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A humanitarian ceasefire in eastern Ghouta has broken down nearly as soon as it started. The UN is urging warring parties to allow aid into devastated areas. Syrian regime warplanes and artillery bombed eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, despite a Russian-brokered ceasefire in the rebel-held enclave. Damascus and Moscow said rebels shelled an evacuation route opened to allow civilians to leave eastern Ghouta. The UN said the fighting made it impossible to remove civilians or provide aid. "We have reports this morning there is continuous fighting in eastern Ghouta," U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. "Clearly the situation on the ground is not such that convoys can go in or medical evacuations can go out." Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a daily five-hour "humanitarian pause" to airstrikes in eastern Ghouta. Moscow said it would only go into effect if rebels ceased attacks. The renewed fighting comes amid calls from the international community to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities as the humanitarian situation worsens on the ground. Read more: Which rebel groups are fighting in Syria's eastern Ghouta? What the ceasefire entails: The five-hour cessation of hostilities was planned for 9 a.m to 2 p.m. local time (1200 UTC). The ceasefire is aimed at establishing a "humanitarian corridor" to allow civilians to exit from eastern Ghouta, considered one of Syria's last rebel strongholds. In agreement with the Syrian regime, the Russian Defense Ministry said it will help evacuate the sick and injured Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war Massive casualties: Over the past week, more than 500 civilians have been killed by the Syrian government's latest offensive in eastern Ghouta. Russian warplanes formed an integral part of the offensive, according to independent monitors, rights groups and US authorities. Why now: As the conflict winds down, Damascus is attempting to consolidate territory across the country with the help of Russia to secure its interests during peace talks. Given that eastern Ghouta is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds, the Syrian regime is seeking to strike a fatal blow to the opposition movement before peace talks gain ground. Calls for ceasefire: With a growing civilian death toll, the international community has urged all warring parties to enact a nationwide ceasefire. On Saturday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire. Better than nothing: Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres, responded to the announcement, saying: "Five hours is better than no hours, but we would like to see any cessation of hostilities be extended." Russia "can end" the violence: US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged Russia to use its "influence" to end the fighting. "The United States calls for an immediate end to offensive operations and urgent access for humanitarian workers to treat the wounded and deliver badly needed humanitarian aid," Nauert tweeted late Monday. "Russia has the influence to stop these operations if it chooses to live up to its obligations under the #UNSC ceasefire." Seven-year war: More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011 following a government crackdown on protesters calling for the release of political prisoners and for President Bashar Assad to step down. Since then, the conflict has evolved into a multifaceted war, drawing in global superpowers, neighboring countries and non-state actors. Read more: The search for dead Russian mercenaries in Syria

A humanitarian ceasefire in eastern Ghouta has broken down nearly as soon as it started. The UN is urging warring parties to allow aid into devastated areas. Syrian regime warplanes and artillery bombed eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, despite a Russian-brokered ceasefire in the rebel-held enclave. Damascus and Moscow said rebels shelled an evacuation route opened to allow civilians to leave ... Read More »

Czech court releases Syrian Kurdish leader wanted on Turkish warrant

A Czech court has released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who is wanted by Turkey. Turkey's ambassador said the decision may impact relations with a NATO ally. A Czech court on Tuesday released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who Turkey wanted extradited on terrorism charges. The founder and former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria, Muslim was detained in Prague on Saturday while attending a conference on the Middle East. "The court accepted a promise by Mr. Muslim that he will remain on EU territory and will be attending court hearings," a court spokesperson said. The decision means that Turkey's extradition request can proceed and will be considered by Czech state prosecutors and courts, if the state attorney decides to go ahead. The PYD is the political wing of the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a "terrorist group" with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighting a three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state. The YPG is the main force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against the "Islamic State" (IS). Turkey wants Muslim extradited on charges of being behind a February 2016 bombing in Ankara that killed 30 people. He denies any connection to the attack, which was claimed by a hard-line PKK splinter group. Before the court ruling, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told ruling party MPs it would be a "day of reckoning for our NATO ally the Czech Republic." "We hope our ally will show the necessary solidarity and extradite this terrorist," he said. "Whatever happens, one thing is certain. Terror chiefs can no longer wander about as they wish." Turkey's ambassador in Prague, Ahmet Necati Bigali, told HaberTurk television that the Czech court decision to release a "terrorist" may negatively impact bilateral relations. Questionable detention It was unclear why Czech authorities acted on the Turkish request to detain the popular Kurdish politician in the first place. Muslim regularly travels around the EU. While the EU considers the PKK a terrorist organization, it does not recognize its Syrian affiliate, the PYD, as a terrorist organization. The PYD says it is independent from the PKK. Press in the Czech Republic and Turkey had speculated over a possible swap of Muslim for two Czech nationals sentenced to more than six years in prison in Turkey last year on charges of fighting alongside the YPG in Syria. Kurds across Europe had vowed to march on Prague by the thousands in the event he was further detained or extradited. Since stepping down as the head of the PYD last year, Muslim has been a foreign representative of TEV-DEM, the governing political coalition in the autonomous Kurdish region set up in Syria during the civil war there. Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

A Czech court has released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who is wanted by Turkey. Turkey’s ambassador said the decision may impact relations with a NATO ally. A Czech court on Tuesday released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who Turkey wanted extradited on terrorism charges. The founder and former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political ... Read More »

Syrian army to help Kurdish forces repel Turkish offensive in Afrin: reports

The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent. Damascus will deploy its militia fighters to Afrin "within the next few hours" to reinforce Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning. The move aims to "support the steadfastness of its people in confronting the aggression which Turkish regime forces have launched on the region," SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo. Syrian state television also announced that the deployment was imminent, without providing details. Read more: German Kurds protest Turkey's Afrin assault in Cologne Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted by saying any Syrian fighters deployed to "cleanse" the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would have "no problems," but if they enter to defend the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization linked to the PKK, then "nothing and nobody can stop us or Turkish soldiers. "This is true for Afrin, Manbij and the east of the Euphrates River," Cavusoglu added. Manbij is a second Kurdish-controlled enclave in Syria close to the Turkish border. Last month, Ankara launched an operation against the YPG which controls Afrin. Read more: Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know Erdogan and Putin to 'cooperate in fight against terrorism' The Turkish and Russian presidents discussed the latest developments in Syria and agreed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, according to Turkish broadcaster Haberturk. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the phone on Monday, with the Syrian regions of Afrin and Idlib the main topic of conversation. Monday's developments come a day after a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that the Kurds had reached a deal with Damascus. The agreement, supposedly brokered by Russia, further complicates the conflict in Northern Syria as rivalries and alliances among Kurdish forces, the Syrian government, rebel factions, Turkey, the United States and Russia become more entangled. What the Kurds said The agreement allows paramilitaries allied with the Syrian government to enter Afrin to support the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in fending off Turkish forces, the DPA news agency reported, citing an anonymous source. Badran Jia Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, told Reuters that Syrian army troops would deploy along some border positions in the Afrin region. Jia Kurd said the agreement with Damascus on Afrin was strictly military with no wider political arrangements, but added: "We can cooperate with any side that lends us a helping hand in light of barbaric crimes and the international silence." Jia Kurd said there is opposition to the deal that could prevent it from being implemented. Read more: Are Turkey and Russia at odds in northern Syria? What does this mean? The Damascus government and Kurdish forces each hold more territory than any other side in the Syrian civil war. Their cooperation could be pivotal as to how the conflict unfolds. What is the Afrin conflict? Ankara launched an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region in January against the YPG militia. It views the YPG as terrorists with links to an armed insurrection in Turkey. For the Turkish government, attacking Afrin is about assuring geopolitical interests and domestic security. Are Kurdish goals compatible with Syria's? President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG have mostly avoided direct conflict. However, they have occasionally clashed and have very different visions for Syria's future. Both believe in a possibility for a long-term agreement, but Assad has said he wants to take back the whole country. How powerful are the Kurds? Since the onset of Syria's conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have established three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin near the Turkish border. Their sphere of influence has expanded as they seized territory from the "Islamic State" group with the help of the US. However, Washington opposes the Kurds' political ambitions, as does the Syrian government. What happens next? Jia Kurd has said forces are to arrive in two days, but the deal has not been confirmed. Read more: Who are the Kurds? Why do the Kurds want help from the Syrian government? "Over the years of the conflict, the Kurds have managed to manoeuvre about, sometimes with the rebels, sometimes with the regime," said Bente Scheller from the Heinrich Böll Foundation. "We also saw a long time back that not only the United States wanted to support them as a large international power, but Russia did too. So the Kurds looked for states and powers that support them because they have a lot at stake." Is the Kurdish-Syrian alliance a beneficial one? "I think in the case of Afrin at any rate," said Scheller, "because there it is very clear that Turkey has decided it has to carry through with an offensive, and the Kurds are in a very difficult position here. Of course, they have support from the other Kurdish-dominated parts of Syria, but obviously they feel this is not enough. There have also been air raids by Turkey and I think this has resulted in their turning to the regime for help." How does the future look? "As the Syrian conflict escalates and becomes more complex, more individual states consider it necessary to intervene," said Scheller. "Turkey claims it needs to clear all terrorist activity from the other side of its border, but this does not justify crossing the border with its own military." "We are not likely to see peace for a long time." Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

The Damascus government and Kurdish forces have reportedly agreed to join forces in Afrin to counter an ongoing Turkish offensive. Syrian state media report that the deployment of pro-regime troops is imminent. Damascus will deploy its militia fighters to Afrin “within the next few hours” to reinforce Kurds against the Turkish offensive, Syrian state agency SANA reported on Monday morning. ... Read More »

Iraq declares ‘end of war’ against ‘Islamic State’

عراقی فوج کی جانب سے ہفتہ نو دسمبر کو جاری کیے گئے ایک بیان میں دعویٰ کیا گیا ہے کہ سارے ملک پر سے دہشت گرد تنظیم ’اسلامک اسٹیٹ‘ کا جہاں بھی قبضہ تھا، وہ ختم کر دیا گیا ہے۔ اس کے علاوہ یہ بھی کہا گیا کہ اب داعش کو پوری طرح شکست دے دی گئی ہے۔ عراقی وزیراعظم حیدر العبادی نے بھی کہا ہے کہ عراق کے طول و عرض میں ’اسلامک اسٹیٹ‘ کے خلاف مکمل فتع کے بعد جاری جنگ ختم ہو گئی ہے۔ العبادی کے مطابق سارے عراق اور شام کے ساتھ ملحقہ سرحد پر اب اُن کی فوج کا کنٹرول ہے۔

The Iraqi premier has announced the defeat of “Islamic State” after months of fighting to uproot the militant group. But European authorities have warned that its ideology still remains a threat to global security. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday announced the “end of the war” against the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group, saying Iraqi security forces regained control ... Read More »

Syria: Russia sees end in sight at peace talks

Russia's military campaign objectives "have been almost accomplished," according to an influential lawmaker. With talks gearing up, the UN's chief negotiator said the peace process had reached a "moment of truth." A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday said Russia's military mandate in Syria could be nearing its end given the latest advancements by pro-government forces in the conflict-ridden country. Vladimir Shamanov, who sits as chairman of Russian parliament's defense committee, told a meeting at the Kazakh parliament that the "major tasks" of Moscow's military campaign in Syria "have been almost accomplished," according to Russia's state-run news agency TASS. Read more: Asma al-Assad: The beautiful face of dictatorship "We expect that by the end of this year (Syrian) government forces will restore control over the eastern border of the Syrian Arab Republic and the 'Islamic State' won't exist anymore as an organized military structure," Shamanov said. In September 2015, Russia launched an aerial campaign in Syria in what Moscow claimed was an offensive to defeat terrorist forces in the country, including the "Islamic State" militant group and al-Qaeda. However, Russia's move was largely viewed by the international community as a ploy to prop up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Towards a political solution Another round of de-escalation talks co-sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia kicked off in Astana on Monday with the aim of ending Syria's conflict. Kazakhstan's foreign ministry confirmed that delegations from the Syrian government and rebels seeking to overthrow Assad arrived in the capital along with those from Turkey, Russia and Iran. Read more: Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons While UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva have focused on securing a political solution, the talks in Astana have provided concrete grounds to move forward between parties, including the establishment of de-escalation zones to minimize fighting between pro-government forces and moderate rebel factions. Last week, the UN's chief negotiator, Staffan de Mistura, announced the resumption of peace talks in Geneva on November 28, saying he hoped talks in Astana will "prevent further unraveling of interim de-escalation and cease-fire arrangements." 'Moment of truth' In Syria, more than 330,000 people have been killed since 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters calling for Damascus to release political prisoners and for Assad to step down. Read more: 'Islamic State': Will it survive a post-caliphate future? However, since then, the civil war has turned into a multi-pronged conflict involving global powers, neighboring countries and non-state actors, including the US, Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. "We need to get the parties into real negotiations," De Mistura told the UN Security Council last week, adding that after the defeat of the "Islamic State," the Syrian peace process had reached a "moment of truth."

Russia’s military campaign objectives “have been almost accomplished,” according to an influential lawmaker. With talks gearing up, the UN’s chief negotiator said the peace process had reached a “moment of truth.” A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday said Russia’s military mandate in Syria could be nearing its end given the latest advancements by pro-government forces in the conflict-ridden country. Vladimir ... Read More »

Rex Tillerson reaffirms US commitment to Syrian peace, rules out Assad in future government

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed a commitment to reviving the Geneva peace process. He added that Washington sees no future for President Bashar Assad in Syria's government. Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that the reign of the Assad family was "coming to an end" after what he called a "fruitful" discussion with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who later addressed the UN Security Council by videoconference. "The US wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar Assad in the government," Tillerson said. "The only issue is how that should be brought about." But Assad's exit was not a "prerequisite" for the talks to start, Tillerson said. Staffan de Mistura is expected to reconvene UN-mediated intra-Syrian talks on November 28. This after gains on the battlefield by Assad's Russian-backed forces. These will be the eighth round of talks under his guidance since early 2016. Opposition delegations - which do not include the so-called "Islamic State" ("IS") or other UN-designated terrorist groups - have never spoken directly with Syrian government envoys under de Mistura's mediation. No triumph for Tehran Tillerson also said the Syrian government's advances did not amount to a "triumph" for Iran, a key backer of Assad. "I see Iran as a hanger-on," Tillerson said. "Iran has not been successful; the Russian government has been more successful. We have had success. I don't think that Iran should be given credit for the defeat of IS in Syria.” Russia-backed Syrian government forces as well as US-backed, Kurdish-led troops have recently led to a significant reduction in territory controlled by IS across Syria. The US-backed forces recently ousted IS from its capital, Raqqa.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed a commitment to reviving the Geneva peace process. He added that Washington sees no future for President Bashar Assad in Syria’s government. Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that the reign of the Assad family was “coming to an end” after what he called a “fruitful” discussion with UN Syria envoy Staffan de ... Read More »

Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria chemical weapons probe

The panel created unanimously by the Security Council is due to end in mid-November. Russia has drawn criticism for the move, but says it must first review an upcoming report before allowing the probe to move forward. Russia on Tuesday cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council blocking the extension of a mission set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), a joint panel of the United Nations and chemical weapons watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created by the Security Council in 2015 and renewed last year for another year. On Thursday, just weeks before the end of its mandate, the JIM is due to submit its report on who was responsible for the use of banned sarin nerve agent in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on April 4. At least 87 people including 30 children died in the attack on the town in the opposition-held Idlib province. The attack caused global outrage and prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian airbase. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has denied using chemical weapons in the 6-year civil war and claims it no longer possesses chemical arsenal in compliance with a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States. Failed attempt to postpone vote Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wanted to discuss the JIM report on Khan Sheikhoun before voting on the extension of the mission. "Don't try to create the impression that the JIM will be a dead letter unless we adopt this resolution today," Nebenzia said ahead of the vote. "We are ready to return to extending the JIM after the publication of the report and after we discuss it after the 26 of October." But US envoy Nikki Haley insisted on a vote before the report, saying Russia wanted first to see if the report blames its ally Syria for the Khan Sheikhoun attack. The US blames the Syrian military for the attack. 'Assad and his team of murderers' There were fears that Russiamay not support extending JIM's term. It has in the past openly questioned the work of the panel. China abstained from Tuesday's vote, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting against the resolution. Eleven countries voted in favor of the text. "Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons," Haley, who is currently in Africa, said in a statement. "This is the ninth time Russia has protected Assad and his team of murderers by blocking the Security Council from acting," she said. "In doing so, Russia once again sides with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons."

The panel created unanimously by the Security Council is due to end in mid-November. Russia has drawn criticism for the move, but says it must first review an upcoming report before allowing the probe to move forward. Russia on Tuesday cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council blocking the extension of a mission set up to identify perpetrators ... Read More »

US-backed SDF captures Syria’s largest oil field from ‘Islamic State’

Russia has accused the US of "barbaric" bombardment of Raqqa, after US-backed forces took control of the city earlier this week. Forces on both sides are racing to reclaim land in Syria's oil-rich Deir el-Zour province. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, on Sunday captured one of Syria's largest oil fields in the Deir el-Zour province. Riding on the heels of victory against the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in Raqqa, the SDF is racing to seize parts of Syria's oil-rich province. The news came as Russia's Defense Ministry accused the United States and its coalition partners of erasing Raqqa, the former IS stronghold, off the map, likening it to Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II. He claimed Western announcements of aid for the city seek "to hide evidence of the barbaric bombing." Earlier, Kurdish-led forces announced they had taken full control of the Al-Omar oil field in eastern Syria after forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came under attack from IS militants. The SDF added that pro-government forces were about 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) away from the oil field. The US-backed forces have been engaged in a monthslong campaign to uproot IS in Syria. It was unclear how the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, Iran and Shiite militias, would respond to the seizure of the oil field. The regime has vowed to retake all the territory, and Deir el-Zour's oil wealth would be a key prize for Damascus. Oil profits Considered the largest of its kind in Syria, the Al-Omar oil field produced 30,000 barrels per day before the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, when government forces launched a deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for Assad to step down. Read more: 'Islamic State' gold remains hard to trace However, the US-led coalition against IS destroyed the oil field in 2015, after the militant group managed to make an estimated $5.1 million (€4.3 million) per month off oil sale revenues. IS seized oil fields across the region, with black market oil comprising one of its revenue streams, alongside extortion and looting. Liberating Raqqa IS has lost most of the territory it managed to capture in 2014, when it launched a blitzkrieg campaign across Syria and Iraq. Read more: The human cost of degrading 'Islamic State' Last week, the SDF announced it had liberated Raqqa, once considered the de facto IS capital, from which it staged mass beheadings and hatched plans for attacks on European soil. The monthslong offensive to retake the city, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, has displaced more than 200,000 civilians and turned large parts of the city into rubble. In a statement Sunday, Russia's Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said thousands of civilians had been killed by the US and its coalition partners in the battle for Raqqa. The United States and other powers have accused Russian and Syrian air forces of indiscriminate bombing, most notably in an offensive to retake Aleppo from rebels last year.

Russia has accused the US of “barbaric” bombardment of Raqqa, after US-backed forces took control of the city earlier this week. Forces on both sides are racing to reclaim land in Syria’s oil-rich Deir el-Zour province. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, on Sunday captured one of Syria’s largest oil fields in the ... Read More »

Shiite militants push IS out of key Iraqi town of Baaj

The pro-Baghdad Popular Mobilization Forces have driven the "Islamic State" out of the Iraqi town of Baaj, cutting one of the group's supply lines between Mosul and Syria. The Shiite fighters are endorsed by Iran. Iraqi air force backed the militia's push into the border town, the Popular Mobilization group announced on Sunday. The victory over the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) fighters was a "big and qualitative achievement" in the larger operation to retake the city of Mosul from the IS jihadis, said deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The border town is located west of Mosul, and its loss cuts a key IS supply lines connecting the city with Syria. Baghdad's troops launched the offensive to liberate Mosul eight months ago and uprooted the jihadi militia from several parts of the city. However, IS forces are still holding the western section of their last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq. Iranian advisors active in Syria and Iraq Despite the US backing, the anti-IS coalition was forced to slow down its efforts while facing car bombs and sniper fire in the densely populated areas of Mosul. The retaking of Baaj comes several weeks after the Popular Mobilization Forces started their push to reclaim the area near the Syrian border. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding in the region. While the Shiite-dominated militia nominally answers to Baghdad, it is supported by the Shiite power Iran. Tehran provided training and military advisors to the Iraqi group, and also helped organize thousands of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Syria.

The pro-Baghdad Popular Mobilization Forces have driven the “Islamic State” out of the Iraqi town of Baaj, cutting one of the group’s supply lines between Mosul and Syria. The Shiite fighters are endorsed by Iran. Iraqi air force backed the militia’s push into the border town, the Popular Mobilization group announced on Sunday. The victory over the self-styled “Islamic State” ... Read More »

Trump to meet Russian Foreign Minister in Washington

US President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House later on Wednesday. As allegations of Trump's Russian links persist, the meeting will be carefully watched. A recently unveiled Russian plan to stabilize Syria after more than six years of civil war is the most urgent foreign policy topic on the agenda, according to The Associated Press. Both governments have said they want to end a civil war that has killed up to 400,000 people and allowed the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) to emerge as a global terror threat. The continued fighting between rebels and the Moscow-backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's military has complicated US efforts to defeat IS. A plan is a plan Lavrov arrives in the US capital after discussing an agreement with Iran and Turkey last week. The plan focuses on the creation of four de-escalation zones, which would not cover areas where the US-led coalition is fighting IS. Details still need to be finalized and the US response has been cautious, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying administration officials are still studying the concept and its various unanswered questions. Best of enemies? The meeting will be the highest-level contact between Trump and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin since Trump took office on January 20. Lavrov hasn't visited Washington at all since 2013, a year before Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and two years before it intervened militarily in Syria to help Assad remain in power. Relations apparently deteriorated between the US and Russia after US air strikes hit a Syrian airfield in April in response to a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on Assad. The meeting could signal that the two governments have improved ties that Trump recently described as being at an "all-time low." Lavrov will meet earlier in the day with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, The Associated Press learned. Russian connection not going away The meeting will be hard to separate from the unfolding political drama in Washington. FBI and congressional investigations are looking into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin related to last year's presidential election. US intelligence agencies accuse Moscow of meddling to help Trump's chances of victory. On Tuesday Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, ousting the nation's top law enforcement official amid the FBI's investigation into Trump's ties with Russia. In January, Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying Flynn had misled senior administration officials about his pre-inauguration talks with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador in Washington. In a Senate hearing Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said she had "bluntly warned" Trump's White House in January that Flynn "essentially could be blackmailed" by the Russians because he apparently had lied about his contacts with Kislyak. Trump has said he has no ties to Russia and isn't aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian election interference. He calls the various investigations a "hoax" driven by Democrats.

US President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House later on Wednesday. As allegations of Trump’s Russian links persist, the meeting will be carefully watched. A recently unveiled Russian plan to stabilize Syria after more than six years of civil war is the most urgent foreign policy topic on the agenda, according ... Read More »

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