Jordanian soldier gets life for killing 3 US trainers

Maarik Al-Tawaiha (C) is led out of court following his trial, for the killing of three American military trainers outside an army base last year, on July 17, 2017, in the Jordanian capital Amman. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2017
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Jordanian soldier gets life for killing 3 US trainers

Amman: A Jordanian court on Monday sentenced a soldier to life imprisonment over the killing of three American military trainers outside an army base last year.
The military court in Amman found 39-year-old Maarik Al-Tawaiha guilty of shooting the trainers as they waited to enter the King Faisal base at Al-Jafr in southern Jordan on November 4.
The charge sheet did not indicate that he had any ties to militant groups.
US embassy staff and relatives of the victims were present at Monday’s hearing, which took place under heavy security.
The court sentenced Tawaiha to “hard labor for life,” a term that usually lasts 20 years but could stretch to a full lifetime, a judicial official told an AFP correspondent at the courthouse.
It also demoted him from sergeant to second private and threw him out of military service.
The prosecution in June accused him of “voluntary manslaughter” over the deaths of Matthew Lewellen, Kevin McEnroe and James Moriarty.
He was also charged with “insulting the dignity and reputation of the armed forces and violating military orders.”
Tawaiha had been in custody since November but denied the charges.
The court had heard evidence from base guards and forensic experts.
In its ruling, the court said the incident had happened when vehicles carrying the trainers approached the gate of the base.
At that moment, there was “a low sound of gunfire from a distant and unknown source.”
Tawaiha, who was in a guard post at the gate, told the court he had opened fire on the cars carrying the American trainers because he suspected an attack on the base.
The court said he “fired a full magazine of ammunition... intending to kill them after it was clear to him who they were and that they were American personnel.”
It said he had disobeyed orders by failing to follow rules of engagement before opening fire.
The incident left three Americans dead and wounded a Jordanian soldier.
The King Faisal air base hosts trainers of various nationalities including Americans.
Jordan, which hosts some 2,200 American military personnel, is a key American ally and a member of the US-led coalition fighting the Daesh group in neighboring Syria and Iraq.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 24 June 2018
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.