U.S.-led jets strike in Syria to block Islamic State evacuation deal

Flag of Syria.svg

U.S.-led jets strike in Syria to block Islamic State evacuation deal

FILE PHOTO: A convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families begin to depart from the Lebanon-Syria border zone in Qalamoun, Syria August 28, 2017. REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki

(Reuters) U.S.-led warplanes on Wednesday blocked a convoy of Islamic State fighters and their families from reaching territory the group holds in east Syria and struck some of their comrades traveling to meet them, a coalition spokesman said.

The strikes were aimed at stopping an evacuation deal for Islamic State fighters to leave their enclave on the Lebanon-Syria border for areas they hold in eastern Syria, arranged by the Lebanese Hezbollah group and the Syrian army.

It was part of a ceasefire agreed after offensives last week by the Lebanese army on one front, and the Syrian army and Hezbollah on another, that pushed Islamic State back into a small part of its enclave straddling the frontier.

The deal has been criticized by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting against Islamic State in areas contiguous with the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed.

The convoy, carrying 308 militants and 331 civilians according to Hezbollah, is now effectively stranded, unable to move forward into Islamic State territory.

It shows how easily such evacuations to other areas, which the Syrian government has increasingly used to push rebel pockets to surrender, can be derailed in a conflict with many sides.

Islamic State is on the back foot in both Syria and Iraq, losing swathes of its territory and its most important towns and cities after taking advantage of chaos including the six-year civil war in Syria to win ground.

In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition is backing an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in the north which are assaulting the jihadist group’s former de facto capital of Raqqa.

The Russian-backed Syrian army and allied Shi’ite militia from Iraq and Lebanon including Hezbollah have this year seized most of the central desert from the group, and are advancing eastwards to relieve the army’s besieged enclave in Deir al-Zor.

The coalition strikes to block the convoy moving into Islamic State territory took place east of Humeima, near the edge of land held by the Syrian government, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told Reuters.

“We did crater the road and destroyed a small bridge to prevent this convoy from moving further east,” Dillon told Reuters by phone.

He later said the coalition had struck vehicles containing Islamic State fighters that were heading to that area from deeper inside the territory they control to the east.

He did not know if the evacuation convoy, which contains buses of fighters and their family members, as well as ambulances carrying wounded fighters, was now in Islamic State or Syrian government territory.


On Tuesday morning a Hezbollah-run military media unit reported the convoy had reached an exchange point into Islamic State territory.

The evacuation deal also involved Islamic State revealing the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it took captive in its border enclave in 2014, and surrendering Hezbollah and Syrian army prisoners and bodies in east Syria.

”We’re not bound by these agreements,“ Dillon said, apparently referring to the ceasefire deal. ”They’re clearly fighters and they’re moving to another location to fight yet again.

“In accordance with the law of armed conflict … we will strike them if we are able to do so,” he said, adding that direct strikes on the convoy would only take place if the militants could be separated from civilians.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition, criticized the evacuation deal in a statement early on Wednesday before the strikes were reported, saying: “Relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution”.

Separately, the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, defended the Lebanese group’s involvement in the evacuation deal in a statement responding to criticism of the move from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Abadi said on Tuesday: “Transporting this number of terrorists from long distance to eastern Syria adjacent to Iraqi borders is unacceptable”.

Nasrallah said it was a Hezbollah deal agreed upon by the Syrian leadership, that the fighters were few in number, and were being moved from one front Hezbollah was fighting in to another.

Lebanon is a major recipient of U.S. and British military aid. It says its offensive against Islamic State last week was separate to the simultaneous one made against the same pocket from inside Syria by the Syrian army and Hezbollah, regarded by the U.S. and Britain as a terrorist group.

On Wednesday the Lebanese army said its head General Joseph Aoun had been phoned by the commander of U.S. Central Command Joseph Votel congratulating him on the offensive and pledging to continue arming Lebanon’s army.


Source  :  Syria News media

Islamic State evacuation convoy will cross to Deir al-Zor: alliance commander

Flag of Syria.svg

Islamic State evacuation convoy will cross to Deir al-Zor: alliance commander

(Reuters) An Islamic State evacuation convoy in eastern Syria that was blocked by U.S.-led air strikes will head from government-held Sukhna towards the IS-held Deir al-Zor region, a commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said on Thursday.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army arranged the evacuation as part of a ceasefire with Islamic State in an enclave on the Lebanon-Syria border after an offensive last week.

But U.S.-led coalition forces blocked the convoy from moving into Islamic State-held territory on Wednesday by striking the road ahead and some of their comrades traveling to meet them.

The ceasefire deal has been criticized by the coalition and by Iraq, whose army is also fighting Islamic State in areas next to the eastern Syria region to which the convoy was headed.

The coalition might strike again, the coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said by phone on Thursday.

“We will continue to monitor the convoys in real time … and take advantage of known ISIS (fighters) in open areas away from civilians and strike them,” he said.

Dillon said on Wednesday the coalition was “not bound by these agreements,” referring to the ceasefire deal and making clear it was being used to move fighters from one location to another “to fight yet again”.

The commander in the pro-Syrian government military alliance said the location for the convoy to move into IS-held territory had been changed from Humeima in the southeast to Sukhna, further north, and that part of the deal was already moving forward.

He said an exchange had begun in the desert, under which the bodies of an Iranian killed in the fighting and two other dead fighters would be swapped for 25 wounded IS fighters.

Iran backs Syrian government forces in the civil war that began in Syria in 2011. In Tehran, the country’s Revolutionary Guards said on its website that the dead Iranian had been identified as Mohsen Hojaji and that a funeral procession would be held for him in the Iranian capital on Saturday.

The evacuation deal allowed for a convoy of 600 individuals, of whom Hizbollah say almost half are civilians, to be transferred to IS-held territory in eastern Syria.

The deal also involved Islamic State revealing the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers it took captive in its border enclave in 2014, as well as surrendering a Hezbollah prisoner.

An official in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which is helping with the exchange, has entered Islamic State territory to accompany the prisoner back to the government-held area, the commander in the pro-Assad military alliance said.

The commander added that the delay in the convoy moving after it reached the original exchange point on Tuesday was caused by the coalition strike on Wednesday and by a dispute between Islamic State commanders.

Hezbollah-aligned al Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon reported on Thursday that some IS leaders in eastern Syria did not want members of the group who had surrendered territory to be welcomed back into their self-declared caliphate.


Source  :  Syria News media

SOHR: 13 SDF members killed in battles with ISIS in Raqqa

Flag of Syria.svg

SOHR: 13 SDF members killed in battles with ISIS in Raqqa

Raqqa (Syria News) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights informed, on Thursday, that 13 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were killed, in battles with the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, in the city of Raqqa and countryside of Hasakah.

The observatory reported that ongoing battles are taking place between the Syrian Democratic Forces militias and the Islamic State militants, in the countryside of Raqqa, where the SDF militias managed to capture the Panorama Garden, west of the city.

Furthermore, the observatory added that the US-led international coalition conducted an aerial landing operation in the countryside of Deir Ezzor City, in addition to another landing operation in al-Ma’mel area, near the city.


Source  :  Syria News media

Duty-free struggles as THAAD crisis persists

Flag of South Korea.svg

Duty-free operators in South Korea are reducing their organizations and store sizes as sales struggle to rebound in the face of falling numbers of tourist shoppers from China.

The once highly lucrative industry had been heavily dependent on group tourists from China, who swept Korean cosmetics and other products off store shelves.

However, these groups sharply fell off earlier this year when Beijing imposed an unofficial travel ban on Korea following Korea‘s decision to install an American anti-missile system here. The so-called THAAD crisis, named for the anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, is now entering its sixth month.

Lotte Duty Free’s World Tower branch (Yonhap)

“Overall in August, our sales have fallen about 14 percent compared to last year. When looking just at sales from Chinese shoppers, the drop is 28 percent,” said an official with Lotte Duty Free, the largest duty-free operator. Lotte, as well as Hotel Shilla and Shinsegae, saw losses in the second quarter directly following China’s travel ban.

The crisis is hitting small and medium-sized operators such as SM and newly licensed operators such as Doosan and Hanwha particularly hard. Over the last two years, the Korean government had issued new duty-free licenses through highly competitive tenders, raising the number of duty-free stores in Seoul alone to 13.

But without enough time to establish themselves among tourists, these smaller and newer duty-free shops are finding it difficult to stay afloat in the unexpected THAAD crisis.

Doosan’s Doota Duty Free Store and SM Duty Free have reduced the size of their stores as well as their operating hours. Hanwha and SM have reduced the number of employees dedicated to its duty-free operations.
“The closure of our outlet in Jeju means that we only have one duty-free store, in Seoul,” said an official with Hanwha.

“We reduced the size of the team to reflect the reduced workload.”

Hanwha Galleria had decided in July to return its license to operate a duty-free store in Jeju International Airport, which was valid until 2019. Although Hanwha initially announced that it would be closing its Jeju branch at the end of August, the company decided to extend its operations until the end of the year because the airport could not find a replacement operator.

Airports have also been hit hard by falling sales at duty-free outlets. High profits from downtown stores had been used by operators in the past to make up for the heavy rent costs at airports.

Last year, top two companies Lotte Duty Free and Shilla Duty Free had paid out 451.8 billion won ($402.5 million) and 264.8 billion won respectively for rented space at Incheon International Airport.

With sluggish sales in downtown stores, companies are now hesitant to make high offers on rents at airports. Incheon, the largest gateway into Korea, felt this change head-on earlier this year when it had to slash its rent prices by 30 percent to find an operator for its fashion and accessories sector in its upcoming second terminal.

By Won Ho-jung (hjwon@heraldcorp.com)


Source  :  The Korea Herald

Additional THAAD deployment likely next week: report

Flag of South Korea.svg

Deployment of four more Terminal High Altitude Area Defense launchers may begin as early as next week, local media reported Friday citing unnamed South Korean and US military sources.

According to reports, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense and US Forces Korea are likely to transport four additional THAAD launchers, and materials required for their temporary deployment to the site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, next week.

A THAAD launcher stationed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. Yonhap

The THAAD deployment was agreed during the Park Geun-hye administration. There are two launchers and a powerful radar already deployed and in operation in Seongju, but the new Moon Jae-in administration had suspended further rollout, citing the need for a thorough environmental impact survey. A typical THAAD battery consists of six launchers and a radar.

However, following North Korea’s ballistic missile in late July, President Moon Jae-in ordered concerned government bodies to begin the process of deploying four additional launchers on a temporary basis.

“The Ministry of Environment requested additional information on a number of occasions, and judging by the process that is currently in progress, (the environmental impact study) appears to be nearing the end,” an unnamed Defense Ministry official was quoted as saying by local news outlets. Once the environmental assessment is over, early results of which suggested that the launchers have no significant environmental effect, the ministry and US forces are likely to begin the deployment process.

The news comes as North Korean provocations reached a new high with the recent ballistic missile that flew over Japan’s airspace.

Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo’s letter to residents of the area asking for their understanding has also been interpreted as a sign that additional THAAD launcher deployment is imminent. Song is currently in the US where he met with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and is reported to have discussed the possibility of stationing US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)


Source  :  The Korea Herald

[IFA 2017] ‘Leadership vacuum deals serious blow to Samsung’

Flag of South Korea.svg

BERLIN — Amid mounting uncertainty over the future of Samsung, with its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong in jail, the world’s largest chip and handset maker has recently lost a business opportunity to acquire an artificial intelligence technology company, said one of the top brass of the company late Thursday.

In a rare speech, Yoon Boo-keun, president and CEO of the consumer electronics division of Samsung Electronics, expressed concerns about the unprecedented leadership vacuum within the tech giant, stressing that he feels like he is sailing without a captain.

“While the IT industry is going through tremendous transformations, we are facing significant difficulties in steering the wheel by filling up the absence of the ‘captain of our fleet,’” Yoon told Korean reporters covering a consumer electronics show in the German capital.

“’Each head of the four business divisions — device solutions, mobile communications, consumer electronics visual display — are having a hard time in terms of structural restructuring and mergers and acquisitions,“ he said.

Yoon Boo-keun, president & CEO of consumer electronics business at Samsung Electronics speaks during a press conference at Westin Grand Hotel in Berlin on Thursday. (Samsung Electronics)

The comment came amid lingering mixed views over the impact of Lee’s absence in Samsung Electronics as the tech giant has seen its strongest ever first half performance this year.

Lee was arrested in late February over his involvement in a bribery scandal that led to the ouster of the nation‘s former leader.

Lee’s absence deals a serious blow to the tech giant, as the heir holds the ultimate key in making final decisions for crucial matters including M&As and corporate restructuring, Yoon said.

“Some say that the owner’s absence doesn’t mean a lot to global Samsung, but that’s not true. It feels totally different when you actually do the management from watching it from the outside … Important decision-making is being stopped, including the restructuring of businesses, because it is difficult for a division chief to make decisions on large M&A projects,” he said.

“Either for a company or a family, ownership is the most important,” Yoon said. “What has made today‘s Samsung was the ownership.”

Samsung has also given up on an M&A project regarding the AI business, said Yoon without elaborating.

“It is not right to say that the project fell apart due to the leadership vacuum, but it’s how you interpret it,” Yoon said. “Doing a business is a matter of timing. I’m not allowed to reveal details of the project, but please understand it as that we missed the right timing.”

Yoon is one of four CEOs of Samsung Electronics’ divisions and a boardroom member.

Sharing his encounter with jailed Vice Chairman Lee, Yoon said that the heir was worrying about Samsung’s global status.

“I visited the vice chairman last Wednesday,” Yoon said. “He asked us to keep Samsung’s No.1 position.”

Two days after their encounter, Lee was sentenced to a five-year jail term. The court found him guilty over all five charges including bribery and perjury, that he had known about the close relationship between former President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil, which constitutes Samsung’s donation to Choi‘s horse-riding daughter as a crime.

Lee appealed the verdict on Monday, with the tech giant contending the absence of the heir has brought “an unprecedented crisis.” Prosecutors filed an appeal the following day, expecting another fierce legal dispute.

Yoon and three other representatives of company divisions — Koh Dong-jin, president of mobile communications, Kim Hyun-suk, president of visual display, and Suh Byoung-sam, executive vice president of consumer electronics — attended the IFA, short for Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, the largest electronics show in Europe held every September.

Ahead of the six-day show that kicked off on Friday, Samsung unveiled three new wearables — smart watch Gear Sport, sports band Gear Fit2 Pro and Gear IconX — innovative washing machine QuickDrive and vacuum cleaner POWER Stick.

On the first day of IFA, Samsung exhibited a slew of its latest home appliances, including IoT-based smart refrigerator Family Hub, new art platform TV Frame and its newest wearables, which suggest a blue print for the smart home of the future at the largest booth named “Samsung Town” at the Messe Berlin venue.

At the booth, the company also made space for industry officials and consumers to experience the latest Galaxy Note 8 smartphone that was unveiled last Wednesday in New York.

However, an explosion of Samsung’s Galaxy S7 smartphone, was reported in Korea on Thursday, following similar reports in other countries including Japan, Australia and the US recently.

CEO Koh Dong-jin, chief of the mobile communications division, said at the press conference that he is being briefed on individual complaints and paying keen attention to it.

“We trust our consumers, but I can confidently tell some other external factors may have caused such an explosion,” Koh said. “The ongoing investigation by an independent institution will take a long time to find out the real cause, but I think it is the right way to deal with it.”

Around 1,800 companies from about 50 countries, including LG Electronics and 39 smaller tech firms from Korea, attended the tech show being held for the next six days.

“Samsung owns a broad range of technology that can connect all kinds of home appliances and mobile devices, and we are ready to boast the connectivity as our strength,” Yoon said.

On the newly emerging AI business, Yoon said the company will continue partnering with Google and Amazon, while trying to develop its own platform.

By Song Su-hyun, Korea Herald correspondent (song@heraldcorp.com)


Source  :  The Korea Herald

Aref re-elected chairman of Hope faction

Flag of Iran.svg

September 1, 2017

TEHRAN – Mohammad Reza Aref was re-elected chairman of the pro-reform Hope faction in the parliament on Tuesday.

Aref has been heading the reformists’ Supreme Council for Policymaking since its establishment in 2015.

He was the first vice president from 2001 to 2005. He is currently a member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and Expediency Council.

He was a candidate in the 2013 presidential election but withdrew his candidacy.

Hope is a parliamentary bloc established after the 2016 parliamentary elections.



Source  :  Tehran Times

Road crashes: accidents or irresponsibility

Flag of Iran.svg

September 1, 2017

With the Iranian calendar month of Shahrivar (August 23-September 22) beginning and the weather fairly cooling, many have already started taking summer vacations across Iran.

Some opt for air travel, while some prefer to travel by train and some choose to go on a road trip. However, road trips inflict heavy casualties on the travelers every year.

As stated by the traffic police chief, Taqi Mehri, road accidents have claimed 280,000 lives over the past 10 years in the country. The figures and numbers also indicate that some 22,000 people died over the month of Shahrivar.

According to Iran’s forensics organization, some 15,932 individuals were killed during road accidents in the previous Iranian calendar year (March 2016-March 2017). The month of Shahrivar last year alone set the record high with 1,711 deaths.

Although the overall number of deaths has dropped by 3.9 percent year on year, the decrease does not satisfactorily resolve the issue. Road traffic deaths still add up to a significant number.

A tragic loss, deep sorrow, acute distress 

Based on the report released by the forensics organization, more than 65 percent of the fatal road accidents happen outside city limits. Unfortunately more than half of the road traffic deaths occur among young adults aging 18-49.

Things go from bad to worse when the figures indicate that more than three-quarters of the victims losing their lives in road accidents are male. While men are the primary breadwinners the void would impose unforeseen and considerable expenses on families.

As per a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2015 poor and less educated people are more likely to die in a car collision than more affluent victims. The study suggests that those with less education are likely to earn less to have the money for fancy safety features such as side airbags, automatic warnings and rear cameras.

Poor infrastructure and less traffic signs in low-income neighborhoods, as well as the notion that impoverished people tend to use alternative forms of travel such as walking, bicycling and bus travel may make them more vulnerable to traffic-related incidents.

That being said medicals expenses, compensation payments demanded by the families of the other victims, funeral costs, etc. incurred on the deceased’s families would result in catastrophic financial distress. Being left without a breadwinner such families who have already been on a low income would certainly face severe economic difficulties.

Moreover, financial circumstances coupled with the deep sorrow of unexpected death of the loved ones can lead to a family breakdown and spark serious mental disorders such as depression, phobia, substance abuse and addiction, anxiety disorders, and suicidal thoughts.

Road accidents do not only cripple victim’s families financially; based on World Health Organization report on road traffic injuries , updated on May 2017, road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product.

Your actions count: Be a responsible driver

While bad road conditions and cars with poor safety features play an important role in accidents, according to another report released by Iran’s traffic police human factors accounts for more than half of the accidents. Infringement of driving laws, driving at high speed, driving while feeling dizzy and fatigued, careless overtaking, and distracted driving for example talking on the cellphone are some of the contributing factors causing a large number of road accidents.

Being a responsible driver means behaving sensibly when we are behind the wheels. We are not alone on the road, there are other people who might be drastically affected by our wrong decisions and reckless driving.




Source  :  Tehran Times

IAEA: Iran in compliance with nuclear deal

Flag of Iran.svg

September 1, 2017

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on Thursday reconfirming that Iran remains committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers.

IAEA said Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium is used for peaceful purposes, and did not exceed the agreed limit of 300kg, al-Jazeera reported.
The report was the third since the January inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump who has assigned  a team of close  aides to find a pretext to withdraw from the deal.
The agreement, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, put limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for termination of economic and financial sanctions.
According to the IAEA, the number of enrichment centrifuges also remained as agreed, while Iran’s store of heavy water, a reactor coolant, was 111.0 tons after it exported 19.1 tons to an unnamed country.
The plant producing the heavy water was shut for maintenance earlier this year and has now restarted, the IAEA said.
Trump is due in October to certify to Congress whether Iran is sticking to the nuclear deal. In July he told the Wall Street Journal he “would be surprised if they were in compliance”.
As well as the U.S., the hard-fought agreement also includes China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday there is “no alternative” to the deal.
Tehran has warned that if the deal falls apart it can ramp up its atomic program again within five days.


Source  :  Tehran Times