US suspects Syria in new chemical attack, threatens reprisal

A child receives oxygen through a face mask following an alleged poison gas attack in Douma, near Damascus, Syria, on April 8, 2018. (File/AP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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US suspects Syria in new chemical attack, threatens reprisal

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it suspected that Syrian government forces have carried out a fresh chemical attack and it threatened reprisals.
The State Department said it was assessing indications that the regime used chemical weapons on Sunday during its offensive in Idlib, the most significant remaining holdout in Syria of jihadist rebels.
“We are still gathering information on this incident, but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
She also denounced Russia, the key ally of Damascus, for what she called a “disinformation campaign” as it tries to blame other parties for chemical attacks.
“The Assad regime’s culpability in horrific chemical weapons attacks is undeniable,” Ortagus said.
Russia and Turkey, the key ally of the rebels, in September reached an agreement that nominally protects Idlib amid fears for the safety of some three million people in the northwestern area.
But Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, has seized a large part of the province and adjoining areas, triggering a regime offensive that includes strikes by Syrian and Russian airplanes.
Ortagus said that the offensive has “destroyed known health facilities, schools, residences and internally displaced person camps.”
“The regime’s attacks against the communities of northwest Syria must end,” she said.
“The United States reiterates its warning, first issued by President (Donald) Trump in September 2018, that an attack against the Idlib de-escalation zone would be a reckless escalation that threatens to destabilize the region,” she said.
The warning came despite a trip to Russia last week by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who voiced optimism that the rival powers had found ways to work together on Syria.
Some 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor. The United Nations says that tens of thousands have fled their homes.
International inspectors say that Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks in the course of the brutal civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.
A sarin gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhun killed 83 people, according to the United Nations, leading Trump to order a strike by 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian air base.
His action was a reversal from his predecessor Barack Obama, who had declared chemical weapons to be a red line but controversially chose not to respond militarily and instead worked with Russia on a plan that aimed to remove the regime’s chemical stockpile.
Trump, however, is also skeptical of a commitment in Syria and last year ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops, although aides later said a small number would stay.


Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

Updated 18 June 2019
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Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

  • Morsi, was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention, says state TV
  • The former president died aged 67

CAIRO: Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was buried on Tuesday in eastern Cairo, one of his lawyers said, a day after he collapsed in court and died.

“He was buried in Medinat Nasr, in eastern Cairo, with his family present. The funeral prayer was said in Tora prison hospital” where he was declared dead on Monday, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud said.

Egyptian state television announced that Morsi, 67, who was ousted by the military on July 3, 2013, had been attending a court session at his trial on charges of espionage and links with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It was reported that he collapsed in the courtroom inside a glass cage he and others had been sharing, before his body was transferred to a local hospital.

Morsi died from a sudden heart attack, state television reported early on Tuesday, citing a medical source. The source said the former president, who was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention.

Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq issued a statement saying: “The accused, Mohammed Morsi, in the presence of the other defendants inside the cage, fell unconscious, where he was immediately transferred to the hospital.

“The preliminary medical report stated that by external medical examination they found no pulse, no breathing, and his eyes were unresponsive to light. He died at 4:50 p.m. and no apparent injuries to the body were found.”

Sadiq added he had ordered the transfer of teams from the Supreme State Security Prosecution Office and the Southern Cairo Prosecution Office to conduct an investigation into Morsi’s death, and to examine surveillance footage from the courtroom and collect witness testimonies.

He also ordered that a senior forensic committee headed by the chief medical officer and the director of forensic medicine to prepare a forensic report on the cause of death.

Various outlets say that a state of high alert has been issued by the military and the Ministry of the Interior throughout the country following the news, for fear of riots or activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Morsi was a prominent figure.

Morsi became president in June 2012 after the first democratic elections in the country following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011. He was Egypt’s fifth president.

He was born to a family of farmers on Aug. 20, 1951, in the village of Al-Adwa in Sharkia province. He married in 1978 and leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

Following his deposition and arrest, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Oct. 22, 2016, over bloody clashes that took place on Dec. 5, 2012 in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Morsi rejecting a constitutional declaration issued in November of that year.

Other sentences meant his total incarceration could have been up to 48 years, with the ongoing espionage case potentially carrying a further maximum sentence of 25 years.

In Istanbul on Tuesday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets, mourning former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and some chanting slogans blaming Cairo authorities for his death.

* With AFP