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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    On Saturday, a United Arab Emirates high-speed ferry was struck by a guided missile fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

    Initially, the Emiratis only claimed that an "incident" had taken place at sea, and that no injuries had been sustained.

    However, new images show extensive damage done to the catamaran-style hull. It's hard to imagine the crew sustained no injuries when examining the wreckage left behind.

    Here are the photos:

    And here is alleged footage of the attack:

    SEE ALSO: Watch an Iran-backed militia's missile strike that prompted US destroyers to head to Yemen

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    U.S. Senator John McCain arrives on a visit at a migrant center near the village of Adasevci, Serbia February 12, 2016.      REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo

    Sen. John McCain called on Wednesday for increased military action in Syria to stop authoritarian leader Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians and caused a global refugee crisis.

    In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the case for US intervention in Syria.

    The Obama administration has been reluctant to get more involved, and over the past five years, the conflict has escalated. Russia is now involved, running airstrikes in support of Assad, and Iran is also bolstering the regime.

    "As bad as this conflict is now, it can get much worse — and likely will," McCain wrote. "It will produce millions more refugees, undermining regional stability and straining the social fabric of Western nations. It will strengthen an anti-American alliance of Russia and Iran. US credibility with our closest security partners in the Middle East will further erode. And it will provide ISIS, or its successor groups, fertile ground to radicalize Muslims, recruit and inspire them to fight, and provide them with dangerous battlefield experience."

    He continued: "This is where the conflict in Syria is headed, and the administration still has no strategy to do anything about it. Its diplomacy is toothless. And there appears to be no Plan B."

    President Barack Obama has been often criticized for backing down on his "red line" in 2013 when he declined to strike Assad regime facilities after evidence emerged of regime forces using chemical weapons against civilians. Instead of a military strike, the Obama administration brokered a deal with the help of Russia that was supposed to see the removal of Assad's chemical weapons.

    Obama points to this now as a success.

    "It continues to puzzle me, the degree to which people seem to forget that we actually got the chemical weapons out of Syria," he told New York Magazine in an interview published this month. "The notion seems to be that, 'Well, you should have blown something up, even if that didn't mean that you got chemical weapons out.' There continues to be, I think, a lack of examination of the fact that my decision was not to let Assad do whatever he wanted."

    The president continued: "My decision was to see if we could broker a deal without a strike to get those chemical weapons out, and to go to Congress to ask for authorization, because nowhere has Congress been more incoherent than when it comes to the powers I have."

    syria aleppo

    Obama sought approval from Congress for wider military action in Syria at the time, but support for the plan was low.

    But McCain wrote that the idea that Congress wouldn't approve broader military action now is false.

    "The administration likes to pretend that Congress is not prepared to support a more forceful approach because of its lack of support for military action to enforce President Obama's red line in 2013," McCain wrote. "This is a myth. What many in Congress opposed was granting a reluctant president authority to conduct what Secretary of State John Kerry promised would be 'unbelievably small' airstrikes in the absence of a broader strategy to achieve US national interests in Syria. The US needs that broader strategy now."

    McCain outlined what that "broader strategy" would look like:

    "Any alternative approach must begin with grounding Mr. Assad's air power. It is a strategic advantage that enables the Assad regime to perpetuate the conflict through the wanton slaughter of innocent Syrians. The US and its coalition partners must issue an ultimatum to Mr. Assad — stop flying or lose your aircraft — and be prepared to follow through. If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk. And we must create safe zones for Syrian civilians and do what is necessary to protect them against violations by Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin and extremist forces."

    The Arizona senator also advocated for providing more assistance to moderate rebels fighting Assad in Syria, noting that it's the "only way to isolate and target extremists on the battlefield."

    If left as it is now, the conflict in Syria will "continue to threaten the US and destabilize the world," McCain concluded.

    The war in Syria has been raging on for more than five years. Rebels who oppose Assad's oppressive rule have been trying to force him from power, and extremist groups have sprung up to take advantage of the chaos.

    Experts and former defense officials have argued that backing down on the red line hurt US credibility in Syria, making it more difficult to help solve the conflict now.

    SEE ALSO: An Obama administration official painfully struggled to explain the 'Plan B' for Syria

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    staffan de mistura

    The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura offered on Thursday to go to eastern Aleppo and escort up to 1,000 Islamist fighters out of the city for the sake of a halt to the bombardment by Russian and Syrian forces.

    De Mistura said history would judge Syria and Russia if they used the presence of about 900 former Nusra Front fighters as an "easy alibi" for destroying the rebel-held besieged area, killing thousands of the 275,000 citizens, 100,000 of whom are children.

    "The bottom line is in a maximum of two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed. We are talking about the old city in particular," de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva.

    "There is only one thing we are not ready to do: be passive, resign ourselves to another Srebrenica, another Rwanda, which we are sadly ready to recognize written on that wall in front of us, unless something takes place," he said.


    Syrian government forces seized around half of a key opposition-held neighborhood in Aleppo on Thursday in a new advance against rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

    De Mistura said that there were a maximum of 8,000 fighters in eastern Aleppo, including those formerly known as Nusra Front, who have renamed themselves as Jabhat Fateh al Sham. At least 200 wounded civilians needed medical evacuation to save their lives.

    The veteran diplomat addressed his plea directly to the former Nusra fighters: "And if you did decide to leave, in dignity with your weapons, to Idlib or anywhere you wanted to go, I personally am ready, physically ready, to accompany you."

    Addressing himself to the Russians and the Syrian government, he asked: "Are you really ready to continue this type of level of fighting using that type of weapons, and de facto destroy the whole city of eastern Aleppo ... which is home to 275,000 people for the sake of eliminating 1,000 al Nusra fighters?"

    The alternative was an immediate halt in the bombing in response to the Nusra fighters' departure, which would leave the local administration in place.

    The U.N. should then be allowed to reach the population with humanitarian medical aid.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Obama and Putin

    The Russian Embassy to the US tweeted on Wednesday mocking Pentagon spokesman Josh Earnest for questioning Russia's motives for deploying the advanced SA-23 missile defense system to Syria.

    "This equipment contradicts President Putin's own claims that their efforts in Syria are focused on extremists. I'm not aware that ISIL or al Qaeda in Syria is operating aircraft there ... So I do think it raises genuine questions about Russia's credibility and Russia's intentions inside of Syria," said Earnest, suggesting that the only reason for advanced air defenses in Syria would be to challenge the air forces of the US and other nations in the coalition to fight ISIS. 

    In response, the Russian Embassy the following:

    The tweet appears to mock Earnest and taunt the US to intervene militarily in Syria, and that doing so would be assisting terrorists. For its part, Russia has repeatedly denied the existence of moderate opposition to Assad, routinely characterizing all who oppose the regime as terrorists in equal measure.

    Meanwhile, the US has vetted and backs a number of moderate groups without ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda while leading an international coalition in an air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. 

    However, military intervention in Syria against the Assad regime by the US has been repeatedly suggested by top military officials and political leaders as Assad, with Russian backing, shows little regard for international law or civilian life. 

    In June, a leaked memo showed that 51 State Department officers called for "targeted military strikes" against the Assad regime. 

    On Wednesday, Senator John McCain wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal urging the president to act against Assad, writing "As bad as this conflict is now, it can get much worse — and likely will," should the US military continue to ignore the Assad regime's transgressions. 

    Russian S-300 anti-missile rocket system move along a central street during a rehearsal for a military parade in Moscow May 4, 2009. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

    Even Barack Obama himself declared a "red line" in Syria, and said that should Assad use chemical weapons, the US would intervene against him in 2013. However, Assad did cross that line, with multiple, and well documented cases where chemical weapons have been used, and the Obama administration refused to make good on their promise.

    Now, with the deployment of yet another advanced missile defense system in Syria, the US's options have been further limited.

    Analysts say the S-300 can intercept "any" US cruise missile, meaning a bombardment from US Navy ships in Mediterranean is off the table. 

    SEE ALSO: The Iran deal has Obama 'held hostage' while the Middle East descends into chaos

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    The Russian Navy says one of its corvettes is heading to the Mediterranean Sea to join the country’s group of warships in the region.

    A spokesman for the Black Sea Fleet said the Mirazh, armed with Malakhit cruise missiles, left its Crimean base at Sevastopol on October 6.

    The Mirazh follows another two Black Sea Fleet corvettes, equipped with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles, which had been due to reach the Mediterranean late on October 5.

    The navy said the deployments are part of a "planned rotation" of Moscow's naval forces in the region.

    The moves come after Moscow confirmed it had sent an S-300 antiaircraft missile system to its naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.

    They also follow Washington’s announcement that it is suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.

    Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax

    SEE ALSO: Russia is openly taunting the US to militarily intervene in Syria

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) look toward one another during a news conference following their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland where they discussed the crisis in Syria September 9, 2016.

    Russia deployed S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria's western coast on Tuesday in a move apparently aimed at preempting possible US airstrikes on Syrian army positions.

    The move came in response to reports published earlier this week that Washington was considering targeting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and it was followed closely by a thinly veiled threat that the missiles' radius could be "a surprise" to all unidentified flying objects operating in Syria.

    "Any missile or airstrikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen," Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a statement released on Thursday.

    He also suggested the Russians would fire on any aircraft taking offensive action near Russian troops even before identifying them, leaving open the possibility that Russia would attack US aircraft.

    "Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a 'straight line' the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to," the statement read. "And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of 'invisible' jets will face a disappointing reality."

    The statement came three days after the US formally suspended its talks with Russia over Syria and a day after White House press secretary Josh Earnest questioned "Russia's credibility and intentions inside of Syria."

    The US-based Russian embassy tweeted in response to Earnest's comment that "Russia will take every defensive measure necessary to protect its personnel stationed in Syria from terrorist threat."

    The warnings are mainly a response to reports from earlier this week that the US officials were floating plans to launch limited airstrikes against Syrian regime positions.


    "History shows that often such reports are the prologue to real action," the statement read.

    Konashenkov said of "particular concern" was information that "the initiators of such provocations are representatives of the CIA and the Pentagon," who "today are lobbying for 'kinetic' scenarios in Syria."

    He was apparently referring to a report in The Washington Post published on Tuesday that Russia's latest scorched-earth government offensive on Aleppo, which has killed hundreds of civilians and opposition fighters in the city's rebel-held east over the past two weeks, has spawned an "increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime."

    "The CIA and the Joint Staff have said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America's counterterrorism goals in Syria," a senior administration official told The Post.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later said in a press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that the missile systems were purely defensive and posed no threat to anyone, Reuters reported.

    Still, some observers were quick to point out that Konashenkov's statements amounted to a warning that Russia was prepared to shoot down US warplanes operating in Syria if they target pro-Assad forces.

    "Russia just said it will shoot down any missile or jet attacking the Syrian army; without waiting to identify it," Russia Today reporter Murad Gazdiev tweeted.

    "Just got a statement from Russian Ministry of Defense that basically says Russia would shoot down coalition jets if US launches airstrikes against Assad," Roland Oliphant, a Moscow correspondent for The Telegraph, added on Twitter.

    And Nadav Pollak, a former senior fellow at the Washington Institute who is a counterterrorism analyst at the Anti-Defamation League, said:"Russia is basically saying: 'If we take down a coalition jet fighter, it's your fault.' Very aggressive rhetoric."

    Russia accused the US of "blatant aggression" after US warplanes targeted a Syrian army base on Al-Tharda mountain on September 17, killing as many as 80 Syrian troops. The Obama administration said the airstrike was meant to target the Islamic State.

    "I point out to all the 'hotheads' that following the September 17 coalition airstrike on the Syrian Army in Deir ez-Zor, we took all necessary measures to exclude any similar 'accidents' happening to Russian forces in Syria," Konashenkov said.

    SEE ALSO: The State Department just cut off its bilateral channels with Russia over Syria

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Australia's SBS News channel in this handout picture provided by SANA on July 1, 2016. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

    Rebels holed up in Aleppo can leave with their families if they lay down their arms, President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday, vowing to press on with the assault on Syria's largest city and recapture full control of the country.

    The offer of amnesty follows two weeks of the heaviest bombardment of the five-and-a-half-year civil war, which has killed hundreds of people trapped inside Aleppo's rebel-held eastern sector and torpedoed a U.S.-backed peace initiative.

    Fighters have accepted similar government amnesty offers in other besieged areas in recent months, notably in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that was under siege for years until rebels surrendered it in August.

    However, rebels said they had no plan to evacuate Aleppo, the last major urban area they control, and denounced the amnesty offer as a deception.

    "It's impossible for the rebel groups to leave Aleppo because this would be a trick by the regime," Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official for the Fastaqim group which is present in Aleppo, told Reuters. "Aleppo is not like other areas, it's not possible for them to surrender."

    Washington was also skeptical of government motives: "For them to suggest that somehow they're now looking out for the interests of civilians is outrageous," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, citing the heavy civilian toll from air strikes and bombardment.

    The army announced a reduction in shelling and air strikes on Wednesday to allow people to leave. It backed that up with an ultimatum: "All those who do not take advantage of the provided opportunity to lay down their arms or to leave will face their inevitable fate."

    The government also sent text messages to the mobile phones of some of those people trapped in the besieged sector, telling them to repudiate fighters in their midst. More than 250,000 people are believed to be trapped inside rebel-held eastern Aleppo, facing dire shortages of food and medicine.

    Speaking to Danish television, Assad said he would "continue the fight with the rebels till they leave Aleppo. They have to. There's no other option."

    He said that he wanted rebels to accept a deal to leave the city along with their families and travel to other rebel-held areas, as in Daraya. Neither Assad nor his generals gave a timeline for rebels to accept their offer.

    Washington accuses Moscow and Damascus of war crimes for intentionally targeting civilians, aid deliveries and hospitals to break the will of those trapped in the besieged city. Russia and Syria accuse the United States of supporting terrorists by backing rebel groups.


    The war has already killed hundreds of thousands, made half of Syrians homeless, dragged in global and regional powers and left swathes of the country in the hands of jihadists from Islamic State who have carried out attacks around the globe.

    The United States and Russia are both fighting against Islamic State but are on opposite sides in the wider civil war, with Moscow fighting to protect Assad and Washington supporting rebels against him.

    Storming Aleppo's rebel-held zone, which includes big parts of the densely populated Old City, could take months and cause a bloodbath, the U.N. Syria envoy warned on Thursday.

    "The bottom line is in a maximum of two months, two and a half months, the city of eastern Aleppo at this rate may be totally destroyed," said Staffan de Mistura, invoking the 1990s atrocities of the Rwandan genocide and Yugolsavia's civil war.

    Lighter bombardment

    Residents of eastern Aleppo said the aerial bombardment was significantly lighter overnight and on Thursday after the government's statement, but they said heavy fighting continued on the frontlines and people were afraid.

    The army and its allies, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Shi'ite militias from Iraq and Lebanon backed by Russian air power, seized half of the Bustan al-Basha quarter of Aleppo, north of the Old City on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported.

    "The bombardment decreased a lot in the eastern districts, but there's a sense of foreboding... people are still scared. And because there's still the siege, there's nothing at all in the shops," said Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a Civil Defence official in eastern Aleppo.

    Amir, a resident of the rebel-held district who did not want to be identified with his family name, said it was true that air strikes had diminished, but that he had not yet seen any way for civilians to leave the area. "It's not true that there are safe crossings," he said.

    Aleppo Syria bombing fighting destruction

    Residents in eastern Aleppo forwarded to Reuters text messages they said had been sent by their telecom provider carrying a government urging them to distance themselves from rebels and warning that they should depart.

    "Our people in Aleppo: save your lives by rejecting the terrorists and isolating them from you," read one message. "Our dear people in the eastern districts of Aleppo! Come out to meet your brothers and sisters," read another.

    Meanwhile, rebels continued the shelling of residential areas of government-held western Aleppo, where dozens of people have also been killed since the end of a ceasefire two weeks ago. The Observatory said 10 people were killed 52 wounded in government-held areas of Aleppo city by rebels on Thursday.

    The government-held western districts of the city are still home to more than 1.5 million civilians who face far less daily danger than in rebel-held areas. Video footage obtained by Reuters showed people in the city enjoying a night club in the Seryan district, while war rages in the east.

    Militant group

    Protesters carry Nusra Front flags and shout slogans during an anti-government protest after Friday prayers in the town of Marat Numan in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    Russia says it is targeting the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's Syrian branch which changed its name in July and says it broke ties with the network founded by Osama bin Laden.

    The U.N. envoy De Mistura on Thursday urged Moscow and Damascus to accept a deal under which the fighters of that group would leave the city, while other insurgents and civilians would be allowed to remain.

    He said there were fewer than 1,000 members of the hardline Islamist group inside Aleppo, part of a contingent of around 8,000 rebel fighters, and offered to lead them out of the city himself to guarantee their safety.

    Russian presidential envoy Mikhail Bogdanov said it was "high time" such an offer was made, but it was not immediately clear if Moscow was also willing to stop the bombing.

    Distinguishing between fighters from the former Nusra Front and other groups has been difficult in the past, including during the week-long ceasefire which collapsed last month when the army launched its offensive.

    Russia accused the United States of failing to ensure that other rebels separated themselves from Nusra, which Moscow and Washington both regard as a terrorist group excluded from the ceasefire.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Paris on Oct. 19 to discuss Syria with his French counterpart Francois Hollande, the only diplomatic track still active over efforts to bring peace to the country.

    In his Danish TV interview, Assad accused Washington of using Nusra as a proxy, and said this was why the ceasefire had collapsed.

    "It's an American card. Without al-Nusra, the Americans cannot have any real, let's say, concrete and effective card in the Syrian arena," he said.

    SEE ALSO: Russia is openly taunting the US to militarily intervene in Syria

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    Syrian Syria Refugees Migrants Germany

    Freital (Germany) (AFP) - One had a beer bottle flung at him on a train. Another was woken at midnight as three men holding wooden slats rang his doorbell. A third had her headscarf pulled off by a stranger in the street.

    A year after they arrived in Germany seeking refuge from war, some Syrians say they have experienced so much animosity that they are contemplating leaving.

    The trouble is, they have landed in the eastern state of Saxony -- a flashpoint zone home to the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement that has seen a spate of racist hate crimes.

    "It's too scary here," said Fares Kassas, victim of the train aggression.

    "The man threw the bottle just as the door was closing and the train left the station. There was nothing I could do," said Kassas, who has obtained refugee status in Germany but is now contemplating leaving for Turkey, where his parents are living.

    Mohammad Alkhodari, who spoke of a car that pulled up next to him with men preparing to beat him before he ran away, said he avoids going out after 6:00 pm.

    "I am so stressed that I have developed a stomach problem," he said.

    In Saxony, the number of far-right crimes, including assaults against asylum seekers and arson at refugee homes, tripled to 784 last year compared with 235 in 2014.

    Both Kassas and Alkhodari are in the town of Freital, scene of anti-migrant demonstrations a year ago. 

    The area is linked to two neo-Nazi groups that plotted attacks against refugees but were dismantled by security forces last year.

    In a report last month taking stock of the quarter century since reunification, the government warned that growing xenophobia and right-wing extremism now threaten peace in eastern Germany.

    "Eastern states are bad states for refugees. It's hard to find apartments. There are no jobs and no contact with locals," said Alkhodari, a dental hygienist who desperately wants to move to western Germany.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a photo before a bilateral meeting in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, alongside the G20 Summit.

    - 'New level of hate' -

    The arrival of 890,000 refugees last year has deeply polarised Germany, and misgivings against the newcomers run particularly deep in eastern states like Saxony.

    The former communist state has become fertile ground for the far right, with unemployment fuelling resentment and xenophobia.

    "They should all just disappear," said a man in his fifties, when asked what he thought of the refugees in Saxony.

    Enrico Schwarz, who runs an association in Freital that has been helping Kassas and Alkhodari, said "latent racism and latent right-wing radicalism" has always existed in German society, but "at this time of the refugee movement, they have become bolder."

    He said eastern Germans were more susceptible to xenophobia because many felt like migrants in a new country when Germany reunited. 

    "And (they feel) threatened by other migrants who are arriving now," he said.

    Right-wing extremists are capitalising on fears with arguments such as "they're taking jobs away, or they'll drive health insurance contributions up", and lines are gradually blurring between those who are stirring up hate, and others who are simply worried about their future.

    "Who is the 'concerned citizen', and who is the violent citizen? Who is the extremist citizen and who is the one who only has fears? It's no longer so clear," Schwarz said.

    Erdmute Gustke, pastor at a church in Heidenau -- another Saxony village hit by violent anti-refugee demonstrations -- said some saw the migrant influx as another unwanted change affecting their lives.

    "There is a feeling of 'leave us in peace, we've only just found our way after reunification and now we're facing something new again,'" she said.

    Social media has also lifted the expression of hatred for foreigners to a "new level", said refugee aid volunteer Marc Lalonde.

    "Before this social media explosion, people were probably racist but they kept it to themselves," he said. 

    Now they see that "they are not alone."

    PEGIDA Protest Germany

    - 'No one to talk to' -

    Lalonde helps out weekly at a small village that few had heard of before February. 

    But Clausnitz gained notoriety after a bus carrying refugees was mobbed by a marauding crowd.

    "They shouted things like 'we will kill you'. They were drunk. We were so scared," said Afghan asylum seeker Sadia Azizi.

    Six months on, two dozen refugees still living there complain of isolation as most locals have kept a distance and only German is spoken.

    "There is no one to talk to," said Lebanese asylum seeker Majdi Khatun.

    Some however have made an effort to reach out.

    Khatun's son Luai, 15, spoke of schoolmates who help with homework or lend him notes to copy when the teacher's German is too rapid for him. 

    "There are no Nazis here," Luai said before greeting an elderly German couple.

    "Did you like the marmalade? I've also packed some cake for you," said the woman who called herself "Luai's Deutsche Oma", or German grandma.

    Lalonde admitted that it is "discouraging" that these efforts are often overshadowed by xenophobia.

    "But I get motivated when I hear about a new attack because it means we have more work to do," he said. "And we can't give up."

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis in Syria, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian parliament is discussing the ratification of a treaty with Syria that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country.

    Lawmakers spoke in favor of the agreement, in a sign of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Moscow has backed throughout the devastating civil war.

    The vote is to be held later Friday.

    The treaty allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, Assad's Alawite heartland, as long as it wants.

    Russia launched an air campaign in Syria a year ago, reversing the tide of war and helping Assad's forces win some key ground. Moscow says it seeks to help the Syrian army fight terrorism.

    Russia also has a naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.

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    merkel putin

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia on Friday to use its influence with the Syrian government to end the devastating bombardment of Aleppo, as her government opened the door to possible sanctions against Russia for its role in the conflict.

    In some of her harshest comments to date, Merkel said there was no basis in international law for bombing hospitals and Moscow should use its influence with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the bombing of civilians.

    "Russia has a lot of influence on Assad. We must end these atrocious crimes," Merkel told party members in Magdeburg. She did not address sanctions directly, but said the international community needed to do all it could to bring about a halt in the fighting and get supplies to civilians.

    Merkel's chief spokesman Steffen Seibert, speaking at a regular news conference, declined to rule out possible sanctions against Russia for its part in the conflict, but said Berlin's top priority remained a ceasefire to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to the civilian population.

    Seibert said Western officials discussed the Syrian conflict in Berlin on Wednesday and those discussions were continuing.

    A foreign ministry spokesman told reporters on Wednesday that there were no formal proposals to impose sanctions on Russia over its role in Syria, but the issue has received growing attention in recent days.

    Aleppo fighting

    Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have stepped up an offensive on rebel-held parts of the city of Aleppo in the most lethal bombardment in nearly six years of war, with conflict monitors citing attacks on hospitals and water supplies. Government forces fought fierce clashes with rebels in the south of the city on Friday.

    Moscow and Damascus say they target only militants and deny they have bombed hospitals.

    A man walks on the rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria. REUTERS/Abdalrhman IsmailNorbert Roettgen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, called for new sanctions against Russia over its role in the bombardment of Syria.

    His comments to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung came two days after another CDU member and member of the European Parliament, Elmar Brok, urged the EU to impose new sanctions against Russia.

    "A lack of consequences and sanctions for the most serious war crimes would be a scandal," Roettgen said, adding military measures would be the wrong approach.

    Seibert urged key backers of the Assad regime, Russia and Iran, to use their influence to halt the escalation in violence and the suffering of the civilian population," he said.

    One European diplomat has said sanctions could prove extremely difficult for Europe.

    The EU has sanctions in place against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine. Italy and some other EU states have said these should be eased, but the prospects for any relaxation of those sanctions had dimmed, given the crisis in Syria.

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    US Secretary of State John Kerry called for a war-crimes investigation of Russia and Syria over their bombardment of hospitals, civilian infrastructure, and aid workers' headquarters in Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

    The Russian and Syrian bombing campaign in Aleppo "begs for a war crimes investigation," Kerry said on Friday during a press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

    Ayrault had just arrived in Washington, DC, from Moscow, where he met with Russian officials, according to the Associated Press.

    Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad "owe the world more than an explanation" for their attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, Kerry said, adding that the attacks are "way beyond" accidental at this point.

    He accused Russia and Assad of employing a "targeted strategy ... to terrorize civilians."

    "We look forward today to a very frank discussion about what potential next steps are," Kerry said. "We intend to jointly figure out how best to be able to deliver the strongest message possible about the actions that might be taken to deal with this bombing of Aleppo, this siege, in the 21st century, of innocent people."

    Both Syria and Russia are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, which establish protections for civilians and soldiers during war. The Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that civilians who find themselves in the hands of a party to the conflict (or occupying power of which they are not nationals) — otherwise known as "protected persons"— "shall not have anything done to them of such a character as to cause physical suffering or extermination."


    Kerry said that the UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution to reinstate a ceasefire in Syria, set to take place on Saturday, would be a "moment of truth" for Moscow.

    Russia indicated that it would not be approving the resolution, which calls on the UN to monitor a new truce and threatens to "take further measures" against any party in Syria that violates it, Reuters reported.

    "This is not a draft which is right for adoption, I have this suspicion that the real motive is to cause a Russian veto," Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said on Friday. "I cannot possibly see how we can let this resolution pass."

    Kerry's statement came after weeks of harsh diplomatic jabs between Moscow and Washington over the Russia-backed government offensive on Aleppo.

    "What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism — it is barbarism," Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told member nations during a Security Council meeting late last month.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly hit back, calling Powers' language "unacceptable." During the turbulent meeting, Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, doubled down on an oft-repeated talking point: Russian airstrikes are targeting only terrorists.

    On Monday, the US decided to suspend ties with Moscow over Russia's role in the Syrian government's scorched-earth offensive on Aleppo. The offensive has killed hundreds of civilians and opposition fighters in the city's rebel-held east over the past two weeks, spawning an "increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime," a senior administration official told The Washington Post this week.

    In response, Russia suspended a nuclear and energy-related research pact with the US and deployed surface-to-air missiles to its naval base in Tartus, on Syria's western coast.

    Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, suggested in a statement released on Thursday that Russia would fire on any aircraft taking offensive action near Russian troops even before identifying them, leaving open the possibility that Russia would attack US aircraft.

    syria aleppo"Any missile or airstrikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen," the statement read. "Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a 'straight line' the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to."

    Russian lawmakers also approved a measure on Friday that would allow Russian troops to remain stationed in Syria indefinitely.

    Russia accused the US of "blatant aggression" after US warplanes targeted a Syrian army base on Al-Tharda mountain on September 17, killing as many as 80 Syrian troops. The Obama administration said the airstrike was meant to target the Islamic State.

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the United Russia party's campaign headquarters following a parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia, September 18, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Alexei Druzhinin via REUTERS

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is considering plans to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba that had served as pivots of Soviet global military power during the Cold War, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov as saying on Friday.

    "We are dealing with this issue," the agencies quoted Pankov as saying in Russia's parliament.

    Russia lowered its flag at the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deepwater Cam Rahn naval base in Vietnam in the early 2000s as part of a drawing down of Russia's military presence around the world after the demise of the Soviet Union.

    But since then, Moscow's foreign policy has become more assertive, leading to tensions with the United States and its allies over, among other issues, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and the presence of NATO troops in eastern Europe.

    Pankov said the Defence Ministry was currently "rethinking" past decisions on closure of the bases, but declined to go into detail. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Cuban officials were not available.

    The United States is in the process of reviving its relations with Cuba, which in Soviet times had offered Moscow its closest military installation to U.S. territory, less than 100 km (60 miles) from the Florida Keys.

    "The global situation is not static, it is in flux, and the last two years have made significant changes to international affairs and security," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters.

    "Therefore, it's quite natural that all countries assess these changes in line with their national interests and take certain steps in the way they consider appropriate."

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    Syrian civil defence volunteers, known as the White Helmets, carry the body of a victim after it was pulled from the rubble following a government forces air strike on the rebel-held Aleppo neighbourhood of Bustan al-Basha

    Aleppo (Syria) (AFP) - As bombs rained down on Aleppo, White Helmets volunteer Abu Hassan rushed to join the search for survivors, as usual, never imagining he would find his son's body among the dead.

    The two of them had worked side-by-side in scores of harrowing rescue operations in rebel-held districts of Syria's battleground second city over the past three years.

    But Abu Hassan said that rescue mission was one he will never forget.

    "About two weeks ago, I heard SOS calls on the walkie-talkie about heavy casualties in Salhin," the 50-year-old former carpenter told AFP.

    He said he knew his son Hassan had been heading to the eastern neighbourhood to refuel a White Helmets ambulance.

    "When I got there, I saw bodies lying on the floor. One of the volunteers told me there were more behind the building that was hit. That's when I started to feel afraid.

    "I found the body of a young man lying face down, with severe wounds to his stomach, leg and head. I turned him around to see his face. It was my son."

    'I can't stand remembering'

    Abu Hassan said he spent the rest of the night sitting next to his son's body on the floor of the White Helmets branch where they both worked.

    At dawn, he buried Hassan himself.

    "It was the hardest moment of my life," he said, struggling to hold back tears.

    A member of the Civil Defence, also known as the 'White Helmets', who have been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, reacts after the announcemenet of the winner, in a rebel held area of Aleppo, Syria October 7, 2016."I asked the branch chief to move us to a different building because I couldn't stay in the same place and see his name and the words he wrote on the wall."

    "I can't stand remembering that night."

    The 26-year-old left behind a wife and two children of his own.

    Abu Hassan pointed to a photograph of him — a sandy-haired, grinning young man — on the memorial wall of the now-disused branch headquarters in the Bab al-Nayrab district of the city.

    Three other volunteers from the branch who lost their lives are commemorated alongside him.

    Their signature hardhats have not been reused but instead preserved as a tribute.

    Branches 'targeted'

    Across Syria, more than 140 of the White Helmets' nearly 3,000 volunteers have died in the line of duty. Their mission is to save the lives of others but sometimes they need to be rescued themselves.

    Mohammed Wawi described one operation last week, when bombing began as he was searching for survivors of an earlier air strike.

    "The fire and rescue team was hit and six members of our branch were wounded, one of them seriously," Wawi said. "We had been trying to save people, but then the residents saved us."

    A Civil Defence member, also known as the 'White Helmets', who have been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, cries after the announcemenet of the winner, in a rebel held area of Aleppo, Syria October 7, 2016.Wawi was smearing mud on the branch's fire truck in an attempt to camouflage it, protecting it from the view of warplanes overhead.

    Since government forces launched an offensive to recapture east Aleppo last month, the rebel-held sector has been subjected to devastating air strikes.

    Whole streets have been leveled and the White Helmets' own infrastructure has taken a heavy hit.

    "Our branches have been directly targeted in air strikes," said Bab al-Nayrab branch chief Bibars Mashaal.

    In the past two weeks alone, three branches have been put out of action and a third of the White Helmets' ambulances, firetrucks and bulldozers in the city destroyed, Mashaal said.

    'They are my family'

    Often, the damage to rescue workers is more than skin-deep.

    Louay Mashhadi, 25, who heads another White Helmets branch in Aleppo, recalled one rescue operation earlier this month that left him so traumatised he stayed home for three days afterwards.

    "I pulled an infant, four or five months old, out of the rubble," said Mashhadi, whose own son is around the same age.

    "He had lost his legs and part of his stomach but he was still alive. There was no one around from his family, so the baby stayed in my arms for about 15 minutes. He died when the ambulance came."

    Mashhadi said the volunteers relied on each other for the strength to continue their work.

    "Because we're on call all night together in the same centres, we're more than just colleagues or friends."

    But that makes it all the more painful when fellow members are killed. Four of Mashhadi's team have lost their lives in the past two months alone.

    "I cried for them all, because they are members of my family."

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    An Iskander-E short-range ballistic missile launcher

    Vilnius (AFP) - Russia is again deploying nuclear-capable Iskander missiles into its Kaliningrad outpost that borders two NATO members, Lithuania said Saturday, warning the move was aimed at pressuring the West into making concessions over Syria and Ukraine.

    "Russia is holding military exercises in Kaliningrad, and its scenario includes deployment of Iskander missile systems and the possibile use of them. We are aware of it," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

    He said modified Iskander missiles had a range of up to 700 kilometres (440 miles) which means they could reach German capital Berlin from the Russian exclave, which is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

    Moscow also sent Iskanders to Kaliningrad in 2015 as part of a series of mammoth military drills amid heightened tensions with the West over Ukraine. Linkevicius said that this time he thought Moscow was using the move to "seek concessions from the West."

    Russia's defence ministry dismissed Western concerns over the hardware, saying that "contingents of missile troops have been moved many times and will continue to be moved to Kaliningrad region as part of a Russian armed forces training plan."

    Kaliningrad is "not an exception" to drills conducted across the country, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in an emailed statement.

    Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz on Saturday in Warsaw called Russia's "activities very alarming", but declined to say whether he knew about any fresh deployment of Iskanders to Kaliningrad.

    Estonian media reported on Friday that Russia was shipping Iskanders on a civilian vessel in the Baltic sea. Linkevicius declined to comment on the details.

    Tensions between Russia and the West have escalated to their worst level since the Cold War in recent years after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and launched a military campaign in Syria.

    Since the start of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.

    NATO responded by agreeing to deploy four battalions in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as of next year to bolster its eastern flank.

    The United States on Friday called for Russia and Syria to be investigated for war crimes for the bombing of hospitals in Aleppo, and accused Moscow of trying to "interfere" with the American presidential election.

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    Kerry, Lavrov

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Russia had the means to protect its assets in Syria if the United States decided to carpet bomb the Syrian government's military air fields.

    Lavrov said he had heard that this was one option being advocated by some policy makers in Washington.

    "This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets," Lavrov told Russian state TV's First Channel, according to the text of his interview published on the Foreign Ministry's website.

    Lavrov, in the same interview, said he was convinced that U.S. President Barack Obama would not agree to such a scenario.

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    white helmets syria

     BEIRUT, LEBANON — For Ammar Salmo, his daily bid to save lives as bombs and artillery shells fall from the skies on Aleppo is caught up in a daunting barrage of obstacles: the barrel bombs that tumble from the backs of Syrian Army helicopters, the airstrikes that collapse apartment blocks and houses, the lack of medical facilities even as more than 300 people reportedly have died in the city in the past two weeks alone — turning all sense of humanity on its head.

    "In Aleppo right now … day is like night because we are attacked at every moment. And we are so exhausted," says Mr. Salmo, the Syria Civil Defense chief in Aleppo, speaking with a breathless urgency via Whatsapp from his headquarters in the city. "We are exhausted because we cannot sleep at night because of the [sound] of the clashes, the [sound] of the war, of the aircraft that are all the time in the sky…. It is so hard and difficult right now, but we will work as long as we can breathe."

    Amid the bloodshed and destruction that has ravaged Aleppo, Syria's second city, a group of volunteer activists face a Sisyphean task, risking their own lives to save lives, pulling the dead and wounded alike from the shattered ruins of buildings toppled by barrel bombs, missiles, and artillery fire — ;taking on roles for which nothing they experienced before Syria dissolved into civil war could have prepared them.

    They belong to the Syria Civil Defense, popularly known as the White Helmets for the color of their protective headgear. When bombs turn buildings into piles of dust-coated rubble, the White Helmets — both men and women — are ready to deal with the grim aftermath, providing the only search-and-rescue asset operating in many areas outside government control. So far, the group claims to have saved more than 60,000 lives.

    But the intensity of the airstrikes and artillery shelling in the past two weeks and the humanitarian conditions that result make it a near impossible task.

    "In the past six years we have seen nothing like this. There is nothing to eat, no water, and there are a lot of attacks and they have been hitting hospitals… You can't imagine the situation in Aleppo," says Abdelrahman Hassan, a White Helmets volunteer from Aleppo.

    Learning from earthquakes

    The Syria Civil Defense has its origins in early 2013, when a need arose for search-and-rescue teams to help extricate casualties from bombed buildings. James Le Mesurier, director of Mayday Rescue, was working with ARK, a Turkish NGO, at the time, promoting good governance and civil society support in areas of northern Syria that were under rebel control.

    People walk on the rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held area of al-Kalaseh neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria, September 29, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

    "We would meet with local leaders and offer them support, to which their general response was, ‘What am I supposed to do with a laptop when I'm being bombed. I don't want civil society training,' " he says.

    Instead, ARK decided to offer more practical support in training teams of Syrian volunteers in search-and-rescue techniques, a skill prevalent in earthquake-prone Turkey.

    "So we thought, if you can rescue someone from a building that's been hit by an earthquake, you can rescue someone from a building that's been hit by a bomb," Mr. Le Mesurier says.

    Today, nearly 3,000 Syria Civil Defense volunteers are scattered across the country in 121 teams. So far, 145 of them have been killed. Although it operates in areas outside government control, the group says it is a humanitarian, nonpolitical organization that is willing to provide assistance to anyone who needs it.

    Salmo, a 32-year-old who was an English teacher before the war, joined the group as it was just getting off the ground. He took over the command of the Aleppo branch of the White Helmets in May 2014. Some 11 million people have fled during the course of the war, but the White Helmets volunteers say they have a duty to stay and help their fellow citizens.

    "It is so dangerous, and we knew that from the beginning, but our motivation is [that] to save one life is to save [all] humanity, and that's a duty on us religiously, even nationally and even on a humanitarian [level] because our brothers in Syria … need help, because no one can help them but us," says Salmo.

    Beyond the terrible job of extracting ruined bodies and casualties from beneath the rubble of bombed buildings and the ever-present risk of death, the volunteers face an emotional pull from their families.

    "My mother and my wife want me to leave this job because it is so dangerous," says Salmo, the father of a year-old baby boy. "That's so hard for me. I become torn between my duty, my mission, and what I believe in and my family's fears."

    white helmets syria

    Admiration — and smears

    The battle for Aleppo has garnered international attention for the White Helmets. In August, they saved the life of Omran Daqneesh, pulling him from a building that had been destroyed. A photograph of the 4-year-old child, his face coated in dust and smeared with blood as he sits in the back of an ambulance with a dazed expression, ;riveted the world. Last week, a video went viral showing a sobbing White Helmets volunteer who had helped pull a one-month-old baby girl from a bombed-out building.

    "We were searching for two or three hours. God willing," said Abu Kifeh, the nickname of the volunteer, his face wet with tears. "One month. Her age is one month. Oh God."

    The work of the first responders has featured in a Netflix documentary, "The White Helmets," and they were a leading contender to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which instead went Friday to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to conclude a peace deal with FARC rebels after a half-century of conflict.

    But the group lately has also been on the receiving end of an online smear campaign by supporters of the regime of President Bashir al-Assad, who accuse them of being in the pay of the West, faking their rescue work, and of being allies of extremist factions like the so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.

    'A shame on us'

    Following the collapse of a US-Russia-negotiated cease-fire agreement two weeks ago, the Assad regime, backed by Russian air power, has intensified its assault on the rebel-held area of Aleppo, once Syria's economic hub. The munitions battering Aleppo have escalated to bunker buster bombs, incendiary phosphorous shells, and cluster bomblets, according to eyewitnesses and activists.

    Men inspect a damaged site after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

    "These [weapons] exterminate not only the people but also exterminate even the stones, the buildings, the streets," says Salmo. "And right now, Aleppo lives in hell, in the full meaning of the word. And that's a shame on us because it is 2016."

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month said that the situation in Aleppo was "worse than a slaughterhouse." Some 275,000 civilians lie trapped in the eastern pocket of Aleppo, suffering from chronic shortages of food, water, and fuel, as troops loyal to the Assad regime gradually gain ground.

    "In the last two weeks, we lost three fire-fighting trucks, we lost two vans and three service cars," says Salmo. "We have lost a lot of equipment because the aircraft attack our centers and two of them are out of service and also six of our volunteers have been injured and one of them right now is in a critical condition.… We have faced more than 2,000 attacks on the city and a lot of the attacks are on medical facilities. Even now we don't know where we can take the injured from the rubble, because even the medical facilities and the hospitals were attacked. Three of Aleppo's hospitals are out of service like our centers."

    The White Helmets volunteers share the same hardships as the civilians they live alongside and have little protection.

    "We have our centers but they are not safe places," says Hassan. "When they [the regime] attacks, we go underground into the shelters. But they use now the bunker busters and these can reach to the shelters. There's no difference between Civil Defense and the civilians. It's the same [conditions] for all of us."

    The 'Hunger Games' in Aleppo

    The Syrian military said on Wednesday that it would reduce the number of airstrikes on eastern Aleppo, having encircled rebel forces, "to allow civilians that want to leave to reach safe areas." The same day, the United Nations said that around 50 percent of the civilian population in eastern Aleppo is prepared to leave because of the dire humanitarian conditions.

    On Thursday, Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy to Syria, urged the militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to leave Aleppo so that the Assad regime and Russia would no longer have an excuse to continue bombing part of a city that he estimated could be "totally destroyed" in little more than two months.

    The battle for Aleppo appears to be reaching a climax with the pitiless tactics employed by the Assad regime and Russia against the city beginning to have an effect. For the civilians and the White Helmets volunteers trapped in Aleppo, the silence and inaction of the international community provokes intense bitterness, anger, and despair.

    "You know the film called the Hunger Games?" asks Hassan, referring to the hit movie series about a dystopian future in which teens participate in televised fights to the death. "Now in Aleppo, it looks like the Hunger Games. The humanitarian community has not done anything for us until now. They are just watching how they [the Syrian Army and its allies] are killing, how houses are destroyed. The world watched by camera what is happening. We are dying, and they are just watching us."

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    Satellite images reveal the destruction wreaked on Aleppo by Russian and Syria's bombing

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    donald trump mike pence

    Donald Trump on Sunday said he disagreed with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on the longstanding war in Syria during the second presidential debate, an unusual break between members of the Republican Party ticket so close to Election Day.

    "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree," said Trump, who was asked about his position on the need for US airstrikes in the country.

    Debate moderator Martha Raddatz reminded Trump of Pence's remarks during the vice presidential debate, who said "provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian forces, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime."

    Trump insisted that "Syria is no longer Syria."

    "I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved," he said, rejecting Pence's position on dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

    Following the debate, the Indiana governor congratulated the Republican nominee on "a big debate win" and said he is "proud to stand with" him  — even though Pence has distanced himself from Trump due to leaked audio that emerged Friday of Trump making lewd remarks about women.

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    Russia Russian Navy Caesar Kunikov

    Moscow (AFP) - Russia's defence ministry said Monday that the country was poised to transform its naval facility in the Syrian port city of Tartus into a permanent base.

    "In Syria we will have a permanent naval base in Tartus," Russian news agencies quoted deputy defence minister Nikolai Pankov as saying. 



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    A boy runs as he rushes away from a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria August 24, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

    PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Monday that President Francois Hollande will take into account the situation in Syria's Aleppo when deciding whether to see his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when he visits Paris on Oct. 19

    Ayrault also told France Inter radio that he will ask the international court of justice to investigate possible war crimes in Syria.

    "We do not agree with what Russia is doing, bombarding Aleppo. France is committed as never before to saving the population of Aleppo," Ayrault said.

    "If the President decides (to see Putin), this will not be to trade pleasantries," he added

    French officials are not the only ones questioning Russia's tactics in Syria. Last month, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia's actions in Syria may amount to war crimes if the country was involved in an airstrike on a humanitarian aid convoy near Aleppo. 

    "Putin’s regime is not just handing Assad the revolver," the foreign secretary said. "He is in some instances firing the revolver. The Russians themselves are actually engaged."

    On Friday, Russia vetoed a draft resolution put together by France and Spain which called for a cessation of all hostilities in the war-torn country. This is the sixth time Russia has vetoed UN action in the six-year long civil war. 

    A similar draft by Russia was put before the UN, but it didn't mention airstrikes. Their proposal was also rejected. 

    (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Michel Rose)

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