Incriminating evidence had likely been removed, as inspectors allowed in Douma

A Syrian boy cycles down a destroyed street in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 16, 2018 during an organized media tour after the Syrian army declared that all anti-regime forces have left Eastern Ghouta, following a blistering two month offensive on the rebel enclave: (Louai Beshara/AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018

Incriminating evidence had likely been removed, as inspectors allowed in Douma

BEIRUT: International investigators on Tuesday entered a Syrian town hit by an alleged chemical attack, after days of delay and warnings by Western powers that crucial evidence had likely been removed.
The suspected gas attack on April 7 on Douma, near Damascus, reportedly left more than 40 people dead and was blamed by Western powers on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In response, the United States, France and Britain conducted unprecedented missile strikes on Syrian military installations, but Paris admitted on Tuesday they were a matter of “honor” that had solved nothing.
“Experts from the chemical weapons committee enter the town of Douma,” state news agency SANA wrote, referring to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The inspectors arrived in Damascus on the day of the Western strikes but had not been allowed to enter Douma.
France and the United States appeared to question the purpose of such a mission, warning that any incriminating evidence had likely been removed by now.
“It is highly likely that evidence and essential elements disappear from the site, which is completely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies,” the French foreign ministry said.
The US ambassador to the OPCW, Ken Ward, had claimed Monday that the Russians had already visited the site and “may have tampered with it.”
In an impassioned defense to the European Parliament on Tuesday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron admitted that Saturday’s strikes had been a more political than military decision.
“Three countries have intervened, and let me be quite frank, quite honest — this is for the honor of the international community,” he said in the French city of Strasbourg.
“These strikes don’t necessarily resolve anything but I think they were important,” Macron added.
The French leader was also set to strip Syrian President Bashar Assad of a prestigious award he was granted by former president Jacques Chirac in 2001.
“The Elysee confirms that a disciplinary procedure for withdrawing the Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) is under way,” Macron’s office said.


Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

Updated 31 min 4 sec ago

Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

  • President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition
  • It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task

JERUSALEM: Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz is set to receive an official mandate to form the country’s next government but has few options after last month’s elections left him in a near tie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he failed to build a 61-seat majority. Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.
President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition. It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task.
Still, Gantz faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government. Together, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White control a solid 65-seat majority. But the two men are divided over who should lead any new government.
Netanyahu has insisted he head the government, at least for the first two years, and that it include his right-wing allies, conditions that Gantz has repeatedly rejected.
Netanyahu is likely to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks, and Gantz has said Netanyahu should resolve his legal troubles before returning to the top post.
Gantz could potentially break up the right-wing alliance and recruit some of the smaller parties to his coalition. But that might be seen as a major betrayal by those parties’ voters.
Another option would be to form a minority government with Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged as kingmaker after his party won eight seats and has refused to endorse either Gantz or Netanyahu. Gantz might be able to convince the Arab Joint List, which won 13 seats, to support the coalition from the outside.
That would bring down Netanyahu but result in a highly unstable government. It’s also far from clear that Lieberman, a nationalist with a history of harsh rhetoric toward the Arab minority, would support such a scheme. No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government.
The political deadlock dates back to April, when Lieberman refused to join a right-wing coalition under Netanyahu. In response, parliament voted to dissolve itself, leading to an unprecedented repeated election in September. A similar scenario could play out again.
The political deadlock has delayed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited peace plan. The Palestinians have already rejected the plan, accusing the administration of extreme and unfair bias toward Israel.