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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



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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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Egypt Independent report
2014.04.10 03:09:45

Egypt's private-run newspaper Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that the cabinet will submit the new counter-terrorism draft law to the president for approval after it has been revised by the state council.

According to the publication, the draft bill's 86th article defines the  terrorist act as the use of force, violence, threats, or intimidation in order to disturb public order or endanger the safety, interests and security of the society, harming individuals, intimidating them, putting their lives, freedoms or security at risk, harming the national security, harming the environment, monuments, natural resources, money, buildings, public and private properties, occupying or seizing public and private properties, hindering the work of, activities or some of the activities of public authorities, judicial bodies, local units, houses of worship, hospitals, education institutions and institutes, regional and international bodies in Egypt, and diplomatic and consular missions.



Tags: Egypt

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Human rights violations by Syrian government
2014.04.10 03:07:32

Human rights violations by Syrian government forces "far outweigh" those by armed opposition groups, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Tuesday, prompting the Syrian UN envoy to accuse her of acting like an irresponsible "lunatic."

Pillay briefed the 15-member UN Security Council on the human rights situations in Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Mali and Libya. She again called for the situation in Syria, which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Pillay said monitors in her office and investigators with the UN commission of inquiry in Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, had consistently blamed both parties to the Syrian conflict for human rights violations "but you cannot compare the two."

"Clearly the actions of the forces of the government far outweigh the violations (by rebels)," Pillay told reporters.

It's the government that is mostly responsible for the violations and all these perpetrators should be identified and can if there's a referral to the International Criminal Court.

The council has so far been unable to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court because Russia is opposed to the move, diplomats say. Russia, supported by China, has shielded ally Syria from council action during the civil war.



Tags: Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin
2014.04.10 02:40:52

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he hoped Kiev would not take any irreversible steps amid the crisis in Ukraine and Russia's diplomatic efforts would be successful.

"I hope that the acting (authorities) will not do anything that can't be fixed later," Putin said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Putin also said he hoped Russian efforts to calm tensions through talks would "have consequences" and a "positive" result. [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | Vladimir Putin

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Ukrainian security service building
2014.04.10 02:39:47

Armed activists who have been holed up inside of the Ukrainian security service building in the eastern city of Luhansk for days said on Wednesday they were Ukraine's "last hope" and pleaded for supporters to gather outside of the building in larger numbers for them to be successful.

"I understand that we will be trying to resolve all this by ourselves. But we may fail," said Vitaly, who called himself the group's commandant.

He then addressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin, asking him to help: "Mr. Putin, have mercy on your fighters. If you lose us then you will lose the last hope to create a good neighbour."

"This is out last chance. Kharkiv is lost, Donetsk is lost, Mykolaiv has been lost long ago, Odessa is almost lost. That's it, we are the last remaining hope of all Ukraine," Vitaly added.

[Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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Russian gas exports to Europe
2014.04.10 02:38:39

Russian gas exports to Europe through Ukraine were stable on Wednesday and Ukraine has been importing gas as usual despite a standoff between Moscow and Kiev, said a spokesman for state-controlled gas producer Gazprom.

Russia increased the price it charges Ukraine for gas to $485 per 1,000 cubic metres last week. On Tuesday, Gazprom said Ukraine had failed to pay for its March gas supplies on time and had not reduced its gas debt of $2.2 billion.

Gazprom ships about half its gas flows to Europe via Ukraine. The Russian company caters of about 30 percent of Europe's gas consumption.

[Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia

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