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Ukraine says fighting rages in Mariupol, blasts rattle Kyiv

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(Last Updated On: April 16, 2022)

Ukraine said on Friday it was trying to break Russia’s siege of Mariupol as fighting raged around the city’s massive steel works and port, and the capital Kyiv was rocked by some of the most powerful explosions in two weeks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the military situation in the south and east of the country was “still very difficult,” while praising the work of his armed forces.

“The successes of our military on the battlefield are really significant, historically significant. But they are still not enough to clean our land of the occupiers. We will beat them some more,” Zelenskiy said in a late-night video address, calling again for allies to send heavier weapons and for an international embargo on Russian oil.

Russia said it struck what it described as a factory on the outskirts of Kyiv that made and repaired anti-ship missiles, in apparent retaliation for the sinking on Thursday of the Moskva, the flagship of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine said one of its missiles had caused the Moskva to sink, a powerful symbol of its resistance to a better-armed foe. Moscow said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an explosion of ammunition.

The United States believes the Moskva was hit by two Ukrainian missiles and that there were Russian casualties, although numbers were unclear, a senior U.S. official said.

Russia has said more than 500 sailors on board the Moskva were evacuated after the blast. Neither that assertion nor the U.S. assessment could be independently verified.

MARIUPOL REDUCED TO RUBBLE

Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, has seen the worst fighting of the seven-week-long war. Home to 400,000 people before Russia’s invasion, the city has been reduced to rubble. Thousands of civilians have died and tens of thousands remain trapped in the city.

“The situation in Mariupol is difficult and hard. Fighting is happening right now. The Russian army is constantly calling on additional units to storm the city,” defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing, although he said the Russians have not completely captured it.

Motuzyanyk said Russia had used long-range bombers to attack Mariupol for the first time since its Feb. 24 invasion.

In his address, Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s allies have the power to make the war much shorter, by sending the weapons his government needs. “I always tell all our partners … that the amount of support for Ukraine directly affects the restoration of peace. It literally defines how many more Ukrainians the occupiers will manage to kill,” he said.

Moscow has said its main war aim is to capture the Donbas, an eastern region already partly held by Russian-backed separatists, after its invasion force was driven from the outskirts of Kyiv this month.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 2,864 people were evacuated from conflict areas on Friday, including 363 people from Mariupol who used their own transport.

Zelenskiy recently made a direct appeal to U.S. President Joe Biden for the United States to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing people familiar with their conversation.

The list currently includes four countries: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.

A White House spokesperson declined to respond specifically to the report, adding, “We will continue to consider all options to increase the pressure on Putin.”

RUSSIA THREATENS STRIKES ON KYIV

If Moscow captures Mariupol, it would be the only big city to fall to the Russians so far.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had captured the city’s Illich steel works. The report could not be confirmed.

Ukrainian defenders are mainly believed to be holding out in Azovstal, another huge steel works.

Both plants are owned by Metinvest – the empire of Ukraine’s richest businessman and backbone of Ukraine’s industrial east – which told Reuters on Friday it would never let its enterprises operate under Russian occupation.

The Moskva was by far Russia’s largest vessel in the Black Sea fleet, equipped with guided missiles to shoot down planes and attack the shore. It had radar to provide air defence cover for the fleet.

Moscow has used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a potential amphibious landing along the coast. Without its flagship, the largest warship sunk during conflict since Argentina’s General Belgrano in the 1982 Falklands war, its ability to menace Ukraine from the sea could be crippled.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces would step up strikes on Kyiv.

“The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime,” the ministry said.

Kirill Kyrylo, 38, a worker at a car repair shop in the Ukrainian capital, said he had seen three impacts on an industrial building, causing a blaze that was put out by firefighters.

“The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car,” he said, pointing out the shattered glass of the repair shop and bits of metal that had flown from the burning building.

Russia initially described its aims in Ukraine as disarming its neighbour and defeating nationalists there.

Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes and led to the deaths of thousands.

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Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.

The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

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US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.

The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.

The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.

In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.

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Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.

Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”

The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.

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