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120 killed in Syria as govt, rebels pound populated areas

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BEIRUT: Almost 120 people were killed across Syria during a 24-hour period beginning as both pro-Assad forces and rebels bombarded heavily populated areas without any thought for the lives of non-combatants.
In one of the deadliest attacks in the Syrian capital in the country’s seven-year civil war, 44 people, most of them women and children, were killed when anti-government fighters fired mortar shells on a busy market in Damascus on Tuesday night.
In another bloody scene, an airstrike killed 21 people, 16 of them children, in a rebel-held province in northwestern Syria on Wednesday. The children, between seven and 10 years old, were leaving their schools in Kfar Batkeeh village when jets began flying overhead.
Raghda Ghanoum, an activist near Kfar Batkeeh, said the children and four adults took cover in a cave nearby, where the airstrikes hit. Ghanoum said she documented 21 victim names, including 16 children.
Meanwhile, government forces pounded opposition-held areas in Douma, the largest town in Eastern Ghouta, with shelling and airstrikes on Tuesday, killing 56 people.
The violence in both government-held and opposition-held areas came as Syrians celebrated Mother’s Day, turning the occasion that ushers the spring season into a blood-spattered day for families on both sides of the conflict.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 were people killed in the airstrikes on Kfar Batkeeh village.
The organisation put the death toll in the market shelling in Damascus at 43, including 11 pro-government fighters. Videos of the aftermath posted online showed scenes of chaos, with people screaming and bodies and store mannequins strewn across the ground.
Hospital director Mohammed Haitham al Husseini told Al Ikhbariya TV that 35 others were wounded in the mortar attack, with six in intensive care. He said most of the casualties were women and children.
Witnesses told state-run TV that the mortar shells fell during rush hour in the popular market on the eve of Mother’s Day, celebrated in the Middle East with the start of spring. A child said he was out shopping with his family for Mother’s Day when they heard a huge explosion. “Everyone started running, and people were going into narrow streets to give first aid to others,” the child said.
A woman in the hospital said her niece, who was wounded by shrapnel, lost her four-year old son. “We just saw him in the morgue,” the woman told Al Ikhbariya. The TV network did not identify the woman or the child.
The government blamed the attack on rebels in the eastern Ghouta suburbs, where Syrian troops and Russian warplanes have been waging a major offensive over the past month that has killed hundreds of people.
The first-responders group, known as the White Helmets, said 56 civilians were killed in Douma, the largest town in eastern Ghouta, as government forces stepped up their assault to dislodge the last pockets of resistance in the region outside the capital.
Video from the White Helmets showed rescue workers surrounded by fire and ongoing shelling struggling to retrieve survivors from a building in Douma.
The assault on eastern Ghouta has displaced 45,000 people, the United Nations said. Before the latest offensive, it was estimated that 400,000 people were trapped in the besieged region. The rebels first seized the area in 2012.


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International

UN approves mission to shore up Yemen truce

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UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deployment to Yemen of up to 75 monitors in a new mission to shore up a fragile ceasefire and oversee a pullback of forces from the flashpoint port of Hodeida.

The observer mission was agreed during talks last month in Sweden between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels and an advance team is already on the ground in the rebel-held city.

The unarmed monitors will be sent to Hodeida city and port as well as to the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months.

 

The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “expeditiously” deploy the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA), led by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert.

Guterres has described the mission as a “nimble presence” that will report on violations in Hodeida, which for months was the front line in the war after pro-government forces launched an offensive to capture it in June.

Human Rights Watch warned of a tough road ahead and urged the council to keep the pressure on the warring sides.

“The countdown for exchanging prisoners is fast approaching, but the parties have missed deadlines, putting the prisoner swap in jeopardy,” said Louis Charbonneau, HRW’s UN director.

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Lift travel ban on opposition leaders: Pak SC asks Imran Khan govt

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court Thursday ordered the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to lift the travel ban imposed on opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the Sindh Chief Minister, and asked the country’s anti-corruption body to probe their involvement in Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’.

As many as 172 suspects were placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) on the recommendations of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the apex court.

A person cannot fly abroad if his name is placed on the ECL.

 

The Supreme Court, in a detailed judgement, ordered the government to remove the names of opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the ECL.

It, however, referred the report and material collected by the JIT in the Rs 35 billion ‘fake accounts case’ to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Dawn news reported.

The JIT probe focused on “32 fake accounts” which were allegedly used to give massive financial benefits to former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur and several others.

“Removing of the names will not prevent (the) NAB to probe and in case sufficient material is found connecting these individuals with cognisable offences, it will not be precluded from making an appropriate request to the federal government to place their names on (the) ECL again or take any appropriate action provided by law,” according to the judgement authored by Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan.

The apex court in its earlier instructions asked the government to delete names of Bilawal and Shah from the ECL but the Cabinet waited for the detailed judgment.

After the judgement, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government will decide whether it should implement the court orders or file a review petition.

Justice Ahsan was part of the three-judge bench that last year took a suo-motu cognisance after it emerged that several big names were involved in money laundering through fake accounts.

Currently, a Karachi court is hearing the case against Zardari and Talpur for alleged money laundering.

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North Korea yet to take concrete steps to dismantle nukes: US

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WASHINGTON: US awaits concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons that threaten America and other countries in the region, Vice President Mike Pence has said.

Pence’s statement comes during his address to the global chief of mission conference on Wednesday and gains significance as the White House is preparing another summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The two leaders have recently exchanged letters.

 

Kim and Trump held a historic meeting in Singapore on June 12 last year where they issued a vague goal for the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.

Pence said that the US awaits North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons.

“While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” Pence said.

In his address, Pence also said that Russia seeks to overturn the international order that the US has upheld for more than half a century.

“Unlike the Soviet Union and its many client states, no shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one. They seek to overturn the international order that the US has upheld for more than half a century,” he said.

“Truthfully, it is a pact surrounding what they perceive to be a common enemy, but the truth is the US will rise to that challenge, we will stand with our allies and we will advance our values and our principles in the world,” Pence added.

Targeting Iran, Pence said that President Trump is standing up to the Iranian regime which is making the west Asian nation change its ways. “And as we stand today, Iran is now under unprecedented pressure to change its ways,” he said.

“The message that the disastrous nuclear deal benefited the very mullahs who oppressed their people. And even as we’ve striven mightily to protect our most important interests, we’ve also fought hard.

We’ve also fought hard not only to stand up to those who would challenge us but to advance American values on the world stage,” Pence said.

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