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Un Calls For Syria Ceasefire Says It Is Very Possible

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GENEVA – The United Nations is pursuing diplomacy at the highest level to get a ceasefire in Syria, where the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta is at breaking point and Idlib governorate is a catastrophe, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.

“What we would like to see is an immediate ceasefire – and I think that’s very possible, we’ve had it before, it’s not pie in the sky,” Ramesh Rajasingham, U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told Reuters.

Reporting by Tom Miles;

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Us Still Unsure Who Directed Syria Attack Despite Russian Dead

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WASHINGTON – The United States is still unsure who directed a Feb. 7 attack on U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday, even as he acknowledged accounts that Russian civilian contractors were involved.

Reuters has reported that about 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria.

The U.S. has estimated about 100 pro-Syrian government forces were killed by U.S. strikes to repel the Feb. 7 attack.

Russian military officers told the United States during the incident that Moscow was not involved. The Pentagon has declined to comment on the exact makeup of the attacking forces and Mattis appeared at a loss to explain the incident 10 days later.

“I still cannot give you any more information on why they would do this. But they took direction from someone,” Mattis told reporters flying back to Washington with him from a trip to Europe, according to a Pentagon transcript.

“Was it local direction? Was it from external sources? Don’t ask me. I don’t know.”

Mattis said he “understood” that Moscow had acknowledged contractors were involved, without elaborating on whether that understanding came from press reports. Russian officials have told reporters that five Russian citizens may have been killed in clashes with U.S.-led coalition forces.

Still, Russian officials deny they deploy private military contractors in Syria, saying Moscow’s only military presence is a campaign of air strikes, a naval base, military instructors training Syrian forces, and limited numbers of special forces troops.

But according to people familiar with the deployment, Russia is using large numbers of the contractors in Syria because that allows Moscow to put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers whose deaths have to be accounted for.

The contractors, mostly ex-military, carry out missions assigned to them by the Russian military, the people familiar with the deployment said. Most are Russian citizens, though some have Ukrainian and Serbian passports.

The United States and Russia, while backing opposite sides in the Syria conflict, have taken pains to make sure that their forces do not accidentally collide. But the presence of the Russian contractors adds an element of unpredictability.

The U.S. military has said that in its effort to repel the attack on Feb. 7, U.S. forces on the ground called in coalition strikes for more than three hours, involving F-15E fighter jets, MQ-9 drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The U.S. military has said the attacking forces were aligned with the Syrian government and were backed by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.

“I doubt that 257 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling a location and maneuvering tanks against it,” Mattis said.

“So whatever happened, we’ll try to figure it out. We’ll work with, obviously, anyone who can answer that question, but I cannot, at this time.”

Reporting by Phil Stewart;

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Threatened And Vilified But Philippine Lawyer Says He Wants Death Squad President In Court

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MANILA – Philippine attorney Jude Sabio says he hasn’t been home for a year, steers clear of public events and is forever looking over his shoulder after accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of crimes against humanity.

Sabio, a stocky 51 year-old, says he lives in constant fear of reprisals after filing a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the wildly popular Duterte, whose administration Filipinos rate as the best performing since opinion polls started in the 1980s.

A little-known lawyer until he filed the complaint last April, Sabio argues that the deaths of thousands of Filipinos in a brutal war on drugs is Duterte’s method of controlling crime, and that he used the tactic effectively during his 22 years as the mayor of Davao City in the south of the country.

Duterte has repeatedly denied ordering extra-judicial killings while mayor or president and reiterated this month that he would “gladly” go before the ICC. Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had earlier said her office had started a preliminary examination into whether any crimes against humanity had been committed and if ICC had jurisdiction.

The step is the first in a process that could take years to complete, if at all. Since it was set up in 2002, the ICC has received more than 12,000 complaints or communications, just nine of which have gone to trial.

Sabio’s move is unpopular in a country where, despite the bloodshed, Duterte enjoys a cult-like status and has a loyal online following which hounds and harasses his opponents.

The Social Weather Station’s (SWS) latest quarterly poll shows Duterte’s trust rating bounced back to “excellent” in December from “very high” three months before. Another SWS poll gave his government the best rating so far for a Philippine administration

“When I went to The Hague I received so many threats,” Sabio told Reuters. “The (latest) announcement from the ICC, I‘m also receiving threats. It’s many, I don’t want to read them.”

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque says “domestic enemies of the state” are behind Sabio’s complaint. Asked about Sabio’s safety, Roque said he should report threats to the police.

“We have no ill will against him,” he added. “We know it (the complaint) will not proceed beyond preliminary examination.”

“THE PUNISHER”

In an interview, Sabio described Duterte as a “death squad president” who bragged in public about killing criminals and promised voters he would kill thousands in an anti-drug crackdown if elected.

Duterte earned the nickname “the Punisher” because of allegations he operated a death squad that killed more than 1,000 criminals when he was Davao mayor. He suggested during a televised presidential election debate in 2016 that more would die if he became president.

“I do not want to commit a crime. But if by chance, God would place me there (as president), you watch out,” he said in widely reported comments. “This 1,000 will be 100,000. You will see the fish in Manila Bay become fat, I will throw you there.”

On the day of his inauguration in June 2016, he told supporters: “If you know any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.”

Since Duterte took office, 4,021 people have been killed in what police call legitimate operations against “drug personalities” they say ended in shootouts, according to police data. About 2,300 other drug-related homicides have been blamed by police on vigilantes.

Human rights groups say police take their cue from Duterte’s rhetoric and accuse them of executing suspects, mostly drug users and small-time pushers from slum districts. Police deny that and Duterte insists security forces can kill only in self-defence.

When he made the ICC complaint, Sabio said he was broke and needed sponsors to pay for his flight to The Hague. He had undergone an angioplasty and been through a marriage breakup, and was working out of an office his friend let him use for free.

He says he is still not fully recovered but he had no regrets.

“I always thought in the past the cases I fought, no matter how small, were preparing me for something big in the future,” said Sabio, who has practiced criminal law for 20 years in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro. “Fate directed me to the ICC.”

Sabio’s involvement started when a man named Edgar Matobato testified to a Senate inquiry in September 2016 that he was a hit man who killed at Duterte’s behest when he was Davao City mayor. Sabio said he learned from a priest that Matobato had no lawyer, so he volunteered.

The inquiry concluded there was no proof of a Davao death squad. It was reopened in February 2017 when a second self-confessed assassin testified, but senators again concluded there was insufficient evidence.

Sabio went to The Hague two months later to file a complaint he said is backed by many Filipinos, among them some of Duterte’s political opponents.

Two of those, lawmakers Gary Alejano and Antonio Trillanes, have filed a supplementary communication with the ICC to reinforce Sabio’s 77-page complaint. Both have welcomed the ICC’s preliminary examination.

Sabio said he knows what he’s doing will anger most Filipinos, but he’s undeterred.

“Popularity cannot be invoked as a defense in the ICC, it is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

“I don’t care if millions of Filipinos will look at me as a villain.”

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Suspect Charged With Animal Cruelty After Sick Video Showed Thugs Force Feeding Cocaine And Whiskey To A Goat

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A MAN has been arrested after a shocking video emerged of two men force feeding cocaine and whiskey to a goat.

Sergio Palomares-Guzman 28, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals in Georgia US.

Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office The goat was brought to the Gwinnett Animal Shelter and treated by a vet who said the animal was healthy

The video allegedly shows Palomares-Guzman holding the goat by the horns and forcing its mouth open while another man pours whiskey in its mouth and shoves cocaine in its nostrils.

Investigators became aware of the video after Palomares-Guzman began circulating it and someone notified the authorities.

Police believe the second man in the video live in North Carolina and trying to identify him.

The goat was brought to the Gwinnett Animal Shelter and treated by a vet who said the animal was healthy.

Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Sergio Palomares-Guzman 28, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals in Georgia US

Sergio Palomares-Guzman 28, was arrested in Georgia on suspicion of aggravated cruelty to animals

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