Rebels Backed by CIA Join al-Qaeda in Fight Against Assad in Syria

A fighter from Syria's al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front holds his group flag as he stands in front of the governor building in Idlib province, north Syria.

With the United States struggling to find capable “moderate” rebel forces that it can support in Syria, Washington has secretly started backing brigades that fight alongside al-Qaeda groups against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Two of these groups, Division 13 and Fursan al-Haq, have gained grounds while fighting alongside a group calling itself Army of Fatah, an Islamist alliance that includes the Nusra Front – al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria – and another hardline militant group, Ahrar al-Sham.

Division 13 and Fursan al-Haq, which do not share a joint command structure with Army of Fatah and reject its anti-Western views, receive covert support from the CIA, senior group members said in interviews with Newsweek.

In Syria, US-backed moderate rebel groups leading the fight against President Assad are falling, with some of them joining radical Islamist factions.

Hazzm, a rebel brigade that received anti-tank weapons from the United States, was crushed in March by Nusra, which also seized the group’s American weapons. That has left Washington for months without a reliable rebel force to publicly support.

“Maybe Nusra fought… Hazzm at the start, because they said they were no good. Now they have a plan to fight only the [Assad] regime,” Mazin Qusum, commander of the Siham Al-Haqq brigade, an Islamist unit fighting alongside the Army of Fatah, told Reuters in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.


One of Ahrar al-Sham’s founders, Abu Khaled al-Soury, fought alongside Osama bin Laden and was close to al Qaeda’s current chief Ayman al-Zawahri. While such close ties preclude public backing from Washington, these groups are stressing unity.

In a sign of cooperation, an arm of the Western-backed opposition government in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, has been given the responsibility for health and education in areas the rebels have recently captured, Newsweek reported.

Abu Hamoud, a commander from Division 13, said his group is coordinated with Nusra Front, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, but this does not mean it is aligned to it.

“It is completely stable in Idlib province (where Army of Fatah has seized towns), there will be no fighting between the brigades,” Abu Hamoud was quoted as saying by Newsweek.

It remains unclear, however, if there will be conflict within the Islamic alliance after liberating some areas, and if those groups would impose Sharia law there.

“We and the others, when we liberate all of Syria, we will meet and determine what kind of law there will be,” Abu Mohammed, a representative of Ahrar al-Sham’s political office, said as he sat with Division 13 and Fursan al Haq commanders in Istanbul, Turkey.

Some fighters warn that groups could turn against each other once they reach their military objectives, with one member from the Islamist group Liwa Tawheed saying “it’s very possible there will be power conflicts among them.”

“As long as there are strategies to attack the regime and major strategies to work together, there won’t be a problem because the brigades will have a common enemy,” that same fighter told Newsweek.


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Russia Did More for Crimea Within 1 Year Than Ukraine Since Soviet Fall

The Khan Palace in the Bakhchisaray Historical and Cultural Park Khansaray.

Russia has done more for Crimean Tatars since the reunification than Ukraine has in over two decades while the peninsula was under its rule, Resit Kemal As, advisor of the head of Crimea Sergei Aksenov, told Sputnik.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — According to the advisor, Russia has taken significant steps to solve the Crimean Tatars’ issue in the region.

“Unlike Ukraine, which has not taken a single step in 23-24 years to fix the issue of Crimean Tatars who returned from deportation, the authorities of the Crimean Republic first made sure that the language of Crimean Tatars was fixed in the Constitution as an official language,” Kemal As said.

According to the advisor, Russian President Vladimir Putin created special benefits to aid the people who had returned from deportation, something Ukraine has not done.

Several reforms are being implemented on the peninsula targeting education, land management, the economy and the development of the Crimean Tatar language, Kemal As said.

Crimean Tatars are currently holding several high-ranking positions in the parliament, ministries and municipalities. The ethnicity was never represented so widely in the peninsula’s government, according to Kemal As.

The advisor also noted that Russia supports the Crimean Muslims financially, and allocates necessary funds for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Crimean Tatars are a Turckic ethnic group that formed in the Crimean Peninsula in the 13-17th centuries. In 1944, Stalin deported Crimean Tatars to Central Asia, but many of them have returned to the region in early 1990s. Currently some 260,000 Crimean Tatars live on the peninsula.

Crimea seceded from Ukraine and reunified with Russia in March 2014. The decision was made through a referendum, in which more than 96 percent of the peninsula’s population voted to rejoin Russia.

Crimean Official Invites Turkish Entrepreneurs to Explore Business Opportunities

Turkish entrepreneurs are welcome to visit Crimea and explore the peninsula’s promising business opportunities.

Bakhchisarai today
Bakhchisarai today

“We invite Turkish entrepreneurs to Crimea so that can see with their own eyes the whole range of possibilities the peninsula offers for successful business development,” Kemal As said.

After the reunification of Crimea with Russia, the peninsula was declared a free economic zone for 10 years, a move set to promote entrepreneurship, he added.

“In terms of investment, Crimea provides opportunities in areas such as construction, tourism, infrastructure development, energy, agriculture,” Kemal As said, noting that Russia has allocated 12.5 billion euro ($14 billion) until 2020 to boost economic development in the region.

“Turkish companies can make their contribution to this process, taking part in public tenders,” he stated.


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Iran Releases Marshall Islands-Flagged Cargo Ship

Iranian navy seized US ship MV MaerskTigris under court order

The Iranian authorities released a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship seized earlier.

CAIRO/MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The Iranian authorities have released a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship seized earlier on Tuesday, no crew members were detained, according to Al Arabiya television.

The Iranian navy detained a 34-men crew cargo ship after a local court issued an order for its confiscation, the Iranian FARS news agency reported, citing informed sources.


According to the report, the ship was seized at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, which had financial disagreements with the owner of the vessel.The Marshall Islands gained independence from the United States in 1986. However, the United States retained authority and responsibility for the defense of the islands.

According to the ship-owning company, there were no US citizens on board of the vessel. The crew included people from eastern Europe and Asia.


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US Seeks Global Energy Dominance, Ready to Flood Markets with Natural Gas

Workers put the final touches on a natural gas well platform owned by Encana south of Parachute, Colorado

The United States is prepared to flood the world market with unprecedented quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as early as this year in a move that will challenge the energy leaders around the globe.

“We anticipate becoming big players, and I think we’ll have a big impact,” said US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “We’re going to influence the whole global LNG market.”


Moniz said four LNG export terminals are under construction and the first wave of shipments may begin before the end of this year or in early 2016 at the latest, the Telegraph reported.

“Certainly in this decade, there’s a good chance that we will be LNG exporters on the scale of Qatar, which is today’s largest LNG exporter,” he said.

Qatar exports just over 100 billion cubic meters (BCM). Australia is catching up fast thanks to the offshore Gorgon field, and it may pull ahead of Qatar later this decade.

Natural gas industry officials at the IHS CERAWeek energy summit in Houston, Texas, said American exports potentially could push the United States past Russia as the world’s biggest supplier of natural gas of all kinds.

“We’re just 15 years into a 150-year process,” said Steve Mueller, head of Southwestern Energy, the fourth biggest producer of gas in the United States.

The mile-deep Marcellus basin stretching from West Virginia through Pennsylvania to New York State is driving the explosive growth. Interlocking fractures in the rock mean and tech advances in the industry mean one well can extract much more gas now than just five years ago.

Today, US drillers can produce 33% more natural gas today with 280 rigs than they did in 2009 with 1,200 rigs, the Telegraph reported.

Total shale output has soared to over 350 BCM from almost nothing a decade ago. It now makes up half of US gas production.

And while nearly 30 gas liquefaction projects are planned in the US, Moody’s warned earlier this month that most will be nixed due to the drop in international oil prices.

That forecast will not stop Michael Smith, head of Freeport LNG, from going ahead with plans for his company’s $13 billion plant near Houston. Smith predicted that the US could soon leap-frog all rivals to dominate the gas industry.

“Our projects are very competitive and we will continue to have an advantage over the rest of the world,” he told the Telegraph.

If the United States can begin to deliver shipments of LNG across the Atlantic, it will have a number of import terminals to choose from. America’s LNG production has already impacted Russia’s pricing power in Europe, and new competition from western shipping routes would drive prices further down.

At the same time, American drillers believe recently discovered reserves of shale oil could lead the United States to produce more oil than the Middle East.

Scott Sheffield, head of Pioneer Natural Resources, said a new reserve in West Texas could produce as much as five to six millions barrels per day – more than Saudi Arabia’s giant Ghawar field, the biggest in the world.

Ryan Lance, head of ConocoPhillips, said North American oil output could reach 15 million barrels a by 2020 and 25 million a day over the next 25 years – three times Saudi Arabia’s current exports.


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US Unable to Confirm Reports of Syria’s Alleged Chlorine Use in Hama

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria

The United States can not confirm the reports of Syria’s alleged use of chlorine gas in the Hama province over the weekend, US State Department deputy spokesperson Jeff Rathke said on Monday.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — According to media reports, the Assad regime allegedly used chlorine gas during fighting in Hama, Syria, on Sunday.


“We are seeking more information about those allegations. We are not in a position to confirm those details,” Rathke told journalists.Syria has been mired in civil war since 2011, with the country’s government fighting against several opposition and militant groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State.

After the 2013 Sarin gas attack, Syria joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and agreed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

At the end of October 2014, the OPCW reported that nearly 98 percent of chemical weapons removed from Syria had been destroyed.


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EU is Critical of Ukraine’s Unwillingness to Implement Minsk Agreement

Maidan update

The Kiev government constantly delays the implementation of the Minsk Agreement, causing disapproval among European countries.

Critical voices are increasingly heard among the EU countries regarding the unwillingness of the Ukrainian government to implement provisions of the Minsk Agreement, “Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten” reported.

It particularly concerns Ukraine’s attempts to delay its implementation and reluctance to realize the decentralization agreed in Minsk.


German Foreign Ministry Walter Steinmeier called on the EU to involve Russia in the negotiation of the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement in order to show “the necessary flexibility” and to improve the political climate.However, this move is rejected by Kiev as the Ukrainian government claims that Russia has no right to participate in the discussion of an agreement between the sovereign Ukraine and the EU, the German media source reported.

In February, foreign ministers of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine, negotiated a ceasefire deal for the warring sides in Minsk, Belarus. The agreement stipulates full restoration of social and economic system in the country and implies decentralization of power in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.


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West Demonizes Putin for Making Russia Feel Great Again – Czech Media

Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev at Victory Day parade on Red Square

The current Western efforts to demonize Vladimir Putin largely stem from EU and US frustration about Russia’s social and political advances of the past fifteen years, a Czech newspaper wrote Monday

By the time Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, Russia was in a state of utter economic disrepair, with the mafia and foreign capital ruling supreme, regional bosses doing whatever they pleased lining their pockets and siphoning off funds sorely needed to finance construction, health care, social infrastructure and the military.The population was dwindling and the Russians no longer felt proud of their country.

Meanwhile, the trials and tribulations the country went through under Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin were eagerly welcomed in the West, Czech Free Press wrote in a comment.

“In actual fact, the West was, to a large extent, responsible for what was happening to Russia as the US and EU plan to turn an undefeated Cold War-era adversary into a crushed and helpless colony, a provider mineral resources to the developed nations, was gradually coming true,” the article said.

Things started to change after Vladimir Putin became President – something the West never expected. By then Putin was already a seasoned diplomat perfectly able to learn from the mistakes made by his predecessors.

And learn he did turning Russia’s 21st century policy all around,” the author emphasized.

“The Russian Federation eventually became a country the West now had to reckon with and a partner to many countries which were no longer willing to do business with the US. And this is the only and genuine reason behind the current Western attempts to contain Russia,” Czech Free Press wrote in a comment.


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No Peace for Yemen: Foreign Minister Rejects Peace Talks

Yemeni protesters hold a portrait of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration against airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Arab coalition against Huthi militia in the capital Sanaa on April 3, 2015

An attempt to find peace in Yemen shattered after Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen rejected a call for peace talks issued by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen rejected a call for peace talks issued by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, pointing out that the Saudi-led military operation against Houthi militia will continue, Reuters said.

The foreign minister said during a conference in London:

“These calls are unacceptable after all of the destruction Ali Abdullah Saleh has caused. There can be no place for Saleh in any future political talks.”

Earlier, fighters, loyal to former president Saleh, asked all Yemenis to have a political dialogue and find a working solution to end the bloody conflict in the war-torn country.


Saleh was the president of Yemen between 1990 and 2012, when he stepped down and ceded power to his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who then became the new president of the country.In January, Houthi opposition forces seized the capital Sanaa and forced Hadi to step down. The ex-president asked the Arab League for military support.

On March 19, the Saudi-led coalition of Arab nations started airstrikes against the Houthi positions in Yemen. The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives in Yemen since the start of the military campaignю

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Dozens of Taliban Militants Killed in Afghanistan

Image taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network

Forty-one militants were killed, 28 wounded and one was detained as the Afghan army continued its mop-up operations to purge the country’s restive provinces of Islamist radicals, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement Sunday.


The statement also confirmed losing 11 army personnel as a result of heavy enemy firing and landmine explosions within the same period, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.The Taliban insurgent group has yet to make any comments.

The Afghan security forces have recently ramped up their countrywide crackdown on the Taliban as spring and summer, known as the fighting season, is drawing near.

Furthermore, seven militants were killed and two police officers were injured after Taliban militants attacked security checkpoints in Northern Baghlan and neighboring Badakhshan province overnight Saturday, officials confirmed.


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MH17: Berlin Knew Ukraine Flight Risks Before Crash – Media


MH17 flight recovery team members erect a  No Trespassing sign in an area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash in the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine
The German authorities knew the risks of flying over war-torn east Ukraine before Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky last year but did not inform the airlines, local media reported Monday.

A diplomatic cable by Germany’s foreign ministry a few days prior to the crash warned the situation in eastern Ukraine was “worrying,” and that a transport plane was shot down in the same area at more than 6,000 meters altitude, but never notified the Transport Ministry and the airlines, Zuddeutsche Zeitung reported.The foreign ministry report quoted aviation experts as saying that it took a special type of weaponry to shoot down a plane flying that high.

Investigators are still trying to determine who was responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Ukraine’s Donetsk region in July last year, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.

The day of the MH17 crash “three Lufthansa aircraft also flew over the area, including one only 20 minutes before Flight MH17,” Suddeutsche Zeitung said…

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