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February 23, 2018

Coalition says it hit Mosul site where civilians reportedly killed

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Iraqi special forces soldiers sit on their tank as they pass by the Samah front line neighborhood in Mosul city.(Photo |AP)

BAGHDAD:  The US-led coalition against the Islamic State group said Saturday that it struck a location in west Mosul where civilians were reportedly killed by aerial bombing.

“An initial review of strike data… indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition struck (IS) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” it said in a statement.

Iraqi officials say that strikes in west Mosul have killed dozens of people in recent days, but the number of victims could not be independently confirmed, and the toll from the specific strike referenced by the coalition was unclear.

Coalition air strikes kill 16 rebels in Yemen: Military official

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Smoke rises after Saudi-led airstrikes hit a food factory in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP)

ADEN: Sixteen rebels have been killed and 24 wounded in 24 hours of air raids by a Saudi-led coalition targeting the insurgents in Yemen, a military official and medics said Saturday. 

The Huthi rebels were killed in air strikes on an air base and arms depot in the east of the rebel-held Hodeida province since Friday, the official said. 

A source in the coalition supporting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government said Hodeida was one of the areas being targeted since Friday as part of ongoing military operations on areas under rebel control.

The dead and wounded were transferred to Al-Alfi military hospital and Al-Thawra hospital in the Huthi-controlled city of Hodeida, medics at the hospitals said.

The Red Sea port city is a key transit point for desperately needed imports into war-torn Yemen, where fighting has escalated since the March 2015 military intervention of the coalition against the Shiite rebels.

A boat carrying refugees was hit by an air strike earlier this month off the Hodeida port. Forty-two people were killed, most of them Somali refugees. 

The coalition denied accusations it was involved in the attack and called on the United Nations to supervise the Hodeida port. 

The UN has rejected the request on the grounds that parties involved in the Yemen war have a responsibility to protect civilians. 

Yemen’s conflict has steadily worsened since 2011, after protests led to the resignation of then president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh is now allied with the Iran-backed Huthis, who control strategic points along the Red Sea coast and the capital Sanaa.

More than 7,700 people have been killed and 40,000 wounded since March 2015, according to the United Nations. 

Britain's UKIP loses sole MP as he quits party

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Douglas Carswell. AFP

LONDON:  Britain’s anti-immigration, anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) lost its only MP on Saturday when Douglas Carswell quit the party, just days before Prime Minister Theresa May is to launch the formal Brexit process.

Carswell defected from the ruling Conservative Party in 2014 to become the only UKIP member of the 650-seat House of Commons, but he has long been at odds with the party’s founder, Nigel Farage.

In a blog post, Carswell said the party had played a leading role in last year’s referendum vote to leave the European Union, but it was “job done”.

“I will leave UKIP amicably, cheerfully and in the knowledge that we won,” he wrote, adding that he would continue to serve as an independent lawmaker.

His announcement came just days before May plans to trigger on Wednesday Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, starting a two-year countdown to Brexit.

Carswell’s ties with the rest of the party had long been strained, and Farage had accused him of being soft on immigration — a key issue in the June 23 Brexit referendum.

Although Farage is no longer leader of UKIP, last month he asked Carswell to step down, saying he “actively and transparently seeks to damage us”.

Arron Banks, a key UKIP donor and a key funder behind the Brexit campaign, responded to Carswell’s decision by posting a smiling face emoticon on Twitter.

“Duplicitous Douglas Carswell, who supports mass immigration, is finally out of UKIP,” added a tweet from Banks’s Brexit campaign, Leave.EU.

“Was he a Tory plant all along?”

‘Changing wind’

Carswell was first elected to parliament in 2005 as a Conservative, and his 2014 resignation sparked a by-election in which he was re-elected as a UKIP lawmaker for the southeastern English seat of Clacton.

“Like many of you, I switched to UKIP because I desperately wanted us to leave the EU,” he wrote. 

“Now we can be certain that that is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP,” he said, adding that “Brexit is in good hands”.

He said he was not switching parties, which meant there would be no need for a new election. “I will simply be the member of parliament for Clacton, sitting as an independent,” he said.

Carswell paid tribute to UKIP’s efforts, saying that despite their failure to have more MPs voted into parliament, “In a way we are the most successful political party in Britain ever”.

He even offered some praise for Farage, who failed several times to win a seat in the Commons, though he is one of 20 UKIP members of the European Parliament.

“Make no mistake; we would not be leaving the EU if it was not for UKIP, and for those remarkable people who founded, supported and sustained our party over that period,” Carswell said.

But his resignation is a blow after months of infighting in the party, which is struggling to find a winning platform beyond its core message of euroscepticism and opposition to mass immigration.

Last month UKIP failed to win a by-election in Stoke, the city that recorded the highest vote for Brexit last year and which had been viewed as the party’s best hope to win a second MP.

“Maybe Carswell senses the changing wind? Maybe he walked before he was pushed?” Matthew Goodwin, an expert on the political right, posted on Twitter.

“Maybe he should never have joined UKIP in the first place? Farage never saw Carswell as ‘true UKIP’,” he added.

For Tim Farron, leader of the pro-European Liberal Democrats, Carswell’s decision to quit showed that the party had outlived its usefulness.

“UKIP have no purpose. Theresa May is now effectively UKIP’s leader and has adopted their hard Brexit agenda,” he said.

Iraq ministry says over 200,000 displaced by west Mosul battle

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Civilians who fled clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State group fighters in Mosul are gathered at an old gas station south of the city. AP

BAGHDAD: More than 200,000 people have fled fighting in west Mosul since the operation to retake the area from jihadists was launched last month, Iraq’s ministry of migration and displaced said today.     

The battle for west Mosul – the most populated urban area still held by the Islamic State group – was launched on February 19, and Iraqi forces have since recaptured a series of neighbourhoods from the jihadists.     

“The number of displaced from the areas of the right bank (west side) of the city of Mosul has risen to 201,275 people,” the ministry said in a statement.     

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since retaken most of the territory they lost.     

Iraqi forces launched the operation to recapture Mosul in October, retaking the east of the city before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west.     

The United Nations said Thursday that there were some 600,000 people still in west Mosul, 400,000 of whom are “trapped” in the Old City area under siege-like conditions.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to meet allies as NATO races to save talks

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with NATO members next week in Brussels, officials said Friday, as alliance diplomats worked to nail down the date.

“We are currently planning to hold the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on 31 March. Consultations on scheduling among Allies are ongoing,” a NATO official in Brussels said.

The NATO foreign ministers meeting had been planned for April 5-6, but that was thrown into chaos on Tuesday when Tillerson revealed he would not be attending.

Skipping the meeting was especially awkward because the former Exxon-Mobil CEO is to travel later in April to Russia, which has had fraught relations with NATO since the start of the Ukraine conflict in 2014.

So Tillerson will head to Brussels on Friday next week, a day after meeting in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “discuss the way forward with our campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

– Long-planned talks –

Officials suggested that a complicating factor for the NATO meeting might be the agenda of Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who might not be able to make it to Brussels on March 31.

“The date is almost certain. It’s now mainly a question of timing,” a diplomat in Brussels said Saturday.

The alliance’s 28 member states have until Monday to work out the details of their plans.

The last minute preparations are not typical for NATO which normally has plans in place weeks ahead of time for these highly orchestrated meetings.

“The allies are trying to find a solution. It is understood that there are substantive reasons why Tillerson cannot come April 5 and 6,” a diplomat told AFP.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to visit President Donald Trump in the United States in early April, and Tillerson would be expected to attend their meetings.

But his office has not confirmed that engagement, and word that Tillerson would stay away from the NATO talks stirred doubt about US commitment to its allies.

“Everyone is aware that this would send a bad message and people were not eager to have a meeting with a downgraded (US) representation,” said the diplomat, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

After almost two months in the job, Tillerson has yet to appoint a deputy or any assistant secretaries, has largely avoided the media and works with a small inner circle of advisers.

The administration, meanwhile, has been scrambling to reaffirm its commitment to US military alliances after Trump called into question their usefulness during the presidential campaign.

Last week, after meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump claimed Germany owes “vast sums of money to NATO and the United States,” reviving his charge that allies do not pay their way.

– Obsolete alliance? –

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former Marine general, has declared US support for NATO, and last week Tillerson reaffirmed ties with Asian allies Japan and South Korea.

The United States has worked with NATO to shore up support for the pro-western government in Kiev after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for a bloody uprising in eastern Ukraine.

Combined with economic sanctions, the deployment of more NATO troops from Western members to frontline Eastern allies in the Baltics and Poland was intended to send a signal to Moscow.

But during his presidential campaign, Trump raised eyebrows by expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and dismissing NATO as “obsolete”.

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