OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2018
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OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

  • Ambassador Jaafari says it's up to the UN mission to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations
  • The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, blamed by Western powers on the Syrian regime, left more than 40 people dead

NEW YORK: Experts from the OPCW chemical watchdog are awaiting the green light from a UN security assessment team before beginning their investigation of an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma, the Syrian ambassador said Tuesday.
The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday, said Ambassador Bashar Jaafari.
“If this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow,” Jaafari told the Security Council.
The Syrian state news agency earlier reported that the international team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had entered Douma to begin their investigation of whether chemical agents were used as a weapon.
The ambassador stressed that the “Syrian government did all that it can do to facilitate the work of this mission” but that it was up to the UN and the OPCW to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations.
The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Saturday, when Britain, France and the US launched military strikes against what they said were targets linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, near Damascus, reportedly left more than 40 people dead and was blamed by Western powers on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Syrian regime forces shelled the last pockets in Damascus controlled by Daesh, preparing the ground for a possible assault on the terrorist stronghold, a monitor said Wednesday.
After fully retaking the Eastern Ghouta region on the edge of the capital, the Syrian regime has turned its attention to other areas across the country that still escape its control.
Among them are neighborhoods in southern Damascus from which many civilians have fled but are still held by Daesh, including the Yarmouk area that hosts a Palestinian refugee camp.
“Regime forces shelled several Daesh positions in Yarmouk camp and Hajjar Al-Aswad, killing one person and wounded others,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Both sides had traded fire the previous night, the Britain-based monitor said, causing at least five deaths, most of them regime soldiers.
“The regime is turning up the heat ahead of a big assault that would break Daesh’s back and force them to evacuate the area,” the head of the observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
Daesh still has a presence in Yarmouk, and the neighboring areas of Hajjar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam. Yarmouk used to be the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, with a population of 160,000, but only a few thousand people remain inside the devastated area.
The state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday that a deal had also been reached for rebels to quit Dumayr, a town further to the east, where a reconciliation agreement had kept a security status quo since 2016.
It said on Wednesday fighters from the Jaish Al-Islam rebel faction were continuing to hand over their heavy and intermediate weapons in Dumayr ahead of their departure to the northern town of Jarabulus.
SANA said a total of 5,000 people including 1,500 rebels were expected to leave the town.


Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

Updated 28 min 25 sec ago
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Iraq’s Al-Fattah leaders deep in coalition talks with Muqtada Al-Sadr

  • Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday.
  • The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Al-Fattah, the Iranian-backed parliamentary bloc that won the second-highest vote in the parliamentary elections, are in deep negotiations with the powerful Shiite leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr to form a coalition.

While it is too early to talk about ministerial posts, Al-Fattah has no veto over Haider Al-Abadi, the current prime minister, from taking a second term, the alliance’s senior leaders told Arab News on Tuesday.

Negotiations between the leading Iraqi political forces to form the biggest parliamentary bloc started immediately after the official results were announced late on Friday. The biggest coalition has the exclusive right to nominate the prime minister and form a government.

The backing of Al-Fattah leaders is essential to nominate the next prime minister and form a strong and stable government.

Ahmed Assadi, the spokesman of Fattah and one of its leaders, said negotiations were continuing with Sairoon, the alliance which came first in the election with 54 seats and is led by Al-Sadr.

“There is no way to form a government without either of them,” Al-Assidi said.

“Both (Fattah and Sairoon) represent the biggest alliances among the winning forces and enjoy great support in the street and the region, so there is no way to ignore one of them.”

The Fattah alliance, which is openly funded and supported by Iran, won 47 seats, which includes 22 seats won by Badr Organization, one of the most prominent Shiite armed groups and 17 seats won by Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the second most powerful Shiite paramilitary group.
The relationship between Al-Sadr and Fattah leaders is tense as the cleric has accused Fattah factions of carrying out an Iranian agenda in Iraq.

Al-Sadr has said on several occasions in the last two weeks that he is ready to negotiate with all political forces except Fattah and the State of Law — led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

But Al-Sadr’s tone has changed in recent days and he has come back to say that the coalition he is working on, is open to everyone.

Assadi and two other Al-Fattah leaders said talks have focussed on forming the biggest parliamentary bloc so far not the nomination of the prime minister.

“Our vision is to form a big parliamentary bloc first within the Shiite winning blocs, and then go to the Kurdish and Sunni (winning) blocs,” Assadi said.

Along with Sairoon and Al-Fattah, the talks involving prime minster Al-Abadi’s Al-Nassir alliance, Hikma, led by the prominent cleric Ammar Al-Hakim, Al-Wattiniya, led by Vice President Ayad Allawi, and Maliki’s State of Law.

The only thing that has been agreed upon so far is the formation of a national majority government, not a political power sharing administration. Also, the negotiators have agreed to postpone talking about positions, including the post of prime minister, leaders said.

“It is still too early to announce any coalition,” a senior leader of Fattah involved in the talks and talked told Arab News. “Talks are still focusing on the government program and the details are too many.

“Al-Sadr, Nassir and Hikma are insisting to nominate Al-Abadi but we clearly said that we have no veto against him, but that there would be no discussions over the names until we agree on all the other details.”