UN Security Council to discuss Syria chemical attack
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UN Security Council to discuss Syria chemical attack

Assad regime ‘categorically denies’ assault on rebel town that killed at least 58 civilians; White House blames Obama’s ‘weakness’ for deadly raid

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • An unconscious Syrian child is carried at a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)
    An unconscious Syrian child is carried at a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)
  • A Syrian doctor treating a boy following a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria, from video provided on April 4, 2017. (Screen shot, Qasioun News Agency, via AP)
    A Syrian doctor treating a boy following a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria, from video provided on April 4, 2017. (Screen shot, Qasioun News Agency, via AP)
  • A wounded Syrian youth cries at a makeshift clinic following reported airstrikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (Abd Doumany/AFP)
    A wounded Syrian youth cries at a makeshift clinic following reported airstrikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (Abd Doumany/AFP)
  • Syrian mourners pray next to bodies lying in the back of a pick up truck outside  a makeshift morgue following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Abd Doumany)
    Syrian mourners pray next to bodies lying in the back of a pick up truck outside a makeshift morgue following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Abd Doumany)
  • A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)
    A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)
  • Relatives react as they identify bodies of victims following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)
    Relatives react as they identify bodies of victims following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.

Rocket strikes Syria hospital treating victims of suspected gas attack

A rocket slams into a hospital in northwestern Syria as doctors treat victims of a suspected chemical attack, destroying part of the building, an AFP correspondent says.

The projectile hits the building in Khan Sheikhun, bringing down rubble on top of medics as they struggle to deal with victims of an attack that reportedly killed at least 58 people.

— AFP

Russia confirms suicide bomber suspected in metro attack

Russia’s Investigative Committee says they suspect a suicide bomber was behind the attack in the Saint Petersburg metro Monday that killed 14 people and injured dozens.

Investigators say “it has been established that the explosive device could have been activated by a man whose fragmented remains were discovered in the third carriage” of the train. It is not immediately clear whether he is counted among the dead.

— AFP

Spanish police stage raids targeting Assad family’s assets

Police in southern Spain stage raids targeting assets of the family of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, a judicial source says.

The raids, in the Puerto Banus marina area of the plush resort of Marbella, are the result of a corruption investigation launched in France against Assad’s uncle, Rifaat Assad, the source said.

— AFP

Parks authority announce 2-day strike during Passover holiday

Employees of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority announce a two-day general strike during the upcoming Passover holiday.

The strike called for Wednesday and Thursday next week will shutter parks and nature reserves, along with some beaches and archaeological sites.

The strike is called amid a dispute between management and workers over the employment status of contract workers.

Each year, tens of thousands of Israelis visit national parks, forests and beaches during the week-long holiday.

Bennett calls on Trump to prevent further Syria atrocities

Hours after a suspected chemical weapons attack in northern Syria killed over 50 civilians, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett calls on US President Donald Trump to lead international efforts to prevent further atrocities in the war-torn country.

“Children are choking to death. The world MUST ACT against the chemical massacre in Syria,” he tweets. “I call upon President Trump to lead this effort.”

His post includes a graphic image of Syrian children killed in the attack on Idlib province.

MK urges Israel to join efforts against chemical warfare

Former general and Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven says the chemical attack on a rebel-held village in northern Syria is a “blatant” violation of past agreements reached between the Assad regime and the US government.

In a statement, Ben-Reuven calls for Israel to join international efforts in preventing chemical warfare.

“Israel must work with Russia, the US and the UN in working toward the complete elimination of chemical weapons,” he says.

France calls for UN Security Council meet on Syria chemical attack

France calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over a suspected chemical attack in rebel-held northwestern Syria that killed at least 58 civilians.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the attack was “monstrous” and adds: “I have called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.”

Erdogan tells Putin Syria attack could endanger peace talks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin condemns a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an “inhuman” strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital.

“President Erdogan [says] that this kind of inhuman attack was unacceptable and warned it risked wasting all the efforts within the framework of the Astana process” to bring peace to Syria, presidential sources say, without indicating who was to blame for the attack.

— AFP

Mogherini: Assad regime responsible for ‘awful’ chemical attack

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini says the regime of Bashar Assad bears “primary responsibility” for a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Syria.

“Today the news is awful,” Mogherini says in an interview with media organizations in Brussels on the sidelines of a EU-UN conference that was meant to focus on the post-conflict situation in Syria.

— AFP

Ex-defense minister urges US, UN to ‘immediately’ stop Syria bloodshed

Former defense minister MK Amir Peretz joins the chorus of Israeli officials condemning the suspected chemical weapons attack in northern Syria killed over 50 civilians.

Peretz says the gas attack “cannot [be] overlooked” and calls on the US, along with the rest of the international community to “immediately stop the bloodshed” of Syrian civilians.

Russian denies strike on Syria hospital treating gas attack victims

Russia’s military says its planes did not carry out any strikes near the town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria, where airstrikes hit a hospital as doctors treated victims of a suspected chemical attack.

“Planes of the Russian airforce have not carried out any strikes near Khan Sheikhun of Idlib province,” a statement from Russian defense ministry says.

— AFP

Turkey detains Chechen ‘planning attack’ after Syria crossing

Turkish security forces detain a Chechen carrying explosives and hand grenades who was planning an attack after illegally crossing from Syria, the army says.

The Chechen was one of 18 people, including women and children, detained while illegally crossing from Syria into Turkey’s southern Kilis region, the army says in a statement.

The individual was carrying a bag with some 1.5 kilos of explosives and two hand grenades. “The Chechen was planning an attack in the region,” it says, without specifying further.

— AFP

Workers at PM’s office hospitalized after exposure to unidentified substance

Four employees of the Prime Minister’s Office are hospitalized after coming into contact with an unidentified substance found inside an envelope mailed to the office, according to Israel Radio.

PM condemns Syria gas attack, calls for chemical weapons ban

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Syria, and calls on the international community to increase efforts against the use of chemical weapons.

“The shocking images of Syria should horrify any human being,” Netanyahu tweets. “Israel strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons in any situation, especially against innocent civilians.”

“Israel calls on the international community to uphold its promise in 2013 and ban all chemical weapons from Syria,” Netanyahu says in another tweet.

“The cruel war emphasizes the importance of our own imperative: we will always defend ourselves against every enemy and threat,” he adds.

Bennett urges PM to convene security cabinet over Syria gas attack

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene an urgent security cabinet meeting to discuss the suspected chemical attack that killed over 50 civilians in northern Syria this morning.

According to reports, Bennett says the high-level cabinet should discuss humanitarian considerations, the significance of using chemical weapons and the effect the attack will have on regional security.

Earlier, Bennett condemned the attack, and said “world MUST ACT against the chemical massacre in Syria.”

Russian investigators confirm metro bomber as Akbarjon Djalilov

Russian investigators name the bomber behind the Saint Petersburg metro blast as Akbarjon Djalilov, adding that he had also planted a second bomb that was defused by the authorities.

“The investigation identified the man who set off the bomb in the carriage of the Saint Petersburg metro. It was Akbarjon Djalilov,” a statement by the Investigative Committee says.

The investigators’ statement adds that traces of DNA from Djalilov, 22, were also found on a bag with a second explosive device that was discovered at another metro station shortly before the blast in the tunnel that killed 14 people.

— AFP

Hotovely: Syria massacre proves Israel must engage in regional security issues

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely says the massacre of at least 58 civilians in a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria this morning proves that Israel must be engaged in regional security matters.

“The horror in Syria demands an engaged coalition that will act decisively against a regime that massacres innocent civilians,” Hotovely tweets.

She says Israel has consistently warned against Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal at international forums.

Global watchdog ‘seriously concerned’ by Syria attack

The global chemical arms watchdog says it is “seriously concerned” by reports of a suspected gas attack on a rebel-held town in Syria that killed at least 58 people.

“The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is seriously concerned about the alleged chemical weapons attack reported by the media this morning in the Khan Sheikhun area of southern Idlib,” the group says, adding it was “gathering and analysing information from all available sources.”

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

— AFP

Norway sentences IS recruiter to 9 years in prison

A Norwegian court sentences an Islamist to nine years in prison for recruiting a jihadist candidate who wanted to join the Islamic State (IS) group.

An Oslo court also finds Ubaydullah Hussain, a 31-year-old Norwegian citizen, guilty of pledging allegiance to IS, financially supporting the group, providing its supporters with equipment and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The trial was Norway’s first over recruitment of potential jihadists to fight for IS, listed as a terror organization by the United Nations.

— AFP

Assad regime denies chemical attack

Allegations that Syria’s government killed dozens of civilians on Tuesday in a chemical attack on a northwestern rebel-held town are “false,” a senior security source tells AFP.

“This is a false accusation,” the source says, adding that opposition forces were attempting to “achieve in the media what they could not achieve on the ground.”

— AFP

UK says perpetrators of Syria gas attack must be ‘held to account’

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson condemns the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Syria, saying those responsible should be “held to account.”

“Horrific reports of chemical weapons attack in Idlib, Syria. Incident must be investigated and perpetrators held to account,” Johnson writes on Twitter.

— AFP

Eiffel Tower to go dark for Saint Petersburg victims

The mayor of Paris says that the lights on the Eiffel Tower will be switched off tonight to honor the victims of the suicide bombing attack in Saint Petersburg.

In a tweet Monday, Anne Hidalgo says the action would send a message of unity.

The lights on the iconic Paris monument will be turned off from midnight.

Fourteen people were killed and 49 injured yesterday afternoon when a bomb ripped through a metro station in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Official laments unlearned lessons from Holocaust in Syria gas attack

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon invokes the Holocaust in expressing “profound indignation” at the suspected chemicals weapons attack on a rebel-held town in northern Syria that killed at least 58 civilians earlier today.

“Children gassed in Syria. 72 years after the Shoah. A feeling of profound indignation. Has humanity not learnt a thing??” Emmanuel Nahshon tweets.

Images posted on social media in the aftermath of the attack showed motionless bodies of nearly a dozen children piled on a wooden cart, sparking widespread outrage.

Benefit program for Holocaust survivors launched in Serbia

A program to provide direct funds to Serbian Holocaust survivors all over the world is been launched in Serbia, an international Jewish group says.

The program results from laws passed last year in Serbia allowing for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust to the Jewish community, The World Jewish Restitution Organization says in a statement.

The statement says the law envisages the government paying 950,000 euros per year ($1 million) for 25 years to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the country. For at least the first ten years, one-fifth of the funds will be set aside for direct payments to Holocaust survivors, the group says.

— AP

Hollande accuses Assad of chemical weapons ‘massacre’

French President Francois Hollande accuses Syrian leader Bashar Assad of bearing responsibility for a “massacre” after a suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in Syria.

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / bertrand GUAY)
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech at the Mideast peace conference in Paris on January 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / bertrand GUAY)

“Once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility for this massacre,” Hollande says.

“Those who support this regime can once again reflect on the enormity of their political, strategic and moral responsibility,” Hollande adds.

Earlier today, France called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the attack.

— AFP

UN envoy demands accountability in Syria attack

United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is calling for the perpetrators of a suspected chemical attack in northern Syria to be held accountable for the “horrific” attack.

De Mistura calls for “clear identification of responsibilities and accountability.”

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamed al-Bakour)

Speaking on the eve of a conference on Syria’s future, he says “every time we have a moment in which the international community is capable of being together — 70 countries tomorrow — there is someone, somehow, that tries to undermine that feeling of hope by producing a feeling of horror and outrage.”

But, he says, “we are not going to give up.”

De Mistura goes to add the UN believes the attack was chemical and that it was launched from the air.

“What we have understood, it was a chemical attack and it came from the air,” he says.

— Agencies

Herzog says Syria massacre proof of failed Obama policies

In the wake of a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 58 civilians earlier today, opposition leader Isaac Herzog says the ongoing civil war is the result of the failed policies of former US president Barack Obama.

“The situation in Syria is indicative of Obama’s failure,” he tells Army Radio.

“They were sure they were getting rid of chemical weapons, but here we see there are in fact units of chemical weapons,” Herzog says.

“I’m sure that President Trump is in the situation room and now he will have to face this test. I think that he should head up a coalition that will work toward disabling the use of chemical weapons.”

UN commission opens inquiry into Syria attack

The UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria says it has begun investigating a suspected chemical attack that killed at least 58 people in a rebel-held town in the northwestern Idlib Province.

“Reports suggesting that this was a chemical weapons attack are extremely concerning. The commission is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding this attack including the alleged use of chemical weapons,” says a statement from the UN experts who are probing potential war crimes committed during Syria’s civil war.

This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017 shows a Syrian doctor treating a boy following a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Qasioun News Agency, via AP)
This frame grab from video provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017 shows a Syrian doctor treating a boy following a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Qasioun News Agency, via AP)

— AFP

Minister criticizes calls for Israeli military intervention in Syria

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin criticizes calls for Israeli military intervention in the Syrian war in response to a gas attack in the country that killed at least 58 people and injured over 200, many of them children.

“I suggest that we be very careful with bold statements about Israeli military involvement in Syria. Yes, we have military strength but anyone that thinks we can be the police officers of the world is giving us power that we don’t have,” Levin tells an Israel Democracy Institute conference.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on July 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on July 13, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The world’s great powers have not been able to stop what is going on in Syria. I suggest that regarding military intervention, to put it lightly, we should not be rushing into a decision. Those who are shouting ideas about how we should do it are, in my eyes, not acting responsibly,” he adds.

Earlier today, education Minister Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to convene an emergency meeting of the security cabinet in order to discuss the regional impact of the chemical weapons attack and the “ongoing systematic genocide” in Syria. “The use of chemical weapons against civilians requires Israel’s security cabinet to rethink​​ its stance,” he said in a statement.

— Raoul Wootliff

Britain urges Russia and China to back UN action in Syria

Britain is urging Russia and China not to block action against those responsible for a suspected chemical attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, which it is calling “a war crime.”

Britain and France have called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which is scheduled to hold its monthly meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons on Wednesday. Diplomats said that meeting could be moved up to later Tuesday.

Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft says the attack “has all the hallmarks of a regime attack” because the Syrian government is the only party to the conflict equipped to deliver deadly chemicals.

Rycroft calls the attack “clearly a war crime” and indirectly criticizes Russia and China for protecting Syria by vetoing previous council resolutions.

The ambassador says he hoped for a different approach from “the Security Council members who have previously used their vetoes to defend the indefensible.”

Rycroft adds that an emergency council meeting would “shine a spotlight on the heinous use of chemical weapons yet again” in Syria, rally support for action in the council, and put pressure on Russia and China “to hold to account those who used chemical weapons.”

— AP

Ultra-Orthodox protesters arrested for blocking highway

Over 100 ultra-Orthodox protesters block the southbound lanes of Route 4, near the Bar Ilan interchange.

Police arrest seven protesters for blocking rush-hour traffic by lying on the Tel Aviv -area highway.

The incident comes on the heels of a number of demonstrations held by the ultra-Orthodox community recently, protesting the arrest of members of the community for draft dodging.

US condemns Syria chemical attack, blames Assad

The White House confirms a “reprehensible” and “intolerable” chemical attack had taken place in Syria and pinned the blame squarely on Bashar Assad’s regime.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says US President Donald Trump had been briefed extensively on the attack, and suggested it was in the “best interest” of the Syrians for Assad not to lead the country.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible,” Spicer says, adding the administration was “confident” in its assessment that Assad was to blame.

— AFP

Syria army ‘categorically denies’ chemical attack

The Syrian army denies involvement in a suspected chemical attack that left dozens of people dead in an opposition-held town in the country’s northwest.

“The army command categorically denies using any chemical or toxic substance in Khan Sheikhun today,” says a statement carried by the state news agency SANA.

“It stresses that it has never used them, any time, anywhere, and will not do so in the future,” it adds.

An unconscious Syrian child is carried at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)
An unconscious Syrian child is carried at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour)

— AFP

UN Security Council to meet tomorrow on Syria gas attack

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss a suspected chemical attack in Syria that has left dozens dead, the US ambassador says.

Britain and France called for the meeting following reports of the strike on a rebel-held town in Idlib province earlier today.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley says council members have seen reports “of the terrible chemical weapons attack in Syria.”

Haley says the council will get a briefing at an open meeting at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on Wednesday “and we are hoping to get as much information on the Syrian attack as we can.”

— Agencies

White House blames Obama for Syria chemical attack

White House Spokesman Sean Spicer says the actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime are a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing the Syrian civil war.

Spicer says former US president Barack Obama said he would draw a “red line” at chemical attacks, “then did nothing.”

Spicer would not say whether the White House believes Russia played a role in the attack, saying President Donald Trump has been briefed.

He says Trump is “extremely alarmed” by this “intolerable act.”

— AP

UN says over 300,000 Iraqis displaced by US-backed offensive

The United Nations says around 300,000 people have been displaced by the US-backed Iraqi operation to drive the Islamic State group from Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that a total of 392,000 people have fled their homes since the offensive began in October, but that 94,500 have since returned. The International Organization for Migration puts the number currently displaced at 302,400.

Many of the displaced live in large refugee camps just outside the city. Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January but heavy fighting is still underway in the more densely populated western half. Of those who have fled, the IOM says nearly 236,000 come from western Mosul.

Iraqis walk past a damaged building as they leave Mosul's Old City on April 4, 2017, during an offensive by government forces to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Iraqis walk past a damaged building as they leave Mosul’s Old City on April 4, 2017, during an offensive by government forces to retake the city from Islamic State fighters. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

— AP

Over 18,000 compensated by Austrian anti-Nazi fund

Administrators of an Austrian fund created to compensate Jews and others illegally stripped of property and finances by the Nazis say the fund has awarded over $200 million (almost 190 million euros) to more than 18,000 applicants since its inception.

The claims committee of the General Settlement fund for Victims of National Society says 18,155 people — nearly 88 percent of applicants — were awarded compensation, sometimes on multiple claims.

In its final report, the committee says nearly $212 million (nearly 200 million euros) were disbursed to claimants since the fund was set up 16 years ago.

It says it is still possible to lay claim to payments until the end of April 2019, after which they become subject to the statute of limitations.

— AP

Rivlin: Syria gas massacre a ‘stain on all humanity’

President Reuven Rivlin says the suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held village in northern Syria earlier today, which killed almost 60 civilians, is “a stain on all humanity.”

In a statement, the president urges the international community to unite in “bring[ing] an end to this murderous madness, and ensure[ing] that such scenes will never be repeated anywhere.”

He calls on world leaders to immediately strip the Assad regime of its chemical weapons stockpile.

“We, as a people who survived the greatest of atrocities and rose from the ashes to be a strong and secure nation, we will do all we can to continue to aid the survivors of the horrors in Syria. We know all too well how dangerous silence can be, and we cannot remain mute.”

Islamic State says US ‘being run by an idiot’

The Islamic State jihadist group reportedly says the United States is in decline and “being run by an idiot.”

In the group’s first public mention of US President Donald Trump, IS spokesman Abi al-Hassan al-Muhajer says the US “is bankrupt and the signs of your demise are evident to every eye,” Reuters reports.

“There is no more evidence than (that) you being run by an idiot who does not know what Syria or Iraq or Islam is,” Muhajer says in a recording released on the Telegram messaging app.

US official says Syria attack a ‘war crime’ if proven true

The United States says if a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria is what it appears to be, it is “clearly a war crime.”

That’s according to a senior US State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official says both the United States and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are currently gathering information about the attack.

— AP

Giuliani looking for ‘diplomatic solution’ for Turk charged with violating Iran sanctions

A lawyer says former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is looking for a “diplomatic solution” to resolving charges that a Turkish man helped Iran evade US sanctions.

Attorney Ben Brafman told a Manhattan judge Tuesday that Giuliani and ex-US attorney general Michael Mukasey wanted to “structure a resolution” to charges against Reza Zarrab. He says they are not trying to work around federal prosecutors. The 33-year-old Zarrab has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Reza Zarrab, the Turkish-Iranian gold trader accused of violating US sanctions on Iran, seen in Istanbul in 2015. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Reza Zarrab, the Turkish-Iranian gold trader accused of violating US sanctions on Iran, seen in Istanbul in 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Giuliani and Mukasey recently met with Turkey’s president, and prosecutors say they had sought to meet US government officials to try to resolve the case.

A judge agreed Tuesday to question Zarrab about possible conflicts of interest posed by Giuliani and Mukasey because their firms have represented banks in the case.

— AP

Syria opposition says US comments on Assad encourage ‘more crimes’

Syria’s opposition says the latest comments from Washington softening its line against President Bashar Assad were encouraging him to commit more crimes, after a deadly suspected chemical attack blamed on the regime.

“Until now, this (US) administration has done nothing and adopted an attitude of a spectator, making statements that give the regime an opportunity to commit more crimes,” the deputy head of the Syrian National Coalition Abdelhakim Bashar tells reporters in Istanbul.

The previous administration of former US president Barack Obama had always pushed for the ouster of Assad, supporting the rebels fighting against his forces.

But in an apparent U-turn, the US ambassador to the United Nations and other top officials in the new administration of President Donald Trump have said ousting Assad is no longer a priority.

The US administration has been under fire for concentrating its efforts on the defeat of the jihadist Islamic State group and not on ending Assad’s civil war against his domestic opposition.

— AFP

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