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

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.


Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

Updated 19 October 2019

Lebanese celebrities join Beirut protests as anger rises over tax reforms

  • A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut
  • In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands

BEIRUT: Lebanese celebrities joined thousands of protesters on the streets of Beirut on Saturday to voice their anger at the country’s ruling elite.
Singers, actors and playwrights were among a host of high-profile artists who backed demands for action over government corruption and to counter Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis.
Beirut has been shrouded in smoke for three days following widespread protests and rioting over government tax plans.
A video emerged on social media showing actress Nadine Al-Rassi preparing to set fire to a car tire in downtown Beirut and crying inconsolably about her financial state.
The actress, wearing jeans and her face blackened, told protesters: “I am Nadine Al-Rassi. I was hungry for seven days. I have debts. Banque du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) seized my house and I am unable to rent a home. Corrupt people should be held responsible.”


In a series of tweets, Lebanese recording artist Elissa, who is abroad, supported the protesters’ demands, saying: “This is the first time I wish I were in Lebanon. My heart is with you.”
In another tweet, the high-profile singer, one of the Middle East’s best-selling performers, said: “I proudly follow the news of Beirut and its citizens ... who are demanding a decent life. It is time for people to get back their dignity.”
Meanwhile, singer and composer Ragheb Alama expressed his dismay at a Council of Ministers plan to impose a daily fee on WhatsApp calls.
“The people’s misfortunes are not funny. Why don’t you tax the polluted air people breathe? It is a great idea that brings money to your fathers’ treasury, too,” he wrote.
Alama accused the Parliament of responsibility for the country’s dire economy: “Why do deputies receive money, privileges and overheads, and what have they done? They covered up for looting and stealing for decades. They are responsible for destroying the economy and the country.”
Nancy Ajram, one of the Arab world’s most popular singers, wrote on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my country every moment and with every heartbeat. We are a people who deserves to live and it is our right to live with dignity. May God protect Lebanon.”
Singer and actress Haifa Wehbe tweeted: “There is nothing better than the Lebanese people when they stand in unity and under one slogan, without any political affiliation. We are all for our country.”
Comedian and prime-time TV host Hisham Haddad was among celebrities who joined protesters at Riad El-Solh Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, site of the biggest centralized demonstrations.
Actress Maguy Bou Ghosn, singer Moeen Shreif, actors Abdo Chahine, Badih Abou Chakra and Junaid Zeineldine, playwright Ziad Itani and musician Ziyad Sahhab also joined the protests.
Actor Wissam Hanna called on Twitter for protesters to close the Beirut Airport road to stop corrupt officials fleeing the country.
“I am all for closing down the airport road to stop thieves from fleeing. I am all for recovering stolen funds. Lebanon rises, revolts and it is time to hold them accountable,” he wrote.
Actress Gretta Aoun said: “We have to take to the streets. They must know the extent of our pain.”