By Oliver Holmes BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's government hailed as a "victory" a Russian-brokered deal that has averted U.S. strikes, while President Barack Obama defended a chemical weapons pact that the rebels fear has bolstered their enemy in the civil war. President Bashar al-Assad's jets and artillery hit rebel suburbs of the capital again on Sunday in an offensive that residents said began last week when Obama delayed air strikes in the face of opposition from Moscow and his own electorate. Speaking of the U.S.-Russian deal, Syrian minister Ali Haidar told Moscow's RIA news agency: "These agreements ... are a victory for Syria, achieved thanks to our Russian friends. Though not close to Assad, Ali was the first Syrian official to react to Saturday's accord in Geneva by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Bridging an angry East-West rift over Syria, they agreed to back a nine-month U.N. programme to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal. The deal has put off the threat of air strikes Obama made after poison gas killed hundreds of Syrians on August 21, although he has stressed that force remains an option if Assad reneges. U.S. forces remain in position. Russia still opposes military action but now backs possible U.N. sanctions for non-compliance. French President Francois Hollande called for a U.N. resolution on Syria backed by the threat of punitive action to be voted by the end of this week. Hollande also said the option of military strikes must remain on the table. Kerry, visiting Israel, responded to widespread doubts about the feasibility of the "the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever" by insisting the plan could work. And he and Obama sought to reassure Israelis the decision to hold fire on Syria does not mean Iran can pursue nuclear weapons with impunity. Obama embraced the Syria disarmament proposal floated last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin after his plan for U.S. military action hit resistance in Congress. Lawmakers feared an open-ended new entanglement in the Middle East and were troubled by the presence of al Qaeda followers among Assad's opponents. Obama dismissed critics of his quick-changing tactics on Syria for focusing on "style" not substance. And while thanking Putin for pressing his "client the Assad regime" to disarm, he chided Russia for questioning Assad's guilt over the gas attack. Responding to concerns, notably in Israel, that a display of American weakness toward Assad could encourage his Iranian backers to develop nuclear weapons, Obama said Tehran's nuclear programme was a "far larger issue" for him than Assad's toxins. "They shouldn't draw a lesson, that we haven't struck, to think we won't strike Iran," he told ABC television, disclosing he had exchanged letters with Iran's new president. "On the other hand, what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically." Obama had no lack of critics, however, at home and abroad. U.S. Republican Representative Mike Rogers was sceptical the deal will work. "If the president believes, like I do, that a credible military force helps you get a diplomatic solution, they gave that away in this deal. I'm really concerned about that," Rogers said. Even Obama's Democratic supporters are wary. If Assad scorns his commitments, said Senator Robert Menendez, "We're back to where we started - except Assad has bought more time on the battlefield and has continued to ravage innocent civilians." REBELS DISMISS TALKS Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali said Syria welcomed the deal: "They have prevented a war against Syria by denying a pretext to those who wanted to unleash it." He also echoed Kerry and Lavrov in saying it might help Syrians "sit round one table to settle their internal problems". But rebels, calling the international focus on poison gas a sideshow, have dismissed talk the arms pact might herald peace talks and said Assad has stepped up an offensive with ordinary weaponry now that the threat of U.S. air strikes has receded. A spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition repeated that it wanted world powers to prevent Assad from using his air force, tanks and artillery on civilian areas. "Assad is effectively being rewarded for the use of chemical weapons," Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center wrote in the Atlantic magazine. "Now, he can get away with nearly anything - as long as he sticks to using good old conventional weapons." International responses to the accord were also guarded. Western governments, wary of Assad and familiar with the years frustrated U.N. weapons inspectors spent in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, noted the huge technical difficulties in destroying one of the world's biggest chemical arsenals in the midst of civil war. Iran hailed a U.S. retreat from "extremist behaviour" and welcomed its "rationality". Israel said the deal would be judged on results. China, which like Russia opposes U.S. readiness to use force against sovereign states, was glad of the renewed role for the U.N. Security Council, where Beijing too has a veto. The Syrian government has formally told the United Nations it will adhere to a treaty banning chemical weapons. The U.S.-Russian framework agreement calls for the United Nations to enforce the removal of existing stockpiles by the middle of next year. BOMBARDMENTS Air strikes, shelling and ground attacks on Damascus suburbs on Sunday backed up statements from Assad's supporters and opponents that he is back on the offensive after a lull in which his troops took up defensive positions, expecting U.S. strikes. "It's a clever proposal from Russia to prevent the attacks," said an Assad supporter from the port city of Tartous. An opposition activist in Damascus echoed disappointment among rebel leaders: "Helping Syrians would mean stopping the bloodshed," he said. Poison gas is estimated to have killed only hundreds of the more than 100,000 dead in a war that has also forced a third of the population to flee their homes since 2011. Russia says it is not specifically supporting Assad - though it has provided much of his weaponry. Its concern, it says, is to prevent Assad's Western and Arab enemies from imposing their will on a sovereign state. And Moscow, like Assad, highlights the role of al Qaeda-linked Islamists among the rebel forces. Their presence, and divisions among Assad's opponents in a war that has inflamed sectarian passions across the region, have tempered Western support. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged followers on Sunday not to cooperate with other Syrian rebels. The opposition Syrian National Coalition elected a moderate Islamist on Saturday as prime minister of an exile government - a move some members said was opposed by Western powers who want to see an international peace conference bring the warring sides together to produce a compromise transitional administration. Previous attempts to revive peace efforts begun last year at Geneva have foundered on the bitter hostilities among Syrians. Newly elected coalition leader Ahmad Tumeh, a moderate Islamist, told Reuters he wanted to form a government that could bring order to rebel-held areas and to challenge al Qaeda there. SCHEDULE Assad has just a week to begin complying with the U.S.-Russian deal by handing over a full account of his chemical arsenal. He must allow U.N.-backed inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to complete their initial on-site checks by November. Under the Geneva pact, the United States and Russia will back a U.N. enforcement mechanism. But its terms are not yet set. Russia is unlikely to support the military option that Obama said he was still ready to use: "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," he said on Saturday. Assad told Russian state television last week that his cooperation was dependent on an end to such threats and U.S. support for rebel fighters. But it seems likely that Moscow can prevail on him to comply, at least initially, with a deal in which Putin has invested considerable personal prestige. While Lavrov stressed in Geneva that the pact did not include any automatic use of force in the event of Syria's failure to comply, Western leaders said only the credible prospect of being bombed had persuaded Assad to agree to give up weaponry which he had long denied ever having, let alone using. Kerry and Lavrov plan to meet the U.N. envoy on Syria at the end of the month to review progress toward peace talks. Lavrov spoke of an international peace conference as early as October. (Additional reporting by a reporter in Damascus, Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva, Warren Strobel and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Leigh Thomas and John Irish in Paris, Vicki Allen, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart in Washington, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Istanbul and Ben Blanchard and Dominique Patton in Beijing; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Eric Beech)
- Yahoo News
Former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election may have been discredited over and over in the courts, and disgraced by the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but the corrosive effect of his dishonesty will linger on, complicating efforts to strengthen American elections.
- Yahoo News
Black National Guardsman describes being deployed to protect Biden’s inauguration: 'I just felt this huge sense of pride'
As most of the 25,000 National Guardsmen who were called upon to protect Washington, D.C., during the presidential inauguration began heading home this week, one Black service member agreed to speak to Yahoo News about the experience of protecting the nation’s capital in the wake of a pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill.
- NBC News
President Joe Biden vowed to ultimately put an end to private prisons, but activists says the move isn't enough to fully address mass incarcerations.
- The Telegraph
The leader of the Proud Boys extremist group has been unmasked as a "prolific" former FBI informant. Enrique Tarrio, 36, worked undercover exposing a human trafficking ring, and helped with drug and gambling cases, according to court documents. Tarrio's documented involvement with law enforcement related to the period 2012 -2014. There was no evidence of him cooperating after that. But the revelation raised further questions over why police did not take further steps to secure the US Capitol ahead of the riots on Jan 6. At least half a dozen members of the Proud Boys were arrested over involvement in the riots. Tarrio denied ever being an informer, telling Reuters: "I don’t know any of this. I don’t recall any of this."
Europe's fight to secure COVID-19 vaccine supplies sharpened on Thursday when Britain demanded that it receive all the shots it paid for after the European Union asked AstraZeneca to divert supplies from the UK. The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West's biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.
- National Review
China ratcheted up its rhetoric towards Taiwan on Thursday, bluntly warning the island that “independence means war” after increased Chinese military activity was recorded near Taiwan over the weekend. “We warn Taiwan independence elements: those who play with fire will be burned. Taiwan independence means war,” warned Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian. China sent a total of 28 Chinese fighter jets and bombers into the Taiwan Strait and the island’s southwestern air defense identification zone over the weekend, just days after President Biden’s inauguration. The U.S. responded swiftly with a warning to China to back down from its intimidation tactics. “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives,” the State Department said Saturday. The State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is “rock-solid” and said Washington is concerned about China’s “pattern” of intimidation towards its neighbors, including Taiwan. Qian called Taiwan an “inalienable part of China’s territory” and said the the ramped up military activity near the island is a “solemn response to external interference and provocations by Taiwan independence forces.” China is taking “necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty and security,” Qian said. Taiwan’s defense ministry has not commented on China’s warning. The Chinese began flying military planes through the Taiwan Strait on a regular basis in March, 2019, but the presence near Taiwan over the weekend was the largest in several years.
- The Week
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) flies to Florida to raise money on Thursday, and he's making a stop at Mar-a-Lago to meet with former President Donald Trump around lunchtime, Politico reports. McCarthy reportedly asked for the meeting, his first with Trump since the Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of Trump supporters, and he has been effusive about the tête-à-tête. "Kevin can't shut up about it," one Trump adviser joked to Politico. McCarthy sees the visit as a way to smooth over their absolute "soap opera" of a relationship since the insurrection, and also as a way to inquire about Trump's political plans, Politico reports. "Unlike Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly doesn't want to speak to the ex-president ever again, McCarthy believes it's in his interest to be on Trump's good side," since Trump is still widely popular with the GOP base McCarthy needs to show up in 2022. But "Trump world is ecstatic about the visit," too, "viewing the huddle as proof of a comeback in the making," Politico adds. Trump will "give Kevin an earful" about the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, the Trump adviser said. But McCarthy's pilgrimage is "the first solid bit of evidence that Donald Trump is still in charge of the party." Read more at Politico's Playbook. More stories from theweek.comWith Senate Republicans balking at convicting Trump, Democrats explore alternative censuresGameStop makes the case for financial regulationMitch McConnell is the GOAT
- The Independent
Biden news - live: Republican Party suffers ‘mass exodus’ as Marjorie Taylor Greene scandal consumes Congress
Follow the latest updates
- The Telegraph
Russian authorities target Navalny's associates and wife in series of police raids ahead of protests
Russian authorities raided the homes of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his associates on Wednesday, piling pressure on opposition figures ahead of a major rally planned for this weekend. Masked police on Wednesday afternoon broke down the door of Mr Navalny’s rented flat despite the pleas from his wife who was inside, asking for her lawyer, Veronika Polyakova. Ms Polyakova arrived at her house but was not allowed in to witness the search, a clear violation of the Russian law,she told the Dozhd TV channel. In the biggest wave of police action against the opposition in months, law enforcement agents raided at least seven homes on Wednesday, including a Moscow property owned by Mr Navalny but where he has not lived for years, and the office of his associates who run his YouTube channel. A video posted online by Lyubov Sobol, a close ally of Mr Navalny, showed black-clad masked men break down the door and walk into the office.
- Associated Press
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday criticized Iran's hard-liner dominated judiciary over last week's prosecution of the countrys telecommunications minister. Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi was released on bail after he was summoned for prosecution. Judiciary officials cited his refusal to block Instagram and impose limitations on the bandwidth of other foreign social media and messaging systems.
As the 76th anniversary on Wednesday of the liberation of Auschwitz draws closer, Bill Harvey, who survived the concentration camp, said he was shocked by displays of anti-Semitism during the U.S. Capitol riot. Some of the supporters of former President Donald Trump who broke into and ransacked the seat of Congress on Jan. 6 wore clothes bearing anti-Semitic messages, or displayed Nazi symbols. Harvey, interviewed by Zoom from his Los Angeles home on Monday, expressed concern that the lessons that should have been learned from World War Two's Nazi Holocaust are fading.
- NBC News
Analysis: Biden had nothing to gain and everything to lose from fighting a quixotic war over the filibuster just days into his presidency.
- The Telegraph
A doctor with terminal cancer killed a female paediatrician and then himself after taking hostages at a children's clinic in Austin, Texas. Dr Bharat Narumanchi held hostages in a five-hour siege before killing Dr Katherine Lindley Dodson. Narumanchi had applied for a volunteer position at the clinic a week ago and was declined. He later came back carrying a pistol, a shotgun and two duffel bags. Police spokesman Jeff Greenwalt said Narumanchi had recently been given "weeks to live" after a cancer diagnosis. He said: "The case as far as who did this is closed. We know who did it. And we know that there's no longer a threat to the public. But we really, really want to answer the question of why." Dr Lindley Dodson, 43, was beloved by patients and their families. Karen Vladeck, whose two children were among her patients, told the Austin American-Statesman: "You saw her at your worst when your kid was sick, and she just always had a smile on her face. "She made you feel like you were the only parent there, even though there was a line of kids waiting." During the siege a SWAT team used a megaphone to communicate with the armed doctor. A hostage negotiator shouted: "Your life is very important to me. And I know life is very important to you. "You don't deserve to go through this. For all you have done for others. That is why I want to help you work through this. You have saved a lot of lives." Police first sent in a robot and then officers went into the medical office where they found two bodies. They did not comment on how the two doctors died. A police spokesman said: "The SWAT situation has ended. Two subjects have been located and were pronounced deceased."
- Architectural Digest
Let’s get loudOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
Sen. Rand Paul attends the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, on Capitol Hill on Jan. 27, 2021. Sen. Rand Paul lost the very first procedural vote of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. “The impeachment trial is dead on arrival,” the Kentucky Republican and regular Trump ally declared yesterday after his attempt to short-circuit the impeachment trial on the grounds it is unconstitutional failed by a 55-45 vote.
- Reuters Videos
The Islamist who was convicted of the murder and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 may be released from prison in Pakistan. The country's supreme court on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a decision that lawyers representing Pearl's family branded a "travesty of justice" that has left his loved ones in "complete shock." Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was the main suspect in the 2002 kidnapping and killing of Pearl, who was abducted in Karachi while investigating militants in the days after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Video of Pearl's beheading that emerged at the time grabbed international headlines. Sheikh was released by a panel of three judges by a majority vote of two to one, a provincial advocate general told Reuters. It was not immediately clear whether "acquittal" meant a finding of not guilty, or if Sheikh had merely finished his jail terms. He has served 18 years in prison. A high court last year commuted the death penalty of British-born Sheikh into a life sentence and acquitted his three co-accused, citing a lack of evidence. According to the head of the court panel, Sheikh and three co-accused are to be released if they are not required in any other cases. The process can take several days. The government and Pearl's parents have challenged the court decision and asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty - pleas it turned down on Thursday. The United States had said that it may seek to retry Sheikh if efforts to keep him in prison failed.
A shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has forced Paris and two other regions that together account for a third of the French population to postpone giving out first doses, a source familiar with the discussion, and health officials, said on Thursday. The public health agency for Paris and the surrounding region, an area with a population of 12.1 million people, told the region's hospitals that from Feb. 2, all first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be suspended, according to the source. There was no indication when the first doses would resume.
- Associated Press
A former teacher extradited from Israel after a six-year legal battle appeared in an Australian court Thursday to face child sex abuse charges. Malka Leifer, 54, appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court by video link from a police station where she is in COVID-19 quarantine. Guards in the room with Leifer confirmed that the audio-visual link was working.
- The Week
John Kerry: American workers 'fed a false narrative' that shift to clean energy is 'coming at their expense'
President Biden on Wednesday turned his attention to climate issues, signing executive orders that seek to halt new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, conserve 30 percent of federal lands and waters by 2030, and find ways to double wind production by the same year. John Kerry, the first-ever United States Climate Envoy, championed the actions, reiterating his belief that the climate crisis is "existential" and "failure, literally, is not an option." While briefing reporters, Kerry was asked about potential job losses in the fossil fuel industry, and whether he had a message for workers who believe they are witnessing the end of their livelihoods. Kerry explained that those workers "have been fed a false narrative" by the Trump administration about the shift to clean energy, which he said will not come "at their expense." He added that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar and wind energy industries were growing swiftly, while coal plants have been closing over the last few decades. "The same people can do those jobs. But the choice of doing the solar power one now is a better choice," he said, also pointing out the health risks associated with coal mining. John Kerry says oil and gas workers have been fed a "false narrative" that action on climate change will hurt their livelihoods, and that President Biden wants to "make sure that those folks have better choices" for jobs in the energy sector https://t.co/Nj065CIsxp pic.twitter.com/czkjomesi8 — CBS News (@CBSNews) January 27, 2021 Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) weren't buying the reassurance, suggesting that Kerry's statement lacked empathy, although he didn't explicitly refute the notion that an industry transition may be feasible for fossil fuel workers. John Kerry's message to the tens of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs thanks to the Biden administration: go make solar panels. Where is the empathy that Joe Biden promised in his inauguration? https://t.co/CvQovUlEoD — Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) January 27, 2021 More stories from theweek.comWith Senate Republicans balking at convicting Trump, Democrats explore alternative censuresGameStop makes the case for financial regulationMitch McConnell is the GOAT
- The Independent
Jill Biden spent her first week as First Lady reshaping the role. Melania Trump spent hers isolated in a tower
New first lady signals she will be an active and constant presence in the White House - drawing stark contrasts to her predecessor