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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    An RAF Tornado returns after a mission December 3, 2015 at RAF Akrotiri, on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. Britain's government on Wednesday voted in favour of joining other counties in bombing ISIS in Syria. The first attacks were carried out just hours later.

    Prime Minister David Cameron is determined to target ISIS in its heartland of Syria. The city of Raqqa in the north of the country is the terrorist group's self-declared capital.

    The decision to launch bombings has caused major splits in the Labour Party.

    Below are some of the first pictures from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, a key base from which many of the attacks will be launched.

    Four RAF Tornado Jets took off Wednesday night from the Akrotiri Royal Air Force Base on the island nation of Cyprus, according to Britain's Ministry of Defence.

    The overnight operation occurred just three hours after British Parliament voted 397 to 223 in favour of bombing ISIS in Syria.

    Pilots and ground crew began making preparations on Wednesday as Parliament deliberated for nearly 10 hours over whether to approve Syria strikes.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    The Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) presented "evidence" on Wednesday that ISIS had been smuggling oil onto Turkish soil to be purchased by Turkey's president "and his family."

    The MOD highlighted three main routes ISIS — aka the Islamic State or ISIL — had allegedly been using to transport illicit oil into Turkey: via the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh border gates in Syria's Idlib Province, Hasakah Province in northeastern Syria, and Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan on the Iraqi-Turkish border.

    Russia ISIS smuggling routes

    As many analysts were quick to point out on Twitter, however, none of these routes are primarily controlled by the Islamic State.

    Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh are dominated by rebel groups associated with the Free Syrian Army, and control over Hasakah Province is divided between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the US-backed Kurdish-Arab coalition. Zakho, Iraq, meanwhile, lies within the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

    "If you look at the map, it looks like ISIS is smuggling oil through Kurdish-controlled territories in both Iraq and Syria to Turkey,"Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a freelance reporter based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and an analyst of Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation, told Business Insider on Wednesday.

    "Relations between the YPG and Turkey aren't so good, to say the least, so it seems implausible," van Wilgenburg added. "It would be more logical if the Russians would suggest ISIS is smuggling oil to Syrian-Turkish controlled IS border towns like Jarabulus."

    Jarabulus is currently the only Syrian border crossing under full ISIS control. The crossing in Tal Abyad on the Turkish-Syrian border was recaptured from ISIS by Kurdish forces in June.

    In the above map, originally created by the skillful @LCarabiniervan Wilgenburg uses arrows to show how it would make more logistical sense for ISIS to smuggle oil to Turkey through ISIS-controlled areas (shaded gray) than through Kurdish-held areas (shaded orange).

    It is possible that ISIS could have smuggled oil via Sinjar before it was recaptured by US-backed Kurds last month, but that would only help the group smuggle oil to its Raqqa stronghold in Syria — not to Turkey.

    Iraq Syria Sinjar Map

    In any case, the Russian MOD released additional satellite imagery that it said showed ISIS oil tankers crossing the border from Iraq and Syria into Turkey, adding that this was only the "first part" of its evidence of the Turkey-ISIS relationship and that more will be revealed next week.

    Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan denounced Russia's accusations on Wednesday, calling them "slander" and vowing to resign if Russia could provide legitimate proof that Turkey had ever dealt with the Islamic State.

    Relations between the two nations have hit an all-time low following Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane last week. Russia has sanctioned Turkey over the incident, and Turkey has said it will cut its imports of Russian petroleum by 25% in 2016.

    Significantly, the spat has also brought both countries' alleged ties to ISIS back into focus.

    Last Wednesday, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Russian-Syrian businessman George Haswani for using his firm, Hesco Engineering and Construction, to purchase oil from the Islamic State on behalf of the Assad regime.

    Two days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Turkey of "playing a game where terrorists are allocated the role of secret allies," adding that Russia was ready to block the Turkish-Syrian border to "eradicate terrorism on Syrian soil."

    It is unclear how such a blockage would be enforced, or whether it would involve stationing Russian ground troops at the border.

    SEE ALSO: Russia and Turkey are accusing each other of having ties to ISIS — and evidence suggests they both do

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's footage of a Russian warplane crashing after Turkey shot it down

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    barack obama cbs

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday said that while the United States is sending more forces to combat Islamic State in Iraq, it is not following the model of its 2003 invasion of the country that locked it in violent conflict there for many years.

    "We're not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert," he said in an interview with CBS, using a common acronym for the militant group, ISIL.

    "But what I've been very clear about is that we are going to systematically squeeze and ultimately destroy ISIL and that requires us having a military component to that."

    SEE ALSO: Pentagon: 'We are in combat' in Iraq

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The number of times Obama has had to respond to mass shootings during his presidency is staggering

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    RAF TornadoBritish bombers made their first strikes on Islamic State in Syria on Thursday, hitting oil fields that Prime Minister David Cameron says are being used to fund attacks on the West.

    Tornado bombers took off from the Royal Air Force Akrotiri air base in Cyprus just hours afterBritish lawmakers voted 397-223 to support Cameron's plan for air strikes, a Reuters witness said. They returned to base safely several hours later.

    The four aircraft used laser-guided bombs to attack six targets in the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria controlled by the Islamist militant group which British officials call Daesh, using an Arabic acronym that the group rejects.

    "That strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh terrorists depend," Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC.

    "There are plenty more of these targets throughout eastern, northern Syria which we hope to be striking in the next few days and weeks," Fallon said. He said Britain was sending eight more warplanes to Cyprus to join the missions.

    There was no immediate information about casualties from the raids.

    The British contribution still forms only a tiny part of U.S.-led "Operation Inherent Resolve", which has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year with hundreds of aircraft. Previously, the small British contingent participated in strikes on Iraq but not Syria.


    But although the British vote adds little additional military capability to the coalition, it has had outsized political and diplomatic significance since last month's attacks in Paris, as Europe's other leading military power wrestled with a decision to join France in expanding its military action.

    Wary of war


    After 15 years in which hundreds of British troops died serving as the main battlefield ally of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, many in Britain are wary of more war in the Middle East.

    The decision to extend bombing to Syria divided the opposition Labour Party, opposed by its leader Jeremy Corbyn but supported by its foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn in a passionate speech in parliament.

    Russia is also bombing Syria outside the U.S.-led coalition. Moscow supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States and its allies oppose him.

    "We are going to need to be patient and persistent because this is going to take time. It is complex, it is difficult what we are asking our pilots to do," Cameron said in a televised statement.

    He has previously said the more than 4-year-old Syrian civil war could not be resolved by military action alone, but that the strikes would "degrade" Islamic State, a militant Islamist group which has declared a caliphate in large parts of Iraq and Syria.

    Cameron has been criticized for stepping back from the world since he took the top job in 2010, particularly after he lost a 2013 vote in parliament on military action against Assad's government. The vote on Thursday for military action gives him a chance to restore some of Britain's global clout.

    The news of the vote was met by howls of disgust by dozens of anti-war protesters demonstrating outside parliament.

    Anti-war protesters demonstrate against proposals to bomb Syria outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

    But the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people and were claimed by Islamic State have stiffened the resolve of many lawmakers. Just under a third of Labour members of parliament defied leftwing leader Corbyn to vote for military action.

    "We must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria," Benn said in his impassioned speech, which drew applause from lawmakers across the House of Commons.

    SEE ALSO: Russia reportedly delivers advanced missile systems to Iran

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This gay Syrian man narrowly escaped being killed by ISIS

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    A Russian warplane takes off at Hmeymim air base in Syria

    Russia is planning on expanding an Assad regime air base in central Syria into a second base of operations for Moscow's air assets in the war-torn country, various sources report. 

    The new base will be located southeast of Homs at the current Syrian military base of Shaayrat, AFP reports citing an unnamed military official and a Syrian monitoring group.

    Russia is reportedly expanding the regime base into a location from which it can launch air strikes and house military helicopters. 

    "The preparation phase for the Shaayrat base is nearing its end. It is being prepared to become a Russian military base," the anonymous military official told AFP. 

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP that Russia is expanding the base to better allow it to carry out operations in central and eastern Syria. 

    Moscow is "building new runways at the Shaayrat airport and reinforcing its surroundings in order to use it soon for operations" across Homs province, Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP. 

    Currently, Russia carries out its air strikes from its base in northwestern Syria, in Latakia province. By having a second airbase in the center of the country, Moscow has a greater ability to carry out strikes in the east and south of Syria in support of Syrian troops. 

    According to a Now Lebanon translation of a Kuwaiti newspaper report in Al-Rai, the Russian expansion of Shaayrat also represents a significant increase in the number of aircraft and supplies that Moscow is deploying into Syria. 

    According to the Now Lebanon translation, "[t]he Al-Shayrat airbase houses around 45 airplane hangars, each of which is fortified in a way that prevents any damage if it is shelled or targeted." In addition to the hangars, the airbase features a main and backup runway. Russia syria airbase shaayrat

    Screen Shot 2015 12 03 at 11.51.49 AMThe Kuwaiti report claims that Russia is planning on increasing the number of aircraft it has in Syria to over 100 in the near future to better carry out operations in support of group forces fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

    This expansion of Russia's role in Syria could indicate that Moscow is trying to apply greater pressure to members of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition — or that Russia is actually increasingly serious about fighting ISIS. Either way, it shows that Russia is making an even greater commitment to its role in Syria's multi-sided civil war.

    "The reports of new airbase — if they are true — suggests Russia needs a bigger footprint to meet its goals in Syria," Paul Stronski, the Senior Associate for the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Business Insider via email. "Its goals very well might be changing too." 

    Stronski added that Russia's operations in Syria might be reaching a scale, and a level of strategic risk, greater than what Moscow might have originally been bargaining for when it entered the Syrian battlefield this past September. "The warnings from earlier this fall about Russian mission creep in Syria – including some people in Russia who warned that Russia risk repeating the American mistake in Vietnam of gradually getting further involved – could be becoming a reality."

    SyriaMapNovember2015Moscow is already using Shaayrat to conduct operations against ISIS in eastern Syria, Rahman told the AFP. Russian helicopters are aiding Syrian forces in an assault against the ISIS-held town of Palmyra, which is roughly 80 miles east of Shaayrat. 

    And if Russia is actually constructing a second airbase at Shaayrat, the construction would give Moscow much greater flexibility in terms of operations throughout Syria. 

    "If reports are true, that Russia has helicopters deployed at Shaaryat already and preparations are being made for the arrival of fixed wing aircraft, it would give Russia more flexibility in their air operations and maintenance of aircraft," Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert and researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told BI by email.

    "The continued air war will undoubtly wear down the older assets – such as the Su-24 – which Russia has deployed the the Syrian theater."

    Although Moscow is using the base to help target ISIS, the new airbase is likely to further provoke international tensions over Syria.

    Turkey and Russia are in an escalating dispute over Turkey's shoot-down of a Russian military plane on November 24th. Turkey claims that the plane had violated its airspace, while Russia insists the aircraft was still inside of Syria when it was destroyed. 

    A new airbase would also allow Russia to more easily carry out operations against US, Turkish, and Gulf-supported non-ISIS anti-Assad militants in the south of the country near Damascus.

    As the Institute for the Study of War notes, Russian targeting of ISIS in Syria has generally been reactive, usually following ISIS advances towards regime-held territory. In contrast, Russian targeting of rebel-held territory is more pro-active, with air strikes targeting anti-regime elements in areas where the militants aren't threatening to gain territory at the regime's expense.

    SEE ALSO: The US military has released footage of it demolishing ISIS positions throughout Iraq

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    NOW WATCH: This massive American aircraft carrier is headed to the Persian Gulf to help fight ISIS

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    Hours after British lawmakers voted 397-223 in favor of starting an air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria on Wednesday, British bombers began hitting targets in eastern Syria.

    Four British Tornado bombers took off from the Royal Air Force air base in Cyprus and used laser-guided bombs to hit six targets in the Omar oil fields early Thursday morning.

    Those oil fields are controlled by the Islamic State, and British Prime Minister David Cameron said the militant group was using those fields to fund attacks on the West.

    The number of casualties were not immediately available.

    More British planes are already en route to the Cyprus base in anticipation of further airstrikes in Syria.

    Story by Allan Smith and editing by Carl Mueller

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    SEE ALSO: Drone footage shows what more than a year of war has done to an airport in Ukraine

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    Syrian Refugees

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is following through on his promise to take legal steps to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state.

    But whether he actually has the legal means to do so is under question.

    On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a temporary restraining order against the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the International Rescue Committee, a Texas non-profit, attempting to halt the resettlement of two Syrian families in the state.

    Paxton claims the federal government is violating the 1980 Refugee Act, which requires the federal government to communicate "regularly" with state and local governments and non-profits regarding refugee resettlement.

    "[Texas] has demonstrated Defendants’ breach of statutory and contractual duties by their unwillingness to consult in advance regarding placement of refugees in Texas or share information and closely cooperate with the Commission," the state's complaint said. "Whatever 'advance consultation' and 'close cooperation' mean, this is not it."

    But some immigration law experts say this is a peculiar reading of the law that doesn't take into account the federal government's ultimate authority over immigration.

    "There is no legitimate basis for the Texas lawsuit because Texas has no legal authority to prevent a refugee who has been lawfully admitted, screened and cleared to enter the US from coming to their state," Greg Chen, the director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Business Insider.

    "Seems like a very far-fetched reading of the law," Chen added.

    Chen said that even if Texas loses its attempt to get a temporary restraining order, it can still pursue the case in court. But their short-term prospects for blocking the two families don't seem very high.

    "I think it's highly unlikely that a judge would grant the Texas government's request for a restraining order," Chen said.

    The federal government is the sole entity responsible for screening and accepting refugees. Though procedures vary at the state level, in many instances the states simply direct the federal government to in-state charities that provide or facilitate the majority of essential services for the refugee once they land in the US.

    In its lawsuit, Texas argued that the Obama administration is not doing enough to inform states the identities of the refugees. To assuage similar doubts across the US, the Obama administration has recently said that it will provide "password-protected" reports to governors containing information about refugees who are resettled in the governors' states. 

    For its part, the Texas Democratic Party lamented Texas' legal action, saying that Abbott's support of the case is "imperial."

    “Imperial Governor Abbott has given into fear. He continues to incite fear in the public, and has found a scapegoat to score political points off of nonprofits who care for refugees," Manny Garcia, the party's deputy director, said in a statement. "These are the very nonprofits that carry out the noble mission of ensuring that America continues to be the beacon of freedom, hope, and refuge that it has been throughout our history."

    Under Abbott's watch, Texas has become one of the most aggressive challengers of President Barack Obama's immigration and refugee policies. 

    Texas was one of the first of 31 states calling on Obama to halt resettlement of refugees from war-torn Iraq and Syria. And it is the lead plaintiff in a case against the Obama administration's executive actions on deportation, in a case that could eventually land at the Supreme Court.

    Abbott's office didn't respond to a request for comment on this story.

    SEE ALSO: A cascade of states are now refusing to accept Syrian refugees

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here's why Obama won't send troops into Syria to destroy ISIS

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    ISIS Baiji oil refinery

    The high costs of running the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and fighting a ground war are largely met from selling oil, supplemented with donations and money extorted from Christians and hostages. Preventing the jihadists from profiting from oilfields under its control should be a priority for the military coalition – indeed, Britain’s first strikes in Syria were against oilfields.

    But the coalition already has the capacity to stop the illegal oil trade. High above Syria and Iraq, beyond the range of any IS missiles, are US and UK surveillance and strike drones such as the Predator and Reaper.

    These can operate for up to 24 hours, equipped with excellent sensors including synthetic aperture radar– sideways-looking radar that uses the flight path of the aircraft to electronically simulate an extremely large antenna. This continuously generates extremely high-resolution imagery even through cloud and sandstorms.

    These are the weapons with which to cut off IS’s oil trade income, estimated at US$50m a month (US$600m a year). While looted banks and military bases provided IS with a reported war chest of US$1.5-$2 billion, this oil income is vital to pay the salaries of its administrators and fighters, around US$500m a year, buy black market weaponry estimated at US$1 billion, and other essentials that bring annual costs to around US$2 billion.

    Using surveillance aircraft/drones alongside attack drones, crude oil movement can be stopped. In parallel, bankers should be persuaded to block anonymous donation funding through the financial networks.

    iraq oil

    IS is shipping around 25,000 barrels of crude oil a day to Turkey by road tanker, sold on the black market for as little as US$25 a barrel – then a quarter of market price. Now it sells to rogue traders in organized operations within Iraq and Syria.

    Why is cutting off the oil trade supporting IS not being addressed more enthusiastically? Russian strikes have inflicted damage on the tanker fleets, but of 10,600 coalition strikes, only 196 have targeted oil infrastructure. With better use of airborne surveillance it would be easier to identify and destroy the tankers used to move illicit crude oil, cutting off this vital source of income and hastening an end to the conflict.

     Stopping the flow of oil

    Major IS-controlled oil wells lie between al-Qaim in Iraq in northern Iraq and Deir Ezzor in Syria, 100km southeast of Raqqa. IS uses mobile refineries to process crude oil required for military and domestic use, but also transports crude oil by road through IS held routes, via Aleppo and a northern corridor through “friendly” rebel-held areas, to southern Turkey.

    There is oil trading within rebel-held areas, and Russia has also identified (as yet unconfirmed) that crude oil is also being transported from Deir al-Zour (aka Deir Ezzor) to Batman in Turkey. Russia was conducting air strikes in the rebel-held region through which the oil is transported when one of its Su-24 aircraft was shot down by a Turkish fighter.

    A large road tanker can transport around 300 barrels, so carrying 25,000 barrels a day requires a minimum of 84 tanker trucks, assuming the round trip can be achieved in a single day. The round trip is approximately 600km, so the tankers could be spaced every 8km – any less and the convoys would be too dangerous. To target an individual truck in transit with guided missiles from manned aircraft would prove very expensive– more than the value of the tanker and the oil carried. But coalition drone pilots can patrol the routes used by the oil tankers continuously, calling in strikes from other aircraft or attacking where necessary.

    Targeting the oil before it reaches the trading centers hidden in rebel-held territory would starve IS of the funds it relies upon. As Russian president Putin noted, severing IS’s support is the most effective way of shortening the conflict.

    IS has learned from the North Vietnamese in its fight against the US, holding large areas of territory with small groups of troops who live among the civilian population – not in barracks and frontline positions. The approaches of conventional warfare will be difficult – this conflict demands smart thinking.

    The Conversation

    David Stupples, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Director of Electronic Warfare Research, City University London

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This massive American aircraft carrier is headed to the Persian Gulf to help fight ISIS

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    RAF tornado Marham

    Hours after the UK parliament approved to extend the airstrikes to include Syria, Royal Air Force Tornado attack planes, deployed to Akrotiri, Cyprus, flew their first raid on terrorist targets inside Syria, early in the morning on Dec. 3.

    The Tornados, supported by a Voyager tanker and a Reaper drone, dropped their Paveway IV guided bombs against six targets on an oilfield at Omar, “one of the ISIS’s largest and most important oilfields,” according to the MoD.

    The six British “Tonkas” committed to Operation Shader flew their first mission against ISIS on Sept. 27, 2014 destroying the first ISIS target, a “technical” (an armed pick-up truck), in Iraq, on Sept. 30. Since then the RAF Tornado jets, have carried out hundreds of strike (and armed reconnaissance) missions against Daesh targets.

    Although the payload may vary according to the type of mission the RAF Tornado GR4s have often carried a mixed load out with a single rack of three Brimstones and two Paveway IV 226kg bombs along with the Rafael Litening III targeting pod.

    The Brimstone, is a fire-and-forget anti-armour missile, optimized for use against fast-moving platforms, first fielded during 2008 after an urgent operational requirement and used on the RAF Harriers during operations over Afghanistan.

    british air strike royal air force

    With a warhead of 9 kg and a range of 7.5 miles, the Brimstones are an extensive redevelopment of the AGM-114 Hellfire and can be used on fast jets, helicopters and UAVs. They use a millimeter wave (mmW) radar seeker with a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, and are perfect to destroy a vehicle with very low collateral damage risk, and an accuracy of about 1 – 2 meters. That’s why these small guided missiles have become the RAF weapons of choice since the Air War over Libya back in 2011.

    Interestingly, one of the 8 RAF Tornados deployed at Akrotiri could be regularly tracked online during its transit from Cyprus to Iraq via Israel, Jordan, accompanied by a Voyager tanker: the example #ZA556 (the only “visible” aircraft in a formation of at least two planes) can be often spotted on as it flies into Israel, then into the Jordanian airspace before turning its transponder off to enter the Iraqi airspace.

    Here are some of the latest logs:


    With the air strikes now covering both Iraq and Syria, the UK has reinforced its contingent at Akrotiri with 10 Tornados and 6 (+3 spares) Eurofighter Typhoon, that have arrived in Cyprus on Dec. 3. The Typhoon FGR4 multirole planes (with their squadron markings stripped off..) belong to the Tranche 2: they can drop Paveway LGBs, but neither the Brimstones norStorm Shadows yet.

    SEE ALSO: Britain started bombing ISIS mere hours after voting in favor of airstrikes

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    NOW WATCH: Why Korean parents are having their kids get plastic surgery before college

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks toward television cameras to make impromptu remarks to members of the media after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

    ATHENS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday it might be possible for the Syrian government and rebel forces to cooperate against Islamic State militants without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad having first left power.

    However, Kerry said it would be "exceedingly difficult" to achieve this if rebel forces that have been fighting against Assad for more than four years did not have some confidence that the Syrian leader would eventually go.

    Kerry was asked at a news conference during a visit to Greece whether Assad's departure was a precondition for Western-backed rebels to cooperate with government troops against IS, which has captured a swathe of Syria and Iraq and carried out a string of attacks in other countries.

    "With respect to the question of Assad and the timing, I think the answer is ... it is not clear that he would have to ‘go’ if there was clarity with respect to what his future might or might not be," Kerry said.

    That clarification could come in many forms that would give certainty to the opposition. 

    "But it would be exceedingly difficult to cooperate without some indication or confidence on the part of those who have been fighting him that in fact there is a resolution or a solution in sight," Kerry added.

    Otherwise the rebels would feel they were helping and entrenching Assad, which would be completely unacceptable, he said.

    Russia and Iran, Assad's main allies, have said it will be up to the Syrian people to decide on Assad's role at a future presidential election.

    Russia has intervened militarily in support of Assad with air strikes against both IS and Western-backed rebels, while a U.S.-led coalition of Western and Sunni Arab states has been waging an air campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq. 

    A U.S. official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said Kerry's message was that Assad "doesn't have to go right now", provided there was a clear political transition in prospect, a position Washington has held for months.

    SEE ALSO: Germany is joining the fight against ISIS

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The number of times Obama has had to respond to mass shootings during his presidency is staggering

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    Leishmaniasis Syria

    A disfiguring, flesh-eating disease is sweeping across Syria, and the US State Department says ISIS is to blame. 

    The disease is Leishmaniasis, and it's spread by a parasite that's transmitted through the bite of an infected sandfly. 

    It can cause painful open sores that sometimes take months or even years to heal, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    Syria has always been a hotspot for Leishmaniasis, but the civil war is likely accelerating the spread.

    A US State Department Twitter account that was created to combat ISIS propaganda tweeted about the connection:

    Poor sanitary conditions can increase the number of places for sandflies to breed, according to the World Health Organization. So ISIS' practice of dumping bodies in the streets could directly increase the risk for Leishmaniasis infection. 

    But the disease was already spreading through Syria as the health system collapsed after civil war broke out in 2011. Tens of thousands of doctors have since left the country, and by 2013, two out of five hospitals were not in service, according to an article in the BMJ

    By 2012, nearly 53,000 cases of cutaneous Leishmaniasis (the most common type) were reported in Syria, and that's the last official number available. The situation may be even worse now.

    The local news story that the State Department tweeted out says the first case was reported in 2013, which is inaccurate, and that by mid-2014, 500 people were infected, which is likely an underestimate. (The story cites activists and the Kurdish Red Crescent; the 53,000 number comes from the Syrian Ministry of Health.)

    Leishmaniasis has been a terrible disease native to Syria since at least 900 BC. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that 1.3 million new cases are reported every year; between 20,000 and 30,000 of them are fatal. 

    sandfly leishmaniasis  Phlebotomus_pappatasi_bloodmeal_continue2As Syrian refugees have had to flee their country, Leishmaniasis has followed them. Neighboring Lebanon had no reported cases of the disease before 2008, according to the WHO, but by 2013, the country reported just over 1,000 cases — 97% of which were among Syrian refugees

    "The Syrian conflict and vast population displacement has significantly increased the incidence of the vector-borne disease within Syria and spread this epidemic into neighboring countries," a 2014 study in PLoS Pathogens concluded

    Since the infection can also be spread via contaminated needles, it's imperative to have proper health systems in place to control the disease, according to a 2015 study that examined how the Syrian civil war has accelerated the spread of Leishmaniasis.

    "In order to decrease the risk of exposure,"the authors concluded, "housing conditions of the refugees must be improved, routine health controls must be performed, effective measures must be set in place for vector control, and infected individuals must be diagnosed and treated to prevent spread of the infection." 

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    Russian embassy twitter troll turkey

    Russia's embassy in the United Kingdom is trolling Turkey on Twitter.

    Its photos posted recently include alleged ISIS oil-smuggling routes in the country, images linking Turkey's president to the militants, and a cartoon of an octopus grabbing fistfuls of cash. 

    Since Turkey shot down a Russian jet last month, relations between the two countries has been in a state of near free fall.

    And on Wednesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense presented the most potentially damning charge against Ankara — that Turkey, under the lead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family, was participating in and facilitating the ISIS oil trade. 

    Russia posits that ISIS moves its oil into Turkey through three border crossings: two in Syria, and one in Iraq. However, experts have called the evidence into question, as all three regions are controlled by Kurdish groups who are currently battling against ISIS militants. 

    Relations between the various Kurdish groups and Turkey are also highly strained, lending further implausibility to the idea that Turkey is buying oil from ISIS via Kurdish groups. 

    Still, despite the paucity of direct evidence, Russia's embassy in the UK has been tweeting the past week alleging Turkey's direct links to ISIS. On Tuesday, leading up to the Ministry of Defense's announcement of evidence, the embassy tweeted that Turkey shot down Russia's plane in order to defend its ISIS oil links. 

    Then on Wednesday, the embassy followed up with another tweet that featured both a map showcasing ISIS's oil routes in Turkey (which explicitly pass through Kurdish areas of control) and also, bizarrely, an octopus grabbing cash. 

    The octopus is likely a direct reference to the ongoing allegations of corruption against Erdogan and his family, as well as his family's alleged role in supporting the ISIS oil trade. In 2013 and 2014, Erdogan's government was rocked by a raft of corruption scandals. In response, Erdogan ordered a purging of the police force and the judiciary that effectively neutered any investigations against himself, his family, and his ministers. 

    In response to Russia's assertions, Turkey attempted to hit back by saying that it also had evidence that Russia was involved in the ISIS oil trade. Ankara's attempt to pivot the blame onto Russia was subsequently mocked by Russia's embassy in the UK. 

    The Twitter trolling is the perhaps most innocuous part of the ongoing spat between Turkey and Russia. Russia has banned imports of select Turkish foods, and has threatened to unveil a package of further sanctions in the coming days. 

    Moscow has also encouraged Russian soccer teams to avoid recruiting Turkish players, and Russian universities have begun shuttering programs linked to their Turkish counterparts. Still, as The Economist notes, the sanctions and moves are largely ceremonial and may do little to actually disrupt the economy of either country. 

    SEE ALSO: Russia presented 'evidence' of Turkey's oil ties to ISIS — but it has a crucial flaw

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    NOW WATCH: Here's why Obama won't send troops into Syria to destroy ISIS

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    Syrian men stand amid debris following reported air strikes by government forces in the town of Jisreen, in the rebel-held region of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, on December 4, 2015

    Heavy government bombardment across Syria Friday killed at least 56 civilians, more than a quarter of them children, a monitoring group said.

    The bloodiest attack was in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold east of Damascus, where at least 41 civilians were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    "Regime warplanes targeted the towns of Jisreen and Kfar Batna in the Eastern Ghouta region", leaving 35 killed in those areas, the Britain-based Observatory added. 

    Six children were among the dead there, and dozens of people were wounded. 

    But the opposition National Coalition, the leading anti-regime group in exile, blamed the Jisreen strikes on Russia.

    "Russian warplanes targeted a public market... leaving 11 killed and 50 wounded" there, the Coalition tweeted. 

    Another six civilians, including two children, were killed in regime rocket fire on the flashpoint Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, the Observatory said. 

    Government forces regularly bombard Eastern Ghouta, a populated suburb of Damascus largely controlled by the powerful Jaish al-Islam rebel group. 


    In a video posted by an online activist group in Jisreen, a distressed man in a debris-strewn street screamed: "Syrian flesh for sale!" 

    And footage posted by the local SMART news agency depicted men carrying bloodied victims out of destroyed buildings on stretchers as sirens wailed in the background. 

    Meanwhile, 11 people, including four children, were killed in government air strikes on the central opposition-held town of Talbisseh, the Observatory said. 

    In the southern province of Daraa, four children were killed when the regime bombarded the town of Hara. 

    Residents inspect damage from what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the main field hospital in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus October 29, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    And four civilians died in shelling of the town of Sanamayn, 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Hara.

    Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman could not specify if that attack was by regime or rebel forces. 

    Syria's conflict has taken the lives of more than 250,000 people, and another four million have been forced to flee since it erupted in March 2011. 

    SEE ALSO: This man was held captive by ISIS for 10 months and says the West is 'fuelling the misery and disaster'

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    putin hollande

    US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington's position on Friday that Syrian President Bashar Assad "doesn't have to go right now," provided the Syrian rebels and the regime agree to a clear political transition that ultimately phases out Assad.

    The position is in line with a peace plan for Syria reached in Vienna last month that drew heavily from one proposed by Russia — and that "may have been a gift to Assad," Syria expert Hassan Hassan noted recently in The National.

    Under the agreement, negotiations between the opposition and Assad's government will begin on January 1, 2016, followed closely by a cease-fire involving all parties except ISIS, Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and other groups designated "extremists" by Jordan.

    Ultimately, Hassan notes, this plan serves Russia well: If rebel groups want to be included in the cease-fire, then they can't interfere with members of the opposition who choose to work with Assad toward a transition.

    This all but forces opposition groups to either accept a role for Assad, or become more extreme — and thus risk being targeted by Russian and regime airstrikes.

    As such, the plan is bound to sow division among moderate Syrian rebels broadly affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). This is exactly what Russia wants — indeed, Moscow has been trying to discredit the moderate opposition since well before the latest round of peace talks.

    syriamapsectarianKremlin-sponsored and funded news outlets such as Sputnik and Russia Today reported throughout October that Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, had been cooperating with "FSA representatives" to identify ISIS targets on the ground in Syria.

    The FSA — which has traditionally refused to devote its resources to the ISIS fight for fear that it would take away from the rebels' battle against the regime and help Assad maintain his hold on power — was quick to deny the reports.

    But rumors of a budding Russia-FSA alliance soon reached the mainstream media and succeeded in creating even more confusion within the international community over who these moderate rebels are and what they actually stand for — signaling a key win for Moscow in the all-important information war.

    kerry lavrovIncidentally, the vague characterization of the FSA that Russia is now exploiting has been promoted by the West "for years,"Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment's "Syria in Crisis" blog and author of several reports and books on the Syrian-opposition movement, wrote in a lengthy exposé on the site Syria Deeply.

    "For years, officials in the US, Europe, Turkey, and the Arab World have been promoting 'the moderate FSA' or even 'the secular FSA' as Syria’s great hope for the future, without ever arriving at a better explanation of what that means [other] than 'any damned armed group in Syria that we can work with.'"

    This ambiguity, Lund noted, has ultimately helped Russia pick and choose which rebels it wants to work with — and those it wants to eliminate.

    "By rebranding their own allies and all kinds of random exiles as 'FSA representatives,' they [the Russians] are trying to wring a very useful fiction out of the hands of their enemies or, failing that, to destroy it by adding to the confusion," Lund wrote.

    "Some might call this diplomacy. I call it elite-level trolling."

    'A real maturing of the armed opposition'

    When it comes to trolling the West and its media on the FSA, Russia's motivation is clear: However ambiguously defined it may be, the "moderate opposition" receiving antitank TOW missiles from the CIA via Saudi Arabia has won some significant victories against the Russia-backed Assad regime.

    In late October, The Daily Beast's Michael Weiss reported that, while the FSA is an "admittedly catchall category," it had "managed to hold its ground [near Aleppo] because its campaign is clearly being coordinated and encouraged by Western and regional intelligence services, which have displayed a newfound willingness to allow more defensive weaponry to their proxies."

    FSA fighterAs such, the FSA has proven that it can be successful as a coordinated, well-armed force.

    "We have managed to liberate two towns; Mea’ar Kabi in the northern [suburb] of Hama and Lahaya," Mohammed Rasheed, a fighter with the CIA-backed Suqur al-Ghab, told Weiss in late October.

    "We have been planning for this operation since the start of the Russian invasion. ... What helped us is that we all got united and fought as one army," he added.

    Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and author of "The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency," corroborated the existence of a "capable" and "serious" opposition in a recent interview with Lund.

    "Over the last 12 months, I’ve witnessed firsthand a real maturing of the armed opposition, especially politically," Lister, a senior consultant to the Shaikh Group and key figure in its two-year-old Syria Track II Initiative, told Lund.

    "I think most people would be surprised by how capable many group leaderships are in engaging in serious political and diplomatic discussions. Ideological differences also don’t always add up to differing political agendas."

    FSA fighters

    In a recent piece for The Spectator, Lister put the number of moderate rebel fighters at around 75,000, all divided into 105-110 factions that "broadly represent what one could today label as ‘moderate’ in Syria’s context."

    "The most effective definition [of 'moderate'] now must be based upon a combined assessment of (a) what groups are acknowledged as being opposed to ISIL and (b) what groups our governments want, or need to be involved in a political process."

    Admittedly, the FSA's repeated attempts to consolidate a centralized leadership in the past have failed. In that sense, the FSA evolved into a "wildly successful branding operation" that has made it rather easy for actors with various interests to co-opt its badge, according to Lund.

    "Anyone can raise an FSA flag without having the approval of the MOM/MOC structure," Lund wrote, referring to the two Military Operations Centers in Jordan and Turkey that vet, recruit, and train rebel fighters.

    Still, the moderate, capable groups are there — and identifiable. A lengthy and impressive list of the forty-odd rebel groups vetted by the CIA and fielding antitank missiles, published in October by Hasan Mustafa, helped clear up some of the confusion.

    "The groups approved by the CIA to take part in the TOW program overwhelmingly belong to the FSA," Mustafa writes, "and all have stated their commitment to letting the Syrian people decide their own future."

    SEE ALSO: Russia presented 'evidence' of Turkey's oil ties to ISIS, but it has a crucial flaw

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    The US seems to be shouldering most of the burden in the fight against ISIS, according to new statistics from the Pentagon.

    The US-led coalition of 65 countries fighting the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State has carried out 8,289 airstrikes total as of November 19. Of those strikes, the US has conducted 6,471, as The New York Times pointed out.

    And of the 65 countries that are part of the coalition, only 12 countries have participated in the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Just 24 of those countries participate in the coalition's quarterly meetings, according to The Times.

    Some countries are included in the coalition simply because of their anti-terrorism policies, the publication noted.

    The UK is currently only bombing targets in Iraq, but Prime Minister David Cameron is planning to ask parliament this week for permission to launch airstrikes in Syria. France stepped up airstrikes in Syria after ISIS-linked terrorists carried out attacks in Paris earlier this month, and Russia (which is not part of the coalition) entered the fray in September.

    From the start of operations in August of last year until October 31 of this year, the coalition has spent $5 billion on the fight against ISIS.

    State Department spokesman John Kirby defended the coalition at a press briefing earlier this month, according to The Times.

    "It’s a coalition of the willing, which means every nation has to be willing to contribute what they can," he said. He added that while not every country can conduct airstrikes, "that doesn’t mean that other nations’ contributions aren’t important."

    The new Pentagon figures also showed the extent of the damage to Iraq and Syria since operations began:

    Operation Inherent Resolve

    Airstrikes and ground fights between jihadists and regional forces have damaged some cities to the point of being nearly uninhabitable.

    The coalition is now ramping up airstrikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, in an effort to oust the jihadists from their de-facto capital.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS is preparing a 'backup' capital in case its major center in Syria falls

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    NOW WATCH: People are calling ISIS by a name they don’t want anyone to use

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    London undergroundLONDON (Reuters) - At least three people have been seriously injured in a stabbing at a London train station.

    A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said officers were called to an incident at Leytonstone underground station, east London, at 1905 GMT on Saturday where a suspect was reportedly threatening members of the public with a knife.

    He said a taser was discharged by one of the officers at the suspect who was then arrested and taken to an east London hospital, where he remains in custody.

    The spokesman said one man had sustained serious stab injuries.

    Commander Richard Walton with the Met's Counter Terrorism Command says it's being investigated as a "terrorist incident."

    He did not confirm a Sky News report that the suspect shouted the words: "This is for Syria" during the attack.

    Here's some video that appears to capture part of the incident:

    Britain is on its second-highest alert level of "severe," meaning a militant attack is considered highly likely. This is mainly due to the threat the authorities say is posed by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq and their encouragement of supporters to carry out attacks in their homelands.

    British lawmakers approved the bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria on Wednesday. Britain's air force has since carried out two bombing raids. 

    (Editing by Chris Reese)

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    turkey bosporous

    Following the downing of a Russian warplane last week by Turkey, Russia has shown no signs of letting up on its military operations near the Turkish-Syrian border.

    Prior to the incident, Moscow ignored calls by Ankara to put an "immediate end" to its airstrikes on Turkmen rebel brigades operating along the border.

    The tension culminated in Turkey's decision to down the Su-24 fighter jet, which had been bombing units of Liwa Jabal al-Turkman — an ethnic Turkish group backed by Turkey — at the time it was downed.

    Russia insisted the plane had been bombing "terrorists" in the area.

    Burned by the incident, Russia deployed an advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system to the coastal province of Latakia and orderedthat all Russian Su-24s be equipped with air-to-air missiles. Russian warplanes have continued pounding Turkmen rebels — the Turkish aid convoys along the border that supply them — with airstrikes.

    These provocative moves are evidently meant as a message to deter Turkish jets from shooting down Russian planes in the future. But Russia has financial and geopolitical interests in keeping its retaliation asymmetrical — specifically, by bombing Turkish-backed rebel groups in Syria while refraining from engaging with Turkey in a military confrontation directly.

    putin erdogan

    Asymmetrical or not, Turkey could feasibly perceive Russia's military buildup along the Turkish-Syrian border as a serious threat and invoke its most valuable trump card: the Turkish Straits.

    The straits, which consist of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus, are a series of waterways in Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea — and the Mediterranean — to the Black Sea.

    Turkey, which has full control over the Dardanelles and the Bosporus under the 1936 Montreux Convention, acts as the straits' custodian and regulates the passage of naval ships belonging to Black Sea states.

    Russia currently depends on the unrestricted access to the straits afforded it under the Montreux Convention. Through the straits, it sends supplies to Syria from its Novorossiysk naval base in the Black Sea to Russian ports in Tartus and Latakia.

    turkey straits

    Historically, Russian ships have enjoyed unfettered access to the Mediterranean via the straits. Under Montreux, however, Turkey may legally block Russian military vessels from passing through the straits under two conditions: if it is at war with Russia or if it considers itself to be "threatened with imminent danger of war."

    As Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider on Tuesday, it remains unlikely that Turkey would go as far as to close the straits — even in these tense times.

    "I think this scenario would only kick in a World War II type situation," Stein said in an email. "Turkey will keep the straits open per the convention and its historical practice."

    But against the backdrop of Russia's escalating military presence along Turkey's southern border is Ankara's legal authority, under Article 21 of Montreux, to cut off one of Russia's most vital links to Syria if it feels threatened with war.

    Turkey has already reportedly signaled that it is willing to take some steps of retaliation with the straits. Leonid Bershidsky, a Bloomberg View columnist, reported on Tuesday that Turkey is "making Russian cargo ships wait for hours before they're allowed to pass through the Bosporus."

    turkmen rebels syria

    That Russia has continued to target Turkmen villages and rebel brigades along the Turkish-Syrian border, despite Turkey's demands that it stop, would theoretically be enough for Turkey to invoke Article 21.

    "It was the targeting of these Turkmen groups, villages, and convoys that led to Turkey summoning the Russian ambassador and demanding a halt to the strikes," The Soufan Group said on Monday."Less than a week after, Turkey shot down the Russian jet."

    Though Russia wants to weaken the Turkmen rebels so that they do not return to central Asia and strike Russia — and so they are less capable of fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces — Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is equally if not more invested in the continued well-being of the Syrian Turkmen, who are ethnically Turkish.

    "Erdogan's determination to create a pan-Turkic sphere of influence is matched by Russia's to target Syrian Turkmen," the group added. "It is difficult to overstate how much this issue resonates with Turkey's President Erdogan and his government."

    turkmen syria

    It is also difficult to overstate how important the Turkish straits are to Russia's continued military campaign in Syria.

    "The so called Syrian Express deployments of Russian Ropucha and Alligator class landing ships and auxiliaries are vitally important to keep Russian troops inside Syria supplied," Cem Devrim Yaylalı, a Turkish naval analyst, wrote on his blog over the weekend.

    "If Russia cannot send its ships through the Turkish Straits for any reason, the Russian soldiers deployed in Syria may find themselves in a very similar position of General Paulus' Army," he continued.

    General Paulus was a Nazi commander in World War II who led Germany's drive on Stalingrad beginning in 1942. He and his troops were ultimately forced to surrender after their assistance from Germany's Sixth Army was cut off by strong Soviet Army formations.

    The Germans' defeat at Stalingrad is said to have marked a turning point in the war, leading to the Allies' victory in 1945.

    Yaylalı implied that Russia and Russian-backed troops in Syria could suffer the same fate if Russian naval ships are blocked from reaching the eastern Mediterranean and can't resupply their troops. Given how much pro-regime elements have benefited from Russian weapons and supplies since the war erupted in 2011, it is not an unreasonable prediction.

    Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted how keeping its access to the straits — and to Syria — and avoiding a larger-scale conflict with NATO has likely factored in to Russia's decision to keep its retaliation limited and asymmetrical.

    "Putin's options are limited," Zilberman said in an email, which is why he is "taking action on the margins/asymmetrically."

    "That being said ... the Russian-Turkish relationship is a tinderbox," he added. "The deterioration in the relationship is a loss for both Moscow and Ankara. The egos of Putin and Erdogan may spin any future incident beyond control."

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    Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media during a visit to northern Cyprus, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

    Turkey accused Russia of a "provocation" on Sunday after a serviceman on the deck of a Russian naval ship allegedly held a rocket launcher on his shoulder while the vessel passed through Istanbul.

    Relations have deteriorated sharply since Turkey last week became the first NATO member in more than half a century to down a Russian plane, which it said had violated its airspace while flying sorties over Syria. The pilot was killed.

    The NTV news channel broadcast photographs that it said showed a serviceman brandishing a rocket launcher on the deck of the landing ship Caesar Kunikov as it passed on Saturday through the Bosphorus Strait, which bisects the city of Istanbul. It said the ship was believed to be en route to Syria.

    "For a Russian soldier to display a rocket launcher or something similar while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters, according to the Hurriyet news site. "If we perceive a threatening situation, we will give the necessary response."

    The Bosphorus offers the only passage to the world's oceans for the Russian Black Sea fleet. A World War One-era treaty obliges Turkey to allow all ships to pass during peacetime.

    Turkey had considered Russia a strategic partner as its main energy supplier, despite deep differences over Syria. But since Turkey shot the plane down, Moscow has introduced economic sanctions including a ban on Turkish foods and other products worth as much as $1 billion.NTV said three NATO frigates with Canadian, Spanish and Portuguese flags had been moored in Istanbul as the Caesar Kunikov passed through.

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    NOW WATCH: Here's footage of a Russian warplane crashing after Turkey shot it down

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    Turkish Soldiers

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday that his country maintained the right to use all available options, including going to the U.N. security council, if Turkish troops sent to northern Iraq were not withdrawn within 48 hours.

    Abadi said in a statement that the deployment of hundreds of Turkish troops near the northern Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul happened without the approval or knowledge of the Iraqi government and constituted a violation of national sovereignty.

    Iraq's defense minister, Khaled al-Obeidi, said on Sunday he had told his Turkish counterpart that Turkish troops had been sent without informing or coordinating with Baghdad, and should be withdrawn.

    Khaled al-Obeidi said in a statement the Turkish defense minister had explained the deployment as necessary to protect Turkish military advisers training Iraqi forces in preparation for a campaign to retake Mosul.

    But Obeidi said the Turkish force was too large for such a purpose.

    "No matter the size of the force entering Iraq, it is rejected," the statement said. "It was possible to undertake this sort of prior coordination without creating circumstances which contributed to a crisis between the two countries."

    Iraq's president, prime minister and foreign ministry have all objected to the Turkish deployment in recent days, calling it a hostile act and a violation of international law. Baghdad also summoned the Turkish ambassador to issue a formal protest.

    iraq isis map

    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday it was a routine troop rotation and Turkish forces had set up a camp some 30 km (19 miles) northeast of Mosul at the Mosul governor's request, and in coordination with the Iraqi Defence Ministry.

    A small number of Turkish trainers were already at the camp before the latest deployment to train the Hashid Watani (national mobilization), a force made up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul, which Islamic State militants seized in June 2014.

    SEE ALSO: Turkey angered by rocket-brandishing on Russian naval ship passing Istanbul

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    NOW WATCH: Here's footage of a Russian warplane crashing after Turkey shot it down

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    U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the shootings in San Bernardino, California during a meeting with his national security team in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington December 3, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    President Barack Obama will pledge to use "every single aspect of American power" to destroy Islamic State during a rare Oval Office address on Sunday in an effort to reassure Americans his administration is handling the threat of terrorism forcefully.

    The president will speak to Americans shortly after 8:00 p.m. EST to discuss how the government has worked to keep the country safe since the Paris attacks and, going back further, since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

    Obama has come under consistent pressure from Republicans to step up his response to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, and the shooting in San Bernardino, California last week that killed 14 people has raised fears among Americans about the threat of more attacks at home.

    Obama will give an update on the status of the investigation into that shooting during his remarks. He will also express confidence that the United States will prevail over terrorist threats, the administration official said.

    "The president will ... discuss the broader threat of terrorism, including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement announcing the address.

    "He will reiterate his firm conviction that ISIL will be destroyed and that the United States must draw upon our values, our unwavering commitment to justice, equality and freedom, to prevail over terrorist groups that use violence to advance a destructive ideology," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

    Unlike previous presidents, Obama rarely uses the Oval Office to make speeches to the American public, preferring to stand at a podium, often overlooking the grander White House East Room, instead.

    obama east room

    The choice of venue was meant to send a signal of the importance Obama placed on the topic and give a nod to the growing unease among Americans since the Paris and California incidents.

    The president, who visited one of the sites of the Paris attacks during a trip to France last week, made a similar attempt at reassuring Americans during remarks at the White House before the Thanksgiving holiday.

    Roughly a week later, the California shooting occurred. Islamic State said afterwards that the couple who carried out the massacre were its followers.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS claims it just assassinated the governor of Yemen's second city

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    NOW WATCH: The number of times Obama has had to respond to mass shootings during his presidency is staggering

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