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Gaza toll reaches 28, Israel rejects excessive force claims

GAZA CITY: — The Palestinian death toll in last week’s mass protest on the Gaza-Israel border rose to 18, officials said, as Israel rejected allegations of unlawful use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators.

More than 750 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire in Friday’s protest, according to Gaza health officials, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

The Palestinian death toll since the start of the conflict passed 274, including at least 28 who were killed overnight, according to health officials in Gaza, with more than 2,000 injured. Israel launched air strikes against more than 100 targets overnight.

Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said the number of displaced Gazans had almost doubled in the past 24 hours with more than 40,000 seeking sanctuary with the UN.

Hamas has warned Israel of “dreadful consequences” of the conflict’s escalation. A statement issued by the Palestinian group warned: “We’re with you in the field, and we aren’t afraid of the ground assault.”

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was visiting Turkey on Friday for talks on a ceasefire to halt Israel’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip after meetings on Thursday with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, as well as a senior Hamas official in Cairo.

Turkey, a long-time supporter of the Palestinian Islamist movement, is trying to use its influence to stop the fighting. On Thursday Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at both the UN and other Muslim countries for not taking action to stop the Israeli offensive against Gaza, which he said amounted to “systematic genocide“.

China hits the United States with tariffs on $3 billion of exports

China is showing the United States that it will make good on its trade threats.

The Chinese government said that tariffs on about $3 billion worth of US imports are going into effect Monday, hitting 128 products ranging from pork, meat and fruit to steel pipes.

It’s the latest move in escalating tensions between the world’s two largest economies, which some experts fear could turn into a trade war.

Beijing says the new sanctions on 128 US products, which it first proposed 10 days ago, are in response to President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from China and some other countries.

But Trump also has more measures in the works aimed specifically at China. He has announced plans to slap tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese goods following an investigation by his administration into the theft of intellectual property from US companies.

The administration has said those tariffs will punish the Chinese aerospace, technology and machinery industries, but it hasn’t announced which specific products will be hit.

The tariffs also won’t take effect right away. A US fact sheet says the administration will take public comments for 30 days on the proposed action. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told last week that the public comment period would be 60 days.

In the meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the United States and China are talking behind the scenes in hopes of preventing an escalation.

It’s unclear how China would respond to those aggressive measures. For now, Beijing is focusing on its response to the steel and aluminum tariffs.

China’s commerce and finance ministries said in statements late Sunday that authorities are imposing tariffs of 15% on 120 American products — such as fruits, nuts, wine and steel pipes — and 25% on eight other products, including pork and recycled aluminum.

Those products make up just a tiny portion of the hundreds of billions of dollars of goods shipped between the two countries each year. But the tariffs are alarming news for the affected industries.

The US National Pork Producers Council warned last month that the measures would “have a significant negative impact on rural America.” It said the US pork industry sold $1.1 billion worth of products to China last year, making it the third largest export market.

China is upset that Trump imposed the steel and aluminum tariffs on the grounds of national security, which Beijing says is an abuse of global trade rules.

Since first announcing the metal tariffs, the White House has said it will spare a number of allies from the measures, including Canada, Mexico, the European Union and South Korea.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said in its statement late Sunday that those exemptions “seriously violate” World Trade Organization rules that prohibit members from discriminating against other WTO members.

It said it hoped the US government would withdraw the tariffs “as soon as possible so that the trading of products between China and the United States will return to a normal track.”

China has repeatedly said that it doesn’t want a trade war but has also warned that it will take “firm and necessary” countermeasures to defend its interests.

In an opinion article Monday, China’s official news agency Xinhua warned that Trump’s plans to impose further trade measures on China are a “self-defeating gamble” that will cause harm to the American economy.

“Trump’s planned tariffs are not only going to hamper the United States’ economic well-being and continued progress, and burden its people with higher costs of living, but also pose a grave threat to the current global trading system,” the article said.

Trump has long accused Beijing of stealing American jobs through unfair trade practices. He has promised to bring down the United States’ huge trade deficit in goods with China, which reached $375 billion last year. But economists have cautioned that tariffs are unlikely to achieve that goal and risk hurting economic growth instead.

So far, though, neither side is backing down.

Experts say they expect further retaliation from China once the Trump administration reveals more details on which products its planned $50 billion in tariffs will target.

Arthur Kroeber, a founding partner at economic research firm Gavekal, predicted in a note to clients late last month that the next round of Chinese measures will focus on US agricultural exports from predominantly Trump-voting states.

China’s approach is to show it’s willing to stand up to the United States but without going as far as seriously disrupting the global trading system, according to Kroeber.

China wants “to position itself as the good guy in the global economy, protecting the rules of the game from Trump’s lawless attacks,” he wrote.

CNN’s Serenitie Wang and Ivan Watson contributed to this report

PKK living up to its terrorist reputation

(What the PKK is doing is a crime against humanity, but no one in Europe has lifted a finger against these cruelties, and rather have allowed its sympathizers to stage rallies)

he people of northwestern Syria’s Afrin are trying to leave the city as Turkish and Free Syrian Army (FSA) close in on the settlement to end its occupation by the PKK terrorists.

The city, occupied by the PKK for the past six years, became a bastion of the terrorist organization in Syria. Its people have been forced to pay taxes to the terrorists and those who could not afford to pay were asked to hand over their children as recruits.

The PKK and its Syrian offshoots, the so-called Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) ran the city with an iron fist. The PKK appointed its own administrators, eliminated all the local Kurds who opposed them and brought in some hardened terrorists from the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq to enforce its authority.

The American generals, who wanted to use the PKK/PYD/YPG against Daesh, simply turned a blind eye to all the atrocities committed by these groups throughout northern Syria, including Afrin. Instead of condemning the groups’ actions, they simply created a smokescreen and presented the PYD and the YPG in a sugar coating to the American people.

Unfortunately, today we are witnessing footage from Afrin where the PKK militants are blocking people from leaving the city. People trying to flee are turned back at gunpoint by the militants, who have set up numerous roadblocks. The PKK wants to use these people as human shields against the Turkish and the FSA forces.

What the PKK is doing is a crime against humanity yet no one in the West has lifted a finger against these cruelties, on the contrary, they have allowed PKK/YPG/PYD sympathizers stage rallies in European capitals.

The PKK has been using Afrin’s local population as human shields since the day Turkish troops set foot in the region. They have even tied up old people and booby-trapped them in a bid to kill Turkish soldiers. It is sad that the American taxpayers who have to bankroll the PKK due to the whims of the U.S. generals are not aware of these ugly realities.

But for us who know the true face of the PKK and have experienced their total lack of respect for human life, none of these come as a surprise. The PKK is a terrorist group bent on terrorizing people to submit to their demands. They do not care whether the people they terrorize are Kurdish, Turkish or Arab or belong to any other ethnic group.

The so-called human rights activists in the U.S. seem to turn a blind eye to the fact that the PKK is abducting children in Turkey, Iraq and Syria and turning them into child soldiers.

The PKK is living up to its identity as a terrorist group when it denies people of Afrin their rights to leave, when it uses them as human shields and when it ties up old people and turns them into booby traps.

Of course, it will be hard for some American generals, who have been seen kissing and hugging the PKK terrorists, give up their terrorist buddies yet they have to live with the realities of this world. You simply cannot make claims of combating terrorism when you resort to doing so with the help of other terrorists.

With the realities on the ground, Turkey has to take exceptional care to not harm Afrin civilians, who are being used as human shields. Isn’t this something to be applauded?


Turkey forces encircle Kurdish-controlled centre of Afrin

Turkey’s army and allied Syrian rebel forces have surrounded the city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, the main target of Turkey’s operation there.

The military said on Tuesday that forces encircled Afrin and also gained the control “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, confirmed the development in a separate statement.

Turkey – together with the Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group – launched in January an air-and-ground operation into Afrin in the northwest of Syria to vanquish the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters near its border.

Turkey considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and its armed wing YPG to be “terrorist groups” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK has waged a decades-long armed fight against the Turkish state that has killed tens of thousands of people.

350,000 people in Afrin

The SOHR said on Monday that hundreds of civilians had already fled Afrin as Turkey advanced.

“More than 2,000 civilians have arrived in the area of Nubul” controlled by pro-regime forces, it said, adding that hundreds more were still on the road.

Afrin city – the main urban centre in the YPG-controlled enclave on the Turkish border – is home to around 350,000 people, the Observatory said.

Since the start of its offensive, Turkey has also threatened to push its military operations to Manbij, further east, to sweep Syrian Kurdish fighters from the length of its borders.

Turkey’s repeated threats to push to Manbij have caused complications with NATO ally the US, which has its troops deployed in the area and is backing the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), a move that has infuriated Ankara.

Source: Al Jazeera news