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US: Nusra Front military target despite name change, break with Qaeda

Nusra Front militants remained a fair target for US and Russian warplanes in Syria, Kirby said. Photograph: (AFP)

Reuters Washington, United States Jul 28, 2016, 07.40 PM (IST)
The US State Department said yesterday that Nusra Front militants remained a fair target for US and Russian warplanes in Syria despite a decision to cut ties with al Qaeda and change its name to Jabhat Fatah al Sham, and it was seeking clarification from Turkey on detentions of journalists following an attempted coup there.

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a news conference that the Nusra Front's announcement could simply be a rebranding exercise and the United States would judge it by its actions, goals and ideology.

"Certainly see no reason to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different, and they are still considered a foreign terrorist organisation," Kirby said.

"They are still not a party to the cessation of hostilities and therefore are still a fair target for coalition operations," he added.

Kirby also said the Russian and Syrian humanitarian exercise around Aleppo on Thursday appeared to actually be an attempt to force the evacuation of civilians and the surrender of militant groups.

"What needs to happen is the innocent people of Aleppo should be able to stay in their homes, safely, and to receive the humanitarian access which Russia and the regime have agreed, in principle have agreed, certainly according to the UN Security Council resolution, to provide," Kirby said.

The United States understands Turkey's need to hold perpetrators of the recent attempted coup to account but the detention of more journalists is part of a worrisome trend that discourages public discourse, Kirby told reporters.

"We're obviously deeply concerned by the reports and were seeking additional information from Turkish authorities. As you well know and as I've said many many times from the podium the United States supports freedom of expression around the world. And we have concerns when any country makes a move to close down media outlets and restrict this universal value. We expect Turkish authorities to uphold their assurances that the Turkish government will protect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms," he said.

The moves follow a failed coup on July 15 in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured.

Western governments and human rights groups have condemned the coup, but they have also expressed disquiet over the scale and depth of the purges, fearing that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan may be using them to get rid of opponents and tighten his grip on power.

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