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War Crimes and Trials in Syria and Iraq
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  1. #1
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    War Crimes and Trials in Syria and Iraq

    New U.N. team aims to bring Syria war crimes to court

    A new body is being set up at the United Nations in Geneva to prepare prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria, U.N. officials and diplomats said on Thursday.

    The General Assembly voted to establish the mechanism in December and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to name a judge or prosecutor as its head this month.

    "We expect to start very, very shortly with just a handful of people," a U.N. human rights official told Reuters.

    The team will "analyze information, organize and prepare files on the worst abuses that amount to international crimes - primarily war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide - and identify those responsible", she said.

    While it would not be able to prosecute itself, the idea is to prepare files for future prosecution that states or the International Criminal Court in The Hague could use.

    The focus on prosecutions means evidence collected since 2011 by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry may be sharpened into legal action.

    The COI has issued 20 reports accusing the Assad government, rebel forces and Islamic State of mass killings, rapes, disappearances and recruiting child soldiers.

    It too lacks a prosecutorial mandate, but has denounced a state policy amounting to "extermination", and has compiled a confidential list of suspects on all sides, kept in a safe.

    Rights watchdog Amnesty International said last week the Syrian government executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail. Syria denied the report, calling "devoid of truth".

    A Swedish court on Thursday sentenced a former Syrian opposition fighter who now lives in Sweden to life in prison for war crimes.

    A U.N. report in January put the start-up budget for the new team at $4-6 million. So far $1.8 million has been donated, the U.N. official said. Funding is voluntary, posing a major challenge.

    BUILDING CASES

    The United Nations aims to recruit 40-60 experts in investigations, prosecutions, the military, and forensics, diplomats said.

    "It's a very important step. It will not only allow court cases but also help us preserve evidence if there are cases in the future," a senior Western diplomat said.

    Legal experts and activists welcomed the initiative.

    "The focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold," said Andrew Clapham, professor of international law at Geneva's Graduate Institute.

    Jeremie Smith of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies said the United Nations must lay the groundwork for prosecutions ahead of any "exodus" of perpetrators when the war ends.

    This is the only way to make sure criminals don't get away by fleeing the scene of the crime."

    The new team will seek to establish command responsibility.

    "This is mass collection of information on all sides with a view to prosecution in the future by the ICC (International Criminal Court), national courts or in some completely new international tribunal that would be created," Clapham said.

    Many national courts could pursue suspects using its dossiers, he said. States that have joined the ICC could bring cases to the Hague court, without referral by the Security Council.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mi...-idUSKBN15V1QU
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    Horror of Mosul where sinkhole became mass grave for 4,000 of Isil's victims

    The Khasfa sinkhole was once an inconspicuous feature in the barren desert just off the Baghdad-Mosul highway.

    Now, this natural depression five miles outside Mosul is believed to be the biggest mass grave in Iraq and the resting place of an estimated 4,000 bodies.

    Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) killed and dumped the bodies of thousands of security personnel here after they captured the city in 2014, according to local villagers, Iraqi police and human rights organisations.

    Most victims were shot and dumped into the pit, witnesses said, while others perished in vehicles driven over the edge.

    "Daesh would drive the victims to Khasfa in convoys of minibuses, trucks and pick ups. The men had their hands bound and their eyes blindfolded.

    "They were taken to the sinkhole and shot in the back of the head," said Mahmoud, a 40-year-old from the nearby village of Sananik who declined to give his full name for security reasons.

    The dead would either tumble into the hole after being shot or be tossed into it by their masked killers, he said.

    The Daily Telegraph was able to visit the Khasfa site this week after Iraqi security forces fighting to recapture the western half of Mosul took control of the area.

    On Friday Iraqi fighters recaptured the city's airport from Isil, as they pushed into the densely-populated western sector.

    Iraqi fighter jets also dropped bombs on Isil positions inside Syria yesterday, the first time the Iraqi government has publicly acknowledged striking militant targets inside Syria.

    Isil is believed to have embarked on a campaign of extermination in Mosul, hunting down and killing policemen and soldiers and burying them in mass graves in the surrounding desert, which is pockmarked with sinkholes and natural crevices.

    A grave containing the bodies of at least 300 members of the security forces was discovered last November on the outskirts of Hamman al Alil, a town about 30 kilometres from Mosul.

    But the scale of the killing at Khasfa dwarfs all other known sites. "Khasfa is definitely one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mass grave by Isil in Iraq.

    And from what we have heard it is not just a grave but also an execution site," said Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch. The organisation estimates that around 4,000 bodies are buried at the site.

    Locals said the sinkhole was more than 400 metres deep before the dead began piling up.

    The body count at Khasfa outstrips the most infamous massacre committed by Isil – the murder of army cadets at the Camp Speicher military base near Tikrit.

    Isil militants butchered as many as 1,700 Shia recruits in the June 2014 massacre, turning the water of the Tigris red with blood.

    At Khasfa, 2,000 policemen and soldiers were murdered in one day alone, claimed Mahmoud, who said he was forced to watch mass executions by the jihadists on four separate occasions.

    "In the beginning, you couldn't see the corpses at the bottom of the hole. Only later, when it began to fill up could you see the bodies," he said.

    The victims of one of the executions he was forced to watch included his cousin, who worked as a police office, he said.

    On a separate occasion, he watched a bus full of bound and blindfolded Yazidi men being driven up to the lip of the sinkhole and then rolled over the edge.

    Locals said the killing at Khasfa began six months after Isil took Mosul, and that the terrorist group posted lists of those it had killed in local mosques.

    Employees at a makeshift oil refinery just down the road from the sinkhole said they remembered seeing convoys of prisoners being ferried to the area and hearing gunfire from the same direction.

    While the massacres continued, Human Rights Watch researchers were monitoring the sinkhole via satellite, and could see the pit filling up.

    By June 2015, the militants had covered the hole with earth. Locals said Isil pushed dozens of shipping containers into the hole, as well as concrete blast walls, before using bulldozers to cover it with earth.

    Today, the Khasfa sinkhole is just a slight depression in the parched landscape, with little visible sign of the horrors beneath.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017...ss-grave-iraq/
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    Iraqi forces find grave holding some 600 Shiite inmates executed by Islamic State

    BAGHDAD – The remains of hundreds of mainly Shiite inmates killed by Islamic State militants when they overran a prison in northern Iraq more than two years ago have been unearthed by forces retaking the area from the group, a spokesman said.

    An Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group made the discovery after driving the militants from the Badush area where the prison is located, as part of a wider U.S.-backed campaign to dislodge Islamic State from the city of Mosul.

    As an array of forces dismantle Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate across Iraq and Syria, more evidence is emerging of the war crimes committed by the Sunni Islamist militants, who targeted Shiite Muslims and religious minorities as well as opponents from their own sect.

    “Initial checks of part of the mass grave revealed remains with prison uniforms and lined up in a way that indicates they were shot dead in groups,” said Karim Nouri, spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi, a state-run umbrella for Shiite paramilitary groups.

    One of those groups — the Abbas Division — is fighting alongside the regular Iraqi army, which in recent days jointly completed the encirclement of Mosul, about 10 km (6 miles) southeast of Badush.

    The militants used the prison to hold their own captives including thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority, but blew it up some time before Iraqi forces drew near.

    Human Rights Watch said in a report that as many as 600 people were killed in the Badush prison massacre, which took place on the same day that Islamic State militants captured Mosul in June 2014.

    The militants corralled the inmates, who had been serving sentences for a range of crimes — from murder and assaults to nonviolent offenses — onto trucks and drove them to an isolated stretch of desert about 2 km (1 miles) from the prison, HRW said.

    There, they separated a few Sunni and Christian inmates from the rest, who were overwhelmingly Shite, before forcing them to form one long line along the edge of a ravine and machine-gunning them down.

    The report was based on the testimony of more than a dozen men who survived by playing dead or because they were shielded by the bodies of other prisoners who fell on top of them.

    “We are waiting for forensic teams and human rights officials to begin unearthing the grave to uncover the whole story of how the ruthless criminal Daesh (Islamic State) killed them in cold blood only because they were from a certain sect,” Nouri said.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/201.../#.WMX9pMsizVg
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    At least 72 dead in suspected chemical attack in Syria

    A suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held Syrian town killed 72 people and injured 400 others Tuesday, a medical relief group said, and some medics treating the wounded were later struck by rubble when an aircraft reportedly bombed a hospital.

    A hospital in Syria's northern Idlib province was hit soon after the area was bombarded with a suspected chemical agent, an AFP correspondent reported.

    The U.N. Security Council is to convene for an emergency meeting over the suspected deadly chemical attack. At least 11 of the 72 people that were reported killed were children.

    President Trump responded with this statement: "Today's chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack."

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reacted, "While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism. Those who defend and support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions about Assad or his intentions. Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable."

    Mohammed Rasoul, the head of a Syrian ambulance service, told the BBC that first responders found people choking in the streets.

    "Our team is still there, moving patients from one place to another because of overcrowded hospitals," he said. "I am speaking to my team and they are doing fine, but the situation over there is very bad and most of those who are suffering are children."

    The media center published footage of medical workers appearing to intubate an unresponsive man stripped down to his underwear and hooking up a little girl foaming at the mouth to a ventilator.

    There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

    It was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday's alleged attack.

    Tuesday's reports came on the eve of a major international meeting in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region, to be hosted by the EU's High Representative Federica Mogherini.

    The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in opposition-held territory, said it had sent a team of inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun before noon and an investigation was underway.

    German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has called on Russia to endorse a planned United Nations Security Council resolution condemning a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.

    Gabriel said Wednesday in Brussels before the opening of the international conference on the Syria conflict that, "We appeal to Russia to approve this resolution, to investigate this case and to bring to justice those who are responsible."

    The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault. They claimed the attack was caused by an airstrike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.

    Ahmed al-Sheikho, of the Idlib Civil Defense team, says the strikes did not cause any casualties because the area had been evacuated following Tuesday's attack.

    Mohammed Hassoun, a media activist in nearby Sarmin -- also in Idlib province where some of the critical cases were transferred -- said the hospital there is equipped to deal with such chemical attacks because the town was also struck, early on in the Syrian uprising. The Sarmin hospital is about 31 miles away from the scene of the attack.

    "Because of the number of wounded, they have been distributed around in rural Idlib," he told The Associated Press by phone. "There are 18 critical cases here. They were unconscious, they had seizures and when oxygen was administered, they bled from the nose and mouth."

    Hassoun, who is documenting the attack for the medical society, said the doctors there have said it is likely more than one gas.

    "Chlorine gas doesn't cause such convulsions," he said, adding that doctors suspect sarin was used.

    Hussein Kayal, a photographer for the Idlib Media Center, said he was awoken by the sound of a bomb blast around 6:30 a.m. When he arrived at the scene there was no smell, he said.

    He found entire families inside their homes, lying on the floor, eyes wide open and unable to move. Their pupils were constricted. He put on a mask, he said. Kayal said he and other witnesses took victims to an emergency room, and removed their clothes and washed them in water.

    He said he felt a burning sensation in his fingers and was treated for that.

    A Turkey-based Syrian man whose niece, her husband and one-year-old daughter were among those killed, said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for the safety of family members back in Syria.

    The province of Idlib is almost entirely controlled by the Syrian opposition. It is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations. Rebels and opposition officials have expressed concerns that the government is planning to mount a concentrated attack on the crowded province.

    Claims of chemical weapons attacks, particularly the use of the chlorine agent, are not uncommon in Syria's conflict. The worst attack was what a U.N. report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.

    The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the airstrike on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.

    It said the planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases, killing dozens of people, many of them women and children. The coalition described the attack as a "horrifying massacre."

    Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun show limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appear foaming at the mouth.

    A medical doctor going by the name of Dr. Shajul Islam for fears for his own safety said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light. He published video of the patients on his Twitter account.

    Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties, and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.

    The opposition's Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty toll.

    The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pickup truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.

    The New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last year that killed at least nine civilians and injured 200.

    Also, a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/04...-in-syria.html
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    Daesh militants executed 140 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Security Council of the Iraqi Kurdistan region said Friday

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The militants of the Daesh (outlawed in Russia) executed 140 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Security Council of the Iraqi Kurdistan region said Friday.

    "On Monday and Tuesday #ISIS massacred 140 civilians fleeing to areas controlled by Iraqi forces," the council wrote on Twitter.

    ​In March, Iraqi government forces said that Daesh terrorist were completely besieged in Mosul as the army severed communications with its cells in Syria. According to the Iraqi forces, two thirds of the western part of Mosul have been recaptured.

    Daesh has managed to seize large territories in Syria since the start of the civil war in the country in 2011. In 2014, the terrorist group launched a full scale offensive against Iraq, seizing a number of cities and towns including Mosul.

    https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/2...raq-militants/
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    Iraq recovers 158 bodies of IS-executed soldiers at mass grave

    By Mu Xuequan
    Xinhua

    BAGHDAD -- Iraqi authorities discovered Monday the remains of 158 bodies believed to belong to soldiers of Speicher Camp who were executed by the Islamic State (IS) militants when the group seized Tikrit in June 2014, the Iraqi government said.

    A joint team from forensic office and Iraqi Martyrs Foundation, tasked with registering martyrs before and after 2003 U.S.-led invasion to compensate their families, found the bodies inside a former presidential complex of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the city of Tikrit, the forensic office affiliated with the Iraqi Health Ministry said in a statement.

    The team exhumed the 158 decomposed bodies and began DNA testing to identify the victims, the statement quoted Zaid Ali, head of the forensic office, as saying.

    Another mass grave inside the complex was found, Ali said, adding that the team will work on it later.

    So far, the health ministry has handed over 704 martyrs of Speicher massacre to their families, according to the statement.

    The discovered bodies believed to be part of 1,700 soldiers who walked out of an air base, known as Camp Speicher, north of Tikrit, some 170 km north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, but were abducted and then killed by IS militants and some Sunni tribesmen.

    In June 2014, armed Sunni insurgents, spearheaded by the IS group, launched a surprise offensive on Iraqi security forces and captured a large part of the country's northern and western territories after government troops abandoned their posts and military equipment.

    The IS group later posted video footage and images showing the execution of Iraqi government soldiers.

    After Iraqi security forces recaptured Tikrit from IS militants in April 2015, authorities, including forensic teams, worked at several mass graves and unearthed hundreds of bodies, many in military uniforms or with military identity cards.

    http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/201..._137083670.htm

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    U.S.-backed Syria fighters find mass grave of apparent execution victims near Islamic State-held area

    Associated Press

    U.S.-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in Syria said Thursday they have freed 24 of their fighters held by IS, and uncovered a mass grave near the last pocket of territory held by the extremist group.

    Adnan Afrin of the Syrian Democratic Forces said the grave unearthed a few days ago outside the village of Baghouz contains the remains of men and women but said the number of bodies and their identities remain unclear.

    “Investigation is still underway to determine their nationality and the manner of killing,” said Afrin, adding they were looking into reports that they may be Yazidis or IS fighters.

    A video published by Kurdish-run Furat FM TV station published Wednesday showed several bodies dug out from a pit — mostly women and children.

    A Furat FM TV station executive, Salah Youssef, said those in the mass grave appear to have been shot in the head. He said authorities are investigating whether the bodies are those of women and children who had refused to stay under IS rule and were shot as they tried to escape, or belonged to IS fighters who were killed during battles with the SDF. Youssef said there are reports of more than one mass grave.

    The Kurdish-led SDF has been locked in a standoff with a few hundred IS militants holed up in Baghouz with civilians. The militants are besieged in a small sliver of land along the Euphrates River with dwindling food and medicine, and many of them have so far refused to surrender.

    Thousands of civilians, many of them women and children, have evacuated the area in the past few weeks on foot, many saying they had paid smugglers to get out.

    But for the past week, trucks have brought out in intermittent batches hundreds of civilians, mostly members of IS families and wounded men, in an organized evacuation amid a truce in the fighting.

    The SDF said the presence of civilians and hostages among the IS fighters has delayed a final military push by the SDF to uproot the militants from their last corner in Syria — the final redoubt of the militants’ self-proclaimed caliphate that once stretched across much of the country and neighboring Iraq. Hundreds, if not thousands, are still believed to be holed up in Baghouz. They include militants and their family members and other civilians who are among the group’s most determined supporters, many of whom

    traveled to Syria from all over the world. But SDF officials have denied there were negotiations with the militants, some of whom had asked for an exit.

    Afrin said his forces managed to free 24 SDF fighters from the extremist group’s hold while evacuating civilians from the area in the past days. The SDF fighters were taken hostage by IS during recent fighting.

    The fate of a number of foreign hostages and Syrian and Iraqi detainees by IS also remains unknown as the group’s territory has shrunk. SDF officials said they are probing whether some of those hostages may still be in the hands of the militants in Baghouz.

    In recent days, at least 13 Yazidi children, including two girls, were released from inside the IS pocket.

    Recapturing Baghouz would mark an end to the militants’ territorial rule, but few believe that will end the threat posed by an organization that still stages and inspires attacks through sleeper cells in both Syria and Iraq and that has active affiliates in Egypt, West Africa and elsewhere.

    The group also has a presence online, using social media to recruit new members and promote its attacks.

    In Geneva, U.N.-backed investigators focusing on Syria expressed concerns that Islamic State fighters and their affiliates are being held by U.S. troops and Syrian opposition forces without proper legal protections.

    The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic presented its findings based on investigations conducted over the past six months saying that in areas under the control of SDF, thousands of women, men and children “continued to be unlawfully interned or detained, some of them held in deplorable conditions in makeshift camps unfit to meet their basic needs.”

    The report released in Geneva Thursday said that there is also a concern that IS “terrorists and their affiliates are being held incommunicado by SDF and American forces without adequate judicial guarantees, conditions that are conducive to detainee abuse.”

    Commission member Hanny Megally told reporters that they have had no access to detainees adding that in such conditions detainees “have no access to the outside world no access to judicial reviews, no visits et cetera.”

    “You have to be worried that those are the types of conditions where people might be put under stress to provide information,” he said.

    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/20.../#.XHi9EXdFyUk

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    ‘Isis leader who beheaded imam and ordered dozens of killings’ on trial in Hungary

    By Andy Gregory
    Independent

    A suspected Isis military leader is on trial in a Hungarian court, accused of terrorism and crimes against humanity.

    The 27-year-old Syrian, identified as F Hassan, was charged in September after an international investigation led to his capture in Budapest’s main airport at the end of last year.

    Mr Hassan deserted from the Syrian army in 2011, then joined Isis sometime before 2014, prosecutor Andras Urbanyi told the court. He became commander of an Isis unit and actively recruited members, Mr Urbanyi said.

    He allegedly participated in the murder of dozens of people near the city of Homs in 2015.

    “In May 2015 Hassan’s unit was ordered to capture an area rich in artefacts near Homs,” Mr Urbanyi said. “Hassan was to draw up a death list, naming those to be executed out of revenge or to intimidate locals. The list was approved by Isis leaders.”

    His brigade went door to door, pulling and murdering individuals on the list either with gunshots or knifing, Mr Urbanyi said. Others were forced to gather at the town’s main square.

    “At the square they were forced to witness an execution. The local imam was beheaded. Hassan and an accomplice severed the imam’s head with long, seesawing motions, then held up his head to the crowd.”

    Six women and one child were among at least 25 people killed by the militants.

    Mr Hassan, cuffed on his hands and feet and accompanied by a dozen heavily armed counter-terrorism agents, gave a detailed testimony of his upbringing, family and his subsequent migration to Europe.

    He denied involvement in the crimes, claiming not to have been in Syria when they took place.

    “Your honour, I committed nothing, I just want my family,” he told judge Gergely Miko. “I was not even in Syria in 2015. I was in Turkey, never to return to Syria.”

    Mr Hassan's father told the court that his son had been jailed in Syria for refusing to join Isis.

    His attorney, Janos Kelen, echoed Mr Hassan's claim that his client was not in Syria at the time of the incidents, asserting that Mr Hassan was illiterate and incapable of leading units and organise killings.

    Mr Kelen disputed that a video of the execution, shown in court, featured Mr Hassan. Witnesses did not personally see the atrocities, he said, while a lie detector test was conducted illegally, without a defence attorney.

    The lawyer said Mr Hassan had tried to kill himself while in prison. Mr Hassan claimed he had been mistreated by police and feared being poisoned.

    Mr Hassan had obtained refugee status in Greece, before being apprehended in December at Budapest's Ferenc Liszt International Airport when he and a female companion were found to have forged personal IDs.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/w...-a9201446.html
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