Eastern Ghouta massacre: Mattis says ‘either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad’

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The US has warned Syria it would be ‘very unwise’ to use poison gas in Eastern Ghouta amid reports of chlorine attacks. (AFP)
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Men sit in a damaged truck in the besieged town of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, March 1, 2018. (Reuters/Bassam Khabieh)
Updated 12 March 2018
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Eastern Ghouta massacre: Mattis says ‘either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad’

MUSCAT/BEIRUT: The Assad regime and its Russian allies are either incompetent or acting illegally by killing civilians in Eastern Ghouta, the US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday.
Mattis also issued a new warning about the regime’s use of chemical weapons. “Right now we’re getting reports — I don’t have evidence that I can show you — but I’m aware of the reports of chlorine gas use,” he said before arriving in Oman on a trip to the Middle East.
“There’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas.”
Asked whether the US would respond militarily, as it did last year with missile strikes on a Syrian air base, Mattis said: “I’m not going to strictly define it, but we have made it very clear that it would be very unwise to use gas.”
Mattis said the bloodbath in Eastern Ghouta, the opposition enclave near Damascus where the civilian death toll in the 22-day regime offensive rose on Sunday to at least 1,111, showed that regime troops were “at best indiscriminately” attacking and “at worst targeting hospitals.”
“I don’t know which it is, whether they’re incompetent or whether they’re committing illegal acts or both,” he said.
Russia could be complicit, Mattis said. “Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad.”
US President Trump Donald has said he will not tolerate chemical weapons attacks but has not yet made a decision about the latest reports, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in Washington.
“In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened there.
“I’ve seen the pictures. You’ve seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it, so that our response can meet the threat.
“The president asks me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and who else — the Russians or the Iranians — who might be responsible for them.”
Assad regime forces have carved Eastern Ghouta into two, dealing a major setback to the opposition and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation.
A military media outlet linked to the Syrian regime and its ally Hezbollah said pro-regime forces had broken through opposition lines to establish a corridor through the besieged region.
In three weeks of fighting, regime forces have overrun more than half the area and split the remainder into three pockets, isolating the urban hub of Douma. On Sunday, regime troops battered the edges of each pocket with air raids, barrel bombs and rockets.


US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

Updated 3 min 50 sec ago
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US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

  • The money is for anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways

WASHINGTON: The US on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information that would disrupt the finances of Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.
The State Department said it would give the money to anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways.
The areas include information on Hezbollah’s donors, on financial institutions that assist its transactions and on businesses controlled by the movement.
President Donald Trump’s administration has put a top priority on reducing the influence of Iran, the primary backer of Hezbollah.
The State Department listed three alleged Hezbollah financiers as examples of activities it was seeking to stop, with one, Ali Youssef Charara, allegedly funding the group by investing millions of dollars from Hezbollah in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pointed to a recent appeal by Hezbollah for donations as a sign of US success in curbing Iran.
On a visit last month to Beirut, Pompeo urged Lebanon to counter the “dark ambitions” of Iran and Hezbollah but was rebuffed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who said Hezbollah was not a terrorist group and enjoyed a wide base.
The United States has vowed for decades to fight Shiite militants in Lebanon, with memories still bitter over the 1983 attack on a military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
Hezbollah, however, also functions as a political party, with posts in the current cabinet, and enjoys support among some Lebanese who recall its guerrilla campaign that led Israel to withdraw from the country in 2000.