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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is “shocked” after Hungarian riot police used tear gas and water cannon against refugees at Serbian border.

According to Ban Ki-moon, such treatment of asylum seekers was “unacceptable”.

Hundreds of refugees were involved in clashes at the Hungary-Serbia border on September 16, trying to breach a razor-wire fence.

More than 5,000 refugees have entered Croatia so far – avoiding Hungary – police say, and another 7,266 entered Germany on September 16.

German police said this was more than double the number that crossed the previous day, adding that most were picked up on the border with Austria.

Germany is the final goal of many refugees, as the EU remains divided over how to deal with the crisis.

Hungary defended its action, saying that 20 police officers were injured as refugees tried to break through a gate, and a spokesman accused migrants of using children as “human shields”.

At least two refugees were also injured, Hungarian and Serbian officials said.Hungary police fire at refugees

Hungary closed its entire border with Serbia on September 15 after making it illegal to enter the country or damage the border fence. The Hungarian courts have started fast-track trials of arrested refugees.

More than 200,000 people have already crossed into Hungary this year to enter the EU’s Schengen zone, which normally allows people to travel between member countries without restrictions.

Many are now heading for the Croatian border. Croatian police said 5,650 had crossed into the country.

Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told national TV that the police were currently in control of the situation but if refugees continued to arrive in large numbers the authorities would have to think about taking a different approach.

On September 16, the Croatian officials said the country would allow migrants to travel to northern Europe.

Several hundred left the border by train, but thousands more have gathered to wait for further trains.

On September 16, there were chaotic scenes near the town of Horgos, with fires burning and police vehicles and ambulances arriving on the Serbian side of the border, across from massed ranks of riot police on the other side.

Some refugees threw missiles, including stones and water bottles.

The firing of tear gas and water cannon created a stampede of refugees away from the border.

Several people received treatment from the Serbian ambulance service, some suffering the effects of tear gas.

Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic accused Hungary of being “brutal and “non-European”.

Serbia has said it will send additional police to its border with Hungary.

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to North Korea has been canceled by the secretive country without explanations one day before he was due to arrive.

Ban Ki-moon, who was previously South Korea’s foreign minister, was due to visit an industrial complex in the Kaesong economic zone run jointly by the North and South.Ban Ki moon visit to North Korea

Speaking at a forum in Seoul, Ban Ki-moon said the move was “deeply regrettable” and that no explanation was given.

Ban Ki-moon would have been the first UN chief to visit North Korea in more than 20 years.

The UN secretary general said he wanted to promote reconciliation.

When he first announced the meeting on May 19, Ban Ki-moo said he would “urge North Korea to co-operate with the international community for the Korean Peninsula and for peace and stability”, reported Yonhap.

Ban Ki-moon was also due to meet South Korean business leaders and North Korean workers on his trip to Kaesong.

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Daniel Craig paid a visit to the United Nations in New York on Tuesday, April 14.

Daniel Craig, 47, met up with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to accept a new role: as global advocate for the elimination of mines and explosive hazards.

“As 007, you have a license to kill,” said Ban Ki-moon.Designation of  Mr. Daniel Craig as the UN Global Advocate for the Elimination of  Mines and Explosive Hazards

“Today, we are giving you a license to save.”

“I’m honored to accept this role [and] humbled that I’ll get the chance to work next to people who are risking their lives every day to help ordinary people live ordinary lives,” said Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig is heading back to the set of the latest James Bond film, Spectre, after his recent knee surgery.

World leaders are holding a summit on climate change at the United Nations.

The aim at the New York meeting is to galvanize member states to sign up to a comprehensive new global climate agreement at talks in Paris next year.

“Today, we must set the world on a new course,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told leaders from 120 countries.

“I am asking you to lead.”

It is the first high-level gathering since the Copenhagen summit in 2009.

With so many nations attending the summit at the UN headquarters and so little time at the one-day meeting, three separate sessions will run simultaneously in three different rooms.

Ban Ki-moon has organized the summit and on September 21 took part in a climate change march in New York with thousands of protesters – including Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has recently been appointed a UN representative on climate change.

On September 22, more than 100 people were arrested after they refused to leave a protest near Wall Street. At one stage, demonstrators tried to push past police barricades, sparking a brief clash with officers.

The Rockefeller family, which made its vast fortune from oil, was reported to have announced their intention to sell investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy.

Leonardo DiCaprio has recently been appointed as UN representative on climate change

Leonardo DiCaprio has recently been appointed as UN representative on climate change

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is joining Global Divest-Invest, a coalition of philanthropists pledging to rid themselves of more than $50 billion in fossil fuel assets.

Meanwhile, Google has announced it is to sever ties with a rightwing US lobbying network, the American Legislative Council, over its skeptical positions on climate.

The real bargaining on climate change is expected to take place at a private dinner on September 23 hosted by Ban Ki-moon and attended by a select list of 20 or so countries.

However, the absence of the leaders of China, Russia and India – whose PM Narendra Modi arrives later in the week – does not augur well.

President Barack Obama will strive on September 23 to generate international support for the battle against climate change when he addresses the UN, with time running out on his desire to leave an environmental legacy.

The president has warned that a failure to act on climate change is a “betrayal” of future generations. But correspondents say he faces numerous obstacles – including a Congress unwilling to curtail greenhouse gas emissions – let alone ratify an international agreement.

Barack Obama’s last meeting with heads of state in order to reach a climate deal in Copenhagen five years ago ended in disappointment, with member countries failing to agree on a timetable to reduce long-term emissions.

Ban Ki-moon has asked that the political leaders come to UN headquarters bearing pledges of action. He wants to hear commitments to cut carbon and offers of finance for those most affected.

Observers believe the meeting can still achieve political momentum despite the absence of Chinese, Indian, Australian, Russian and Canadian leaders.

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Israel has announced a seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire in parts of Gaza.

A senior Israeli military official said the truce would not apply to the town of Rafah and that Israeli troops would respond if they were attacked.

Earlier, UN chief Ban Ki-moon described an Israeli strike near a UN-run school in Gaza as “a moral outrage and a criminal act”.

Palestinian officials said at least 10 people died in the attack on Sunday.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed on Sunday that they had begun withdrawing some troops from Gaza, saying it was “extremely close” to completing its mission to destroy a network of tunnels.

Health officials in Gaza say 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than 9,000 injured since the conflict began nearly four weeks ago.

Sixty-six Israelis have died, all but two of them soldiers. A Thai national working in Israel was also killed.

Israel has announced a seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire in parts of Gaza

Israel has announced a seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire in parts of Gaza

In the outrage that followed Sunday’s attack on the UN school, Israel announced it would hold a “humanitarian window” in its Gaza offensive to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians to return to their homes.

The ceasefire would not include Rafah because there was an “Israeli military presence” there and “clashes were still ongoing”, an IDF statement said.

It said the truce would last from 10:00 local time until 17:00.

The Israeli army warned that it would “respond to any attempt to exploit this window” by Islamist militants in Gaza.

Hamas responded to the truce with suspicion and its spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused the IDF of attempting to “divert the attention from Israeli massacres”.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza and Palestinian militant rocket fire launched at Israel continued on Monday morning ahead of the planned ceasefire.

The Islamic Jihad group said its commander in northern Gaza, Daniel Mansour, died when Israeli forces struck his home just before dawn.

More than a quarter of the 1.8 million residents in the Palestinian territory have been displaced.

Many of those who have fled their homes have taken refuge in UN shelters across Gaza, including the UN-run school in Rafah which was hit on Sunday.

The IDF said it had targeted three Islamist militants near the school.

Ban Ki-moon described the attack as “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law”, adding that Israel had regularly been informed of the precise location of the school.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was appalled by the “disgraceful shelling”.

Israel said it was investigating the incident.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “sorry for any attack that unintentionally hits civilians”, but accused Hamas of turning UN facilities into “terrorist hotspots”.

“Hamas has an interest in Gaza residents suffering, thinking that the world will blame Israel for their suffering,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Monday.

The IDF says 2,560 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza have landed in Israel since 8 July, with its Iron Dome defense system having intercepted another 556 rockets.

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Four UN employees and a senior IMF official were among 21 people killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack on Taverna du Liban restaurant in Kabul, officials say.

Wabel Abdallah, the head of the IMF’s Afghanistan office, and the UN civilian staff died in what UN chief Ban Ki-moon said was a “horrific attack”.

Canadians, Lebanese, Britons and Americans were among the 13 foreign victims; the other eight were Afghans.

The Taliban said they carried out the attack late on Friday.

Five women were among the dead at the city’s popular Taverna du Liban, and at least five were injured, police say.

The restaurant in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan area is popular with foreign nationals, diplomats and aid workers, and was busy with diners at the time of the attack.

A suicide attacker detonated his explosives outside the gate of the heavily fortified restaurant, Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said.

Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said two gunmen then entered the restaurant and started “indiscriminately killing” people inside.

Four UN employees and a senior IMF official were among 21 people killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack on Taverna du Liban restaurant in Kabul

Four UN employees and a senior IMF official were among 21 people killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack on Taverna du Liban restaurant in Kabul

IMF chief Christine Lagarde later confirmed that Wabel Abdallah, 60, a Lebanese national, was among those who died.

“This is tragic news, and we at the fund are all devastated,” Christine Lagarde said in a statement.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned “in the strongest terms the horrific attack”, his spokesman said.

“Such targeted attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable and are in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law. They must stop immediately,” Ban ki-moon was quoted as saying.

At least two US citizens died in the attack, the US embassy in Kabul said.

Kamal Hamade, the well-known Lebanese owner of the restaurant, and five women were among the dead. A number of people were injured.

“I was sitting with my friends in the kitchen when an explosion happened and smoke filled the kitchen,” Abdul Majid, a chef at the restaurant, told AFP news agency.

“A man came inside shouting and he started shooting. One of my colleagues was shot and fell down. I ran to the roof and threw myself to the neighboring property.”

The attackers were eventually shot dead by the security forces when they arrived at the scene.

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The UN has unanimously voted to adopt a binding resolution on ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

At a session in New York, the 15-member Security Council backed the draft document agreed earlier by Russia and the US.

The deal breaks a two-and-a-half year deadlock in the UN over Syria, where fighting between government forces and rebels rages on.

The vote came after the international chemical watchdog agreed on a plan to destroy Syria’s stockpile by mid-2014.

Speaking after the vote in New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the decision as “historic”.

“Tonight the international community has delivered.”

Ban Ki-moon urged the Syrian government to implement the resolution “faithfully and without delay”, and also announced a tentative date of mid-November for a new peace conference in Geneva.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the UN demonstrated that “diplomacy can be so powerful that it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war”.

John Kerry said the resolution would for the first time seek to eliminate entirely a nation’s chemical weapons capability.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hailed the move, saying Moscow “war ready to take part in all operations” in Syria.

The UN has unanimously voted to adopt a binding resolution on ridding Syria of chemical weapons

The UN has unanimously voted to adopt a binding resolution on ridding Syria of chemical weapons

However, he stressed that the success of international efforts was “not only on Damascus’ shoulders” and that Syrian opposition must co-operate.

The UN resolution condemns the use of chemical weapons but does not attribute blame.

The text has two legally binding demands: that Syria abandons its weapons stockpile and that the chemical weapons experts be given unfettered access.

Although the draft refers to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of military force, a second resolution authorizing such a move would be needed.

President Barack Obama earlier said agreement on the issue by council members would be a “potentially huge victory for the international community”.

Previous attempts at a resolution stumbled amid disagreements between Russia and the US on how to deal with the crisis in Syria.

The US – backed by France and the UK – had pushed for a resolution carrying the threat of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces. Russia had opposed this.

Reacting to the vote, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the resolution covered most of Damascus’ concerns.

But he stressed that countries supporting Syrian rebels should also abide by the adopted document.

The UN vote came just hours after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) adopted what it called “a historic decision on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons”.

In a statement after a late-night meeting in The Hague, the watchdog said its executive council “agreed on an accelerated programme for achieving the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014. The decision requires inspections in Syria to commence from 1 October 2013”.

“The decision also calls for ambitious milestones for destruction which will be set by the (executive) council by 15 November.”

OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said the move “sends an unmistakable message that the international community is coming together to work for peace in Syria”.

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President Barack Obama has said recent moves by Iran should offer the basis for a “meaningful agreement” on its nuclear programme.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting, Barack Obama said words now had to be “matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable”.

The US leader recently exchanged letters with his newly-elected counterpart over the nuclear issue.

Barack Obama also called for a strong UN resolution on Syria’s chemical arms.

He said the purpose of such a resolution should be “to verify that the [Bashar al-Assad’s] regime is keeping its commitments” to remove or destroy its chemical weapons.

The deal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons by mid-2014 was agreed earlier this month between the US and Russia, averting a possible Western military strike.

Differences have since emerged over whether the deal should be enforced by a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the organization’s charter, which would authorize sanctions and the use of force if Syria did not comply with its obligations.

Opening the UN summit on Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian government must “fully and quickly honor” its obligations under the deal.

“The international community must bring to justice the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, confirmed unequivocally by the UN investigation mission,” he said.

On Iran, Barack Obama said the US wanted to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, but was determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly's annual meeting, Barack Obama urged for diplomatic push on Iran nuclear programme

Speaking at the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting, Barack Obama urged for diplomatic push on Iran nuclear programme

“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested” he said, adding that he had urged his Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a deal.

“Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world,” Barack Obama said.

Iran insists it is a peaceful programme, but Western countries suspect it of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, has said he wants to present his country’s “true face”.

A meeting between Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani – the first such encounter since the 1979 revolution – has not been ruled out.

There is also speculation that he and Barack Obama may shake hands on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

On Thursday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will discuss its nuclear programme with John Kerry and other diplomats.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman in Tehran said the meeting represented the “beginning for nuclear talks in the new era”.

The meeting will be attended by foreign ministers from the other four permanent UN Security Council members – the UK, China, France and Russia – and also Germany, which make up the so-called P5+1.

Hassan Rouhani has said he is ready to restart stalled nuclear talks without preconditions.

Western ministers will want to see an Iranian willingness to make concessions on its nuclear programme if there is to be any lifting or lightening of UN and Western sanctions.

Iran for its part will want a clear indication that the US is willing to treat Iran with the respect it believes it deserves as a significant regional player.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, met Javad Zarif on Monday and described their discussion as “good and constructive.” She said her team would hold talks with Javad Zarif again in October in Geneva to assess progress.

Last week, Hassan Rouhani said that his country would never “seek weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons”, and that his goal was “constructive engagement” with the international community.

A UN report has confirmed “unequivocally and objectively” that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.

The report says sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in the Syrian capital, Damascus, last month, although it has not attributed blame.

“This is a war crime,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

US allegations that the government was responsible led to threats of military action and then a US-Russia deal for Syria to make safe its chemical arms.

World powers will now try to hammer out a UN Security Council resolution.

Earlier, UN investigators said they were probing 14 alleged chemical attacks in Syria since September 2011.

Meanwhile, Turkey said it had shot down a Syrian helicopter close to its border. Deputy PM Bulent Arinc said the aircraft was engaged by fighter jets after violating Turkish air space.

Ban Ki-moon has been briefing the Security Council on the report, and is then expected to address the media.

He said he was submitting the UN mission’s report “with a heavy heart”.

“The mission has concluded that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area of Damascus [on 21 August]… The attack resulted in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians.”

Ban Ki-moon spoke of the suffering of the victims.

UN report confirms sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in Damascus last month

UN report confirms sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in Damascus last month

“Survivors reported that following an attack with shelling, they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness.

“Many eventually lost consciousness. First responders described seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of them dead or unconscious.”

The UN investigators examined many samples from the scene.

Ban Ki-moon said: “On the basis of its analysis, the mission concluded that it – and I quote – <<collected clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus>>.”

Ban Ki-moon added: “I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

He said the mission was unable to verify the number of casualties, but referred to the “terrible loss of life on 21 August”.

He added: “This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988.”

Assigning blame for the attack in Ghouta was not part of the inspectors’ remit.

However, diplomats have suggested the way the facts are reported may point to the Syrian government as the perpetrators.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied allegations his government was behind the attack, instead blaming the rebels.

Earlier, Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said the commission had been investigating 14 alleged chemical attacks since it began monitoring Syrian human rights abuses in September 2011.

Paulo Pinheiro said investigators had not so far been able to assign blame and were awaiting details from Monday’s UN report.

He said the commission believed both President Assad’s government and the rebels were responsible for war crimes, but that the regime alone had perpetrated crimes against humanity.

War crimes, including mass executions, rape and torture, were continuing, the commission said.

Its investigators said a referral to the International Criminal Court was imperative.

French President Francois Hollande and his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier met British Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The UN Security Council is expected to draft a resolution in the coming days.

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The UN is to complain to the Syrian government and rebels after a convoy of chemical weapons inspectors came under sniper fire.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he would ask the inspection team in Damascus to register “a strong complaint” so it never happened again.

The UN is to complain to the Syrian government and rebels after a convoy of chemical weapons inspectors came under sniper fire

The UN is to complain to the Syrian government and rebels after a convoy of chemical weapons inspectors came under sniper fire

The team is looking at five sites near Damascus where hundreds are reported to have been killed last week.

Russia has warned strongly against Western military action against Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any intervention in Syria without a UN mandate would be a “grave violation of international law”.

The West, he told a news conference in Moscow, had not been able to come up with any proof of chemical weapons use while “saying at the same time that the red line has been crossed and there can be no delay”.

He was responding to suggestions from some Western countries that military action against Syria could be taken without a UN mandate over the suspected use of chemical weapons by government forces.

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The Syrian government has allowed UN inspectors to investigate allegations of a suspected chemical weapon attack near Damascus.

The team is to begin work on Monday. Activists say Syrian forces killed more than 300 people in several suburbs east and west of the capital on Wednesday.

State media reported that chemical agents were found in tunnels used by rebel fighters, and also that soldiers suffered “suffocation” in fighting around the suburb of Jobar.

State TV is meanwhile reporting that the governor of the central district of Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem, has been killed in a car bomb attack.

The Syrian foreign ministry statement broadcast on state television said an agreement to allow UN chemical weapons experts to “investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province” had been concluded on Sunday with the UN’s disarmament chief, Angela Kane.

The agreement was “effective immediately”, the statement added.

The Syrian government has allowed UN inspectors to investigate allegations of a suspected chemical weapon attack near Damascus

The Syrian government has allowed UN inspectors to investigate allegations of a suspected chemical weapon attack near Damascus

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon subsequently announced that the inspectors were “preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities”, starting on Monday. A ceasefire will be observed at the affected locations, the statement said.

Russia, a key ally of Syria, welcomed the decision to allow the inspectors in but warned the West against pre-empting the results.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Saturday that three hospitals it supports in the Damascus area had treated about 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms” early on Wednesday morning, of whom 355 died.

While MSF said it could not “scientifically confirm” the use of chemical weapons, staff at the hospitals described a large number of patients arriving in the space of less than three hours with symptoms including convulsions, pinpoint pupils and breathing problems.

UK’s PM David Cameron has discussed the situation in a telephone call with President Francois Hollande of France.

David Cameron agreed a similar response in a telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Saturday evening.

Later, Syria’s Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, warned that US military action in Syria would not be a “walk in the park”.

“If the US leads a military intervention, this will have dangerous consequences. It will bring chaos and the region will burn,” he said.

A year ago, President Barack Obama said that any attempt by Syria to use its chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the US, and change his administration’s “calculus” in the region.

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The Pentagon has decided to move its forces closer to Syria as the US weighs its options in the conflict there, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has suggested.

Chuck Hagel gave no details, but media reports say the US Navy is strengthening its presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

On Friday, President Barack Obama said fresh allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government this week was of “grave concern”.

Syria’s main ally Russia said there was evidence rebels were behind the attack.

Chuck Hagel has suggested that the Pentagon is moving its forces closer to Syria as the US weighs its options in the conflict there

Chuck Hagel has suggested that the Pentagon is moving its forces closer to Syria as the US weighs its options in the conflict there

The Syrian opposition, however, has said hundreds died in a government assault on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday.

Despite calls from many different countries, there is no sign yet that the Syrian authorities will allow a UN inspection team to visit to investigate the claims.

The UN’s disarmament chief, Angela Kane, is due to arrive in Damascus on Saturday to push for access to the site. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he is determined to “conduct a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” into the events.

Unverified footage shows civilians – many of them children – dead or suffering from what appear to be horrific symptoms as a result of the attack.

Chuck Hagel said President Barack Obama had asked the Pentagon for options on Syria, amid rising pressure on the US to intervene.

“The defense department has responsibility to provide the president with options for all contingencies,” he said.

“That requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options – whatever options the president might choose.”

Chuck Hagel was speaking to reporters travelling with him to Malaysia.

Earlier, US defense officials said a fourth US warship – armed with cruise missiles – had been moved into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The officials stressed that the US Navy had received no orders to prepare for military action.

Two huge explosions killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400 others in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, health officials say.

The explosions are thought to represent the deadliest attack in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.

As Friday prayers ended, a blast hit the al-Taqwa mosque, which is usually attended by prominent Sunni cleric Sheikh Salem Rafii. He was unharmed.

A second blast five minutes later hit the al-Salam mosque in the Mina area.

War in neighboring Syria has raised sectarian tensions between the city’s Sunni Muslim and Alawite communities.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks and called for calm and restraint.

Sheikh Salem Rafii is one of the most prominent Sunni leaders in Lebanon and is believed to have been a possible target.

He is opposed to Lebanon’s militant Shia Hezbollah group and has previously urged young Lebanese men to join opposition fighters in Syria.

Two huge explosions killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400 others in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli

Two huge explosions killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 400 others in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli

It is not clear whether he was at the al-Taqwa mosque at the time of the attack, although some reports say he was giving a sermon.

Ambulances rushed to the aftermath of the blasts and heavy black smoke covered the sky.

“It was as if there was an earthquake, the whole city seemed to be shaking,” a local resident told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper.

Television pictures showed damaged cars on fire, with their windows smashed, and people running through the streets trying to carry wounded people to safety.

Bodies could be seen on the ground and windows were broken on surrounding apartment blocks.

The preacher at the al-Salam mosque – the site of the second explosion – is also an opponent of the Syrian government and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, Associated Press reports.

No group has taken responsibility for the latest attacks.

In a statement reported by Lebanon’s National News Agency, Hezbollah strongly condemned the blasts.

The group said the attacks aimed to “sow seeds of strife among the Lebanese and drag them into bickering under a sectarian guise”.

Outgoing Lebanese PM Najib Mikati and President Michel Suleiman have also condemned the attacks, calling on citizens to unite against violence.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The secretary-general calls on all Lebanese to exercise restraint, to remain united, and to support their state institutions… in maintaining calm and order in Tripoli and throughout the country, and in preventing the recurrence of such destructive actions.”

Tripoli, a city of nearly 200,000 people and Lebanon’s second largest, is one of the country’s most volatile sectarian fault lines, with a small Alawite population living in the midst of a Sunni majority.

The Alawite community tends to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Sunnis mostly backing the rebels fighting him.

The bombs come a week after a massive car bomb rocked a Shia district of Beirut, leaving 27 people dead. The area hit contained Hezbollah strongholds.

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The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month.

The resolution is targeting North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.

It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea’s military.

Pyongyang earlier vowed to use its right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack against its aggressors.

In a 15-0 vote, the council on Thursday backed Resolution 2094, imposing the new sanctions against the North.

Speaking after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said the document “strongly condemns” Pyongyang’s actions.

Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.

She warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.

The UN Security Council has unanimously approved fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang's nuclear test last month

The UN Security Council has unanimously approved fresh sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test last month

“North Korea will achieve nothing by continuing threats and provocations,” she stressed, urging North Korea to comply with the demands of the international community.

China’s UN ambassador, Li Baodong, said that “the top priority now is to defuse the tensions” on the Korean peninsula.

Li Baodong also said that the six-party talks on the North’s controversial programme must resume.

South Korea’s envoy to the UN, Kim Sook, described the North’s nuclear tests as “grave threat to the peace” on the Korean peninsular and the wider region.

Kim Sook urged Pyongyang to respond to the concerns of the world community.

“North Korea’s future rests in its own hands,” he said.

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who is the current president of the council, described the resolution as an “appropriate measure”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the measure “sent an unequivocal message to (North Korea) that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Pyongyang has so far made no comments following Thursday’s vote.

But earlier it accused the US of pushing to start a war.

“As long as the United States is willing to spark nuclear war, our forces will exercise their right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike,” said North Korea’s foreign ministry, in a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, without giving further details.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang also threatened to scrap the 60-year truce which ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a “crime against humanity”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a UN forum this week: “As with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity.”

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu called the comments “dark and mendacious”.

New US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to raise the issue when he meets Turkey’s leaders on Friday.

John Kerry is in Ankara for talks on the crisis in Syria.

But his visit has been overshadowed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments, comparing Zionism with fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, at a meeting of the UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Vienna earlier this week.

His words drew strong condemnation from Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which called them “a dark and mendacious statement the likes of which we thought had passed from the world”.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a crime against humanity

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been heavily criticized by the US, Israel and the UN for branding Zionism a crime against humanity

In the US, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said “the characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity… is offensive and wrong”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said he heard Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech through an interpreter, and called it “unfortunate that such hurtful and divisive comments were uttered at a meeting being held under the theme of responsible leadership”.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since May 2010 when nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla of aid ships trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

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The United Nations has formally rejected compensation claims by victims of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed almost 8,000 people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision.

The UN says it is immune from such claims under the UN’s Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.

Evidence suggests cholera was introduced to Haiti through a UN base’s leaking sewage pipes.

The UN has never acknowledged responsibility for the outbreak – which has infected more than 600,000 people – saying it is impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the disease, despite the mounting evidence the epidemic was caused by poor sanitation at a camp housing infected Nepalese peacekeepers.

In a terse statement, Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said damages claims for millions of dollars filed by lawyers for cholera victims was “not receivable” under the 1947 convention that grants the UN immunity for its actions.

But a lawyer for the cholera victims said that UN immunity could not mean impunity, and said the case would now be pursued in a national court.

The UN has formally rejected compensation claims by victims of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed almost 8,000 people

The UN has formally rejected compensation claims by victims of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed almost 8,000 people

The lawyer, Brian Concannon, said the victims’ legal team would challenge the UN’s right to immunity from Haitian courts, on the grounds that it had not established an alternative mechanism for dealing with accountability issues, as stipulated in its agreement with the government.

Brian Concannon also said lifting immunity would not challenge UN policy, which is protected by the convention, but its practice, such as how to test troops for disease and properly dispose of sewage.

In December the UN launched a $2 billion appeal to fight the cholera epidemic, which is currently the worst outbreak in the world, and Ban Ki-moon reiterated to Michel Martelly the UN’s commitment to the elimination of cholera in Haiti.

Cholera is a disease of poverty, analysts say. It is spread through infected faeces and, once it enters the water supply, it is difficult to stop – especially in a country like Haiti which has almost no effective sewage disposal systems.

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Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has declared today that North Korean military ambitions are a “serious threat” to the US.

In a speech made after Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test, Leon Panetta likened the North to Iran, describing them as “rogue states”.

In New York, the UN Security Council “strongly condemned” the nuclear test.

The council said it would begin work on measures against North Korea, after UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the test was a “clear and grave violation”.

Earlier, Pyongyang said “even stronger” action might follow, saying its test was a response to US “hostility”.

Nuclear test monitors in Vienna say the underground explosion had double the force of the last test, in 2009, despite the use of a device said by the North to be smaller.

If a smaller device was indeed tested, analysts said this could take Pyongyang closer to building a warhead small enough to arm a missile.

UN sanctions on North Korea were expanded after the secretive communist state launched a rocket in December, in a move condemned by the UN as a banned test of missile technology.

North Korea’s latest nuclear test comes as senators in Washington prepare for the first votes on whether to confirm Chuck Hagel as successor to current Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

In a farewell speech at the Pentagon, Leon Panetta said the US would continue to be tested by unpredictable regimes in years to come.

“We’re going to have to deal with weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation. We’re going to have to continue with rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

“We just saw what North Korea’s done in these last few weeks – a missile test and now a nuclear test. They represent a serious threat to the United States of America. We’ve got to be prepared to deal with that.”

Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has declared today that North Korean military ambitions are a "serious threat" to the US

Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has declared today that North Korean military ambitions are a “serious threat” to the US

President Barack Obama, who is to make his State of the Union speech later, called the test a “highly provocative act” and called for “swift” and “credible” international action in response.

China, North Korea’s main ally and a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, summoned North Korea’s ambassador to Beijing to express its concern over the test.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi delivered a “stern representation”‘ to Ji Jae Ryong and expressed China’s “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the test, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, it urged the North to honor its commitment to denuclearization and “not take any actions which might worsen the situation”.

The test was condemned by North Korea’s immediate neighbors, South Korea and Japan, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a revival of talks on the North’s nuclear arms programme.

In a defiant message to the UN’s disarmament forum, the North said it would never bow to resolutions on its nuclear programme and blamed the failure of diplomacy on the US.

“The US and their followers are sadly mistaken if they miscalculate the DPRK [North Korea] would respect the entirely unreasonable resolutions against it,” the North’s envoy, Jon Yong Ryong, told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

North Korea confirmed the test after international monitors recorded seismic activity consistent with a powerful underground explosion at 11:57 on Tuesday.

Activity had been observed at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site for several months.

State-run KCNA news agency said the test was “carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously”.

North Korea said the nuclear test was a response to the “reckless hostility of the United States”.

“The latest nuclear test was only the first action, with which we exercised as much self-restraint as possible,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“If the US further complicates the situation with continued hostility, we will be left with no choice but to take even stronger second or third rounds of action.”

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization said the “explosion-like event” was twice as big as the 2009 test, which was in turn bigger than that in 2006.

It is the first such test under new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the leadership after his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2011.

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At least 21 people have been injured in an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv, in what one Israeli official described as a “terrorist attack”.

After the incident, near a military headquarters, huge blasts were heard in Gaza – an apparent Israeli strike on the football stadium.

Eleven people were killed in Gaza on Wednesday, the health ministry said.

Efforts to broker a truce between the Hamas movement and Israel continue.

After eight days of exchanges of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now in Cairo for talks with the Egyptian president.

Earlier, Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held talks in the West Bank with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Militants in Gaza have been firing more rockets at Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman said on his Twitter account that the explosion was caused by a bomb and that it was a “terrorist attack”.

Of the 21 injured, three were suffering from moderate to light injuries – including shrapnel wounds and burns – and were undergoing surgery, a spokesman for the Ichilov medical centre in Tel Aviv said.

Six had already been released and the rest were suffering from anxiety, he said.

The bus was reportedly passing the military headquarters in the city at the time of the blast.

Police believe a bomb was planted on the bus and they are still searching for a suspect.

At least 21 people have been injured in an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv, in what one Israeli official described as a terrorist attack

At least 21 people have been injured in an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv, in what one Israeli official described as a terrorist attack

Hamas, the Islamist movement which has governed Gaza since 2007, has praised the attack but has not said it was behind the blast.

Celebratory gunfire reportedly rang out in Gaza when local radio relayed news of the attack.

A series of massive explosions in Gaza, in an apparent Israeli strike on the sports stadium have been reported. Reports from Gaza say the stadium has in the past been used a site to launch rockets.

According to Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs, the last bomb attack in Tel Aviv was in April 2006, when a suicide bombing on a restaurant killed 11.

The bus blast comes on the eighth day of the current flare-up in violence between Israel and militants in Gaza.

Some 147 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed.

Other sites hit in Gaza included a banker’s villa, tunnels to Egypt used by smugglers and a media office, said to be linked to Hamas, that was situated two floors above the Agence France-Presse office in Gaza City.

The IDF said 62 rockets fired by militants from Gaza had hit Israel so far on Wednesday, while another 20 were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system.

The latest violence will further complicate ceasefire discussions taking place in the region.

The two international mediators are both expected to hold talks with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi in Cairo.

In the West Bank, Ban Ki-moon expressed “profound concern” at the civilian casualties in Gaza and also called on militants to end immediately their “indiscriminate attacks on Israeli population centres”.

Hillary Clinton held talks with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem before heading to Cairo.

Officials from Hamas had suggested on Tuesday that a truce would come into effect at midnight, but Israel later said it had not agreed to a text.

Israel’s demands include no hostile fire of any kind from Gaza and international efforts to prevent Hamas from re-arming, while Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade on Gaza and targeted killings by Israel.

Israel launched its current offensive a week ago with the killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. The Israeli government says his assassination, and the subsequent offensive, is designed to end rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel has troops massed along the Gaza border but says it is holding off on a possible ground invasion as talks continue.

Ceasefire demands

Israel

  • No more hostile fire from Gaza
  • International moves to stop Hamas rearming
  • Prevent militants crossing to Sinai Peninsula
  • Extended period of quiet for southern Israel

Hamas

  • End to Israeli “aggression”
  • End to blockade of Gaza
  • No more targeted killings by Israel

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Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is to say the US will “do what we must” to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Six weeks before the US election, Barack Obama is expected to say that a nuclear-armed Iran “is not a challenge that can be contained”.

Barack Obama condemned the violence that erupted over a “disgusting” anti-Islam video as “an attack on UN ideals”.

Unrest across the Middle East is set to dominate discussion the summit.

Recent protests across the Muslim world in response to the US-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme and the 18-month conflict in Syria, are likely to be high on the agenda.

Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York

Barack Obama is addressing the UN General Assembly in New York

Opening the meeting on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the fighting in Syria as “a regional calamity with global ramifications”.

Ban Ki-moon called for action from the divided UN Security Council and said “the international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control”.

“Brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed, mainly by the government but also by opposition forces,” he added.

People did not look to the UN to be simply a mirror reflecting back a divided world, said Ban Ki-moon: Rather, they wanted to see it come up with solutions to problems.

Barack Obama was blunter in his assessment of Syria, saying Bashar Assad’s regime must end.

The US president opened his address with a tribute to the US ambassador to Libya murdered in Benghazi, challenging the UN to affirm that “our future will be determined by people like Christopher Stevens, and not by his killers”.

“Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations,” he said.

Barack Obama was to vow that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” with the backing of “a coalition of countries” holding Tehran accountable.

Although the White House said the president’s address should not be considered a campaign speech, it follows critical remarks about his foreign policy from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney condemned Barack Obama’s description of the murder of Christopher Stevens and three other Americans as “bumps in the road”. He has also castigated him for not taking time out to hold talks on Iran during the summit with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Barack Obama has rejected the Israeli leader’s calls for Washington to set Tehran “red lines”.

Benjamin Netanyahu has recently appeared on US television to press for a tougher line on Iran, and he will take the same message to the General Assembly on Thursday.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.

On the eve of the assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a UN meeting that Israel was a “fake regime”, prompting Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, to walk out.

Syria’s 18-month conflict is not formally on the General Assembly’s agenda but it is likely to be addressed by several speakers on the opening day. including French President Francois Hollande and Qatari emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Francois Hollande, in his first appearance at the assembly, is also expected to call for backing for an international force to be sent to the West African state of Mali to help dislodge Islamist militants who have taken over the north of the country.

The UN Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the Syria crisis and on Monday UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that the situation was “extremely bad and getting worse”.

While he did not have a full plan, he said he had “a few ideas”. Lakhdar Brahimi has just visited Damascus as well as refugee camps in neighboring Jordan and Turkey.

Diplomats have played down expectations for Lakhdar Brahimi’s mission, with no sign of fundamental divisions on the council being bridged.

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Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been appointed as the new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, officials have confirmed.

Lakhdar Brahimi, 78, will succeed Kofi Annan, who resigned earlier this month after his six-point peace plan failed to achieve a meaningful ceasefire.

China was the first nation to give its reaction, promising to “co-operate positively” with Lakhdar Brahimi.

However, fighting has continued unabated in the northern city of Aleppo and the capital, Damascus.

Explosions were heard in a number parts of the Syrian capital overnight.

In Aleppo, government troops repulsed attacks by rebel forces near the airport on Friday, Syria’s state-run media said.

Rebel commanders also said they were fighting near the airport, telling the New York Times that their fighters had advanced to within metres of the airport fence.

The claims have not been verified independently.

Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been appointed as the new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria

Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has been appointed as the new UN-Arab League envoy for Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi, whose appointment came a day after the UN called an end to its military observer mission, has held a long series of high-profile diplomatic posts.

As a senior Arab League official between 1984-91, Lakhdar Brahimi brokered an end to the Lebanese civil war, going on to serve as Algerian foreign minister between 1991-3.

Later, he was twice appointed as the UN’s top envoy for Afghanistan, from 1996-8 and from 2001-4. He has held similar roles for Haiti and South Africa.

A spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN welcomed Lakhdar Brahimi’s willingness to help stop “the violence and suffering in Syria”.

Announcing his resignation earlier this month, Kofi Annan had said he was unable to fulfill his role because of the growing militarization of the conflict, as well as the deadlock over the issue in the UN Security Council.

Russia and China have vetoed resolutions on the crisis three times, citing their opposition to any action which might be seen as regime change imposed from outside.

Co-operation was essential in order to find a peaceful resolution, said Lakhdar Brahimi.

“There is no doubt that I will be able to do strictly nothing if I do not have the support and if I do not have the co-operation of the Syrians,” he said.

But Lakhdar Brahimi also insisted diplomatic efforts should not be abandoned: “These missions have to be undertaken. We have got to try. We have got to see that the Syrian people are not abandoned.

“I might very well fail but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough.”

At least 60 bodies were found earlier this week in the Damascus suburb of Qatana, activists said, following what the opposition described as a “massacre” by government forces.

A poor-quality video posted online showed what appeared to be the charred remains of dozens of people, many with their hands tied behind their backs.

Activists estimate about 20,000 people have died since anti-government protests erupted against the Assad regime in March last year. Tens of thousands of people have also fled the country.

 

Foreign ministers from the Arab League are due to meet in the Saudi city of Jeddah for talks over Syrian crisis.

The ministers are expected to discuss a new envoy to Syria to replace Kofi Annan, who resigned earlier this month.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US and Turkey are working together on detailed plans to support the Syrian opposition.

Fighting has continued in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the second city of Aleppo.

Speaking on a visit to Istanbul, Hillary Clinton said both the US and Turkey were making preparations to respond to the possible collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the use of chemical weapons and increases in the number of cross-border refugees.

Kofi Annan resigned from his position as UN-Arab League envoy to Syria earlier this month, after his proposed six-point peace plan failed to come into effect and violence escalated.

Foreign ministers from the Arab League are due to meet in the Saudi city of Jeddah for talks over Syrian crisis

Foreign ministers from the Arab League are due to meet in the Saudi city of Jeddah for talks over Syrian crisis

On the agenda for foreign ministers attending Sunday’s emergency meeting in Jeddah will be Kofi Annan’s replacement – tipped by diplomats to be the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

At the table will be envoys from Saudi Arabia and Qatar – leading backers of the rebels in Syria.

The mandate of the United Nations observer mission in Syria – which now comprises some 150 observers – is due to run out in a week’s time.

But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there still need to be people on the ground to make impartial assessments of the military situation.

The Security Council will discuss the issue on Thursday, but there is little consensus on the council, with Syrian ally Russia calling for an extension and the US skeptical about prolonging the mission.

Instead, the US is taking steps outside the structures of the UN to support Syrian opposition groups, such as the setting up of the working group with Turkey announced by Hillary Clinton in her meeting with her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday.

“Our number-one goal is to hasten the end of the bloodshed and the Assad regime,” she said.

“Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that.”

A “range of contingencies” was discussed, including the possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad government, Hillary Clinton added.

Meanwhile, inside Syria fighting is continuing.

Syrian state TV said authorities were hunting “terrorists” who had set off a bomb in Marjeh, an exclusive district of Damascus near the central bank, and who were “shooting at random to spark panic among citizens”.

At about the same time, another blast went off near Tishrin Stadium close by, reported state news agency Sana.

Hours later, Sana reported that a bus had been attacked in a Damascus suburb, said AP news agency, with six passengers from the central province of Hama killed. It blamed the attack on the “terrorists”.

Violence erupted again between the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and government forces in the country’s largest city, Aleppo.

Activists said the army pounded areas south-west of Salah al-Din, from which the rebels retreated on Thursday.

Reports from Syria are difficult to confirm because of restrictions on reporters working there.

 

 

The UN General Assembly has voted by a big majority to condemn its own Security Council for failing to end the unrest in Syria as fighting rages.

It passed a non-binding resolution, which also condemns the Syrian government’s use of heavy weapons, by 133 votes to 12 with 31 abstentions.

The move came after the resignation of UN envoy Kofi Annan and failure of his six-point peace plan.

Government forces backed by tanks have launched a new assault in Damascus.

The UN General Assembly has voted by a big majority to condemn its own Security Council for failing to end the unrest in Syria as fighting rages

The UN General Assembly has voted by a big majority to condemn its own Security Council for failing to end the unrest in Syria as fighting rages

Shelling also continued on Friday in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

Activists say more than 20,000 people – mostly civilians – have died in 17 months of unrest.

The resolution passed at the UN expresses “grave concern” at the escalation of violence in Syria and deplores “the failure of the Security Council to agree on measures to ensure the compliance of Syrian authorities with its decisions”.

“The first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities,” the resolution said.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, the envoy for Saudi Arabia which is the driving force behind the resolution, had urged the Assembly to maintain its moral and humanitarian values by approving the resolution.

Syria’s envoy, Bashar Jaafari, reacted to the passing of the resolution by saying his government still supported Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.

Accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar of having undermined the plan before coming out in support of it, he said: “You cannot be a fireman and an arsonist at the same time.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict in Syria had become a “proxy war” and called on powers to overcome their rivalries in an effort to end the violence.

“The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes,” he said.

Russia and China have blocked attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Damascus.

Kofi Annan is quitting as UN-Arab League envoy, the UN has announced.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Kofi Annan had decided not to renew his mandate when it expires at the end of August.

Kofi Annan authored a six-point peace plan for Syria which was intended to bring an end to the fighting.

But the plan was never fully adhered to by either side and the violence has continued.

Kofi Annan is quitting as UN-Arab League envoy

Kofi Annan is quitting as UN-Arab League envoy

Ban Ki-moon said Kofi Annan deserved “our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments”.

He said he was in discussion with the Arab League to find a successor to “carry on this crucial peacemaking effort”.

“I remain convinced that yet more bloodshed is not the answer; each day of it will only make the solution more difficult while bringing deeper suffering to the country and greater peril to the region,” he added.

 

Two more senior Syrian diplomats have defected amid mounting pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the US has confirmed.

Syria’s representatives in the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus – who are husband and wife – are reported to have fled to Qatar.

It comes amid intensifying clashes in the key city of Aleppo, where troops are trying to halt a rebel advance.

UN members have traded more accusations of blame amid the diplomatic impasse.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to “act now to stop the slaughter”, but Security Council members remain deadlocked over what action it should take.

The Syrian government has rushed troops and tanks to Aleppo, Syria’s second city and commercial centre, parts of which were seized by rebels.

The heightening of the crisis is causing regional concern, say correspondents, amid a growing exodus of refugees and fears the fighting could draw in Syria’s neighbours.

Syrian diplomats’ defection comes amid intensifying clashes in the key city of Aleppo

Syrian diplomats’ defection comes amid intensifying clashes in the key city of Aleppo

“We can confirm the defections of Syrian ambassadors to both the UAE and Cyprus,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Jay Carney said the move showed that “senior officials around the Assad inner circle are fleeing the government because of the heinous actions taken by Assad against his own people, and the recognition that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered”.

The diplomats in question are Lamia al-Hariri, Syria’s charge d’affaires in Cyprus, and her husband Abdelatif al-Dabbagh, ambassador to the UAE.

A military attaché at the Syrian embassy in Oman – Mohammed Tahseen al-Faqir – is also reported to have defected.

Earlier this month, Nawaf Fares, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, left for Qatar.

A senior state department official told AFP news agency: “These defections serve as a reminder that the bottom is starting to fall out of the regime. It is crumbling and losing its grip on power.”

Aleppo is now the focus of a battle which neither regime nor opposition forces can afford to lose.

He says restive neighbourhoods are being pounded by artillery, mortars and helicopter gunfire, and there are multiple reports of reinforcements heading to the city.

One activist based in the city, Mohammed Saeed, told Associated Press news agency they were expecting a big assault to try to reassert government control.

Adrien Jaulmes, of French newspaper Le Figaro, said that many people had fled Aleppo and others remained off the streets and in their homes.

“All afternoon, helicopters and Syrian jet fighters have been circling above the city, with the Free Syrian Army fighters firing at them with all the weapons they have,” he said, adding that the situation remained fluid and difficult to assess.

The fighting has caused renewed regional concern, with Turkey tightening its border controls with Syria, though it says it will allow refugees to get through.

Thousands of refugees have already sought shelter in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Meanwhile, AP reported Israelis were rushing to get government-issue gas masks on Wednesday, following a Syrian threat on Monday that it would employ chemical weapons against external attackers.

On Wednesday, the UN’s Ban Ki-moon urged world leaders to halt the slaughter in Syria.

But further bitter accusations of blame followed within the UN Security Council, which has seen three resolutions blocked by Russia and China.

“The Syrian people will pay the price for this failure [to act],” Germany’s UN ambassador Peter Wittig told a Security Council debate on the Middle East on Wednesday.

But Russia envoy Vitaly Churkin retorted that pledges by some Western powers to take steps to support the Syrian opposition outside the council “contributes and leads to an escalation of confrontation”.

 

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Russian policy will contribute to a potential civil war in Syria.

Hillary Clinton’s comments came after Russia and China renewed opposition to tougher UN Security Council action.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has repeated a warning that Syria could be moving towards “catastrophic” civil war, in the wake of the Houla massacre.

Rebel commanders are split on whether to abandon a ceasefire if Syrian forces do not withdraw to barracks.

The FSA’s Colonel Qassim Saadeddine in Homs said that if there was no government response by Friday lunchtime the FSA would consider itself “no longer bound” by the plan.

But the FSA head, General Riyad Asaad, later denied the deadline existed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Russian policy will contribute to a potential civil war in Syria

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Russian policy will contribute to a potential civil war in Syria

Instead, he urged peace envoy Kofi Annan to issue a statement declaring his peace plan to have failed.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has come under intensified pressure to adhere to the ceasefire plan since the Houla massacre, in which more than 100 people – many of them children – died.

Hillary Clinton, speaking on a visit to Denmark, said the case for military intervention was growing stronger every day.

“[The Russians] are telling me they don’t want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going to help to contribute to a civil war,” she told an audience in Copenhagen.

Ban Ki-moon, speaking at a conference in Turkey, said UN monitors had not been sent to Syria “just to bear witness to the slaughter of innocents”.

“We are not there to play the role of passive observer to unspeakable atrocities,” he said.

“The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war – a civil war from which the country would never recover.”

Colonel Qassim Saadeddine’s ultimatum, citing the Houla massacre, was given in a video released online, in which he said the government had to “implement an immediate ceasefire, withdraw its troops, tanks and artillery from Syrian cities and villages”.

“It should also allow immediate humanitarian aid to all affected areas and free all detainees… The regime should also enter into a real and serious negotiation through the United Nations to hand over power to the Syrian people,” he went on.

But General Riyad Asaad, speaking to al-Jazeera by phone from Turkey, insisted the FSA was “committed to the Kofi Annan plan and committed to international resolutions and implementing this plan”.

“There is no deadline; however, we hope that Kofi Annan will issue a statement to announce the failure of this plan,” he said.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Syria on Friday looking into the killings, officials said.

As many as 15,000 people have been killed since the revolt against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad began in March of last year.