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US Decision on Syrian Troops Left Muddled After WSJ Report



US troops Syria

A decision that the United States President Donald Trump took three months ago has been altered as many times as it should have. On December 19, he announced to pull out American troops from the Syrian Arab Republic without any deliberations, causing the White House jitters. The precipitancy of the decision has led to several changes since then.

Another update was recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, stating that the US military is planning to keep nearly 1,000 militants in the war-torn country for achieving their objective of defeating the Islamic State group and averting any potential threats.

The report came as a major shift from Trump’s initial decision of complete withdrawal of more than 2,000 US troops, and was far more than the recent modifications made in the original declaration. Few weeks back, it was announced that a total of 400 American forces would still stay back in Syria, as a reversal to what Trump initially intended.

On Sunday, the Journal reported that the US intends to continue working with the Syrian Kurds, who are under a threat from Turkey. Citing the American officials, it stated that the shift in plans came as the talks between the US, the Kurds, European allies and Turkey have failed to establish a safe zone in Syria.

However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford refuted the report, calling it “factually incorrect”. He stated, “There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President’s direction to draw down US forces to a residual presence.”

The US official said that certain plans have exceeded the number of 400 forces, and there are several potential figures that could be announced. However, he confirmed that no final decision has been taken so far. Dunford suggested that the actual plan is to ensure a safe zone in northern Syria by keeping a combined force of about 1,500 troops.

The Journal’s report also stated that the United States is likely to withdraw hundreds of American forces, after “the last bastion” of ISIS is seized.

As per the reports, the US-backed Syrian fighters are on a mission of completely ending the presence of ISIS, by destructing their last enclave in Syria. The operation that was becoming difficult is now on the verge of conclusion, as the forces have seized the Baghouz village giving space to the group.

The claims regarding the American presence in Syria have been changed several times, since the withdrawal has been announced. The decision had initially caused a great turmoil in the White House and had also led to a resignation from one of the most significant members of the administration: Defense Secretary James Mattis.

While the US mission in Syria still remains unachieved, the number of troops that would stay back is also uncertain. Moreover, several changes to the original decision have induced a great confusion about the final decision of the Trump administration.


Hong Kong Protests: China asks ‘Foreign Forces’ Not to Interfere



Hong Kong Protests

It has been months since the onset of the Hong Kong Protests over the extradition bill, which was considered a threat to the democracy of the former British territory as it would transfer fugitives to Mainland China.

On Thursday, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming reiterated on the fact that Hong Kong is a part of China and the foreign countries shouldn’t interfere in the territory’s affairs.

In a press conference at the Chinese Embassy in London, Liu said, “Some Western politicians and organizations have publicly or covertly given various types of support to the violent radicals, and tried to interfere in the judicial independence of Hong Kong and obstruct Hong Kong police from bringing the violent offenders to justice.”

“We urge those foreign forces to respect China’s sovereignty and security, immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop conniving in violent offence,” he added.

The Hong Kong protests, which began to oppose the extradition bill, have witnessed not only brutal violence against the protestors, but also vandalism at the Legislative council.

However, the demonstrators are now not only calling for the termination of the extradition bill, but also for the release of the protestors detained and independent elections in a democratic manner to elect the new Legislative Council Members and the Chief Executive.

Earlier on Wednesday, the satellite images revealed an envoy of armoured paramilitary police vehicles parked at a stadium in Shenzen, the Chinese city which also happens to be near the Hong Kong border.

Liu further issued the most direct threat till now to the protestors, saying, “We have enough solutions and enough power within the limits of basic law to quell any unrest swiftly. We hope this will end in an orderly way. In the meantime we are fully prepared for the worst.”

In regards with the violent ongoing Hong Kong protests, he added, “No country under the rule of law, no responsible government, would sit back and watch as such violence rages on”.

The Chinese ambassador’s statement came in response to the question about a plan to extend the UK citizenship rights to Hong Kong Chinese, which was suggested by the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat.

While the Hong Kong protests are beginning to impact the economy of the territory and marring its image, a stance leaning on ending the protests and working together might have ended the protests much earlier. With this statement it is evident that the Chinese government will resort to means that might further worsen the situation, instead of allowing an independent group to mediate and try to end the conflict.

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Gibraltar Rebuffs Release of Captured Iranian Oil Tanker Grace 1



Grace 1

The ongoing tanker standoff in the Middle East is now surrounded by different opinions over the release of the seized tankers. The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, which British Royal Marines seized for illegally transporting 2.1 million barrels of oil to Syria, was speculated to be released soon.

The Iranian authorities said that Gibraltar, the British overseas territory, might release the tanker soon as some documents were exchanged in order to facilitate the release of the tanker.

Earlier, following the seizure of its oil tanker, the Iranian forces retaliated and seized the British-flagged Stena Impero and Liberian-flagged but British operated Mesdar on July 19. This further worsened the relations of Iran with major world powers as the US had already withdrawn itself from the international agreement and had begun to impose sanctions on Iran.

Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, said, “Britain is interested in releasing Iran’s oil tanker Grace 1. Following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon.”

Last month, Supreme Court of Gibraltar passed the verdict to extend the detention of the tanker by 30 days. Now, a court in Gibraltar will discuss the future of the Iranian oil tanker on Thursday once the order for its custody expires – the Gibraltar government has the power to hold the seized tanker for only 60 more days, the time period which would expire in mid-October.

One of the top officials from the Gibraltar government on conditions of anonymity said, “I’ve seen that report, but we don’t have any information. We continue to seek to de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1.”

Following the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker, there has been a continuous discussion on the manner in which the tanker was seized and if the seizure was in compliance with the international law.

While some claim that the seizure might be illegal as Iran was not subjected to the EU-enforced embargo, many experts said that as the port to which ship was bound, was sanctioned – hence, the seizure of the oil tanker is completely in accordance with the EU rules.

If the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 is released on Thursday, the decision will not just clear the air surrounding the nuclear deal prior to the G7 summit between the leading economic powers in Biarritz at the end of the month, but also ease out the strained peace stability in the Middle East.

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Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Raises Tensions for Prince Andrew



Jeffrey Epstein

American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide on Saturday. His body was found hanging in the Manhattan prison cell in New York.

Epstein initially began his career in finance and later formed his own firm, J. Epstein & Co. in 2008. The Florida state court convicted him of approaching a prostitute and of obtaining an underage girl for prostitution.

As his punishment, Epstein served a period of 13 months in custody with work release. The officials also recognised 36 other minor girls, who were being molested by him. 

Jeffrey Epstein was again arrested on July 6 on charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. The analysts concluded that he was guilty of holding women as sex slaves for his connected elites from political and financial departments.

Three weeks prior to his death, prosecutors placed a suicide watch to oversee his activities as he was found unconscious in jail with severe injuries to his neck. The suicide watch ended only twelve days before his death.

Although the autopsy report did not confirm the cause of death, the officers presumed it to be a suicide, which occurred hours after the court released a 1,200-page dossier detailing lurid abuse allegations against Epstein.

Throughout his life, Jeffrey Epstein thoroughly maintained diaries of his friendships with his powerful allies. The analysts believe that the records of friendships with the criminal could poorly affect the reputation of the elite leaders and rich people involved with him.

66-year-old Epstein, being a billionaire was once friends with Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Due to the past history, the Duke of York remained the most affected with Epstein’s death.

As Prince Andrew began sinking in the allegations following the suicide of his former friend Jeffrey Epstein and the prosecutors’ calls to turn in his living associates, Queen Elizabeth stood in her son’s support.

In an attempt to protect Prince Andrew’s dignity, the British Monarch chose to sit alongside her second son and his daughter Princess Beatrice, while travelling to the church at Balmoral on Sunday.

For now, the analysts believe that the prosecutors would want to investigate the Duke and Epstein’s British former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell as they remain centric to billionaire’s life.

In 2015, Virginia Giuffre during a hearing in the court claimed that she was Epstein’s teen “sex slave,” and had sex with the Duke while she was 17. Though the allegations were largely denied by the Duke, the then judge closed the case, describing it as “immaterial and impertinent”.

As Ms. Maxwell’s whereabouts remain unknown, the secret documents revealed prior to Jeffrey Epstein’s death said that Mrs Giuffre sued the former for defamation. The death of Epstein before the revealing of entire case raises a big question on the inability of the judicial system to deliver justice. Although more pages of the documents that would disclose the entire deal are expected in the upcoming weeks.

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Turkey Detains Another German over Social Media Post



Turkey Detains Another German over Social Media Post

Another German citizen has been arrested in Turkey on charges of spearheading the propaganda against government. According to the reports from German public broadcasters NDR, WDR and publisher Süddeutsche Zeitung, the 36-year-old Osman B. from Hesse, was taken into custody nine days ago, and charged for promoting “terror propaganda” using his Facebook.

The case was confirmed by Federal office, who said that embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Antalya were duly involved. As per the reports, the man was reportedly flying to western Turkish seaside resort of Antalya on July 28, when he was arrested at the airport.

As per the German’s testimony, he admitted to sharing posts on Facebook several years ago, but denied running a second Facebook profile.

Osman B’s lawyer, however, told reporters that the accusations against his client are not justified, which must be seen in reference to the statements made by the Turkish Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu.

The minister during an election campaign in March said, anyone who participates in rallies by “terrorist organizations” in Germany or any other European country, and then comes for a holiday to Turkey, would be arrested.

The diplomatic stiffness between Germany and Turkey escalated in 2017, when a number of Germans were arrested for ” political reasons”. Though most of the detainees have been released, but as per the news outlets, seven natives still remain behind the bars.

Turkey has been continuously criticized for its poor human rights record, and detention of several journalists. Nonetheless, no previous records or condemnation was enough for Ankara to hold itself back from charging another German.

The laws of the nation in regards to usage of social media are really strict, and the Federal office openly warns against sharing articles critical to the government. The prosecutions of German citizens in 2017 was also carried out in connection with similar online posts.

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El Paso Shooting: A 21-year-old kills at least 20 at a Walmart store



el paso shooting

An armed man opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing at least 20 people and injuring 26 others. The suspect was arrested by the authorities on Saturday, near the Cielo Vista Mall.

Police confirmed the identity of the suspect as Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen, Dallas.

An anti-immigrant, racist manifesto was posted online just before the incident, which authorities believe could have been written by the suspect. The post consists of passages bashing the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas, and the writer apparently wrote that he expected to be killed while he carried out the attack.

Moreover, in the opening line of the four-page document, the writer also supports the gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand in March, killing 51 people.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “Right now we have a manifesto from this individual that indicates to some degree, it has a nexus to potential hate crime.”

Abbott added: “We are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime, which is exactly what it appears to be.”

The Walmart store, which was attacked by the suspect, was almost at its capacity of people at the time of the shooting.

US President Donald Trump said the attack was as “an act of cowardice”. Expressing grief on El Paso Shooting, he wrote on Twitter: “I know that I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

The names of the victims have not been revealed, but according to Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, three Mexicans were killed in the attack.

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, wrote on Instagram: “I can’t believe I’m sending a note like this twice in one week. My heart aches for the community in El Paso.”

The series of mass shootings, alongside El Paso Shooting, in the United States has not only claimed the lives of innocent civilians, but also alarmed the government to introduce new gun control measures.

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