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Monday, 24 April 2017 11:19

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Afrasianet - Fights have broken out between Israeli soldiers and protesters outside the city of Ramallah in the West Bank as a small procession marched in support of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike across Israeli jails.

The small protest march set off from Yasser Arafat Square in central Ramallah on Sunday, but got into trouble when it reached the Beit El checkpoint to the north of the city, which was manned by soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an News, events took a violent turn when the IDF soldiers fired rubber-coated steel bullets on the protesters, injuring three. The protesters responded by setting bins on fire and hurling stones at the Israeli soldiers.

Tear gas was also used, but Ma’an News reported that the wind blew it back toward the IDF.

Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently taking part in what is reported to be one of the biggest hunger strikes across Israeli jails in recent years. It started in Hadarim prison where the West Bank’s ruling party Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, is serving a prison sentence for five counts of murder during the Second Intifada. The strike was announced on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners Day, an annual occasion dedicated to the thousands of Palestinian activists and militants being held in Israeli jails.

As well as Fatah prisoners, the strike also involved members of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has the support of both the Palestinian National Council and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. The prisoners are demanding the Israel Prison Service improve their prison conditions, including access to healthcare, telephone use and visitation rights.

 “Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available,” Barghouti wrote in an Op-Ed in the New York Times. “Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.”

But Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, claimed the hunger strike was really a front for an internal power struggle between Palestinian factions.

“The strike led by Barghouti is motivated by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands concerning the conditions in the prisons,” said Erdan, as quoted by the Times of Israel. “I have instructed the Prison Service to act in any way to contain the strike within the walls of the prisons and the Israel Police to prepare and provide any help needed to the prison service for any scenario that is likely to develop.”

Fatah call for a Day of Rage to take place on Friday in solidarity with the hunger strike, as well as a general strike on Thursday.










Afrasianet - French riot police have deployed tear gas on protesters who gathered at the Place de la Bastille in central Paris after preliminary results of the first round of the presidential election were announced.

Protests in Paris in the aftermath of the vote have turned violent with smoke grenades, flares and glass bottles thrown at police.

RT’s correspondent Charlotte Dubenskij was tear gassed while reporting from the scene.

The rallies, dubbed the “night of the barricades,” are expected to take place in 13 cities across France.

The protests erupted minutes after the polling stations closed in the first round of the presidential elections.

There is a massive riot police presence on the streets of Paris, with officers wearing full body armor, including shields and carrying batons and pepper spray bottles, as can be seen on images from a Ruptly video.

At some point protesters were seen throwing chairs – apparently from nearby cafes – at police officers.

Three people have been detained by police at the protest, AP reported.

At least one protester has been reportedly injured in clashes with police.

The protesters say they are unhappy with all of the 11 candidates taking part in the elections, according RT's Dubenskij.

Police are currently trying to kettle the crowd and block it off in one area to prevent the protest from escalating.

Protesters brought a makeshift guillotine to the Opéra Bastille to show their dissatisfaction with the elections, claiming they are against racism, sexism, fascism and basically anything that has to do with the establishment, Dubenskij added.

“We came to protest against the masquerade that represents this election," a protester said, the French Europe1 news outlet reported.
Paris police have issued a warning on Twitter, saying the traffic around the Bastille area is heavy due to the protest.

Hashtag #NuitDesBarricades (Night of the Barricades) has appeared on social media, calling upon French voters to join the protest against the election results.

People in the city of Nantes in western France staged a protest against the results of the elections. “Neither Macron, nor Le Pen. Long live elections,” said the banners of the demonstrators.

According to French media, the rallies in Nantes turned violent, with protesters clashing with police.

Violent protests took place in the city of Rennes in northwestern France.

Protesters against the results of the elections took to the streets of Rouen, a city in the northern French region of Normandy. They said they stood neither for Macron, nor for Le Pen.










Afrasianet - Emmanuel Macron of the centrist En Marche! movement and Marine Le Pen of the National Front have advanced to the second round of the presidential elections in France, preliminary Interior Ministry data shows.

Macron won 23.75 percent of the votes, while his rival Le Pen got 21.53 percent, the Interior Ministry final figured showed, as cited by Reuters.

Republican Francois Fillon and independent leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.91 percent and 19.64 percent, respectively.

The French Interior Ministry published a map showing the areas of the country where the candidates are in the lead.

Northern and eastern France showed support for Marine Le Pen, while western and southwestern France said ‘Oui’ to Emmanuel Macron.

On Sunday evening, Macron addressed his supporters, telling the crowd: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.”

He thanked the millions who voted for him and former competitors Francois Fillon (Republican party) and Benoit Hamon (Socialist party) for their endorsement in the second-round runoff.

Marine Le Pen, in her turn addressed her supporters, saying that a great debate about globalization can now finally take place. She also said that she will "free the French people from arrogant elites," adding that the country's "survival is at stake."

Left-wing socialist Melenchon called for "restraint" over any preliminary results. Saying that he does not yet accept defeat, the candidate refused to validate any but the official results of the voting, which, he said, will be "respected."

After the full official results of the first round of voting are announced on Wednesday, April 26, at 5pm Paris time, the top two candidates will then proceed to a run-off vote on May 7.

France's Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has called on all democrats to vote for Macron in the second round.

Speaking at his campaign HQ following the voting, Les Republicains’ Francois Fillon called for a vote for Macron in the second round. Saying that "extremism can bring nothing but pain," in an apparent reference to Macron's main rival, the National Front's Le Pen, Fillon said he would not abstain while "an extremist" party is approaching power.

A former investment banker who served as economics minister in President Francois Hollande's Socialist government, Emmanuel Macron has been among the most favored to win the presidency.

Described as an independent centrist, the millionaire quit Hollande's party to form his own En Marche! (Onwards!) movement last year.
The 39-year-old received an apparent call of support from former US President Barack Obama earlier this month, though Obama's spokesperson said he is "not making any formal endorsement" in the race.

Marcon is pro-European union, rallying for France to stay within the Schengen zone. He aims to cut corporate taxes, reduce public spending by €60 billion (US$64.3 billion), and cut 120,000 public sector jobs.

He has spoken of reforming labor laws and getting tougher on unemployment benefit recipients who have repeatedly turned down job offers.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, celebrates after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017 © Charles Platiau / Reuters

Reacting to the first unofficial results of the Sunday voting, French lawmaker Marion Marechal Le Pen, who is the niece of Marine Le Pen, called the election "a historic victory for patriots."

The leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen has become well known for speaking out against France's current position within the EU. Her views have prompted many to fear the country will follow in Britain's footsteps with a so-called “Frexit.”

Le Pen has, however, stated that she would first seek to revise France's terms with the EU, and would then ask for a referendum which would allow the people to decide whether they want to remain in the bloc. She says EU membership has stripped France of its autonomy, on topics including immigration, monetary, and fiscal policy.

The candidate has also hit out at mass immigration, Islamic fundamentalism and financial globalization.









Afrasianet - The vexed migrant deal between Turkey and the EU to alleviate the refugee flows into Europe will be in jeopardy if Brussels fails to agree on the new visa liberalization scheme to be submitted by Ankara in May, the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs has said.

Speaking on the deal’s status to CNN Turk on Saturday, minister Omer Celik argued that Turkey is entitled to the visa waiver by the EU since it has been fulfilling all its obligations under the once-celebrated agreement struck by the EU and Turkey at the heat of the European refugee crisis in March 2016.

He then went on to issue what appeared to be an ultimatum to Turkey’s EU partners, saying that if they want the have agreement in place, they will have to agree to the for visa-free travel proposal to be laid out by Turkey next month.

“If they accept our proposal, the [refugee] deal will be completed in a positive way, otherwise it will come to a standstill,” the minister warned, as cited by Anadolu news agency, without elaborating on what would ensue from the mooted proposal.

Highlighting Turkey’s role in stemming the European refugee flow, Celik claimed that Ankara has rescued the EU, Anadolu cited him as saying.

While the EU-Turkey deal has helped to significantly reduced the number of migrants coming into Europe via Turkey, Ankara has repeatedly threatened to walk out of it, accusing Europe of not sticking to its commitments.

Pursuant to the agreement, Turkey pledged to take back rejected asylum seekers from Greece in exchange for an EU promise to speed up visa liberalization process, galvanize stalled membership talks as well as allocate $3.3 billion in refugee assistance. In addition, the EU pledged to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees that are sent back to Turkey.

To qualify for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU's Schengen Zone, there are a list of 72 conditions drawn up by the European Commission that Ankara should comply with. With only seven criteria left to be met, the main obstacle in its way remains the EU’s demand for Turkey to relax its strict anti-terrorism laws “in line with European standards,” which the Turkish government vehemently refuses to do. Following the foiled coup attempt in July 2016, Turkey launched an ever-widening crackdown on opposition, targeting supporters of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, branding them members of the so-called Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

It is not the first attempt by the Turkish leadership to use the refugee deal as leverage. It was repeatedly an issue during the run-up to the recent constitutional referendum. The vote, which ended in a narrow victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, has significantly expanded Erdogan’s presidential powers.

In March, Celik said that “the issue of transit from the land must be reconsidered” by Turkey. The remark closely followed Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s threat to scrap the deal, if the EU does not abide by it in full.

“Either [the March 2016 agreement] will be canceled, including the visa liberalization and migrant deal, or it will all be implemented," he told CNN. At roughly the same time, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called out Europe for failing to deliver on its promises under the deal and meddling into its internal affairs by banning Turkish officials from campaigning in Europe, promising “to blow its mind” by sending some “15,000 refugees” monthly.









Afrasianet - The German Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) has been snooping on the offices of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) all over the world for many years, Germany's Der Spiegel reports, citing a confidential report.

The BND spied not only on Interpol headquarters in the French city of Lyon, but also on a number of the organization’s liaison offices located in Austria, Denmark, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Italy and the US, the German magazine reports, citing the report it had seen, adding that the agency carried out its surveillance activities on Interpol since at least 2000.

In total, more than a dozen Interpol offices located in various regions of the world, ranging from Russia to Latin America, were under BND surveillance. The agency included the email addresses, phone and fax numbers of Interpol officers working in these offices on its surveillance list, helping its agents find data related to the activities of Interpol investigators on the internet.

However, BND surveillance activities over international police organizations were not limited to spying on Interpol, as the German agency also collected data related to the activities of the European police organization, the Europol, Der Spiegel reports, citing the same confidential report.

German intelligence spied on the Europol headquarters located in The Hague, the Netherlands, as well as on a large number of the national police services, the magazine says, without revealing further details.

The BND refused to comment on the new revelations concerning its surveillance activities. It spokesman said that his agency answers for the “operative aspects of its work” only to the German government and certain relevant committees of the German parliament.

The German government also refused to provide any comment. “The federal government gives accounts concerning the intelligence affairs only to the parliament’s commissions,” the governmental spokesman said, as cited by Germany's dpa news agency.

In the meantime, the report provoked angry reaction among some German lawmakers. Konstantin von Notz, an MP from the Green Party and a member of the parliament’s investigative committee, slammed the BND's spying activities as "scandalous and unfathomable.”

"We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries," von Notz said, referring to the BND’s surveillance activities.

He also said that the latest revelations demonstrate the ineffectiveness of parliamentary oversight, as well as faults in the system of legal restrictions imposed on the intelligence service. "It represents a danger to our rule of law," he said, as cited by Reuters.

In October 2016, the German parliament approved a bill granting the intelligence agencies wider powers, including spying on EU facilities, but also introducing broader oversight. The law was criticized as “unconstitutional” at that time.

It is not the first surveillance scandal involving the BND. In late February 2017, Der Spiegel reported that the intelligence service had snooped on Western news media outlets and international news agencies since 1999.

The list of its surveillance targets included more than a dozen of contacts for BBC journalists in Afghanistan as well as the BBC central office in London and the office of the BBC World Service, alongside with some mobile phone numbers of Reuters journalists and offices in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

In 2013, soon after the former NSA employee Edward Snowden disclosed US mass surveillance to the global public, the German media revealed that the NSA had provided German intelligence services with spying software in exchange for data sharing, which meant that the BND assisted the NSA in conducting its global surveillance programs.

In 2015, Der Spiegel also reported that the BND had spied upon many "friendly" states, including Poland, Austria, Denmark, France, the UK and the US.









Afrasianet - North Korea has warned Australia of a possible nuclear strike if it continues to "blindly and zealously toe the US line." It comes after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Pyongyang poses a "serious threat" to peace and stability in the region.

"If Australia persists in following the US moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK and remains a shock brigade of the US master, this will be a suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike of the strategic force of the DPRK," a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, as quoted by the official KCNA news agency.

The threat comes after Bishop said earlier this week that North Korea is on a "path to achieving nuclear weapons capability," posing an "unacceptable" risk to the region. She added that its efforts must be stopped by the international community.

Those comments were not taken well by North Korea, with the spokesman referring to them as a "string of rubbish.”

"What she uttered can never be pardoned as it is an act against peace that patronizes and shields the US extreme hostile policy toward the DPRK and nuclear threats and blackmail against it, the root cause of the grave situation prevailing on the Korean Peninsula, and encourages the US to opt for reckless and risky military actions," the spokesman said.

He went on to accuse Australia of "blindly and zealously toeing the US line."

The spokesman concluded with a stern warning to Bishop: “The Australian foreign minister had better think twice about the consequences entailed by her reckless tongue-lashing before flattering the US," he said.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged support for the US policy on North Korea on Saturday, and urged China once again to exert economic pressure on Pyongyang.

North Korea's comments also coincided with US Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Australia, during which he met with Turnbull and issued another condemnation of Pyongyang's weapons program.

Pence thanked Australia for calling on China to exert greater pressure on North Korea on Saturday, while repeating that "all options are on the table" when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang. He stressed, however, that the US is focused on diplomacy at this stage.

Turnbull brushed off questions as to whether Australia would join any potential military strikes on North Korea.

"At this stage, the support we are providing is at the level of diplomacy [and] is of critical importance," he said.

It comes just days after the first of some 1,250 US Marines began touching down in Australia, amid increased tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

US President Donald Trump has taken a hardline stance against North Korea since taking office in January, repeatedly vowing to "solve the problem” with Pyongyang.










Afrasianet - In a move that may affect the protracted Raqqa offensive, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists have “essentially moved” their so-called capital in Syria to the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, Fox News reported, citing unnamed US defense officials.

The jihadists and their military command are now centered some 140 kilometers southeast of the city of Raqqa, the US media report claimed.

Saying that the move came in the wake of increased pressure from the US-backed Syrian fighters, the report claimed that the IS “government” is no longer in Raqqa.

In late March, the US coalition told media outlet Newsweek that up to 3,500 IS fighters were estimated to have been present in Raqqa, long described as the terrorist group’s “capital” or stronghold in Syria. The city with the population of some 300,000 people was captured by the terrorists in 2013.

But hundreds of IS “bureaucrats” left the terrorist stronghold in the past two months for the IS-held city of Mayadin, officials told Fox News, adding that the move has been watched by US military drones. Mayadin is located some 40 kilometers from the surrounded city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been the sole government-controlled area of the province resisting repeated IS offensives.

In mid-April, following a US missile strike at the Syrian Army airbase of Shayrat, the coalition reportedly scaled down their operation in the region, having carried out some 120 airstrikes around Raqqa. More than 7,800 strikes were conducted in March, according to the Pentagon.

Washington has been backing the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic, but predominantly Kurdish alliance of forces in an offensive known as Operation Euphrates Rage. Launched in November last year, the operation aimed to encircle and retake Raqqa.

If indeed accurate, the situation will likely affect the course of the siege of Raqqa, which has been dragging for months without any time limits for a major battle announced. With the jihadi fighters leaving the city in northern Syria, the battle for Raqqa is now “imminent,” the US defense officials, cited by Fox News, claim.

Deir ez-Zor province has seen some of the bloodiest fighting and massacres in Syria, which have also been apparently underreported by the mainstream media. The infamous US strike on the Syrian Army, in which dozens of troops were killed “by mistake” in an hour-long coalition raid on September 17, also took place in Deir ez-Zor.

Moscow has repeatedly sounded alarm over the overlooked dire humanitarian situation in the province and its capital city, calling out Western officials for their hypocrisy in criticizing Russia for allegedly not helping the Syrians while at the same time ignoring the plight of the civilian population in all but some of the select rebel-controlled areas. In Deir ez-Zor, the Russian aid has been vital as tons of food and supplies have to be delivered to the besieged city by air and often only airdrops are possible.

According to Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense, “only through the Russian Syrian Reconciliation Center was thousands of tons of humanitarian aid delivered to Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Damascus, Latakia, Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor, and other cities.”









Afrasianet - The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used stun grenades and fired tear gas to disperse a rally in support of hunger striking Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons, which was taking place in the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on Friday.

The march began at the al-Azza refugee camp where the Palestinians set up a solidarity tent in support of the hunger strikers.

The protesters, carrying Palestinian national flags and chanting anti-Israeli government slogans, had made all their way to the northern entrance of Bethlehem City when the IDF intervened.

The security forces employed stunt grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowd, with the Palestinians replying by pelting stones at the troops.

One Palestinian was reportedly detained, while several people suffered from severe tear gas inhalation, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

An IDF spokesman said he was unaware of the arrest and suffocations among the protesters, promising to look into the reports.

The hunger strike across Israeli prisons began Monday as Palestinian inmates protested against their conditions of incarceration.

The hunger strikers are demanding to be moved to prisons inside the occupied territories to make it easier for families to visit, for restrictions on family visits to be lifted, for improved access to medical care and for the restoration of educational facilities, among other things.

According to the Times of Israel, the number of Palestinian inmates on hunger strike in Israeli prisons had reached between 1,200 and 1,300 people by Friday.









Afrasianet - Dozens have been killed in an ongoing attack on an Afghan military base, a US military official said, adding that the death toll may be over 50, Reuters reports.

"We're talking probably more than 50 casualties," said Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. military's Central Command, as quoted by Reuters.

"There is a mosque and a dining facility on the base that seemed to, at this point from our reports, be the subject of significant attack from enemy forces."

Militants wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province during Friday prayers, Daulat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense, said, as reported by AP.

The militants entered the building with a military vehicle and began shooting at the soldiers as they prayed in the compound’s mosque, he added.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has condemned the attack in a statement.

The spokesman also said that five assailants were killed on the spot, including one wearing a suicide vest, while one of the attackers was captured alive.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

General Mohmand Katawazi, the commander of the Afghan Army’s 209 Corps, said that the military managed to “eliminate” all attackers, adding that the operation is over. Shaheen camp - the area attacked - was manned by soldiers of the 209 Corps.

The death toll has reportedly risen to 66, the Afghan Pajhwok news agency said, citing its sources, and adding that 73 soldiers have been injured.

US-led forces entered Afghanistan to remove Taliban control more than 15 years ago, following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US has more than 8,000 soldiers in the country, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.

Some 6,400 NATO soldiers remain in Afghanistan, following the large-scale NATO troop reduction there in 2014. US Army General John Nicholson recently described the situation in Afghanistan as a “stalemate” as he spoke to the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lately, the US has concentrated on fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in eastern Afghanistan, while also supporting Afghan National Security Forces against the Taliban.

Last week, the US dropped an 11-ton “mother of all bombs” in the eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, killing 94 IS terrorists, according to the latest estimates. A figure of 36 was earlier reported.

Taliban fighters overran the Sangin district of Helmand province in late March. They also killed and injured at least 15 people in coordinated attacks on a police station and an intelligence service office in Kabul earlier the same month.










Afrasianet - The UN commission investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria says it cannot yet say for certainty what the source of the gas allegedly used in Idlib really was. The body says the release of gas coincided with airstrikes in the area.

Citing eyewitnesses, experts and studied data, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said on Friday that “nerve gas” was released in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in April.

“Between 6:40 and 7:00am on April 4, a series of airstrikes [hit] the town of Khan Shaykhun. This is a consensus. These airstrikes coincided with the release of a chemical agent, likely sarin or a sarin-like [substance],” the commission’s chair, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told journalists during a Friday press briefing. Pinheiro was presenting preliminary results of the investigation in the chemical incident at a closed UN Security Council meeting.

However, the commission has neither been able to confirm who exactly was behind the alleged chemical attack, nor “what Air Forces were able to do that” as regards to the airstrikes.

 “We are not in a position to reach a conclusion,” Pinheiro said. “The commission still has not ruled out any version concerning the causes of the release of this nerve agent and continues to follow different leads.”

Pinheiro admitted that the commission has not conducted any investigation on the ground, instead relying on information shared by “several countries,” sources in the rebel-held Syrian town as well as photographic and video evidence.

“We are conducting interview with eyewitnesses, medical professors, military, chemical weapons experts while simultaneously collecting and analyzing photos, videos, satellite imagery and other materials checking all of them for credibility and reliability,” Pinheiro said. “We also asked several countries to share their reports about the incident.”

As many as 100 people were allegedly killed and several hundred injured in the April 4 incident. The US has squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013. The presumption has been supported by US allies in Europe and the Middle East.

Moscow, however, said a thorough investigation, including an on-site inspection in rebel-held territory, should be carried out before any conclusions are reached.

However, the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) overwhelmingly rejected a proposal from Russia and Iran to examine the site of the chemical incident in Idlib province, provoking an angry diplomatic response from Moscow.

In the meantime, the UK and France claim their experts have received samples from the site of the incident. On Thursday, the OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu also said that four OPCW designated laboratories have studied samples collected from three victims of the alleged attack during their autopsy and seven individuals undergoing treatment after surviving the incident.

The Russian military, however, questioned the swift analysis of the samples, adding that it wanted details on who collected the samples and how they were studied at OPCW designated labs, which has not been disclosed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that the fact that Russia’s proposal of on-site investigation was “blocked by Western delegations without any explanations” exposes their aim to topple the Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lavrov said that it was now “obvious” that “false information” was being used to escalate the war in Syria into a full-scale invasion.

Russia has been warning that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Syrian government forces. Following the April 4 incident, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that the Syrian Air Force was targeting a militant arms depot that is believed to have contained some chemicals used in the production of gas-filled shells previously used by rebels against government forces in places like Aleppo.









  • Clashes erupt in West Bank at protest over Palestinian hunger strike

  • Riot police clash with protesters, deploy tear gas at post-vote demo in central Paris

  • Macron, Le Pen lead in 1st round of French presidential elections

  • Turkey will halt refugee deal if EU rejects Ankara’s new visa-free travel plan – minister

  • German foreign intelligence spied on Interpol for more than a decade – report

  • N. Korea accuses Australia of ‘blindly toeing US line,’ threatens nuclear strike

  • ISIS ‘essentially moved’ its Syria HQ from Raqqa to Deir ez-Zor province – report

  • IDF uses stun grenades, tear gas to disperse rally in support of Palestinian hunger strikers

  • More than 50 feared dead in Taliban attack on Afghan forces base – US military

  • UN commission on Syria not ruling out various sources of ‘chemical agent release’ in Idlib

Afrasianet - Some 39 people, including 16 foreigners, were killed and dozens of others injured when at least one gunman reportedly dressed as Santa opened fire in an Istanbul night club, Turkey’s interior minister said. The manhunt for one terror suspect is underway.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, told Turkish media on Sunday morning that 21 victims have been identified so far, of whom 16 were foreign nationals and five Turkish citizens.

Soylu said that the shooter is still at large. Conflicting reports have been claiming that two gunmen were involved.

“The search operation for the terrorist is ongoing,” the minister said.

Immediately after the attack, Istanbul’s governor Vasip Şahin said 35 people were killed and 40 wounded, calling the incident a terrorist attack.

The attack took place at the well-known Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy neighborhood, in Istanbul’s Besiktas district.

"A terrorist with a long-range weapon... brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets at innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun," Sahin told media at the scene of the attack.

The Guardian cited “government officials” as saying that the attacker was killed and police were leaving the scene. The report could not, however, be immediately confirmed. Few updates have emerged amid a reported media blackout.

Speaking about the circumstances of the attack, Şahin said that the assailant first killed the police officer, who was standing at the door of the club, and then went on a rampage inside, killing innocent civilians.

Eyewitnesses at the club said that the attacker was speaking Arabic, Turkish media are reporting.

The gunman was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, wielding an assault rifle, Turkish media said.

The attacker opened fire on clubgoers, injuring at least 20-30, according to NTV. One of the gunmen has reportedly hidden inside the club, while the whereabouts of the second one were not immediately clear.

The number of casualties may rise, as it is estimated that between 700 and 800 people could have been in the club at the time of the attack, Mynet Haber reports.

Emergency crews have been evacuating injured people from the building as police search the area.

After the attacker stormed into the building, some club-goers jumped into the sea in panic, Turkish media cited eyewitnesses as saying. A search and rescue operation for those who jumped in the water is being carried out by maritime police.

The owner of the Reina’s nightclub, Mehmet Koçarslan, has claimed that the club had been warned  about a possible attack, and that the information came from US intelligence services. Security measures had been taken, he added.

“US intelligence warned about such an attack about one week or 10 days ago – and measures have been taken, including [on] the sea front. And look what has happened,” Koçarslan told Turkish daily Hurriyet.

US President Barack Obama has offered to help Turkey with the investigation, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement, saying that Obama “directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to the Turkish authorities.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been informed of the terrorist attack and is being updated on the latest developments in the situation, CNN Turk reports.

Messages of condolence have been pouring in for Turkey in the aftermath of the attack.

“Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini published in Twitter message.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the attack “a tragic start to 2017.”

He posted on Twitter: "My thoughts are with those affected by the attack on people celebrating New Year and with the Turkish people.”
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook extended his condolences to the Turkish people in another Twitter post, this one penned in Turkish.

“Dear Turkey, we share your pain and sorrow. Istanbul, our heart is with you,” the message read.







Afrasianet - A plane carrying Brazil's Chapecoense football team has crashed in Colombia, injuring at least 10 people, according to media reports. It was reportedly carrying 72 passengers en route to the Copa Sudamericana finals.

The plane crashed due to lack of fuel at around 10:15pm local time in Cerro Gordo in the municipality of La Union, according to Mi Oriente.

At least 10 people have been injured and are being evacuated from the scene, the commander of La Union fire department said, according to the website.

The plane was flying to José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro, the second largest airport in Colombia.

The team was traveling to compete in the Copa Sudamericana finals. Chapecoense was scheduled to compete against Colombia's Atlético Nacional at 6:45pm local time on Wednesday.








Afrasianet - The US military has carried out a series of “limited self-defence strikes” in Yemen, the Pentagon has announced. The attack, authorized by President Obama, was carried out in retaliation to recent attacks on the US naval destroyer, USS Mason.

According to the Pentagon’s initial assessments, three “radar sites” in the Houthi rebel-controlled area of Yemen were destroyed in the attack.

The attack on coastal targets was carried out by Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the destroyer USS Nitze, NPR reported. According to US officials all targets were “in remote areas, where there was little risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage.”

“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” the statement reads.

President Barack Obama authorized the strikes on the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

The US military vowed to respond to “any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic.”

Earlier on Wednesday, USS Mason fell under fire for the second time in four days. At least one rocket was fired at the destroyer, causing “no damage to the ship or its crew,” Cook said.







Afrasianet - Former Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres has died at a hospital near Tel Aviv at the age of 93, after his condition deteriorated following a stroke, local media report.

The former leader died with his family at his bedside.

Peres was admitted to Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan two weeks ago, where he was intubated and sedated. Doctors expressed cautious optimism in the days immediately following his hospitalization.

However, on Tuesday, the former top politician suffered a serious setback incurring irreversible brain damage, The Times of Israel reported.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement of mourning following news of Peres' death.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara express deep personal sorrow over the passing of the nation's beloved former president, Shimon Peres," the statement said.

US President Barack Obama also offered his condolences, saying: "There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves. My friend Shimon was one of those people."

Former US President Bill Clinton called Peres a "brilliant and eloquent friend."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Peres a "man of peace."

In January, Peres was transported to a hospital following a heart attack. He underwent emergency surgery but had to be admitted to hospital again just over a week later due to an irregular heartbeat.

Peres was active in Israeli politics for nearly 70 years and retired in 2014 after serving a seven year term as the country’s ninth president.

Prior to that, he held nearly every position in the Israeli government. He served as Prime Minister three times, including once as interim. He also held the post of Israeli Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister and joined the cabinet as the Minister for Transportation and Finance.

As foreign minister, Peres was the one to finalize the interim Israeli Palestinian Oslo Peace deal.

While it did not turn into a lasting treaty, in 1994 he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, along with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Peres has been a staunch advocate of the two-state solution with Palestine, trying to boost the process following Rabin's assassination in 1995. However, his position in the matter weakened following a string of suicide attacks by Palestinians and mounting pressure from Israeli nationalists.

He remained a vocal supporter of the peace process with the Palestinians, but stressed that the recognition of an independent Palestinian state outside a UN-proposed plan would be wrong.








Afrasianet - Police have confirmed they are sweeping an East Baltimore area for three shooters thought to be in possession of a shotgun and handguns. At least eight people have been shot, including a parent and a three-year-old child.

Three suspects fled the scene, including one bearing a shotgun and two who had handguns, Chief of Media Relations at Baltimore Police, T.J. Smith, tweeted. Eight people were wounded, he confirmed, but the injuries were “all non-life threatening.”

Smith added that a father and his three-year-old daughter had been among those wounded.

The shooting took place at around 8:45pm local time at the intersection of E. Preston Street and Greenmount Avenue, not far from Baltimore Penn Station.

Police told CBC’s local affiliate WJZ TV that at least three people were sent to local hospitals. The hunt for the suspect remains underway.







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