Thursday, April 24, 2014
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2014.04.24 02:50:56

Syrian state media has reported a member of the People's Assembly has registered as a challenger to Bashar al-Assad in the upcoming presidential election.

"The speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly Mohammad Jihad al-Laham announced on Wednesday that the Assembly received from the Supreme Constitutional Court a candidacy application from MP Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar to run for president," SANA reported.

Sources in Syria say that  Hajjar, who is Aleppo-born, is member of the internal opposition and a member of Syrian People's Assembly representing Aleppo governorate.

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2014.04.24 02:49:10

Despite all the talk today, the resumption of hostilities has not actually resumed. Here's a rundown of what has happened:

* The Ukraine government says its Easter truce is over. It says it has the backing of the US to launch "appropriate measures" against Pro-Russian separatists in the east.

* A video has emerged of a pro-Kiev councilor being confronted by a pro-Russian mob, hours before he was allegedly kidnapped, tortured and murdered before being dumped.

* Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that Russia would respond if its interests were threatened. He referenced the action Russia took when Georgia moved to reoccupy its pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008. Russian tanks were within a few dozen miles of Tblisi within five days).

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.24 02:33:08

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has informed his Egyptian counterpart of President Obama's decision to deliver 10 Apache helicopters in support of Egypt’s counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai.

A statement from the Department of Defense says the US believes these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government "counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security.

This is one element of the president’s broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terrorist threats, and is the United States’ national security interest."

  Egypt | United States | Chuck Hagel
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2014.04.24 02:31:51

Syrian state media has reported a member of the People's Assembly has registered as a challenger to Bashar al-Assad in the upcoming presidential election.

"The speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly Mohammad Jihad al-Laham announced on Wednesday that the Assembly received from the Supreme Constitutional Court a candidacy application from MP Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar to run for president," SANA reported.

Sources in Syria say that Hajjar, who is Aleppo-born, is member of the internal opposition and a member of Syrian People's Assembly representing Aleppo governorate.

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2014.04.24 02:30:36

The Russian army choir has released a song glorifying the troops in unmarked uniforms who took control of Crimea ahead of its annexation by Moscow - swiftly nicknamed "the polite people" for their silent demeanor.

The deep-voiced Alexandrov Ensemble, known internationally as the Red Army Choir, released "Polite People" on its official YouTube site accompanied by footage of the choir performing in Crimea this month.

The heavily armed soldiers who appeared in Crimea in late February and surrounded government buildings and army bases gained the nickname "the polite people" because they refused to identify themselves but posed for publicity shots with children and women pushing prams.

Those who opposed Russia's actions in the strategic Black Sea peninsula on the other hand describe them as "little green men".

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, even used the term, saying his allies who came under Western sanctions over actions in Ukraine were "polite people."

The choir's song features lyrics praising the troops who "simply stand politely nearby, they simply carry guns," set to the strumming of balalaikas.

The song reassures listeners with a rousing chorus: "The polite people will preserve the glory and honor of the fatherland."

Putin insisted at the time that the unmarked troops in Crimea were members of local self-defense brigades and suggested they bought their uniforms at army surplus stores.

"Their helmets are polite, their faces are polite, even their steel vehicles are polite," the lyrics run, against a picture of a soldier in helmet and black mask, carrying a machine gun.

The choir's website says the song was first performed in Crimea on a tour from April 10-14.


  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.24 02:15:38

The email from US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki has, according to a congressional aide, cleared the way for the release of US Apache helicopters to Egypt and some of its annual $1.3bn military assistance package to the country so it can deal with security and counter-terrorism.

The unnamed congressional aide is cited in a report from the news agency Associated Press.

  Egypt | United States
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2014.04.24 02:13:57

The directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria have said their appeal for $6.5 bn in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored.

With only $1.2 bn pledged, the agency heads are renewing their December appeal and emphasizing that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day as the 3-year-old civil war escalates in many areas.

The December appeal "has gone largely unanswered" for a crisis affecting 9.3 million people, said a joint statement Wednesday by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, UNICEF director Anthony Lake, UN refugee commissioner

António Guterres, World Food Program director Ertharin Cousin and World Health Organization director Dr. Margaret Chan.

They say "the worst days seem yet to come" for civilians remaining in Aleppo, Homs, and other areas with heavy fighting.


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2014.04.24 02:12:52

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister has said some pretty powerful stuff on Ukraine in an interview with Russia Today. The video is to be broadcast tonight but excerpts of the transcript have been released early. He says:

Russia sees the US hand in a new Ukraine offensive against pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine.

There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show.

Russia will respond if its interests are attacked.

If our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians, have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law.

South Ossetia is a reference to the Georgian war of 2008, when Russian troops invaded Georgia after Tblisi attempted to end separatist rebellions in two of its regions: Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This last one is fairly significant. Raising the specter of the Georgian war in reference to Ukraine is particularly pointed.

Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation.

Is Lavrov saying there are Russian citizens among the separatists in east Ukraine? Or that he considers those in the groups to be defacto Russian citizens? That statement's meaning is not entirely clear, even in the context of his other quotes. But it certainly sounds high-level dangerous.

  Ukraine | Russia | Sergey Lavrov
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2014.04.24 01:48:18

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy on Tuesday.

In a statement from US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, Kerry noted that "he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition" and urged Egypt to conduct "free, fair and transparent elections".

The elections are due to take place on May 26 and 27. Retired army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is widely expected to win the vote.

  Egypt | United States | John Kerry
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2014.04.24 01:46:34

According to Syrian Revolution General Commission, several fighter of Hezbollah has died and others injured as result of an attack by Free Syrian Army in Daraya , Damascus countryside.

The SRGC added that a 70m tunnel, was discovered by members of FSA on the north side of the city of Darya, it was used by the fighters of Hezbollah and regime forces soldiers to infiltrate the city and to bring weapons.

The regime forces shelled the northern area of the city with toxic substances, according to the SRGC, which resulted the poisoning of a number of people.

  Syria | Hezbollah
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2014.04.24 01:43:40

A Ukrainian town councilor was mobbed by a hostile, pro-Russian crowd hours before he was kidnapped, tortured and apparently murdered, a video shows.

The footage from Thursday on, posted to Youtube, shows angry scenes outside the town hall of Horlivka, between the separatist flashpoint cities of Donetsk and Slovyansk, as Volodymyr Rybak is manhandled by several men, among them a masked man in camouflage, while other people hurl abuse.

Rybak had tried to remove the flag of the separatist Donetsk Republic, the website said. "Over my dead body will you take down that flag," one man in plain clothes yells at Rybak as the politician tries to gain entry to the town hall.

After several minutes, Rybak appears able to walk away. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said he was seen being bundled into a car by masked men in camouflage later that day. His body was found on Saturday near Slovyansk.

He and another, unidentified, man appeared to have been tortured and dumped alive in a river to drown, police concluded.


  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.23 08:12:49

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a telephone call with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday that Ukraine must take urgent steps to implement a deal aimed at defusing the Ukraine crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Lavrov said orders for the army to be deployed in the crisis should be reversed, the Right Sector Ukrainian nationalist group should be disarmed, arrested activists in southeast Ukraine freed and constitutional reforms started, the ministry said.

The call was a US initiative and the two men agreed to maintain contact, it said.


  Ukraine | Russia | United States | John Kerry | Sergey Lavrov
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2014.04.23 08:11:38

Vice Magazine journalist Simon Ostrovsky has been reportedly "taken" by pro-Kremlin militia in the eastern town of Slavyansk.

Vice Magazine has stated that it is in contact with the US State Department and other government authorities to secure the safety of their colleague.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.23 08:10:45

Update: Ukraine's acting president has ordered a military operation against pro-Kremlin separatists in the east of the country after the body of a local politician from his own party was found showing signs of torture. To read more, click here.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.23 08:08:51

The chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday that Syria has handed over 86.5 percent of its arsenal as new claims emerged of an attack on a rebel bastion this month using an industrial chemical.

Under the terms of a US- and Russian-brokered deal which averted the threat of US military action last year, Syria faces a June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical stockpiles.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said a new consignment of chemicals was delivered Tuesday to the Syrian port of Latakia.

It raised "the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 86.5 percent of the total", the Hague-based OPCW said in a statement.

The chemicals were immediately removed from the country in the 17th shipment since the operation began in October.

"This latest consignment (is) encouraging," said OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu.

We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly to permit destruction operations to get under way in time to meet the mid-year deadline for destroying Syria's chemical weapons.


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2014.04.23 08:07:06

US is deploying approximately 600 troops to Poland and Baltic countries in a show of commitment to NATO allies amid tensions with Russia over the Ukraine, the Pentagon has said.

A company of 150 soldiers from the US army based in Italy will arrive Poland on Wednesday, and roughly 450 troops are due in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the coming days. The deployments are part of a new series of exercises "scheduled to take place for the next few months and beyond," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.


  Ukraine | Russia | United States | Poland
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2014.04.23 08:05:58

A Lebanese convoy of soldiers, clerics and Red Cross officials have delivered aid to a remote village near the Syrian border. The border hamlet of Tfail was bombed by Syrian government aircraft and blocked by Lebanese fighters.

The village's population has swelled in recent months after more than 7,000 Syrians, fleeing the fighting in the country's civil war, sought refuge in the area and surrounding hills. [AP]

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2014.04.23 08:05:07

Ukraine's acting president has ordered a military "anti-terrorism" operation against pro-Russian activists, after two "brutally tortured" bodies were discovered in the east. One of those killed was a kidnapped local councillor.

"I demand the resumption of effective counter-terrorism measures to protect Ukrainian citizens in the east from terrorism," Oleksandr Turchynov said, according to a statement from his other office as parliamentary speaker.

- Reuters

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.23 01:07:08

Three Al Jazeera English journalists have appeared in a court in Egypt for a sixth time, accused of spreading news and belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The trial of correspondent Peter Greste and producers Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who have been in jail for more than three months, resumed on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera strongly rejects all the charges and calls for the immediate release of its staff.

To read the full story, click here.

  Egypt | Al Jazeera
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2014.04.23 01:03:48

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it is appalled by the increase of violence in the northern city of Aleppo.

The hundreds of civilian casualties caused by the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas across Aleppo over the last two weeks are unacceptable.

- Boris Michel, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria

We urgently call on all parties to meet their obligations under international humanitarian law and spare not only civilians but also essential infrastructure such as water supply lines, power plants and medical facilities.

- Michel


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