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Russian air strikes in Syria this week after all: US military
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 19, 2016

UN urges Syria regime to make proposals on political transition 'next week'
Geneva (AFP) March 18, 2016 - The UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Friday urged the Damascus regime to make clear proposals on a political transition in the war-ravaged country "next week" at peace talks in Geneva.

"I hope next week ... that we will get their opinion, their details, on how they see the political transition taking place", de Mistura told reporters as he wrapped up a week of negotiations.

"I can tell you I am urging them (to produce) a paper on the transition," he added.

He made the comments after his meeting the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which followed talks with the government earlier Friday.

The UN envoy restated his praise of the HNC for submitting a detailed proposal outlining its vision for a new Syrian government to lead the country out of five years of brutal conflict.

But he said he had not yet received detailed proposals from the Syrian government's side.

"The government is currently focused on principles," rather than concrete proposals de Mistura said, but noted that the regime's submissions could ultimately prove helpful in terms of finding common ground between the two sides.

"I am still, obviously, detecting large distances," between the regime and the opposition, the UN envoy further said.

But, he added, that he was "not disappointed" and there have been "no walk outs, no excessive rhetoric (and) no breakdowns."

"I am just pushing. That's my job ... We are in a hurry."

Russia did carry out air strikes in Syria this week, a US military spokesman said Friday, hours after asserting the opposite.

"While we've seen no Russian air strikes in the northern areas of Syria this week, it appears the Russians have conducted some air strikes after all in southern Syria in the vicinity of Palmyra in support of the Syrian regime," US Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder told AFP.

Earlier, in a telephone briefing with reporters, Ryder had said that most if not all Russian warplanes have been withdrawn from Syria, adding that Russia has staged no air strikes during the past week.

That US military assessment contradicted assertions by the Russian military that its jets were flying as many as 25 sorties a day in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

Ryder said during the call earlier that some bombardments had taken place in the Palmyra region but that they were believed to have been fired by Russian artillery.

The spokesman told AFP that what he briefed earlier in the day was the latest he had available at the time, adding that he received some updated information late in the afternoon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced a partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, where they have been backing Moscow's close ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The first Russian aircraft returned Tuesday to a hero's welcome.

"We assessed that the majority if not all of their strike aircraft have left," Ryder told reporters earlier.

The US military, which was taken by surprise by the development, has remained skeptical of Putin's intentions.

On Thursday, a Baghdad-based US military spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, said there had been little change in Russian troop deployments on the ground.

There has been little movement of Russian ground forces, Ryder said earlier, adding that Moscow has kept combat helicopters and some transport planes in Syria.

Russia intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war on September 30 at Assad's request, deploying about 50 combat aircraft.

It also sent more than 4,000 ground troops, artillery, tanks and about 30 combat helicopters.

The Russians have directed their operations mainly against Western-backed anti-government rebels while a US-led coalition has been waging an air campaign against the IS group.

Fake missiles at Downing St in Saudi arms sale protest
London (AFP) March 18, 2016 - Campaigners delivered fake missiles to Downing Street on Friday to protest Britain's continued supply of arms to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they are being used against civilians in Yemen.

Amnesty International activists wearing white mechanics' boiler suits delivered five replicas of the 1.8-metre-long Paveway-IV weapons used by British-supplied Saudi jets outside Prime Minister David Cameron's office.

"Ministers need to stop burying their heads in the sand and immediately suspend arms sales for the Saudi war machine," said Amnesty's UK director, Kate Allen.

The Saudi-led coalition began bombing Iran-backed rebels in Yemen in March 2015 to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, in a campaign that UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Friday said had killed 3,218 civilians.

The British government concedes that UK-supplied defence equipment has been used in the campaign but says it has "one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world".

It says it has raised allegations of civilian targeting with the kingdom, but refused a call by parliament's international development committee last month to suspend exports until the matter can be properly investigated.

Under Britain's arms export criteria, licences cannot be granted if there is "a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law".

The government approved nearly 3 billion ($4.3 billion, $3.8 billion) of arms licences for exports to Saudi Arabia in the six months to January, according to the international development committee.

Amnesty said that Britain during 2015 transferred 58 combat aircraft and 2,400 Paveway-IV missiles to the kingdom.

"It is absolutely shocking that the UK is still selling billions of pounds' worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia even as the civilian casualties have mounted and mounted in Yemen," Allen added.

A second parliamentary committee, on arms export controls, last week launched an inquiry into the use of British manufactured arms in Yemen, and will hold its first evidence session next week.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade is also pursuing legal action against the government in a bid to suspend exports.

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Previous Report
No significant reduction seen in Russian combat power in Syria: US military
Washington (AFP) March 16, 2016
The US military said Wednesday it has seen no significant reduction in Russia's combat power in Syria despite President Putin's surprise announcement this week of a partial withdrawal of his country's forces. Colonel Steve Warren, a US military spokesman in the region, said Russian intentions remain unclear. "We have not seen a significant reduction, frankly, in their combat power. Parti ... read more

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