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Syria Idlib: Trump warns of ‘grave humanitarian mistake’

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…As Taliban says Leader of militant Haqqani network in Afghanistan has died***

US President Donald Trump has warned the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies against “recklessly” attacking rebel-held Idlib province.

In a tweet he warned of “a grave humanitarian mistake” in which hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.

Syrian government forces are said to be preparing a huge offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

The UN says such a campaign could have disastrous consequences for thousands of civilians.

The US state department also warned on Monday that Washington would respond to any chemical attacks by the Syrian government or its allies.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley tweeted: “All eyes on the actions of Assad, Russia, and Iran in Idlib. #NoChemicalWeapons”

What could happen in Idlib?

With rebels defeated in most of Syria, the offensive in the northern province could prove to be the last major battle of the Syrian civil war.

According to a UN estimate, there are about 30,000 al-Nusra and al-Qaeda jihadist fighters still holding out in Idlib.

Five reasons why Idlib matters

Sources quoted by Reuters news agency said that President Bashar al-Assad was preparing a phased offensive.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said “terrorists” must be wiped out in Idlib, accusing them of using civilians as human shields.

Both he and his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, have accused rebels of preparing to stage a chemical attack in Idlib in order to blame pro-government forces and draw new US military retaliation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that recent naval drills off Syria were justified, adding that the “hotbed of terrorists” in Idlib must be tackled.

What has the UN said?

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has warned of a “perfect storm” if the government goes ahead with its threatened offensive in Idlib.

He called for humanitarian corridors to be set up to allow civilians to be evacuated temporarily.

The jihadists must be defeated, Mr de Mistura said, but not at the expense of thousands of civilian lives.

“There is a perfect storm based on warnings, counter-warnings which is gathering around and due to the dilemma, which is a true dilemma on how to defeat terrorists in Idlib and at the same time avoid affecting a huge number of civilians,” he said.

“So, while we are aware that efforts and discussions are taking place to avoid the worst-case scenario, one cannot ignore that miscalculations may indeed occur leading to unforeseen escalation and we are all very much concerned.”

Russia’s military role in Syria grows

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The UN is desperate to avoid the deaths of civilians seen recently in other parts of Syria such as Aleppo, Raqqa or the Eastern Ghouta, and its diplomats are appealing for all sides to show restraint.

Mr de Mistura offered to go to Idlib personally to set up a humanitarian corridor which, he acknowledged, would mean evacuating people into government-controlled territory.

In the meantime, the Taliban have announced the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of Afghanistan’s Haqqani militant group – one of the most powerful and feared affiliates of the insurgency.

The Taliban said he died after “a long struggle with a disease”, according to the monitoring group Site.

According to the statement, Haqqani has been buried in Afghanistan.

Haqqani originally founded the group to fight Soviet occupation in the 1970s, and was once funded by the CIA and lionised by some in the US.

Haqqani relinquished operational leadership of the group some years ago to his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, now deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban.

Haqqani joined the Taliban government as minister for tribal affairs after they captured Kabul in 1996, fleeing after they were ousted in late 2001 and taking up arms again.

The Haqqani network was declared a terrorist organisation by the United States in 2012. The elderly founder had been paralysed for the past 10 years.

Haqqani had not been heard from in several years. Reports of his death had been widespread in 2015.

BBC with additional report from Guardian UK

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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