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Malcolm Turnbull hints Australia may be joining US strike on Assad regime

At least 72 people were killed in northern Syria this week after being exposed to a toxic gas that survivors said had been dropped from warplanes at dawn on Tuesday.

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Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull has hinted that Australia may be involved in an expanded US-led military strike on Syria, after outrage at Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Idlib.

The prime minister, speaking shortly before it emerged the US was launching missile strikes on a Syrian military airfield near Homs, said the attack “cries out” for a strong response and that Russia had to take some responsibility.

“I can’t go into any more detail than that, other than to say that I’ve spoken only a little while ago with the defence minister [Marise Payne] and the chief of the defence force [Mark Binskin]” he told 3AW radio on Friday.

“You know where we stand. We have condemned this attack utterly. It cries out for a strong response and we are in very … close and constant communication with our allies, in particular the United States.”

Payne also called on the UN security council to take action but cautioned that “we need to be very careful” about the complexity of the Syrian conflict.

“We have to be clear with Russia, with have to be clear with those who support the regime, that this is totally unacceptable,” she said.

“The UN security council, I understand, is considering the options that are available to it. We would call on them to take action in response to that.”

The US vice-president, Mike Pence, is due to visit Australia this month. Pence will fly in on 22 April, as part of a regional tour of Asia-Pacific countries including South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, says Pence’s visit underlines the importance of the Australia-US alliance.

“Vice-President Pence’s visit provides an important opportunity to discuss the depth and breadth of Australia’s strategic, security and economic relationship with the United States, and to underline our commitment to work with the Trump administration to advance our shared interests in our region and globally,” she said.

At least 72 people were killed in northern Syria this week after being exposed to a toxic gas that survivors said had been dropped from warplanes at dawn on Tuesday.

At least 100 others had to be treated in hospitals in Idlib province where the strike took place, and several dozen others were transferred to Turkey, some in critical condition.

There has been international condemnation of the attack, with the US, Britain, the EU and Australia blaming the Syrian government for the carnage.

Source : NYT

Middle East

Putin warns against further actions violating UN charter

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Vladimir Putin

Moscow, April 16 : Further actions violating the UN charter such as the recent US-led strikes on Syria will result in chaos in international relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani over phone on Sunday.

The two leaders condemned Saturday’s airstrikes by the US and its allies on Syria and agreed that it would hinder the process of a political settlement in the war-torn country, according to a Kremlin statement, Xinhua news agency reported.

“It was stated that this illegal action seriously damages the prospects for a political settlement in Syria. Putin in particular stressed that if such actions, carried out in violation of the UN Charter, continue, it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the statement read.

The US, together with Britain and France, launched missile strikes on Syria on Saturday, saying that it was in response to an alleged chemical weapon attack by the Syrian military. The Syrian government has categorically denied the accusation.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the same day held an emergency meeting over the missile attack at Russia’s request but failed to approve a resolution condemning the bombardment.

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia supports US-led airstrikes on Syria

The Ministry expressed Saudi Arabia’s full support to the US, Britain and France’s military operations on military targets in Syria.

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Syrian Strike

Riyadh, April 14 : Saudi Arabia on Saturday extended support to the coordinated missile strikes by the US, Britain and France on military targets in Syria.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited a source in the Saudi Foreign Ministry as saying that “the Ministry expressed Saudi Arabia’s full support to the US, Britain and France’s military operations on military targets in Syria”.

An official from the Ministry highlighted that the operations were a response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against innocent civilians and its years of “horrible crimes”, the agency report said.

The official held the Syrian government responsible for such military attack and the international community for not taking serious steps against the regime.

The US, Britain and France launched coordinated strikes against Syria’s research, storage and military targets to “punish” the Bashar al-Assad regime for an apparent chemical attack in Douma last week that killed over 70 people. The military action was denounced by Damascus and its ally Moscow as a “failure” and “an act of aggression”.

Western allies warned Syria on Saturday that they could launch further attacks if chemical weapons were used again.

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Militias unlawfully detain, torture thousands in Libya, says UN

These facilities are notorious for endemic torture and other human rights violations or abuses.

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Human Rights Zeid Raad al- Hussein

Geneva, April 11 (IANS/AKI) Armed groups in Libya, including those affiliated with the state, hold thousands of people in prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention and submit them to torture and other human rights violations and abuses, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

“Men, women and children across Libya are arbitrarily detained or unlawfully deprived of their liberty based on their tribal or family links and perceived political affiliations,” says the report by the UN Human Rights Office.

“Victims have little or no recourse to judicial remedy or reparations, while members of armed groups enjoy total impunity.

“This report lays bare not only the appalling abuses and violations experienced by Libyans deprived of their liberty, but the sheer horror and arbitrariness of such detentions, both for the victims and their families,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al- Hussein.

“These violations and abuses need to stop – and those responsible for such crimes should be held fully to account.”

Since renewed hostilities broke out in 2014, armed groups on all sides have rounded up suspected opponents, critics, activists, medical professionals, journalists and politicians, the report says. Hostage-taking for prisoner exchanges or ransom is also common. Those detained arbitrarily or unlawfully also include people held in relation to the 2011 armed conflict – many without charge, trial or sentence for over six years.

The report, published in cooperation with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), summarises the main human rights concerns regarding detention in Libya since the country’s rival political factions signed a deal on December 17, 2015 that led to the formation of a UN-backed unity government.

The implementation of provisions in the deal to address the plight of people detained arbitrarily for prolonged periods of time has stalled, the report notes.

“Rather than reining in armed groups and integrating their members under State command and control structures, successive Libyan governments have increasingly relied on them for law enforcement, including arrests and detention; paid them salaries; and provided them with equipment and uniforms,” the report says.

As a result, the power of these armed groups has grown unchecked and they have remained free of effective government oversight, according to the report.

Some 6,500 people were estimated to be held in official prisons overseen by the Ministry of Justice’s judicial police, as of October 2017. There are no available statistics for facilities nominally under the Interior and Defence ministries, nor for those run directly by armed groups, the report notes.

“These facilities are notorious for endemic torture and other human rights violations or abuses,” the report states.

For example, the detention facility at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli holds an estimated 2,600 men, women and children, most without access to judicial authorities. In Kuweifiya prison, the largest detention facility in eastern Libya, some 1,800 people are believed to be held.

There have also been consistent allegations of deaths in custody. The bodies of hundreds of individuals taken and held by armed groups have been uncovered in streets, hospitals, and rubbish dumps, many with bound limbs and marks of torture and gunshot wounds, the report says.

“The widespread prolonged arbitrary and unlawful detention and endemic human rights abuses in custody in Libya require urgent action by the Libyan authorities, with support from the international community,” says the report.

State and non-State actors that effectively control territory and exercise government-like functions must as a first step release those detained arbitrarily or otherwise unlawfully deprived of their liberty, the report said.

The report calls on the authorities to publicly and unequivocally condemn torture, ill-treatment and summary executions of those detained, and ensure accountability for such crimes.

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