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.


Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

Updated 43 min 46 sec ago
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Egypt court upholds corruption conviction of Mubarak, sons

  • Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Cessation dashed any hope that Gamal Mubarak could run for public office.
  • Mubarak’s two sons are currently on trial for insider trading.

CAIRO: Egypt's highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their conviction on corruption charges.
The ruling by the Court of Cessation, Egypt's final recourse for appeals in criminal cases, dashed any hope that Gamal, Mubarak's younger son and one-time heir apparent, could run for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of Egypt's current president had recently suggested that banker-turned-politician Gamal may have been contemplating the move.
The Mubarak trio was sentenced to three years each for embezzling funds meant for maintenance of presidential palaces but which they spent on upgrading or building private residences. The sons were released in 2015 for time served, while their father was freed last year. They repaid the funds, a total of 125 million pounds (about $7 million).
Mubarak's sons are currently on trial for insider trading. They are free on bail after a judge on Thursday overturned a surprise Sept. 15 ruling to detain them. The case's next hearing is on Oct. 20.
The rejection of their appeal Saturday and Gamal Mubarak's subsequent ineligibility to run for office came in the wake of recent comments by the chief editor of state-run Al-Akhbar publications, Yasser Rizq, who suggested that frequent public appearances by the younger Mubarak could be a prelude to a future presidential run.
Rizq first warned Gamal Mubarak against harboring presidential ambitions in an article published in May. He repeated the warning in a television interview aired earlier this week.
"His real crime is insulting the dignity of the Egyptian people," Rizq said, alluding to Gamal's one-time intention to succeed his father. It violated the constitution and amounted to the toppling of republican rule, he explained. He said it was not improbable that he would strike a political deal with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to secure the group's return to politics in exchange for its support in a presidential bid in 2022, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi's second term ends.
Preventing Gamal from succeeding his father was among the main drivers of a 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak's 29-year rule, as well as the military's support for it. The years that followed saw Mubarak regime heavyweights tried on corruption or abuse of power charges. Most have since walked free, while second-string regime loyalists found their way back to public life under El-Sissi.