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  • Syria war: US 'disappointed' at Russia's Syria stance

    Photo released by the Pentagon showing damage at Shayrat air baseImage copyrightREUTERSImage captionImages released by the Pentagon showed damage caused by the strikes on Shayrat air base

    Syria's war

    The US is "disappointed but not surprised" at Russia's response to its strikes on a Syrian air base suspected of storing chemical weapons.

    At least six people are reported to have been killed in the US missile strikes early on Friday.

    Syria's ally Russia accused the US of encouraging "terrorists" with its unilateral actions.

    "I'm disappointed in that response," said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    "It indicates their continued support for the Assad regime and, in particular, their continued support for a regime that carries out these type of horrendous attacks on their own people.

    "So I find it very disappointing, but, sadly, I have to tell you, not all that surprising," he added.

    Moscow has promised to strengthen Syria's anti-aircraft defences.

    It is also closing down a hotline with the US designed to avoid collisions between their air forces over Syria.

     
     

    Media captionWATCH: What is Trump's plan in Syria?

    According to Idlib's opposition-run health authority, 89 people, including 33 children and 18 women, died in the suspected nerve agent attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday. Syria denies using nerve gas.

    The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that the US had acted to ensure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would never use chemical weapons again.

    "We are prepared to do more but we hope that will not be necessary," she said. "It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."

    She blamed Iran and Russia for standing by the Syrian government when it committed crimes. "Strengthening Assad will only lead to more murders," she said.

    Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, described the US strikes as "illegitimate".

    "When you take your own path, this leads to horrible tragedies in the region," he told the Americans.

    US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he was preparing further economic sanctions against Syria.

    Read more »
  • Jeff De Young: The dog who saved my life and came to live with me

    Jeff De Young served in Afghanistan with a bomb-detection dog named Cena N641, a black Labrador. In the intense atmosphere of war the two developed an unbreakable bond. This is the story of how Cena helped Jeff survive not only war, but also life after war.

    The day I turned 18 I started Marine Corps boot camp, and 15 months later I went to Afghanistan. It was 2009 and I was absolutely terrified.

    You could hear the rounds snap overhead, and then when the round went past you, you heard a zing almost like a whistle

    They paired us with the dogs based on our personalities. Cena was a slightly goofy, quiet dog, and I was a slightly goofy, quiet kid, so it made sense for us to be with each other.

    Together we were known as Kid and Chicken. Chicken was one of those nicknames that you don't remember where it came from, it just kinda stuck. And although I was 19 by this stage, I looked like I was about 12, I didn't even have any facial hair. As a joke, the Marines mailed a permission slip home for my mom to sign because I looked so young they didn't believe that I was allowed to be over there.

    I would operate Cena using hand and arm commands and a whistle. I'd be in front of the patrol and Cena would be further ahead again, so if either of us walked on an improvised explosive device, although we would have been hurt, the rest of the patrol would be safe. I'd never been faced with a situation like that before and it felt like a crash course in adulthood, responsibility, and survival.

    Cena had been a champion bird dog. When waterfowl falls from the sky there is no scent trail to follow like there would be with a rabbit or a deer, so the dog has to investigate the area and find the scent on the wind, it's amazing.

    Dog's noses are so much more powerful than ours. We smell cookies, but they smell the flour, the nutmeg, the butter, the eggs, the milk - they can dissect everything and they can detect smells that we don't even know exist.

    He'd been trained to detect more than 300 different types of explosives and if he smelled something interesting on patrol he would lie down and notify me, and then I'd call in an explosives technician.

    We had to trust each other - we would have a dozen, two dozen marines behind us and any mistake could have been fatal.

     
     

    Media captionListen: Jeff describes how Cena supported him during his darkest hours serving in Afghanistan

    The battle of Marjah was a turning point in my life. We approached the town before the sun came up, no-one was talking, no-one was joking. It was very tense. You could hear the rounds snap overhead, and then when the round went past you, you heard a zing almost like a whistle.

    I was so worried about getting Cena to safety, I even had to lie on top of him to protect him from gunfire. Another time I carried him through a freezing cold, flooded river on my shoulders like a hunter would a deer.

    It got so cold in the fighting holes that even Cena's body heat didn't help, so one day I offered an Afghan soldier the entire contents of my wallet for his scratchy, olive, drab wool army blanket. I had $100 (£80) in my wallet. I was either going to burn the money or get the blanket, that's how cold I was. I still have that blanket.

    The first week inside Marjah I lost a couple of very good friends. One of them was a former room-mate I'd trained with, Lance Corporal Alejandro Yazzie. He was 23, a Navajo, and an all-round good guy. His grandfather had been a wind talker [code talker] in World War Two. When I found out it was Yazzie I was devastated. I held on to Cena and cried into him.

    Jeff wrote the names of his friends who were killed on a flag which he kept inside his helmet

    Yazzie was the first of seven friends I lost in Afghanistan. I carried a flag inside my helmet and whenever a friend would pass away I'd add their name to it.

    Eventually I just couldn't cope any more. I grabbed my military rifle and went to the latrine area. I remember sitting there trying to prepare my mind and make peace, and then Cena peeked around the corner. His ears went up like in the cartoons and he opened his mouth like he was smiling. His tail started spinning so hard that his whole body was rocking back and forth like he was excited by a piece of bacon.

    I started laughing, and I laughed so much that I just broke down crying. I realised then that I couldn't leave Cena because I didn't know if his next handler would love him the way I did. He really was the only person in my life that I had a deep relationship with at that time. I left the latrine, put my rifle back and focused on work.


    Find out more


    It's really hard to explain what it's like, psychologically, coming back from war. Even the drive home was strange. New music was out, new cars were on the roads, there were new stores. It felt like when you leave the cinema to get popcorn and then miss the best part of the film.

    I got married three days after returning and I was so busy doing all this happy stuff, it was like a Band-Aid over Afghanistan. But I wasn't really taking care of myself and dealing with what had happened over there.

    Aside from my children being born and the day I was married, that was the happiest day of my life, it was like all of my Christmases rolled into one

    A couple of weeks after coming home the post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and separation anxiety from being away from Cena really hit me. I'd always understood that I wouldn't have him forever but I'd had no idea how being apart from him would affect me. I felt like a stranger at home and I didn't feel comfortable unless I was with my battalion members or other veterans. I had nightmares and spent many nights crying in the bedroom corner or talking out loud to my fallen friends.

    Over the next four years Cena was always on my mind, but as time went on it became hard to keep up hope that we would be together again.

    Then one day, when I was in college, I got a call. The woman on the phone said: "Mr De Young? My name is Mrs Godfrey, would you like to adopt your bomb dog?" Without even thinking I said, "Heck, yes!" That was 24 April 2014, one day shy of four years since Cena and I had been separated.

    It was just a turmoil of emotions on the car ride there. When Cena came down the aisle I very awkwardly - like a guy crossing a high school dance floor - ran up, kneeled down and started hugging him. He leaned into me like, "Hey man, what's up?" and started licking my face.

    Aside from my children being born and the day I was married, that was the happiest day of my life. It was like all of my Christmases rolled into one.

    I'd been married for four years by the time I got Cena back. Unfortunately, my inability to recognise that I had issues as a result of being in Afghanistan ultimately led to my divorce. Cena was helping me with healing and support but the damage to my relationship was already done. On 5 June 2015 I ended my marriage.

    Jeff De Young, Cena and his three daughters

    I have three daughters, they are six, five and two-and-a-half. Cena took to them instantly, and they love him back - they try to paint his nails and put bows on him. Before getting Cena back, the sound of a child crying would trigger a panic attack in me, as a result of an incident in Afghanistan, and it was tough knowing that I couldn't help my kids because my brain couldn't process that memory.

    The military teaches us how to put the uniform on, but it doesn't teach us how to take it off, metaphorically speaking

    With Cena, if my daughters cried I would sit on the couch, put my forehead to his, scratch his ears and just breathe. Gradually, Cena would only need to be beside me and I could cope.

    By the time my third daughter was born I was able to do a lot of the diaper changes and bottle feeding even if she was crying, and to finally be able to help my daughter felt like being released from jail, it was freedom.

    I'm a military ambassador for the American Humane Association now and I travel around the country raising awareness about how important it is to reunite service dogs with their handlers, and how the dogs can be a vital form of treatment for veterans with PTSD. My work is most definitely therapy for me, too. The military teaches us how to put the uniform on, but it doesn't teach us how to take it off, metaphorically speaking. I've lost count of how many friends I've lost now, who've taken their lives - four just last year alone.

    I couldn't even think about talking about what I saw in Afghanistan four or five years ago, but slowly, by opening up to other veterans, by putting myself out there and airing everything that happened it's becoming so much easier.

    I've recently found out that I have a heart condition called tachycardia. The doctors say it was probably triggered by an explosion or something that happened in Afghanistan. When I'm stressed my heart rate goes up to 200 beats per minute, high enough for a heart attack, so I'm having an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted in my chest. I'm still mentally processing the idea that soon I'm going to have an electronic box in my chest to keep my heart in check.

    Jeff De Young and Cena

    Cena is in OK health, although his front wrist bothers him and his hips are pretty bad. He'd been back to Afghanistan, and I tracked down two of his other handlers through Facebook. I keep them up to date with how he is doing and I hope to get them to come to Michigan to see him - it's been years since they've seen Cena too.

    Cena was retired after his third deployment because of a hip injury and there's no doubt in my mind that he has PTSD. I think he has memories of things that he saw that he doesn't like. He has nightmares, he'll whimper, he'll run around in his sleep and his teeth will snarl. But he's always by my side - we go to the gym together, we go to college together - my college even wants to get him his own cap and gown for when I graduate.

    Cena's nine-and-a-half now. Dogs tend to live to 11 or 12, so I've started making peace with the fact that he may pass away soon. I've been preparing my mind for that.

    Jeff De Young was interviewed by Sarah McDermott and Rose de Larrabeiti.

    Read more »
  • Pink Star diamond sets new world record in Hong Kong

      A rare diamond known as the Pink Star has been sold in Hong Kong for more than $71m (£57m), setting a new world record for any gemstone at auction.

    The oval-shaped 59.6 carat stone was bought after just five minutes' bidding at Sotheby's, reports said.

    It is the largest polished diamond in its class to go under the hammer.

    It sold for $83m in Geneva in 2013 but the buyer later defaulted. The record until now was held by the Oppenheimer Blue, which sold for $50m last May.

    Bidding for the gem, which was found by De Beers at a mine in Africa in 1999 and cut over a period of two years, began at $56m.

    Sotheby's said the buyer was Hong Kong jewellery retailer Chow Tai Fook Jewellery.

    Alexander Breckner, head of diamonds at jewellers "77 Diamonds", told the BBC that the stone was exceptional.

    "It's the largest pink diamond ever found in the history of humankind. It's an incredible colour to it.

    "And the sheer size of the stone already makes it so rare and so beautiful."

    The Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionThe Oppenheimer Blue, sold in May 2016, went for $50m


    Previous records set in stone

    May 2016: A large diamond known as the Oppenheimer Blue set a new auction record, reaching a price of $50.6m (£34.7m at the exchange rate then current). The 14.62-carat gem was sold after 20 minutes of phone bidding at Christie's auction house in Geneva. The buyer's identity is unknown.

    November 2015: The Blue Moon, a 12.03-carat ring-mounted blue diamond, caught the eye of Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau, who paid a record $48.4m (£31.7m) for the cushion-shaped stone. He bought it for his seven-year-old daughter, renaming it the "Blue Moon of Josephine" after her.

    May 2015: An unnamed buyer made history after purchasing the Sunrise Ruby, a 25.59-carat "pigeon blood" coloured gemstone, for $30m (£19.1m). At that price, it became the world's most expensive precious stone other than a diamond.

    November 2013: The "largest vivid orange diamond in the world", according to Christie's, attracted the highest price paid per carat for any diamond at auction, selling for $35m (£22m), or $2.4m (£1.5m) per carat.

    November 2010: The Graff Pink, a 24.78-carat "fancy intense pink" stone described as "one of the greatest diamonds ever discovered", auctioned for $46.2m (£29m). At the time it was believed to be the most expensive gemstone bought at auction and was sold to the well-known British dealer Laurence Graff.

    Read more »
  • At least 58 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria, a monitoring group says. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that strikes on Khan Sheikhoun by Syrian governmen

    The St Petersburg metro explosion was caused by a bomb possibly detonated by a man whose body parts were found on the train, Russian investigators say.

    The blast between two metro stations on Monday killed 14 people and injured 49.

    Kyrgyzstan's security service named the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, who was born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995 and had obtained Russian citizenship.

    His name was later confirmed by Russian investigators, who said he also planted a second bomb that did not explode.

    In an earlier statement, the Russian state investigative committee said it had concluded the train bomb may have been detonated by a man whose remains were found in the carriage.

    No group has said it was behind the bombing.

    In other developments:

    • More details have emerged about the train driver hailed a hero (see further in this article)
    • Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the death toll had risen from 11 to 14 after three people died in hospital
    • Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart Erlan Abdyldayev, said the attack "once again shows the importance of stepping up joint efforts to combat this evil"
    • Authorities in St Petersburg have declared three days of mourning.

    Who is suspected bomber?

    What we know so far


    A city on edge: By Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, St Petersburg

    A man lays flowers outside Tekhnologicheskiy Institute metro station to pay tribute to the victims of an explosion in the metro stationImage copyrightEPA

    The metro here is open again, but passengers heading into the stations at the heart of the attack pass a huge pile of flowers. People here at Sennaya Ploshchad have been adding to the shrine all morning, leaving notes and stuffed toys and lighting candles.

    This is a city trying to get back to normal, but there is deep shock at what's happened.

    I spoke to women in tears. One told me she felt she had to bring flowers because this attack was so awful, and her mother was horrified at how random the killing was. "Everyone I know is fine," Irina said. "But it could have been any one of us."

    There were bomb scares on the metro system again this morning, and several stations were closed and cordoned off as security teams moved in. It is another sign that this is a city on edge now.


    World leaders have rallied behind Russia in condemning the blast.

    • The White House said President Donald Trump had spoken to Mr Putin by phone and offered "full support" in bringing those responsible to justice
    • German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the blast as a "barbaric act"
    • UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she had written to President Putin to offer her condolences. "This shows the terrible terrorist threat that we are all facing," she added.

    Events as they happened

    In pictures: St Petersburg explosion

    Map showing St Petersburg bombs - 4 April 2017

    The blast occurred on Monday afternoon after the train had left Sennaya Ploshchad station.

    Senior investigator Svetlana Petrenko told Russian media the train driver's decision to continue to the next station, Tekhnologichesky Institut, had almost certainly helped save lives, as it allowed people to be rescued quickly.

    Train driver Alexander Kaverin told reporters: "I just followed the procedure. You will know that this isn't the first terrorist act that we've had, there've been explosions before, so smart people came up with smart procedures.

    "And these procedures say that in this situation I had to take the train to the nearest station. This is what I did. The train kept moving. There was a bang and lots of dust, but the train kept on moving."

    The discovery of an explosive device at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya, on Monday also suggested a co-ordinated attack.

    Both Mr Kaverin and another employee who found the unexploded bomb would be rewarded for their actions, metro officials said.


    Shifting tactics: By Abdujalil Abdurasulov, BBC Russia and Central Asia analyst

    An injured person stands outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station following explosions in St. PetersburgImage copyrightEPA

    Several thousand fighters from Central Asia have joined militants in Syria and Iraq. Some are recruited from among migrant workers in Russia, who may be vulnerable to propaganda because of the injustice and abuse they face.

    As part of shifting tactics, militants reportedly appeal to new recruits to support the "cause" at "home" as an alternative to joining the battlefront in Syria or Iraq.

    The birthplace of the suspected bomber is reported to be Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Although this city is in the Fergana valley, where the role of Islam is particularly strong, it should not be perceived as a source of a growing "Islamic threat".

    Islam in Central Asia is far more secular than in most parts of the Muslim world. Although the influence of the religion is certainly increasing, this is often mistakenly seen as a sign of the growing threat of violent radicalism, which effectively puts an equals sign between Islam and danger.

    The reasons why Central Asians support violent Islamist groups are mainly rooted in social and economic insecurities. Religion may not be necessarily a major one.

    Per capita, more fighters have gone from some European countries, such as Belgium, to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq. And Belgium's Muslim population is far smaller.

    Read more »
  • St Petersburg metro explosion kills several

    About 10 people have been killed in an explosion between two underground stations in St Petersburg.

    The head of Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit the train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

    The committee said an explosive device was later found and made safe at another station, Ploshchad Vosstaniya.

    President Vladimir Putin said all causes, including terrorism, were being investigated.

    Initial reports suggested there had been two explosions, one at Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations.

    A spokesman for St Petersburg's governor said at least 10 people had been killed and 50 injured. But minutes later, Russian National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the death toll was nine, with 20 hurt.

    Andrei Przhezdomsky, the head of the committee, said the explosion at 14:40 local time (12:40 BST) was caused by "an unidentified explosive device" but that the exact cause had yet to be determined.

     
     

    Media captionEmergency services tend to the wounded outside a St Petersburg metro stationMap showing location of St Petersburg blast - 3 April 2017

    President Putin was in St Petersburg earlier on Monday but is now outside the city, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

    "I have already spoken to the head of our special services, they are working to ascertain the cause," he said, at a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

    In pictures: St Petersburg metro explosion

    The entire St Petersburg underground network has now been shut down, and Moscow metro officials said they were introducing extra security measures as a result.

    An iniured person walks outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station, following explosions in two train carriages at metro stations in St Petersburg, Russia April 3, 2017Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe entire metro network has now been shut downEmergency vehicles and a helicopter are seen at the entrance to Tekhnologichesky Institut metro station in Saint Petersburg on April 3, 2017Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGESImage captionA helicopter landed on the street to transfer the injured to hospital

    St Petersburg's metro system is the 19th busiest in the world, with more than two million passengers every day. It has not suffered attacks before.

    However, several transport hubs in Russia have been attacked. In 2010 at least 38 people died in a double suicide bombing on the Moscow metro.

    In 2009, a bomb exploded on a high speed train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg, killing 27 and injuring another 130.

    Both attacks were claimed by Islamist groups.

    Read more »
  • UK will 'stand up for Gibraltar' in Brexit row with Spain, says Boris Johnson

     

    Spain has contested the UK's rule over the Rock for more than three centuries Getty

    Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the UK will stand up for Gibraltar, in the wake of what the territory called "unacceptable" lobbying from Spain over Gibraltar’s future as part of the Brexit negotiations.

    On Friday, documents published by the European Council showed that decisions affecting Gibraltar would be referred to the Spanish government. The small territory in southern Spain voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK in a referendum in 2002. In last year’s EU referendum, 97 per cent of its citizens voted Remain.

    Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo said Spain’s lobbying for its interests over Gibraltar was "unacceptable.”

    Boris Johnson revealed he had held talks with Mr Picardo to make clear the UK would continue to support its wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.

    Mr Johnson said: "As ever, the UK remains implacable and rock-like in our support for Gibraltar."

    Clare Moody, Labour MEP for Gibraltar and South West England, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme it was the Government's job to "represent the people of Gibraltar".

    She said: "I was amazed that they failed to do that in the letter they sent on Wednesday.

    "It worries me that we are about to enter into the most detailed negotiations that we have known for decades.

    "If the Government has overlooked the interests of Gibraltar, which is a crucial part of the kind of constitutional arrangements of our membership of the European Union, then what else are they going to overlook as well?"

    Christian Hernandez, president of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, said the British Government needed to "stand firm in the face of Spanish bullying".

    "We don't want to be independent from the UK. We've made it very clear in the last 100 years, in the last 20 years, in the last 15 years, we want a constitutional relationship with the UK, where we continue to be part of the UK and independence is not something we aspire to," he added.

    Spain has long contested Britain's 300-year rule of Gibraltar.

    In its draft Brexit negotiating guidelines, the European Council identified future arrangements for Gibraltar as one of its 26 core principles.

    It wrote: "After the UK leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between Spain and the UK."

    But all 27 remaining EU countries are able to veto the UK’s deal, so it is not clear what this means in practical terms

     

    Read more »
  • Venezuela: Supreme court backtracks on powers bid

    The Venezuelan supreme court has reversed its ruling to strip congress of its legislative powers.

    It made the decision after the government of President Nicolas Maduro urged it to review the ruling "to maintain institutional stability".

    The initial decision - announced on Wednesday - had been denounced as a "coup" by the opposition, which dominates the National Assembly.

    Anti-government protesters have staged daily protests against the move.

    The supreme court announced the reversal on its website.

    A day earlier, chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an ally of President Nicolas Maduro, became the first high-ranking official to criticise the judges.

    Speaking live on TV, she expressed "great concern" about a measure which, she said, violated the constitution.

    An opposition supporter holding a placard that reads, Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe opposition says Mr Maduro is turning Venezuela into a dictatorship

    Promising dialogue to end the crisis, Mr Maduro had convened a late-night meeting of the state security council.

    Afterwards Vice-President Tareck El Aissami said: "We urge the supreme court to review the decisions... in order to maintain institutional stability and the balance of powers."

    Mr Maduro said: "This controversy has been overcome, showing the power of dialogue."

    How did the dispute start?

    In its original ruling, the supreme court had annulled the powers of the assembly, allowing the judges to write laws.

    The court had accused lawmakers of "contempt" after allegations of irregularities by three opposition lawmakers during the 2015 elections.

    The court has backed the leftist president in his ongoing struggles with the legislature. On Tuesday it removed parliamentary immunity from the assembly's members.

    There has been widespread international condemnation, with the Organisation of American States talking of the "final blow to democracy" in Venezuela.

    Why is Venezuela in crisis?

    Tensions have been high because the country has been engulfed in a severe economic crisis.

    It has the world's highest inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach 1,660% next year. Long queues, power cuts and shortages of basic goods are common.

    The president attends a rally held by his followers against 'imperialism' on March 9thImage copyrightEPAImage captionMr Maduro blames the difficulties on an "economic war" waged by his rivals

    The government and opposition blame each other for the country's problems, made worse by the falling price of oil, Venezuela's main export product.

    President Maduro has become increasingly unpopular and the opposition has called for his removal

    Read more »
  • Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

    Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

    The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as "Geulat Zion", near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

    It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

    Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

    It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to "hold back" on settlement construction.

    The Israeli authorities approved thousands of new homes in existing settlements after Mr Trump took office in January.

    What are settlements?

    More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

    Israeli policemen remove a pro-settlement activist from a house during an operation to evict settlers from the unauthorised outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank (1 February 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe unauthorised settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated in early February

    There are also 97 settler outposts - built without official authorisation from the Israeli government - across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

    However, the largest, Amona, was evacuated by police at the start of February after the Supreme Court ordered that it be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land.

    Why is a new settlement being established?

    As Israeli police cleared the last homes in Amona, Mr Netanyahu promised to establish a new settlement for the families who were being evicted.

    On Thursday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously approved a plan to build one on a hilltop just east of the existing settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.

    West Bank settlements map

    It also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as "public land" in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.

    While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

    What has been the reaction?

    Palestinian officials swiftly condemned the move.

    Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

    A Palestinian argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest to mark Image copyrightEPAImage captionSettlements take up land the Palestinians want as part of their future state

    "Israel's relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with 'Greater Israel' should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures," she added.

    A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "took notice with disappointment and alarm" of Israel's decision.

    "The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution," he said.

    The Yesha Council, the leading organisation representing Jewish settlers, cautiously welcomed the security cabinet's decision, saying the "true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar".

    What has the Trump administration said?

    An unnamed White House official sought to play down Israel's announcement, telling the Associated Press that "while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace".

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's international negotiations envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (14 March 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionDonald Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says he is interested in trying to broker a peace deal

    "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this," the official added.

    At a summit in Jordan on Wednesday, Mr Trump's special representative for international negotiations discussed with Arab leaders how progress could be made towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Jason Greenblatt told them the president believed a peace deal was "not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world".

    Read more »
  • Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

    Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

    The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as "Geulat Zion", near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

    It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

    Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

    It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to "hold back" on settlement construction.

    The Israeli authorities approved thousands of new homes in existing settlements after Mr Trump took office in January.

    What are settlements?

    More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - land the Palestinians claim for a future state. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

    Israeli policemen remove a pro-settlement activist from a house during an operation to evict settlers from the unauthorised outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank (1 February 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionThe unauthorised settlement outpost of Amona was evacuated in early February

    There are also 97 settler outposts - built without official authorisation from the Israeli government - across the West Bank, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now.

    However, the largest, Amona, was evacuated by police at the start of February after the Supreme Court ordered that it be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land.

    Why is a new settlement being established?

    As Israeli police cleared the last homes in Amona, Mr Netanyahu promised to establish a new settlement for the families who were being evicted.

    On Thursday night, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously approved a plan to build one on a hilltop just east of the existing settlement of Shilo, which is close to the site of Amona.

    West Bank settlements map

    It also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as "public land" in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.

    While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC's Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

    What has been the reaction?

    Palestinian officials swiftly condemned the move.

    Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

    A Palestinian argues with an Israeli soldier during a protest to mark Image copyrightEPAImage captionSettlements take up land the Palestinians want as part of their future state

    "Israel's relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with 'Greater Israel' should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures," she added.

    A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he "took notice with disappointment and alarm" of Israel's decision.

    "The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution," he said.

    The Yesha Council, the leading organisation representing Jewish settlers, cautiously welcomed the security cabinet's decision, saying the "true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar".

    What has the Trump administration said?

    An unnamed White House official sought to play down Israel's announcement, telling the Associated Press that "while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace".

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's international negotiations envoy, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (14 March 2017)Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionDonald Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says he is interested in trying to broker a peace deal

    "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this," the official added.

    At a summit in Jordan on Wednesday, Mr Trump's special representative for international negotiations discussed with Arab leaders how progress could be made towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Jason Greenblatt told them the president believed a peace deal was "not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world".

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  • China vows to advance military ties with Cuba

    BEIJING, March 30 (Xinhua) -- China is ready to work with Cuba to advance military ties so as to further enrich bilateral relations, said top legislator Zhang Dejiang on Thursday.

    Zhang Dejiang (R, front), chairman of the National People

    Zhang Dejiang (R, front), chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, meets with Cuban Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Leopoldo Cintra Frias (L, front) in Beijing, capital of China, March 30, 2017. (Xinhua/Liu Weibing)

    Zhang, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, made the remarks when meeting with Cuban Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Leopoldo Cintra Frias at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

    Hailing the sound development of bilateral ties forged more than 50 years ago, Zhang called on both countries to implement the consensus reached between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Cuban President Raul Castro during Xi's Cuba visit in 2014.

    Both countries need to enhance exchanges between the two militaries and parliaments to push bilateral ties forward, said Zhang.

    Cintra said Cuba treasures its friendship with China and appreciates China's help and support over the years. He expects to deepen bilateral military cooperation.

     

     

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