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Europe wants to impose new sanctions on Russia, after Aleppo bombings

October 20, 2016
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Furious over Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo, European leaders warned the Kremlin on Thursday that it could face new sanctions if it maintains its offensive against the besieged rebel-held part of the Syrian city.

The sharp new rhetoric was a substantial departure for Europe’s 28 nations, which have long been focused on when they can dial back existing sanctions on Russia, not ramp them up. Instead, Russian actions in recent weeks have upended the conversation. From the Russian-backed pummeling of Aleppo to the shipment of nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, the recent steps have galvanized Western anger and plunged relations to fresh depths. The warnings came as leaders gathered in Brussels for a summit in part to discuss relations with Russia.

Europe’s tough stance marks a victory for Washington, which has struggled to maintain European unity on sanctions and has long taken a harder position on Russia than its partners across the Atlantic. The stand also reflects the toll of Russia’s actions in Syria, where it has partnered with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a punishing campaign that has made little distinction between combatant and civilian.

“What is happening in Aleppo with Russian support is completely inhuman,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday as she entered the meeting in Brussels. A day earlier, she and French President François Hollande met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Berlin to discuss Ukraine and Syria. Both she and Hollande blasted Russian actions in Syria and said they would push for a stiff European response. They have called for a full cease-fire in Syria along with an end to the offensive on Aleppo.

Russia said earlier this week that it would temporarily halt airstrikes on Thursday. While the European leaders were meeting Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that the pause would be extended by a day.

But that did little to assuage the European anger.

“The ambition of turning Aleppo into a new Grozny, this is absolutely unacceptable,” said Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas as he arrived at the summit. Russian forces used scorched-earth tactics against the Chechen capital of Grozny in a bitter domestic offensive early in Putin’s tenure.

Because Europe needs unanimous agreement from all 28 members to impose additional sanctions, E.U. diplomats were skeptical Thursday that there was sufficient support to launch new measures related to Syria. But they said that could change if outrage increases over Russia’s conduct. Current sanctions related to Ukraine are set to expire in December, but there is little question now that they will be extended.

“We could have been looking forward to a different discussion if it weren’t for what is happening in Syria,” a senior E.U. diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the closed-door talks. “The Russians, rather than de-escalating the situation, are sadly escalating it.”

Some E.U. nations, including Italy, Spain and Hungary, have favored ending the sanctions. Last month, Vice President Biden said that “at least five countries right now . . . ‘want out’ ” of the sanctions tied to Ukraine, without specifying which countries he was referring to.

But in the intervening weeks, the situation has changed significantly. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who called for the discussion about Russia, was just feted at a White House state dinner and has dialed back his efforts to find new ways to engage with Russia. Hollande called off a planned visit to Paris by Putin and, after months of appearing eager to scale back sanctions, has recast himself as a hawk on Russia.

“I come to this council to convince Europeans that we have to put all the pressure necessary for the truce to be extended,” Hollande said as he arrived at the summit. 

That meant that the dinnertime talk on Russia turned into a discussion of what further measures might be possible. Several leaders planned to outline their assessments of how the Kremlin was interfering with their political systems by targeting their media markets with disinformation and fueling far-right, Euroskeptic parties with money and logistical support.

The discussion echoed one in the United States, where intelligence agencies blame Russia for hacking the computer systems of Democratic officials in an apparent bid to influence the presidential election.

US says that North Korea had failed missile launch

October 20, 2016
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North Korea attempted to launch another intermediate-range ballistic missile early Thursday morning local time, but the U.S. military reported that the launch failed, the second failure in the past five days.

The launch came hours before the last presidential debate and while South Korea's top diplomat and defense minister were in Washington for talks with their American counterparts. North Korea launched the missile, believed to be a Musudan intermediate-range missile, near the northwestern c...

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Iraq: American soldier killed by IED in Baghdad

October 20, 2016

An American soldier died on Thursday from wounds sustained in a bombing in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.

It was the first U.S. service member to die from fighting in Iraq since the launch of a massive operation to retake the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-held city of Mosul earlier this week. More than 100 U.S. special operations forces are embedded with Iraqi units, and hundreds more are playing a support role in staging bases.

The statement did not say whether the service mem...

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Russia wants to send election observers to monitor US election

October 20, 2016
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, right, and Republican candidate Donald Trump, left, clashed over Russia's role in the U.S. election at the final Presidential Debate at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Oct. 19 2016.

In an apparent move to embarrass the United States over Donald Trump's claims of a "rigged" presidential election, Russia sought to send monitors to U.S. polling stations for the Nov. 8 vote, Russian media revealed Thursday.

The bid was sharply rebuffed by the State Department, and one state election official threatened criminal action if Russian monitors showed up, according to state-controlled Izvestia daily and broadcaster RT.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner called the Russian e...

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Russian and Syrian forces to observe "humanitarian pause" in Aleppo

October 18, 2016
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Russian and Syrian forces will halt hostilities for eight hours in the eastern districts of Aleppo, Russia's military announced on Monday, a day on which opposition activists said their airstrikes killed at least 36 people, including several children, in and around the divided city.

The two militaries will observe a "humanitarian pause" between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Oct. 20 to allow civilians and militants safe passage out of the city, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of Russia's general staff said in ...

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Yemen: 72-hour ceasefire to start Wednesday

October 18, 2016
A 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen is due to start on Wednesday night, the U.N. envoy for Yemen said on Monday after he received commitments from all of the country's warring factions.

U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the cessation of hostilities would begin at 2359 local time (2059 GMT) on Wednesday and could be renewed after the initial three-day period, the United Nations said in statement.

"The Special Envoy welcomes the restoration of the Cessation of Hostilities, which...

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UNESCO chief received "death threats" over Temple Mount

October 18, 2016
Irina Bokova said, "nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space"

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova has received "death threats" after expressing reservations about Arab-backed resolutions on the holy sites in Jerusalem, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations organisation said on Monday.

"The director general has received death threats and her protection has had to be reinforced," Carmel Shama Cohen said on Israeli public radio.

"These threats were made after her criticism" of two resolutions adopted last week at committee stage ahead of a final vote, Cohen said, ...

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Morocco Captures 6 Algerian Military Officers in Guergarat after foiled separatist plan

October 17, 2016

The Royal Armed Forces conducted an operation that foiled an Algerian plan to establish a polisario separatist military presence in the southernmost tip of the Sahara, Guergarat, capturing 6 Algerian military officers and several polisario fighters.

The news is relayed by Assabah daily which says that the Moroccan Armed Forces (known by the French acronym FAR) launched a combing operation after noticing suspicious military movements in the area of Guergarat.

The operation led to the arrest of s...

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Iraq: Battle to retake Mosul from ISIS sparks fears of humanitarian crisis

October 17, 2016
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Image credit: The Daily Beast

The battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from jihadists could unleash a massive humanitarian crisis, potentially pushing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes as winter sets in.
Mosul, the country's second city, was seized by the Islamic State group in 2014, and is now the last major population centre in Iraq still held by the jihadists, who have lost much of the territory they seized two years ago.

The city has a civilian population that numbers in the hund...

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U.S., Britain may impose new sanctions on Russia and Syria

October 17, 2016
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With military options all but eliminated, the United States and Britain on Sunday said they were considering new sanctions to pressure the Syrian and Russian governments to halt an offensive against rebel-held parts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

While the close allies said diplomacy was their primary focus, the tone was tougher than Saturday’s message from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after he launched a new diplomatic effort to resolve the more than 5-year civil war in Syria.

But ...

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