Syria airstrikes will not deter chemical weapons inspectors – OPCW

By ethan / April 14, 2018

A fact-finding mission by the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog will continue in Syria despite airstrikes carried out on the country hours earlier by the US, UK, and France.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are in the country to investigate the circumstances surrounding reports of a gas attack in the Syrian city of Douma, where at least 70 people are reported to have died from chemical exposure. Syria and Russia called for an OPCW inquiry into the claims.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin © Mikhail Klimentyev

The agency, set up to ensure the destruction of chemical armaments, is due to assess the scene and take samples from alleged attack victims to determine the cause and potentially uncover the perpetrators.

The OPCW, whose members include Syria, Russia, the UK, France, and Russia, issued a statement on Saturday saying the investigation into the alleged use of illegal chemical weapons will continue.

The statement comes after a night of bombing, which saw US, French, and British forces launch missiles at sites including a military facility outside Homs and a suspected research center in the capital, Damascus. Both Russia and Syria have condemned the airstrikes as a breach of international law, and insist that Assad forces did not deploy chemical weapons.

OPCW officials have carried out similar chemical checks in Syria. In 2017, the organization found that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used in the town of Khan Shaykhun, but did not undertake an on-the-ground inspection of the site.

READ MORE: ‘Trailed after Trump’: Corbyn says May should have sought parliamentary approval for Syria strikes

Evidence put forward in the agency’s report revealed the gas was most likely released to the north of the settlement. However, it did not attribute blame to the April 2017 attack, which was carried out in an area not controlled by the government of the Syrian Arab Republic at the time.

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Fire-ravaged hovel in Silicon Valley hits property market with $800,000 price tag

By ethan / April 14, 2018

A small house with major fire damage was put up for sale for $ 800,000 in San Jose, California. It’s become the latest internet joke about Silicon Valley’s property market bubble.

The realtor behind the sale insists on the asking price, saying that the area and the land itself JUSTIFIES it. The small burned-out dwelling is located on a 5,800 sq ft (0.0005 sq km) lot in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood.

“If you are in the market, you know real estate, you know that this is what it’s worth and the buyers set the price,” realtor Holly Barr told KTVU-TV.

She stressed that the high price mirrors the value of the property, not necessarily the burnt-down structure. “The Bird Avenue address in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood sits close to a proposed transit-oriented Google ‘village’ of offices, research sites and retail stores,” Barr said.

The agent’s Facebook post describes the dump and the lot it sits on as a “Great opportunity to build your dream home!” Barr said that she has received 10 offers since the advert was posted and expected a contract on the property within days.

The southern region of the San Francisco Bay Area of California can be fairly called one of the most expensive places in the United States to live. The median home value in San Jose is $ 1,078,300, according to online real estate database company Zillow. That’s up nearly 24 percent over the past year, and the figure is predicted to rise 8.4 percent this year.

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Precise, overwhelming and effective – Pentagon gives details of Syria strike

By ethan / April 14, 2018

Pentagon hailed its strike on Syria as effective saying that they took the country’s “chemical weapons” program years back, by “crippling and degrading” it. The US military claim there were no civilian casualties.

Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Director of Joint stuff, briefed the reporters about the details of the strike. He claimed that Syrian response did not have any impact on Pentagon’s mission. 

He said that the strikes targeted research and development facilities to incur more damage. When asked if there was the danger of chemicals spreading during the strike,  the Pentagon representative said that there was no leak.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White claimed during the briefing that OPCW representatives were blocked from going to Ghouta. The strikes took place hours before the the chemical weapons watchdog was to start its fact finding mission at the site of the alleged attack after the Syrian government and Russia guaranteed them full access.

Journalists asked White why the US military would not share the evidence that they had of the chemical attack that they are sure happened the same way evidence of Soviet missiles at Cuba were shared in 1960s. “We are sure,” she said claiming that Pentagon can’t share that because it’s intelligence information.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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New Zealand bans new offshore oil & gas exploration

By ethan / April 14, 2018

In a historic move, the government of New Zealand has announced it won’t issue any new exploration permits for offshore oil and gas fields to support its commitment to action on climate change.

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© Global Look Press

The ban will not affect existing permits or onshore exploration in the energy-rich Taranaki Region over the next three years.

“The coalition government is taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, adding the transition to a zero-carbon economy “must start somewhere.”

“There are 31 oil and gas exploration permits currently active, 22 are offshore. These permits cover an area of 100,000 square kilometres… and run out as far as 2030 and go an additional 40 years under a mining permit,” said the prime minister.

The government’s decision was met with a strong reaction, as it means the end to decades-long attempts to find major new oil and gas deposits outside the Taranaki Basin.

New Plymouth District Council Mayor Neil Holdom has called the ban “a kick in the guts,” while the local National Party MP Jonathan Young said it was “economic vandalism.”

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Lake Benmore, New Zealand © Global Look Press

“Without exploration there will be no investment in oil and gas production or the downstream industries. That means significantly fewer jobs,” said Young.

Ardern has defended her government’s move: “Unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country.”

Promising that no current jobs will be affected, she added that they have “seen that happen once in the 1980s and don’t want to see that again.”

Greenpeace director and former Green Party leader Russel Norman has praised the step, saying it was “a huge win for our climate and people power.”

“The tide has turned irreversibly against Big Oil in New Zealand,” he added.

The announcements come just weeks after Shell sold its last remaining oil and gas permits and producing assets in New Zealand to Austrian oil and gas company, OMV, thus ending more than a century of activity in New Zealand.

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RAF fighter jets prepare to launch as May greenlights Syria airstrikes (VIDEO)

By ethan / April 14, 2018

Footage from a Royal Air Force base in Norfolk, England has revealed ground crew preparing fighter jets to join strikes in Syria, which were carried out by French, US, and British forces overnight.

The images show RAF aircraft being fueled and organized for takeoff at the squadron’s main base near the village of Marham after UK Prime Minister Theresa May greenlit airstrikes in Syria.

READ MORE: 5 things you should know about US-led ‘one-time’ strikes on Syria

Four British Tornado GR4 fighter jets led a strike outside Homs on Saturday morning, reportedly using air launched cruise missiles to hit sites accused by the Western forces of containing chemical weapons belonging to the Syrian government.

The aircraft used in the strikes were reportedly launched from an RAF base in Akrotiri, Cyprus. Each Tornado GR4 jet used missiles known as Storm Shadow. The long-range weapon can carry a 450kg charge at a range of around 300 kilometers.

Saturday’s air raid, which was carried out at 2am GMT, is in response to a reported chemical attack in Douma allegedly carried out by the Syrian military on its own people. The Syrian government has denied such an attack took place, and described the US, UK, and France airstrikes as a “violation of international law.” An on-the-ground investigation into the alleged attack is due to be launched by the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), on Saturday.

READ MORE: No trace of chemical weapons at alleged attack site in Douma – Russian military

On Friday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major-General Igor Konashenkov presented evidence claiming that last Saturday’s alleged chemical attack in Douma was staged.

According to the British Ministry of Defence, the Syrian military base targeted on Saturday is located 15 miles outside the city of Homs. UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described the early morning strikes as “legal and proportionate military force.”

“The reprehensible use of chemical weapons in Douma is further evidence of the Syrian regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people. We will not stand by whilst innocent civilians, including women and children, are killed and made to suffer,” Williamson said.

The Russian Ambassador to the US warned of “consequences” over the airstrikes.

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US acting as ‘ISIS air force’ in Syria, spreads ‘conscious, transparent lie’ – analysts to RT

By ethan / April 14, 2018

The massive missile strikes the US and allies conducted against Syria actually benefit terrorist groups, and prevented inspectors from proving if chemical weapons were used in Douma, international analysts told RT.

Washington, London, and Paris used last week’s alleged chemical attack in Douma, near Damascus, as the pretext for an early morning missile attack on civilian and military targets in Syria.

The air invasion came just hours before a group of inspectors dispatched by the UN’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was scheduled to visit Douma in order to find out if any chemical weapons were used there. This made the timing even more suspicious, experts say.

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French Rafale warplanes prepare for take off at the Saint-Dizier airbase on April 13, 2018 © AFP

To Jim Jatras, a former US foreign service officer, “preventing a real investigation in Douma was one of the reasons for [the strike].”

“So, the big hurry here is, in my opinion, is that you’ve got [OPCW] inspectors on the ground in Damascus now, ready to go now and confirm… there wasn’t any attack.”

He called the alleged chemical incident in Douma “a false flag” operation, saying he expected US President Donald Trump to respond almost immediately in the way he acted last year after the alleged gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. He said that “if you’re Al-Qaeda or its offshoot [in Syria], you’re going to be very happy tonight.” The problem with false flag operations “is that they work, especially when you have compliant media,” he stated.

“I don’t think that Syria has chemical weapons. I think that the Russian effort to get them out of there after what happened in Ghouta in 2013 was genuine and was certified as genuine by the OPCW.” Commenting on the justification for the strikes, he said “it’s a conscious transparent lie.”

The US is “acting as air force of all these jihadist terrorist [groups] – Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, and it’s really morally reprehensible,” Jatras said.

Richard Becker of the US-based anti-war ANSWER Coalition told RT he believes Britain and France are becoming “old colonizers of the Middle East back again, and the United States is more of a new colonizer.” He accused Washington of issuing “falsification after falsification” and fanning “war propaganda” to influence the American people when “it doesn’t want to go to war.”

Meanwhile, he said, radical terrorist groups fighting the Syrian government have “the material interest in having this happen.” What is happening at this stage in the Middle East “is the continuation of what we saw in Yugoslavia where we had a re-Balkanization of the Balkans,” adding that “now we’re seeing the Balkanization of Iraq.”

Joe Lauria, an independent journalist and previously a Wall Street Journal UN correspondent, said the US-led coalition violated international law, as it did not act in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which governs states’ right to self-defense, and had no authorization to use military force from the UN Security Council.

READ MORE: US-led strikes in Syria without UNSC mandate a violation of international law – Putin

Lauria said that Syria’s chemical weapons were handed over in 2013 to the US and Russia as part of a joint international deal, and were destroyed aboard an American naval vessel. However, even if the OPCW inspection proves there was no chemical attack in Douma, “you can be sure it won’t be broadcast or printed very much in the US media.”

Though the Pentagon said more attacks would follow should Damascus use chemical weapons again, the US may strike Syria at any time regardless of the circumstances. “In other words, they don’t need proof,” Lauria said. “They don’t need proof in accusing Russia of stealing an election, they didn’t need proof in accusing Russia of trying to kill the former double agent and his daughter.”

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‘Trailed after Trump’: Corbyn says May should have sought parliamentary approval for Syria strikes

By ethan / April 14, 2018

UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused Prime Minister Theresa May of “trailing after Donald Trump” in ordering missile strikes against Syria, adding that May should have sought parliamentary approval for the move.

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” the Labour leader said in a withering statement about the strikes, which he labelled “legally questionable.”

“Britain should be playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict, not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way,” Corbyn continued.

“Theresa May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump.”

Britain joined US and French forces in launching air raids on Syria in response to a reported chemical attack in Douma, which they allege was carried out by the Syrian government

May released a statement confirming the strikes, which were carried out at 2am GMT on Saturday, just minutes after US President Donald Trump announced the air raid from the White House.

“It was both right and legal to take military action together with our closest allies to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability,” May said, adding that she would address Parliament on Monday.

READ MORE: US-led strikes in Syria without UNSC mandate a violation of international law – Putin

The Syrian government denies that the alleged chemical attack took place and condemned the missile strikes as a “violation of international law.” Those comments were echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said the attacks were “an aggression against a sovereign state which is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”

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5 things you should know about US-led 'one-time' strikes on Syria

By ethan / April 14, 2018

Multiple targets in Syria were bombarded by the US, UK, and France in retaliation to what they said was an Assad-orchestrated chemical attack near Damascus. Here are the main facts about the intervention.

Washington approved “precision strikes” against Syria early on Saturday, alongside British and French forces that also took part in the bombing. Shortly after US President Donald Trump announced the bombardment, reports began surfacing of explosions in Damascus.

Syrian air defense units were scrambled to thwart the aerial invasion, intercepting 71 out of 103 of the missiles, the Russian Ministry of Defense said. Now, as Syria deals with the aftermath of the early morning airstrikes, we look at five major things you should know about the American-British-French attack.

What did they target?

One of the strikes targeted a scientific compound in Barzeh in the vicinity of Damascus, which the coalition claimed was involved in the production of chemical and biological weapons. The Syrian government said the bombing destroyed an education center and scientific laboratories, but resulted in no casualties.

The UK Defense Ministry said four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s launched Storm Shadow missiles at what the UK military claims was a former missile base, 15 miles west of Homs. The ministry claimed that the Syrian government kept a stockpile of chemical weapons precursors at the site.

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US Defense Secretary James Mattis © Jonathan Ernst

Twelve cruise missiles targeted Al-Dumayr air base east of Damascus, according to the Russian military. The Syrians used Soviet-made S-120, S-200 and Buk-type anti-aircraft systems, claiming to have intercepted all the missiles.

What weapons were used?

The US did not specify the types of weapons deployed in the strikes, but it did use Tomahawk cruise missiles in last year’s bombing of Syria’s Shayrat air base. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said more than twice as many weapons were fired as in April 2017, adding “it was a heavy strike.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said the US and its two allies deployed combat aircraft and warships to launch over 100 cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles on Syrian civil and military facilities. The strikes, it said, were conducted by two US ships traversing the Red Sea, adding that the coalition also deployed B-1 Lancer strategic bombers and arranged tactical air support in the airspace over the Mediterranean.

Social media & ‘classified’ intel: Pretext for the intervention

The timing of the American-British-French attack is noteworthy. It came just hours before the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) experts were set to visit the Damascus suburb of Douma on Saturday to establish whether chemical weapons had been used there last week.

Announcing the strikes, the White House said it has a large body of “reliable intelligence” as well as “social media users, non-governmental organizations, and other open-source outlets,” which implicate the Syrian government in the alleged Douma attack. Washington also referred to the questionable claims that “the Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons to compensate for its lack of military manpower.”

READ MORE: First images of US-led strikes on Damascus emerge (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Earlier, the US State Department claimed to have proof that the Syrian government was behind the alleged chemical attack in Douma. However, it refused to make the intelligence public, as “a lot of this stuff is classified at this point.” Moscow repeatedly dismissed the claims, saying the chemical weapon attack was orchestrated. The Russian military previously warned of a “provocation” involving chemical weapons being planned by militants.

How did the Syrians respond?

Syrian air defenses did all they could to protect the country. Ruptly footage has emerged showing Syria’s surface-to-air missiles responding to the attack. Russian military said later Syrian air defense units downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by US and its allies.

Damascus harshly condemned the bombing, saying it will never bow to the West’s attacks on its sovereignty. Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, accused the US, UK, and France of blatantly violating the UN Charter. “I would clarify here that the history of these three states is built on using lies and fabricated stories to wage wars in order to occupy states, seize their resources, and change governments in them by force,” he said, as cited by Syria’s SANA news agency. 

Russia warns of consequences

While none of the cruise missiles launched by the US and its allies reached the Russian air defense zones, the strikes sparked outrage in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the US-led strikes hit a war-ravaged country “that has been trying to survive terrorist aggression for many years.” In a statement posted on Facebook, she compared the invasion to the start of the 2003 Iraq War, which was based on claims that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.

The defense ministry said the Russian forces did not deploy their air defense systems stationed in Syria to intercept the American, British, and French missiles. For its part, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said the Pentagon “specifically identified targets” to “mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved.” The coalition did contact their Russian counterparts to “deconflict airspace,” but did not “coordinate targets” with Moscow.

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‘UK Parliament, not Trump, should set its foreign policy’ – Sturgeon on British strikes in Syria

By ethan / April 14, 2018

The UK Parliament, not US President Donald Trump, should define British foreign policy, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, criticizing Theresa May’s decision to join the US-led military intervention in Syria.

The main question that the British PM hasn’t answered yet is how “this action” against Damascus “taken without parliamentary approval,” will halt the use of chemical weapons or bring “long term peace,” the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader wrote on Twitter. “UK foreign policy should be set by Parliament, not US President, (sic),” she stated.

According to Sturgeon, air strikes have not resolved the crisis situation in Syria so far. “Nothing I’ve heard persuades me they will do so now,” she said, calling for “an international strategy for peace,” not “a course that risks dangerous escalation.”

May authorized the British armed forces to launch an intervention in Syria together with France and the US on Saturday morning. In her speech, she announced “coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability.” The allies insisted that their strikes on Syria were performed in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack by Damascus in the town of Douma, 10 kilometers from the capital, last week.

READ MORE: None of US & allied missiles entered Russian anti-air defense zones – Defense Ministry

The US-led intervention took place before the experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were due to reach Douma to determine whether the attack had indeed taken place.

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