pending.

” All alternatives are on the table and a final decision hasn’t been made ,” Sanders told.

Mattis said the US was ” still assessing intelligence” on Saturday’s attack on Douma, before attending a White House meeting of military and intelligence chiefs chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence.

In anticipation of an attack, Syrian aircrafts had been flown to three Russian airbases and senior Syrian government officials had been moved to safe house in Damascus, according to sources in Turkey.

A US naval battlegroup- including the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, and largely likely a cruise missile submarine, USS Georgia- was in place in the eastern Mediterranean on Wednesday night.

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White House fights to explain Trump’s Russia missile tweet- video

France has a missile ship, the Aquitaine, in the eastern Mediterranean and Rafale fighters armed with cruise missiles in Jordan and Abu Dhabi. President Emmanuel Macron has declared that proven Syrian regime responsibility for chemical weapons use would traverse a red line for France.

In London, Theresa May summoned her cabinet for an emergency session on Thursday to discuss the next steps, after warning that the Douma attack,” could not go unchallenged “~ ATAGEND.

MPs are not due to return to Westminster from their Easter recess until next week; but the “ministers ” is under pressure to decide whether the UK will join coordinated military action.

Speaking on Wednesday, May pointed the thumb at the Assad government, and promised to ensure that those responsible were “held to account”. The employ of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged ,” she said.

” We’re rapidly reaching an understanding of what happened on the ground. All the clues are that the Syrian regime was responsible .”

It is not entirely clear what triggered Trump’s 7am tweet, but it came after news reports quoted the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warning that Russian forces-out in Syria would intercept any incoming US rockets, and return fire at their source, likely to entail US airliners or ships.

Russian air defence did not try to shoot down US Tomahawk cruise missiles the last hour Trump ordered punitive ten-strikes following a chemical weapons attack attributed to the Assad regime.

But the Russian chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, alerted last month that the next time could be different, and that Russia would use air defence and other weapons if its forces in Syria were threatened.

Zasypkin’s reported statements appear more sweeping, suggesting any incoming assault would trigger reprisal- whether or not there were Russian casualties.

Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst in Moscow, told the Protector that he believed the ambassador’s remarks were mistranslated, and noted that the Russian envoy had referred immediately to Moscow’s stated policy.

But with tensions rising, he said, he believed Putin are able to step in to restate Moscow’s policy.

” I suppose up to now they thought it would be good to keep the US in doubt about the real Russian reaction, but Trump has raised the stakes today ,” Frolov said.

The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, claimed that a US missile salvo could be used to destroy evidence of the gas attack, which Moscow asserts was staged. On Wednesday the Russian army said it was going to send military police into Douma to safeguard the site.

Their deployment seemed part of a plan proposed by Moscow to bring an expert from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW) to the site of the reported assault. Western officials have warned that any Russian effort to control the visit could turn the inspection into a new flashpoint, rather than a potentialway out of the looming crisis.

Syria’s other main backer, Iran- which has signficant ground forces in the country- could also retaliate if its troops are hit on a fraught battlefield crisscrossed by tense rivalries between outside powers.

” It is hard to think of a more risky situation ,” told Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control advocacy group.” You have the US assaulting from the air against ground forces intermingled with Iranians and Russians. The chances of the US killing Russians or Iranians are quite high. Their reaction is unknown but it is certainly not going to be understanding .”

Less than an hour after advising Russia to “get ready”, Trump appeared to strike a less aggressive tone in a second tweet.

” Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this ,” he wrote.” Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race ?”

But there appeared little room for compromise between the two sides on the central question: the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The UN’s World Health Organisation, based in Geneva, said on Wednesday that it had received reports that 500 patients had been admitted to hospital with symptoms of a chemical assault.

But the Russian foreign ministry doubled down on its claim that no chemical attack resulted, saying at a briefing:” This is a total misrepresentation on a global scale .”

” Damascus has neither the motive to employ chemical weapons nor the chemical weapons themselves ,” Zakharova, the ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman, said.” There is no proof of their utilize by Damascus .”

The latest bellicose tone from the White House, and pressure from the military not to give Russia time to prepare its air defenses inside Syria, raises questions about whether the US will wait for a British parliamentary endorsement for action.

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Trump’s Russia tweets show how misinformation can lead to global crisis

Trumps threat is unlike anything from a US president in modern history triggered, most likely, by edited or mistranslated remarks

Donald Trump’s Wednesday’s morning Twitter storm warning Russia to “get ready” for US weapons fired at Syria was a frighteningly clear illustration of how wars can start by miscalculation.

While the trigger phases in the president’s mind are unknowable, it seems likely from past experience that he had assured something on the morning news- most probably a version of statements by a Russian diplomat in Lebanon that may have been edited or mistranslated to make them sound worse than they were.

According to a report in Arabic translated into English, the envoy- Alexander Zasypkin- was warns that Russia would shoot down any incoming US missiles and assault the vessel, submarines or airliners they were fired from.

That went further than the official Russian red line, laid down by the chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, in March, that Russia would use its air defences and other weapons to respond to a threat to Russian servicemen in the region.

Whatever Zasypkin did or did not say, it unleashed a direct menace against Russia unlike anything seen from a US president in modern history, the Cuban missile crisis included. It was more like a piece of dialogue from Dr Strangelove.

” Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and’ smart !'” was the line from Trump’s thumb at 7am.

The weapons have not been fired so far, and the president sent out a slightly more conciliatory tweet an hour subsequently. But his initial gut level reply will have had its impact as it was heard down the US chain of command, rippling out to US allies and enemies.

It will make it harder to climb down and determine if a way can be found out of the present crisis.

Even before Trump arrived in the Oval Office and began aiming his incendiary tweets at the rest of the world, the horrors of the Syrian war were destined to turn into a global crisis, stoked by the intervention of outside powers: Russia and Iran by seeking a bad policy- defending Bashar al-Assad to the demise- and the US by seeking no policy.

” The Russians have been trying to force us to accept a peace on their words for some time now, and we have not been sufficiently organised to come up with a counter-strategy ,” said Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Eurasia.” We have failed to connect our anti-Isis operations to a strategy for the civil war and a road to a tenable peace .”

” The Russians want a peace deal. They want out of there ,” told Farkas , now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. But she added:” Putin is not impervious to mistakes. He has made a mistake in Syria by excavating in his heels on the question of Assad .”

The failing of the UN security council to serve as a vehicle for compromise has been due in part to Moscow’s policy of blanket denial when it comes to the Assad regime’s involvement in war crimes, most importantly the use of chemical weapons. The western powers have been infuriated to see that line crossed, and now feel they cannot stand by and watch it get erased wholly.

Maxim Suchkov, a Russian political analyst, said Putin’s motives in Syria are complicated by his overall goals in reasserting Moscow’s goals on the world stage, constructing him ready to repeatedly raise the stakes.

” I believe health risks are high and serious ,” Suchkov told.” For Russia the conflict around Syria has long been about bigger things, principally the new world order, the rules-settling, changing what Moscow has seen as detrimental US policies .”

Both sides, then, watch a potential existential threat in the Syrian conflict. For the west, it is the normalisation of the use of weapons of weapons of mass destruction. For Russia- or at least Putin- it as an all-or-nothing battle over Russian resurgence as a nation. With such stakes, the costs of miscalculation are correspondingly high.

” Without clear aims and a strategy for Syria, striking its airbases and other military facilities is pointless and risks intensifying to direct conflict with Russia ,” said Bruce Blair, a former nuclear weapon launch officer and now a scholar at Princeton University.” The backdrop to this showdown is two nuclear states with thousands of nuclear-armed rockets on launch-ready alerting. Communications between the US and Russian militaries are essential right now to avoid direct conflicts between our forces and avoid this crisis from spinning out of control .”

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