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Funeral to be held for US student imprisoned by North Korea

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Funeral to be held for US student imprisoned by North Korea

Posted on 22 June 2017 by GGS News

Illinois : Otto Warmbier, the US college student imprisoned for more than a year by North Korea and sent back home in a coma that proved fatal, will be buried Thursday in his home state of Ohio.

Sentenced to hard labor for stealing a political poster from a North Korean hotel, the 22-year-old Warmbier was medically evacuated in a coma last week after nearly 18 months in captivity.

Suffering from severe brain damage, he died Monday in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. President Donald Trump slammed Warmbier`s detention and eventual death as “a total disgrace.”

Warmbier`s funeral will be held at Wyoming High School — located in the city of Wyoming, a suburb of Cincinnati — from which he graduated in 2013. He will then be buried in Cincinnati`s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Blue and white ribbons, the colors of the high school, were still tied to trees in the city of about 8,000 to show of support for Warmbier`s family after Otto`s recent return.

Warmbier`s father Fred earlier told reporters that his son was lured to North Korea, as other US tourists have been, by tour groups run out of China.

“Otto`s a young, thrill-seeking, great kid who was going to be in that part of the world for a college experience and said, `Hey, I`ve heard some friends who have done this. I would like to do this.` So, we agreed to let him do that,” Fred Warmbier said.

“They lure Americans, and then they take them hostage and then they do things to them, and that`s what happened to my son,” he added.

Warmbier was arrested as he was about to leave North Korea and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. Soon after his family heard nothing more about his fate

Then, just before he was to be medically evacuated, the North Korean regime revealed that Warmbier had been in a coma for much of his imprisonment. Warmbier died Monday of severe brain damage, which doctors said was likely due to cardiopulmonary arrest.

Medical tests did not show what precipitated his injuries, but also found no evidence of the botulism infection that North Korea claimed was the cause of his coma.
The Hamilton County Coroner`s office did not perform an autopsy at the request of the Warmbier family.

Warmbier`s friends and relatives described him as a bright young man beloved in his community.

“He just lived life with such a zest and a passion that I haven`t really ever experienced in somebody before,” Warmbier`s childhood friend Chris Colloton told the Cincinnati Inquirer newspaper.

“He was the best guy I knew. I still know him – I`m just going to miss him so much,” the 22-year-old said.

In a statement announcing his death, Warmbier`s family described him as “a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds.”

“You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family,” the statement said.

Following Warmbier`s death, the tour group that arranged his trip said it would no longer take Americans to North Korea.

“Now, the assessment of risk for Americans visiting North Korea has become too high,” said the China-based Young Pioneer Tours.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that Washington holds North Korea “accountable” for Warmbier`s fate, and demanded the release of three other Americans held by the reclusive regime.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that US patience with Pyongyang is running out.

“To see a young man go over there healthy and, (after) a minor act of mischief, come home dead basically… this goes beyond any kind of understanding of law and order, of humanity, of responsibility towards any human being,” Mattis said.


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British PM Theresa May to confront Brexit worries at EU summit

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British PM Theresa May to confront Brexit worries at EU summit

Posted on 22 June 2017 by GGS News

Brussels : Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May will try on Thursday to convince European leaders she can still push through Brexit despite being badly weakened by an election bet that turned sour.

The two-day Brussels summit marks the debut of French President Emmanuel Macron, the figurehead of a renewed confidence among the remaining 27 states that Britain’s withdrawal can be a fresh start.

But talks on issues including post-Brexit defence plans risk being overshadowed by concerns that a disastrous election has left May so enfeebled that Brexit negotiations will be hampered.

“There is an enormous insecurity among the Europeans: how long will she last? Has she got the majority to deliver?” a senior EU official said.

In Brussels, security has been stepped up after Tuesday’s bombing at one of the city’s main rail stations by an Islamic State sympathiser, following attacks in Britain and France.

Over dinner, May is expected to fill in some of the blanks for the other EU leaders on Brexit.

It will be their first meeting since her Conservative party unexpectedly lost its majority in a June 8 election, leaving her in charge of a so-called “zombie government”.

Britain’s shock referendum vote to leave the EU was a year ago on Friday, and the country remains in a dark national mood after a string of terror attacks and a deadly tower block blaze.

“The PM will give an update to the other member states on the UK’s Brexit plans following the beginning of the negotiations this week,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

During the dinner May will “outline some principles of the UK’s paper on citizens rights which will be published at the beginning of next week,” the spokesman said.

The EU has made a priority of the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain, plus a million Britons resident in Europe.

At the first formal Brexit negotiations Monday, Britain accepted the EU’s timetable that the exit bill, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland border be settled before its request for a free trade deal be considered.

EU diplomatic sources said May will try to keep it simple, with no discussion.

“We believe that the warming-up round of last Monday did create a positive atmosphere … I don’t think that May will want to shatter that understanding,” said one EU diplomatic source, who asked not to named.

After her comments, May will leave the room for the remaining 27 EU member states to discuss what she has told them, and the future relocation of key EU agencies from London.

EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc appeared to have survived the worst of the anti-EU sentiment which drove Britain’s shock vote to leave exactly a year to the day on Friday.

“The current developments on the continent seem to indicate that we are slowly turning the corner,” the former Polish premier wrote in his invitation letter.


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Donald Trump’s new idea — a ‘solar wall’ on Mexican border

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Donald Trump’s new idea — a ‘solar wall’ on Mexican border

Posted on 22 June 2017 by GGS News

Washington : US President Donald Trump pitched a new concept to his supporters for the wall he intends to erect on the Mexican border: cover it with solar panels — and use the energy to cover construction costs.

“Yes, we will build a wall,” he told a crowd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “We have to stop the drugs from flowing in.”

“I will give you an idea that nobody has heard about yet,” he said. “The southern border. Lots of sun, lots of heat. We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself.”

“And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that’s good. Right?” quipped the president, whose initial pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall has met with stiff resistance from America’s southern neighbor.

“Think of it, the higher it goes, the more valuable it is,” he enthused.

“Pretty good imagination, right? My idea!”

The US administration put out a call for proposals several months ago for the construction of the border wall, one of which — submitted by a Las Vegas businessman named Tom Gleason — involved using solar panels.

The Trump administration has yet to make serious headway on the president’s emblematic but hugely costly campaign pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Under pressure from Democrats, the US Congress has so far refused to commit funding to the project, agreeing only to finance maintenance on existing parts of the border fence.

The real funding battle will play out starting in October, when 2018 budget negotiations begin in earnest.


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At least 20 dead, 50 hurt as car bomb hits bank in south Afghanistan

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At least 20 dead, 50 hurt as car bomb hits bank in south Afghanistan

Posted on 22 June 2017 by GGS News

Lashkar Gah (Afghanistan) : A car bomb exploded outside a bank in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Thursday, killing and injuring dozens of civilians and members of the security forces waiting to collect their pay, officials said.Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said at least 20 persons had been killed and more than 50 injured, including members of the police and army, civilians and staff of the New Kabul Bank branch where the attack took place.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but insurgent groups, including the Taliban and Islamic State have in the past targeted banks where police, soldiers and other government employees collect their pay.

Last month, at least three people were killed and many wounded in an attack on a bank in the eastern city of Gardez.

Reuters |

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Thane farmers’ protest turns violent; vehicles torched, 4 cops injured

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Thane farmers’ protest turns violent; vehicles torched, 4 cops injured

Posted on 22 June 2017 by GGS News

Thane : Farmers protesting land acquisition for a proposed airport at Nevali set vehicles on fire and clashed with police on Thursday, leaving four policemen injured.The agitated farmers also blocked a busy road in the area by throwing burning tyres on it, a police official said.

The state government had some years back started acquiring land in the area to set up the proposed airport which the farmers have been opposing.

However, their protest turned violent today as the farmers started agitating simultaneously at several places near Nevali, located about 50 km away from adjoining Mumbai.

The angry protesters also clashed with the police and pelted security personnel with stones when they tried to control the situation, the police official said.

Three police officers and a constable sustained injuries in the clash, he said.

Policemen also fired plastic bullets at the protesters to disperse them, the police said.

The protesters blocked the Kalyan-Haji Malang road in the area by throwing burning tyres and wooden blocks on it.

They also torched a police van, three trucks, two bikes and a tempo in the area, the official said.

Senior police and revenue officials rushed to the spot to control the situation.

The aggrieved farmers had earlier this month approached the Bombay High Court with a bunch of petitions challenging acquisition of over 1,600 acre land by the Ministry of Defence for an airport requisitioned during World War-II.

According to the petitions, the land was requisitioned by the government through an order passed by the then Thane collector in February 1943, under the Defence of India Rules.

The petitions have challenged the validity of the requisition order.


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Trump administration may expand drone strikes, curb aids to crack down on Pakistan-based militants

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Trump administration may expand drone strikes, curb aids to crack down on Pakistan-based militants

Posted on 20 June 2017 by GGS News

Washington : President Donald Trump`s administration appears ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on Pakistan-based militants launching attacks in neighboring Afghanistan, US officials tell Reuters.

Potential Trump administration responses being discussed include expanding US drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid to Pakistan and perhaps eventually downgrading Pakistan`s status as a major non-NATO ally, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some US officials, however, are skeptical of the prospects for success, arguing that years of previous US efforts to curb Pakistan`s support for militant groups have failed, and that already strengthening US ties to India, Pakistan`s arch-enemy, undermine chances of a breakthrough with Islamabad.

US officials say they seek greater cooperation with Pakistan, not a rupture in ties, once the administration finishes a regional review of the strategy guiding the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Precise actions have yet to be decided.

The White House and Pentagon declined to comment on the review before its completion. Pakistan`s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The United States and Pakistan continue to partner on a range of national security issues,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said.

But the discussions alone suggest a shift toward a more assertive approach to address safe havens in Pakistan that have been blamed for in part helping turn Afghanistan`s war into an intractable conflict.

Experts on America`s longest war argue that militant safe havens in Pakistan have allowed Taliban-linked insurgents a place to plot deadly strikes in Afghanistan and regroup after ground offensives.

Although long mindful of Pakistan, the Trump administration in recent weeks has put more emphasis on the relationship with Islamabad in discussions as it hammers out a the regional strategy to be presented to Trump by mid-July, nearly six months after he took office, one official said.

“We`ve never really fully articulated what our strategy towards Pakistan is. The strategy will more clearly say what we want from Pakistan specifically,” the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other US officials warn of divisions within the government about the right approach and question whether any mix of carrots and sticks can get Islamabad to change its behavior. At the end of the day, Washington needs a partner, even if an imperfect one, in nuclear-armed Pakistan, they say.

The United States is again poised to deploy thousands more troops in Afghanistan, an acknowledgment that US-backed forces are not winning and Taliban militants are resurgent.

Without more pressure on militants within Pakistan who target Afghanistan, experts say additional US troop deployments will fail to meet their ultimate objective: to pressure the Taliban to eventually negotiate peace.

“I believe there will be a much harder US line on Pakistan going forward than there has been in the past,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, told Reuters, without citing specific measures under review.

Kabul has long been critical of Pakistan`s role in Afghanistan.

Pakistan fiercely denies allowing any militants safe haven on its territory. It bristles at US claims that Pakistan`s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, has ties to Haqqani network militants blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan.

“What Pakistan says is that we are already doing a lot and that our plate is already full,” a senior Pakistani government source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source doubted the Trump administration would press too hard, saying: “They don’t want to push Pakistan to abandon their war against terrorism.”

Pakistani officials point towards the toll militancy has taken on the country. Since 2003, almost 22,000 civilians and nearly 7,000 Pakistani security forces have been killed as a result of militancy, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks violence.

Experts say Pakistan`s policy towards Afghanistan is also driven in part by fears that India will gain influence in Afghanistan.

Is Pakistan ally?
Nuclear-armed Pakistan won the status as a major non-NATO ally in 2004 from the George Bush administration, in what was at the time seen in part as recognition of its importance in the US battle against al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.

The status is mainly symbolic, allowing limited benefits such as giving Pakistan faster access to surplus US military hardware.

Some US officials and experts on the region scoff at the title.

“Pakistan is not an ally. It’s not North Korea or Iran. But it’s not an ally,” said Bruce Riedel, a Pakistan expert at the Brookings Institution.

But yanking the title would be seen by Pakistan as a major blow.

“The Pakistanis would take that very seriously because it would be a slap at their honor,” said a former US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, co-authored a report with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan`s former ambassador to Washington, in which they recommended the Trump administration warn Pakistan the status could be revoked in six months.

“Thinking of Pakistan as an ally will continue to create problems for the next administration as it did for the last one,” said the February report.

It was unclear how seriously the Trump administration was considering the proposal.

The growing danger to Afghanistan from suspected Pakistan-based militants was underscored by a devastating May 31 truck bomb that killed more than 80 people and wounded 460 in Afghanistan`s capital, Kabul.

Afghanistan`s main intelligence agency said the attack – one of the deadliest in memory in Kabul – had been carried out by the Haqqani network with assistance from Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Washington believes the strikes appeared to be the work of the Haqqani network, US officials told Reuters.

US frustration over the Haqqani`s presence in Pakistan has been building for years. The United States designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization in 2012. US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then the top US military officer, told Congress in 2011 that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of the ISI.

The potential US pivot to a more assertive approach would be sharply different than the approach taken at the start of the Obama administration, when US officials sought to court Pakistani leaders, including Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

David Sedney, who served as Obama`s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia from 2009 to 2013, said the attempt to turn Islamabad into a strategic partner was a “disaster.”

“It didn`t affect Pakistan`s behavior one bit. In fact, I would argue it made Pakistan`s behavior worse,” Sedney said.

More drones, Cash cut-off
Pakistan has received more than USD 33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in so-called Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations.

It is an important form of foreign currency for the nuclear-armed country and one that is getting particularly close scrutiny during the Trump administration review.

Last year, the Pentagon decided not to pay Pakistan USD 300 million in CSF funding after then-US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter declined to sign authorization that Pakistan was taking adequate action against the Haqqani network.

US officials said the Trump administration was discussing withholding at least some assistance to Pakistan.

Curtis` report also singled out the aid as a target.

But US aid cuts could cede even more influence to China, which already has committed nearly USD 60 billion in investments in Pakistan.

Another option under review is broadening a drone campaign to penetrate deeper into Pakistan to target Haqqani fighters and other militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, US officials and a Pakistan expert said.

“Now the Americans (will be) saying, you aren`t taking out our enemies, so therefore we are taking them out ourselves,” the Pakistan expert, who declined to be identified, said.

Pakistan`s army chief of staff last week criticised “unilateral actions” such as drone strikes as “counterproductive and against (the) spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan”.

Reuters |

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UK mosque attack suspect cursed Muslims day before incident

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UK mosque attack suspect cursed Muslims day before incident

Posted on 20 June 2017 by GGS News

London : A 47-year-old man arrested after a terror attack near a London mosque had been kicked out of a pub ‘for cursing Muslims’ just a day before the incident, a media report said.

Father-of-four Darren Osborne was arrested by police after a van ploughed into pedestrians outside the Mosque on Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park, North London.
One person was killed and 11 others injured in the attack.

The victims were all Muslims and the incident was declared a terror attack on the Muslim population. Witnesses said the driver shouted: I want to kill all Muslims, before onlookers pinned him to the ground.

Shocked neighbours said Osborne had recently been kicked out by partner Sarah Andrews ? and was forced to live in a tent.

Others claim that he was ejected from the town’s Hollybush pub on Saturday night for drunkenly cursing Muslims.

“He got chucked out as he was so drunk,” The Sun quoted a regular visitor at the pub as saying.

“He was cursing Muslims and saying he would do some damage,” he said.

However, his mother Christine said her son was not a terrorist and had never shown any hatred towards Muslims.

“This is every mother’s worst nightmare,” she said.
Christine said she screamed in horror after spotting her son in TV footage of the attack.

“As a mum my heart goes out to everyone in Finsbury Park,” she said.

Two Muslim neighbours of Osborne said he had never showed any animosity towards them. Mum-of-six Khadijah Sherazi, a British Islamic convert, moved next door to Osborne six months ago.

“This is a complete shock, I thought he was a normal neighbour, laughing and joking. He fixed my leaky tap the other day,” she said.

“He seemed like a good dad, he takes the kids to school and back every day and walks the dogs, she said.
Saleem Naema, who is from Iraq, lives on the same road.

He said: “I couldn?t believe when I realised it was him who was accused.

“We’d say hello everyday when dropping the kids off at school and he never had a problem with me at all. I’m a Muslim and he was never nasty or racist towards me,” he said.


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North Korea tour firms mull ban on Americans after Otto Warmbier death

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North Korea tour firms mull ban on Americans after Otto Warmbier death

Posted on 20 June 2017 by GGS News

Beijing : The death of US student Otto Warmbier following his incarceration in North Korea has shaken tour companies catering to thrill seekers, with several reconsidering whether to take Americans to the reclusive state.

Warmbier, 22, died Monday after being medically evacuated to the United States last week suffering from severe brain damage, with US President Donald Trump blaming Pyongyang`s “brutal regime” for his plight.

Young Pioneer Tours, the China-based travel agency that took Warmbier to North Korea, said in a Facebook post that it would no longer allow US citizens on its trips.
Three other Western travel companies also issued statements saying they were reviewing whether to take Americans on future North Korean tours.

“We have been struggling to process the result,” said Young Pioneer Tours, which advertises the North as “probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit”.

The University of Virginia student was arrested at the airport as he was leaving Pyongyang in January last year and sentenced at a show trial to 15 years of hard labour for stealing a political poster from a hotel.

“There had not been any previous detainment in North Korea that has ended with such tragic finality,” the company said.

The agency, founded in 2008 by a British expat, came under fire after Warmbier was flown home in a coma following a flurry of secret diplomatic negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

“They advertise it`s the safest trip ever and, you know, it`s the one your mother wouldn`t want you to go on. But what they do is they provide fodder for the North Koreans and my son happened to become fodder for the North Koreans,” his father Fred Warmbier said last week.

Tourists wanting to travel to the North must go with a tour company. Americans are required to fly to Pyongyang from Beijing, while other nationalities are allowed to go by train. But the US State Department strongly warns Americans against travelling there.Adam Pitt, a Briton who travelled with Young Pioneer Tours to North Korea in 2013, told AFP he was given “very little warning” about the potential risks of going to the North.

“It became apparent very early on in the trip that the culture was very much what you`d expect to find on a binge-drinking destination in the Mediterranean,” said Pitt, highlighting “lewd jokes” and “all-night drinking” by members of his group.

But the company, which promises to take adventurous travellers to destinations such as Chernobyl and Iran for “as cheap as possible”, has a five-star rating on TripAdvisor and several posts on Facebook praised it.

Emails and calls to Young Pioneer Tours` office in the central city of Xian and mobile numbers went unanswered. Several thousand international tourists are thought to travel to North Korea every year, as well as tens of thousands of Chinese travellers.

Young Pioneer is one of a handful of firms that cater to the international market, offering activities including scuba diving and cycling in one of the world`s most impoverished countries.

China-based Koryo Tours, which has been going to North Korea since 1993 and takes about 2,000 tourists a year, said the “devastating tragedy” had prompted it to reconsider taking US citizens to the North.

UK-based Lupine Travel managing director Dylan Harris told AFP that the company which takes in 600 travellers annually was also reconsidering whether to cater to Americans, “but for all other nationalities there will be no change”.

Uri Tours, which is based in the United States and has an office in Shanghai, said it was “reviewing” its position.

The North claimed Warmbier fell into a coma soon after he was sentenced last year.

Medical tests carried out in the United States dispute North Korea`s claim that he had contracted botulism but the cause of his brain injury remain unclear.

Three more US citizens are currently being held by the North. Two were teachers at a Pyongyang university funded by overseas Christian groups, and the third is a Korean-American pastor who was accused of espionage for the South.


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Russia has no confirmation of IS leader Baghdadi’s death: Report

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Russia has no confirmation of IS leader Baghdadi’s death: Report

Posted on 20 June 2017 by GGS News

Moscow : Russia said on Tuesday it could not confirm that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in an air strike in Syria last month, the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying.

Moscow said on Friday its forces may have killed the secretive Islamic State leader, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials were sceptical.

Reuters |

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US shoots down Syria warplane that ‘hit allies’

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US shoots down Syria warplane that ‘hit allies’

Posted on 19 June 2017 by GGS News

Beirut : An American fighter jet has for the first time downed a Syrian warplane that Washington accused of attacking US-backed fighters, in a new escalation between the United States and regime forces.

The incident further complicates the country’s six-year war and comes as a US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to oust the Islamic State group from its Syrian bastion Raqa.

Government ally Iran also yesterday launched missiles from its territory against alleged IS positions in eastern Syria for the first time, in response to an IS-claimed attack in Tehran.
Analysts say neither Washington nor President Bashar al- Assad’s regime appear to be seeking further confrontation, but warn that the risks are high in Syria’s increasingly crowded battlefields.

The Syrian jet was shot down yesterday evening after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling with US support against IS, in an area close to Raqa.

The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 around 7:00 pm as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.
The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group.”
It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

Regime ally Moscow also condemned the downing of the Syrian plane, with deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov saying: “This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law… What is this if not an act of aggression?”

The incident was the latest skirmish between the US-led coalition and regime forces in the increasingly tense and crowded space in Syria’s north and east.

The coalition has for months backed SDF forces in their bid to capture Raqa, an operation in which the regime has not been involved.

The SDF entered Raqa for the first time earlier this month and now holds four neighbourhoods in the east and west of the city.

Damascus has instead turned its focus further east, to the largely IS-held oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, where government forces are besieged in part of the provincial capital. It is advancing towards the region on three fronts, south of Raqa, through the Badia desert region in central Syria, and along Syria’s eastern border.


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