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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    A man gestures as he looks out of the window in a bus leaving the district of Waer during a truce between the government and rebel fighters, in Homs December 9, 2015.

    Busloads of Syrians including rebel fighters left the last insurgent-held area of Homs on Wednesday under a rare local truce agreement in Syria's nearly five-year conflict that will shore up government control over the city.

    The rebels and their families are being moved to insurgent-held areas of the northwest near the Turkish border under the deal, an example of the type of local truce U.S. President Barack Obama has said could happen in Syria more frequently.

    Homs was a centre of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The deal follows a major Syrian army ground offensive to the north of the city backed by Russian air strikes.

    Witnesses saw 15 buses leave the area. Homs governor Talal al-Barazi told reporters 300 fighters were on board, together with 400 members of their families. The fighters took with them light weapons, he said.

    The deal echoes a local ceasefire agreed in September elsewhere in Syria under which rebel fighters were supposed to be transferred to Idlib, though it has yet to be fully implemented.

    Several buses left the Homs district of Waer early on Wednesday and others were queueing up to leave on its outskirts, witnesses said. Children on buses waiting to leave peaked around the drawn curtains and aid workers handed out juice.

    Barazi said the buses would make a stop in Hama province where rebels who wished to could disembark, before continuing to Idlib, a province that is a stronghold of insurgents including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

    He described the rebels who left as "militants who reject the agreement", saying they would leave with their families.

    Syria M5 Highway Homs Damascus"The Waer neighbourhood arrangements will be completely safe and there will be no weapons in Waer after the implementation of the agreement," he said adding security forces would go back to work in the area and would be the only ones armed.

    Peace Talks

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said about 750 people were expected to leave during the day for rebel-held areas in the Hama and Idlib provinces.

    The United Nations is presiding over implementation of the deal, which was agreed directly between the Syrian sides.

    Some diplomats say local ceasefires may be the most effective way of gradually bringing peace to a country where more than 250,000 people have been killed, though one concluded in Homs in 2014 was widely seen as a forced surrender.

    Syria peace talks involving world powers in Vienna in October called for a nationwide ceasefire and a renewal of U.N-brokered talks between the rival Syrian sides.

    Priority is being given to women, children and the severely wounded, the Observatory's head, Rami Abdulrahman, said. But the evacuation will include scores of fighters who reject the truce, he said, among them a small group from Nusra Front.

    A previous truce in Homs in 2014 allowed insurgents to withdraw from the Old City while Waer and other areas remained in the hands of insurgents. 

    Rebel fighters wait to ride buses to leave the district of Waer during a truce between the government and rebel fighters, in Homs, Syria December 9, 2015.The Observatory said the Waer deal was better for the rebels than the 2014 agreement because some fighters will stay in the district and the deal will be implemented in stages.

    Humanitarian aid reached the Waer district last week under the terms of the agreement.

    The Syrian army and allied militia launched a major ground offensive north of Homs city after Russia, Assad's main ally, began carrying out air strikes in support of the Syrian military more than two months ago.

    Obama said last month there may start to be ceasefires in parts of Syria, freeing opposition groups from Russian bombings.

    The Homs deal follows the stalling of a separate plan aimed at halting fighting between rebels and government forces near Damascus.

    In late September, Iran and Turkey, which back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, helped bring about local ceasefires in the town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border and in two villages in the northwestern province of Idlib.

    A diplomat tracking Syria said the Waer agreement was an improvement on previous local ceasefires because it was directly negotiated by Syrians, rather than involving outside states.

    "Some people are talking about 40-50 local ceasefires waiting on the shelf to be discussed," the diplomat said.

    SEE ALSO: At least 26 civilians have been killed in a suspected US-led airstrike in Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

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


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    The Kremlin announced it has successfully struck two major terrorist positions in Syria using powerful submarine missiles.

    Produced by Lamar Salter

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    Kurdistan Workers Party PKK Sinjar Iraq ISIS

    Turkish warplanes struck Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant targets in northern Iraq overnight and a policeman was killed in southeastern Turkey during clashes with the group.

    Turkish jets hit targets in the Qandil, Hakurk, Zap and Avasin Baysan areas of northern Iraq, targeting storage units and shelters for the militants, the Turkish army said on Wednesday.

    The region is part of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish entity known as Kurdistan.

    Separately, a bomb-disposal policeman was killed by sniper fire in the Sur district of Diyarbakir, which has been under curfew for eight days.

    Eastern Turkey has relapsed into bloodshed since the collapse of a ceasefire with the PKK in July and there is little sign of the violence tailing off.

    Last month, Kurdish militants scrapped another unilateral truce -- called in the wake of an Islamic State suicide bomb attack in Ankara -- after President Tayyip Erdogan and the his AK Party, which won back its parliamentary majority in a November election, vowed to liquidate the PKK.

    More than 40,000 people have been killed in the insurgency since it began in 1984. Erdogan oversaw a peace process with the PKK but that unraveled in July.

    The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

    kurds kurdish population

    SEE ALSO: Turkey is 'setting up cards' for a dangerous new game with Russia — and the winner could be ISIS

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    NOW WATCH: The US Navy’s $4.4 billion futuristic missile destroyer just set out to sea


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    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a meeting with representatives of foreign media in Istanbul, Turkey, December 9, 2015.

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's prime minister accused Russia on Wednesday of attempted "ethnic cleansing" in northern Syria, saying Moscow was trying to drive out the local Turkmen and Sunni Muslim populations to protect its military interests in the region.

    Ahmet Davutoglu's comments could further harm strained relations between Moscow and Ankara, already at their worst in recent memory after Turkish forces downed a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border late last month.

    "Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in northern Latakia to force (out) all Turkmen and Sunni population who do not have good relations with the regime," Davutoglu told foreign journalists in Istanbul.

    "They want to expel them, they want to ethnically cleanse this area so that the regime (of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus are protected," he said, speaking English.

    The Turkmens are ethnic kin of the Turks and Ankara has been particularly angered by what it says is Russian targeting of them in Syria.

    Davutoglu said Russian bombing around Azaz, which is also in northwest Syria, was designed to cut supply lines to Syrian groups opposed to Assad, Moscow's ally, and ultimately to benefit Islamic State militants.

    Both Moscow and Ankara have repeatedly accused the other of helping Islamic State. Both deny the charge.

    Residents inspect a damaged site from what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Nawa city, Deraa, Syria, November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir    Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance and of the U.S.-led coalition that is bombing Islamic State in Syria, has long called for the ousting of Assad.

    Russia began intervening directly in Syria's civil war at the end of September with air strikes in support of Assad.

    The intervention has had unintended consequences, notably when Turkey shot down the jet, saying it had strayed into Turkish airspace, an allegation Russia denies.

    Davutoglu said on Wednesday Turkey was ready to work with Russia to prevent similar incidents after the downing of the jet.

    SEE ALSO: Turkish army hits Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq overnight

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


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    Ash Carter

    Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday the U.S. is willing to assist the Iraqi army with more personnel and attack helicopters to help it fight Islamic State militants, especially in the battle to retake a key city in Iraq.

    In recent days, Iraqi forces advanced on Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, retaking a military operations center and a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. IS fighters captured Ramadi in May in a major setback for Iraqi troops.

    "The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers" if circumstances dictate the extra assistance and if requested by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Carter said.

    Carter outlined the steps as the administration faces criticism from Congress about its strategy to defeat the IS militants, reflecting a nation's growing fears about the threat of terrorism.

    Carter said that during the past several months, the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria has provided specialized training and equipment, including combat engineering assistance such as bulldozing, and munitions such as AT-4 shoulder-fired missiles to stop truck bombs, to the Iraqi army and counter-terrorism service units entering Ramadi neighborhoods from multiple directions.

    He predicted tough fighting ahead, but said Iraqi forces have shown resilience when faced with counter-attacks from IS.

    Ramadi map

    It was the first time that Carter has testified before the committee since IS claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian airliner and attacks in Beirut and Paris and the deadly attack in San Bernardino, California, by a self-radicalized couple.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the committee, advocated for more U.S. troops to be sent to stem IS momentum. "There are 20,000 to 30,000 of them. They are not giants. Somebody is going to have to convince me that air power alone" is going to do the job, McCain said.

    Carter defended the Obama administration's decision to not deploy a heavy U.S. ground force to drive IS from Syrian and Iraqi territory.

    "In the near-term, it would be a significant undertaking that, realistically, we would embark upon largely by ourselves; and it would be ceding our comparative advantage of special forces, mobility, and firepower instead fighting on the enemy's terms," Carter said.

    "In the medium-term, by seeming to Americanize the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, we could well turn those fighting ISIL or inclined to resist their rule into fighting us instead."

    ISIS france charles-de-gaulle military

    He acknowledged that IS "would love nothing more than a large presence of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, so that they could have a call to jihad."

    But he said that in the long term, the U.S. would be faced with the problem of securing and governing the territory retaken - something that needs to be done by local forces. "So in the end, while we can enable them, we cannot substitute for them," Carter said.

    SEE ALSO: Defense Secretary Carter to open all combat jobs to women in historic change

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    NOW WATCH: Watch this intense video of Russia blowing up ISIS targets with a powerful submarine missile


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    isis

    Decades of mismanaged campaigns to arm factions and governments in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, led by the US and others, have ended up benefiting ISIS, according to an Amnesty International report published on December 7th.

    The London-based human rights organization cites ISIS' use of weapons and ammunition produced in or provided by at least 25 nations as proof of the dangers of arms proliferation in the Middle East.

    “The vast and varied weaponry being used by the armed group calling itself Islamic State is a textbook case of how reckless arms trading fuels atrocities on a massive scale,” said Patrick Wilcken, the researcher on arms control at Amnesty International, in a statement.

    The report points out several instances of ISIS militants seizing large caches of weapons as their territory expanded in Iraq. It details the "dizzying array of arms" the terror group currently possesses, a stockpile that includes tanks, artillery, and grenade launchers.

    “Poor regulation and lack of oversight of the immense arms flows into Iraq going back decades have given IS and other armed groups a bonanza of unprecedented access to firepower,” Wilcken said in an Amnesty-released statement.

    The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq is specifically criticized in the report. Since 2005, the US has approved more than $18.6 billion worth of foreign military sales to Iraq, according to the Department of State. The US has provided at least 20,000 smalls arms and heavy weapons to the country, along with 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank weapons and around 300 counter-improvised explosive devices since the invasion, some of which have undoubtedly found their way to ISIS.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in June that ISIS had captured about 2,300 US Humvee armored vehicles after taking Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in June of 2014.

    ISIS humveeThe US is hardly the only country that's sent arms to the Middle East — weapons that often fall into the wrong hands.

    The report points to the flood of weapons that fed the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, when at least 34 different countries supplied weapons to Iraq. Twenty-eight of those nations were simultaneously supplying Iran as well.

    "These arms flows were funded variously by oil barter arrangements, Pentagon contracts, and NATO donations," the report notes. A lot of the arms from that period have gone missing: "The bulk have been seized from or leaked out of Iraqi military stocks," according to Amnesty.

    The report says that "endemic corruption" in the Iraqi military contributed to these weapons reaching the hands of extremist militants long before the formation of ISIS, which was formerly Al Qaeda in Iraq but defected from Al Qaeda's global network in early 2014.

    isisThe report urges governments to exercise caution when sending weapons to the Middle East, calling for all states to adopt a "presumption of denial" when dealing selling arms to Iraq. It also advocates a complete embargo on sending weapons to Syria.

    “The consequences of reckless arms transfers to Iraq and Syria and their subsequent capture by IS must be a wake-up call to arms exporters around the world,” said Wilcken in an Amnesty-released statement.

    Read the full report here.

    SEE ALSO: These maps show how ethnic cleansing has become a weapon in Syria's civil war

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    NOW WATCH: How ISIS makes over $1 billion a year


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    child soldier IS

    Among the darkest and most disturbing pieces of propaganda disseminated by the Islamic State's (Isis's) media machine are the slew of posed photos, hate-filled proclamations and grisly beheadings featuring children from Iraq, Syria and now Libya – the Caliphate Cubs.

    In their most recent offering, Daesh (IS) supplied footage of a twisted game of hide and seek. The children hunted through al-Rahba castle in Syria's Deir Ezzor province for hidden hostages. When they found the men, who were accused of being spies, the successful recruits were rewarded with execution privileges.

    Boys of no older than eight dispatched the prisoners with handguns, shooting at point blank range to the approval of their supervisors. The brutal acts of violence, of a type which has become IS's calling card throughout the world, sit alongside a dozen other executions carried out by child soldiers.

    Leaked IS documents have shown that the brainwashing of children and the use of child soldiers are a cornerstone of the militants' military vision. Along with the provision for the instruction of jihadi veterans and fresh foreign recruits, IS outlines the importance of child soldiers in its training camps.

    Alongside training in jurisprudence and manners children are to be instructed in the use of light arms according IS's blueprint. The document also stipulates that "outstanding individuals" in the programme for child soldiers can be selected for special assignments.

    IS states that education is its highest calling. In this instance education refers to "glorifying the ruling authorities and discarding differences between sects".

    IS's front and centre use of child soldiers in its propaganda is without precedent in other conflicts where child soldiers have been usedErica Hall, senior child rights policy adviser at World Vision, told IBTimes UK that while child soldiers might often appear willing participants in IS videos, they are more often than not motivated by fear and coerced into taking part.

    "There are instances of IS coming to houses and forcing parents to hand their children over. You also have situations where they are paying families, so in effect the children are forced to join but they are receiving a salary that goes to the family," she explained.

    Child soldiers are used in conflicts throughout the world for a variety of reasons but predominantly because they are mentally pliable and still developing a sense of right and wrong. There are more child soldiers than ever before because of the wide proliferation of light arms. "You don't need a strong adult male to shoot these weapons," Hall said.

    Whatever the reasons, the psychological effects on the child are devastating and play themselves out within wider society for years to come. "It will have a lifelong impact when you become indoctrinated – that becomes your norm. In your day-to-day life, your first response is violence because that's what you've become accustomed to knowing," she continued.

    Child soldiers are more likely to rejoin armed groups in the future after they are effectively shunned by their communities. IS's desire to isolate its fighters from their communities is well documented. One of the children involved in the al-Rahba castle hostage shootings is identified as a Yazidi – a "former slave", according to IS's warped world view.

    Hall said where in other conflicts organizations and the international community might put pressure on paramilitary organizations to release their child soldiers, there appeared to be no such option with IS.

    "We are talking about an armed group that really does not care what the west or anyone else thinks, which is why they are very difficult to address on the issue of child recruitment. Other groups who are seeking legitimacy who are told they will not be recognized while they have kids in their ranks are more likely to move away from them," she said.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Researchers found out how many miles a week you need to run to improve your health — and it’s surprisingly low


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    A Russian warplane takes off at Hmeymim air base in Syria

    At the end of October we posted the first version of this infographic about the Russian Intervention in Syria, prepared by Louis Martin-Vézian of CIGeography.

    Many things have happened since then: the Russian Air Force has carried out raids using its Strike Bomber Force directly from mainland Russia; a Su-24M Fencer was shot down by a Turkish Air Force F-16 after an alleged violation of the Turkish airspace; the Moskva missile cruiser has started operating off Syria, and an S-400 battery has been installed at Latakia.

    Here’s the updated version of the infographic prepared for Offiziere.ch. Please note that it does not include the first appearance of the Kilo-class Rostov-on-Don submarine that has launched cruise missile(s) against ground targets in Syria from the Mediterranean Sea on Dec. 8.

    Russianinterventionsyria

    SEE ALSO: These maps show how ethnic cleansing has become a weapon in Syria's civil war

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    NOW WATCH: Watch this intense video of Russia blowing up ISIS targets with a powerful submarine missile


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    Syrian refugees call for help and empty water from their flooding raft as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

    A Syrian man whose wife and seven children drowned as they attempted to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to mainland Europe has warned other refugees that the risks of migration are not worth taking.

    Ali Alsaho and his family had been fleeing Islamic State militants in Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria, when the engine of the boat they were travelling on failed near the coastal town of Çeşme in western Turkey last month.

    Alsaho was the only member of the family to survive. His wife and children, who were aged between nine and 20 days old, all drowned.

    Speaking through tears, Alsaho told the BBC that smugglers had told his family they would not need life jackets because the boat was safe. “I had the most affectionate wife. I took my family out of Syria to escape the killing. My children could have had a future in Europe. Now I have lost my family, my world,” he said.

    Asked what advice he had for other refugees considering the perilous journey to Europe, Alsaho said:

    “I would say don’t take this risk. Don’t go by sea. You will lose your children. The smugglers are traitors. They said we would reach Greece within 15 minutes. I advise everyone: don’t come, stay in Syria, however difficult it is.”

    The bodies of some of Alsaho’s children, as well as his wife, have not yet been recovered. Their tragic story is not uncommon – this week, another group of migrants, including six Afghan children, drowned after a rubber dinghy carrying them to Greece sank in the Aegean.

    They are among more than 3,500 people who have died or been reported missing this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Turkey is under international pressure to help stem the flow of migrants.

    Ankara has stepped up a crackdown on people smuggling, arresting thousands of refugees, after it promised to curb the flow of refugees to Greece in exchange for financial aid from the EU.

    A Syrian refugee holding a baby in a lifetube swims towards the shore after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, September 12, 2015.The EU’s pledge of €3bn (£2.11bn) in aid for the 2.2 million Syrians now in Turkey is intended to raise living standards and persuade migrants to stay in the country rather than attempt the journey to the EU via the Greek islands.

    “As Turkey is making an effort to take in refugees – who will not come to Europe – it’s reasonable that Turkey receive help from Europe to accommodate those refugees,” the French president, François Hollande, said at the time.

    As part of the deal, Ankara was also offered a “re-energised” negotiating process on Turkish membership of the EU, as well as visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen zone for Turkish nationals. David Cameron said: “We need a comprehensive solution to the migrant crisis in Europe and obviously that involves Turkey.”

    Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, recently told the Guardian that refugees arriving in Europe should be detained for up to 18 months in holding centres across the EU while they are screened for security and terrorism risks.

    Hollande has said a deal with Turkey should make it easier to check migrants arriving and keep out those who pose a threat. 

    SEE ALSO: How 1,000 Syrian refugees ended up in a remote village in Mali

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    NOW WATCH: Rapper and former refugee M.I.A. made a music video depicting the arduous journey of a refugee


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    Russian forces have bombed more than 600 Syrian targets in the past few days, hitting Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Homs, and Hama, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

    Russia also claims to have hit its first two Islamic State targets in Syria, launching multiple cruise missiles into Raqqa — the de facto capital of the Islamic State — from a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.

    But at least one civilian target was allegedly bombed by the Russians as well. A bakery in Aleppo was leveled on Wednesday, and a witness told Reuters that at least eight people died.

    Russia's Ministry of Defence is calling the recent bombing campaign an "intensification" of its efforts.

    Story by Allan Smith and editing by Adam Banicki

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    SEE ALSO: Mayors want to ban Trump from entering their cities after his anti-Muslim proposal

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    Iraq Ramadi ISIS Islamic State

    Iraqi security forces have made advances on two fronts in the city of Ramadi, clearing Islamic State militants from a key military command base and a sprawling neighborhood on its western edge, army officials said.

    Capture of the sprawling western Ramadi district of al-Taamim and the Anbar Operations Command headquarters on Wednesday (December 9) could advance government efforts to retake Ramadi which fell to Islamic State in May.

    "Huge efforts and a huge victory. This victory adds to the victories which the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi army have achieved and God willing, in the coming days,

    after purging the Anbar operation command building, there are plans by the joint operations command to liberate the centre of Ramadi City," said Iraqi joint operations spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool.

    The centre of Ramadi remains under Islamic State control, but Rasool said the militants, which Iraqi intelligence estimates number between 250 and 300 fighters, are losing the initiative and suffering food and ammunition shortages after government forces cut their last supply line into the city last month.

    The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, in May was the biggest defeat for Iraq's weak central government in nearly a year, dampening its hopes of routing the Sunni militants from the country's north and west.

    The Anbar Operations Command complex and Taamim neighborhood retaken by counter-terrorism forces are strategically significant because they overlook other parts of Ramadi which are still under the militants' control.

    iraqmap

    The Iraqi armed forces also said they had carried out air strikes on various locations in Anbar province, making use of new hardware.

    "For the first time in Iraq and the Arab world, Chinese drones of the CH4 model have entered duty and we conducted operations using them more than two weeks ago covering vast areas, nearly 250 kilometers from the city of Baghdad, or more, giving us a strategic advantage over our enemy," said aviation commander, Hamid al-Maliki.

    The United States said on Wednesday that it was prepared to deploy advisers and attack helicopters if requested by Iraq to help it "finish the job" of retaking the city of Ramadi from Islamic State.

    Iraqi forces cut the hardline group's last supply line into Ramadi in November, surrounding the city and making it almost impossible for the militants to send in reinforcements.

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    NOW WATCH: Watch this intense video of Russia blowing up ISIS targets with a powerful submarine missile


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    isis militant syria assad

    Islamic State militants are engaged in oil trading worth as much as $40 million a month with significant volumes sold to the government of President Bashar al-Assad and some finding its way across the border into Turkey, senior U.S. Treasury official Adam Szubin said on Thursday.

    "ISIL is selling a great deal of oil to the Assad regime," Szubin, acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence with the U.S. Treasury, said at Chatham House in London. 

    "The two are trying to slaughter each other and they are still engaged in millions and millions of dollars of trade."

    "The volumes we are talking about and the amounts of money we are talking about are very sizeable," said Szubin.

    Szubin said the "far greater amount" of Islamic State oil ends up under Assad's control while some is consumed internally in Islamic State areas but some ends up in Kurdish regions and Turkey.

    "Some is coming across the border into Turkey," Szubin said.

    Islamic State militants have made more than $500 million from black market oil sales and looted up to $1 billion from bank vaults in Syria and Iraq, he said in prepared remarks.

    "Our sense is that ISIL is taking its profits basically at the wellhead and so while you do have ISIL oil ending up in a variety of different places that's not really the pressure we want when it comes to stemming the flow of funding — it really comes down to taking down their infrastructure," he said.

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    NOW WATCH: ISIS is selling oil to the Syrian regime


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    Rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement sit near Morek in the northern countryside of Hama March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    RIYADH (Reuters) - The Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham has signed up to a Syrian opposition statement issued after two days of talks in Riyadh, according to a copy of the statement seen by Reuters, despite earlier saying it had pulled out of the meeting.

    The conference in Saudi Arabia of political activists and rebel groups agreed to set up a joint body to prepare for proposed peace talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

    Abdulaziz al-Sager, who chaired the meeting, told a news conference that an opposition delegation would meet government officials in the first 10 days of January.

    SEE ALSO: There are a lot of CIA-vetted Syrian rebel groups taking it to Assad

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    NOW WATCH: Researchers found out how many miles a week you need to run to improve your health — and it’s surprisingly low


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    Isis Iraq airstrikes

    The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria has killed the group's finance minister and two other senior leaders in air strikes in recent weeks, a US military spokesman said on Thursday.

    Army Colonel Steve Warren told a Pentagon briefing coalition strikes had killed Abu Salah, Islamic State's financial minister, in late November.

    "He was one of the most senior and experienced members of ISIL's financial network and he was a legacy Al Qaeda member," Warren said.

    Warren said Salah was the third member of the finance network who had been killed in as many months.

    "Killing him and his predecessors exhausts the knowledge and talent needed to coordinate funding within the organization," Warren added.

    According to a Brooking Institute report, Abu Salah’s real name is Muafaq Mustafa Mohammed al- Karmoush.

    Warren said a senior leader responsible for coordinating the group's extortion activities and another leader who acted as an executive officer had also been killed.

    The Islamic State, which the United States calls the wealthiest militant group of its kind in history, has a number of revenue streams.

    ISIS oil map

    It has built up what amounts to a "durable and resilient financial portfolio," funded by oil sales, extortion, and sales of antiquities, said Thomas Sanderson, an expert on terrorism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Recently, U.S. defense officials estimated that Islamic State was earning about $47 million per month from oil sales prior to October.

    That same month, the Pentagon started an operation known as "Tidal Wave II" targeting Islamic State's oil revenue.

    Warren said it was too early to tell what the impact of the strikes had been and that it was similar to a boxing match.

    "You work the body in (the) early rounds and maybe you won't get a knockout from those early round body shots, but several rounds later you'll see your... opponents knees begin to get weak ... and now he's beginning to get set up for the knockout," Warren said.

    SEE ALSO: US military has released video of its airstrikes pounding ISIS oil trucks

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    NOW WATCH: How ISIS makes over $1 billion a year


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    ISIS is scared of girls.

    Specifically, the Kurdish women that are coming to fight them.

    The Women's Protection Units (YPJ) are the female branch of the People's Protection Units, the rebel militia fighting ISIS in Syria.

    The women told CNN that ISIS is scared of them because, "they believe that if someone from Daesh is killed by a girl, a Kurdish girl, they won't go to heaven."

    According to NBC, YPJ makes up more than 20% of the militia fighting against the Islamic extremists. With the YPJ numbers growing, ISIS is going to see a lot more women aiming to take them out.

    Story and editing by Adam Banicki

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    us army

    A new survey of young voters finds increasing support for a ground war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) after the attacks in Paris, though the vast majority of the same voters say they have no interest in serving in the military.

    The semi-annual Harvard Institute of Politics survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 found that before the Paris terrorist attacks, the age group was equally divided over a ground campaign against ISIS, by a margin of 47% to 48%. But after the attacks, 60% backed such an effort, with 40% against.

    Over the course of the survey, however, only 16% of respondents said they would definitely consider, would strongly consider or were already serving in the military. Among Democrats, only 11% said they would consider joining or already serving. Among Republicans, the number was higher, at 24%, which was close to the 22% of Hispanics who said they were either already serving or would consider serving.

    The survey, which was conducted between October 30 and November 9, also showed a five-point swing in favor of Democrats retaining the White House next fall over a similar survey in the spring, moving from 55-40 for each party, to 56-36. The poll of 18-29 year olds revealed drop-off in GOP support among Hispanics, whom the GOP believe they need in order to regain a national majority.

    Donald Trump and Ben Carson sit atop the GOP field for the young voters likely to vote Republican. Across the aisle, Hillary Clinton has seen her support among the age group drop as Bernie Sanders takes top position with the millennial generation. Sanders sees his support stand at 41%, compared to Clinton’s 35%—including a 53-19 lead among college students. The former Secretary of State is down 12 percentage points from the spring.

    carson and trump

    The poll also reveals frustration with the political process among 18-29 year olds, whose political engagement has dipped from a survey conducted four years ago, falling from 25% to 20%, with fewer in the age group planning to attend rallies, volunteer, or donate to candidates next year. The results also show increased optimism in the nation’s direction and stronger marks for President Barack Obama, who galvanized the generation into a political force four and eight years ago. But the cohort is divided equally over whether they believe the American Dream is alive, with majorities of those backing Trump and Sanders believing it is not.

    Before the Paris terrorist attacks, the age group was equally divided over a ground campaign against ISIS, but after the attacks 60% backed such an effort, with 40% against. But the survey found fewer than 20% would be willing to serve in the military.

    “For 15 years, the IOP has polled Millennials, the largest generation in U.S. history,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams said in a statement. “Our fall poll shows they are deeply divided about who should lead America, focused on candidate integrity and split over whether the American Dream is alive or not.”

    The survey of 2,011 was conducted using GfK’s online KnowledgePanel. The margin of error for questions asked of the entire sample was 2.9 percentage points.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A hair surgeon explains what's going on with Trump's hair


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin

    President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered Russia's armed forces to act in an "extremely tough way" in Syria to protect Russian forces striking Islamic State targets.

    "Any targets threatening our (military) group or land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed," he said, speaking at a Defence Ministry event.

    Putin said Friday at a meeting with top military brass that the Russian military base in Syria has been beefed up with additional aircraft and air defence weapons, the Associated Press reported.

    The buildup followed the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet at the Syrian border on 24 November. Without naming Turkey, Putin warned anyone against "further provocations," saying the military will respond in "the toughest way."

    Turkey maintains the fighter jet passed into Turkish air space while the Russian government insists it did not. Both countries have released maps which they claim supports their arguments. Tensions between the two countries remain high.

    Also during the meeting Russia’s defence minister announced that Russian fighter jets have carried out a total of 4,000 combat sorties on targets in Syria since strikes began in late September.

    Sergei Shoigu claimed that over 8,000 “terrorist” targets have been destroyed during that time.

    He also confirmed that the military has received 35 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) this year as part of an ambitious arms modernisation effort.

    SEE ALSO: War of the maps: Turkey released a map showing where Russia violated its airspace, and Russia countered

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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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    Water is playing an increasingly important role in the Syrian Civil War. November 2015 witnessed at least two attacks on water facilities in the Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor Governorates.

    Islamic State (IS)-linked ʻAmāq News Agency published two videos in which it claims that water facilities were targeted by air strikes from both the Russian Federation as well as from the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR; also known as ‘the international coalition’). The first video focuses the Abū ‘Amr water pumping station south of Deir ez-Zor, the second on the al-Khafsa water treatment facility east of Aleppo.

    This article looks into both claims using open sources to find out what we can and cannot know about them. Both videos will be discussed separately, starting with Abū ‘Amr and followed by al-Khafsa. The article will end by placing the two attacks in the wider context of water in the Syrian Civil War.

    syraqmap 11/30/15

    Abū ‘Amr water pumping station

    Footage

    On November 17, 2015, ʻAmāq News Agency published a 59-second video that claims to show the destruction caused by air strikes of the ‘airplanes of the international coalition’ (Arabic: طائرات التحالف الدولي) in a village called Abū ‘Amr (Arabic: البوعمر).

    In the video, two men stand and talk in the vicinity of the facility. The first man in the video says that the coalition air force bombed the irrigation station of the third district, which provided water for fifteen thousand acres of land, as well as cattle and even birds. He claims the station is now completely out of service. The second man says it was the main water supply for five villages accounting for 100,000 people, accusing the international coalition of using scorched earth tactics.

    Date

    The video was published on November, 17, 2015. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported strikes in Abū ‘Amr on November 17, 2015. A day later, they mentioned that:

    the bombing by warplanes yesterday night on [sic] the al-Bo Omar area in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor had destroyed parts of the irrigation station

    The second man in the video claims the bombs start falling during the call for ṣalāt al-subh, the first of the five daily prayers for practicing Muslims. Although it is hard to verify, the two sources point towards the early morning of November 17, 2015, just before 4:26 AM (taking into account the prayer times schedule for Deir ez-Zor).

    Location

    A comparison between the video and satellite imagery makes it easy to verify the location as Abū ‘Amr, as that is the name Google Maps uses for the village. Geonames refers to the houses surrounding the water pumping station as Al ‘Abd (Arabic: العبد), which does falls under a greater area called Abū ‘Amr. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the Abū ‘Amr water pumping station (Wikimapia labeled it as a ‘giant water pumping station’).

    bellingcatwater investigation
    bellingcatwater investigation

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    The third filming location is on top of a house, overseeing the water pumping station. The impact of the alleged missile is clearly visible in the roof, leaving a gaping hole. This house belongs or belonged to Hamoud al-Ibrahim Abu Ayyub or Ahmed Ibrahim, according to information a guest user added to Wikimapia six years ago.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    Damage

    Having only found this information so far, it can be established that there are at least two craters that resemble the impact of an air strike. The map below shows the craters in red and a possible crater in yellow. The red lines indicate damage, mostly scorched earth or concrete. No casualties have been reported.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    Air strikes

    It is hard to verify or reject the claim that these were air strikes conducted by CJTF-OIR at this moment. The international coalition’s  so-called strike updates mention 7 air strikes from November 7-13 and 6 air strikes from November 14-20 near Deir ez-Zor. It is claimed that these strikes were all part of Operation Tidal Wave II, meaning they targeted oil-related facilities and activities.

    Al-Khafsa water treatment facility

    Footage

    On December 1, 2015, ʻAmāq News Agency published a 41-second video that claims to show the destruction caused by air strikes by ‘Russian planes’ (Arabic: الطيران الروسي) on a ‘water station’ (Arabic: لمحطة مياة) in Aleppo’s eastern countryside. IS-linked websites also published four photos of the alleged damage.

    Date

    The photos have an Islamic calendar time stamp: Safar 14, 1437, whichcorresponds with November 26. That is also the date when the photos were published on an IS-linked website. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), which is linked to the Syrian Ministry of Information, reported strikes at Aleppo’s ‘water pumping stations’ on November 27.

    Two days later, Syrian newspaper Souriatna reported strikes on two water purification plants in al-Khafsa (online, p. 4). The ʻAmāq video has a December 1 timestamp at the beginning, which is the same day that UNICEF Representative in Syria, Hanaa Singer, issued a statement condemning the targeting of the al-Khafsa water treatment facility.

    Thus, the strikes on the al-Khafsa were first reported by IS-linked websites on November 26, 2015. Both regime and opposition media followed in the days after. UNICEF’s condemnation followed a week later.

    Location

    The video can be easily geolocated with the accompanying description. It was filmed on the compound of a water treatment facility six kilometres south of al-Khafsa (Arabic: الخفسة, also known as Khafsa Kabīr). The description of the location as a water treatment facility was added to Wikimapia seven years ago.

    Although it is not named named ‘the al-Khafsa facility’ explicitly, it is safe to assume that this is the facility the parties are talking about, as there is no other huge water treatment facility near al-Khafsa or in the Aleppo Governorate. Besides, the location can be confirmed by a document that can be found on the website of Hamburg Wasser, one of the companies responsible for the redesign of the transmission pipeline from Lake Assad to Aleppo.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    bellingcatwater investigation

     

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    The left image shows a still of the Amāq News Agency video. The image on the right is a Google Maps screenshot that gives the exact location of the cameraman on the compound of the al-Khafsa water treatment plant.

    IS had published photos of the working facilities in October of this year. Although the December 1 video only shows al-Khafsa I, the photos released in October show the al-Khafsa II facility.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    On December 2, 2015, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) published the following video on Twitter and YouTube, claiming it is an ‘oil refinery’. This clearly shows the al-Khafsa II facility being targeted.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    Damage

    Based on the footage released by the Russian MoD as well as the IS-linked website, at least two locations of damage can be identified. It is not entirely clear which parts of the facility have been targeted. The ʻAmāq video shows destruction at one of the clarifiers at the larger al-Khafsa facility; the Russian MoD footage shows one strike on the smaller al-Khafsa facility, as can be seen on the map.

    bellingcatwater investigation

    According to Hanaa Singer, the al-Khafsa facility is “one of the most important in Syria, producing an average of 18 million litres of drinking water daily”. She called upon “all parties to the conflict to end all attacks on water facilities, treatment systems, pipelines, infrastructure and personnel who repair water supply installations” in a statement released on December 1, 2015.

    The al-Khafsa facilities have had trouble in the past (for example, see here and page 162 here) but were repaired shortly after. That seems to be the case now as well, as Aleppo-based journalist Zain Halabi toldSyria Direct, “[r]egime engineers repaired the station under the auspices of the Red Crescent, as IS possesses neither the expertise nor the materials to do it themselves.” 

    SANA also claimed that engineers of Aleppo Water Establishment would immediately start necessary measures to fix the damaged pumping stations.

    Air strikes

    SANA wrote on November 27, that the international coalition ‘targeted […] water pumping stations in al-Khafseh area […] causing them to go out of service.’ This report also appeared on Fars News Agency.

    However, it is clear that at least the air strike(s) on al-Khafsa II was or were conducted by the Russian Air Force; they have released the footage themselves. The Russian MoD claims the facility is (or is used as) an ‘oil refinery’. It is evident, based on the satellite imagery and the document of the German companies that the purpose of these facilities was and is water treatment. That is not to say that any facility can be used for other purposes, for example artisan oil refining as some suggested, which can be done basically anywhere.

    IS’ claims that it was Russian planes that struck the al-Khafsa I facility cannot be verified.

    Interestingly, it has been reported that the al-Khafsa water treatment facility, occupied by IS, also provides water to regime-held parts of Aleppo, and was also distributed to other regime-held parts of Syria in the past (see this report, page 20).

    The attacks in a wider perspective of Syria’s troubled water infrastructure

    The Syrian Civil War has caused an “indescribable harm” to Syria’s water infrastructure, the Strategic Foresight Group writes in their November 2014 report “Water and Violence: Crisis of Survival in the Middle East“. The city of Aleppo has been hit especially hard due to the conflict, an August 2015 REACH report “Eastern Aleppo Household Assesment: Water Security” finds.

    The Strategic Foresight Group report mentions that all warring factions have used and abused water-related facilities. This has also led to the contamination of soil, water, and air and the spread of diseases among the Syrian population. Here is a section of the report that gives an insight into the toll taken on Syria’s water infrastructure:

    “In July 2014, the government of Syria had estimated that 35% of all water treatment plants in the country had been damaged due to war. In Deir ez Zor, large parts of which are currently under the siege of ISIS, water pumping dropped by 90% due to war and resultant serious damage to water pumps. Both rebels as well as government forces are responsible for the destruction of water infrastructure during the Syrian civil war. In August 2014, when government forces conducted air strikes on ISIS positions in the eastern Syrian city of Rakka, one of the air strikes ended up hitting the city water plant and cut off water supplies to the locals. Whether the government forces intended to hit the water plant is not clear, but the damage was done. […] Militant groups in Syria have not spared even the water supplies reserved for refugees and IDPs. In September 2014, after a drought and a typhoid outbreak in the summer, conflict between government forces and militant groups destroyed the pipelines supplying water to Yarmouk refugee camp in south-western Syria.”

    Furthermore, the report states that IS has been diverting water from Lake Assad to Iraq and Aleppo, “partly to provide water to the areas under its control and partly to threaten downstream opponents.” In addition, it says that IS has increased power generation at the dam’s power plant to 24 hours per day, while the maximum limit is four to five hours per day.

    The Free Syrian Army (FSA) controlled the dam earlier and only supplied electricity for an hour a day, while IS distributed electricity for eight hours a day when it took over. This was a “tactical move to garner support of the locals,” according to the report.

    The two recent attacks on Syria’s water infrastructure show the “indescribable harm” is only continuing.

    SEE ALSO: Russia is now supporting Assad's enemies in Syria

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    SyrianAir Airbus A320Syria’s ruling Baath Party has blasted Damascus’s flag carrier SyrianAir, saying that mismanagement has left the beleaguered airliner with only one operational passenger jet.  

    “Nobody, not even the most pessimistic, expected the condition of SyrianAir to reach the condition it has, with three planes going out of service over the last few months,” the party’s Al-Baath newspaper said in n report published December 6.

    The daily warned that SyrianAir “continues to work with only one plane, which also [faces the] risk of going out of service at any time.”

    Flight Radar 24—a site that monitors live air traffic—has registered the flights of two passenger jets registered to SyrianAir for the month of December. 

    One jet, an Airbus A320-232 with the registration YK-AKA, has flown from Damascus to a number of destinations, including Bahrain, Dubai, Riyadh, Jeddah, Baghdad, Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Kuwait, Amman, Moscow and Najaf.

    The airliner most recently landed in Bahrain International Airport early Friday afternoon.

    SyrianAir’s only other recently operational passenger jet, an Airbus A320-232 with the registration YK-AKD, made just one flight in December, according to Flight Radar 24.

    The jet left Damascus for Baghdad on December 4, landing in the Iraqi capital at 3:13 p.m. No return flight has been registered on public air traffic monitoring websites. 

    Other than its passenger jets, SyrianAir continues to operate two Ilyushin IL-76T cargo planes, which have flown into Iran’s Abadan and Tehran airports in the past two weeks. 

    Al-Baath accuses SyrianAir of mismanagement

    In its unusually critical report, the ruling Baath Party’s daily blamed the airline’s woes on not only foreign sanctions, but also negligence among the management of the company.

    “There has been a lack of seriousness in taking advantage of the opportunities that have been available to [SyrianAir],” the article said, pointing to the company’s failure to close a deal to acquire passenger jets from Ukraine’s Antonov aircraft manufacturer.

    “For unknown reasons the institution abandoned this deal, [which was] negotiated for many months... [This] suggests that someone doesn’t want this institution to develop and advance its work."

    Syrian air airlines worstSyria’s cabinet in March 2013 approved a contract to purchase 10 civilian aircrafts from the Ukrainian state-owned company. SyrianAir touted the deal at the time, saying it was planning to expand its fleet with Antonov 148 and 158 jets.

    The Al-Baath report leveled harsh words at the management of SyrianAir, citing a source in Damascus International Airport as saying that the crisis looming over the airline is “connected to negligence and failure to take responsibility by many managers.”

    “The institution has [made] several administrative, technical and financial mistakes and that [no one has been held] to account for them,” the source added.

    "Competition" with Cham Wings Airlines

    A pro-opposition media outlet claimed the Syrian regime was purposely hurting SyrianAir in order to help Cham Wings Airlines, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wealthy cousin Rami Makhlouf reportedly has a financial stake in.

    “Observers believe that government action and lack of support for SyrianAir was in favor of Cham Wings Airlines,” Eqtsad net—which is run by the pro-rebel Zaman al-Wasl outet, reported Wednesday.

    The report added that state-owned and pro-regime media outlets have started the treat Cham Wings Airlines as a “national alternative to SyrianAir.”

    Based in Damascus, Cham Wings operates an Airbus A320-214 passenger jet that in December has made flights to Beirut, Baghdad, Muscat, Najaf, Kuwait City and Khartoum. The carrier also advertises flights to Dubai, Doha and Istanbul.

    Cham Wings was founded in 2007 as part of the Syrian regime’s privatization efforts, becoming one of the first private-owned carriers in the country. 

     

    Ullin Hope translated Arabic-language source materials for this article.

    SEE ALSO: Millennials increasingly support a ground war in Syria, but not joining the military

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    jobs_02

    Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was the biological son of a Syrian immigrant, and the anonymous street artist known as Banksy is using that piece of history to bring attention to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. 

    Banksy has posted photos of Jobs holding the original Macintosh and a sack over his shoulder at the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, a large migrant camp in western Europe.

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    The depiction is pretty powerful, especially amidst the dirt and tents refugees are currently living in.

    You can find more images on Banksy's website.

    Jobs's biological father was Abdul Fattah Jandali, who grew up in Homs, Syria, before fleeing to the US in the 1950s. Jobs was put up for adoption as a baby and admitted to never having a close relationship with Jandali, but the connection between one of the greatest American businessman of all time and a Syrian refugee is still powerful.

    This tweet of Jobs with the caption "A Syrian migrants' child" previously went viral on Twitter and currently has over 15,000 retweets:

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