US bars entry of Gambia's ex-leader Jammeh

             By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. is barring entry of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh for significant corruption, the State Department said Monday.</p>  <p>The agency issued a statement that said Jammeh, along with his wife, daughter and son, are being blacklisted under a law blocking foreign government officials that have been involved in significant corruption or human rights violations from entering the country.</p>  <p>Jammeh ruled the country for 22 years since leading a coup in 1994. He lost a democratic election to Adama Barrowin December 2016. </p>  <p>He refused to step down, however, which prompted a military threat by the African Union and the West African regional body ECOWAS. He fled to Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.</p>  <p>The Barrow government reported that Jammeh stole at least $50 million from the country while in office.

Jammeh, who attended a military training course in Alabama, owns real estate 15 miles from Washington D.C. in Potomac, Maryland.

An estate previously owned by Calbert Cheaney, a former American basketball player, was sold to the Jammeh family trust in 2010 for $3.5 million, according to public records.

"The United States stands with the government of The Gambia, its people, and civil society in support of The Gambia’s transition towards greater transparency, accountability, and democratic governance, for the benefit of all Gambians," the State Department said.

US: Russia, Syrian regime carried out false flag attack

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. on Friday lashed out at the Syrian regime and its principal supporter, saying they &quot;falsely&quot; blamed rebels and extremist groups for conducting a chlorine attack in northwestern Aleppo last month. </p>  <p>&quot;The United States strongly refutes this narrative and has credible information that pro-regime forces likely used teargas against civilians in Aleppo on November 24,&quot; State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. </p>  <p>Palladino said Washington has information indicating Russian and regime personnel were directly involved in what the U.S. is saying was a false-flag operation involving tear gas. It was intended to undermine confidence in an ongoing cease-fire agreement in nearby Idlib, Palladino said. </p>  <p>&quot;The United States is deeply concerned that pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,&quot; he said. </p>  <p>&quot;We caution Russia and the regime against tampering with the suspected attack site and urge them to secure the safety of impartial, independent inspectors so that those responsible can be held accountable,&quot; Palladino added. </p>  <p>Palladino did not provide evidence he says the U.S. has to back up its assessment. </p>  <p>SANA, Syria's official news agency, said Nov. 24 that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham launched a chemical attack in the al-Khalidiya area of Aleppo, which is under regime control, asserting that more than a hundred civilians were affected.</p>  <p>Russia's Defense Ministry claimed the alleged chemical strike targeted northwestern rural Aleppo, with mortars being fired from the Idlib de-escalation zone.</p>  <p>Russia said 120mm mortar shells containing chlorine were fired from the al-Buraykat district controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. 

US prepares to sail warship in Black Sea: Report

            By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. has begun preparations to sail a Navy warship into the Black Sea amid heightened tensions over Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors. </p>  <p>The Pentagon has requested that the State Department inform Turkey of the possible action, CNN reported Wednesday, citing three anonymous officials. </p>  <p>The U.S. is required to notify the country under the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention, which governs the movement of military ships through the strategic Bosphorus and Dardanelles waterways which connect the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.</p>  <p>The officials CNN spoke to said the plans to possibly sail a warship into the Black Sea are in response to Russia's actions. </p>  <p>Russia seized two Ukrainian navy ships and a navy tugboat along with 24 crew members off Crimea in late November, accusing the vessels of entering its waters and provoking a conflict.</p>  <p>It said the vessels had ignored calls to stop, sparking military action.</p>  <p>Russia intervened as the Ukrainian ships were relocating from the Black Sea port of Odessa to the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov.</p>  <p>The action has further strained ties between Moscow and Kiev. </p>  <p>Russia's Investigative Committee has accused the Ukrainians of illegal border crossing.</p>  <p>In a tit-for-tat, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has forbidden Russian male citizens aged 16 to 60 from entering the country. </p>  <p>Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula following a controversial referendum.</p>  <p>The international community views the annexation as illegal and the election Russia uses to justify it as illegitimate.

US envoy for Syria to visit Turkey, Jordan

            By Servet Gunerigok</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. special representative for Syria James Jeffrey will travel to Turkey and Jordan between Dec. 4-14, the State Department said Tuesday. </p>  <p>Jeffrey will be joined by Joel Rayburn, deputy assistant secretary of state for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria.  </p>  <p>&quot;In Turkey, the Ambassador will meet with Turkish leaders and other senior officials to discuss the promotion of stability and security in Syria,&quot; said the department in a statement. </p>  <p>He will also conduct a &quot;High-Level Working Group on Syria&quot; with Turkish officials ‎to address security concerns of the U.S. and Turkey and continue progress on issues of mutual interest regarding the Syria crisis, according to the statement. </p>  <p>&quot;In Jordan, Ambassador Jeffrey will meet with Senior Jordanian officials to emphasize the importance of maintaining pressure on the Syrian regime and encouraging all possible efforts to advance the political track as called for in UNSCR 2254,&quot; said the statement. </p>  <p>Jeffrey will discuss &quot;additional ways to ensure consistent, unhindered access to humanitarian and medical aid&quot; for the refugees of the Rukban camp. </p>  <p>Located in the desert on the Syrian-Jordanian border, the camp is home to nearly 60,000 refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in Syria. </p>  <p>&quot;He will also meet with U.S. personnel focused on Syria policy issues from around the world,&quot; said the department. </p>  <p>The Syrian regime has imposed a tight siege around the camp, triggering deteriorating humanitarian conditions for its residents. </p>  <p>Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

Genocide committed against Rohingya: US law group

             By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar should be further investigated by a criminal tribunal, a human rights law firm said Monday.</p>  <p> Washington-based Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), tasked by the U.S. State Department, after months of investigation released the report that said are reasonable grounds to believe crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes have been committed against the minority Muslim group.</p>  <p>PILPG gathered a team of 18 investigators from 11 countries and conducted more than 1,000 interviews of Rohingya in refugee camps, documenting &quot;property and land confiscation, restricted access to food, marriage and family restrictions, religious persecution, extortion and threats of violence, forced labor, and regular beatings, rapes, and murder.&quot;</p>  <p>Every person interviewed in the report witnessed or experienced large-scale attacks, killings, destruction of property, harassment or contempt for their religion, and 80 percent  witnessed the killing of a family member, friend or acquaintance.</p>  <p>The report called for a &quot;politically viable choice to be made and the urgent establishment of an accountability mechanism or an immediate referral of the situation to the ICC,&quot; referring to the International Criminal Court.</p>  <p>Investigators found that as Rohingya were fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, Myanmar forces were gunning them down.</p>  <p>&quot;Military helicopters hunted for and fired upon groups of fleeing Rohingya, and the Myanmar Navy shot Rohingya with boat-mounted guns or intentionally rammed overcrowded ferries to drown those on board as they sought to flee across the Naf River into Bangladesh,&quot; the report said.</p>  <p>The law firm's report had been used to create the State Department report released in September, however, the government fell short of calling the crimes &quot;genocide&quot; in Myanmar. </p>  <p>If Washington were to use the term genocide to describe the atrocities, it could commit the U.S. to enforcing harsher measures against Myanmar.</p>  <p>“The determination of genocide does have a cathartic effect for the victims. It conjures up a moral imperative among others to take more serious action,” the group said on Twitter.</p>  <p>A UN report released in September called for the top Myanmar military officers to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.</p>  <p>It called for targeted sanctions on those most responsible and an arms embargo on Myanmar.</p>  <p>&quot;The international community is obliged to protect populations subjected to atrocity crimes by their own governments and ensure justice and accountability for such crimes,&quot; the report added. &quot;The ultimate purpose of this duty is to provide justice to victims, deter potential perpetrators, and prevent future mass atrocities.&quot;</p>  <p>In a report, the UNHCR refugee agency said nearly 170,000 people likely fled Myanmar in 2012 alone.</p>  <p>Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to the OIDA.</p>  <p>In a recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA raised the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (± 881) from a Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.</p>  <p>More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police. Over 115,000 Rohingya houses were also burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.</p>  <p>According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.</p>  <p>The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.</p>  <p>The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity. </p>  <p> </p>  <p> </p>  <p> 

US to provide $131 mln in emergency food aid to Yemen

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) – The United States is providing nearly $131 million in additional emergency food assistance to the people of Yemen.

"This brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Yemen response to more than $697 million since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2018," the State Department said Thursday in a statement.

It said most of the new funding would provide food assistance through the UN World Food Program.

Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014, when the Houthi rebel group overran much of the country and the crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.

Tens of thousands of people, including civilians, are believed to have been killed and the UN estimates that around 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine.

In order to deliver this assistance, relief supplies and aid workers "must be able to move freely" throughout the war-torn country, the statement said.

"All parties must cease hostilities and support negotiations to find a peaceful solution and put an end to the suffering of millions," it added.

US says latest Astana meeting a failure

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Thursday said the latest round of tripartite meetings on Syria was a failure due to the lack of a meaningful breakthrough between the three principal parties – Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The State Department cited in particular the Astana group's failure to agree on a list of members to make up Syria's Constitutional Committee.

"The establishment and convening, by the end of the year, of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva is vital to a lasting de-escalation and a political solution to the conflict," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"Russia and Iran continue to use the process to mask the Assad regime’s refusal to engage in the political process," she added.

The committee will be tasked with drawing up a new constitution for the war-wracked country amid expectations for its formation by the year's end.

The UN's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said earlier Thursday the last Astana meeting of 2018 was "a missed opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee.”

Military option on table against Iran: US envoy

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. will not hesitate to use military force against Iran, a State Department official said Thursday, displaying weaponry he said Tehran sent to different proxies.

The agency’s representative for Iran, Brian Hook, briefed reporters at a military base in Washington regarding Iran's transfer of arms to proxy groups and the Tehran’s missile development.

He said the U.S. prefers to engage with the country diplomatically, but the military option is on the table.

"We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly," Hook said.

"I think right now, while we have the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically," he added.

The U.S. has taken a much harsher stance on Iran since President Donald Trump took office. Trump pulled Washington out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Tehran earlier this month.

Hook unveiled evidence he said of Iran's missile proliferation, and highlighted different weapons systems the U.S. says were sent to proxies, with emphasis on Houthis rebels in Yemen.

He displayed an array of weapons picked up in Afghanistan, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, claiming they were of Iranian origin.

If Iran is found to have sent weapons systems to these places, it would be in violation of UN resolutions.

"As the world strives toward peace and security in the Middle East, we are working to reverse advances made by Iran and its proxies over the last several years," Hook said.

Many of the weapons Hook mentioned were obtained by Saudi Arabia, amid growing criticism in Washington of the U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition's operations in the Yemeni civil war.

US reiterates call for peace in Yemen

By Safvan Allahverdi

WASHINGTON (AA) – The United States on Wednesday reiterated its call for all parties in civil war-torn Yemen to immediately cease hostilities and engage in direct talks aimed at ending the conflict.

"The time for direct talks and building mutual confidence is now," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement.

The statement also called on all parties to support UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.

“We welcome the UN Special Envoy's statement that the Houthis and the Republic of Yemen Government are committed to attending the consultations in Sweden, and we call on the parties to follow through on that commitment,” Nauert said.

“All parties must not delay talks any longer, or insist on travel or transport conditions that call into question good faith intentions to look for a solution or to make necessary concessions.

"We encourage all combatants to abide by their statements declaring a commitment to cease hostilities and call on those parties to not use any period of truce to reinforce military positions, implant mines, or in any way escalate the conflict,” she said.

The statement also called for Yemen’s key Hudaydah port to be turned over to a neutral party "to accelerate the distribution of aid to address the acute humanitarian crisis, and to prevent the port from being used to smuggle weapons and contraband into the country or to finance the Houthi militia".

Hudaydah receives roughly 70 percent of the commercial imports and humanitarian aid entering the country.

“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” the statement added.

Impoverished Yemen has remained wracked by violence since 2014, when Shia Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.

Saudis banned Khashoggi for criticizing Trump – Report

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) – Slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi was barred from media appearances after criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump in late 2016, according to the State Department.

In its most recent report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the department said Khashoggi moved to the U.S. in "self-exile" in September 2017 and "could face arrest upon returning home" due to his writings.

The report said Khashoggi's column in Saudi newspaper al-Hayat had been cancelled under political pressure.

“In 2016, authorities purportedly banned him from writing, appearing on television and attending conferences as the result of remarks he made that were interpreted as criticizing the president of the United States, according to multiple media sources.

"Earlier, in July, authorities reportedly lifted the writing ban against him," said the report.

The ban came after Khashoggi appeared at a policy forum at think tank The Washington Institute on Nov. 10, 2016 and made remarks critical of Trump’s Middle East policies, describing Trump's stance on the Middle East as "contradictory".

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, went missing after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

After initially saying he left the consulate alive, the Saudi administration admitted weeks later that he was killed there.

His body has yet to be returned to his family amid reports that it was chemically dissolved.

In a statement Tuesday, Trump defended relations with Saudi Arabia despite the killing of the journalist amid reports that the CIA had concluded with high confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's murder.

However, the president said the U.S. may "never know all of the facts" and the country will continue its relations with Saudi Arabia in order to pursue American interests.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" Trump said in the statement, which was released by the White House.