Kim Tightens Leadership Over North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Kim Tightens Leadership Over North Korea In Major Government Reshuffle

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un listens during a meeting in February with President Trump at the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has further cemented his grip on power, in a big reshuffle of the country’s leadership. However, he didn’t signal a retreat, either from negotiations with the U.S. or a self-imposed moratorium on testing of missiles and nuclear bombs, something Pyongyang said he had been considering.

Instead, Kim’s remarks pointed to economic belt-tightening in an attempt to ride out economic sanctions — and perhaps the Trump administration, too – while hanging on to his country’s nuclear arsenal.

At a session in Pyongyang of the newly elected parliament — the result of voting last month in which all candidates ran unopposed — Kim was re-elected as Chairman of the State Affairs Commission. That means he retains, as expected, his posts as leader of the ruling party, state and military.

He added an extra honorary title though, “Supreme Representative of all the Korean People,” apparently for use in ceremonial and diplomatic occasions.

Long-serving officials such as 91-year-old Kim Jong Nam, the titular head of state, and Premier Pak Pong Ju, 80, were either retired or promoted to symbolic posts and replaced by younger officials.

Kim’s main message came on Wednesday, when he told ruling Workers’ Party officials to make the country’s economy self-sufficient, “so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes, miscalculating that sanctions can bring (North Korea) to its knees,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The remarks were clearly aimed at Washington, and they come weeks after a second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi that ended abruptly with no progress toward the U.S. goal of ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Kim’s comments and his reshuffle of the leadership appear to have two aims, says Park Hyeong-jung, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification, or KINU, a government think-tank in Seoul.

“One is to double down on economic self-reliance, through strengthened mobilization,” Park says. “The second is to reinforce control over society.” He explains that tighter control is necessary because anecdotal evidence out of North Korea suggests the economy is deteriorating under the pressure of sanctions, and citizens feeling the pinch are starting to gripe.

There are fewer merchants and fewer customers, for example, in the “jangmadang” or free markets, Park says. And North Korean officials, he adds, are becoming more “extractive” and predatory, demanding bigger bribes from merchants as a sort of tax on the markets.

Kim’s expectations of tough times ahead seemed to anticipate President Trump’s comments to visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday that he was unwilling to ease sanctions on the North, or make big concessions in nuclear negotiations.

Moon’s trip to Washington was seen in Seoul as a crucial test of his role as mediator between North Korea and the U.S. South Korea’s government had voiced hopes for a “good-enough deal,” and an “early harvest.” In other words, a smaller, interim deal to get the denuclearization ball rolling.

But Trump mostly rebuffed Moon, saying “at this moment, we’re talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of the nuclear weapons.”

Trump did leave some wiggle room for incremental progress. “I’d have to see what the deal is,” he told reporters. “There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen.”

“The question is what Kim can be convinced to give up at a future meeting, in exchange for what he left on the table in Hanoi,” says Leif-Eric Easley, an international relations expert at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Trump and Kim failed to reach a deal in Hanoi in February, Easley says, because North Korea’s offer to dismantle its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon was not enough for a comprehensive deal, while Pyongyang’s “asking price — the lifting of key U.N. Security Council resolutions — was unreasonably high.”

Seoul says Moon’s next step will be to seek a fourth summit with Kim Jong Un to try to broker a deal.

But whether Kim Jong Un will be interested in another meeting is unclear, says KINU’s Park Hyeong-jung.

“Probably, North Korea would assess that South Korea does not have much leverage to change U.S. attitudes,” he says, as evidenced by Moon’s meeting Thursday with Trump, and therefore Moon’s usefulness as a broker is questionable.

Sudan military coup topples ruler after protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Omar al-Bashir: Sudan military coup topples ruler after protests

Media caption The announcement was made by the defence minister Awad Ibn Ouf

After nearly 30 years in power, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has been ousted and arrested, the defence minister says.

Speaking on state TV, Awad Ibn Ouf said the army had decided to oversee a two-year transitional period followed by elections.

He also said a three-month state of emergency was being put in place.

Protests against Mr Bashir, who has governed Sudan since 1989, have been under way for several months.

Meanwhile, the main group that has been organising the demonstrations called for them to continue on Thursday, despite the military intervention.

“I announce as minister of defence the toppling of the regime and detaining its chief in a secure place,” Mr Ibn Ouf said in a statement.

It is not clear where Mr Bashir is being held.

Mr Ibn Ouf said the country had been suffering from “poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice” and he apologised “for the killing and violence that took place”.

Demonstrators wave flags after Sudan's defence minister said that President Omar al-Bashir had been detained in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSome people celebrated in Khartoum after the army announcement

He said Sudan’s constitution was being suspended, border crossings were being shut until further notice and airspace was being closed for 24 hours.

As the news broke, crowds of protesters celebrated outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, embracing soldiers and climbing on top of armoured vehicles.

Sudan’s intelligence service said it was freeing all political prisoners, state-run Suna news agency reported.

Sudanese demonstrators cheer as they drive towards a military vehicle. Khartoum 11 April 2019Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAnti-government protesters have been cheering the military

Mr Bashir is the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

However it is not clear what will happen to him following his arrest.

How did events unfold?

In the early hours of Thursday, military vehicles were seen entering the large compound in Khartoum that houses the defence ministry, the army headquarters and Mr Bashir’s personal residence, AFP news agency reported.

State TV and radio later interrupted their programming with a message that the army would be making a statement.

Omar al-Bashir - 5 AprilImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOmar al-Bashir has been in power since 1989

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through central Khartoum, some chanting “It has fallen, we won”.

Will this end the protests?

In a strongly worded statement, the main organisation behind the demonstrations, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), said the military had announced a “coup” that would reproduce the same “faces and institutions that our great people revolted against”.

It urged people to continue the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum and to stay on the streets of cities across the country.

“Those who destroyed the country and killed the people are seeking to steal every drop of blood and sweat that the Sudanese people poured in their revolution that the shook the throne of tyranny,” the statement read.

Graphic of lngest-serving leaders
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The SPA has previously said that any transitional administration must not include anyone from what it called the “tyrannical regime”.

The protests were originally sparked by a rise in the cost of living, but demonstrators then began calling for the president to resign and his government to go.

Media captionA woman dubbed ‘Kandaka’, which means Nubian queen, has become a symbol for protesters

Omar el-Digeir, a senior protest member, told AFP news agency last week that the group was seeking a path “that represents the wish of the revolution”.

Police had ordered officers not to intervene against the protests, but the government was criticised by rights groups for a heavy-handed response to the unrest.

Government officials say 38 people have died since the unrest began in December, but the pressure group Human Rights Watch said the number was higher.

In February, it looked as though the president might step down at that point, but instead Mr Bashir declared a state of national emergency.

Media captionSudan protests: So what’s going on?

Who is Omar al-Bashir?

Formerly an army officer, he seized power in a military coup in 1989.

His rule has been marked by civil war. The civil conflict with the south of the country ended in 2005 and South Sudan became independent in 2011.

Another civil conflict has been taking place in the western region of Darfur. Mr Bashir is accused of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity there by the ICC.

Despite an international arrest warrant issued by the ICC, he won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. However, his last victory was marred by a boycott by the main opposition parties.

The arrest warrant has led to an international travel ban. However, Mr Bashir has made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. He was forced into a hasty departure from South Africa in June 2015 as a court there considered whether to enforce the arrest warrant.

India Proves That Pakistan F-16 Was Shot Down: Pakistan Caught Lying Again!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

IAF goes public with radar images to rebut Pakistan over F-16 shot down by India

The IAF said there was more credible evidence available to establish that Pakistan Air Force had lost one F-16 in the air action.

INDIA Updated: Apr 08, 2019 19:51 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pakistan air force,Pak air force,F-16
Air Vice Marshal Kapoor said the AWACS radar image of the engagement area west of the Line of Control opposite Jhangar clearly establishes that there were a bunch of F-16s opposite Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.(Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

The Indian Air Force on Monday released radar images to rebut Pakistan’s claim that it hadn’t lost a US-manufactured F-16 fighter jet in the February 27 dogfight. The IAF said there was more credible evidence available to establish that Pakistan Air Force had lost one F-16 in the air action.

But the IAF is restricting the information being shared in public domain due to security and confidentiality concerns, Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations) said.

Officials said the Air Force also had evidence in the form of radio-telephony intercepts of the Pakistan Air Force F-16 strike package and ground wireless intercepts but would not place this evidence in public domain due to security and confidentiality concerns.

‘Radar image proof that Abhinandan downed Pak F16’: IAF counters Pakistan
Days after Pakistan sought to assert that the Indian Air Force hadn’t shot down one of its F16 fighter aircraft, the IAF released radar images as proof to expose the neighbouring nation’s claims.
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The fact is that the IAF had achieved its objectives of successfully striking the Balakot camp and thwarting the retaliatory PAF attack against Indian military installations that followed on February 27, Air Vice Marshal Kapoor said.

The AWACS radar image of the engagement area west of the Line of Control opposite Jhangar clearly establishes that there were a bunch of F-16s opposite Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. In a second image taken 10 seconds later, one of the F-16s disappeared.

“That’s the F-16 the PAF lost,” the IAF officer said.

It is believed to have been the first ever kill of an F-16 by a MiG-21 Bison, fighter jets of two different generations.

Also Read | ‘Over in 90 seconds’: Officers detail India, Pakistan air duel along border

Pakistan had, however, insisted that the PAF did not lose any fighter jet in the engagement over the skies of Nowshera in Rajouri district of Jammu Province, the first aerial dogfight between the two air forces since the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Islamabad had also insisted that it did not use the US-made F-16 combat jets in the February 27 air action.

Last week, however, there was a shift in Islamabad’s stand when Pakistan military said it had the right to use any aircraft for its self-defence. Prior to this statement, Islamabad had claimed that it had only used JF-17 Thunder jets, developed jointly with China, in the February 27 engagement with India and that its aircraft had shot down two Indian Air Force jets. India contested both points, saying it lost only one MiG-21 and that an F-16 was shot down.

In the new statement, Pakistan military arm’s media wing said it was “immaterial” whether F-16s or JF-17s were used. It described the events of February 27 as “part of history now” and said no Pakistani F-16 “was hit by the Indian Air Force”.

A report in the Foreign Policy magazine, however, waded into the row last week when it claimed that US defence personnel had recently conducted a physical count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing. The US defence ministry spokesperson, however, told Hindustan Times that the department wasn’t “aware of any investigation like that”.

First Published: Apr 08, 2019 18:03 IST

Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘QUARTZ NEWS’)

 

AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH
United Nations who?
NOT THE WORLD’S COP

Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

By Heather Timmons

Donald Trump signed a proclamation today (March 25) recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, overturning 50 years of US precedent and defying international law on sovereign borders.

That means that the world’s most powerful military has decided to support Israel’s 1967 occupation and 1981 annexation of a region that the rest of the world and the United Nations recognize as belonging to Syria. “Aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel,” Trump said, explaining the move.

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say. “It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Beijing considers Taiwan part of China, despite the fact that the island nation has an indigenous population, is self-governing, and has conducted independent democratic elections since the 1990s. Most other democracies around the world don’t recognize Taiwan as an independent country, in deference to China, and it is barred from the United Nations. While the United States has recently partnered with Taiwan officials to fight intellectual property theft, this January Chinese president Xi Jinping warned that Beijing could retake the island by force.

The Kashmir region between India and Pakistan has been disputed for more than 70 years, a legacy of the Partition that accompanied Britain’s withdrawal from India in 1947. Tensions rose in the volatile region in recent weeks, after India conducted a “pre-emptive strike” in Pakistan-controlled territory, and Pakistan captured an Indian fighter pilot. The mostly Muslim residents of the India-administered Kashmir Valley view the national government as an occupying force, and Pakistan officials support their self-government.

So far there are no signs that the Trump administration is interested in inserting itself into the long-simmering Pakistan-India dispute. However, the US Navy has increased its presence in the Taiwan Strait, most recently on March 24, responding to Beijing’s circling of the island in recent drills.

Trump made the unprecedented Golan Heights decision in a bid to boost prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of national elections April 9. Netanyahu has been charged in several corruption cases, although he still maintains an edge in polls. He applauded as Trump signed the proclamation, while secretary of state Mike Pompeo and vice president Mike Pence looked on:

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.” As president, Trump has pulled the US out of international agreements, including the Paris Climate Accord and the TransPacific Partnership, but the Golan Heights decision is being specifically criticized as breaking international law.

N. Little Rock Arkansas: 4 teenagers arrested in slaying of senior airman

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘TASK & PURPOSE WEBSITE AND OF PORTLAND (MAINE) PRESS HERALD)

 

4 teenagers arrested in slaying of senior airman who attempted to stop armed robbery

Two more teenagers have been arrested in connection with the shooting death of senior airman Shawn Mckeough Jr. in Arkansas last Friday.

Police in North Little Rock said Wednesday that Darrius Stewart, 17, and Keith Keshawn Harris, 16, have been charged with capital murder, for which they could face the death penalty, and aggravated robbery.

Both were due in court Wednesday morning and prosecutors are expected to try them as adults, police said.

Two others — Drequan Lamont Robinson and Keith Lamont Harris, both 18 — were arrested earlier this week and appeared in court on Tuesday. Both pleaded not guilty and were ordered held without bail.

Police have now apprehended everyone they believe was involved in the attempted robbery of a convenience store that ended with Mckeough’s death.

According to court documents and police reports, Stewart and Robinson were dropped off at the Valero Big Red around 11:30 p.m. The two others stayed in the car.

Stewart and Robinson disguised their faces and then entered the store with guns drawn.

They ordered the customers in the store to lie on the ground and one of the them shouted at the cashier, “You think this is a (expletive) game. You think I am playing. Open the drawer right now.”

At that point, Mckeough, an active duty senior airman at nearby Little Rock Air Force Base, charged at Stewart, who told police he heard a gunshot.

Mckeough was shot in the face and died at the scene. He was 23.

The two suspects fled before the cashier could hand over any money.

Mckeough had gone to the store with his girlfriend, Sarah Terrano, also of Westbrook, and three other friends. Terrano waited in the car and saw the two men go into the store and raise their arms toward the cashier and then the customers. She didn’t see the shooting but heard the gunshot.

Family and friends of Mckeough, who has been in the U.S. Air Force since he graduated from Westbrook High School in 2014, said he died trying to protect others but also called the killing senseless.

His funeral arrangements have not been finalized.

———

©2019 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

 

I’m sorry, but I don’t exactly like the Title either. Here in our Country we are acting like it is back in the 20’s or something ignorant like that. We have our HollyWood and our Politics, the never-ending battle between the Dems and the GOP and we pick Our Country apart. We have several outside State Players and other well-funded hate groups who are actually in the Chess Possession to make this play. Folks, I hope they do not push the ‘ignite’ button. This would be the end of the world as we all know it all because of a couple of dozen people from around whom have some Power in this world who hate us and hate everything’ the West’ stands for. Attacking us from the inside while we bicker among ourselves is a sure Cancer to our Cells.

 

Our current Government has weakened Us with our long-standing Allies and gotten off to a bad start with several other ‘not so friendly States.’ There is always the issue of other ‘unfriendliness’ such as Hezbollah, Hamas and many others. I pray for our Children, and Theirs. Hate, it is such a disgusting thing when we direct it at each other. Our System has many errors within it but it could be very much better. We need to address these things quickly before there is no tomorrow in which to be concerned about.

 

 

 

Trump calls retired general a ‘dog’ with a ‘big, dumb mouth’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK POST)

(SO, THE COWARD IN CHIEF DONALD J. (FOR JACKASS) TRUMP CALLS A RETIRED FOUR STAR GENERAL A DOG WITH A BIG DUMB MOUTH, THIS IDIOT MUST HAVE BEEN LOOKING IN A MIRROR (WHICH HE LOVES TO DO) WHEN HE SPOUTED THIS IGNORANCE. WHAT A PATHETIC JOKE THE U.S. HAS FOR A PRESIDENT!) (oldpoet56)

 

Trump calls retired general a ‘dog’ with a ‘big, dumb mouth’

President Trump started off the New Year by adding retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to the list of perceived enemies he has insulted as “a dog” over the years.

“’General’ McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!” the commander-in-chief exclaimed on Twitter at 10:32 a.m.

The president also retweeted an article from conservative talking head Laura Ingraham’s website Lifezette titled “Media Didn’t Like McChrystal Until He Started Bashing Trump.”

The highly decorated former top commander in Afghanistan — a West Point grad who also served in both Iraq wars — said Sunday that Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw up to half the 14,000 American troops serving there would reduce any incentive for the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal after more than 17 years of war.

McChrystal had said the US had “basically traded away the biggest leverage point we have.”

He also slammed Trump personally, saying he didn’t believe the president was honest.

The comment came when he was asked what he would say if he were asked to join the Trump administration.

“I think it’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it,” he said.

When asked if Trump was immoral, McChrystal responded: “I think he is.”

It’s not the first time he’s criticized a sitting president.

President Barack Obama accepted McChrystal’s resignation in June 2010 after he made scathing remarks in a magazine article about administration officials, including Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Labeling someone “a dog” or saying they were “fired like a dog” is one of Trump’s recurring Twitter themes.

In recent years, the president — who, according to multiple accounts, doesn’t care much for man’s best friend — has referred to former aide Omarosa Manigault, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, ex-top strategist Steve Bannon, conservative talker Glen Beck, NBC reporters David Gregory and Chuck Todd, comedian Bill Maher and pundit Ariana Huffington, among

Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

 

Turkey: Pointless for France to Remain in Syria to Protect YPG

Wednesday, 26 December, 2018 – 10:45
French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkey warned France that it is pointless to maintain its military presence in Syria to protect the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

“If France is staying to contribute to Syria’s future, great, but if they are doing this to protect the (militia), this will bring no benefit to anyone,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters according to state news agency Anadolu.

Cavusoglu hit out at France’s “support” of the YPG, which he said was “no secret”, pointing to a meeting French President Emmanuel Macron had held on Friday with the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF).

The YPG serves as the military backbone of the SDF.

Turkey views the YPG as terrorist organization affiliated to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.

France is part of the international anti-terrorism coalition led by the US in Syria and Iraq. It dispatched military pilots and artillery soldiers to carry out bombings. Several sources also reported the deployment of French special forces in Syrian territory, but Paris has not confirmed this information.

Last week, US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 US ground forces that had been in Syria to provide training to the YPG under the SDF.

The shock move put allies on the backfoot, with Macron on Sunday saying: “An ally must be reliable”.

On Sunday, Macron avoided commenting on the demands made by two representatives of the “Syrian Democratic Council” after Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

He summed up by the situation by announcing Paris “regrets” the US decision, given that the mission to terminate ISIS was not over yet, adding that the SDF should not be abandoned and allies should not be “left in the middle of the road.”

France confirmed it will remain in the alliance despite the US withdrawal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Ankara will intervene in the coming months against ISIS and the YPG.

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(Peace, no peace, ever, there is to much inbred hate and distrust on all three sides, Sunni, Shiite and Judaism,  but thats just my thought on this issue.) (oldpoet56)  

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

No injuries or damage in Israel; Israeli planes said to be behind attack near Syrian capital against Hezbollah or Iranian depot; Damascus claims to shoot down ‘enemy targets’

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Israel said Tuesday night it had deployed its air defenses against a missile shot from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel an alleged Israeli airstrike against Hezbollah or Iranian targets near the capital.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

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Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

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Syrian state media said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down, in what was reported to be an Israeli airstrike.

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

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Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

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SANA said the strikes beginning at about 10 p.m. were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted.

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

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News reports tied between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah.

By midnight the flight was en route back to Iran.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

In this August 27, 2013, photo, a Russian air defense system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

READ MORE:

U.S. official says Washington reviewing North Korea travel ban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

Jones/AFP/Getty Images

FOREIGN POLICY

U.S. official says Washington reviewing North Korea travel ban

SEOUL, South Korea — The Trump administration’s special envoy for North Korea said Wednesday that Washington is reviewing easing its travel restrictions to North Korea to facilitate humanitarian shipments as part of efforts to resolve an impasse in nuclear diplomacy.

Stephen Biegun made the comments upon arrival in South Korea for talks on the nuclear negotiations, which have seen little headway since a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, when they issued a vague vow for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how or when it would occur.

Biegun said his discussions with South Korean officials will be about how to work together to engage with North Korea “in a manner that will help us move forward and move beyond the 70 years of hostility.”

Toward that end, Biegun said he was directed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to review America’s policy on humanitarian assistance provided to North Korea.

“I understand that many humanitarian aid organizations, operating in the DPRK, are concerned that strict enforcement of international sanctions has occasionally impeded the delivery of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Korean people,” Biegun said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He said he’ll sit down with American aid groups early in the new year to discuss how the U.S. government can “better ensure the delivery of appropriate assistance, particularly, through the course of the coming winter.”

“We will also review American citizen travel to DPRK for purposes of facilitating the delivery of aid and ensuring that monitoring in line with international standards can occur,” Biegun said. “I want to be clear — the United States and the United Nations will continue to closely review requests for exemptions and licenses for the delivery of assistance to the DPRK.”

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to Biegun’s comments. Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months, with the two sides at an impasse over next steps following Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore and several trips to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The United States wants North Korea to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal, while the North is insisting that sanctions be lifted first. In the meantime, several reports from private analysts have accused North Korea of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.

Biegun said the United States came to have “greater confidence about the safety and security of Americans traveling to the DPRK” after North Korea in November released an American held for an alleged illegal entrance to the country. “The government of the DPRK handled the review of the American citizen’s expulsion expeditiously and with great discretion and sensitivity through diplomatic channels,” he said.

The United States banned its citizens from traveling to North Korea following the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died days after he was released in a coma from North Korea last year following 17 months in captivity.

Warmbier’s death came amid heightened animosity on the Korean Peninsula, with Trump and Kim exchanging crude insults and war threats over North Korea’s series of nuclear and missile tests.

Tensions have gradually eased since early this year, when Kim abruptly reached out to the United States and South Korea with an offer to negotiate away his advancing nuclear arsenal.

Since its entrance to the talks, North Korea has unilaterally dismantled its nuclear testing site and parts of its rocket engine test facility and taken some conciliatory gestures, including the repatriation of three other American detainees ahead of the June summit.