Spiegel editor defends Trump beheading cover

The editor-in-chief of the weekly Der Spiegel has defended his magazine's front cover illustration of US President Donald Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty. The image has had a mixed response in the German media.

"Der Spiegel does not want to provoke anybody," editor-in-chief Klaus Brinkbaeumer told Reuters TV, adding he was surprised by the impact of the illustration.

Published on Saturday, the magazine cover shows a cartoon figure of Trump with a bloodied knife in one hand and the statue's head in the other, with the caption "America First." 

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Trump has faced condemnation over his recent decision to issue an executive order banning the admittance of refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.  

"We want to show what this is about, it's about democracy, it's about freedom, it's about freedom of the press, freedom of justice and all that is seriously endangered," Brinkbaeumer said. "So we are defending democracy [...] Are these serious times? Yes they are."

"On our cover the American president beheads the symbol which has welcomed migrants and refugees to the United States since 1886, and with democracy and freedom," Brinkbaeumer told the German news agency DPA.

Brinkbaeumer did not comment when asked the extent to which the representation was intended to resemble beheadings by the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS).

"It's a beheading of democracy, a beheading of a sacred symbol," the cartoon's author - US-Cuban artist Edel Rodriguez - told The Washington Post, adding that he wanted to draw a parallel between Islamist extremist ideas and Trump's radical policies.

"Both sides are extremists, so I'm just making a comparison between them," he said.

Trump is not amused

Trump has attacked Berlin's policies since coming to office in January.

He has said Merkel made a "catastrophic mistake" with her open-door migration policy and his top trade adviser last week accused Germany of using a "grossly undervalued" euro to gain advantage over the US and its European partners.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been the US' main European ally under former US president Barack Obama.

Germany's media response

The newspaper Die Welt said the cover "damages journalism," while another German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said it was "exactly what Trump needs - a distorted image of him, which he can use to work more on his distorted image of the press."

Bild tabloid drew a parallel with Mohammed Emwazi, a British national known as 'Jihadi John,' who was seen in several videos showing the beheading of IS hostages.

"The Spiegel cover is just what Trump needs - a distorted image of him which he can use to further his own distorted image of the press," it said, adding that that such images could underpin Trump supporters' belief that the media is biased against him and "belong to the establishment, which he is allegedly up against."

Conservative daily Die Welt, which - like Bild - belongs to the Axel Springer publishing group, criticized the Spiegel cover for "devaluing journalism."

The cover has also, however, attracted some praise on Twitter.

@DylanByers The view from Manhattan, the view from Hamburg...

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Russian, Turkish Air Forces conduct first joint anti-ISIS op in Syria

Moscow and Ankara are carrying out their first joint military operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in the Syrian province of Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry has announced.

"Today, Russian and Turkish Air Forces are carrying out their first joint operation to target ISIL in the suburbs of the town of al-Bab in the Aleppo province," Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Based on the initial results, the joint effort has proved successful, the Defense Ministry official added.

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At the same time, the Russian military is involved in a separate operation against Islamic terrorists in Syria, assisting the Syrian Army in eastern Deir ez-Zor province to fend off the militants' recent large-scale offensive, Rudskoy said.

The jihadists there are using their numerical superiority and are constantly attacking Syrian forces that are defending civilians in Deir ez-Zor, according to the military official. If the terrorists manage to capture the city, "a real genocide awaits its citizens," Rudskoy said, adding that "the whole Deir ez-Zor population might be completely exterminated."

So far, Syrian government forces in the city, supported by the Russian Air Force,  have managed to resist the IS assault, he said, describing the situation in Deir ez-Zor as "difficult."

Moscow is also assisting the Syrian Army in its efforts to defeat IS terrorists in Palmyra, Rudskoy told the media, saying that in that region the army has launched an offensive against the jihadists. Yet there are reports, confirmed by several sources, that "a vast quantity of explosives have been thrown into the Palmyra area, to be used by ISIL terrorists to destroy the city's heritage," the Russian Defense Ministry warned.

Islamist militants have come to Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor and al-Bab from Iraq, Rudskoy said at the briefing.

"The actions of the US-led coalition in the Iraqi city of Mosul have generally come down to squeezing major ISIL forces into eastern Syria," the official said, adding that Islamic State has been "almost freely" moving its forces with weapons and explosives to the Syrian provinces.

Meanwhile, a nationwide Syrian ceasefire – brokered by Moscow and Ankara and endorsed by the UN Security Council in late December – is being largely observed, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Wednesday. Saying that Russian and Turkish forces have been jointly monitoring the ceasefire, Rudskoy added that there are fewer violations, which "creates favorable conditions" for upcoming talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Peace talks on Syria are scheduled for next week in the Kazakh capital. A number of Syrian opposition groups have addressed the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria to express willingness to take part in the talks, Rudskoy said.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he believed US and UN representatives should be invited to the meeting, aiming to finally find a solution to the Syrian crisis, but Iran reportedly rejects any participation by American representatives.

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More than 30 Syrian Military Personnel Killed near Damascus

Damascus, Jan 18 (Prensa Latina) More than 30 Syrian military personnel were killed this morning following a bomb attack on the headquarters of the Army Transportation Administration in the town of Harasta, four kilometers east of Damascus, official sources confirmed.

According to early reports, the explosive charge of almost two tons was introduced through a tunnel leading to the four-story building, which was completely destroyed.

Preliminary reports indicated that among the 33 victims is General Bilal Bilal and three other senior officers.

The sources added that after the confusion and chaos reigning, armed elements attacked the nearby capital neighborhood of Jobar, but were rejected.

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Russia reduces military presence in Syria, Su-25 transfer to Khmeimim is planned rotation – MoD

The Russian Defense Ministry has said that it is continuing to scale down its military presence in Syria, with the recent transfer of four Su-25 aircraft to Khmeimim airbase part of a planned troop rotation.

In accordance with the order of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is implementing measures to reduce Russia’s military presence in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Thursday.

He added that the Russian Navy’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, and its group, which numbers more than 40 naval aviation aircraft, will be the first to return from the Mediterranean Sea to their base in Severomorsk, where Russia’s Northern Fleet is permanent stationed.

“In addition, the first six Su-24 bombers have already been relocated from the Khmeimim airbase to the territory of the Russian Federation. The withdrawal of other aircraft, as well as pilots and technical staff from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic is planned for the nearest future,” Konashenkov noted.

He also said that, in the meantime, four Russian Su-25 airplanes, which NATO calls Frogfoots, have been deployed at Khmeimim, explaining that the transfer is part of a planned troop rotation.

As part of the planned rotation of aircraft, four Russian Su-25 planes recently joined the Russian Air Group at the Khmeimim airbase,” he said. These aircraft are equipped with modern navigation and sighting systems, according to Konashenkov.

Fox News  on Wednesday that four Russian Su-25 jets have arrived at Khmeimim and, citing unnamed US military officials, was quick to claim that this meant Russia is not actually pulling out of Syria.
In refuting this supposition, Konashenkov called the Fox News report a “propaganda hoax.”

The attempts of some Western media to ‘forget’ some facts, so that, clinging to other ones they could shout about an alleged ‘increase in Russia's military presence in Syria,’ are nothing more than a primitive propaganda hoax,” the major general said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial pullout of military forces from Syria after negotiating a ceasefire deal with Iran and Turkey, saying the agreement offered an opportunity to end the six-year armed conflict in the war-torn state. At a meeting with Russian Defense Ministry leadership, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said on Tuesday that the Russian Air Force had met their primary objectives in Syria. 

We have accomplished the main task that the supreme commander-in-chief had set for us last year.

“That task required us to apply all of our efforts and capabilities to dispatch a large group to Syria, including an aircraft carrier-led group and extra aerospace resources, as well as military police,” Shoigu explained.

Russian troops were deployed in Syria in September of 2015, when Russia launched an  at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. On December 30, 2016, a comprehensive ceasefire was announced following a truce reached between the Syrian government and opposition forces. Russia and Turkey are acting as the guarantors of that truce, which does not extend to Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front terrorists.

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US B-52 bombed Idlib, Syria, killing over 20 civilians – Russian MoD

More than 20 civilians were killed in a B-52 strike carried out by the US on the Idlib province in Syria on January 3, according to Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Gerasimov slammed the Western coalition in Syria for failing to achieve “any meaningful results,” adding that “at the same time, significant numbers of victims among the civilian population and government forces were reported.

As we remember, in September last year, the US aviation carried out an attack in the Deir-ez-Zor targeting government forces. After this attack, Islamic State started its advance,” Gerasimov said as cited by RIA Novosti news agency.

The latest example of this is the January 3 airstrike, when a B-52 bomber – without warning the Russian side – hit a target in the town of Sarmada, Idlib Province, which is covered by the cessation of hostilities agreement. Over 20 civilians died as a result of the airstrike.

He did not provide any further details.

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The US Defense Department announced on January 6 that a strike had killed 20 people in Sarmada, Idlib; those killed were described as Al-Qaeda militants, AFP reported.

The September airstrikes by the US-led coalition killed 62 and injured 100 Syrian soldiers near the Deir ez-Zor airport, a vital supply conduit for the enclave besieged by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) forces.

In November, US Central Command described the incident as an “unintentional, regrettable error,” which was “primarily based on human factors.

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Russia was notified of the planned strike via the “de-confliction” hotline, but was given the wrong location, said Brigadier General Richard ‘Tex’ Coe, who headed the CENTCOM investigation.

When Russian officers called the hotline to report the strikes were targeting Syrian positions, they were kept on hold for 27 minutes because the US officer who was the designated point of contact was not available. The bombing continued in that interval, according to Coe, and stopped once the Russian message went through.

During the Tuesday meeting, Gerasimov said the operation carried out by the Russian Air Force since September 30, 2015 “has turned the tide of the Syrian war."

Since the beginning of its operation in Syria, Russia's military jets destroyed around 200 illegal oil-extracting facilities belonging to IS, 174 oil-producing plants, 111 groups of oil tank trucks, the head of General Staff added.

"This allowed not only to breach the IS supply system, but also to deprive them of their main income," Gerasimov added.

"All strikes are carried out only after the confirmation of data from several sources, including the space intelligence and drones," Gerasimov emphasized.

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Syria: 21 Civilians Killed by Terrorists in Aleppo

Damascus, Dec 26 (Prensa Latina) Syrian authorities are currently trying to identify 21 bodies of civilians killed by terrorists before the city of Aleppo was evacuated.

The director of the Department of Forensic Medicine in Aleppo, Zaher Hajjo, reported that a preliminary investigation confirmed that the remains of five children and four women have been found.

According to the data, the corpses were found in the prisons of extremist groups in al-Sukkari and Kallasa and the victims had been shot at close range.

Following the recent liberation of the city, Syrian army units have found numerous ammunition and weapons depots and interrogation rooms in public schools and buildings.

Extensive demining work by Russian and Syrian specialists continues in the city.

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Bashar Al-Assad Says Aleppo's Capture Also 'Victory' For Iranian And Russian Allies

Amman: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday the regaining of full control of the northern city of Aleppo was a victory for his Russian and Iranian allies as much as his own country.

In comments after meeting a senior Iranian delegation, Assad also said the battlefield successes were a "basic step on the road to ending terrorism in the whole of Syrian territory and creating the right circumstances for a solution to end the war".

Russia's airforce conducted hundreds of raids that pulverised rebel-held parts of Aleppo while Iranian backed militias, led by Lebanese Hezbollah militia, poured thousands of fighters to fight rebels along the city's main frontlines.

The last group of civilians and rebels holed up in a small enclave is expected to leave in the next 24 hours, with the army and its allies seizing all of the city.

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UN Security Council unanimously passes resolution on monitoring Aleppo evacuations

The UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution requiring the monitoring of evacuations from Aleppo.

The resolution, initially drafted by France, was originally called a “disaster” by Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin.

However, Moscow and Paris came to an agreement on the text after more than three hours of closed-door consultations by the Council on Sunday.

The resolution asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to take urgent steps to make arrangements, including security arrangements in consultation with interested parties, to allow the observation by the United Nations and other relevant institutions of the well-being of civilians… inside the eastern districts of the city of Aleppo.”

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It asked for “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation” of the evacuations to take place, as well as for all parties to provide monitors with “safe, immediate, and unimpeded access.”

The evacuations are part of a Russia- and Turkey-brokered deal between the Syrian government and opposition. It allows for the evacuations of militants and their families from eastern Aleppo, in exchange for the departure of civilians from the northern rebel-held villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, Idlib province.

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Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said the final evacuations of militants are currently taking place in Aleppo, and the city will be “clean” by Monday evening.

The last terrorists… are evacuating their strongholds and Aleppo this evening will be clean,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.

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