Russia, Iran, Syria issue warning to US after trilateral meeting

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, right, shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, left, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on after a joint press conference in Moscow Friday. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2017
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Russia, Iran, Syria issue warning to US after trilateral meeting

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON: Russia, Syria and Iran strongly warned the US on Friday against launching new strikes on Syria, and called for an international probe into last week’s chemical attack there.
However, a US State Department official who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity on Friday reaffirmed the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s military action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who hosted his Iranian and Syrian counterparts at a trilateral meeting in Moscow, denounced the US attack as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
He warned that any further such action would entail “grave consequences not only for regional but global security.”
The State Department official defended the US action on April 6 as “justified, legitimate and proportionate.”
Echoing Washington’s criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the official said the regime’s “use of chemical weapons in violation of international law has been broadly condemned by the international community.”
Meanwhile, the State Department said Thursday the Assad regime’s chemical attack on civilians amounts to a “war crime.”
It also ridiculed comments by Assad in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the attack was fabricated by the US to justify a military strike.
“Sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “It wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war, but it was, we believe, a war crime.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the trilateral meeting sent a “strong message” to Washington.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said the participants warned that any unilateral action by the US is unacceptable.
The US has blamed the Syrian regime for the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun that killed more than 80 people on April 4, and responded by striking a Syrian air base.
Russia says the victims were killed by toxic agents released from an opposition chemical arsenal, and warned against blaming Damascus until an independent inquiry has been conducted.
Moscow vetoed a Western-drafted UN resolution on Wednesday, saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.
Lavrov accused the US and its allies of trying to stymie an international probe into the attack.
He expressed strong skepticism about a preliminary investigation conducted by the UN chemical weapons watchdog, saying its experts failed to visit the site, and it is unclear to Russia where the samples have been taken and how they have been analyzed.
In Russia’s view, the probe conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should be widened to include experts from many nations, he said.
“If our US colleagues and some European nations believe that their version is right, they have no reason to fear the creation of such an independent group,” Lavrov added.
“The investigation into this high-profile incident must be transparent and leave no doubt that someone is trying to hide something.”
Lavrov said the US strike on the Syrian base has undermined peace efforts and reflects Washington’s focus on ousting Assad. “Such attempts won’t succeed,” Lavrov said.
The three ministers also discussed the beefing up of US forces on Jordan’s border with Syria. Muallem said.
He added that Russia, Iran and Syria have “common procedures against any aggression,” but would not offer any specifics.
Lavrov said Moscow has asked Washington about the purpose of the build-up, and received assurances that it is to cut supply lines between Daesh factions in Syria and Iraq.
“We will keep monitoring the issue, since the only possible reason for using military force on the territory of Syria is to fight terrorism,” Lavrov said.

— with input from AP


Italy confirms seizure of German NGO migrant rescue ship

Updated 24 April 2018
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Italy confirms seizure of German NGO migrant rescue ship

ROME: Italy’s highest court of appeal on Tuesday rejected a request by the German NGO Jugend Rettet to release its migrant rescue boat, impounded eight months ago on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
The Italian Court of Cassation did not say why it had turned down the NGO’s request for the release of the Iuventa, a 33-meter (110-foot) motorboat seized off the island of Lampedusa on August 2.
At the time, the state police force had said that circumstantial evidence had come to light in a probe dating back to October 2016 which suggested the boat was being used for “activities facilitating illegal immigration.”
Two security officers employed on another rescue boat presented images that they alleged showed Jugend Rettet members conversing with suspected smugglers. They had also allegedly been seen sending back a wooden boat to Libya that was then used to transport more migrants.
But Jugend Rettet denies the allegations, saying the officers had misinterpreted particularly complicated rescue operations carried out on two days in June 2017 when many boats were in distress.
A detailed study by the Forensic Oceanography collective of all available images and radio exchanges in the area over those two days also cast doubt on the allegations.
At a news conference in Berlin, Jugend Rettet spokesman, Philipp Kuelker, said the Iuventa case “sets a precedent.”
The court was making it possible to “criminalize rescue at sea and showing solidarity with other human beings on the run. But as long as people continue to die at sea, we will continue our fight,” Kuelker said.
By contrast, an Italian judge last week ordered the release of another migrant rescue ship, belonging to the Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms.
That boat had been seized in mid-March after NGO workers refused to hand over migrants saved during a rescue mission off the Libyan coast to the Libyan coast guard, instead delivering them to the Italian island of Sicily.
The judge argued that Libya “was not yet in a position to take in rescued migrants while ensuring their fundamental rights were respected” and considered that the NGO had acted “out of necessity.”
In recent days, more than 1,500 migrants were rescued off Libya and at least 11 people have died after boats capsized.