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France Issues Arrest Warrant for Syria’s President Assad: Source

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad attends the Arab League summit, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. Photo: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

French judges have issued arrest warrants for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two other senior officials over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, a judicial source said on Wednesday.

The arrest warrants — which refer to charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes — follow a criminal investigation into chemical attacks in the town of Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, attacks which killed more than 1,000 people.

It is the first international arrest warrant that has been issued for the Syrian head of state, whose forces responded to protests that began in 2011 with a brutal crackdown that UN experts have said amount to war crimes.

These are also the first international arrest warrants that have been issued over the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, said Mazen Darwish, lawyer and founder of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), which filed the case in France.

Syria denies using chemical weapons but a previous joint inquiry of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 2017 attack and has repeatedly used chlorine as a weapon.

The Syrian presidency and information ministry did not immediately reply for comment.

“The president is responsible for many crimes in Syria, but with this type of weapon in particular — sarin gas — it’s impossible to jump over the gap [of his involvement],” Darwish told Reuters, noting that approval from the president as commander of the armed forces would be mandatory.

Arrest warrants for sitting heads of state are rare because they generally enjoy immunity from prosecution. However, international law has exceptions to that immunity when a head of state is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity or genocide.

The International Criminal Court currently has two arrest warrants against heads of state: one against sitting Russian President Vladimir Putin and another against former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Warrants were issued to Ghassam Abbas, director of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), the agency that established Syria‘s chemical weapons program, and Bassam al-Hassan, chief of security and liaison officer.

Assad’s brother Maher was deemed complicit in his role as head of the fourth armored division.

Judges from the crimes against humanity unit at the Paris Tribunal have issued arrest warrants for crimes committed by Syrian officials since 2011.

In October, French judges issued warrants for two former defense ministers over a 2017 bomb that killed a French-Syrian man at his home in Daraa.

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Turkey’s President Erdogan Calls Israel a ‘Terror State’ in Latest Attack Amid Gaza War

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan attends the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 11, 2023. Photo: Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Israel was a “terror state” committing war crimes in Gaza, adding to his repeated barbs targeting the Jewish state as it seeks to incapacitate the Hamas terror organization.

“With the savagery of bombing the civilians it forced out of their homes while they are relocating, it is literally employing state terrorism,” Erdogan said of Israel while speaking in parliament. “I am now saying, with my heart at ease, that Israel is a terror state.”

Erdogan called for Israeli leaders to be tried for war crimes at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and echoed his claim that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but a legitimate political party.

Turkey hosts senior Hamas officials and, together with Iran and Qatar, has provided a large portion of the Palestinian terror group’s budget.

Hamas terrorists, who control Gaza, launched the current war with Israel on Oct. 7, when they invaded the Jewish state, murdered over 1,200 people, and took over 240 people as hostages.

Several Western and Arab states designate Hamas, an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, as a terror group.

However, Erdogan defended Hamas terrorists as “resistance fighters” against what he described as an Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

“We will never shy away from voicing the truth that Hamas members protecting their lands, honor, and lives in the face of occupation policies are resistance fighters, just because some people are uncomfortable with it,” he said on Wednesday.

Israel withdrew all its troops and civilian settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Erdogan added that Israel’s military campaign against Hamas included “the most treacherous attacks in human history” with “unlimited” support from the West.

“The West, namely the United States, is unfortunately still seeing this issue backwards,” the Turkish leader said.

Erdogan’s comments came two days before a planned visit to Germany to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has said Israel has a right to defend itself follow Hamas’ Oct. 7 atrocities and pledged to prosecute supporters of the terror group. The trip to Germany would be Erdogan’s first to a Western country since the Israel-Hamas war began last month.

Since Oct. 7, Erdogan has repeatedly lambasted Israel and defended Hamas, threatening the former for “not behaving like a state” and praising the latter as “a liberation organization that is waging a struggle for its land.”

Earlier this month, Erdogan said he was suspending all communication with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing Israel’s actions in Gaza as the reason. The Turkish president clarified that Turkey was not fully severing diplomatic relations with Israel, an option he dismissed as unwise.

On Wednesday, Erdogan said that Netanyahu would soon be a “goner” from his position. He also compared the conflict between Israel, the world’s lone Jewish state, and the Palestinians to a war between the Christian and Muslim worlds, saying the fighting was “a matter of cross and crescent”.

The anti-Israel statements from Turkey have not been welcomed in Jerusalem, where the Israeli Foreign Ministry has condemned Erdogan’s comments.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday pushed back against Erdogan, saying Israel “is the only democratic country in the Middle East. It is also the strongest in the Middle East and has the duty to defend itself. It will use all the tools available to this matter.” The former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff also reiterated that Israel is “doing everything possible to reduce the harm to civilians.”

Israel recently announced that it was reevaluating its relationship with Turkey due to Turkey’s increasingly hostile rhetoric and continued support for Hamas.

Israel and Turkey had restored full diplomatic ties last year, and Erdogan and Netanyahu had met in person for the first time in September, weeks before the Hamas massacre, amid what was then a thawing of bilateral relations after more than a decade of a contentious relationship.

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BBC Apologizes for Reporting Israel Targeting Medics in Gaza

Israeli soldiers respond to an alert of an apparent security incident, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

i24 News — The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Wednesday aired an apology for faulty coverage of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation at the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Namely, the outlet claimed that Israeli troops targeted “medical teams and Arab speakers.”

“This was incorrect and misquoted a Reuters report. We should have said IDF forces included medical teams and Arabic speakers for this operation.”

WATCH@bbcnews have just issued an on air apology (again) for their report last night that stated the ‘IDF are targeting medical teams and Arab speakers’

Not good enough. Time and again they defame & smear Israel and think a simple apology will suffice after the damage is done

— We Stand With Israel (@SussexFriends) November 15, 2023

The outlet stated that “this error falls below” BBC’s “usual editorial standards.”

The Israeli military reported that “medical teams of the IDF together with Arabic-speaking soldiers” operated at the site.

We are absolutely appalled by @BBCNews footage which appears to show a newsreader misquoting a Reuters report. The Corporation must issue a public apology without delay for this egregious misreporting.

— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) November 15, 2023

The incident has faced strong criticism on the social media. The Board of Deputies of British Jews stated that it was “absolutely appalled” by the BBC’s reporting.

Earlier in October, protesters rallied in front of the BBC central office in opposition against the wording chosen by the outlet to refer to Hamas as “militants” rather than “terrorists.”

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Qatar Seeking Israel-Hamas Deal to Free 50 Hostages and 3-Day Truce, Sources Say

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani makes statements to the media with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

Qatari mediators were on Wednesday seeking to negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel that includes the release of around 50 civilian hostages from Gaza in exchange for a three-day ceasefire, an official briefed on the negotiations told Reuters.

The deal, under discussion, which has been coordinated with the US, would also see Israel release some Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails and increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza, the official said.

It would mark the biggest release in hostages held by Hamas since the Palestinian terrorist group burst over the Gaza border, massacred over 1,200 people across southern Israel, and took more than 240 hostages into the enclave on Oct. 7.

Hamas has agreed to the general outlines of this deal, but Israel has not and it is still negotiating the details, the official said.

It is not known how many Palestinian women and children Israel would release from its jails as part of the agreement under discussion.

The scope of the Qatari-led negotiations has changed significantly in recent weeks, but the fact that the talks are now focused on the release of 50 civilian prisoners in exchange for a three-day truce and that Hamas has agreed to the outline of the deal have not been reported before.

The wealthy Gulf state of Qatar, which has ambitious foreign policy goals, has a direct line of communication with Hamas and Israel. It has previously helped mediate truces between the two.

Such a deal would require Hamas handing over a complete list of remaining living civilian hostages held in Gaza.

A more comprehensive release of all hostages is not currently under discussion, the official said.

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials, who have previously declined to provide detailed comment on the hostage negotiations, citing reluctance to undermine the diplomacy or fuel reports they deemed “psychological warfare” by Palestinian terrorists.

The Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hamas political office in Doha declined comment.

Qatar, where Hamas operates a political office and the top leadership of the terror group lives in luxury, has been leading mediation between the militant group and Israeli officials for the release of more than 240 hostages. They were taken by Hamas terrorists when they rampaged into Israel on Oct. 7.

Israel responded with a military campaign of air strikes and ground operations in Hamas-controlled Gaza with the goal of destroying the terror group.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, who is in the war cabinet, said at a news conference on Wednesday: “Even if we are required to pause fighting in order to return our hostages, there will be no stopping the combat and the war until we achieve our goals.”

Asked to elaborate on what is hindering the hostage deal, Gantz declined to give any details.

Previously, talks had focused on Hamas releasing up to 15 hostages and a pause in the Gaza fighting of up to three days, sources in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East said.

There was no immediate comment from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Hamas political office in Doha.

Two Egyptian security sources said there was only agreement so far on limited truces in specific areas of Gaza. They said Israel had shown reluctance to commit to any wider deal, but appeared to have moved closer to doing so by Tuesday.

Hamas’ armed Qassam Brigades said on Monday that it had told Qatari negotiators it was willing to release up to 70 women and children in return for a five-day truce.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that “we have been working relentlessly for the release of the hostages, including using increased pressure since the start of the ground incursion.”

Any deal faces many obstacles.

It is unclear whether Hamas is currently able to compile an accurate list of hostages it holds since the war has caused it communications and organizational problems in Gaza, a Western diplomat in the region said.

Gathering the hostages for any simultaneous release, which Israel wants, would be logistically difficult without a ceasefire, said another source in the region with knowledge of the negotiations.

There had also been uncertainty over whether the military and political leadership of Hamas were in agreement, though this was later resolved, and also concern that Israeli military pressure was making a deal harder, the same source said.

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