Syria's Kurds Reassured by US Protection, Russian Recognition

This file photo taken on November 09, 2017 shows US Defense Minister James Mattis delivering a press conference during the second day of a Defense Ministers Meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. JOHN THYS / AFP
This file photo taken on November 09, 2017 shows US Defense Minister James Mattis delivering a press conference during the second day of a Defense Ministers Meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. JOHN THYS / AFP
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Syria's Kurds Reassured by US Protection, Russian Recognition

This file photo taken on November 09, 2017 shows US Defense Minister James Mattis delivering a press conference during the second day of a Defense Ministers Meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. JOHN THYS / AFP
This file photo taken on November 09, 2017 shows US Defense Minister James Mattis delivering a press conference during the second day of a Defense Ministers Meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. JOHN THYS / AFP

Commander of the People's Protection Units (YPG) Sipan Hemo welcomed the statement delivered by the US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, saying that Washington will defend the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces against any attack waged by the Syrian government and prompted by Iran.

According to Hemo, the phase following the defeat of ISIS in east Syria is a transition from military victories to political recognition from the US-led coalition and Russia.

During his visit to Moscow, Hemo was informed by some Russian officers that the Kurdish self-administrations will call for a Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi, which will gradually establish a federal Syria. His visit came as a response to an invitation from Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to celebrate the victory against ISIS.

Syrian Democratic Forces, whose mainstay is People's Protection Units, succeeded in establishing balance between two international coalitions. It first liberated regions in the east of Euphrates from ISIS, with the support of the US-led coalition. Then, it formed a joint operations chambers with the Russian army in Deir ez-Zor.

Based on information provided for Asharq Al-Awsat, the Russian generals entrusted with the Astana process and preparing for the congress in Sochi affirmed that the self-administrations of north Syria will be invited to the congress. This would irritate Ankara which opposes the presence of any party close to People's Protection Units or the Democratic Union Party in the congress.

“The Russians are holding a tactical cooperation with Turkey to ensure success in Sochi. Therefore, they won’t send official invitations but will invite only the self-administrations,” reported sources.

As for Washington, Mattis said: “There is currently a demarcation line between areas controlled by the US-led coalition, mainly in eastern Syria, and those controlled by Syria and its Russian allies in western Syria. It's a mistake to cross that line.”



Lebanon’s Hezbollah Says Not Linked to Accused in Peacekeeper Killing

An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah Says Not Linked to Accused in Peacekeeper Killing

An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)

Lebanon's Hezbollah on Friday denied that five men accused by a military tribunal of killing an Irish UN peacekeeper in 2022 were linked to the armed party.

A court document filed on Thursday had identified some of the five as members of Hezbollah and allied movement Amal, according to a senior Lebanese judicial source.

Hezbollah media official Mohammad Afif said the five accused were not members of the group, which controls the part of southern Lebanon where last year's attack took place, and also denied that the indictment had described them as Hezbollah members.

Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed on Dec. 15 in the first fatal attack on UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.

Afif said Hezbollah had played a big role after the killing in reducing tensions and in local people's cooperation with the army and judicial investigation.

His comments are the first by a Hezbollah official since Thursday's reported indictment. The Amal Movement, which is headed by parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, has so far declined to comment.

The judicial source had said evidence was drawn from camera recordings in which the accused refer to themselves as members of Hezbollah. A second judicial source confirmed that camera evidence was mentioned in the 30-page court document.

Hezbollah has previously denied involvement in the killing, calling it an "unintentional incident" that took place solely between the town's residents and the peacekeepers.


Kurdish Autonomous Authority Evacuates Hundreds of Syrians from Sudan

Syrians stranded in Sudan arrive in the autonomous region in late May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Syrians stranded in Sudan arrive in the autonomous region in late May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Kurdish Autonomous Authority Evacuates Hundreds of Syrians from Sudan

Syrians stranded in Sudan arrive in the autonomous region in late May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Syrians stranded in Sudan arrive in the autonomous region in late May. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has evacuated 369 stranded Syrians from Sudan.

A prominent AANES official stressed that the Administration is committed to its humanitarian duties toward those stranded in Sudan.

Badran Jia Kurd, head of the Department of Foreign Relations in the Autonomous Administration, told Asharq Al-Awsat that as the war escalates in Sudan “the AANES continues through its official missions in Sudan’s neighboring countries to fulfill its responsible duty towards our stranded relatives in Sudan.”

Three flights carrying around 396 Syrians had arrived in the self-administration regions.

The official remarked that there were some obstacles, but they were overcome successfully, extending thanks to all the humanitarian international and Arab parties in helping operate the flights.

Kurdish authorities evacuated more than 150 individuals, including women and children, in the first week of May after the escalation of battles in Sudan.

Jia said the AANES evacuated 18 individuals, including three newborns, to Qamishli on the second flight in mid-May.

“The third trip a few days ago included 201 women and children, including 31 newborns and three corpses,” said Jia, adding that this last batch had flown in from the capital Damascus.

These efforts are part of the autonomous administration’s initiative that was launched in mid-April and aims at evacuating Syrian refugees who fled the fierce battles between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces.

Jia expressed the AANES’ deep concern over the situation in Sudan, hoping its people won’t have to endure the same suffering as the Syrian people.

Media reports had said that around 20 Syrians have died in the Sudan clashes that erupted in April.

The United Nations announced that over 730 people have been killed and 5,500 wounded.

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources in Damascus told Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper on Thursday that so far 6,000 Syrians have been evacuated from Sudan.

The sources added that regular daily trips, transporting an average of 170 people, are taking place from Port Sudan to Damascus International Airport.

They went on to say that 2,000-3,000 Syrians remain in Port Sudan waiting to be evacuated in the coming days.


Sudanese Forces Clash in Khartoum 

Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Sudanese Forces Clash in Khartoum 

Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)
Smoke rises above buildings after an aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. (Reuters)

Sudan's warring parties clashed in the capital overnight and into Friday morning after talks aimed at maintaining a ceasefire and alleviating a humanitarian crisis collapsed, prompting the US to issue sanctions.

Residents of Khartoum and adjoining Omdurman said the army had resumed air strikes and was using more artillery as the clashes continued, but with no sign that its paramilitary enemy was retreating from city streets and homes it has occupied.

"We are suffering so much from this war. Since this morning there have been sounds of violence. We're living in terror. It is a real nightmare," said Shehab al-Din Abdalrahman, 31, in a southern district of the capital.

Seven weeks of warfare between the army and Rapid Support Forces have smashed up parts of central Khartoum, threatened to destabilize the wider region, displaced 1.2 million people inside Sudan and sent another 400,000 into neighboring states.

The US and Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended truce talks after a ceasefire they had mediated fell apart, accusing the sides of occupying homes, businesses and hospitals, carrying out air strikes and attacks and executing banned military movements.

Washington imposed sanctions on businesses belonging to the army and RSF and threatened further action "if the parties continue to destroy their country", according to a senior US official.

Sudan's ambassador to Washington, Mohamed Abdallah Idris, said the government and army remained fully committed to the truce pact and any penalties should be "imposed on the party that did not abide by what it signed" - a reference to the RSF.

The two sides have blamed each other for truce violations.

Since the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019 Sudan's government has been headed by a sovereign council under army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan with the RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, as his deputy.

After they went to war on April 15 Burhan said he had dismissed Hemdti from the council, and government departments have remained aligned with the army.

Aid supplies looted

Outside Khartoum, the worst fighting has been in the Darfur region, where a civil war has simmered since 2003, killing around 300,000 people.

More than 100,000 people have fled militia attacks in West Darfur to neighboring Chad since the latest fighting began, and the numbers could double in the next three months, the UN refugee agency said on Thursday.

Truce efforts had been aimed at delivering humanitarian aid to civilians caught in a war that has brought deadly shellfire and shooting, disabled power and water networks, ruined hospitals and hampered food supplies in an already hungry nation.

The UN's World Food Program and its refugee agency UNHCR said continued looting was disrupting their efforts to help Sudanese, calling on all parties to respect humanitarian work.

The WFP said it had recorded losses of more than $60 million since the fighting began. The UNHCR said two of its offices in Khartoum were pillaged and its warehouse in El Obeid was targeted on Thursday.

With the ceasefire talks off, Khartoum residents are bracing for further problems.

"Since yesterday one telecom network has been down. Today another one is down. The power is out but the water has come back. It's like they're alternating forms of torture," said Omer Ibrahim, who lives in a district of Omdurman that has seen little fighting.


Security Council Divided on Future, Role of UN Mission to Sudan

UN special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes. (Reuters)
UN special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes. (Reuters)
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Security Council Divided on Future, Role of UN Mission to Sudan

UN special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes. (Reuters)
UN special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes. (Reuters)

Diplomatic efforts have intensified in New York and other capitals on whether to extend the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITMAS) that expires on Saturday.

Fighting broke out between the Sudanese military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Dagalo, in mid-April. The violence has killed at least 866 civilians, according to a Sudanese doctors group, though the actual toll is likely much higher.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: "In my area of responsibility, I reaffirmed to the Council my full confidence in Volker Perthes as Special Representative of the Secretary-General."

"It is up to the Security Council to decide whether the Security Council supports the continuation of the Mission for another period or whether the Security Council decides that it is time to end it," he added.

His remarks came in response to accusations by Burhan last week that Perthes was being "biased" and spreading "disinformation" in the bloody conflict. He demanded that the envoy be replaced. Guterres said he was “shocked” by the request.

Guterres’ latest statements followed a Security Council closed-door session to discuss Sudan that was called for by the UN chief himself, in a rare move.

Asharq Al-Awsat was informed by diplomats who attended the meeting that Guterres tackled the ongoing international and regional effort to resolve the crises, mainly talks in Jeddah that are brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia.

The members gave diverging views on whether a Security Council stance is needed in response to the recent escalation of violence in Sudan.

Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique, supported by China and Russia, have argued that adopting a stance could create complications at a delicate time.

This reflects the position of Sudan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Al-Harith Idriss al-Harith Mohamed who said last week his country did not want the Security Council involved in his country.

He added that the Council’s involvement may undermine Arican Union efforts to engage positively with the warring parties.

The Council members negotiated a draft resolution to renew the UNITAMS’ mandate, which is due to expire on Saturday.

The UK (the penholder on the file) sought to include in the draft text language that reflects the recent developments in Sudan. However, several other members have apparently opposed adding new language to the text and have been calling for a strict "technical rollover" of UNITAMS’ mandate.

The term "technical rollover" is commonly used by diplomats to describe issuing a concise resolution extending a peace operation’s mandate without altering its core mandate or tasks.

As a result of these divisions, the UK proposed a draft presidential statement addressing the recent updates in Sudan.


Lebanese Opposition Aims to Pressure Berri to Hold Presidential Elections

Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, attends an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2023. (Reuters)
Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, attends an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2023. (Reuters)
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Lebanese Opposition Aims to Pressure Berri to Hold Presidential Elections

Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, attends an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2023. (Reuters)
Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, attends an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 2, 2023. (Reuters)

The Lebanese opposition appears on the verge of reaching an agreement on the nomination of Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund and former minister Jihad Azour as president.

With an agreement in sight, the opposition will then shift its focus on pressuring parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to call the legislature to session to hold the presidential elections as soon as possible.

Berri said months ago that he would only call for an elections session if political parties are in consensus over the names of candidates.

Representatives of the opposition met on Thursday to back Azour’s nomination. The Free Patriotic Movement had expressed its support for his candidacy, in spite of some dissenting voices in the party.

Representatives of the FPM were notably absent from Thursday’s meeting, which included figures from the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb party, Renewal bloc and several Change MPs.

They met to set the “appropriate mechanisms that would yield an agreement on the presidency between them and other blocs” in order to end the vacuum in the country’s top post and save Lebanon from its crisis, read a statement.

The country has been without a president since late October. Eleven elections sessions have been held, but no candidate garnered enough votes to be named winner given the disagreements between the political parties.

Sources from the Lebanese Forces told Asharq Al-Awsat that after the opposition, with the FPM, completes the main phase of agreeing on a candidate, they would shift their focus on pressuring Berri to hold the elections.

“It is now time for Berri to call for an electoral session. The excuses that they have used to impede the polls are no more,” they continued.

“The opposition will put in place a plan to make sure the elections are held, especially since we are convinced that Azour has a high chance of winning against [Marada movement leader] Suleiman Franjieh,” they stated.

Franjieh’s candidacy is backed by the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal movement. They have opposed Azour, saying he would be a “defiant candidate.”

In remarks to local radio, LF MP Fadi Karam revealed the opposition “is holding daily meetings to discuss the way to adopt Azour’s nomination.” The announcement, expected within days, is being coordinated with the FPM so that “we would act as one cohesive team in the presidential battle and to pressure Berri.”

“Berri is aware that it is in the country’s interest to call for an electoral session, significantly since there are two candidates and all parties are now ready to hold the polls,” he added.

Azour can secure more than 65 votes, he predicted.

A candidate needs the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers to make it to the second round of the elections. In the second round, he needs 65 votes from the 128-member legislature to be declared the victor.

LF MP George Okais said Azour was not a “defiant” candidate. The Shiite duo “needs to define what they perceive as defiant,” he added.

The National Moderation bloc, Progressive Socialist Party and several independent MPs have yet to announce their position from Azour’s nomination.


Palestinian Toddler Critically Wounded in West Bank, Israeli Military Says Shooting Unintentional

Israeli soldiers search in the West Bank village of Qafin for the suspected gunmen who shot and killed an Israeli civilian near the entrance to a Jewish settlement of Hermesh, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers search in the West Bank village of Qafin for the suspected gunmen who shot and killed an Israeli civilian near the entrance to a Jewish settlement of Hermesh, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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Palestinian Toddler Critically Wounded in West Bank, Israeli Military Says Shooting Unintentional

Israeli soldiers search in the West Bank village of Qafin for the suspected gunmen who shot and killed an Israeli civilian near the entrance to a Jewish settlement of Hermesh, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Israeli soldiers search in the West Bank village of Qafin for the suspected gunmen who shot and killed an Israeli civilian near the entrance to a Jewish settlement of Hermesh, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

A 3-year-old Palestinian boy was in critical condition at an Israeli hospital Friday morning after being shot by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank. The army opened an investigation into what it said was an unintentional shooting.In a statement, the military said that gunmen opened fire late Thursday toward the West Bank settlement of Neve Tzuf. It said soldiers at a guard post returned fire.Moments later, Israeli medics received reports that a Palestinian man and the child had been badly wounded. The man was rushed to a Palestinian hospital, while the baby, after being resuscitated by Israeli medics, was airlifted to Israel's Sheba Hospital. The hospital said the boy was in critical condition.The military released a grainy video showing what it said were the gunmen firing toward the settlement and said that it was searching for them.But it said the incident was being reviewed, saying “it regrets harm to noncombatants” and that it does “everything in its power to prevent such incidents.”The shooting was the latest bloodshed in a more than yearlong surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. That fighting has picked up since Israel's new far-right government took office in late December.Nearly 120 Palestinians have been killed in the two areas this year, with nearly half of them members of armed groups, according to an Associated Press tally. The military says the number of militants is much higher. But stone-throwing youths and people uninvolved in violence have also been killed.Meanwhile, Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis in those areas have killed at least 21 people.Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians seek these territories for a future state.Some 700,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers these settlements illegal or obstacles to peace.


Lebanon's Berri Says Would Call for Parliament Session Only If there are 'Serious Candidates'

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met Army Commander Joseph Aoun Thursday (Lebanese Parliament)
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met Army Commander Joseph Aoun Thursday (Lebanese Parliament)
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Lebanon's Berri Says Would Call for Parliament Session Only If there are 'Serious Candidates'

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met Army Commander Joseph Aoun Thursday (Lebanese Parliament)
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met Army Commander Joseph Aoun Thursday (Lebanese Parliament)

Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday that he would call for a parliament session to elect a new president only if there were two or more “serious candidates” for the post.

“The doors of the parliament have never and will never be closed in the face of a session to elect a new president if serious candidates come forward for the presidency position”, said Berri.

Pressure from local and foreign sides has been mounting on the Speaker urging him to invite Lebanon’s MPs for a session to elect a head of state, and fill the post vacant since the end of the term of Michel Aoun in October 2022.

Berri added that he does not function under threats. “Threats will bring no benefit mainly with the Speaker”, he said, arguing that rival parties were not serious in presenting their candidates.

The pressure aggravated recently with the opposition and Christian parties choosing the former minister Jihad Azour as their candidate, to face the candidate of the Shiite duo (Amal Movement and Hezbollah) leader of the Marada Movement Sleiman Franjieh.

“Based on the Speaker’s argument, we expect him to immediately call for a session now that the opposition has officially named its candidate. Let the nominee who gets the majority of votes win”, opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity.

Moreover, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf has said earlier this week that the US was considering the possibility of imposing sanctions on some Lebanese officials over the failure to elect a new president.

During a Senate committee hearing on the Middle East, the top US diplomat for the region expressed the Biden Administration’s “enormous frustration” over the current situation in Lebanon.

“The elected representatives of the Lebanese people have failed to do their jobs. The Speaker of the Parliament has failed to hold a session since January to allow members to put candidates forward for the presidency, to vote on them up or down, and to get a choice to elect a president,” according to Leaf.

Opposition MP Mark Daou said in a tweet that “the Parliament Speaker is deliberately obstructing the election of a president by refraining from calling the MPs to a session, building his judgments on unconstitutional “fatwas” only to serve his own interests and to impose the candidate of the duo”.

 


Report: Iran Plans to Escalate Attacks Against US in Syria

Al-Tanf base in Syria. Reuters file photo
Al-Tanf base in Syria. Reuters file photo
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Report: Iran Plans to Escalate Attacks Against US in Syria

Al-Tanf base in Syria. Reuters file photo
Al-Tanf base in Syria. Reuters file photo

Iran is arming militants in Syria for a new phase of lethal attacks against US troops in the country, while also working with Russia on a broader strategy to drive Americans from the region, intelligence officials and leaked classified documents say.

Iran and its allies are building and training forces to use more powerful armor-piercing roadside bombs intended specifically to target US military vehicles and kill US personnel, according to classified intelligence reports obtained by The Washington Post. Such attacks would constitute an escalation of Iran’s long-running campaign of using proxy militias to launch rocket and drone strikes on US forces in Syria.

Drone attacks have wounded six US service members and killed a Defense Department contractor, and the new explosive devices could add to the toll of US casualties, risking a wider military confrontation with Iran, current and former intelligence analysts and weapons experts say. The same type of weapon, called an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, was used by pro-Iranian insurgents in lethal attacks against American military convoys during the US occupation of Iraq.

Officials with Iran’s elite Quds Force unit directed and oversaw testing of one of the explosives, which reportedly sliced through a tank’s armored plating in a trial run conducted in late January in Dumayr, east of Damascus, the Syrian capital, according to one of the intelligence reports. The document, part of the trove of classified materials leaked on the messaging platform Discord, appears to be based on intercepted communications by Syrian and Lebanese militants allied to Iran. One apparent attempt to use such devices against US forces was apparently thwarted in late February when three bombs were seized by US-allied Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, a second document states.

“There has been a sea change in their risk-acceptance in killing Americans in Syria,” said Michael Knights, an expert on Iranian-backed militia groups and a founder of the website Militia Spotlight. Noting the devastating toll exacted by EFP bombs during the Iraq War, he added: “This will definitely kill people. And they’re thinking very hard about how to do it.”

Another document in the trove describes a new and broader effort by Moscow, Damascus and Tehran to oust the United States from Syria, a long-sought goal that could allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reclaim eastern provinces now controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces. The past three US administrations have maintained a small contingent of US troops in Syria — about 900 at any given time, augmented by hundreds more contractors — to prevent a resurgence by ISIS militants in the country, thwart Iranian and Russian ambitions, and provide leverage for other strategic objectives.


Lebanon Military Judge Charges 5 Hezbollah Members for Peacekeeper's Death

FILE - Lebanese soldiers stand behind a damaged vehicle after a UN peacekeepers convoy came under fire in the Al-Aqbiya village, south Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)
FILE - Lebanese soldiers stand behind a damaged vehicle after a UN peacekeepers convoy came under fire in the Al-Aqbiya village, south Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)
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Lebanon Military Judge Charges 5 Hezbollah Members for Peacekeeper's Death

FILE - Lebanese soldiers stand behind a damaged vehicle after a UN peacekeepers convoy came under fire in the Al-Aqbiya village, south Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)
FILE - Lebanese soldiers stand behind a damaged vehicle after a UN peacekeepers convoy came under fire in the Al-Aqbiya village, south Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

Lebanon's military tribunal on Thursday charged five men with the killing of an Irish UN peacekeeper in December, a senior judicial official said. The official alleged all five are linked with Hezbollah.

The indictment of Judge Fadi Sawan followed a half-year probe after an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of Al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon. The shooting resulted in the death of Pvt. Seán Rooney, 24, of Newtown Cunningham, Ireland, and seriously wounded Pvt. Shane Kearney, 22. The wounded peacekeeper was medically evacuated to Ireland. Two other Irish soldiers sustained light injuries.

The 30-page indictment includes evidence from bystanders’ testimonies, as well as audio recordings and video footage from surveillance cameras, the Lebanese official said. In some of the recordings of the confrontation, the gunmen reportedly could be heard telling the peacekeepers that they are from Hezbollah and were using walkie-talkies to communicate.

Hezbollah has denied any role in the killing.

One of five indicted, Mohamad Ayyad, is currently in custody of Lebanese authorities. The four others facing charges - Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman, and Mustafa Salman - are at large.

On the fatal night, Rooney and several other Irish soldiers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), were on their way from their base in the south to the Beirut airport. Two UN vehicles apparently took a detour through Al-Aqbiya, which is not part of the area under the peacekeepers’ mandate.

Initial reports said angry residents confronted the peacekeepers, but the indictment concludes that the shooting was a targeted attack. The UN peacekeeper vehicle reportedly took a wrong turn and was surrounded by vehicles and armed men as they tried to make their way back to the main road.

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the indictment was an “important step towards justice”.

“Attacks on men and women serving the cause of peace are serious crimes and can never be tolerated,” Tenenti told the AP. “We look forward to justice for Private Rooney, his injured colleagues, and their families.”


US Imposes Sanctions Against Those Perpetuating Violence in Sudan

Bullet holes riddle the wall of a building at the Souk Sitta (Market Six) in the south of Khartoum on June 1, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Bullet holes riddle the wall of a building at the Souk Sitta (Market Six) in the south of Khartoum on June 1, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
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US Imposes Sanctions Against Those Perpetuating Violence in Sudan

Bullet holes riddle the wall of a building at the Souk Sitta (Market Six) in the south of Khartoum on June 1, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Bullet holes riddle the wall of a building at the Souk Sitta (Market Six) in the south of Khartoum on June 1, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on companies it accused of fueling the conflict in Sudan.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement it targeted two companies affiliated with Sudan's army and two companies affiliated with the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), accusing them of generating revenue from the conflict and contributing to the fighting.

“Through sanctions, we are cutting off key financial flows to both the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces, depriving them of resources needed to pay soldiers, rearm, resupply, and wage war in Sudan,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in the statement.

“The United States stands on the side of civilians against those who perpetuate violence towards the people of Sudan.”

Saudi Arabia and the United States have been leading efforts to try to secure an effective ceasefire in Sudan.

Thursday's action marks the first punitive measures imposed under an executive order signed by US President Joe Biden in May that paved the way for new Sudan-related sanctions amid the fighting.

The conflict, which broke out on April 15, has killed hundreds, displaced more than 1.2 million people inside Sudan and driven 400,000 others across borders to neighboring states, the United Nations says.

Washington targeted Algunade, which it said is a Sudanese holding company controlled by RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and his brother; Tradive General Trading L.L.C., a front company controlled by RSF Major Algoney Hamdan Dagalo, another brother; Sudan's largest defense enterprise Defense Industries System; and arms company Sudan Master Technology.

Washington also issued an updated business advisory to highlight growing risks to US business and individuals exacerbated by the conflict, including trade in gold from a conflict-affected area, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.

He added that visa restrictions were imposed on individuals in Sudan, including officials from both the army and RSF and leaders from the former Omar al-Bashir government.

"The ongoing fighting in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces is a tragedy that has already stolen far too many lives - it must end," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday.

"These measures are intended to hold accountable those responsible for undermining the peace, security, and stability of Sudan."

Sudan's army suspended talks with the rival paramilitary force on Wednesday over a ceasefire and aid access, raising fears the six-week-old conflict will push Africa's third largest nation deeper into a humanitarian crisis.