‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

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Members of the Syrian civil defense volunteers — known as the White Helmets — bury their comrades on Saturday. (AFP)
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The White Helmets paramedic group members on a rescue mission in Aleppo. (File photo by The white Helmets Twitter account @SyriaCivilDef)
Updated 13 August 2017
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‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

BEIRUT: Gunmen early Saturday stormed an office of a Syrian paramedic group that is active in opposition-controlled areas, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment in a northwestern region, the group and opposition activists said, while a suicide attack south of the country killed at least 23 rebels.
The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack happened in the early hours in the town of Sarmin.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the rare attack but it came amid tension in the area. Sarmin is in Idlib province, which witnessed clashes recently between Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar Al-Sham group that ended with Al-Qaeda fighters capturing much of the region.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, and also known as HTS — said over the past weeks that its members have discovered sleepers cells of the Daesh group who were planning an attack. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate, which used by to be known as the Nusra Front, has fought deadly battles with Daesh over the past years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven were killed after being shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from the White Helmets arrived to start a shift and found the bodies of their colleagues.
“Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe,” said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Observatory.
An opposition activist based in Idlib who has been providing The Associated Press with information about the province for years said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, adding that people living nearby did not notice anything unusual.
The activist, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals, said Daesh sleeper cells have been discovered in Sarmin. He added that most likely members of Daesh carried out the attack to show that Idlib is not safe.
The activist said the HTS-linked Judicial Committee is investigating the case.
Sarmin used to be a stronghold of the Jund Al-Aqsa extremist group that clashed with Al-Qaeda last year before many of its members were allowed to head to areas controlled by Daesh, whom they are fighting now.
The Syrian first-responders have been known to risk their lives to save people from the civil war, now in its sixth year. The White Helmets group was widely considered likely to win last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Elsewhere in Syria, a suicide attacker blew himself inside a training camp for the Army of Islam rebel group in the southern town of Naseeb, near the border with Jordan, killing more than 20 fighters.
The Observatory said Saturday that the Friday night blast killed 23 and wounded 20, some of whom were in critical condition.
Ahmad Al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist based in the southern province of Daraa, said about 80 Army of Islam members were having dinner inside a tent when the suicide attacker walked in and blew himself up. He said 30 were killed, 20 were wounded and six are still missing.
No one claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing but Daesh has previously claimed such attacks.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

Keeping spirits alive Palestinian youths play with rollerblades by walls covered with graffiti at the sea port in Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 20 June 2018
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White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.