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  • Allegations of a chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government spark international demands for investigation.
  • Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party, hot commodities in British politics at the moment, are under scrutiny by election officials.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Fighting in Syria

Syria’s never-ending civil war threatens to boil over again, with renewed fighting and allegations of a fresh chemical weapons attack.

Last night, the U.S. State Department said it is gathering information on a reported chlorine gas attack in rebel-controlled northwest Syria over the weekend, re-upping its warning to Bashir al-Assad’s regime that “the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately” to such war crimes.

Prior chemical attacks in April 2018 and April 2017 were met with a barrage of missiles and bombs aimed at the Syrian military.

The State Department did not provide details of Sunday’s alleged incident, but local media reports that four fighters with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group that was formerly allied with al-Qaeda, suffered injuries from gas munitions dropped by regime helicopters near the village of Kabana, in Latakia province. Doctors who treated the men say they were having difficulty breathing and complained of burning eyes, and smelled strongly of chlorine. There were no reports of civilian casualties.

Syrian government soldiers inspect HAZMAT suits belonging to the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, at their captured former headquarters in the town of Qalaat al-Madiq, some 45 kilometres northwest of the central city of Hama, on May 17. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Both the U.K. and France have joined the Americans in calling for further investigations.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been probing the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict since 2013. Its latest fact-finding report, issued at the beginning of March, found that there were “reasonable grounds” to conclude that reactive chlorine gas was used against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018. At least 43 people died in that attack and more than 500 others were poisoned.

The OPCW doesn’t apportion blame, but the U.S. government does.

“The Assad regime’s culpability in horrific chemical weapons attacks is undeniable,” Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson, said yesterday.

And she warned of “false narratives” and disinformation campaigns fed by the Syrian government and its Russian allies that seek to pin the blame for such incidents on opposition forces.

This all comes against the backdrop of a failing ceasefire in Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held region of the country.

This photo provided May 21 by the Syrian Civil Defense group the White Helmets shows smoke rising after Syrian government forces targeted the town of al-Habeet, in Idlib province. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Since fighting flared up again in late April, more than 180,000 people have been displaced from their homes. Many are now camped out along the Turkish border, hoping to be allowed to cross into safety.

Today, there are reports that opposition forces are on the offensive, retaking control of a village that Syrian government troops had captured on May 8, and launching rocket attacks against a nearby Russian airbase.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports more than 1,150 air and artillery strikes over the past 24 hours and hundreds of deaths over the past three days, including at least 19 civilians. Shells also hit a Turkish military observation post.

More than two dozen schools and health care facilities in the region have been targeted over the past month.

Displaced Syrians prepare a meal at a camp near the village of Atme, in the jihadist-held northern Idlib province, on May 19. (Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

Although most of the country is now back under Assad’s control, there is still no end in sight for the now eight-year-long civil conflict. But the price that average Syrians have paid for the power struggle is coming into sharper focus.

Yesterday, the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, an independent human rights organization, issued a report based on an examination of 5,000 seized Syrian government documents that detail how the Assad regime tried to crush the uprising.

It details orders to “do the necessary” to quell demonstrations, and an almost total disregard for the safety of civilians when the military planned attacks.

The documents also paint a picture of a state that jailed or disappeared its citizens on the slimmest of suspicions, from rumours of an intention to protest, to an overheard critical remark at a dinner party.

At least 14,000 people have died in Syrian prisons since the uprising began in March 2011, and 128,000 people have gone missing since being taken into custody.

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Brexit Party probe

Nigel Farage, a hot commodity in British politics at the moment, is under renewed scrutiny, London reporter Thomas Daigle writes.

Where there’s smoke, is there fire?

When it comes to political finances, Nigel Farage swears not.

Farage, the longtime face of the U.K. Independence Party, now leads the red-hot Brexit Party. And just as his Brexiters appear poised to top tomorrow’s European Parliament elections in Britain, the smoke of suspicion keeps blowing.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage addresses a European Parliament election campaign rally at Olympia London on Tuesday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

It began last week when Britain’s Channel 4 reported that Brexit-supporting millionaire Arron Banks had funded Farage’s lavish lifestyle — providing him with a Land Rover, a driver and a home in London’s posh Chelsea neighbourhood — after Britain’s 2016 EU referendum.

“Are you in fact a kept man?” a reporter asked Farage on a campaign stop last week.

Farage brushed aside the question and the controversy.

Leave.EU, the Brexit campaign group co-founded by Banks, is under investigation after Britain’s elections watchdog said it had grounds to “suspect a number of criminal offences” had been committed. Namely, the Electoral Commission says Banks may not have been the “true source” of millions of pounds in Brexit campaign funding, and has “referred the matter to the National Crime Agency (NCA).”

And the European Parliament, of which Farage has been an elected member since 1999, says it will now probe the undeclared gift from Banks to see whether it broke any rules.

In the meantime, the Brexit Party has banned Channel 4 journalists from its events.

Arron Banks (left), a businessman and co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign, talks to an anti-Brexit campaigner as he walks outside the Houses of Parliament on March 27 in London. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

And there’s more smoke where that came from.

The Electoral Commission also showed up at Brexit Party offices yesterday to examine its fundraising practices.

This comes after former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed the party was accepting small “undeclared, untraceable payments” through PayPal.

At his last major rally before tomorrow’s EU vote, Farage sought to ridicule the scrutiny of his personal and party finances. “After seven hours today in the office, the Electoral Commission have not found a single misdeed by the Brexit Party,” he said to thunderous applause from supporters at London’s Olympia concert hall.

“Let’s make it clear to the conspiracy theorists, to those who think somehow the Russians are funding us,” Farage added, asking donors in the room to raise their hands as a way to show the party is funded by supporters.

He maintains the Brexit Party has managed to rake in donations of at least £25 ($42 Cdn) from more than 100,000 supporters in less than two months.

Britons head to the polls tomorrow, long before any inquiry determines whether claims of impropriety are founded. If there’s any fire under all that smoke, voters won’t know in time.

A few words on … 

A larger than life athlete.

Quote of the moment

“Mr. Guajardo’s [residence] is subsidized housing owned by the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation, and his current employment is believed to be ‘retired’ and previous employment ‘self-employed’. These facts are not in keeping with: Mr. Guajardo’s ability to travel to Australia and California with some frequency; Mr. Guajardo’s ability to make multiple deposits of over $10,000 cash … or the over $3 million in cash located throughout the residence.”

– An excerpt from a notice of civil claim filed in British Columbia Supreme Court against 69-year-old Rolando Guajardo. The provincial government is seeking to seize $3,227,340 police found bundled in bags and boxes when they raided his residence last winter in connection with an international drug investigation.

According to a B.C. Supreme Court claim, Rolando Guajardo was living at this low-income subsidized townhome in Burnaby when police seized more than $3 million in cash. (Metro Vancouver)

What The National is reading

  • Reinforcements make their way to Alberta to battle raging wildfire (CBC)
  • Work weeks should be cut to fight climate change: study (Guardian)
  • Duterte orders trash shipped back to Canada (CBC)
  • Senior military officers rebel against Trump plan to pardon accused war criminals (LA Times)
  • Deadly riots erupt after Indonesia election (BBC)
  • Zimbabwe increases fuel prices as economic crisis deepens (AlJazeera)
  • Rats are taking over New York City (NY Times)
  • NASA’s moon plan revealed: 37 launches and a lunar base (ArsTechnica)
  • Elton John’s lavish donkey stable slated for demolition (The Times)

Today in history

May 22, 1957: Who’s the happiest homemaker?

What — if anything — the CBC’s Homemaker’s Club was all about has been lost in the mists of time. But Vancouver women auditioned to get in. Here’s Mrs. Brady (no first names, please) striving to impress by teaching the audience to make an exotic pizza pie. “It’s becoming very popular. Especially down in the States. There are some restaurants that even specialize in it,” she says. Mrs. Brady then provides detailed instructions on how the make the “biscuit,” and add the tangy tomato sauce, oregano and “nippy cheese.” And there’s a bonus recipe too — the same thing, but on sliced hamburger buns for “party snacks.”

Young women prepare a dish of their choice in auditions for the Homemaker’s Club. 8:52

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