White House accuses Russia of killing civilians in Syria

A wounded Syrian child receives treatment at a make-shift hospital in Douma following Syrian government bombardments on the besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018
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White House accuses Russia of killing civilians in Syria

WASHINGTON: The United States on Sunday made its strongest accusation to date of Moscow’s complicity in civilian deaths in Syria, saying Russian aircraft flew bombing missions over the besieged eastern Ghouta region in defiance of a United Nations cease-fire.
The White House said Russian military aircraft took off from Humaymim Airfield in Syria and carried out at least 20 daily bombing missions in Damascus and eastern Ghouta between Feb. 24 and Feb. 28.
It did not say whether the jets dropped ordnance, which could be harder to determine than tracking the flight paths of Russian aircraft on US radar. But the United States directly accused Russia of killing civilians.
“Russia has gone on to ignore (a UN cease-fire’s) terms and to kill innocent civilians under the false auspices of counter-terrorism operations,” the White House said in a statement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed on Sunday to continue the offensive in eastern Ghouta, one of the deadliest in the war. A local insurgent group called it a “scorched earth” campaign.
With the war entering its eighth year, capturing eastern Ghouta would be a major victory for Assad, who has steadily regained control of rebel areas with Russian and Iranian support.
Government shelling and air strikes have killed 659 people in eastern Ghouta since Feb. 18, while rebel shelling of Damascus has killed 27, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday that Syrian government air strikes on eastern Ghouta and shelling from the rebel-held zone into Damascus probably constitute war crimes.
The White House called on pro-Assad forces to “immediately cease targeting medical infrastructure and civilians.”
In a separate statement later on Sunday, the White House said President Donald Trump and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi “discussed Russia and Iran’s irresponsible support of the Assad regime’s brutal attacks against innocent civilians.”
“President Trump and President El-Sisi agreed to work together on ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria and achieving Arab unity and security in the region,” the White House statement said.
Russia and Damascus have accused rebels of preventing civilians from leaving eastern Ghouta during daily cease-fires. Rebels have consistently denied the accusation and say people will not leave because they fear the government.
The multi-sided war has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2011.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

King Abdullah of Jordan (L) and Jared Kushner. (AFP)
Updated 54 min 7 sec ago
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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.