Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Did Syria use chemical weapons in Aleppo? White House says no.

FOXNEWS/AP : A least 26 people were killed by a rocket blast in the Syrian city of Aleppo, according to a human rights group, while both the Assad regime and rebels are pointing fingers at each other for the attack.

Both sides say chemical weapons were used, but the claims are being disputed.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said there is no evidence that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons. And the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international anti-chemical weapons body, said it had no independent confirmation, either.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters that 16 Syrian Army soldiers were killed in the explosion, and 10 others died in a local hospital. He did not elaborate whether they were soldiers or civilians.

Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi said the rocket, fired from Nairab district in Aleppo into Khan al-Assal village on Tuesday, contained "poisonous gases."

A Reuters photographer who had visited Aleppo hospitals said patients were suffering from breathing problems, and the air had a strong smell of chlorine.

Al-Zoubi claims the attack was the "first act" of the new Syrian opposition interim government announced in Istanbul, and said 86 people were wounded. He spoke to the pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV station. Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, later said 25 were dead. SANA published pictures showing casualties, including children, on stretchers in what appears to be a hospital ward. None showed signs of physical injuries

The foreign ministry of Russia -- who has been the main ally of President Bashar Assad's regime since the start of the uprising -- backed the government's statements, saying rebels were the ones who used chemical weapons.

The ministry said the attack represented an "extremely dangerous" development in the two-year Syrian crisis. It said the rebels detonated a munition containing an unidentified chemical agent early Tuesday in the province of Aleppo, but didn't give further details.

However, Syrian rebels have denied the accusations and said regime forces were behind the attack.

"Fighting was raging in Khan al-Assal this morning and the regime's army hit the town with a long-range missile equipped with a chemical warhead," Louay al-Meqdad, a coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters. "It also hit the area with conventional weapons from the air and with artillery.''

The regime has not said that rebels have been able to seize any chemical weapons, "so we assume that the opposition does not possess such weapons," said Mustafa Alani, an analyst with the Gulf Research center in Geneva.

"I would not rule out that the military would use chemical weapons and try to pin it on the rebels," Alani said.

Britain said use or proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria should warrant a serious response from the international community, Reuters reports.

In 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama said during an Aug. 20 press briefing that chemical weapons activity in Syria would be a "red line."

"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," he said.

Carney added on Tuesday that Obama was clear with his comments and " if Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them, then there will be consequences and they will be held accountable."

One of the international community's top concerns since fighting began is that Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons could be used by one side or the other or could fall into the hands of foreign jihadist fighters among the rebels or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime.

Syria's policy has been not to confirm or deny if it has chemical weapons. But in July, then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Syria would only use chemical or biological weapons in case of foreign attack, not against its own people.

The ministry then tried to blur the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such weapons.

The Assad regime is believed to possess nerve agents, as well as mustard gas. It also possesses Scud missiles capable of delivering them, and some activists said Tuesday's attack was with a Scud missile.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition's newly elected interim prime minister has ruled out dialogue with Assad's regime.

In a speech in Istanbul following his election Tuesday, Ghassan Hitto says "there is no place" for dialogue with Assad.

He also said all members of the regime who have committed crimes will be tried.

Hitto added that the interim government will be headquartered in rebel-held territories in northern Syria and urged international recognition.

At least 70,000 have died in Syria since the uprising against Assad began.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/19/syria-says-rebels-kill-16-in-chemical-weapon-attack/#ixzz2O0ExL8Va

B-52s practice to pound North Korea

United States B-52 bombers carried out simulated nuclear bombing raids on North Korea as part of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pentagon officials said on Monday.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters that B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted a training mission over South Korea March 8 during war games known as Exercise Foal Eagle.

“It’s not any secret that we are in the midst of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our South Korean allies,” Little said.

Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the bomber flights are part of the U.S. “extended deterrence”—the use of U.S. nuclear forces to deter North Korea, which conducted its third underground nuclear test Feb. 12.

“I should note the presence of strategic bombers taking place in flight training in the Korea peninsula area in particular, for example, but this is routine. There will be a B-52 flight tomorrow,” Carter said in Seoul.

The bomber flights are part of increased training efforts that seek to show U.S. resolve in protecting South Korea, Little said.

The B-52 flights are part of the U.S. Pacific Command program called Continuous Bomber Presence.

Little said the Guam base has been used since 2004 for strategic bomber rotational deployments. “The B-52 Stratofortress can perform a variety of missions including carrying precision-guided conventional or nuclear ordnance,” Little said. “We will continue to fly these training missions as part of our ongoing actions to enhance our strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region.”

It is unusual for the Pentagon to make such overt statements about the use of strategic nuclear forces in Asia Pacific.

The Foal Eagle maneuvers will highlight both nuclear and conventional capabilities of the B-52s, Little said, adding that the flights were routine.

“Despite challenges with fiscal constraints, training opportunities remain important to ensure U.S. and [South Korean] forces are battle-ready and trained to employ airpower to deter aggression, defend South Korea, and defeat any attack against the alliance,” he said.

The U.S. military until the early 1990s stored nuclear bombs and missiles in Guam but moved the bombs and missiles to the continental United States.

Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers identified as Tu-95 Bear Hs, were recently intercepted as they circled Guam in what analysts say was saber-rattling on the part of the Russians, who several years ago set up an anti-U.S. alliance with China called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes several Asian and Southwest Asia states.

South Korean news reports last week also stated that U.S. nuclear missile submarines would remain near South Korean waters to provide another sign of U.S. nuclear deterrence.

The combined nuclear and conventional forces exercises began in early March as part of maneuvers called Key Resolve that involved around 13,000 U.S. and South Korean troops. A second round of exercises known as Foal Eagle will extend through the end of April.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/19/us-b-52-bombers-simulated-raids-over-north-korea-d/#ixzz2NzfhNqxz
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Marines killed in Nevada mortar explosion

By Jim Miklaszewski and Erin McClam, NBC News

Six U.S. Marines were killed and at least eight wounded when a mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise overnight at an Army munitions depot in the Nevada desert, military officials told NBC News.

There were conflicting reports about what happened. According to one account, a 60-millimeter mortar shell exploded in a tube as Marines were preparing to fire it. Another account said that the shell exploded as Marines were picking it up to load it.

The accident happened at Hawthorne Army Depot, a 147,000-acre ammunition storage and training facility just east of the California line.

Four Marines were killed instantly, military officials told NBC News. The two others died while waiting to be flown to the hospital.

The injured were taken to two hospitals. Stacy Kendall, a spokeswoman for Renown Regional Medical Center, a trauma center about 100 miles away in Reno, said that it was treating eight people, three in serious condition and five in fair condition. She said that the injuries included traumas and fractures.

The depot’s website says it is a training facility for Special Operations forces preparing to deploy to the Middle East.


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