Washington: The United States, Britain and France launched punitive military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime in response to its latest alleged chemical weapons atrocity, President Donald Trump announced.
Shortly after Trump began a White House address to announce the action, large explosions were heard in the Syrian capital Damascus, signalling a new chapter in a brutal seven-year-old civil war.
“A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said in a primetime televised speech to the nation.
“A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
A US official said the strikes had targeted chemical production facilities. Another official said multiple types of bombs were used, and a variety of targets chosen.
Trump also warned Russia and Iran not to stand by their ally in Damascus.
“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” he argued.
The strikes had been expected since harrowing footage surfaced of the aftermath of the alleged toxic gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which took place a week ago, and Trump reacted in an emotional tweet.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” he declared.
“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”
Trump’s anger and apparent determination was quickly matched by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who signed his country up for a joint response.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May was more cautious, but by the time the first precision cruise missile was launched, Trump had a mini-coalition.
May said there was “no practicable alternative” to the use of force against Assad.
Trump’s language was more brutal: “They are crimes of a monster.”
In the six days between the attack and the US-led response, Washington and Moscow clashed repeatedly in duelling press statements and US debates.
Moscow denied its ally Assad had any role in the outrage, pushing a variety of alternative theories that peaked with a claim that Britain had staged the event.
North Korea asks UN chief to address ship seizure by ‘gangster’ US
SEOUL: North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said on Saturday. “This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Korea
s KCNA news agency.
Pyongyangs protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearisation of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North`s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters. With the denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit.
North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay. The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest”, was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.
Trump tells Pentagon chief he doesn’t want war with Iran
KARACHI: Senior officials in Washington have begun looking for ways to defuse tensions with Tehran after President Donald Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want a war with Iran, sources say.
The New York Times has reported that during a meeting Mr Trump told his acting defence secretary, Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want to go to war with Iran.
The president’s statement was meant to apprise his hawkish aides that he did not want the intensifying US pressure campaign against the Iranians to turn into an open conflict, said the newspaper.
According to another statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, to discuss the threat posed by Iran. Oman has long been seen as an intermediary between the West and Iran.
Pompeo also asked European officials for help in persuading Iran to “de-escalate” tensions, which rose after American intelligence indicated that Iran had equipped small boats in the Persian Gulf with missiles. The information prompted fears that Tehran might strike at the United States troops and assets or those of its allies.
When asked on Thursday whether the United States was going to war with Iran, Mr Trump replied: “I hope not.”
The developments have served to highlight internal tensions in the Trump administration and prompted fears that even though the president may not be spoiling for a fight with Iran some of his aides could be.
This is happening at a time when US officials are holding an internal debate about the “gravity of the Iranian threat”. While officials and British allies say the intelligence about the threat is valid, lawmakers and some inside the administration accuse Mr Trump’s aides of exaggerating the danger and exploiting the intelligence to justify a military clash with Tehran.
Iran has dismissed any suggestion of a dialogue with the Trump administration. “The escalation by the United States is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.
Indeed, there was a new potential flash point in Iran’s standoff with the United States, stemming from its vow last week to step away from some of the limitations imposed by the nuclear deal, a year after the US pulled out of the agreement that was negotiated between Tehran and world powers in 2015.
State Department officials, meanwhile, have set a “red line” that they warn Iran would cross at its peril: It could not ramp up its nuclear fuel production to the point where it would produce a nuclear weapon in less than one year.
The administration officials, however, did not specify what kind of reaction — military or otherwise — would come if Iran built up enough of a stockpile of uranium and took other steps to cross that threshold.
More than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh get first ID cards: UN
Geneva: The UN said it has registered more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, providing many with their first ever identification cards and proof of their right to return to Myanmar in the future.
The UN refugee agency also said the registration could serve as a tool for law enforcement to help counter human trafficking.
Over a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have now been jointly registered and provided with identity cards by Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
Some 740,000 Rohingya refugees fled a military crackdown in August 2017 to cross into Bangladesh where 300,000 members of the persecuted Muslim minority were already in camps.
Many Rohingya refugees who fled said there had been mass rapes and slaughters in the villages, and in a report published last September, the fact-finding mission said there were reasonable grounds to believe the atrocities amounted to “genocide”.
UNHCR puts the number of Rohingya refugees currently crowded into settlements in Cox’s Bazar at around 900,000, although the UN often gives a lower number than Bangladesh authorities and other aid organisations.
They are stateless, despite the fact that many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations, since members of the Muslim minority have had their citizenship eroded over decades.
“The registration exercise, which began in June 2018, is about safeguarding the right of Rohingya refugees to be able to return home voluntarily to Myanmar in future,” Mahecic said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a memorandum of understanding about repatriating the Rohingya, but so far safety fears and concerns over citizenship mean the refugees have refused to return.
The new ID cards, provided to all refugees over the age of 12, lists important information, including names, family links and fingerprints and Iris scans.
Mahecic also said that the cards list Myanmar as the refugees’ country of origin.
In total, 270,348 refugees, or nearly 60,000 families, have been registered, and around 4,000 people are added to the roster each day, he said.
UNHCR’s goal is to complete the process of registering all the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar by November.
Mahecic pointed out that comprehensive registration is important for improving the accuracy of data on refugees in Bangladesh, and provides authorities and humanitarians with a better understanding of the population and its needs.
He also said that the registration “can also serve as a better tool vis-a-vis the authorities to prevent and combat smuggling and trafficking”.
His comment came after a rise in attempted human smuggling of Rohingya in the last few months, amid growing desperation in the camps.
Earlier this week, Bangladeshi police shot dead two suspected Rohingya human traffickers, after rescuing 103 refugees in two days about to make the perilous sea voyage to Malaysia.