France calls for Syria chemical attack reports to be investigated

Syrian children receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta last year. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 23 May 2019

France calls for Syria chemical attack reports to be investigated

  • US said Syrian government may have carried out a chlorine attack on Sunday in northwest Syria

PARIS: New allegations the Syrian government is using chemical weapons must be looked into, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
The US State Department on Tuesday said it saw signs that the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack on Sunday in northwest Syria.
“We have noted with a degree of alarm these allegations, which need to be looked into,” the foreign ministry said in an online press briefing.
“We have full confidence in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” it added.

Meanwhile, US envoy James Jeffrey said on Wednesday a cease-fire is needed in Syria’s Idlib province where there has been a recent upsurge in violence, and the United States is working toward halting the clashes, which have put tremendous pressure on civilians there, 
“What we really need in Idlib and throughout the country is a cease-fire,” Jeffrey, US special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to defeat Daesh, said at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
“These conflicts, back and forth exchanges....just put tremendous pressure on civilians, they raise the specter of nation-to-nation clash,” he said. “So we’re very much engaged in trying to get this stopped and get it back to the cease-fire we had basically since September.”
At least 180,000 people have fled an upsurge in violence in northwest Syria, the last major stronghold of rebels who have fought against President Bashar Assad’s government since 2011. Government bombing has killed dozens in the past three weeks.
The latest clashes mark the biggest escalation since last summer between Assad and his rebel enemies in Idlib province and a belt of territory around it.
The region, home to an estimated 3 million people, including many who fled other parts of Syria as government forces advanced in recent years, has been partly shielded by a truce agreement since last year, brokered by Russia and Turkey. Much of the recent fighting has hit a buffer zone agreed under that deal.
The Syrian government says it is responding to attacks by Al-Qaeda-linked militants. The dominant insurgent faction in the region is the jihadist Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), although the army offensive has not focused on the central Idlib area where it is most concentrated, an HTS-aligned opposition figure said.


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”