US visi­tors to Cuba com­plain of symp­toms sim­i­lar to ‘em­bassy at­tacks’

Ear­lier, Washington urged cit­i­zens to stay away from Cuba be­cause of un­ex­plained health ‘at­tacks’.

The Sunday Guardian - - World - REUTERS. REUTERS

The warn­ing urged Amer­i­cans to stay away from Cuba be­cause of un­ex­plained health “at­tacks” it says have caused hear­ing loss, dizzi­ness, fa­tigue and cog­ni­tive is­sues among at least 22 diplo­matic per­son­nel.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tues­day ex­pelled 15 Cuban diplo­mats to protest Cuba’s fail­ure to pro­tect staff at the US em­bassy in the com­mu­nist coun­try, just days af­ter Washington re­called more than half the US diplo­matic per­son­nel from Ha­vana. Cuba has de­nied in­volve­ment, and Washington has not di­rectly blamed the gov­ern­ment in Ha­vana. So far, no probes have yielded any an­swers about how the al­leged at­tacks were car­ried out or who was re­spon­si­ble. The warn­ing said the at­tacks had oc­curred in “diplo­matic res­i­dences and ho­tels fre­quented by U.S. cit­i­zens.”

CBS News first re­ported that some pri­vate cit­i­zens had com­plained of symp­toms af­ter vis­it­ing Cuba. On Fri­day, the US em­bassy in Ha­vana iden­ti­fied the Ho­tel Na­cional and Ho­tel Capri as the two places where it said em­bassy per­son­nel had been tar­geted over the past few months, and said the US gov­ern­ment had “im­posed lim­i­ta­tions on lodg­ing” there.

Re­cep­tion­ists at both ho­tels said they had not heard of any re­stric­tions. Both said they had Amer­i­cans reg­is­tered there and their man­agers were not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

US in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives work­ing un­der­cover were among the em­bassy per­son­nel af­fected by the at­tacks, but it was un­clear if they were specif­i­cally tar­geted since the symp­toms hit staff across a range of job cat­e­gories, said US of­fi­cials.

The­o­ries about the at­tacks abound, from sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy gone awry to a so­phis­ti­cated acous­tic weapon in the hands of Cuban-Amer­i­can ex­iles or third-party state ac­tors such as Rus­sia, Iran or North Korea. But no clear ex­pla­na­tion has emerged. Syr­ian rebel fight­ers are launch­ing a ma­jor military op­er­a­tion, backed by Turk­ish forces from in­side Turkey, in a north­ern Syr­ian prov­ince largely con­trolled by ji­hadist mil­i­tants, Turk­ish President Tayyip Er­do­gan said on Sat­ur­day.

The rebels said they were pre­par­ing to start the op­er­a­tion in Idlib soon, and res­i­dents re­ported Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties re­mov­ing sec­tions of a bor­der wall.

The op­er­a­tion, part of a deal be­tween Turkey, Iran and Rus­sia to re­duce war­fare be­tween rebels and the gov­ern­ment, ap­pears aimed at crush­ing the Tahrir al-Sham al­liance, which has taken over much of Idlib prov­ince and north­west­ern Syria. The three coun­tries have sup­ported op­pos­ing sides in Syria’s six-year con­flict, with Turkey back­ing rebels fight­ing to over­throw President Bashar al-As­sad, while Rus­sian and Ira­nian military sup­port helped As­sad drive them back.

Er­do­gan’s com­ments, how­ever, sug­gested Rus­sia and Turkey would fight to­gether against Tahrir al-Sham, an al­liance led by the for­mer al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate in Syria that changed its name last year from the Nusra Front. “There’s a se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion in Syria’s Idlib to­day and it will con­tinue,” Er­do­gan said in a speech to his AK Party, adding that Turkey would not al­low a “ter­ror cor­ri­dor” on its bor­der with Syria. “For now Free Syria Army is car­ry­ing out the op­er­a­tion there,” Er­do­gan said. “Rus­sia will be pro­tect­ing out­side the bor­ders (of the Idlib re­gion) and we will han­dle in­side,” he said.

“Rus­sia is sup­port­ing the op­er­a­tion from the air, and our armed forces from in­side Turkey’s bor­ders,” he added.

Mustafa Se­jari, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Liwa al-Mu­tasem Syr­ian in­sur­gent group tak­ing part in the op­er­a­tion, said Rus­sian war­planes would not be mil­i­tar­ily back­ing the rebels.

“As for the Rus­sians, they will not have a role in the ar­eas of our con­trol at all. The role of the Rus­sians is lim­ited to ar­eas un­der regime con­trol,” he said.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran an­nounced a deal last month to es­tab­lish and pa­trol a “de-es­ca­la­tion” zone in the Idlib re­gion, where Er­do­gan has said Turkey will de­ploy troops, but Tahrir al-Sham pledged to keep on fight­ing.

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