Turkey denies use of chemical weapons in Syria

Turkey says it has “never used chemical weapons” after claims it used a toxic gas during an offensive in Afrin, Syria. Local doctors had been quoted as saying they treated people for exposure to chemical gases.

The northern Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin (Getty Images/AFP/A. Shafie Bilal)

Turkey on Saturday denied allegations that it had used poisonous gas during operations in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria, following accusations from a human rights group and local news outlets.

Responding to claims that six men were treated for symptoms in line with exposure to toxic gas after a shelling offensive on Friday, a Turkish diplomatic source said Turkey had “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia were “baseless.”

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the diplomat said. “[These are] lies…This is black propaganda.”

The White House said it was “extremely unlikely” the Turkish military used chemical weapons against the Kurds.

Turkey claims the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting a rebellion against the Turkish state since 1984.

Watch video03:57

Strong support for Turkish offensive, dissent suppressed

Reports of chemical gas use

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive dubbed “Olive Branch” in January on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Friday reported that six civilians had breathing difficulties and other symptoms after a suspected poisonous gas attack.

Read more: Syrian conflict: Where does the Assad regime stand on the Afrin offensive?

Syrian Kurdish news outlets and state-run news agency SANA also reported the alleged attack on the village of Sheikh Hadid in the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in the country’s northwest.

SOHR and the news outlets quoted local doctors in Afrin as saying the victims experienced shortness of breath, vomiting and skin rashes.

SANA on Saturday said Turkey had fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village.

France to retaliate if chemical weapons used

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria, but that he was yet to see proof of their use.

In May 2017, Macron said he had set a “red line” at the use of chemical weapons.

Following Macron’s warning, the Syrian government denied it possessed chemical weapons, saying they were “immoral and unacceptable,” SANA reported.

A call from the United Nations for a nationwide humanitarian ceasefire in Syria has largely been ignored.

law/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

Washington no more: Palestine turns to Moscow for future Israel talks

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Washington no more: Palestine turns to Moscow for future Israel talks
It is no secret that Palestinian trust in Washington as an impartial broker and mediator in future peace talks with Israel has been shredded.

And given the Trump administration’s reckless, not to mention illegal, decision to declare Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, who can blame them?

This historic rupture with Washington on the part of the Palestinian Authority was articulated by President Mahmoud Abbas, at the start of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

“We [the Palestinians] state that from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the US in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions,” he said.

With these sentiments, the Palestinian leader provides more evidence of damage to Washington’s moral standing and political authority in the Middle East due to the actions of the Trump administration. Consequently, it is to Moscow that Abbas and the Palestinians are now looking to help mediate future diplomatic initiatives with Israel.

Of course, no one with even the most basic understanding the tortuous history of the Palestinian struggle for justice will have been under any illusions when it comes to Washington’s bias in favor of its close ally Israel when it comes to this issue. However, President Trump has removed even the patina of impartiality that Washington had sought to maintain, deciding for transparently domestic reasons to go where no previous US president had dared go in acceding to the likewise-domestic agenda of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital city.

With Netanyahu now on the verge of being indicted in Israel on corruption charges, perhaps we gain a deeper understanding of not only the domestic context in which the recognition of Jerusalem was so crucial to him in December, while the police investigation into these corruption allegations was ongoing, but also Israel’s aggressive posture in Syria of late.

None of this, of course, does anything to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians, whose rights continue to be negated on a daily basis by Israel in the form of its illegal occupation of the West Bank, the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the siege of Gaza, which falls under the category of collective punishment.
It should be noted that the Palestinians still foresee a role for the US in future talks and peace initiatives, but from now only on a multilateral basis in conjunction with Russia, along with, it is to be presumed, the EU and the UN with the region. The involvement of the UN in future talks is especially necessary, despite its authority of having been consistently subverted by Washington and Israel of late.

Regardless, it would be folly for either to believe that there is any scope for a unilateral or bilateral approach when it comes to resolving this issue. Illusions of this sort will only succeed in dragging the world back to 19th-century colonial and imperialist norms, and would be disastrous for stability, peace and the security of all.

When it comes to the pressing matter of where we are and the challenge of navigating towards any kind of workable resolution that can satisfy the Palestinians’ righteous demand for justice and Israel’s need for security, along with the overall stability of the region upon which both depends, we encounter the salient truth that only the strong can compromise and only equals can reach agreement.

Often lost in the avalanche of obfuscation and dissembling that has traditionally suffused this seemingly intractable question is the simple fact that it is Israel occupying Palestinian territory not the Palestinians occupying Israeli territory. It is Israelis building and expanding illegal settlements on Palestinian territory, not the Palestinians building and expanding illegal settlements on theirs. And it is the Israelis who are currently holding close to 2 million Palestinians under siege (in Gaza) not the Palestinians holding close to 2 million Israelis under siege anywhere.

Clearly, in a perfect world international law would be equally applied and equally respected by all states and nations no matter the size of the economy, military might or historical weight said state or nation enjoys. But such a perfect world is not the one we live in.

The challenge then lies in persuading Israel that justice for the Palestinians, which is now long overdue, is also in its own strategic and security interests, regardless of the self-evident morality involved.

Oppression breeds resistance, and by any objective measure the Palestinians are an oppressed people. If history proves anything it is that until those who are oppressed are free, neither will those who oppress them be free.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Turkish warships block drilling rig near Cyprus

Turkey’s president has cautioned foreign companies not to “overstep the mark” amid a standoff over natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean. Turkish ships are blocking a drilling rig from reaching an area off Cyprus.

A man walks as an other man sits on a beach as a drilling platform is seen in the background outside from Larnaca port

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday issued a warning to neighboring Greece and Cyprus as well as foreign companies not to encroach on Turkey’s sovereignty.

“Right now, our warships, air force and other security units are following developments in the region closely with the authority to make any kind of intervention if necessary,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.

“We advise the foreign companies who are conducting activities off Cyprus, relying on the Greek side, not to be an instrument to businesses that exceed their limit and power.”

Read moreRace for Cyprus gas and oil sparks tensions in the Mediterranean

Ankara came under fire this week after its warships began blocking a rig from reaching a location off the coast of Cyprus, where Italian energy company Eni is scheduled to drill for gas.

Watch video02:09

Landmark Erdogan visit to Greece gets off to rocky start

Standoff at sea

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told state broadcaster RIK that the rig remained anchored in the eastern Mediterranean, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the drilling target off the southeastern coast. He said both the government and Eni were determined to see the drilling go ahead as planned.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, meanwhile, said he hoped to find a “shared solution, respecting international law and in the interests of Eni, the countries in the region and of the two Cypriot communities.”

Read moreTurkey threatens measures against Cyprus over exploration of gas deposits

In 1974, Cyprus was divided into a Greek-Cypriot south, where the internationally recognized government is seated, and a Turkish-Cypriot north, which only Turkey recognizes.

Turkey is against drilling, saying the act disregards the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the island’s natural resources. It also claims the area Cyprus has designated for exploratory drilling.

However, the Cypriot government says that it has the sovereign right to drill for gas and will share any income equitably if the island is reunified.

Read moreCyprus talks ‘end’ without deal

Greece’s Foreign Ministry has condemned what it calls Turkey’s “blatant violation” of Cyprus’ sovereign rights, as well as its disregard for international law. It added that Turkey’s “provocative” behavior wasn’t appropriate for a country that has worked to join the European Union.

Watch video06:02

Cyprus: An island hoping for unity

EU warns Turkey

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva on Monday cautioned Turkey to respect the territory of EU member states and to avoid ratcheting up tensions.

“Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to good neighborly relations and avoid any kind of source of friction, threat or action directed against a member state,” Andreeva said.

Read moreCyprus peace talks: An island caught between the EU and Turkey?

In a post on his official Twitter account, European Council President Donald Tusk wrote that he had spoken to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and called on Turkey to “avoid threats or actions” against EU members and to commit to “peaceful dispute settlement.”

After my phone call with President @AnastasiadesCY this evening. I call on Turkey to avoid threats or actions against any EU member and instead commit to good neighbourly relations, peaceful dispute settlement and respect for territorial sovereignty.

Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2004, but only the southern part of the island enjoys full benefits.

av,nm/aw (AP, dpa)

 

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

 

COURTESY: DW

Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria

Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria
Russia has invited its partners among the BRICS nations (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) to establish a foothold in the promising Syrian market, according to the Russian Ambassador to the country, Alexander Kinshchak.

“According to Syrian estimates, losses in the real sector of the economy topped $75 billion,” the ambassador told TASS news agency. “UN experts believe that it will take nearly $200 billion to achieve the pre-crisis GDP growth rate,” he added.

“We are aware that the Syrian government will find it difficult to obtain a huge amount of money required for the post-crisis recovery,” Kinshchak explained.

“Therefore, Russia suggested that the international community, first of all, the nations friendly to Syria, should join efforts in order to work out a complex program for its revival,” he added.

Kinshchak said Russia was looking to BRICS and allies like Iran and other states that have independent foreign policies and are motivated to gain a foothold in the promising Syrian market.

In 2016, Damascus and Moscow signed nearly a billion dollars’ worth of agreements to rebuild war-torn Syria. Russia was offered a chance to participate in exploring and developing oil and gas on land and offshore. In particular, it was invited to upgrade the Baniyas refinery and construct a refinery with Iran and Venezuela.

Syria has begun agricultural exports to Russia. The countries also intend to open a bank to facilitate transfers. The bank would be controlled 50-50 by the countries’ central banks.

Courtesy: RT

Iraq urges billions for reconstruction amid donor fatigue

Iraq needs close to $90 billion to rebuild after a 3-year war with the “Islamic State” group, a donor conference has heard. Having spent billions on the conflict, Washington is unlikely to pledge any new funds.

Kuwait conference for Iraq reconstruction (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Gambrell)

The Iraqi government needs $88.2 billion (€71.92 billion) for reconstruction efforts after its victory against the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group, Iraqi Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili said at the opening of an international conference on the issue in Kuwait on Monday.

He said the figure was based on a study by Iraqi and international experts, who assessed the impact of the conflict that left large swathes of the country destroyed and approximately 2.5 million people displaced.

Global responsibility

“Rebuilding Iraq is restoring hope to Iraq, and restoring the stability of Iraq is stabilizing the states of the region and the world,” al-Jumaili told delegates, adding that the reconstruction was therefore partly the international community’s responsibility.

Read more: Iraq to resume oil reparations to Kuwait for Gulf War devastation, says UN

Watch video01:38

PetroChina seeks role in Iraqi oil industry recovery

His words are likely to fall on deaf ears in Washington and elsewhere in the West, partly due to donor fatigue amid several conflicts and refugee crises globally, and US President Donald Trump’s more protectionist stance.

US officials have already said there will be no new pledges of assistance for Iraq’s reconstruction drive, after Washington pumped some $60 billion into rebuilding the country following the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Private sector involvement

Although US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend the donor conference on Tuesday, he will instead call for multinational companies and banks to boost their activities in the war-torn country. Thousands of private sector delegates, including representatives from more than 100 American firms are expected to attend.

Iraqi man next to remains of house (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Martins)Iraq’s leaders say construction of new housing is a major priority after thousands of homes were destroyed during the war with IS

Analysts said Iraqi leaders are expected to pressure Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states to step up to the plate.

Read more: Saudi minister makes first trip to Baghdad since 1990, promises new ambassdor

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also vowed his country’s support during a visit to Iraq on Monday, without giving a specific figure.

“I have come to tell you of France’s support to accompany you. We will always be there. We were there to participate in the coalition (against IS). We will also be there in the reconstruction phase,” he said.

About $22 billion is required in the short term and another $66 billion in the medium term, the director-general of the country’s planning ministry, Qusay Adulfattah, told the conference, which lasts until Wednesday.

New housing needed

Housing is one of the most urgent priorities, delegates heard, after some 140,000 homes were destroyed during the conflict against the jihadist group.

Mahdi al-Alaq, the Secretary-General of Iraq’s Council of Ministers, said the Baghdad government had been given preliminary indications that some states were prepared to act as guarantors with lenders, allowing Iraq to take out soft loans to fund infrastructure projects,

Read more: Iraq’s political landscape in disarray

Oil-rich Iraq’s economy was weakened by years of international sanctions under Saddam Hussein’s regime.  The years of insurgency, sectarian violence and ethnic tensions that followed his overthrow in 2003 helped fuel the emergence of IS, a little more than a decade later.

Iraq declared victory over the jihadists in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015.

mm/uhe (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

Iran & Syria ‘are playing with fire,’ Israeli military warns amid flare-up of tensions

Iran & Syria ‘are playing with fire,’ Israeli military warns amid flare-up of tensions
The IDF warned Syria and Iran against ‘violating Israeli sovereignty,’ otherwise they would pay a heavy price. The Israeli military also insisted that Israel does not seek an escalation in tensions in the region.

“Iran and Syria are playing with fire,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement on Twitter. The military added that it acts “with determination” against “the attempt of the Iranian-Syrian attack and the violation of Israeli sovereignty.” “The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios and will continue to act as necessary.”

The IDF lashed out at the Syrian military, accusing the state of interference in the Israeli-Iranian incident, as well as at Iran for “using Syria as a launchpad for activity against Israel.”

is the aggressor here. They sent a on a military mission, violating sovereignty. The is ready for all scenarios, urging Iran and Syria to cease aggression.

However, the IDF insisted that Israel does not seek escalation with the two states. “We are willing, prepared and capable to exact a heavy price from anyone that attacks us, however we are not looking to escalate the situation,” the IDF said, insisting that what they’ve done was merely “a defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression and we are defending our airspace our sovereignty and civilians.”

Tensions between Israel, Iran, and Syria have been heating up since early Saturday after the IDF intercepted an Iranian UAV, which crossed from the territory of Syria into Israel. The Israeli military responded by targeting a Syrian military base, where they believed the operator of the drone to be located. Later that day, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed after Damascus responded with anti-aircraft fire to an Israeli operation in its territory. The pilots ejected and survived the incident.

“We are willing, prepared, and capable to exact a heavy price on anyone that attacks us. However, we are not looking to escalate the situation,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, Head of the International Media Desk.https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/press-releases/idf-intercepts-iranian-uav/ 

In response, the IDF said it struck 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including air defense batteries, adding that that during the attack, “anti-aircraft missiles were fired towards Israel, triggering alarms that were heard in Northern Israel.”

Following an exchange of fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held security consultations, approving the necessary actions in real time following the incidents, official Israeli sources told Haaretz.

Air traffic at Ben Gurion International Airport, 20km from Tel Aviv, was halted for around 15-20 minutes amid security tensions, Israeli media reported.

Courtesy: RT

Israel military targets Iranian drone and strikes Syria, F-16 crashes

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will protect itself from “any threat or any attempt to harm its sovereignty” after its military downed an Iranian drone that infiltrated the region.

“Israel is seeking for peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves against any attack against us, and against any attempt by Iran to establish military bases in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said Saturday after meeting with top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He said had spoken with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the recent involvement.

Israel’s military launched a “large-scale attack” after shooting down the infiltrating drone and struck Iranian targets deep in Syrian before one of its own jets was downed.

The raids hit at least 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four targets that were part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria. The offensive marks Israel’s most substantial involvement in Syria to date.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of a jet is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel called it a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty" and warned of further action against the unprecedented Iranian aggression. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The wreckage of the jet is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.  (AP)

Israel has issued several stern warnings of late about the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon.

Israel called the drone infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned that Iran would be held accountable for its meddling.

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

Israeli security stands around the wreckage of an F-16 that crashed in northern Israel, near kibbutz of Harduf, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria, in its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011. Responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter plane. (AP Photo/Rami Slush) ***ISRAEL OUT***

Investigators inspect the wreckage of an F-16 that crashed in northern Israel.  (AP)

Israel would not confirm whether the aircraft was actually shot down by enemy fire, which would mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.

According to Syrian state TV, which quoted a military official, Syrian air defenses struck more than one Israeli plane, and called the Israeli raids that hit a base a “new Israeli aggression.”

Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the drone was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces” and that Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

The drone was in Israel’s possession, the military said.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of a jet is seen near Harduf, northern Israel, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel called it a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty" and warned of further action against the unprecedented Iranian aggression. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.  (AP)

Although Israel has shot down several drones from Syria that have infiltrated the country’s territory in the past, the attack on an Iranian site in response to Saturday’s incident signals an escalation in the Israeli retaliation.

The military confirmed the Syrian target of the drone’s launch components were destroyed.

Iran denied Israel’s shooting down of a drone, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem calling the account “ridiculous,” while the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies insisted the drone had not violated Israeli airspace and was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants.

Iranian involvement along Israel’s border in Syria and Lebanon has been a growing concern as it fears Iran could use the region to position attacks or develop a land route from the country to Lebanon in an effort to deliver weapons to Hezbollah more efficiently.

But Israel has refrained from striking Iranian sites directly. Syria has also repeatedly said it will respond to Israeli airstrikes but has rarely returned fire. Both of those trends came to an abrupt end Saturday as a rapid escalation played out in the early morning hours.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.

netanyahu

Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces Gadi Eizenkot, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman meet.  (Yonat Friling)

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” he said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

However, the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants.

Russia, which backs Assad and maintains a large military presence in the country, called for restraint and appeared to criticize Israel’s actions.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist in the fight against terrorists,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Fox News’ Yonat Friling and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

Courtesy: Fox News

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