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Kuwaiti citizens kidnapped in Syria
2014.04.11 01:36:57

Kuwait said three of its citizens have been kidnapped in Syria and it has asked Turkey for help in trying to secure their release.

It was not clear why the Kuwaitis were in Syria or who abducted them. Some Gulf Arab citizens have entered Syria to join rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

"There were three Kuwaitis kidnapped in Syria. The Foreign Ministry is following this matter," Kuwait's undersecretary for foreign affairs Khaled al-Jarallah told reporters late on Wednesday.

Kuwait has been in contact with authorities in Turkey, which borders Syria, to try to secure their release, he said.

Kuwait's al-Anbaa newspaper reported on Thursday that the kidnappers had asked for a ransom of 1 million euros ($1.38 million) and that the three Kuwaitis may have already been transferred to Turkey.

[Reuters]



Tags: Syria | Kuwait

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Egyptian government exerts influence on mosques
2014.04.11 01:35:31

The Egyptian government has stepped up a campaign to influence the message preachers deliver in mosques.

A report by Reuters news agency said the state had given licenses to more than 17,000 clerics to give Friday sermons in order to curb suspected Muslim Brotherhood influence in places of worship.

The military-appointed interim government has been trying to bring mosques under tighter control since the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi last July.

All of the newly-approved clerics had been trained at Al Azhar University, which a government statement said is a respected center of Sunni Islamic learning and institutions run by the ministry of religious endowments.

The statement added that the move would "strengthen" the ministry's supervision of mosques so that they would not "fall in to the hands of extremists and the unqualified".

Around 12,000 clerics not approved by the state have been removed from service and the minister of religious endowments said he aims to bar 55,000 unlicensed preachers.

[Reuters]



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Lebanon’s Maronite Church
2014.04.11 01:34:03

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church suggested that Syrian refugees should be housed in camps inside Syria, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported, reflecting growing frustration among Lebanese over the burden imposed on their country by their neighbors’ war.

Cardinal Beshara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, told a news conference in Geneva that the presence of so many Syrians represented a huge economic, social, political and security burden for Lebanon.

"Why not install some camps for them in Syrian territory where there is security? The area of Syria is 20 times greater than that of Lebanon," he said.

"There is plenty of spare space in secure territory or at least to facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid in no man’s land between the borders of Lebanon and Syria."

The full article can be found on The Daily Star's website.



Tags: Syria | Lebanon

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Civilian expert mission to Ukraine
2014.04.11 01:15:19

The European Union is considering the dispatch of a civilian expert mission to Ukraine to assist with judicial and policing matters, EU diplomats said on Thursday.

The idea was put to ambassadors from the 28-nation bloc jointly by Britain, Poland and Sweden on Wednesday and will be discussed by foreign ministers at talks in Luxembourg on Monday, said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

The three nations behind the mission are hoping for a quick green light from the EU and for a launch by June.

But not all EU states are in favor, with a second diplomat saying it was "essential to be reasonable" by avoiding any decision that "might undermine dialogue with the Russians" ahead of key talks next Thursday.

The top EU and US diplomats meet counterparts from Russia and Ukraine in Europe for the first such talks on April 17.

"Nobody's opposing the mission but there are doubts about whether this is the best moment to launch it," added the second diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It would comprise policing experts, judges, prosecutors," said another source, and could "run into three figures". [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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Putin warns Europe about Ukraine gas debt
2014.04.11 01:13:41

Vladimir Putin has told European leaders that Ukraine's growing gas debts to Moscow can threaten supplies to Europe, his press secretary said.

Dmitry Peskov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday that Putin "expressed his utmost concern" to European leaders about the growing gas debts of Ukraine. Peskov did not otherwise discuss Putin's message, but said it contained "urgent measures, as the situation requires no delay."

The move is designed to exert economic pressure on Europe, which receives a large portion of its gas from Russia through Ukraine. It raises specters of gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine in 2009, when Moscow turned off supplies to Kiev and other European countries.

Putin has been tightening the economic screws on the cash-strapped Kiev government since it came to power in February, after Ukraine's Russia-leaning president fled the country after months of protest. [AP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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US troops may be sent to Eastern Europe
2014.04.11 01:12:18

NATO's top military commander in Europe has said American troops could be deployed to alliance member states in Eastern Europe.

US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told The Associated Press he wouldn't "write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States."

Foreign ministers of the 28-nation alliance have given Breedlove until Tuesday to propose steps to reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.

"Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies."

Breedlove told the AP. "I'm tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early."

Asked again if American soldiers might be sent to NATO's front-line states closest to Russia, the four-star U.S. general said, "I would not write off contributions from any nation."

[Associated Press]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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Car bombs
2014.04.10 05:09:28

Two car bombs killed at least 25 people, including women and children, in a government-held neighborhood of Syria's central city of Homs Wednesday, state news agency SANA reported.

The explosions went off in the Karam al-Loz area of Homs. Another 100 people were wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombings killed 21 people in a mostly Alawite neighborhood, referring to the Shia Muslim offshoot sect to which the Assad family belongs.

Videos posted online by activists showed destroyed shopfronts and people panicking and running in all directions as rescuers struggled to extinguish a fire.

[AFP]



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Syrian border town of Rankous
2014.04.10 05:08:26

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad recaptured the rebel-held Syrian border town of Rankous, military sources and state television said, consolidating their control over a former rebel supply line from neighboring Lebanon.

The capture of Rankous was the latest stage of an offensive by the army and fighters from Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah to seal off the border region and secure the main highway leading north from Damascus towards central Syria, Homs, and the Mediterranean coast.

Read the details here.



Tags: Syria

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Pope Francis on assassination of Dutch priest
2014.04.10 04:49:58

Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday of his deep grief over the assassination of a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest in Syria and made a renewed appeal for an end to the violence.

Frans van der Lugt had been living in Syria since the 1970s and had become widely known for his refusal to leave Christians who remained in the rebel-held city of Homs as it was blockaded by government forces. He was beaten and shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his monastery on Monday.

"His brutal killing filled me with profound pain and made me think again of the many people who suffer and die in that tortured country, my beloved Syria, which has already for far too long been gripped by bloody conflict, which continues to mete out death and destruction," Francis told a weekly audience.

From my heart, I ask you all to join with my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I send a concerned call to those responsible in Syria and to the international community: put down your arms, end the violence! No more war! No more destruction!

[Reuters]



Tags: Syria | Pope Francis

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Syria’s UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari
2014.04.10 04:47:56

Syria’s UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari dismissed UN human rights chief Navy Pillay as "biased", adding that she has become "part of the orchestra" led by some influential members in the Human Rights Council to put pressure on the Syrian government.

“The UN High Commissioner ignored the issue of the takfiri groups who committed massacres and crimes against the innocent civilians in Syria and didn’t mention the terrorist acts perpetrated by the armed terrorist groups in Kassab [in the suburbs of Latakia]."

His comments come after Pillay on Tuesday blamed most of the crimes perpetrated in Syria on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.



Tags: Syria

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Threat of military strikes against Syria
2014.04.10 04:46:37

Threatened military strikes against Syria would not have affected the course of the country's civil war, US Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said US military action -ultimately abandoned by President Barack Obama at the 11th hour last year - would not have had a "devastating impact" on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Obama scrapped plans to launch strikes against Syria after Syria's key ally Russia helped broker a deal to dismantle Damascus's chemical weapons arsenal.

At the time, Kerry had argued for military strikes over a limited period against Syria.

Kerry told the Senate on Tuesday that such a military action would only had had a limited effect.

"It would not have a devastating impact by which he (Assad) had to recalculate, because it wasn't going to last that long," Kerry said.

"It took 30,000 sorties and 30 days in Bosnia to have an impact. Here we were going to have one or two days to degrade and send a message."

[AFP]



Tags: Syria | United States

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French soccer star Lassana Diarra
2014.04.10 04:45:23

French soccer star Lassana Diarra denied rumors on social media websites that he had become a jihadist in the Syria war.

The Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder "denies in the most formal, the most category, the most absolute fashion that he has gone to Syria," said Diarra's French lawyer Eric Dupond Moretti.

"He has never set foot in Syria.

"It's absurd. He is not a jihadist, he is a footballer with Lokomotiv Moscow," the lawyer added.

The British tabloid Daily Mirror this week reported social media rumors that Diarra had gone to Syria where the war is now into a fourth year and has cost the lives of over 150,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The lawyer said Diarra, 29, who has also played for Real Madrid, Chelsea and Arsenal, expected to take part in Lokomotiv's league game on Sunday. Diarra - who was a member of the Real squad that won the Spanish league title in 2012 - last played for France in 2010.

[AFP]



Tags: Syria

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Drought in Syria
2014.04.10 04:44:06

A looming drought in Syria could push millions more people into hunger and exacerbate a refugee crisis caused by years of civil war, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Syria's breadbasket northwestern region has received less than half of the average rainfall since September and, if it stays dry up to wheat harvest time in mid-May, the country - already reliant on aid for millions of people - will need to import even more food.

"A drought could put the lives of millions more people at risk," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN aid agency World Food Program (WFP), told a news briefing.

Read the details



Tags: Syria

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Upcoming meeting
2014.04.10 03:47:32

The United States said Tuesday it was going into an upcoming meeting with Russia, Europe and Ukraine on the crisis in the former Soviet republic with low expectations.

"I have to say that we don't have high expectations for these talks but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open and will see what they bring," said Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

US and EU diplomats have agreed with Russia to hold four-way negotiations involving Ukraine next week to de-escalate the worst European security crisis in decades.

An EU diplomat said the talks would likely be held on April 17 in Vienna. US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accused Moscow of sending agents into eastern Ukraine to stoke a secession crisis in ethnic Russian areas of the country. [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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Ukraine to pay for gas in advance
2014.04.10 03:46:22

President Vladimir Putin has threatened that Russia's state-owned gas company could ask Ukraine to pay for gas in advance, according to Russian state news agencies.

In a meeting Wednesday with government ministers, Putin said that asking for advance payments "corresponded with the contract" between Ukraine and Russia, but asked that state energy giant Gazprom refrain from such drastic measures until "additional consultations" between both sides.

Russia has tightened the economic screws on Ukraine since its Russia-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power in February after months of street protests.

Last week, Gazprom said it would be scrapping all discounts on gas to Ukraine, meaning a 70 percent price hike that will add to Ukraine's $2.2 billion in gas arrears. [AP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation
2014.04.10 03:44:30

The United States Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is to meet in Washington to debate Ukraine.

The witness is Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. The US has recently stopped cooperating with Russia through organizations such as the G8 and even NASA because of the annexation of the peninsula.

Sanctions against senior Russian officials are also in place. President Obama has said that the next step, should Russia move further into Ukraine, would be harsher economic sanctions, even though that would begin to effect the worldwide economy, not just Russia’s.

Military action has been ruled out, even though the NATO commander in Europe says that the Russian Army have the capability to cross into eastern Ukraine and take key objectives within five days.



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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Al Jazeera's journalists
2014.04.10 03:43:06

Amnesty International urged Egypt on Wednesday to end the "vindictive" detention of Al Jazeera's journalists ahead of the trio’s latest trial hearing.

Al Jazeera English staff Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, along with five Egyptian students, stand accused of belonging to or assisting a banned terrorist organization -in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their trial resumes on 10 April.

“What the Egyptian authorities are doing is vindictive persecution of journalists for merely doing their jobs,” said Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Program Deputy Director.

“So far, the Prosecution has failed to produce any convincing evidence and the journalists appear to be pawns in the hands of the authorities in their ongoing dispute with Qatar. The truth is that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.”



Tags: Egypt | Al Jazeera

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Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis group
2014.04.10 03:15:50

The US Department of State has announced the designation of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), according to a statement it posted on its website on Wednesday.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is an al-Qaeda-inspired armed group based in the eastern Sinai peninsula, and has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks that have rocked Egypt since the 2011 revolution, and spiked following the military-led coup.



Tags: Egypt | United States

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Democratic Dawn
2014.04.10 03:13:48

Al Badil newspaper, a Cairo-based private-owned publication, reported on Wednesday that members of presidential hopeful Abdel Fattah's el-Sisi's electoral campaign will launch a party called "Democratic Dawn" in support of the former defense minister and the country's army.



Tags: Egypt | Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

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Egyptian appeals court
2014.04.10 03:11:22

An Egyptian appeals court rejected Wednesday a request that new judges be appointed for two trials involving ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, judicial officials said.

The trials are part of a sweeping crackdown waged against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood since the army overthrew him in July, and the former president could face the death penalty if convicted.

The court is now expected to set a date for the resumption of each of the two trials involving jailbreak and espionage charges, the officials said.

Defense lawyers had requested that a new panel of judges examine both cases involving Morsi and Brotherhood figures, complaining about a soundproof glass cage in which the accused are held when the court is in session. [AFP]



Tags: Egypt | Muslim Brotherhood | Mohamed Morsi

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