The White House on Tuesday confirmed a “reprehensible” and “intolerable” chemical attack had taken place in Syria and pinned the blame squarely on Bashar Assad’s regime.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said US President Donald Trump had been briefed extensively on the attack, and suggested it was in the “best interest” of the Syrians for Assad not to lead the country.
“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible,” Spicer said, saying the administration was “confident” in its assessment that Assad was to blame.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the attack “bears all the hallmarks” of the Syrian government.
Johnson said in a statement Tuesday that he was “horrified” at the reports of the attack and said Assad’s government has repeatedly used chemical weapons in the past.
His comments followed reports from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which put the death toll from the attack at 58.
Johnson said his government “will continue to lead international efforts to hold perpetrators to account.”
French President Francois Hollande also blamed Syrian leader Assad for what he termed a “massacre.”
“Once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility for this massacre,” Hollande said in a statement.
“Those who support this regime can once again reflect on the enormity of their political, strategic and moral responsibility,” Hollande added.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arrives for a Foreign Affairs meeting in Luxembourg, April 3 2017. (AFP/JOHN THYS)
Despite the accusations, the Syrian military vehemently denied it was behind the strike.
“The army command categorically denies using any chemical or toxic substance in Khan Sheikhun today,” said a statement carried by the state news agency SANA.
“It stresses that it has never used them, any time, anywhere, and will not do so in the future,” it added.
The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun left dozens struggling to breathe and displaying symptoms such as foaming at the mouth and vomiting and fainting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
A hospital in the town where doctors were treating victims of the attack was also bombarded, an AFP correspondent said.
France called earlier Tuesday for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the attack.
United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also called for the perpetrators to be held accountable for the “horrific” attack.
De Mistura urged “clear identification of responsibilities and accountability.”
Speaking on the eve of a conference on Syria’s future, he said “every time we have a moment in which the international community is capable of being together — 70 countries tomorrow — there is someone, somehow, that tries to undermine that feeling of hope by producing a feeling of horror and outrage.”
But, he added, “we are not going to give up.”
The UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria said that it had begun investigating the incident.
“Reports suggesting that this was a chemical weapons attack are extremely concerning. The commission is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding this attack including the alleged use of chemical weapons,” said a statement from the UN experts who are probing potential war crimes committed during Syria’s civil war.
The condemnations followed those of others in the international community.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the chemical weapons attack was “inhuman” and could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital.
“President Erdogan said that this kind of inhuman attack was unacceptable and warned it risked wasting all the efforts within the framework of the Astana process” to bring peace to Syria, presidential sources said.
The sources did not indicate who was to blame for the attack, describing it as a “chemical weapons attack directed at civilians.”
Syrian mourners pray next to bodies lying in the back of a pick up truck outside a makeshift morgue following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus, on April 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Abd Doumany)
Turkey has been a major foe of the Assad regime in Syria throughout the Syrian civil war, repeatedly accusing Damascus of war crimes. Russia has helped Assad by providing military and diplomatic support, including air strikes and ground forces.
But in the last months Ankara has deepened ties with Assad’s ally Russia, co-brokering a ceasefire that until now had drastically reduced the levels of violence.
Russia’s military said its planes did not carry out any strikes near Khan Sheikhun.
“Planes of the Russian air force have not carried out any strikes near Khan Sheikhun of Idlib province,” said a statement by the Russian defense ministry.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault described the attack as “monstrous” and added: “I have called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.”
Ayrault said “chemical weapons” had been used in the attack and that it was “more proof of the savagery that the Syrian people have been subjected to for so many years.”
A homework assignment that asked students in an upstate New York school district to argue for or against the Final Solution, from the perspective of a Nazi official, was withdrawn and will not be assigned again.
High school students in an advanced class in Oswego County were given a project to pretend they were members of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in order to argue for or against the Holocaust’s Final Solution.
“This is an exercise on expanding your point of view by going outside your comfort zone and training your brain to find the evidence necessary to prove a point, even if it is existentially and philosophically against what you believe,” the instructions for the assignment said.
Two students who complained about the exercise were given an alternative task.
But the students, Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April, took their complaint further and called for the teacher to apologize and for the school district to permanently ban the assignment, the Syracuse.com website reported. Neither of the students, both 17, is Jewish.
On Monday, New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the assignment has been permanently scratched.
“Since first learning of the assignment, I’ve done my homework to determine the facts in this situation,” Elia said in a statement. “I spoke with district officials about this serious matter. We agree the assignment should not have been given. The teacher apologized and the assignment will not be used in the future.”
Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, praised the district and Elia after saying in a statement, “There is no assignment that could ever be given to students that even hints at a balanced perspective to the horrors of Nazi actions during the Holocaust….
“The notion that students were asked to engage in such thinking trivializes the horrific experiences of the victims and we are pleased that it will no longer be part of the curriculum,” he added.
But State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn called for Elia’s resignation, noting that last week, she defended the assignment as “critical thinking,” according to the New York Daily News.
LONDON — The UK Labour Party on Tuesday suspended former London mayor and senior party official Ken Livingstone for one year for comments about Hitler supporting Zionism that a disciplinary committee found “grossly detrimental” to the party.
Jewish groups, who had been calling for Livingston to be expelled, called the move “deeply disappointing” and said it would erode the fractured trust between the party and its Jewish members.
“Given that Ken Livingstone has been found guilty, we are deeply disappointed at the decision not to expel him from the Labour Party. A temporary suspension is no more than a slap on the wrist,” the Jewish Leadership Council said in a statement.
“Livingstone’s antagonistic attitude towards the Jewish community has been longstanding and has had a huge impact on Jewish people,” the group said. “This decision makes us question if the Labour Party wanted to repair its historic and long-standing relationship with the Jewish community.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community have reached a new all-time low,” said President Jonathan Arkush.
The Labour Party panel that decided Livingstone’s fate technically leveled him with a two-year suspension, one year of which has already been served, according to the Guardian.
He was charged with “engaging in conduct that in the opinion of the National Executive Committee was prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party.”
A year ago, as the Labour Party was grappling with a series of gaffes deemed anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic, veteran leftist Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive, claimed that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Livingstone also charged that for decades in the UK there had been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
Ken Livingstone (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Last week, he caused fresh uproar by claiming that German Zionists received assistance from the SS and were close collaborators of the Nazi regime.
Livingstone’s case was heard by three members of an 11-member Constitutional Committee. Two lawyers, one retained by him and one by the Labour Party, cross-examined him and a number of witnesses: Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, the only Jewish affiliate to the Labour Party, and five members of the activist group Jews for Justice for the Palestinians (JfJfP), described by Livingstone as “leading Jewish members of the Labour Party.”
This was slammed by the mainstream Jewish community who have said that JfJfP is not representative of Anglo-Jewry. However, lawyer Michael Mansfield, representing Livingstone, tried to persuade the panel that the views of “Livingstone’s Jews”, who included a 93-year-old Berlin-born Holocaust survivor, Walter Wolfgang, were as equally representative of Jewish feelings as those of the Board of Deputies or the Jewish Labour Movement.
Livingstone, who had expected to be expelled from the party and had planned to fight expulsion through a judicial review, seemed pleased with the verdict, calling it “pretty fair,” the Guardian newspaper reported.
“Have I said anything that wasn’t true? All the Jewish activists who spoke on my behalf yesterday, all actually confirmed what I said was true.”
Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (YouTube screenshot)
While the suspension is seen as a blow to the man who been a member of Labour for half a century, the Jewish Labour Movement reacted to the verdict with dismay, saying it was “a betrayal of our Party’s values,” and allowed for “a revolving door for repeat offenders.”
“It simply can’t be acceptable that there can be some kind of revolving door policy, that you can revise the history of the Holocaust, duck out of the party for a year — and then come back,” said Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. He described the suspension as “a betrayal of our party’s values” and called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to make a hard and fast ruling of “zero tolerance” on anti-Semitism.
Paul Charney, chairman of Britain’s Zionist Federation, said: “The fact that Ken Livingstone remains a suspended member of the Labour Party and was not expelled at today’s hearing serves only to drive a larger and more robust wedge between our Jewish community and the Labour Party. The comments made by Mr Livingstone regarding Hitler and Zionism bear no resemblance to the truth and are a disgrace to the values he and his party apparently hold.”
Added Charney, “Where Labour had an opportunity to make clear that antisemitic slurs made by Livingstone have no place within our society, they instead showed that when it comes to Jews, liberal standards are readily set aside.”
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says it will take 40 to 50 years to clear the mines, improvised explosive devices and other unexploded ordnance from Iraq and Syria.
Agnes Marcaillou, director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, said “we are looking at decades of work for these countries to look like post-World War II Europe where we still find some unexploded ordnance here and there.”
She told a news conference Tuesday marking International Mine Awareness Day that her office is looking at a “ballpark figure” of between $170 million to $180 million a year to clean up the areas retaken from the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq.
Marcaillou said that figure includes $50 million annually needed just to make safe Mosul, which is still partly held by Islamic State extremists.
Recalling the Holocaust, President Reuven Rivlin said on Tuesday evening that Israel cannot remain indifferent to the gassing of Syrian civilians, and offered to help survivors of the civil war there.
“We, as a people who survived the greatest of atrocities and rose from the ashes to be a strong and secure nation, we will do all we can to continue to aid the survivors of the horrors in Syria,” the president said in a statement. “We know all too well how dangerous silence can be, and we cannot remain mute.”
Earlier on Tuesday, reports surfaced of an aerial attack with chemical weapons, apparently carried out by the Syrian regime, on the northern city of Idlib, which killed scores of civilians, among them many children.
Footage of people and children choking on what appears to be sarin gas prompted outrage across the globe. Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum condemned the attack and called on the international community to act.
“The pictures we are seeing today from Syria and the reports of the massacre of children, of civilians, with chemical weapons, is a stain on all humanity,” Rivlin said in his statement. “The international community in its entirety must come together to bring an end to this murderous madness, and ensure that such scenes will never be repeated anywhere.”
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)
The president went on to urge the leaders of the world’s greatest powers to “act now, without delay, to stop these criminal, murderous acts taking place in Syria by the hand of the Assad regime, and to work urgently to remove all stockpiles of chemical weapons from Syrian territory.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon joined the president in calling for Israel to take action and said Israel had the resources to do so.
“Genocide is ongoing in Syria,” Kahlon said. “The slaughter directed against children demands uncompromising action by the world for the destruction of the Assad regime.”
“Israel, the state of the Jewish people, must take moral responsibility and open its gates to treat children who are victims of genocide. Neither resources nor moral determination are lacking for this,” he said.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged US President Donald Trump to take action to stop the horror. “Syria’s use of chemical weapons has strategic connotations for Israel,” she also said.
Western powers and human rights groups fingered Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad as responsible for the attack, though Damascus denied it used chemical weapons. The US administration on Tuesday evening condemned the attack and blamed former president Barack Obama’s inaction regarding the Syrian use of chemical warfare for emboldening Assad. It did not, however, propose a course of action that would prevent Damascus from continuing to gas its own people.
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti wants all of the 2,890 Fatah party prisoners in Israeli jails, as well as those from other movements, to go on an indefinite hunger strike on April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.
On the surface the move by Barghouti — who is serving five life sentences for masterminding a series of deadly attacks at the start of the Second Intifada — is aimed at Israel, but the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah would do well to notice as well, as the popular Palestinian leader is likely attempting to flex his political muscles, despite an attempt by Ramallah to isolate him.
Officially, the move is in protest of what they see as the Israel Prison Service’s failure to meet their demands regarding an improvement of conditions in the detention centers.
The strike will be Barghouti’s most significant test since he entered prison some 15 years ago.
Next year, the man who has become a Palestinian symbol will celebrate his 60th birthday. During his time in prison, he has become a grandfather.
In the Fatah Central Committee’s leadership elections (the party’s most senior institution), he won first place. His wife, Fadwa, took the top place in the movement’s Revolutionary Council elections (the party’s second most senior institution). He is ostensibly the movement’s undisputed leader, despite being behind bars.
However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalists in the Fatah leadership have carried a series of steps to isolate and weaken him. Abbas did not appoint him as deputy chairman of Fatah, as Barghouti had expected, and other senior positions were divided between rivals Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud al-Mottak.
A Palestinian man gestures in front of a poster bearing the portrait of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)
Barghouti’s backers also failed to be elected to other spots in the Central Committee, and he’s realized that he has been slowly pushed out of the picture.
Forced from the halls of power, Barghouti is using the strike to signal to the PA with that he can still wield considerable power in the Palestinian street
He made a similar play in 2000. Then, outside the prison walls, Barghouti would lead large rallies of followers to Israeli checkpoints, where they would face off against soldiers.
Barghouti’s problem is that the situation on the Palestinian street is no longer what it was in 2000. He has been isolated in prison, and it is not certain that his strike will find a following, let alone spurring despondent West Bank residents to action.
These communities do not rush to demonstrate as they did in the past, focusing more on personal matters than collective ones. They are more prone to “like” a Facebook post than to take to the streets.
A Palestinian child stands in front of a mural of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)
In addition, Barghouti’s demand, that Israel give security prisoners access to public telephones, is very steep. Israel is unlikely to simple start installing phone lines.
His demands that Israel increase the number of prisoners’ family visits as well as ban cancellation of these visits for security considerations are also unlikely to find any takers among Israeli authorities.
Barghouti has gone out on a limb and its unclear if the Palestinian street can help him down, or has a ladder to do so.
If this hunger strike ends without results (Ramadan begins on May 26, during which Islam prohibits the enacting of such fasts), Barghouti may find himself even more isolated politically.
Nevertheless, Barghouti’s move has considerable chances for success. The hunger strike is expected to create a serious headache for the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. The situation in the territories (certainly in Ramallah) has been stable and relatively quiet. It appears that the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation has succeeded in containing unrest on the ground, despite Hamas’s attempts to stir up trouble.
Unlike in the past though, it is difficult to predict how the PA will react to this hunger strike. This is not another provocation by Hamas, which is intent on thwarting Abbas and his colleagues. Nor is this one man trying to secure a get out of jail free card. This is a hunger strike of thousands of prisoners who are members of Fatah, some even former officers in Abbas’s security forces.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, Jordan, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/ Raad Adayleh)
To the Palestinian public, these prisoners are “our children” under the leadership of a man who long ago became a national symbol and is considered one of the most popular leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Will the PA security forces rush to disperse a Fatah led demonstration heading from Birzeit University towards the entrance to Ramallah? They have shown little problems stopping processions organized by the Hamas’ student group, Al-Qutla al-Islamiyya. This time, however, the story is different.
Barghouti’s gambit won;t be a cakewalk for Israeli security forces or prison guards either, who may have to contend with large demonstrations and increased tensions inside the prison walls.
A Palestinian woman holds a portrait of a prisoner during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoners Day outside the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 17, 2015. (Photo credit: AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI)
It is not yet clear whether Hamas prisoners will join the strike as well. But at least in the Hadarim prison where Barghouti is incarcerated, Hamas has already announced that it will join the measure alongside him.
In other prisons, Hamas is more careful in reaching a decision; but it is clear that if they join the strike, it will only intensify the unrest.
Sweden — Craving more of a science fiction-style existence? Perhaps you should seek a job with one of the companies at Epicenter, an employment hub in Sweden.
The Associated Pressreported Monday that companies there have begun implanting microchips in their employees, marking the first time the practice has been used on a broad scale.
“What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish start-up hub Epicenter,”AP reports. “The company offers to implant its workers and start-up members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.”
Epicenter, home to more than 100 companies and about 2,000 workers, began offering the implants in January of 2015. Now, about 150 workers have been chipped.
“The biggest benefit, I think, is convenience,” Patrick Mesterson, Epicenter co-founder, told AP. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”
A “body hacker” shows up at your office, ready with a preloaded syringe. He injects the chip into the fleshy part of the hand near the thumb. Now you’re a cyborg.
The chips use near-field communication technology, the same as in credit cards. When swiped by a reader a few inches away, data flows via electromagnetic waves. The chips are passive, meaning they contain information but can’t read other devices.
The technology isn’t new. Such chips are used for things such as tracking deliveries and virtual dog collars. And there have been other, isolated cases of companies chipping their employees in the past.
But Epicenter is bringing it to a whole new level, and workers there seem alright with the idea. In the article, the general attitude is perhaps best captured by the comment of one 25-year-old worker:
Of course, a more honest and fruitful venture would be to examine the events that led to the current situation engulfing Iraq. As American airstrikes continue to massacre the Iraqi civilian population by the hundreds, we owe it to the Iraqi people to get to the bottom of this story. From there, we could ostensibly create a future path that might bring peace to the war-torn nation as opposed to blindly continuing the same policies Iraq has been victim to for decades.
Following this brutal war, the U.S. duped Hussein into thinking they had given him the green light to invade Kuwait. As soon as Hussein invaded Kuwait, the U.S. almost immediately turned its back on him and began a P.R. campaign that would eventually lead to an invasion on Iraqi soil. In 1994, when Dick Cheney was asked if U.S. forces should have gone all the way to Baghdad. He responded with a resolute “no,” before adding further:
… if we’d gone to Baghdad, we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a US occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years. In the north, you’ve got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.
Let that sink in for a moment: The man who unleashed chaos in Iraq in 2003 knew exactly why it would be dangerous to do so a decade prior. Following the first U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. slapped economic sanctions on Iraq that reportedly killed over 500,000 Iraqi children. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, resigned in protest, stating:
Four thousand to five thousand children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation.
As if Iraq hadn’t suffered enough, the U.S. decided to invade again in 2003, only this time, they ousted Saddam Hussein and his entire government, capitalizing on American fears after 9/11 to attack a country that had nothing to do with the terror attacks.
It is worth noting that the Project for the New American Century, an organization of which Cheney was also a member, released a document in 2001 entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century.” This document called for massive increases in U.S. military spending and a much more aggressive foreign policy agenda in order to expand America’s dominance worldwide. Unsurprisingly, Iraq is featured heavily in this document.
[Renegade Editor’s Note: PNAC was chock full of dual-citizen Israelis, who crafted a plan to use the US to destabilize the Middle East to help create Greater Israel.]
In March 2003, the U.S. began its “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign “on a scale that indicate[d] to Iraqis” that Saddam and his leadership were finished, according to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as reported by CNN.
Shortly after, Paul Bremer, leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. Presidential Envoy and Administrator in Iraq, fired close to 400,000 servicemen simply because they were part of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party. This was perhaps the single largest blunder of the 2003 invasion (if it is possible to pinpoint one in particular) because this directly led to the rise of ISIS. In May 2015, Time Magazine ran an article entitled “How Disbanding the Iraqi Army Fueled ISIS.” This is hardly a conspiracy theory.
[Renegade Editor’s Note: ISIS was intentionally created. It’s not just blowback]
As is quite clear, ISIS and the various other terrorist groups that were able to establish a foothold in Iraq following the U.S. invasion have been wreaking havoc and mayhem across the country. As Ben Swann, an investigative journalist and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, stated quite astutely:
Before the 2003 U.S. invasion, do you know how many suicide attacks there were in Iraq? None. In the country’s history there had never been one. But since the 2003 invasion, there have been 1,892.
Donald J. Trump is the fifth straight president in succession to bomb Iraq. Ask yourself: as an American, or any other Westerner for that matter, what has Iraq as a nation, or any Iraqi ever, done to you? What has Iraq done to the world to deserve this treatment? And what is the connection between relentlessly bombing a country for decades, and crippling its economy – and its liberation? Can anyone explain at what stage, since the early 1900s, Iraq has been liberated by anyone?
Trump supporters and his media mouthpieces can spout anti-Islamic rhetoric as much as they like, but it is a truly intellectually dishonest position to focus solely on the region’s religion and not on the actual events that led to the chaos we are seeing unfolding right now. There are many majority-Muslim countries that are actually tourism hotspots, so surely there is something in particular about Iraq’s situation that makes it such a hotbed of violence and terrorism.
And it is as important now as ever to examine these underlying events and causes considering the U.S. air campaign in Iraq is radically intensifying.
In another of the tens of thousands of horrific armed black attacks against white farm families, a young South African veterinarian was shot dead in Limpopo province next to his nursing wife who was pistol-whipped.
Killed was Dr Paul Meyer, 38. He ran his veterinary practice from a farm near the Selati wildlife reserve in Limpopo province, next to the Mozambican border. Afrikaans journalist Virginia Keppler of Beeld newspaper reports that the young wife, Marilise Meyer, 34, was pistol whipped while she was breastfeeding her baby. The family had been kidnapped with friends Pierre and Sue Gallagher from their homestead kitchen with baby Wouter, 5 months. The four armed black attackers, who spoke a Mozambican language, carried AK47s.
They drove the five white kidnapped people towards the Mozambiquan border at breakneck speed in two farm vehicles which had been stolen from the farm. They stopped a few kilometres short of the border, dumped their kidnap victims next to the roadside, and removed the electronic tracking devices from the robbed farm vehicles.
While they were doing this, they also proceeded to pistol-whip Mrs Meyer while she was breastfeeding baby Wouter in a desperate attempt to keep the baby quiet. They also beat the young wife – who worked as a veterinary assistant at her husband’s practice — across the lower back with a monkey wrench.
Then they shot dead her unarmed husband Dr Paul Meyer, 38, execution style, while he had desperately tried to grab one of the guns from the attackers. The widow is now staying with friends in Gravelotte, where her husband’s funeral takes place on Tuesday from the Dutch Reformed Church.
He is the 3,035 th white farm dweller to be murdered in South Africa since 1994. A week earlier at Hartbeespoort near the capitol city of Pretoria, the Raath family was also attacked at their homestead by knifemen who kept stabbing and beating them while screaming that they ‘all had to die’. Nothing was robbed.
Mrs Corrie Raath and her husband Pieter said after their ordeal that they both believed that they would be killed there because these attackers had been ‘very cruel and had clearly arrived just to kill us.’ They were saved when flashing blue lights of an arriving private security guard’s vehicle shone through their homestead windows and scared off their attackers. The couple’s white German shepherd dog Terry was shot dead, and even their two kittens were slaughtered by the attackers.
Mrs Raath said: “they were very cruel, and had clearly arrived just to kill us. We are moving today. We can’t stay here any longer.’ Police did trace down one of the attackers at a nearby squatter camp, said police inspector Moses Manaiwa.
Four days before this attack, 65-year-old livestock farmer David Greig was killed on the Hartzenbergfontein farm near Walkerville near Johannesburg – at exactly the same spot in the kitchen where his mother Hannah had also been shot dead by twelve armed attackers in 1996.
Afrikaans journalist Sonja van Buul of Beeld newsaper reported that Greig and wife Jeanette, 64, were awakened in their bedroom by an armed man who had broken into the homestead by force. “The armed man forced my mother-in-law to open the kitchen door for his two accomplices, who were waiting outside,” said Tom Hendriks, their son-in-law on Tuesday. Hendriks said the mother-in-law couldn’t find the keys to their gun-safe fast enough – so his father-in-law was shot execution style, once in the head and twice more for ‘good measure’, in the chest. Mrs Greig also was badly assaulted and stabbed with a knife. She has lost her hearing permanently because her eardrums burst during the beating.
“My father-in-law’s mother, Hannah Greig, was shot and killed by robbers in exactly the same spot in 1996. It’s so ironic,” Hendriks said. The late Hannah Greig’s attackers, a gang of twelve armed men, were caught by the then still operative police reservists’ commando farm guard units.This gang is still in prison, serving a combined 175 years in jail.
Commercial farmers are increasingly leaving the South African countryside because of these war-like conditions in which they are forced to grow food. There are less than 11,600 commercial farmers remaining in South Africa now – down from 85,000 in 1994. More than one-million farm workers have also lost their jobs, and their families have lost their homes and were forced to move into squatter camps: about 5-million people all told.
Less than one percent of the total South African land-surface now is still in use for irrigated crop-farming, in a country which is so semi-arid that only about 6 percent of the entire surface could ever be used for staple crop-production in its entire agricultural history. Most of the countryside which once was farmed, now is idle and deserted.
Many of these mostly Afrikaner farmers have moved to other neighbouring African countries, often upon the invitation of those governments, because of their farming experience in the tough African conditions.
The commercial agricultural farmers’ cooperative union Agri-SA meanwhile is also accusing the South African police of refusing to respond to many of these crime incidents on farms which are being reported by white families to them each day to make the crime-statistics look better for their police stations.
Agri-SA spokesman André Botha said that it was ‘ alarming that some police officers understate the serious nature of crimes so that the police station’s crime solution figures look better.”
This, Botha added, was an “economic sabotage” on the farming community as it defeated any crime-combating measures put in place.
“The increase in armed attacks, robbery and theft of farm products and implements holds serious financial implications for agriculture in our country. This high crime rate is experienced by the industry as economic sabotage,” he said.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — One of the worst chemical bombings in Syria turned a northern rebel-held area into a toxic kill zone on Tuesday, inciting international outrage over the ever-increasing government impunity shown in the country’s six-year war.
Western leaders including President Trump blamed the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and called on its patrons, Russia and Iran, to prevent a recurrence of what many described as a war crime.
Dozens of people, including children, died — some writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth — after breathing in poison that possibly contained a nerve agent or other banned chemicals, according to witnesses, doctors and rescue workers. They said the toxic substance spread after warplanes dropped bombs in the early morning hours. Some rescue workers grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead.
The opposition-run Health Department in Idlib Province, where the attack took place, said 69 people had died, providing a list of their names. The dead were still being identified, and some humanitarian groups said as many as 100 had died.
The government of Mr. Assad, who renounced chemical weapons nearly five years ago after a large chemical attack that American intelligence agencies concluded was carried out by his forces, denied that his military had been responsible, as he has done every time chemical munitions have been used in Syria.
A statement from the Syrian military accused insurgents of responsibility and said they had accused the army of using toxic weapons “every time they fail to achieve the goals of their sponsors.”
But only the Syrian military had the ability and the motive to carry out an aerial attack like the one that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Russia offered another explanation. A spokesman for its Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Syrian warplanes had struck an insurgent storehouse containing toxic substances to be used in chemical weapons.
Witnesses to the attack said it began before 7 a.m. Numerous photographs and graphic videos posted online by activists and residents showed children and older adults gasping and struggling to breathe, or lying motionless in the mud as rescue workers ripped off victims’ clothes and hosed them down. The bodies of at least 10 children lay lined up on the ground or under a quilt.
A few hours later, according to several witnesses, another airstrike hit one of the clinics treating victims, who had been sent to smaller hospitals and maternity wards because the area’s largest hospital was severely damaged by an airstrike two days earlier.
The scale and brazenness of the assault threatened to further subvert a nominal and often violated cease-fire that had taken hold in parts of the country since Mr. Assad’s forces retook the northern city of Aleppo in December with Russian help, emboldening the Syrian leader to think he could win the war.
The attack also seemed likely to dampen peace talks that have been overseen by the United Nations in Geneva and by Russia and Turkey in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Incredulous over the chemical assault, humanitarian groups demanded action from the United Nations Security Council, where partisan divides over who is to blame for the Syrian war have paralyzed its members almost since the conflict began in 2011.
On Tuesday night, Britain, France and the United States were pushing the Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemns the attack and orders the Syrian government to provide all flight logs, flight plans and names of commanders in charge of air operations, including those for Tuesday, to international investigators.
The draft resolution, negotiated among diplomats from the three countries on Tuesday, was later circulated to all 15 members of the Council. It could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday.
For Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly blamed what he has called President Barack Obama’s failures for the Syria crisis, the chemical weapons assault posed a potential policy dilemma and exposed some glaring contradictions in his own evolving positions on Syria.
The White House called the attack a “reprehensible” act against innocent people “that cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”
At the same time, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, denounced Mr. Obama for having failed to make good on his famous “red line” statement in 2012, suggesting he would intervene militarily in Syria if Mr. Assad used chemical weapons.
But in August 2013, Mr. Trump exhorted Mr. Obama not to intervene after a chemical weapons attack near Damascus that American intelligence attributed to the Syrian military killed more than 1,400 civilians, including hundreds of children, according to United States government estimates at the time. “President Obama, do not attack Syria,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “There is no upside and tremendous downside.”
Mr. Trump’s administration, which would like to shift the focus in Syria entirely to fighting the Islamic State, has in recent days described Mr. Assad’s hold on his office as a political reality — an assertion that has drawn strong condemnation from influential Republicans who say Mr. Assad must leave power.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who had said that Mr. Assad’s fate “will be decided by the Syrian people,” struck a sharply different tone on Tuesday, urging Mr. Assad’s allies Russia and Iran “to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again.”
Mr. Tillerson added that “Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths.”
Russia has insisted that it had no military role in the strike. But a State Department official who briefed reporters in Washington said Russian officials were trying to evade their responsibility because Russia and Iran were guarantors of the Assad government’s commitment to adhere to a cease-fire in the peace talks that the Kremlin had helped organize in Astana.
Rescue workers from the White Helmets civil defense organization said that many children were among the dead and wounded. Radi Saad, who writes incident reports for the group, said that volunteers had reached the site not knowing a chemical was present and that five of them had suffered from exposure to the substance.
While chlorine gas attacks have become almost routine in northern Syria, this one was different, medical workers and witnesses said. Chlorine attacks usually kill just a few people, often those trapped in an enclosed space, and the gas dissipates quickly.
This time, people collapsed outdoors, and in much larger numbers. The symptoms were different: They included the pinpoint pupils of victims that characterize nerve agents and other banned poisons. One doctor posted a video of a patient’s eye, showing the pupil reduced to a dot. Several people were sickened simply by coming into contact with victims.
The opposition minister of health, Mohamad Firas al-Jundi, said in a video that he had been in a field hospital at 7:30 a.m. when more than 100 people arrived wounded or sickened.
“The patients are in the corridors and on the floors of the operation rooms, the E.R.s and in the patient rooms,” he said. “I saw more than 10 deaths due to this attack.”
Symptoms included suffocation; fluid in the lungs, with foam coming from the mouth; unconsciousness; spasms; and paralysis, he said.
“It’s a shocking act,” he said. “The world knows and is aware of what’s happening in Syria, and we are ready to submit evidence to criminal laboratories to prove the use of these gases.”
A 14-year-old resident of the attacked town, Mariam Abu Khalil, said she had left home for her examination on the Quran — scheduled for early morning because fewer bombings were expected then — when the attack took place. On the way, she saw an aircraft drop a bomb on a one-story building a few dozen yards away. In a telephone interview Tuesday night, she described an explosion like a yellow mushroom cloud that stung her eyes. “It was like a winter fog,” she said.
Sheltering in her home nearby, she saw several residents arrive by car to help the wounded. “When they got out, they inhaled the gas and died,” she said.
The attack appeared to be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since the August 2013 assault. Under threat of United States retaliation, Mr. Assad agreed to a Russian-American deal to eliminate his country’s chemical weapons program, which until that time it had denied having, and to join an international treaty banning chemical weapons.
But the operation took far longer than expected and raised questions about whether all the materials were accounted for. The head of the international monitoring body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, complained in an internal report about misleading statements from Damascus and expressed concern about possible undeclared chemical weapons.
Since then, the organization, working with the United Nations, has found that the Syrian government used chlorine gas as a weapon three times in 2014 and 2015, violating the treaty. Rebel fighters, doctors and antigovernment activists say there have been numerous other chlorine attacks, including at least two in the past week, in one case killing a doctor as he worked.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has also accused the Islamic State of using banned mustard gas in Iraq and Syria. The area around Khan Sheikhoun is not held by the Islamic State, but by other insurgents: Qaeda-linked militants and a variety of other rebel groups.
A chemical weapons attack, if carried out by the government, would be a brazen statement of impunity, coming during a major international meeting in Brussels where officials are debating whether the European Union and other countries will contribute billions of dollars for reconstructing Syria if it is presided over by a government run by Mr. Assad.