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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    The USS Porter destroyer conducts strike operations against a Syrian airbase from the Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017

    Tehran (AFP) - Any new US action in Syria "will not go unanswered", Iran's Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan warned Tuesday after America threatened to follow up a strike last week with more attacks.

    The United States last week fired a volley of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed 87 civilians in a rebel-held town.

    The White House on Monday warned that further use of chemical weapons or chlorine-laden barrel bombs could bring more US military retaliation.

    "The Americans will have to pay a heavy price if they repeat their action and they must know that their actions will not go unanswered," Dehgan said during a telephone conversation with Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

    Dehgan accused American leaders of lying by saying they wanted to "fight terrorists".

    "Instead of bombing, the Syrian army and the Syrian people are being bombed," Dehgan said, quoted in a statement on the website of his ministry.

    "The resistance front will continue to fight resolutely against terrorists despite the willingness of the Americans," he added, referring to an anti-Western alliance that includes Iran, Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

    The statement quoted Shoigu as saying that "Russia is determined to use its political and military capabilities to bring decisive blows to terrorists".

    Dehgan also spoke with his Syrian counterpart Fahd Jassem al-Freij, the defence ministry said.

    The two agreed to "strengthen their cooperation to step up operations against terrorists", it said.

    They also called for a commission to reveal "the truth about the Americans' false claims" regarding last week's suspected chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun.

    "This kind of action (by the US) will have no effect on the determination of the resistance front to fight terrorists," they added.

    Moscow said on Tuesday that Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will host three-way talks with his counterparts from Syria and Iran this week.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS fighters got inside the wire during a hellish firefight with US Special Ops in Syria

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the bizarre claim on Monday that Adolf Hitler never stooped to the level of using chemical weapons, as Syria's Bashar al-Assad has.

    When asked if Spicer thought there was any reason to think that Russia would pull back from supporting their decades-long ally, Syria, Spicer seemed to muddle some facts regarding World War II history. Following is a transcript:

    SEAN SPICER:We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. If you're Russia, you have to ask yourself "is this is a country and regime that you want to align yourself with?"

    You have previously signed on to international agreements, rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country.

    REPORTER:Uh, quote "Hitler didn't even sink to the level of using chemical weapons.” What did you mean by that?

    SPICER:I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean there was clearly ... I understand your point, thank you. I, thank you. I appreciate that. There was not ... in the ... he brought them into the, to ... to the Holocaust Center, I understand that, what I'm saying, in the way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocents into the middle of towns, it was brought … so, the use of it, I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent.

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    Donald trump

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer shut down speculation that President Trump's emotional reaction to the chemical weapons attack that killed 80 in Syria last week had altered the administration's stance on Syrian refugees.

    In response to a question from a reporter about whether Trump was rethinking his travel ban's stipulation barring Syrian refugees from entering the US, Spicer began, "I think you've heard a lot of these refugees talk about the fact in particular that they're not looking to flee" Syria.

    When reporters specified that the question was with regard to those who did want to leave the war-torn country, he said that the administration's priority was to protect Americans' safety and to create a situation in which Syrians did not have to flee their home country.

    "That's our number one goal: creating a safer environment, deescalating the conflict there," Spicer said. "The goal isn't to figure out how many people we can just import to this country." 

    Despite his assertion that Trump had been "touched" by images of victims of the chemical weapons, he implied that the attack would not prompt a change in US policy towards accepting Syrian refugees.

    "They have touched him, and I think that's what he made very clear. That's why, with the consent and guidance of his national security team" Trump ordered a military strike targeting the airfield from which the chemical weapons had been deployed, Spicer said.

    "It was very extreme, it was moving. I don't think you can watch those things ... when you see young children and babies being gassed, it should move any human being," he added, before saying that images of young children and babies who had been injured or killed as a result of the attack had played a role in Trump's final decision to authorize the strike.  

    SEE ALSO: Sean Spicer: Video of United passenger being dragged off plane was troubling and disturbing

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    NOW WATCH: A reporter asked Spicer if he’s confident that no one in the White House is a foreign agent


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    Sean Spicer

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the bizarre claim on Tuesday that unlike Syrian President Bashar Assad, Adolf Hitler never stooped to the level of using chemical weapons.

    The claim was immediately rebuffed on Twitter, where many users erupted in outrage. 

    When asked whether Spicer thought there was any reason to think Russia would pull back its support of Syria, its decades-long ally, Spicer seemed to muddle some facts regarding World War II history.

    "We didn't use chemical weapons in World War II," he said. "You had someone as despicable as Hitler didn't even sink to using chemical weapons. If you're Russia, you have to ask yourself if this is a country and regime that you want to align yourself with."

    But the World War II-era German dictator famously did use chemical weapons in gas chambers to exterminate millions of Jewish people, LGBTQ people, and others in Eastern Europe.

    Moments later, Spicer was asked to clarify his comments on Hitler. "When it comes to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said.

    "In the way that Assad used them where he went into towns and dropped him down on innocents in the middle of town was not the same. I appreciate the clarification — that was not the intent," Spicer said, presumably referring to the implication that Hitler did not use chemical weapons.

    In his clarification, Spicer also referred to Hitler bringing people into "Holocaust Centers," apparently referring to gas chambers. 

    "Sean Spicer" and "Holocaust Centers" were trending on Twitter following the press conference. Here are some of the reactions:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    After the conference, Spicer offered additional clarification, telling an NBC reporter, “In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however, I was trying to draw a contrast of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on innocent people.”

    That statement was subsequently amended, changing "innocent people" to "population centers."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 'CALM DOWN': Watch Sean Spicer spar with reporters over Trump's wiretap claims


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    DAY 54 / MARCH 14: President Donald Trump paid $38 million in taxes on more than $150 million in income in 2005, the White House said, responding to an MSNBC report that the network had obtained two pages of the returns.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    The Trump administration has in recent days sent highly conflicting signals about what its red line would be for taking further military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and whether it supports regime change.

    The mixed messaging comes after President Donald Trump ordered the US Navy to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airfield believed to have been used by Assad's military to launch a deadly chemical-weapons attack last week.

    Now, the adminstration seems to be getting closer to drawing a new red line in Syria —  the use of chlorine-filled barrel bombs that are frequently dropped by the Assad regime with impunity — but won't clarify what kind of military action will be taken, if any, if that red line is crossed.

    On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed to convey two separate policies in one briefing.

    "We’re not just going to become the world’s policeman running around the country — running around the world," Spicer told reporters. "It’s our national security first and foremost." He said later, however, that "the sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action."

    While he quickly walked back that claim, telling Business Insider in a statement that "nothing has changed" in the administration's policy, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis declined to comment on Tuesday about whether the use of chlorine bombs would prompt a further military response from the US.

    "Chemical weapons are chemical weapons," he said. He would not elaborate further, but reassured reporters that the situation would "not spiral out of control."

    The lack of clarity extends to the Trump administration's position on regime change. 

    The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster took to the Sunday talk shows to defend Trump's decision to strike Assad's airfield. But they could not seem to agree on whether Trump supported removing Assad from power — a policy the Obama administration touted but never acted upon.

    In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Haley said "getting Assad out is not the only priority." But she added that "we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there" and that "regime change is something that we think is going to happen."

    McMaster, meanwhile, said on Fox News that while he supported removing Assad, the US was "not going to be the ones who effect that change."

    Tillerson told ABC that that the administration opposed "violent change at the top," which would make it "very difficult to create the conditions for stability longer term."

    But he appeared to reverse that comment on Monday, telling reporters that the US will "rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world."

    Further confusion ensued after the White House disputed the accuracy of an Associated Press report that said the US had concluded that Russia knew about the chemical-weapons attack in advance.

    "There is no consensus within the American intelligence community that Russia had foreknowledge of the attack," a senior administration official said in a statement on Monday night.

    'Discipline is essential'

    Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria who is now a fellow at the Middle East Institute, said that the Trump White House "is still new," and simply needs more practice coordinating its messaging. He added that the administration "still has many top foreign policy and defense jobs unfilled, and only in the past 10 days has had to focus time from the busy top-level officials on Syria."

    "One thing new administrations have to learn to do is tightly coordinate talking points among top officials," Ford said. "It's not a surprise that the Trump administration also has to learn to do this. People like McMaster, Tillerson and Haley are pros, and they will learn how to do it too."

    Fred Hof, a former special adviser on the Syria transition under President Barack Obama, argued that "the cacophony of views reflects the fact that the [Syria] policy itself — the objectives and the strategy for achieving them — is not yet set."

    He echoed Ford's point, however, in saying the messaging would likely become more cohesive as the White House gets its footing.

    "I'm confident that H.R. McMaster will get control of the interagency process and orchestrate a coherent approach for the president to examine, modify if necessary, and ultimately approve and implement," he said.

    "This will take time," he added. "Meanwhile, it's important for the president, Gen. McMaster, and Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis to agree on basic talking points to be used publicly by the administration across the board. Discipline in this area is essential."

    One voice has been conspicuously absent, however, from discussions of the administration's goals in Syria and broader foreign policy doctrine: Trump's.

    Nearly three months into his presidency — and less than two weeks after both Tillerson and Haley said that removing Assad was no longer a priority for the US — Trump's decision to wade into an extraordinarily crowded and complex battlefield has shifted to the side the "America First" platform on which he campaigned.

    Trump has not commented on Syria apart from a brief statement the night he ordered the cruise missile strike and a tweet defending the US military's decision not to crater the airfield's runways. He also congratulated the US military on Twitter for "representing the US — and the world — so well in the Syria attack."

    Trump has remained quiet, however, even as the war of words between Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin has heated up.

    Tillerson said on Tuesday morning that Russia is either "incompetent" or has "failed" to hold up its end of the deal to destroy Assad's chemical weapons and needed to choose whether to abandon or "maintain its alliance" with Assad.

    Putin, who has slammed the US' strike on Assad as an "aggressive" act," continued to deny that the Syrian army had chemical weapons and was responsible for the attack last week.

    "This reminds me strongly of the events in 2003, when the US representatives demonstrated at the UN Security Council session the presumed chemical weapons found in Iraq," Putin told reporters during a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday.

    Tillerson is due to meet today with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow. But Ford cautioned against expectations that the US will wade deeper into the war in an attempt to oust Assad.

    "The Syrian opposition and its friends would be making a terrible mistake thinking that Trump's team is going to shift to regime-change mode," Ford said.

    SEE ALSO: Putin is floating a bizarre new conspiracy theory about the US's intervention in Syria

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    NOW WATCH: 'Stop shaking your head again': Watch Spicer's tense exchange with a reporter over alleged White House scandals


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    Mattis

    Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the nation with the US's top commander in the Middle East, Joseph Votel, and touched on soaring tensions between the world's two greatest military powers — the US and Russia.

    Asked about statements from the Russians and US President Donald Trump regarding "red lines" and threats of all out war, Mattis spoke unequivocally.

    "It will not spiral out of control," said Mattis fears of military escalation between Russia and the US over Syria.

    "As you know, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow. We maintain communications with the Russian military and with the diplomatic channels. It will not spiral out of control," Mattis continued.

    When pressed by the questioner on how he was so confident that Russia would not follow through with its threats of reprisal if the US strikes Syria again, Mattis stayed on message.

    "I'm confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there's nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control," said Mattis.

    Mattis' statements follow a release from the Russian Foreign Ministry in which Russia expresses "hope for productive talks" with Tillerson.

    The same statement slams the administration of former US President Barack Obama for trying to hinder "the natural evolution of a multipolar world" with acts against Russia, but ends on a positive note, saying: "We are not set for confrontation but for constructive cooperation and hope that this is what our American partners want, too.

    SEE ALSO: Defense Secretary Mattis won't say what a US aircraft carrier is up to near North Korea

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

    It's been a long day for Sean Spicer.

    At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, the White House press secretary was admonishing Syria for its recent gas attack when he claimed that even Hitler "didn't sink to using chemical weapons." The historically challenged comments stunned reporters in the room, and instantly generated an avalanche of criticism from Jewish groups and Democrats.

    Spicer apologized for his remarks on CNN Tuesday evening, but as he spoke, he committed two more unfortunate verbal blunders.

    First, as Spicer tried to get on message, he mentioned President Donald Trump's action in Syria, namely "the attempts he's making to destabilize the region and root out ISIS out of Syria."

    CNN confirmed after the interview that Spicer indeed meant to say stabilize, not destabilize, which naturally have opposite meanings.

    It's not the first time he's confused the two words:

    Minutes later in the interview, Spicer fumbled over the name of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a linguistic misstep so flagrant that CNN host Wolf Blitzer had to jump in and set him straight.

    "Bashar al-Assad. I know you've mispronounced his name a few times, but it's Bashar al-Assad," Blitzer said.

    Spicer has previously pronounced the Syrian leader's name "Ashad,""Bashad al-Assar" and as The Washington Post's Erik Wemple industriously transcribed, "Bissaa al-Ashar."

    The exchanges were roundly mocked on Twitter:

    SEE ALSO: Sean Spicer apologizes for his controversial Holocaust remarks: 'Frankly, there is no comparison'

    SEE ALSO: Fox News commentator brings up Sean Spicer's Holocaust flub after saying producer left it out of the agenda

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    NOW WATCH: Former State Department official: Evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia would create a 'constitutional crisis'


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Sergei Chirikov/Pool

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

    Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new U.S. leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow's ally for its suspected use of poison gas.

    Just as Tillerson sat down for talks, a senior Russian official assailed the "primitiveness and loutishness" of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump's cabinet.

    "One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated," Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television moments after Tillerson sat down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an ornate hall.

    Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad's enemies.

    Moments earlier, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.

    "I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Lavrov said.

    "And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken."

    Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office -- a point of sensitivity in Washington.

    One of Lavrov's deputies was even more undiplomatic.

    "In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We'll hope that this doesn't become the substance of American policy," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency.

    "As a whole, the administration's stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all."

    Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was "to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be."

    "I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward," he told Lavrov.

    After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a "bazaar" by shouting questions to Lavrov.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tillerson might meet Putin later on Wednesday if the two top diplomats decided it would be useful to brief the Russian president on their talks. But Peskov too did not hold back his criticism, saying calls from Western powers for Russia to cut support for Assad amounted to giving terrorists a free hand.

    Moscow's hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him.

    donald trump

    Cover-up

    The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad's use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.

    Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday. Washington warned Moscow, and Russian troops at the base were not hit.

    Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.

    Trump came to the presidency promising to seek closer ties with Russia and greater cooperation fighting against their common enemy in Syria, Islamic State. Tillerson is a former oil executive who was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Putin.

    Last week's poison gas attack and the U.S. retaliation upended what many in Moscow hoped would be a transformation in relations between the two countries, which reached a post-Cold War low under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

    The United States and its European allies imposed financial sanctions on Russia in 2014 after Putin seized territory from neighboring Ukraine.

    Washington is leading a campaign of air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters and has backed rebels fighting against Assad during a six-year civil war, but until last week the United States had avoided directly targeting the Syrian government.

    Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad's side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world's worst refugee crisis.

    In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.

    "We’re not going into Syria," he said in excerpts of the interview on the station's website. "But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons ... and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father's arms, or you see kids gasping for life ... when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis."

    Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle East allies.

    Some of Washington's allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of U.S. support for its traditional friends. Tillerson's mission sees the Trump administration taking on the traditional U.S. role as spokesman for a unified Western position.

    Trump's relations with Russia are also a domestic issue, as U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help Trump win. The FBI is investigating whether any Trump campaign figures colluded with Moscow, which the White House denies.

    (writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Sonya Hepintall)

    SEE ALSO: Trump warns Putin and clears up his administration's message on Syria

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    DAY 54 / MARCH 14: President Donald Trump paid $38 million in taxes on more than $150 million in income in 2005, the White House said, responding to an MSNBC report that the network had obtained two pages of the returns.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says the U.S. is not going to get involved in Syria but that he had to act because of chemical attacks there.

    His comments, aired Wednesday on Fox Business News, come less than a week after Trump ordered a retaliatory strike on Syria based on U.S. evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked civilians with chemical weapons.

    Trump said, "when I saw that, I said we have to do something."

    But he also appeared to rule out deeper involvement, saying: "Are we going to get involved with Syria? No."

    Trump also warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin, in backing Assad, is supporting someone who is "truly an evil person." That, Trump said, is "very bad for Russia" and "very bad for mankind" and the world.

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    Opposition fighters and aid workers stand near a convoy of vehicles carrying United Nations food and medical aid on the outskirts of the besieged town of Kafraya in Syria's Idlib province on March 14, 2017

    Beirut (AFP) - A deal to evacuate four besieged Syrian towns began Wednesday with an exchange of prisoners between rebels and government forces, local sources and state media said.

    Thousands of people, both civilians and fighters, are expected to begin leaving government-held Fuaa and Kafraya and opposition-controlled Madaya and Zabadani later Wednesday.

    The evacuations of the four besieged towns come under an agreement brokered by rebel backer Qatar and government ally Iran last month.

    An AFP photographer in government-held Aleppo city saw 12 of the prisoners released by the opposition, nine of whom appeared to be suffering injuries, arriving along with eight bodies.

    Syrian state news agency SANA said the four children and eight women had been transferred with the bodies of "eight martyrs" from "terrorist groups in Idlib province".

    It said the exchange of prisoners marked the start of the "implementation of the first phase of the agreement".

    SANA said that "19 militants" were transferred from Fuaa and Kafraya at the same time.

    A source in the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham alliance confirmed the exchange. 

    Fuaa and Kafraya are government-held Shiite-majority villages in the otherwise rebel-controlled province of Idlib.

    Madaya and Zabadani are opposition enclaves surrounded by regime forces in Damascus province.

    The exchange marks the beginning of the implementation of the deal to evacuate the four towns, as well as part of the Yarmuk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.

    Negotiators and residents said buses had entered Madaya and Zabadani on Wednesday morning, and people were gathering their belongings to leave.

    But a government coordinator for the negotiations said vehicles had yet to arrive at Fuaa and Kafraya.

    "The logistical details are all ready, but the armed groups are delaying things," he told AFP.

    "The entry of buses into Zabadani and Madaya was a goodwill gesture from the government but they will not leave without a simultaneous exit of the Fuaa and Kafraya convoy."

    More than 30,000 people are expected to be evacuated under the deal, which was postponed after objections from both sides and tensions following a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.

    All 16,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya are expected to leave, heading to government-held Aleppo, the coastal province of Latakia or Damascus.

    Civilian residents of Madaya and Zabadani will reportedly be allowed to remain if they so choose. Those who leave, along with rebels, will head to opposition territory in Idlib. 

    The four towns are part of an existing agreement reached in 2015 that requires aid deliveries and evacuations be carried out to all areas simultaneously.

    But access has been limited, with food and medical shortages causing malnutrition, illness and even death among besieged residents.

    The UN says 4.72 million Syrians are in so-called hard-to-reach areas, including 600,000 people under siege, mostly by the Syrian army, but also by rebels or the Islamic State group.

    More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

    SEE ALSO: Trump warns Putin and clears up his administration's message on Syria

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    Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping

    President Donald Trump said that he told Chinese President Xi Jinping about the US strike on Syria over chocolate cake at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last Thursday night.

    Trump recounted how he told Xi that the military had just struck a Syrian government air base with 59 cruise missiles after Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo asked him to describe the interaction in an interview that aired Wednesday morning. 

    "You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this. I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like," Trump said. 

    "When did you tell him? Before dessert?" Bartiromo asked. 

    "I will tell you — only because you've treated me so good for so long, I have to right?" Trump said, to which Bartiromo laughed and thanked the president. 

    Trump said he and Xi had finished dinner and were winding down a day-long meeting in Palm Beach. 

    "We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it," Trump said. "And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do? And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way."

    Trump mentioned that the interaction occurred over dessert four times during his two minute response.

    "I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq," Trump said, before Bartiromo asked him if he had meant to say they were heading to Syria. "Yes — heading toward Syria, and I wanted you to know that."

    Adding to the suspense, Trump said he wasn't sure Xi had received the news well when Xi was silent and then asked his translator to repeat the information. 

    "I didn’t think that was a good sign," Trump said. 

    But Xi apparently told Trump that he "agreed with" the attack. 

    "He said to me, anybody that uses gases -- you could almost say or anything else -- but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that to young children and babies, it’s OK ... he was OK with it, he was OK," Trump said. 

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    NOW WATCH: 'CALM DOWN': Watch Sean Spicer spar with reporters over Trump's wiretap claims


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    Donald Trump

    Recent polls indicate that public opinion on US military action in Syria seems to be shifting after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike last week against the regime of Bashar Assad.

    The strike, on a Syrian airfield and nearby military infrastructure, was in response to the chemical attack on civilians last week that the US blamed on Syrian government forces.

    A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday found that 57% of Americans supported airstrikes in Syria, 58% supported establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria including strikes against Syria's air-defense systems, and 63% of Americans thought the US should do more to end the Syrian conflict. Even more, 66% of respondents said they supported the Trump administration's strike last week specifically.

    This mirrored results of another recent poll from CBS News in which 57% of Americans said they approved of the US strike. A Pew Research Center survey from this week showed a similar level of support, with 58% of Americans approving of the strike.

    The recent polls hint at changing American thought on involvement in Syria.

    In 2013, after another brutal chemical weapons attack linked to the Assad regime, only 36% of Americans said they favored the US taking military action to reduce the Syrian government's ability to use chemical weapons. Gallup noted that it was "among the lowest" figure of support "for any intervention Gallup has asked about in the last 20 years."

    In another Gallup poll from earlier that year, before the chemical attack, 68% of Americans said they opposed military action to end the Syrian conflict even if "all economic and diplomatic efforts fail."

    The shift in opinion from past years might be attributable to the new US president. The Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 57% of Americans thought Trump could end the Syrian civil war, which is dragging into its sixth year. Respondents said they trusted Trump to end the conflict more than they trusted Congress and the UN.

    Much of this support comes from Republicans, with 82% of them telling Morning Consult/Politico they were confident that Trump could handle Syria.

    Despite the support for targeted airstrikes and other means of bringing the conflict to an end — like diplomacy and economic sanctions — support is split on escalating military action. Only 39% of Americans said in the Morning Consult/Politico poll that they supported using US ground troops to topple the Assad regime, and only 44% supported using them to fight terrorist forces in the country.

    CBS found even less support for more direct military involvement — only 18% of respondents said they supported ground troops, and only 30% said they supported airstrikes with no ground troops.

    It's unclear what Trump's next move in Syria will be. Administration officials have said their position on the Assad regime has not changed — that they oppose the use of chemical weapons but have no plans to force him from power.

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    special forces

    Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are painting ISIS and the Assad regime as "inextricably connected" in a call for "greater military action" in Syria.

    The pair of senators who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee released a joint statement on Tuesday, saying that there would never be a diplomatic solution for the Syrian civil war as long Assad remained in power.

    "Our strategy cannot presume to separate the fight against ISIL from the Syrian people's fight against the Assad regime," they wrote, using another acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State group. "They are inextricably connected. Assad is a puppet of Iran, and as long as he continues to slaughter his own people, it will be impossible to destroy the radical terrorist groups that occupy Syria and the region, and the war will never end. Nor will the threat posed by these groups to our nation."

    They offered praise for President Donald Trump's recent cruise missile strike against the regime, which came in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons last week. According to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, it was meant to deter future chemical weapons use, while showing the world that the US would "not passively stand by" when such atrocities are carried out. 

    Neither Mattis or Trump have said the strategy in Syria — which has been focused solely on the defeat of ISIS — would change in light of the strikes. In an interview on Tuesday, Trump said "we're not going into Syria" when asked of any possible escalation beyond the small US footprint that is already there engaged in the anti-ISIS fight.

    lindsey graham john mccain

    Still, McCain and Graham want more. In their statement, they urge Trump to take steps such as grounding the Syrian air force, and to establish safe zones for refugees. The US military, however, needs to be weary of how Russia or Iran potentially respond to such moves, given the level of volatility in the region after the cruise missile strikes.

    "I'm confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there's nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control," Mattis said Tuesday.

    SEE ALSO: Mattis gives ominous warning: Syria would be 'ill-advised' to use chemical weapons again

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    vladimir putin rex tillerson

    Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

    Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new U.S. leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow's ally for its suspected use of poison gas.

    Tillerson started a meeting with Putin in the Kremlin after talking to his Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov for around three hours. The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm Putin would meet Tillerson, reflecting tensions over the U.S. strike on Syria.

    Just as Tillerson sat down for talks with Lavrov earlier on Wednesday, a senior Russian official assailed the "primitiveness and loutishness" of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump's cabinet.

    "One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated," Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television.

    In his interview, Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad's enemies.

    FILE PHOTO: U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria  on April 7, 2017.  Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

    Tillerson's official itinerary in Moscow started with the meeting with Lavrov, in an ornate hall in a foreign ministry-owned residence. In opening remarks in front of reporters, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.

    "I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Lavrov said.

    "And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken."

    Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office -- a point of sensitivity in Washington.

    One of Lavrov's deputies was even more undiplomatic.

    Sergei Lavrov Rex Tillerson

    "In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We'll hope that this doesn't become the substance of American policy," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency.

    "As a whole, the administration's stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all."

    Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was "to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be."

    "I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward," he told Lavrov.

    After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a "bazaar" by shouting questions to Lavrov.

    Moscow's hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him. 

    Cover-up

    Sarin gas deathsThe White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad's use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.

    Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday. Washington warned Moscow, and Russian troops at the base were not hit.

    Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.

    Trump came to the presidency promising to seek closer ties with Russia and greater cooperation fighting against their common enemy in Syria, Islamic State. Tillerson is a former oil executive who was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Putin.

    Last week's poison gas attack and the U.S. retaliation upended what many in Moscow hoped would be a transformation in relations between the two countries, which reached a post-Cold War low under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

    The United States and its European allies imposed financial sanctions on Russia in 2014 after Putin seized territory from neighboring Ukraine.

    Washington is leading a campaign of air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters and has backed rebels fighting against Assad during a six-year civil war, but until last week the United States had avoided directly targeting the Syrian government.

    Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad's side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world's worst refugee crisis.

    Syria strike map

    In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.

    "We’re not going into Syria," he said in excerpts of the interview on the station's website. "But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons ... and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father's arms, or you see kids gasping for life ... when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis."

    Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle East allies.

    Some of Washington's allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of U.S. support for its traditional friends. Tillerson's mission sees the Trump administration taking on the traditional U.S. role as spokesman for a unified Western position.

    Trump's relations with Russia are also a domestic issue, as U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help Trump win. The FBI is investigating whether any Trump campaign figures colluded with Moscow, which the White House denies.

    SEE ALSO: Trump told China's president he would strike Syria while eating 'the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake'

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    syria

    Last week, the US responded to a deadly chemical weapons attack believed to have been carried out by the Syrian government six years into the country's devastating civil war.

    The war, which erupted in 2011 following a popular uprising against the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad, has left nearly half a million people dead and sparked the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

    These are the complicated and horrifying events that sparked the war, and, ultimately, the US response. 

    SEE ALSO: A deadly chemical attack in Syria earlier this week sparked US missile strikes — here's what happened

    In the spring of 2011, a series of pro-democracy protests known as the Arab Spring were rocking countries across the Middle East. In Syria, people peacefully protested in the streets after President Bashar Assad's government arrested and tortured teenagers for writing some pro-revolution graffiti on their school wall.

    Source: BBC



    To quell the protests, government forces started opening fire during marches and sit-ins. With hundreds of people now killed by Assad's government, the protesters who initially called for more civil liberties started demanding a total overthrow of Assad's regime.

    Source: The Guardian



    With no end to the violence, some former government officers formed the Free Syrian Army to support the opposition. As sides battled for control over major cities such as Homs and Aleppo, the fighting escalated into a full-blown civil war by the end of 2011.

    Source: BBC



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    The United States told Russia at the United Nations on Wednesday that is it isolating itself by continuing to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Britain said its scientists found sarin was used in a deadly toxic gas attack on Syrian civilians last week.

    Russia is set to block a push by Western powers at the United Nations later on Wednesday to bolster support for international inquiries into the April 4 toxic gas attack in Syria. It will be Moscow's eighth veto in support of the Assad government since the Syrian war began six years ago.

    "To my colleagues from Russia - you are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, told the U.N. Security Council.

    During a heated Security Council meeting, Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov told the 15-member body that Western countries were wrong to blame Assad for the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

    "I'm amazed that this was the conclusion. No one has yet visited the site of the crime. How do you know that?" he said.

    The attack prompted the United States to strike a Syrian air base with cruise missiles and worsened relations between the United States and Russia.

    President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the two countries under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

    Syria strike map

    Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the Security Council that samples taken from the site of the gas attack, in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, have tested positive for the nerve gas sarin.

    He accused Russia of siding with "a murderous, barbaric criminal, rather than with their international peers."

    Safronkov, who demanded Rycroft look at him while he was speaking, responded: "I cannot accept that you insult Russia."

    Haley also accused Iran of being "Assad's chief accomplice in the regime's horrific acts," adding: "Iran is dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so it can expand its own reach."

    Western powers blame the gas attack, which killed scores of civilians - many of them children - on Assad's forces. Syria's government has denied responsibility for the attack, which prompted a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.

    Sarin gas deaths

    Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Syria had sent dozens of letters to the Security Council, some detailing "the smuggling of sarin from Libya through Turkey on a civilian air plane by using a Syrian citizen."

    "Two litres of sarin were transported from Libya through Turkey to terrorist groups in Syria," he said, adding that the government does "not have these weapons."

    U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura warned the Security Council on Wednesday that fragile progress in peace talks was now "in grave danger."

    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: Syrian strike will not 'spiral out of control' into war with Russia

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    Sergei Lavrov Rex Tillerson

    Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and urging a speedy investigation on Wednesday. 

    Wednesday marks the eigth time Moscow exercised a veto in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since the Syrian conflict began six years ago. China abstained from the vote while Bolivia also voted against it, according to Reuters. 

    Earlier in the day, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the Russians are "isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death." 

    Russian diplomats urged patience and for the US and others not to rush to judgment over the April 4 chemical weapon attack that killed more than 80.

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    Rep. Mike Coffman Colorado

    At least one Republican lawmaker is asking White House press secretary Sean Spicer to quit, following an uproar over Spicer's reference to Hitler during a press briefing.

    Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado said during a town hall meeting Wednesday, "He needs to go. Because I just don't think he's serving the president well."

    Coffman's audience erupted in cheers.

    Spicer on Tuesday attempted to emphasize the atrocity of last week's chemical-weapons attack in Syria by comparing Syrian President Bashar Assad to Adolf Hitler. Spicer said, "someone as despicable as Hitler didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."

    Spicer's ahistorical anecdote prompted harsh criticism far and wide, with several high-profile figures, lawmakers, and organizations urging President Donald Trump to fire him.

    The press secretary, who, in roughly three months on the job, has been cornered for making a number of controversial statements, apologized profusely for the Hitler remark, but also made a couple more verbal blunders in the process.

    Coffman did the same thing during his town hall meeting after saying Spicer should resign. The audience's cheers briefly turned to boos when Coffman attempted to elaborate on Spicer's Hitler comments.

    "Don't apologize for him!," an audience member shouted.

    SEE ALSO: Sean Spicer made 2 more regrettable blunders in his Holocaust apology

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    Nikki Haley syria

    A senior US official claimed that military and intelligence operatives had intercepted communications between the Syrian military and chemical experts discussing preparations for last week's chemical-weapons attack in Syria, according to a CNN report Wednesday.

    The intelligence was part of a larger collection of information that was reviewed shortly after the attack, which killed at least 83 people in the northwest city of Idlib.

    The official also mentioned that because of the substantial amount of intelligence gathered from the region, the US could not have examined all of the data before the attack.

    None of the intercepted communications confirmed Russian involvement, the official told CNN. The person added, however, that Russia was most likely more careful in its communications. Russian jets, which may have been purchased by Syrian forces, were reportedly used to drop ordnance that contained chemical agents. Further, a Russian-made drone was also reported to have been identified in the area, circling potential targets for a follow-up assault that hit a hospital.

    US officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have said there is "no doubt" of the Syrian government's involvement. Turkish officials confirmed that Syria was still in possession of chemical weapons and that autopsies on the victims of last week's attack showed traces of sarin gas, despite Russia's assertions that Syria's chemical-weapons capabilities had been destroyed in 2013.

    "We know they have the expertise. And we suspect that they have help," a US military official said on Saturday.

    To date, both Russia and Syria have denied involvement in the attack.

    SEE ALSO: US officials: Russian drone may have turned camera off, right before Syrian attack

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    Airstrike Rubble Daraa Al Balad Syria

    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog has been sent to Turkey to collect samples as part of an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week that killed 87 people.

    The fact finding mission was sent from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters on Thursday.

    The toxic gas attack on April 4, which killed scores of children, prompted the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base and widened a rift between the United States and Russia, a close Syrian ally.

    The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.

    Investigators have concluded that sarin, chlorine and sulfur mustard gas have been used in Syria's civil war. Government forces used chlorine, while Islamic State militants used sulfur mustard.

    Last week's bombing in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held province of Idlib near the Turkish border was the most lethal since a sarin attack on Aug. 21, 2013 killed hundreds in a suburb of the capital, Damascus. 

    (Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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