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Turkey denies allegation of chemical attack in Syria

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 17:00

Turkey never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians, its foreign minister said, after Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group accused it of carrying out a gas attack in Syria's Afrin region. Turkey has never used any kind of chemical weapons," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at the Munich Security Conference.

2 bears burned in California wildfire spotted in the wild

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 15:19

GOLETA, Calif. (AP) — Officials tracking two bears that were badly burned in the largest wildfire in California history say the animals are settling back into their home in the wild after receiving unusual treatment for their injured paws.

Syria forces ready for assault on rebel enclave

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 14:23

Syrian forces readied Sunday for a ground offensive against the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, a monitor said, as residents of the capital braced for retaliatory shelling. President Bashar al-Assad has in recent days been sending reinforcements from across the country to the edge of Eastern Ghouta, besieged by regime troops since 2013. On Sunday, more than 260 rockets, heavy artillery fire, and air strikes slammed into several towns in Eastern Ghouta, he told AFP.

Five killed in attack on church in Russia's Dagestan

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 14:04

A man in Russia's southern province of Dagestan shot into a crowd of people leaving a church on Sunday, killing five and injuring at least five others, Russian news agencies reported, citing the local health ministry. The attack occurred in the village of Kizlyar in the Muslim-majority republic of Dagestan, agencies said. The small republic in the Caucasus mountains borders Chechnya, where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and radical religious groups since the 1991 Soviet collapse and which has seen a large number of people join Islamic State. Russian news agencies said the attack occurred as churchgoers celebrated Maslenitsa, a Christian holiday marking the last day before Lent according to the eastern Orthodox calendar. The assailant was identified as a 22-year-old man local to the region, the TASS news agency said, citing the investigative committee. He was shot and killed by security services who were on duty nearby, TASS said, adding that a hunting rifle, bullets and a knife were discovered on his person. Initial reports suggested all five victims were women, TASS said, citing the local branch of the interior ministry. The injured include two members of local security services and two civilians, also women, the Interfax news agency said.  Islamic State claimed responsibility for a the shooting, according to the militant group's news agency Amaq, although it did not provide immediate evidence for the claim.

Duchess of Cambridge wears green with black sash in nod to Time's Up movement as Bafta stars turn out in black

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 14:02

The Duchess of Cambridge has given just a nod to the Time’s Up movement in a sombre dark green dress with black sash, as she eschews an unofficial all-black dress code for this year’s Bafta ceremony. The Duchess has been presented with a difficult dilemma ahead of the awards, after actresses and industry leaders circulated a letter asking attendees to wear black. Members of the Royal Family are supposed to avoid all political statements, leaving the Duchess with a stark choice between being accused of overstepping her position or being the only woman wearing colour. In the event, she took the middle ground, wearing a dark green Jenny Packham gown with a black sash to blend in with the dark dress code. Neither the Duke or the Duchess appeared to be wearing the Time’s Up lapel pin, which many others had donned to walk the the red carpet. A spokesman for Kensington Palace did not comment on the choice. The Duchess of Cambridge opted for a dark green gown and a black sash at the Baftas this evening Credit: James Whatling Amanda Berry, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William Credit: James Gourley/BAFTA//REX/Shutterstock It comes after nearly 200 women in the film industry have already signed an open letter demanding the eradication of sexual harassment from across all industries, using Bafta as a moment to "celebrate this tremendous moment of solidarity and unity”. Signatories including Emma Watson, Gemma Arterton, Olivia Colman, Emma Thompson, Naomie Harris, and Jodie Whittaker called on women to use their “collective power” to propel the Time’s Up movement, arguing high-profile stars "need to use our power as communicators and connectors to shift the way society sees and treats us". The letter reads: "In the very near past, we lived in a world where sexual harassment was an uncomfortable joke; an unavoidable awkward part of being a girl or a woman. The Royal couple arrived shortly after 6.30pm this evening Credit: Yui Mok/PA "It was certainly not to be discussed, let alone addressed. In 2018, we seem to have woken up in a world ripe for change. If we truly embrace this moment, a line in the sand will turn to stone." A letter circulated to female nominees weeks ahead of the awards show urged stars to follow the example of the Golden Globes, to leave a room full of women in all-black as a “strong, unifying and simple statement". The protest was not reserved for dresses alone: in a move mirroring the Golden Globes last month, actresses including Arterton, Harris, Andrea Riseborough, Gemma Chan, and Tessa Thompson were accompanied by campaigners. Gemma Arterton is one of the many actresses who signed the letter Credit: Joel C Ryan/Invision Their guests include Laura Bates who founded the Everyday Sexism project, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, co-founder of UK Black Pride, and Eileen Pullen and Gwen Davis, two of the 'Dagenham Girls' who walked out of a Ford Motor Company plant after learning they were being paid less than their male counterparts in 1968. The evening is expected to be highly politicised, with award winners using their speeches to campaign for their favourite causes. Gary Oldman is nominated for a Bafta Credit: Yui Mok/PA Kristin Scott Thomas, nominated for her portrayal of Clementine Churchill in Darkest Hour, said of Time’s Up: “We need equality now - I think their slogan is absolutely right. I haven’t stopped talking about this since it all started. Now it’s a question of moving it from conversation to action.  "I think I'll be optimistic once this is over and the conversation keeps going and the conversation gets bigger and bigger and bigger and actions start happening, words turn into actions, that kind of thing. Then I'll be allowed to be optimistic." She added that, looking back over her career: “I pinch myself, looking back. Why did I let myself do that? I get cross and angry, retrospectively.” Andrea Riseborough, who walked the red carpet with activist Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, said those backing the Time's Up movement hope to get across "the idea that when all of this stops we all remember that this is an important cause and that we should carry on the conversation". She added: "From my perspective, when we get to do anything like this it kind of makes these things worthwhile. I'm here tonight to stand in solidarity with every woman, every person in the world who has suffered sexual abuse in the workplace." Angelina Jolie wore a black gown to the event Credit: Mike Marsland/WireImage Gemma Arterton walked the red carpet with Eileen Pullen and Gwen Davis, two of the 187 "Dagenham Girls" who walked out of the Ford Motor Company's Dagenham plant in June 1968 after learning their work was classified as unskilled - leaving their pay 15 per cent below that of their male counterparts. Arterton, who starred in a musical version of their story, said: "They're amazing because they really started the equal pay movement in the UK. "I thought it was really fitting and I'm really happy and proud that I'm with Gwen and Eileen because they represent a normal person speaking up for what is actually right. The main thing we want to say tonight is we're here, we're here for you and we will listen." Pippa Harris, the vice chair of Bafta, said the ceremony would be different this year, thanks to the unofficial black dress code and Joanna Lumley, its first solo female presenter in more than 20 years.  Harris, who signed the open letter herself, said: “I'm personally delighted that they have used the ceremony to bring more attention to what we're doing, it's entirely laudable that they're doing that.” Amanda Berry, CEO of Bafta, has previously indicated that awards organisers are braced for speeches about the Hollywood harassment scandal. "It often has [been used as a platform] in the past, I think in different years there have been different issues,” she said after nominations were announced. “People obviously feel it's a very powerful platform. The film awards go out globally so that makes it even more powerful, so we never say to people don't say anything, please just thank the crew or whatever it is. “Because if somebody feels passionately about it, they are going to say it. "There has been a lot of conversation to date and obviously that conversation continues, awards season shines a very bright spotlight on that conversation."

Putin’s shock troops - how Russia's secret mercenary army came up against the US in Syria

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 12:58

It was one of Isil’s biggest cash cows, a strategic prize crucial to the Kremlin and Bashar Assad’s plans to re-establish his rule over Syria. But the assault on Conoco oilfield near Deir Ezzor earlier this month ended in disaster, sparking the first deadly combat between Americans and Russians since the Vietnam War and embarrassing Vladimir Putin just weeks before an election.  It also cast an unwelcome light on one of the worst kept secrets of Russia’s war in Syria - its increasing reliance on unacknowledged and illegal mercenaries. “These were shock troops, and they would take any position, fulfil any task,” said Alexander Averin, a veteran of the pro-Russian militias in east Ukraine and friend of one of the Russians who was killed. Mr Averin said Kirill Ananyev, 33, was a fellow member of the radical “national Bolshevik” political party Other Russia and had also fought in eastern Ukraine.  He said that Ananyev, whom he had known since 2001, had been working for a private military company when he was killed. He would not name the company, but other casualties have been linked to the secretive Wagner group. Kirill Ananyev, a Russian private military contractor in Syria who was killed in US airstrikes on 7 February Credit: Twitter Russian media have published the names of nine Russian fighters who were killed in the assault on February 7, and the foreign ministry finally admitted on Thursday that five Russian citizens had died.  Some media reports have put the number of Russian casualties in the hundreds, however, and relatives and a former member of parliament have called for answers.  “I want everyone to know about my husband, and not just about my husband, but about all the guys who died there so stupidly,” Yelena Matveyeva, whose husband Stanislav was killed, told the regional news site Znak.com. “They sent them like pigs to the slaughter!” The debacle unfolded on the evening of 7 February, when hundreds of mysterious fighters began charging toward a Syrian Democratic Forces position near the oilfield under cover of artillery, tank and rocket fire, according to the US military. In response, US special forces embedded with the mostly Kurdish SDF called in artillery fire and strikes from fighter jets and B-52 bombers that effectively destroyed the “battalion sized force” they were facing. Mr Averin told the Telegraph that 500 Russians were in Deir Ezzor at the time, and that many of them were now dead and wounded. After Stanislav Matveyev, who was believed to work for the Wagner group, was killed, his wife spoke out against the Kremlin denials of Russian casualties Credit: Twitter It is not entirely clear whether the Russian high command authorised the attack, and some believe that Wagner mercenaries were working for local pro-Assad businessman to take the lucrative site. According to a Syrian government contract seen by Fontanka and AP, a Russian company linked to the Wagner group was to receive 25 percent of profits from oil and gas fields its contractors could capture. Others have suggested the Kremlin allowed the preventable defeat, which also saw Syrian troops killed, to happen as a warning to an increasingly independent Mr Assad as well as Iran, his other major backer.  “You need to be in line with our policies in Syria or you'll get bombed,” was Moscow's message to them, said Yury Barmin of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank close to the Kremlin.  A US drone destroys a pro-regime tank near Deir Ezzor days after the airstrikes that killed numerous Russians Credit: CNN Ostensibly designed to support a long-time ally and defeat the Islamic State, Mr Putin's bombing campaign in Syria was supposed to be a television war, providing footage of impressive Russian airstrikes without any body bags to ruin the mood.  To assuage fears of a repeat of the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mr Putin said it would be solely an air operation lasting no longer than Mr Assad's counter-offensive But Syrian forces reportedly proved ineffective even with the help of Russian advisors and special forces. Kremlin-linked contractors allowed Moscow to run a covert land operation while denying it had boots on the ground. “The big battles, the intense battles with casualties, that's all Russian mercenaries,” said Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team, a research group who track Russian military activity abroad.  A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombs targets in the Deir Ezzor region in November Credit: TASS via Getty Images Some 3,000 Russians have fought for the Wagner group, the biggest of the private military companies, in Syria since 2015, according to documents seen by the independent news outlet Fontanka.  It said 73 of them had died before 7 February, exceeding the 46 official Russian military casualties. The US airstrikes against the Russian contractors have raised an alarming risk of direct great-power confrontation in Syria as external players vie to consolidate their interests following the defeat of Islamic State.  Within the last two weeks, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters have downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16. “Now that the fighting with ISIS is more or less over, every global player in the war is attempting to draw its own sphere of influence in Syria,” Sami Nadir, of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told the Telegraph. “They used to fight each other through their proxies, now they’re just going head-to-head.” Benjamin Netanyahu holds up what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday Credit: AFP PHOTO / MSC Munich Security Conference / LENNART PREISS America wants to limit Iran and keep the Kurds - its greatest ally against Isil - on side, while not agitating its Nato ally Turkey. Russia has been trying to keep a balance between its allies Turkey, Israel and Iran, to little avail. “The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. “This has the potential to turn into a regional war.” Yet news of the contractors' deaths has remained largely unknown in Russia under a state television blackout: The website of the main state news programme published a report, only to delete it the same day. A Syrian pro-regime fighter wounded in the 7 February battle in Deir Ezzor Credit: AFP Photo/Getty Images “It's like the story with the Pskov paratroopers who died in Ukraine,” said Lev Gudkov, head of the independent Levada survey centre. “The information was blocked for a long time, then denied, and it spread only in close-knit circles, it didn't become a fact of public opinion, and I fear it will be the same picture here.” Nonetheless, Mr Putin, whose withdrawal announcement was welcomed by most Russians, finds himself in a bind: The Syria peace talks he sponsored in Sochi last month devolved into infighting and the conflict is edging toward what Mr Nadir called a “full-blown international crisis”. “The era of cooperation is over,” he said. “It’s a Cold War scenario.” The Wagner group | Russia's secret mercenaries in Syria

In Memoriam: The 17 lives cut short in the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 12:07

ABC News "This Week" honors the 17 students and faculty of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who were killed inWednesday's mass shooting.

Couple looking after Florida shooting suspect say they had no idea there was a 'monster living under our roof'

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 12:02

The stunned couple who took in Nikolas Cruz after the death of his mother has spoken for the first time about the troubled teenager suspected of killing 17 students and staff at his former high school in Florida on Valentine's Day. Kimberly and James Snead described the 19 year-old as immature, quirky and depressed - but pleasant and growing happier and giving no clues of the horror he was about inflict as he plotted the massacre under their roof. “We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know,” Kimberly Snead told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  “We didn’t see this side of him.” “Everything everybody seems to know, we didn’t know,” James Snead said. “It’s as simple as that.” The Sneads agreed to take in Cruz after their son had asked whether his friend could move into their home after the death of his adoptive mother left him an orphan last November. Gun related incidents at US schools this year “I told him there’d be rules and he followed every rule to the T,” said Mr Snead, 48, an Army veteran who was happy for the teenager to have guns at home as long as they remained in a gun safe. They told Cruz he needed to ask permission to take out the guns. He had asked only twice since November. They said “yes” once and  “no” once. The night before the shooting was uneventful and he went to bed around 8pm after eating dinner, the couple said. On Wednesday morning, Cruz told them he didn’t need a ride to school: “It’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day,” he said. Mrs Snead last saw him around 10am before she left to run errands. He told her he was going fishing and was gone when she returned. The nurse went to sleep ahead of a nightshift. Around 2.30pm on Wednesday, their son called his father sounding panic-stricken. He assured them he was safe but had heard shots  fired on campus and had helped classmates flee by climbing a fence. Read more | Florida school shooting He told his son to walk to a nearby store and he’d come and collect him. As he drove there, a SWAT commander called his mobile phone and asked where his "son" Nik was. He explained he wasn't his son and he had no idea where he was.  After putting the phone down, he started to put together the pieces and called the officer back and, worried for his wife, he told him: “I need a police presence at my house. Go make sure my wife is OK." Police banged on her door with guns drawn and escorted the couple to a police station. As they waited to be reunited with their son, Cruz was led in to the building, handcuffed and wearing a hospital gown, surrounded by officers. Kimberly tried to run at him and yelled: “Really, Nik? Really?” “He said he was sorry. He apologised. He looked lost, absolutely lost,” said Mr Snead. “And that was the last time we saw him.”

Israeli PM Netanyahu to Iran: Don't test Israel's resolve

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:30

MUNICH (AP) — The nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened Tehran to become increasingly aggressive in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that Iran should "not test Israel's resolve" as he showed off what he said was part of a downed Iranian drone.

Olympic Analyst Laments Hockey Player's 'Unfortunate' Domestic Abuse Incident

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:03

NHL analyst Mike Milbury referred to one hockey player’s domestic abuse conviction as an “unfortunate incident,” as he offered commentary for NBC’s coverage of the men’s match between Team USA and the Olympics Athletes from Russia on Saturday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on Israel: ‘We Will Act if Necessary’

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 10:53

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Iran’s foreign minister commented on its tenuous relationship with Israel as well as on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

'Do not test Israel's resolve', Netanyahu warns Iran

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 10:26

Munich (Germany) (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran on Sunday over aggressions by Iran and its "proxies" in Syria, saying he would not allow them to "put a noose of terror around our neck".

Top German lawmaker in security row with Turkey at Munich meeting

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 08:52

By Paul Carrel and Andrea Shalal BERLIN/MUNICH (Reuters) - A row broke out on Sunday between a leading German politician of Turkish origin and Turkey's delegation at the Munich Security Conference, with the lawmaker being given police protection after what he said was a tense encounter with Turkish bodyguards. Cem Ozdemir, co-leader of Germany's ecologist Greens until late last month and a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was given protection at the conference after police told him Turkish security, staying in the same hotel, had accused him of being a "terrorist". "(The police) told me there was a problem with Turkish security, that they had pointed out that a terrorist, or a member of a terrorist organization, was staying (in the hotel) -so me," Ozdemir told reporters after returning to Berlin.

Nigeria frees 475 Boko Haram suspects for lack of evidence

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 08:34

Nigeria has freed another 475 Boko Haram suspects following a series of mass trials in which most cases were dropped for lack of evidence, the justice ministry said Sunday. Over the course of the week, hundreds of suspected Boko Haram extremists have appeared before a court at the Kainji military base in central Niger state. The release order was issued on Friday, with the 475 suspects to be returned to their home states for "proper rehabilitation" before being sent back to their families, ministry spokesman Salihu Othman Isah said.

Saudi Arabia welcomes push for U.N. action against Iran on missiles

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 08:02

By Andrea Shalal MUNICH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Sunday welcomed a draft United Nations resolution offered by Britain, the United States and France that would condemn Iran for failing to stop its ballistic missiles from falling into the hands of Yemen’s Houthi group. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters the measure, if passed, would help hold Iran accountable for what he described as its "exports of ballistic missiles" to the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and "radical and aggressive" behavior in the region, including support for terrorist groups.

The Latest: Iran vows to respond if US gives up on nuke deal

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 07:48

MUNICH (AP) — The Latest from the Munich Security Conference (all times local):

LeBron James Speaks Out on Laura Ingraham's 'Shut Up and Dribble' Comments

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 07:17

MSNBC's David Gura and panel discuss the LeBron James/Laura Ingraham feud.

Olympic Skier Ted Ligety’s Son 'Could Give 2 S***s That Daddy Sucked At Work'

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 06:45

U.S. alpine skier Ted Ligety may have had a tough time on the slopes at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Sunday.

Fire at sacred Tibetan Buddhist temple sparks suspicion about censorship

Top Stories - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 04:43

A fire broke out at one of the most sacred temples in Tibetan Buddhism, prompting concern and suspicion that information on the incident is being controlled by authorities. Chinese State media said the fire at "part of" Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the capital of the south-western Chinese region of Tibet, "was soon put out" after it began at 6.40pm on Saturday. Images posted online showed flames billowing from a pagoda at the sacred building, which was built in the seventh century. Some of the clips showed flames appearing to engulf the Unesco World Heritage Site when it was dark, suggesting that the fire might have continued for longer than an hour. Jokhang houses the Jowo Shakyamuni, a glittering statue believed to have been blessed by Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the religion. It is said to be just one of just three to be crafted during his actual lifetime. Devastating news from Lhasa of the Jokhang temple on fire. pic.twitter.com/LXiIlvc7V5— Robert Barnett (@RobbieBarnett) February 17, 2018 Observers on Twitter - which is blocked in China - claimed that information relating the fire was being censored online. Robert Barnett, a British expert on Tibet, Tweeted: "Sources in Lhasa claim police have threatened anyone distributing pictures or unofficial news about the fire. "Locals afraid to talk. Official information extremely limited, raising concern about extent of damage. Access to area round temple said to be restricted." #Jokhang fire: sources in Lhasa claim police have threatened anyone distributing pictures or unofficial news about the fire; locals afraid to talk. Official information extremely limited, raising concern about extent of damage. Access to area round temple said to be restricted.— Robert Barnett (@RobbieBarnett) February 17, 2018 China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, and Beijing claims that it has helped improve the lives of ordinary Tibetans by bringing economic growth to a traditionally poor region. However, many accuse China of suppressing rights in the region and stifling the local Buddhist culture. Tibet has seen outbreaks of ethic tension, including riots in 2008 and a wave of self-immolations carried out in protest of Beijing's tightening grip. State media reports on the fire have contained few details. China is deleting posts about the alleged fire in the Jokhang Temple. The topic has been one of the hottest topics and most searched topic today on Chinese social media. Yet there is no single personal post and was removed in the cyberspace immediately. pic.twitter.com/KDlF87oX2t— Tseringkyi (@dreamlhasa) February 17, 2018 Tibetans began celebrating traditional Tibetan New Year that last Friday. The temple would have been expecting thousands of visitors  over the next few days. Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer in Beijing told The New York Times: “I pray that the fire isn’t serious and that the old buildings haven’t suffered too much damage. “For Tibetans, the Jokhang is the holiest of holy sites.”


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