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Russia's Putin urges Turkey, Iran to help promote dialogue in Syria

MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told his counterparts from Turkey and Iran on Wednesday that there was a need for peaceful dialogue between the opposing forces in Syria’s civil war.

Putin also told Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani in a televised video conference that hot spots of terrorism still remain in Syria’s Idlib and other regions.

“An inclusive inter-Syrian dialogue should be actively promoted within the framework of the constitutional committee in Geneva. I propose to support this process, to help the participants to meet and start a direct dialogue,” Putin said.

In Syria’s nine-year-old war, Russia and Iran are the main foreign supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while Turkey backs opposition fighters. Under a diplomatic process dating back to 2017, they agreed to work to reduce fighting.

In a joint statement, Russia, Turkey and Iran “expressed the conviction” that Syria’s war had no military solution and has to be settled only via a political process.

They also welcomed a meeting of the Syrian constitutional committee in August, a gathering that is meant to be a step forward in what the United Nations says will be a long road to political rapprochement, followed by elections.

They agreed to hold the next trilateral summit on Syria in Iran, but gave no date, saying it would meet when possible.

Apart from the Syrian issue, the three countries agreed to promote their economic cooperation, the document said.

After worsening violence displaced nearly a million people, Turkey and Russia agreed in March to halt hostilities in northwest Syria’s Idlib region. This month military jets bombed villages in the rebel-held area.

Erdogan also told the video conference that the priority for Syria is a lasting solution to the conflict, “achievement of calm in the field and the protection of Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity”.

“We will continue to do all we can so that our neighbour Syria finds peace, security and stability soon,” he said.

Rouhani called the presence of U.S. forces in Syria “illegitimate”, urging them to quit immediately. He also pledged Iran’s support for the “legal government” of Bashar Al-Assad.

After saying last year all U.S. troops would leave northern Syria, Washington has left some behind for at some bases but rolled back most of their operations.

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Turkish envoy says France suspending role in NATO naval mission

PARIS (Reuters) – Turkey’s ambassador to France on Wednesday said that Paris had informed NATO it was suspending its involvement in a naval operation in the Mediterranean after a probe into an incident between French and Turkish warships did not back Paris’ claims.

Ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have soured in recent weeks over Libya, Northern Syria and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

France has been especially angry after accusing Turkish warships of being aggressive towards its Courbet warship after it attempted to inspect a vessel in June that it suspected was violating a United Nations arms embargo on Libya. The Courbet was operating in the NATO Sea Guardian operation.

NATO opened an investigation after France protested during an alliance defence ministers meeting in June.

“It seems that the NATO experts did not reach the same conclusion. I had the information yesterday, it seems that the Courbet is withdrawing from this NATO exercise,” envoy Ismail Hakki Musa told a hearing in the French Senate.

French newspaper L’Opinion reported on Wednesday that France had sent a letter to NATO informing the alliance of its decision to suspend its role in operation Sea Guardian until it had clarifications.

The French Armed Forces Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Allied Maritime Command, which heads up Sea Guardian, did not immediately respond for comment.

France has said that on June 10 Turkish warships flashed their radar lights three times at the Courbet and that Turkish sailors had also put on bullet-proof vests and stood behind their light weapons during the incident.

Musa denied the French account and told senators that it was the French warship that had been aggressive.

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Germany arrests far-right suspect over threat to attack Muslims

Police find weapons in house of 21-year-old man who was inspired by last year’s Christchurch massacre in New Zealand.

Police in Germany has arrested a man on suspicion of planning to kill Muslims in an attack inspired by the 2019 massacre in two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques, according to prosecutors.

The 21-year-old from the northern city of Hildesheim had announced his attack plans “in an anonymous internet chat”, the state prosecutor’s office in the town of Celle said on Monday.

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Initial investigations show the suspect “has for some time been considering the idea of committing an attack in which he wanted to kill numerous people in order to attract worldwide media attention”, prosecutors said.

The suspect referenced the Christchurch attacker, who killed 51 people in two mosques in March 2019, and said he wanted to carry out a similar attack.

“His aim was to kill Muslims,” prosecutors said.

Weapons found

Police found weapons in the suspect’s home, as well as electronic files containing far-right content.

He was arrested on Saturday and faces charges of threatening to commit criminal offences and financing violence through the purchase of weapons.

Germany has been rocked by a string of far-right attacks over the past 12 months.

A gunman with apparent far-right beliefs killed nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt, in February, while two people were killed in an attack on a synagogue in Halle, near Leipzig, in October.

In June 2019, pro-immigration politician Walter Lubcke was found shot dead at his home in the central state of Hesse, and a far-right sympathiser has been charged with his murder.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer proclaimed in March that far-right violence was “the biggest danger for democracy in Germany”, promising a beefed-up security response.


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U.N. to call for more aid for Syrians at virtual donor meeting

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Governments are set to pledge billions of dollars in aid for Syrians at a virtual conference on Tuesday to help refugees enduring Syria’s ninth year of armed conflict, as COVID-19 and high food prices worsen the plight of millions.

This year, the United Nations is looking for almost $10 billion for people in Syria and surrounding countries. It hopes much of that will come from the 60 governments and non-governmental agencies gathering by video link on Tuesday from 0800 GMT. The European Union is hosting the event.

The pledging, now an annual event, breaks down into a U.N. appeal of $3.8 billion for aid inside Syria and $6.04 billion for countries hosting refugees. Only a fraction has been raised so far.

“The needs have never been greater,” said Corinne Fleischer at the World Food Programme, a U.N. agency.

In Syria, more than 11 million people need aid and protection, the U.N. says, while 6.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries in the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Many Syrians face an unprecedented hunger crisis, with over 9.3 million people lacking adequate food, while the country’s coronavirus outbreak could accelerate, the U.N. has said.

A combination of an economic slump and COVID-19 lockdown measures have pushed food prices more than 200% higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had an immediate and devastating impact on livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees and their hosts in the region,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

However, money pledged is only what European officials call a sticking plaster to meet Syrians’ immediate needs.

Rebuilding destroyed cities is likely to take billions more dollars and cannot start until powers involved in the war back a peaceful transition away from the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the European Union says.

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Iraqi officials release Iran-backed militiamen arrested last week

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi government officials said on Monday that a number of Iran-backed militiamen arrested in a raid by security forces on Thursday had been released on bail, government sources said.

The three sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify how many of the 14 that the military announced were detained had been released.

A paramilitary official told Reuters that all 14 had been released and that a judge did not find evidence of possession of rockets or launchers, without giving further details.

The military said Friday that its forces had raided a base in southern Baghdad used by militiamen suspected of firing rockets at foreign embassies in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and its international airport.

Iraqi authorities were questioning the 14 men detained during the raid, the military added.

The incident took place after a number of rocket attacks near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other U.S. military sites in recent weeks.

The raid was the most brazen action by Iraqi forces against a major Iran-backed militia in years and targeted the Kataib Hezbollah group, which U.S. officials accuse of firing rockets at bases hosting U.S. troops and other facilities in Iraq.

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Counter-terrorism police charge man with three murders after knife attack in English town

LONDON (Reuters) – A suspect has been charged with three counts of murder over a knife attack in the English town of Reading described by police as a terrorist incident, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Saturday.

A man wielding a five-inch knife attacked people out enjoying the sun at Forbury Gardens, a Reading park, on the evening of June 20, killing three people and injuring three others.

“The Crown Prosecution Service has today authorised Counter Terrorism Policing South East to charge Khairi Saadallah, 25, with three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder,” the CPS said.

Saadallah will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday.

A security source had previously told Reuters that the suspect, a resident of Reading, was a Libyan national.

Police named the victims as Britons James Furlong, 36, and David Wails, 49, and U.S. national Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

Ritchie-Bennett’s family said in a statement on Saturday: “We LOVED Joe so much and we are in such deep sorrow. We need all the prayers for Joe and the Ritchie and Bennett families.”

Local authorities in Reading held a memorial on Saturday evening at which civic and religious leaders and a police chief paid tribute to the victims and to members of the public who tried to help, some by tearing their shirts to make bandages.

While the speeches were televised, residents of Reading were encouraged not to gather in large numbers due to social distancing measures, but to light candles on their doorsteps.

Neil Basu, the national head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said that as the coronavirus lockdown was beginning to ease, members of the public should play their part in protecting themselves and others from what he called the scourge of terrorism.

“As we begin to return to normal, and public places become more crowded, we must be vigilant to the ongoing threat. If you see any suspicious activity, don’t hesitate to act – report it,” Basu said in a statement.

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More Yemeni children face malnourishment amid aid shortage, coronavirus: UNICEF

DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of malnourished children in Yemen could rise to 2.4 million by the end of the year due to a big shortfall in humanitarian funding, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Friday.

A UNICEF report warned of a rise of 20% in the number of malnourished chidren under the age of five – almost half of all of that age in the country.

“If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die,” said UNICEF Yemen representative Sara Beysolow Nyanti. “We cannot overstate the scale of this emergency.”

Yemen has been wracked for more than five years by a war pitting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement which controls much of the country and a Saudi-led coalition which supports the internationally-recognised government based in the south.

Tens of thousands of people have died, many of them civilians, and the ensuing humanitarian crisis has been called the worst in the world.

The United Nations has said it does not have enough funding to maintain the aid response, the world’s largest. A pledging event this month raised half of what was needed and aid programmes impacting millions are set to close in coming weeks.[nL8N2DF3PA]

UNICEF is appealing for $461 million for its humanitarian response, which is currently only 39% funded, and $53 million for its COVID-19 response which is only 10% funded.

Sanitation, immunisation and malnutrition programmes risk reduction and closure.

Yemen’s health system is already on the brink of collapse, kept going through aid. Cholera, malaria and dengue were rife amid a malnourished population even before the coronavirus outbreak.

About 7.8 million children are now out of school, putting them at risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage, UNICEF said.

“UNICEF has previously said, and again repeats, that Yemen is the worst place in the world to be a child and it is not getting any better,” Nyanti said.

Cases of coronavirus infection reported by Yemeni authorities surpassed 1,000 on Wednesday, but the United Nations says the virus is spreading unmitigated in a country with shattered health systems and infections are likely much higher.

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Iran explosion in area with sensitive military site near Tehran: state TV

(Reuters) – An explosion took place at an Iranian gas storage facility in an area which houses a sensitive military site near the capital Tehran, a defense ministry spokesman told state TV on Friday.

The explosion took place in the “public area” of Parchin, said the spokesman, Davoud Abdi, as opposed to the military site, where Western security services believe Tehran carried out tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago. Iran has denied this.

Abdi said the fire was brought under control and there were no casualties. He did not give any information about the cause of the blast.

Videos and pictures posted on social media that were picked up by local news outlets showed an explosion with a bright orange flash, followed by a large plume of smoke.

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