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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

UN appeals for countries to take in 1,300 Libyan refugees

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Libyan refugees

The UN has appealed to countries worldwide to take in 1,300 mainly African refugees stranded in Libya. Many of them were mistreated while being detained appalling conditions.

Niger has agreed to temporarily host the most vulnerable of the evacuees, including unaccompanied children and single mothers, pending their processing and departure for resettlement, Reuters said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday that it “urgently requests 1,300 places for resettlement” to be made available by the end of March. The UNHCR intends to evacuate between 700 and 1,300 people from Libya to Niger by the end of January 2018.

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Middle East

‘Don’t buy from Arabs’, says Israeli Defense Minister

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Avigdor Lieberman

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has called on his fellow citizens to boycott the Palestinian market of the Wadi Ara region of north-east Israel, after riots broke out there on Saturday over the American decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem.

Three people were injured when protesters began hurling stones at a bus. “I am calling for a boycott of Wadi Ara. Don’t go there and don’t buy there. They need to understand that it is impossible to demonstrate with Hezbollah flags, Palestinian flags and pictures of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah.

To accept billions from the National Insurance [Institute] and to also destroy us from within,” Haaretz quoted Lieberman telling Army Radio.

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Hamas leader calls for ‘new intifada in the face of Israel’

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Ismail Haniyeh

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has called for a new uprising against Israel following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of the Jewish state.

“We should call for and we should work on launching an intifada in the face of the Zionist enemy,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, in a speech in Gaza Thursday, Reuters reports.

Anti-US protests erupted almost immediately after Trump’s declaration Wednesday, with Palestinians first to take to the streets, calling for three days of rage against the move.

World leaders expressed serious concern over the decision and its potential to destabilize the region.

The decision has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked Trump, and said he be believes “many” other nations will follow suit in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pope Francis said he could not “remain silent” and spoke of his “great anxiety” surrounding the decision, while the EU voiced “serious concern.”

“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days,”Francis said at his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

“Jerusalem is a unique city,” he added, “sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace.”

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