After nuclear holocaust, we’ll go to heaven as martyrs; attackers will die as sinners – Putin

If any nation decides to attack Russia with nuclear weapons, it may end life on Earth; but unlike the aggressors, the Russians are sure to go to heaven, President Vladimir Putin has said.

“Any aggressor should know that retribution will be inevitable and he will be destroyed. And since we will be the victims of his aggression, we will be going to heaven as martyrs. They will simply drop dead, won’t even have time to repent,” Putin said during a session of the Valdai Club in Sochi.

He added that Russia’s nuclear forces are not tailored for a pre-emptive strike, and exist as a second-strike capability meant to deter an attack by a foreign nation.

The Russian nuclear doctrine allows for the use of this weapon in a conventional conflict, but only if Russia’s existence is at stake. This presumably gives the Russian military a loophole to use tactical nuclear weapons in the case of a large-scale invasion. The self-imposed restrictions are less harsh than a complete ‘no-first-use’ pledge, which was dropped by Moscow in 1993.

The US’ latest nuclear posture review says that Washington may use nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack on itself or its allies. It remains vague about the exact circumstances that may trigger such an action. This gave rise to speculation that even a cyberattack may permit a nuclear response. Meanwhile, a call for the creation of small-yield submarine-launched missiles and nuclear-capable sea-launched cruise missiles have only added to concerns that the US is stocking up for some kind of large-scale conflict.

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Afghanistan suicide blast in Kabul kills 48, injures 67 – Health Ministry

A suicide blast in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul has killed 48 people, the Health Ministry has said. A further 67 were wounded in the explosion that occurred on Wednesday in a mainly Shi’ite area of the city.

A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up outside an educational center in the western part of the capital.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Islamic State (formerly ISIS) has previously said it was responsible for attacks on Shi’ite targets.

The incident comes as the government faces pressure over a Taliban attack in the city of Ghazni, which led to five days of fighting in the capital, claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces.

According to the United Nations, up to 150 civilians have been killed in violence in the strategic provincial capital.

https://cdni.rt.com/files/2018.08/original/5b7438c5dda4c8bf718b456c.jpg An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni - Kabul highway. © Reuters/ Mohammad Ismail

While Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry claimed that government forces would soon regain control of the city as “Taliban militants had been pushed back,” civilians at the scene say that fighting is ongoing.

“The Taliban are still roaming the streets and using civilians as human shields. They are scattered inside residential areas which cannot be targeted by airstrikes,” Aziz Ullah Hussaini, a shopkeeper, told the Times.

READ MORE: US changing its tune in Afghanistan as 'barbaric' Taliban becomes bulwark against ISIS

Tens of thousands of people have been trapped in the city since the militant group broke its defenses in the early hours of Friday morning.

Meanwhile, a further 17 soldiers were killed in Kabul on Wednesday after Taliban fighters overran a military base in the north of the capital. The assault came as a huge blow to government forces, which were already stretched as they battled the militant group in Ghazni.

The government has been struggling against a Taliban resurgence since NATO troops withdrew in 2014.

NATO troops have since been in Afghanistan leading a non-combat mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

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Cost of Syria War Destruction Hits US$388 Billion: UN

The figure does not include "human losses resulting from deaths or the loss of human competences and skilled labor due to displacement."

Seven years of relentless conflict in Syria have wreaked destruction that the United Nations said Wednesday has cost the country close to US$400 billion.

RELATED: Syrian Kurds: Damascus Agrees Roadmap For Decentralization

The figure was released after a two-day meeting of more than 50 Syrian and international experts in neighboring Lebanon, hosted by the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

ESCWA said the "volume of destruction in physical capital and its sectoral distribution" had been estimated at more than US$388 billion.

More than half of Syria's pre-war population has fled the country or been displaced internally over the past seven years.

ESCWA said a full report on the impact of the war was due out in September and that the updated estimates reached this week would help inform ongoing discussions on post-conflict Syria.

On the same day, Jordan warned that a severe financial shortfall facing a United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees could have a "catastrophic" impact on the lives of millions of refugees in the region.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said after meeting visiting U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl the budget crisis facing the agency could deprive refugees of core education, healthcare and food security service that would only "deepen their humanitarian plight."

UNRWA has faced a cash crisis since the United States, long its biggest donor, slashed funding to the agency, providing just $60 million of a promised $365 million this year.

U.S. President Donald Trump withheld the aid after questioning its value and saying Washington would only provide more assistance if the Palestinians agreed to renew peace talks with Israel.

Jordan, which hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East outside Palestinian territories, was engaged in intensive lobbying with donors.

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ISIS Suicide Blasts Kill More Than 220 Dead In Southern Syria

Beirut, Lebanon: A string of suicide blasts and raids claimed by the ISIS killed more than 220 people in southern Syria on Wednesday, in one of the terrorist group's deadliest ever assaults in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks hit several areas of the largely government-held southern province of Sweida, where ISIS retains a presence in a northeastern desert region.

The bloodshed came almost a week into a Russia-backed regime campaign to oust ISIS fighters from a holdout in a neighbouring province of the country's south.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the violence, saying "soldiers of the caliphate" attacked Syrian government positions and security outposts in Sweida city, then detonated explosive belts.

The Britain-based Observatory said four suicide bombers targeted Sweida city while others hit small villages to the north and east and shot residents in their homes.  

At least 221 people were killed, including 127 civilians, the Observatory said.

The remaining 94 dead were pro-regime fighters, mostly residents who took up arms to defend their homes, it said.

The overwhelming majority of the dead "were in (Sweida's) northern countryside, where the bodies of civilians executed inside their homes were found," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has been relatively insulated from the war that has ravaged the rest of the country since 2011.

"It's the bloodiest death toll in Sweida province since the start of the war" and one of the deadliest ever IS attacks in Syria, the Observatory chief said.

He said regime forces eventually ousted ISIS from several villages its fighters had seized and put an end to the attacks.

"Some residents who fled the attacks on their villages are returning and finding people dead in their homes," Abdel Rahman said.

At least 38 ISIS fighters were also killed, including the suicide attackers.

Abandoned Shoes

State media confirmed the attacks had killed and wounded people in Sweida city and villages to the north and east but did not give a specific toll.

"Today's crime shows that countries supporting terrorism are trying to breathe life back into the terrorist organisation to keep it as a card in their hand that they will use to achieve political gains," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he received Russia's envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev.

"These attempts will only succeed in... shedding more innocent blood," he added, in comments carried on his social media accounts.

Omar, a resident of Sweida city, told AFP explosions began rocking the city around 5:30 am local time.

"The blast was sudden and unexpected. Never in its history has Sweida seen such a tough day," he told AFP.

State news agency SANA published images from the city of the attack's aftermath, showing a victim's remains sprawled on a staircase near a damaged wall.

Abandoned shoes lay in the middle of the road among fruit that had spilt out of cartons.

An eyewitness said Sweida's national hospital was "packed".

He said he saw "people bringing in a lot of wounded in their own private cars.. Others were coming to the hospital to ask if loved ones they had lost track of were there".

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Zaatari condemned the "terrorist bombing in Sweida city", saying all civilians should be protected.

Government ally Russia said the IS attacks "confirm the need for energetic and coordinated efforts by the international community to eradicate this universal evil from Syrian territory".

Pro-government forces ousted ISIS from urban centres in eastern Syria last year, but ISIS raids in recent months have killed dozens of regime and allied fighters.

The terrorists still hold some territory in Syria's south, including in Sweida and another isolated but larger patch in neighbouring Daraa province, to the west.

That pocket is held by Jaish Khaled bin al-Walid, a jihadist faction whose 1,000 fighters have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

After ousting mainstream rebels from most of the south, Assad's troops backed by his Russian allies are now closing in on the ISIS pocket in Daraa.


SANA said the attacks on Sweida were an attempt to relieve pressure "on ISIS remnants facing their inevitable end in the western Daraa countryside".

Desert Holdouts

On Wednesday, Russia-backed regime forces pressed their heavy bombardment of ISIS territory in Daraa.

At least 41 civilians have been killed in air strikes on the jihadist holdout since July 19, while clashes have killed 49 regime fighters and 67 terrorists, says the Observatory.

Last month, Assad's forces launched a lightning assault that battered rebel areas in the south and brought most of Daraa province under his control.

They then moved on to Quneitra, the neighbouring province which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

On Tuesday, a Syrian military source accused Israel of firing at one of its warplanes as it carried out operations against jihadists in Quneitra.

Israel's army on Tuesday said it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet that had infiltrated Israeli airspace, risking another escalation around the sensitive buffer zone.

The Damascus regime has long accused Israel of backing ISIS, which overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014 but has since lost most of that territory.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

 

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Will Syria peace trio succeed given all three have different agendas?

Although Russia, Iran and Turkey have different objectives in Syria, the summit in Ankara showed that they all seek the territorial integrity of the country, experts told RT, warning however that the region is in serious turmoil.

Three of the power brokers of peace in Syria met in Ankara on April 4 in an effort to reduce the violence in the war-torn country: Russia's Vladimir Putin and Iran's Hassan Rouhani met for a trilateral summit hosted by their Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

RT discussed the results of the summit with Middle East experts.

Asked about the three-way cooperation and how it is going to work, given that Russia, Iran and Turkey have their own plans and are supporting different sides in the conflict, Abdel Bari Atwan, an author and Middle East analyst, said “there is a common ground which makes three leaders work together, especially on Syria.” 

 
© Umit Bektas

“I have looked at the final communiqué of their meeting during the summit in Ankara. It was very clear that they have agreed on a lot of things,” he said.

In particular, the joint statement says that the three leaders “rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighboring countries.”

According to Atwan, this means that there is no chance for a Kurdish entity to be established in Syria.

Another important point mentioned in the statement was that “they agreed that there should be stability and security in Syria in order to allow the Syrian refugees to go back to Syria.”

“The third one, which is also extremely important, [is] not to use the terrorist as a pretext to keep foreign forces in northern Syria, which is a clear reference to the American 2,000 troops based there,” he added. 

Emre Caliskan, co-author of ‘The 'New Turkey' and its Discontents,’ told RT that although three countries have different agendas, in terms of the future of Syria, they agreed on one thing: “They all want to respect the territory unification of Syria, they all want not to have American influence in the region.”

Joshua Landis, director at the Center of Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma, argues “it is going to be very difficult” for these trilateral efforts to rebuild Syria, considering US troops are still stationed there.

 
FILE PHOTO: Refugees is a camp near Gaziantep, Turkey, April 23, 2016. © Umit Bektas

“What we are seeing today is that Syria is increasingly being divided into three zones: a Russian and Assad zone, an American and Kurdish zone and a Turkish zone where the rebel militias hold sway,” he noted. Landis said that “this is a period of great turmoil.”

“As we’ve seen, President Trump wants to bring the troops out of Syria, he doesn’t believe that America has long-term interests in Syria. Of course, America’s allies have a lot of interests: Saudi Arabia, Israel, they do not want to see the US leave Syria. They want the US to turn up the pressure on Iran and to hurt Persia as much as they possibly can,” he explained.

“The US holds about 50 percent of Syria’s oil and much of its best agricultural lands. To give those back in a sense to the Syrian government or to allow Turkey and Syria to take over its northern section of Syria would be a blow to those two countries who don’t want to see Syria back on the stage, particularly, now that Assad and Iran still have influence there, and now that Russia has influence there,” Landis pointed out, adding that “they want to hurt Russia.”

“And we saw McMaster, the national security adviser, who was just fired, say the Russia has not paid a high enough price. There are many policy advisers who want the US to make Russia pay a higher price, to make Iran pay a higher price. This confusion goes right through the policy-making community in the US. And it does make the US look very disorganized indeed.”

According to political analyst Seyyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, “the US has grown so weak in Syria and in the region that we heard just very recently that Donald Trump said that they want to pull out unless the Saudis pay for their stay in Syria.”

“The US has grown so weak that they cannot have any major say or any say in Syria, so what they are doing is that they are playing negativism, they are trying to sabotage peace and welfare of the Syrian nation. And they are trying to sabotage the restoration of stability in Syria and in the region in order to be given a part in there,” he told RT.

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Head of CIA: Gina Haspel, Linked to Torture

The EFE Spanish news agency reported in Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that the CIA Headquarters will be occupied by a woman.

We are talking about Gina Haspel who up until now worked as deputy director of that espionage agency.

Haspel, 61 years old, ran in Thailand one of the first torture centers known as "black sites" that the United States opened to extract confessions through torture.

She also played an important role in this program, on the grey side of the law, after September 11 to imprison and interrogate alleged suspects of terrorism, under the Bush Administration.

Haspel, said the agency, oversaw herself at least two extreme interrogation sessions where tortures were used, what disclosed an investigation of the Senate.

The suspects were Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.

The first one was subjected 83 times to "waterboarding" according to documents revealed in the North American Congress.

Gina Haspel's name was also related to the destruction of nearly 100 videotapes of black site interrogations in 2005 that were filed in Thailand.

She was promoted in 2013 to head of a CIA clandestine unit, a position confirmed by the Senate.    

According to EFE, the president instead of rejecting these tortures, he back them up, therefore Haspel fits right in the picture of Trump’s CIA era.

It was also made public the outing of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, position that will occupy Mike Pompeo, current CIA director.

The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, sent an official statement of the leader where he stressed that under Tillerson’s time great things had been achieved in the last 14 months."

In this document Trump repeated his "trust" in Mike Pompeo and "he is the right man for the job at this fundamental moment and he shall continue our program of restoring the role of the United States in the world."

According to what Sanders said, Trump asked Tillerson to move aside.

But according to Assistant to the Secretary and Director of Public Affairs, Steve Goldstein, Tillerson didn't speak with Trump and he ignores the reason of his removal.

Goldstein affirmed "The Secretary of State intentions of staying due to the critical process made in matters of national security".

If what’s been written so far uncovered the conflicting panorama of the White House, the new succession of events, as a clear warning, corroborates it.

Cubasi Translation Staff / Amilkal Labañino Valdés

EUROPOL Warns About the Radicalization of 30,000 Persons in Europe

Sofia, Mar 19 (Prensa Latina) The executive director of the European Police Office, Europol, Rob Wainwright reported today about the radicalization of some 30,000 persons in the region, which currently represent a potential threat of terrorism.

The information released today by the Bulgarian broadcaster 'bTV' quoted Wainwright, who explained that the estimated figure refers to radicalized people through the Internet.

The majority of these individuals are inspired by groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS); however, it does not mean that they act under their direct command, the official added.

He also insisted on the need to stay alert, because at any moment these people 'can rent a truck and kill innocent people.'

Wainwright cautioned that it is a new form of terrorist activity difficult to fight by the European and world security services.

Adding to this situation the threats after the return to Europe of people who travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of the ISIS and other terrorist groups.

According to the executive director of EUROPOL, the comeback of these foreign terrorist fighters is a danger and represents a huge menace to the entire region.

An annual report from the European Police Office, in 2017, indicated a growth in recent years of terrorist groups.

Among the presumed radicals imprisoned, one out of four were women and one third were under 25 years old.

In addition to the arrests, EUROPOL reported on the increase in the number of judgments in the courts of the European Union, mainly in countries such as Spain and France.

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Militant groups split & clash in E. Ghouta, civilians seek shelter – Russian MoD

Militants groups holding Eastern Ghouta have begun fighting each other after one faction attempted to separate from the terrorists, the Russian military said. Civilians are seeking shelter and trying to escape street fighting.

The confrontations broke out a day after the Russian Defense Ministry demanded that the Failak Ar-Rahman group separated from Jabhat Al-Nusra terrorists, currently known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. In exchange, the militants were offered safe passage out of the embattled suburb of Damascus.

“Open fighting between the members of illegal armed units is underway in the streets, civilians are forced to seek shelter not to accidentally become victims of hostilities," Major General Vladimir Zolotukhin told reporters on Monday.

 
© Ruptly

A Russia-backed ceasefire came into effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta around two weeks ago, in order to allow humanitarian aid deliveries and the evacuation of civilians. Two humanitarian corridors were established in the areas of Muhayam al-Wafideen and Mlekha to provide for the safe passage of local civilians. Both passages have been constantly shelled by the militants, injuring and killing those who were trying to escape, according to Russian MoD and eyewitnesses.

The first group of 52 civilians, half of whom were children, managed to flee the militant-held Eastern Ghouta on Sunday. Their safe passage was secured by the Russian and the Syrian forces after they had held talks with the armed groups controlling the area.

The situation in the militant-held enclave remains “tense,” according to Zolotukhin. They also continued the bombardment of Damascus and its suburbs, firing seven mortar shells on Sunday, the official added. No one was injured in the attacks.

Despite the provocations, the humanitarian operations went on, the Russian military said. The spokesman reiterated that the safe routes in Eastern Ghouta remain open to both civilians and militants who are willing to flee.

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