DAMASCUS/ SAN FRANCISCO: Syria's President Assad said that US President Donald Trump's efforts to ban Syrian nationals from entering the United States were "not against the Syrian people", in an interview with French broadcasters that aired on Thursday.
"It's against the terrorists that would infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West. And that happened. It happened in Europe, mainly in Germany," he said in the interview with Europe 1 radio and TF1 television which was recorded on Tuesday in English.
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The most consequential legal challenge to US President Donald Trump's travel ban will proceed on two tracks in the next few days: in a US appeals court vote in San Francisco and the Seattle courtroom of a federal judge.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals will vote on whether to reconsider an appeal in the case that was decided in the Seattle court last week. That vote could reveal which judges disagree with their colleagues on the bench and support the arguments behind the new president's most controversial executive order.
In Seattle, the state of Washington will attempt to probe Trump's motive in drafting the January 27 order.
In another case, in Virginia, a federal judge on late Monday halted enforcement of portions of the order against Virginia visa holders or permanent residents, concluding that the travel ban likely violates the US Constitution’s protections for freedom of religion.
The rulings put the order on hold until the courts can rule on the underlying merits. Ultimately, they will have to address questions about the extent of the president's power on matters of immigration and national security. Traditionally, judges have been extremely cautious about stepping on the executive branch’s authority in such matters, legal experts say.
Trump's directive, which he said was necessary to protect the United States from attacks by militants, barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. Refugees were banned for 120 days, except those from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.
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The ban was backed by around half of Americans, according to a poll, but triggered protests across the country and caused chaos at some US and overseas airports.
US District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended the order nationwide after Washington challenged its legality, eliciting a barrage of angry Twitter messages from Trump against the judge and the court system. A three-judge panel at the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the ruling last week, raising questions about Trump's next step.
In the Virginia case, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said there was a lack of evidence showing a national security purpose for the executive order and issued a preliminary injunction against parts of it.
While the ruling is not on the underlying merits of the case, Brinkema noted, “The ‘Muslim ban’ was a centrepiece of the president’s campaign for months.”
Legal experts said no other judge has so fully considered the question of whether the order amounted to a discriminatory ban on Muslims. According to Brinkema, "the evidence indicates the government’s purpose was based on religion,” said Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, adding that the ruling could influence other judges’ views on the matter.