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Hezbollah plans to attack militants inside Syria

In the midst of a damning report by Amnesty International describing the horrors Syrian civilians are living through, plans for fresh attacks on al-Qaeda-linked militants have been announced by Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.


The group’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has hinted at an impending military operation against al-Qaeda-linked militants in the mountainous area inside Syria.

Local media and the Syrian opposition are speculating the assault could start within days.

But Mr Nasrallah has not revealed any concrete plans.

“When this operation begins, it will announce itself by imposing itself on the media, and then everyone will know that this operation has started” he said in a televised address.

“But concerning, in regards to, its goals, limits, location and where it’s heading, this will be left for the right time, and we will not declare it now. It’s not in our interest to announce everything now.”

Some Lebanese officials have warned Hezbollah against launching the attack, saying it would stir tensions in the country and drag Lebanon further into the conflict in Syria.

But the Hezbollah leader said, by not taking action, it would be avoiding its responsibility.

The Shi’ite Muslim group is a staunch ally of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and has sent hundreds of combatants to fight with his forces in the four-year civil war.

And it is during this civil war that, the human-rights group Amnesty International said, civilians have endured unbearable suffering and sheer terror.

A new report by the group claimed barrel bombs dropped by Syrian government forces have killed at least 11,000 people in Syria since 2012.

It described the bombings as crimes against humanity.

“Barrel bombs are essentially oil drums with TNT and shrapnel inside, and, when civilians hear the hissing sound so characteristic of barrel-bomb attacks, they essentially know they have two minutes in which they can try to seek refuge,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program director, Philip Luther.

Amnesty’s investigation shows many residents have been forced underground to escape government forces’ relentless aerial bombardment of opposition-held areas.

The report, entitled Death Everywhere: War crimes and human-rights abuses in Aleppo, says the city, near the Syria-Turkey border, has been particularly hard hit.

The report also said torture, arbitrary detention and abduction of civilians in Aleppo by both sides has been widespread.

It said attacks from government and rebel forces have left civilians in Aleppo living in dire conditions.

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières claimed Al-Sakhour hospital in Aleppo has suspended its activities after being targeted.

“This hospital is the second-biggest in east Aleppo, and it’s one of the two performing life-saving trauma surgeries. It’s a hospital well equipped with materials and staff, so it’s one of the key hospitals treating the war-wounded patients,” said Médecins Sans Frontières spokesman Carlos Francisco.

“We request from the warring parties that they respect these medical facilities, they respect the medical staff and they respect the civilian population.”

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Labor premiers team up on pensioner cuts

Three Labor premiers have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott demanding the reinstatement of Commonwealth funding for pensioner concessions ahead of the federal budget.


The Abbott government last year cut $223 million for water, electricity and rate concessions over four years.

Queensland’s former Liberal National Party (LNP) government initially said it would only pick up 10 per cent of the shortfall, but then agreed to bridge the gap after a public backlash.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told state parliament on Wednesday that she had formed an alliance with her Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, to demand the reinstatement of the money.

“Why should the state have to pick up the burden of what has been in the past solely the responsibility of the federal government, to provide that funding to the states across Australia?” she asked.

“This is the right thing to do. It should never have been ripped out in the first place.”

The South Australian government on Tuesday renewed its own calls for the funding to be returned.

South Australian treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said federal counterpart Joe Hockey will be unable to repair his relationship with local pensioners until he reinstates the annual $30 million in concessions to help cover rates, utility bills, public transport fares and car registrations.

In South Australia, the state government is picking up the tab until July and the opposition says it should fund the concessions over the long term, just like other state governments.

Treasurer Joe Hockey will hand down his budget on Tuesday.

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Greece set to escape ban as sports law goes to parliament

The bill will be voted on in parliament on Wednesday and Thursday after protracted talks between Stavros Kontonis, Greece’s Deputy Minister for Education, Culture and Religious Affairs, and UEFA officials in Nyon reached their conclusion.


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was also briefed on Tuesday evening ahead of the bill’s submission to parliament.

“We have made a serious effort in order to avoid Greek teams being excluded from international competitions, with our national team always top of our mind,” Kontonis said when addressing parliament.

He added: “National teams are not clubs belonging to the federation, they are teams which belong to the Greek people and give joy when they are successful.

“The situation in Greek football and sports in general is out of control and this bill represents a large step towards tackling the problems.”

After two weeks of consultations with UEFA officials, the text for the bill on emergency measures to deal with violence in stadiums was finalised late on Tuesday.

“We are proud of the result (of the amended law), which we believe serves the best of both the legitimacy and the need for reform in Greek football,” said Kontonis, who also thanked both UEFA and FIFA for their part in talks to resolve the issues.

“Our discussions have been in a spirit of mutual understanding, sincerity and good faith, and they have been completed in the best way despite the continuous efforts of many to torpedo it,” Kontonis added.

Greek football officials were warned initially by a joint FIFA-UEFA statement on April 22 that they could face a suspension over government interference if the sports law was implemented in its initial form.

However, following meetings in Athens and Nyon between both sides, the state reached compromises over the sections of the bill which referred to the self-governance powers of the country’s football federation (EPO).

The new bill was the state’s response to continuous problems with crowd trouble which have caused the suspension of football matches three times alone this season.

Greece have clashed with FIFA on several occasions in the past on similar issues.

EPO suspended the 2004 European champions and its member clubs from international competition because of government interference in the sport in 2006, a ban which lasted nine days until amendments in the country’s sports law were put in place.

FIFA had also threatened to suspend Greece on similar grounds in 2002, before again some last-minute alterations in the state legislation were implemented and the country escaped sanctions.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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Puma cuts profit forecast as strong dollar takes toll

The German sportswear company, which brought forward its quarterly results from Friday ahead of its annual meeting later on Wednesday, said first-quarter net profit fell 30 percent to 24.


8 million euros (£18.3 million) on sales up 13 percent to 821 million.

Puma shares traded 3.4 percent lower at 1055 London time, compared with a flat German small-cap index, while the stock of majority-owner French luxury goods group Kering was down 0.8 percent.

Many companies have been hit by big shifts in global currency markets, with fashion players seeking to increase prices and produce more goods in the markets where they sell them to mitigate the impact.

The sportswear industry sources most products from Asia in U.S. dollar contracts, but Puma makes a bigger portion of its profits than its rivals in markets where currencies have tumbled against the greenback like Brazil, Argentina and Russia.

A distant third in the global sportswear market behind Nike and Germany’s Adidas, Chief Executive Bjorn Gulden said Puma also had less power to impose price rises than its bigger competitors, particularly with wholesalers.

“The underlying business, we feel, is going in the right direction but we are not strong enough to counter the currency effect,” Gulden told a conference call with journalists.


Puma has spent heavily on marketing and sponsorship, including ousting Nike as kit supplier to English Premier League football club Arsenal, as it tries to restore its reputation as a sports performance brand after it strayed too far into fashion.

Local rival Adidas said on Tuesday negative currency effects weighed on its gross margin, but it managed to offset them with a more favourable mix of products and prices.

Gulden said it had taken longer than expected to push through price rises in markets like Mexico, Argentina and Russia and efforts to source more products locally were taking time.

Puma is trying to produce, or at least assemble, as many goods locally as possible in Brazil, while it manufactures clothes in Mexico and has a small footwear factory in Argentina.

However, it has no local production in Russia, so it can only counter the fall of the rouble with higher prices, cost control and making sure its leases are denominated in euros.

Puma was only partially or not hedged at all in the Brazilian real, Mexican peso and Russian rouble because it was too expensive, Gulden said. It has now hedged against the rouble for the second half of the year.

The currency hit means Puma now expects its 2015 gross profit margin to fall 100 to 150 basis points from 46.6 percent last year, compared with previous hopes for a slight increase.

It expects operating earnings to fall to between 80 million and 100 million euros from 128 million in 2014.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Keith Weir)

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Engage us earlier in anti-radicalisation moves, Muslim leaders say

Islamic leaders in Victoria say cases of extremism and IS recruitment could be avoided if law-enforcement agencies involved community groups earlier.


The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) has called for authorities to involve them as early as possible when potential jihadists are identified.

ICV secretary Ghaith Krayem says recent counter-terror raids in Melbourne have revived the Council’s push for early intervention.

“We’re saying if you’re concerned about somebody, involve us much earlier in the process,” he said. “Before they’ve gone down this path, give us a genuine opportunity to help them.”

Melbourne teenagers Harun Causevic and Sevdat Ramden Besim, both 18, face possible lengthy jail terms if found guilty of conspiring to commit an act of terror.

“We’re saying if you’re concerned about somebody, involve us much earlier in the process.”

The men were reportedly known associates of Numan Haider, the teenager fatally shot by police last September. From that point onwards, they have been on the radar of counter-terrorism officers.

Mr Krayem said that if the ICV had been notified by police at that point, last month’s raids and any possibility of an Anzac Day incident may have been avoided.

“From our perspective, an arrest or a raid is a failure”. 

“From our perspective, an arrest or a raid is a failure,” he said. “It means somewhere along the way, whatever strategies are in place haven’t worked, and our aim is actually so there is no raids and no arrests.”

Aden Ibrahim is a family friend of Sharky Jama, the model turned jihadist who was killed fighting with IS last month.

Jama was also known to authorities and Mr Ibrahim believes that if the local Somali community was notified, the outcome would have been be quite different.

“If at early stage it had been notified to us, I 100 per cent believe it could [have been] be prevented,” he said.

Like the Islamic Council, Mr Ibrahim advocated a system similar to one proving successful in Europe where a support team including religious mentors, health professionals and family support is established when young people’s behaviour is identified as problematic.

“It can be far more helpful and far cheaper than losing a life”. 

“It can be far more helpful and far cheaper than losing a life,” he said.

In a statement to SBS, an AFP spokesman said it encouraged community engagement.

‘The AFP recognises and values the integral role of local communities, and leaders, in building resilience to violent extremism and creating strong community networks,” the spokesman said. “Community leaders have been very effective in proactively condemning local community violence. 

“The AFP and the Australian Government will continue to support community and religious leaders to spread the message that violence is illegal and detrimental to the vibrant, inclusive and culturally diverse nature of Australia society.”

The AFP said there were intervention programs currently in place to prevent radicalisation.

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“Australian Governments are working together to deliver Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Intervention Programmes in each state and territory,” the spokesman said.

“These programs aim to connect risk individuals with a range of services to divert them away from their current path. 

“The main goal is to intervene at an early stage and prevent persons from continuing down a path which could end in them either preparing and committing acts onshore or preparing to travel off-shore to participate in hostile activities.  Families, communities and local institutions will play a pivotal role in re-engaging with the individual, and reintegrating them within society.”

In a statement to SBS, a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General’s office said the government was “committed to working with our communities to address the radicalisation of young Australians.”

“We have consulted with experts and with representatives of the community on the best way to keep the Australian community safe,” the spokeswoman said.

“The Government has provided over $1.6 million to 34 community-based organisations from across Australia under the Government’s Living Safe Together Grants Programme. The grants are part of the Living Safe Together intervention programme, which has been established to identify radicalised and at-risk individuals and provide tailored services to address the root causes of their radicalisation.

The spokeswoman said community leaders and community service providers were “crucial partners in delivering intervention programmes.” 

Comment has been sought from Victoria Police.

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