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Syrian opposition and Russia reach agreement over Douma



Opposition negotiators say they have reached a deal with Russia that will see the evacuation of fighters from the besieged Syrian city of Douma.

The potential ceasefire follows an alleged chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held enclave by Syrian government forces, which are backed by Russia.

Rebels from the Jaish al Islam group are to be evacuated from the area to northern Syria, while local authorities and Russian military police will enter the city under the deal, local negotiators said.

They added that fighters who stay will not be pursued by authorities if they make peace with the regime and that conscription to the national military will not be imposed for six months.

:: Trump warns countries backing ‘animal’ Syrian leader Bashar al Assad

Babies caught up in ‘chemical attack’

Opposition sources said at least 70 people were killed by the alleged chemical attack late on Saturday, with more than 500 civilians reported injured.

Volunteer rescue service The White Helmets, which also has links to anti-Assad forces, said many of the victims of the alleged attack were women and children. The group published graphic images appearing to show dead children who had been frothing at the mouth.

The Syrian American Medical Society also described patients foaming at the mouth, saying victims suffered corneal burns and smelled of a “chlorine-like odour”. One woman had convulsions and pinpoint pupils, the society said.

Children suffering the effects of a suspected gas attack in Douma. Pic: UOSSM
Children suffering the effects of a suspected gas attack in Douma. Pic: UOSSM

“The reported symptoms indicate that the victims suffocated from the exposure to toxic chemicals, most likely an organophosphate element,” it said.

The medical relief group also claimed an “explosive barrel” attack on Douma hospital and its surrounding area had prevented ambulances from reaching victims.

There has been no independent verification of the allegations of a chlorine gas attack, and they have been denied by the Syrian government and Russia.

Pic UGC uploaded to social media website checked and verified by senior editor at Reuters
Reuters have published pictures appearing to show the aftermath of the latest attack

An offensive that began in February has seen the Syrian government recapture nearly all of eastern Ghouta from rebels, leaving just Douma in the hands of insurgent group Jaish al Islam.

The area has been dubbed “hell on earth” and subjected to relentless military force, with 1,600 civilians and tens of thousands more displaced according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Thousands of fighters from another group, Failaq al Rahman, finished pulling out of areas of eastern Ghouta along with tens of thousands of civilians last week, after reaching a deal with the government.

The US has described the ongoing attacks as 'brutal'
The US has described the ongoing attacks as ‘brutal’

Saturday’s alleged attack was widely condemned by international observers, with Britain and the US calling for an “immediate response by the international community” if the claims are proven.

The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet on Monday to discuss the incident, following a request by the United States, Britain, France, Peru and others.

Russia has also called for a Monday meeting of the Council, citing “international threats to peace and security”.

Children are among the dead and injured
Children are among the dead and injured

The US State Department said it would use “all efforts available” to hold “those who use chemical weapons” to account, in a statement that referenced the deadly sarin gas attack by the Assad regime on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.

“Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks, targeting of countless civilians, and the suffocation of Syria’s most vulnerable communities with chemical weapons,” it added.

The Foreign Office said the reports, if proven, showed “Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians” and disregard for international norms.

Douma, eastern Ghouta

Man pulled from rubble in Douma

Evidence for past chemical weapons use by the Syrian government has been widely documented, with a joint inquiry by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons finding it responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack.

The inquiry had previously found that Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015, and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

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Two children among four dead after migrant boat sinks off French coast | World News



Four people, including two children, have died after a migrant boat sank off the coast of France, authorities have confirmed.

The children were aged five and eight years old.

Eighteen people have been taken to hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk, according to a statement by the Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea.

The statement said a widespread search and rescue operation is looking for other passengers.

“The boat carrying the migrants sank. An investigation was opened by the public prosecutor of Dunkirk to identify the causes of this sinking,” the statement read.

A sailboat raised the alarm after it spotted the vessel – which was travelling in wind gusts of up to 18mph – in difficulty near Dunkirk.

Customs and Navy patrol boats from France and Belgium went to the area, along with a lifeboat and fishing vessel.

It is believed there were about 20 people on the boat, who were trying to get to the UK.

In a statement, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she is “truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning” and that her thoughts and prayers are with the victim’s loved ones.

“We are in touch with our French counterparts who are leading on the response and have offered whatever support they need as they investigate this incident,” she said.

“This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.”

Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said the refugee community in Calais is “utterly devastated”.

She said: “We are grieving for the victims, we stand in sympathy and solidarity with their families and friends.

“It is cruel and horrifying that this time, young children are among the victims.

“This unnecessary loss of life has to stop. No one should ever feel they have to get into a fragile craft and risk their lives crossing the Channel, least of all vulnerable children.”

In the past year, more than 7,000 migrants have made it across the English Channel to the UK – up from 1,800 the previous year.

According to the prefecture, four people died making the journey in 2019 and four so far this year.

Sky’s Home Affairs Correspondent Mark White said the issue is significant for France and the UK.

“The British Government has been warning for some time about the potential for a significant tragedy,” he said.

“Home Secretary Priti Patel says she has met with her French counterpart on number of occasions and has made clear she wants France to do more,” he said.

“It appears we are certainly witnessing a tragedy that is unfolding today.”

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Search and rescue operation launched after migrant boat sinks near France | World News



Eighteen people have been taken to hospital after a migrant boat sunk off the coast of France.

A widespread rescue operation is searching for other passengers.

A sailboat raised the alarm after it spotted the vessel – which was travelling in wind gusts of up to 18mph – in difficulty near Dunkirk.

Customs and Navy patrol boats from France and Belgium went to the area, along with a lifeboat and fishing vessel.

Eighteen people were been taken to hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk, according to the Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea.

It’s believed the people on the boat were trying to get to the UK.

The Dunkirk public prosecutor is investigating what caused the sinking.

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‘Jurassic Park’ project poses no threat to Komodo dragons, says Indonesia | World News



Indonesia has sought to calm concerns raised by environmentalists after a photo of a Komodo dragon in the path of a lorry went viral on social media.

The picture prompted an outpouring of anger about perceived threats to the natural habitat of the vulnerable species.

Construction work on a project dubbed “Jurassic Park”, catering to tourists visiting the Komodo National Park, is under way and due for completion in June.

An official at the country’s environment ministry told Reuters news agency park rangers would ensure the safety of dragons roaming near the building site, which will include an elevated deck, a dam and an information centre.

“They will intensively make checks of whether the Komodo dragons are under the buildings, remnants of buildings, and under the trucks carrying material,” the statement said.

The image which sparked concerns was reportedly taken on Rinca Island, part of the national park, according to an activist group called Save Komodo Now.

Over the weekend, the group shared the image on Twitter, writing: “This is the first time Komodos are hearing the roar of engines and the smell of smoke. What will the future impact of these projects be? Does anyone still care about conservation?”

The authenticity of the photograph has not been independently verified.

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2019: Komodo dragon hatches in time-lapse footage

In 2019 the Indonesian government said Komodo Island would close to tourists in 2020 to protect the animals after more than 40 Komodo dragons were smuggled and sold for £27,000 each.

This decision was later reversed in favour of a $1,000 tourist entry fee, which could be introduced to keep visitor numbers down instead.

Environmentalists have said the construction must stop in order to protect the animals.

“Komodo needs to be the main priority. They need to be protected in a designated area,” said Umbu Wulang Tanaamahu Paranggi, director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.

“What’s going on now is a destruction of the dragons’ living spaces.”

Social media users have dubbed the construction project “Jurassic Park” after architects shared a video of the project set to the music from the dinosaur film franchise.

Indonesia’s current Komodo population is about 3,000, according to government data.

The national park as a whole is a Unesco World Heritage site and is made up of three larger islands; Komodo, Padar and Rinca and 26 smaller ones.

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