UN experts arrive in Syria to begin probe into chemical weapons
DAMASCUS, Syria — After months of drawn-out negotiations, United Nations experts arrived in Damascus on Sunday to begin their investigation into the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.
The rebels, along with the U.S. and other Western powers, have accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of carrying out the alleged chemical attacks, while the Syrian government and Russia have blamed the opposition. Nearly six months after the weapons of mass destruction were first allegedly employed on the battlefield, definitive proof remains elusive.
The U.N. team that arrived in Damascus on Sunday is tasked with determining whether chemical weapons have been used in the conflict, and if so which ones. But the mission’s mandate does not extend to establishing who was responsible for an attack, which has led some observers to question the overall value of the probe.
The 20-member U.N. delegation, led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, checked into a five-star hotel upon arrival in central Damascus. Plainclothes police officers immediately whisked them away from a crush of reporters and cameraman waiting in the lobby.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the team will begin its work on Monday.
Officials optimistic about fight against Idaho wildfire
BOISE, Idaho — Fire managers expressed optimism Sunday in their battle against a wildfire that has scorched nearly 160 square miles and forced the evacuation of 2,300 homes near the central Idaho resort communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley.
Officials said the blaze had grown by only about 12 square miles because of cloud cover the day before and the arrival of additional crews and equipment. Many firefighters worked Sunday to create protective firebreaks, or gaps in vegetation.
“Today they’re very optimistic that we will reinforce those lines in case the fire does flare up as we saw on Thursday and Friday,” fire spokeswoman Shawna Hartman said.
More than 1,200 people and 19 aircraft were battling the lightning-caused Beaver Creek Fire, which started Aug. 7 and was 9 percent contained. Nearly 90 fire engines also were in the region, many protecting homes in the affluent area where celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis own pricey getaways.
Hartman said Sunday retardant was being dropped on the flank of Bald Mountain — the Sun Valley Resort’s primary ski hill — to reinforce a fire line.
US to review cases of Guantanamo prisoners previously deemed too dangerous to release
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — As the U.S. renews its effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, it will soon begin reconsidering the fate of prisoners such as Mohammed al-Shimrani.
The 38-year-old Saudi is in a special category among the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo — one of nearly 50 men who a government task force decided were too dangerous to release but who can’t be prosecuted, in some cases, because proceedings could reveal sensitive information. While the rest of the prisoners have been cleared for eventual release, transfer or prosecution, al-Shimrani and the others can only guess at their fate.
“The allegations against my client are no more serious than many, many Saudis who have been sent home,” New York-based attorney Martha Rayner said of al-Shimrani. “It just baffles me.”
The Pentagon says the men in the indefinite detention category are held under international laws of war until the “end of hostilities,” whenever that may be. As a group, they are one of the chief hurdles to President Barack Obama’s attempts to close the detention center on the U.S. base in Cuba.
For the most part, they have been accused of being al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, couriers and recruiters.
By wire sources
After more than a decade, their lawyers say it’s time to let them go.