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.


Jordan arrests 17 protesters against fiscal reform

Updated 15 December 2018
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Jordan arrests 17 protesters against fiscal reform

AMMAN: Seventeen Jordanians were arrested over protests against a controversial fiscal reform, a judicial source in Amman said on Friday.
The attorney general in the capital decided to “arrest 17 people who he accused of participating the previous day in a protest near the prime minister’s office and of provoking trouble which resulted in police and members of the security forces being wounded,” the source said.
Those arrested would be kept in custody for a week, the judicial source said, without specifying how many police had been wounded.
A thousand Jordanians had taken to the streets of Amman on Thursday to protest against an income tax law adopted in November under an austerity program aimed at reducing public debt.
The protesters gathered near Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz’s office, which was cordoned off by security forces.
“Down with the tax law,” read one sign, held aloft by demonstrators calling for “reforms and change.”
“We want a government of patriots, not a gang of thieves,” the protesters said.
Jordanian lawmakers on November 18 approved an IMF-backed income tax bill after making amendments to a controversial draft law that sparked a week of angry protests in June.
The original bill, which the government approved in June, raised taxes for employees by at least five percent, and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.
These measures were left unchanged in the amended version.
But in a concession, the revised bill raises the 2019 threshold for households to pay income tax to 20,000 Jordanian dinars ($28,000) from a previous ceiling of 18,000.
The amended legislation also introduced exemptions of up to 2,000 dinars per family for basic expenses such as education and health, and 1,000 dinars per single person, if receipts are provided.
The demonstrators on Thursday chanted for the release of 24 activists local media said had been detained in smaller scale protests over the last two weeks.
With a lack of natural resources to boost state coffers, Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid and has an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent.
Stability in Jordan is seen as fundamental to the region and in the wake of the June protests Amman was offered a $2.5 billion aid package by three Gulf backers, including Saudi Arabia.