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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Marks & Spencer M&S

    LONDON (Reuters) - Syrian refugee children have been working in factories in Turkey making clothes for British high street retailer Marks & Spencer and online store ASOS, an investigation by BBC Panorama found.

    The investigation, to be broadcast Monday evening, found Syrian refugees as young as 15 working long hours for little pay, making and ironing clothes to be shipped off to Britain.

    BBC journalists took photographs of Marks & Spencer labels in the factories. Some Syrian refugees worked 12-hour days in a factory distressing jeans for fashion brands Mango and Zara, using chemicals with inadequate protection, the BBC said.

    An M&S spokesperson said: "We had previously found no evidence of Syrian workers employed in factories that supply us, so we were very disappointed by these findings, which are extremely serious and are unacceptable to M&S."

    M&S said it was working with the Turkish supplier to offer permanent legal employment to any Syrian daily workers employed in the factory.

    "Mango has zero tolerance towards the practices described in the 'Panorama' program," a Mango spokeswoman said.

    The company said it had instructed an urgent and unannounced audit of the concerned facilities after the BBC's notification. "Under no circumstances was the use of child labor of Syrian workers detected," she said.

    An ASOS spokeswoman said: "It’s a subject we take incredibly seriously. But it would be wrong for us to comment on reporting we haven’t seen."

    Turkey has been a main entrypoint for refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria, with three million estimated to be living there. Ankara in March signed a deal with the EU to stem the flow of refugees into the bloc.

    A Reuters investigation this year also found evidence of Syrian refugee children in Turkey working in clothes factories in illegal conditions.

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    NOW WATCH: There is a secret US government airline that flies out of commercial airports

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    Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun talks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

    The 1990s were a simpler time for Lebanese presidential elections. The headache of the past two-and-a-half years of vacuum, with its byzantine shuffling and reshuffling of alliances; deal-making and deal-breaking; ‘understandings’ and misunderstandings; and utter obscurity and uncertainty would never have been possible in the ‘90s.

    When a vacancy arose at the head of the republic back then, it was filled in an instant with a single phone call from one source: Damascus. If the Lebanese constitution presented obstacles to Brother Syria’s edicts – which it usually did; as in the extension of President Elias Hrawi’s term in 1995 and the nomination of army commander Emile Lahoud in 1998 despite a prohibition against military candidates – then the constitution was corrected. All very simple. As the late Ghazi Kanaan, Syria’s top official in Lebanon, was fond of telling the Lebanese: you focus on business, and leave politics to us.

    By the time of the appointment (one could hardly call it an election) of Lahoud’s successor in 2008, this Pax Syriana had been somewhat disheveled by the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon three years previously, though few had any illusions that Syria’s influence in Beirut was seriously depleted.

    It’s true Michel Sleiman’s presidency was the result of a multilateral, rather than unilateral, decision reached by negotiations in Doha incorporating the views of several Gulf and other Arab capitals, but Damascus was still understood to be the indispensable primus inter pares; the axle without which the wheels would fall off.

    How very different it’s all been this time with Michel Aoun, whose imminent election was made a foregone conclusion in yesterday’s speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who confirmed his parliamentary bloc would attend the upcoming electoral session on the 31st and vote for the Free Patriotic Movement leader (which was the last necessary step following Future Movement head Saad Hariri’s surprise endorsement of Aoun on Thursday).

    Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters from a screen during a rally to commemorate Hezbollah Wounded Veterans Day in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

    This time, the word ‘Damascus’ was virtually unmentioned throughout the entire process. No groveling visits were made by politicians to the Syrian capital to tend upon Assad’s desires. No newspapers spoke of any decisive Syrian vetoes or demands that determined Aoun’s fate.

    To the contrary, in fact, if a report in (the generally pro-Damascus) Assafir is correct, all of Syria’s closest allies in Lebanon – the Baath Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Marada, Talal Arslan, Ahmad Karami and others – are actually backing the losing candidate, Sleiman Frangieh. That would make Aoun’s election the first since Bashir Gemayel’s in 1982 to pass against the opposition of Damascus’ proxies.

    It represents, in other words, a milestone in the decline of Syrian influence over Lebanon. This might be something to celebrate, were the nails not being hammered into the coffin by the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A soft coup by Tehran at Syria’s expense in Lebanon has actually been a long time coming.

    As early as December 2008, NOW contributor Michael Young was writing, “Syria is incapable of fully imposing its writ on [Hezbollah] in the same way it could before 2005. Iran is now a major player on the scene, and there are many ways for the Iranians and Hezbollah to show that Syrian power in Lebanon is not what it used to be.”

    Once you start looking for them, you notice further signs of this all around you. Consider, for instance, the way the Lebanese judiciary has recently been able (a cynic would say has been permitted) to file incredibly damaging indictments and arrest warrants against Syrian regime officials, up to and including National Security Bureau Director Ali Mamlouk, in connection with the Michel Samaha and Tripoli mosque bombing plots.

    Lebanese Hezbollah supporters carry a replica of Hezbollah emblem during a religious procession to mark Ashura in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

    It wasn’t very long ago at all that this would have been unthinkable. Yet contrast it with the judiciary’s catatonic response to the fatal shooting of student demonstrator Hashem Salman outside Beirut’s Iranian embassy in 2013 – which a Reuters correspondent at the scene reported was carried out by Hezbollah members – and it’s plain to see where the red lines fall today.

    It’s striking to think there was once a time when the Syrian army could invade Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut and slaughter Hezbollah fighters in their barracks. Now it’s Hezbollah who invades Syria, operating under Iranian command with ill-disguised contempt for the Syrian army’s mettle.

    Of course, none of this is to be construed as President Aoun posing any kind of threat to Assad, nor as the latter being necessarily upset with the former’s election. Aoun has been a vocal defender of the Syrian regime, which in 2012 he called the most democratic in the region, since paying a state visit to Damascus in 2008.

    More importantly, Iran gaining the upper hand over Syria need not imply the two differ in their essential vision for Lebanon, which remains in the grip of the ‘Resistance Axis’ either way. The Ghazi Kanaan formula may now be as dead as its author, but the Lebanese remain as deprived of their own politics as they’ve ever been.

    SEE ALSO: The only way to solve the brutal war in Yemen is to dissolve the country entirely

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    Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump delivers remarks at a campaign event in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    Donald Trump on Monday accused Hillary Clinton of wanting "to take in as many Syrians as possible," referring to a "secret tape" as evidence.

    "Wow, just came out on secret tape that Crooked Hillary wants to take in as many Syrians as possible," Trump tweeted. "We cannot let this happen — ISIS!"

    The Republican presidential nominee has long argued that if the US continues to let in refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, ISIS terrorists will find ways to enter the country with them. Terrorists have been abusing the European system to slip in with the refugee flow and mount attacks on Western countries, but security measures in the US are generally thought to be more stringent.

    Trump has repeated his claims about Clinton wanting to overwhelm the US with refugees many times this election cycle. She has said she thinks the US should be doing more to help the refugee crisis and has suggested admitting 65,000 refugees in the 2016 fiscal year. By comparison, Germany admitted more than 1 million refugees last year.

    The video Trump was referring to in his tweet Monday was most likely one from Project Veritas Action, a group run by the controversial conservative activist James O'Keefe, who publishes undercover sting videos.

    An undercover operative for the group attended an event with Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide, and asked about Syrian refugees.

    After thanking Abedin for addressing the Syrian refugee crisis and remarking that Islamaphobia was "rampant" in the US, the Project Veritas activist said, "You have to promise me, if Hillary is elected president, she's going to do everything she can to let these Syrians in."

    Abedin responded, "Absolutely right."

    The Project Veritas activist then said Republicans were trying to bar Syrian refugees from entering the US, to which Abedin responded, "Oh, and by the way, it's not just Republicans — there are some Democrats who are scared too."

    She continued: "We need to have leadership on this — it is not, we cannot turn these people away."

    O'Keefe has previously gotten into hot water for his practices. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for posing as a phone repairman to enter New Orleans office of Mary Landrieu, then a Louisiana senator. In 2013, he settled a suit for $100,000 after editing a recording with an Acorn employee who later lost his job.

    Past O'Keefe footage has also been found to contain manipulative editing to show an intended narrative, as the conservative website TheBlaze wrote.

    Allan Smith contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: Undercover videos lead to Democratic operative's firing, force another to distance himself from DNC

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    Putin Missile

    Across Russia, forty million civilians and military personnel just finished up emergency drills aimed at preparing the general population for nuclear or chemical weapons attacks, the Wall Street Journal's Thomas Grove reports.

    Video shows Russian civilians practicing along with officials and workers in Hazmat suits.

    But as troubling as the largest civil defense drills since the height of the Cold War have been, the steps Russia has taken to improve its offensive nuclear capabilities likely overshadow them.

    Since the breakdown of US-Russian talks on the fate of Syria, Russia has pulled out of a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with the US citing "unfriendly acts" by the US, it has moved nuclear-capable missiles to its European enclave of Kaliningrad, and it has threatened "asymmetrical" and "painful" actions against the US should it decide to impose sanctions on Russia over Syria.

    A Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile system drives during the Victory Day parade, marking the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

    Additionally, Russia's state-run media has been ratcheting up anti-American rhetoric lately.

    Lev Gudkov, head of the Russian polling group Levada-Center, told the Journal that in Russia, “most people believe that the Third World War has begun, but right now we are still in the cold phase of the war, which may or may not turn into a hot war."

    Indeed in Syria and the Ukraine, Russia has turned away from diplomacy and instead towards military solutions to standoffs with the West. Russia's recent installation of another missile defense battery in Syria gives the US very few options to intervene without risking serious casualties

    Furthermore, Russia designed its nuclear weapons arsenal as absolute doomsday devices that rain up to ten high-yield nuclear warheads down on targets at Mach 23 in a salvo that the US can't possibly hope to intercept. 

    Screen Shot 2016 10 25 at 11.46.47 AM

    The US has long relied on the doctrine of "mutually assured destruction," or having a spread out, autonomous, and effective nuclear arsenal that would return fire should another nuclear power attack with the intent of deterring any nuclear attacks. However, the Journal reports that Moscow is now taking steps to ensure that 100% of its population would be sheltered from such an attack.

    Far from matching Russia's aggressive nuclear posturing, the US has had its attentions elsewhere. The US's long range bomber aircraft, the most visible deterrent of a nuclear arsenal, have mainly been stationed in the Pacific in response to North Korea's nuclear aggression.

    SEE ALSO: Russia to the US: If you want a confrontation, 'you'll get one everywhere'

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    Ash Carter

    The United States expects the campaigns against Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa to overlap, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday, signaling that a push to start isolating the group's de facto capital in Syria may not be very far off.

    Iraqi forces are already nine days into their U.S.-backed campaign to take the city of Mosul from Islamic State, fighting their way toward the city's outer limits in what could become the biggest military operation in Iraq in over a decade.

    The campaign itself could last weeks or even months, allowing some leeway in timing.

    "Yes, there will be overlap and that's part of our plan and we are prepared for that," Carter told a news conference in Paris after a gathering of 13 countries in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

    He did not offer further specifics, but his words suggested that military moves against Islamic State's stronghold in Syria might not be far off.

    French President Francois Hollande, addressing the meeting of defense ministers, warned the coalition needed to watch out for flows of Islamic State fighters from one besieged city to another.

    Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) gesture on the outskirt of Bartila east of Mosul during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

    "In these columns of people leaving Mosul will be hiding terrorists who will try to go further, to Raqqa in particular," Hollande said, calling for greater intelligence sharing to identify them.

    Hollande also warned that the offensive on Mosul could trigger an outflow of foreign fighters - a concern for European nations wary of attacks at home by returning Islamic State militants from Iraq and Syria.

    "We must also be very vigilant towards the return of foreign fighters," Hollande said.

    The gathering came just weeks before the first anniversary of attacks in Paris last Nov. 13 by Islamic State that killed 130 people. It was followed by other high-profile incidents in the United States and Europe inspired or perpetrated by the group.

    Speaking on Sunday in Iraq, the top American commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said the United States had already sowed "a lot of confusion" in the Islamic State's fighters in Mosul by targeting mid-tier leaders.

    Carter on Tuesday said more than 35 Islamic State commanders were targeted by the coalition in the past 90 days, including many of the top leaders.

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    Donald Trump

    US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Democrat Hillary Clinton's plan for Syria would "lead to World War Three," because of the potential for conflict with military forces from nuclear-armed Russia.

    In an interview focused largely on foreign policy, Trump said defeating Islamic State is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, playing down a long-held goal of US policy.

    Trump questioned how Clinton would negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin after demonizing him; blamed President Barack Obama for a downturn in US relations with the Philippines under its new president, Rodrigo Duterte; bemoaned a lack of Republican unity behind his candidacy and said he would easily win the election if the party leaders would support him.

    “If we had party unity, we couldn’t lose this election to Hillary Clinton,” he said.

    On Syria's civil war, Trump said Clinton could drag the United States into a world war with a more aggressive posture toward resolving the conflict.

    Clinton has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and “safe zones” on the ground to protect non-combatants. Some analysts fear that protecting those zones could bring the United States into direct conflict with Russian fighter jets.

    "What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria," said Trump as he dined on fried eggs and sausage at his Trump National Doral golf resort. "You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton," Trump said.

    "You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk," he said.

    Russia bombing syria iran russia

    Trump said Assad is much stronger now than he was three years ago. He said getting Assad to leave power was less important than defeating Islamic State.

    "Assad is secondary, to me, to ISIS," he said.

    Obama focused "on his golf game"

    On Russia, Trump again knocked Clinton's handling of US-Russian relations while secretary of state and said her harsh criticism of Putin raised questions about "how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil," if she wins the presidency.

    Obama PutinOn the deterioration of ties with the Philippines, Trump aimed his criticism at Obama, saying the president "wants to focus on his golf game" rather than engage with world leaders.

    Since assuming office, Duterte has expressed open hostility towards the United States, rejecting criticism of his violent anti-drug clampdown, using an expletive to describe Obama and telling the United States not to treat his country "like a dog with a leash."

    The Obama administration has expressed optimism that the two countries can remain firm allies.

    Trump said Duterte's latest comments showed "a lack of respect for our country."

    The interview comes two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, with Trump trailing badly in the polls. He repeated his assertion that the "media is rigging the polls" and said his supporters were upset with the leadership of the Republican Party.

    "The people are very angry with the leadership of this party, because this is an election that we will win 100 percent if we had support from the top. I think we’re going to win it anyway."

    He said if he wins he would not consider putting Democrats in his cabinet but would work with them on legislation.

    SEE ALSO: Russia is preparing for nuclear war

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    turkey syria

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's military operations in Syria aim to secure control of the towns of al-Bab and Manbij but are not intended to stretch to the city of Aleppo, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

    "Let's make a joint fight against terrorist organizations. But Aleppo belongs to the people of Aleppo, we must explain this ... making calculations over Aleppo would not be right," Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

    His comments came after forces allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned Turkey against any advance toward their positions to the north and east of Aleppo, saying any such move would be met "decisively and with force".


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    Airstrikes Syria Idlib

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes killed at least 22 people in a village in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on Wednesday, seven of them children.

    The Observatory, a British-based war monitor, said warplanes struck several locations in the Haas village, including an elementary and middle school, killing at least one teacher as well as the children.

    A report on Syrian state TV quoted a military source as saying a number of militants had been killed when their positions were targeted in Haas, but did not mention a school.

    Syria's civil war pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi'ite Muslim militias from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan against an array of mostly Sunni rebel groups including some backed by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the U.S.

    Idlib, near Aleppo in northwest Syria, contains the largest populated area controlled by rebels, both nationalist groups under the banner of the Free Syrian Army and Islamist ones including the former al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

    The high death toll from strikes by the Syrian military and Russian air force in rebel-held areas has prompted criticism from Western countries and international human rights groups. 

    (Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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    russia warship

    LONDON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Britain has raised concerns with Spain over the possible refueling of Russian warships on their way to Syria, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, adding that the situation was being monitored closely.

    Spain's foreign ministry has said it is reviewing a request by a Russian flotilla to refuel in its North African enclave of Ceuta, as NATO raised concerns that the warships headed for Syria could be used to target civilians in Aleppo.

    "There is the issue that countries enable fleets to move through international waters, but we are monitoring the situation closely. We have been raising our concerns with the Spanish and we will continue to monitor it," the spokeswoman told reporters.

    "The prime minister has been clear that we want to be working with other partners to increase pressure on Russia to stop the bombing in Aleppo. That's what really counts here."

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    syrian group

    BEIRUT – A recently-formed group with ties to ruling Kurdish authorities in northern Syria has touted that it will soon launch attacks against Turkish forces backing Free Syrian Army factions.

    “The Syrian National Resistance is preparing military operations to fight the Turkish intervention in Syria,” the shadowy organization’s leader, Rezan Hedo, told Sputnik News on October 23.

    Hedo vowed in his interview with the Moscow-owned outlet that the Syrian National Resistance will “very soon begin to unify military efforts.”

    “Military actions will start soon in the areas occupied by Turkey,” he added, in reference to the strip of territory in northern Aleppo controlled by FSA-linked rebels supported by Ankara.

    The Syrian National Resistance chief further proclaimed that although his group “received many offers [of aid] from several parties,” it decided to “only welcome the Syrian army’s weapons and support,” echoing the organization’s previous convivial  rhetoric toward the Bashar al-Assad regime.

    In late August, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield with the goal of pushing back both ISIS and Kurdish-led fighters from the northeastern Aleppo countryside.

    Days later, the Syrian National Resistance announced its formation, proclaiming in  a speech replete with nationalistic rhetoric that it will “confront the Turkish occupation and deter it from achieving its objectives.”

    While the Syrian National Resistance has made no mention of the SDF or Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in its public announcements, a number of its leading members, including Hedo, belong to the SDF’s political wing.

    A rebel fighter stands near a Turkish tank as it fires towards Guzhe village, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

    The ruling Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has made no official statement on the formation of the Syrian National Resistance, which was covered extensively by the ANHA news agency, which is close to Syria’s Kurdish fighting forces.

    Pro-Assad media outlets, for their part, have given coverage to the Syrian National Resistance, with the Hezbollah-affiliated Central Military Media-Syria previously posting tweets of its statements.

    Meanwhile, Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily supportive of Hezbollah, published an article discussing the group on October 20, reporting that “work was underway” for the Syrian National Resistance to launch “at the right moment.”

    NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material. 

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    The Islamic State group took control of the Syrian city of Raqa after pushing out government troops in 2013

    Brussels (AFP) - British Defense Minister Michael Fallon on Wednesday said he hoped operations will begin shortly against the Islamic State stronghold of Raqa in eastern Syria as anti-ISIS forces close in on its Iraqi bastion of Mosul.

    "We hope a similar operation will begin towards Raqa in the next few weeks," Fallon said as he arrived for a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.


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    Khazir (Iraq) (AFP) - Islamic State group fighters were shaving their beards and changing hideouts in Mosul, residents said, as Iraqi forces moved ever closer to the city Wednesday and civilians fled in growing numbers.

    Reached by AFP inside Mosul, several residents said the jihadists seemed to be preparing for an assault after recent advances on the eastern front brought elite Iraqi forces to within five kilometres (three miles) of city limits.

    "I saw some Daesh (IS) members and they looked completely different from the last time I saw them," said a resident of eastern Mosul who gave his name as Abu Saif.

    "They had trimmed their beards and changed their clothes," the former businessman said. "They must be scared... they are also probably preparing to escape the city."

    Residents and military officials said many IS fighters had relocated from eastern Mosul to their traditional bastions on the western bank of the Tigris river, closer to escape routes to Syria.

    The sounds of fighting on the northern and eastern fronts of the Mosul offensive could now be heard inside the city, residents said, and US-led coalition aircraft were flying lower over the city than usual.

    Tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters have been advancing on Mosul from the south, east and north after an offensive was launched on October 17 to retake the last major Iraqi city under IS control.

    The assault is being backed with air and ground support from the US-led coalition which launched its campaign against IS two years ago, shortly after the jihadists seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

    'Wave of displaced'

    Iraqi federal forces, allied with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, have taken a string of towns and villages in a cautious but steady advance over the last week in the face of shelling, sniper fire and suicide car bombings.

    Some 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters are believed to be inside Mosul, Iraq's second city, alongside more than a million trapped civilians.

    Aid workers have warned of a major potential humanitarian crisis once fighting begins inside the city itself.

    An Iraqi minister said Wednesday that more than 3,300 civilians fleeing the fighting had sought help from the government the day before, the most for a single day so far.


    There was "a big wave of displaced people that is considered the greatest number since the start of the military operation to liberate Nineveh province," Displacement and Migration Minister Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff said in a statement.

    Numbers of displaced residents were growing but stood at a relatively low 8,940 on Wednesday, according to a UN tally, because most of the fighting so far has taken place in sparsely populated areas.

    Civilians in villages on the eastern outskirts of Mosul were being bused to a camp near Khazir, an AFP correspondent reported.

    "The army made us get out, they told us to leave and said we would see about the details of our settlement" in a camp, said Umm Ali, a 35-year-old woman.

    "We used to live in terror night and day, the shelling was coming closer. The Islamic State controlled our lives, so we decided to flee," said Essam Saadou, a 22-year-old student.

    A wave of displaced residents was also expected Wednesday from Al-Shura, an IS stronghold between Mosul and Qayyarah, the main staging base on the southern front, federal police said.


    Sights set on Raqqa 

    As the noose tightened on Mosul, 13 defence chiefs from the 60-nation coalition meeting in Paris set their sights on Syria's Raqa, which would be the last major city under IS control if it loses Mosul.

    "We have already begun laying the groundwork for our partners to commence the isolation of Raqa," US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said after the talks.

    The coalition -- which also includes Britain and France -- has provided support in the form of thousands of air strikes, training for Iraqi forces and advisers on the ground.

    France said Wednesday it had extended the mission of its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, in the eastern Mediterranean until at least mid-December to help the offensive on Mosul.

    President Francois Hollande decided to extend the mission after France's defence council "reviewed the military, humanitarian, political and security stakes involved in the recapture of Mosul," a statement issued by his office said.

    Leaders in Paris on Tuesday also discussed the post-IS future of Mosul, which is an ethnically and religiously mixed region and where achieving a political compromise might prove even harder than a military victory.

    SEE ALSO: The US is hitting ISIS targets in Mosul from its military base known as 'Rocket City'

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    Ukraine Russia

    One in three Germans worry that tensions between the West and Russia over Crimea, Ukraine and Syria could lead to a military confrontation, according to an opinion poll by the respected Forsa institute published on Wednesday.

    The survey found that 32 percent of 2,504 Germans polled believe it is possible that war could break out between Russia and the European Union and its allies in the United States. But a majority of 64 percent said they did not share those fears.

    Fears of war traditionally run high in Germany, a country sensitive to tensions that could lead to conflict after the devastation of World War Two and the partition of the nation into West Germany and East Germany during the Cold War.

    The survey found supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party were especially worried, 63 percent of them telling Forsa that war could break out.

    Some 41 percent of all those polled said relations between Russia and the West were poor, 51 percent not good and only six percent said relations were good.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Berlin last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande about Syria and Ukraine.

    Merkel and Hollande pressed Putin to extend a pause in air strikes on rebels in Syria and halt the "criminal" bombardment of civilians, and said four-way talks aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine made some progress.

    SEE ALSO: Russia is preparing for nuclear war

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    Air Strike Airstrike Classroom School Syria Idlib

    Beirut (AFP) - Air strikes that hit a school in rebel-held Idlib province in northwest Syria killed 22 children and six teachers, the UN children's agency UNICEF said Wednesday.

    "This is a tragedy. It is an outrage. And if deliberate, it is a war crime," said UNICEF director Anthony Lake.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "warplanes -- either Russia or Syrian -- carried out six strikes" in the village of Hass, including on a school complex, killing at least 35 civilians including 11 schoolchildren.

    Lake said the school compound was "repeatedly attacked," adding that it may be the deadliest attack on a school since the war began more than five years ago.

    "When will the world's revulsion at such barbarity be matched by insistence that this must stop?" added the UNICEF director.

    Asked about the attack, Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded: "It's horrible, horrible. I hope we were not involved."

    Syrian government forces and their Russian ally have been accused by rights groups of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.

    The White Helmets civil defence group released pictures of four rescue workers clambering over a mound of rubble in search of survivors after what it said was a "double-tap" strike on the school.

    The raids hit Hass around 11:30 am (0830 GMT), an activist with the opposition Idlib Media Centre told AFP. 

    "One rocket hit the entrance of the school as students were leaving to go home, after the school administration decided to end classes for the day because of the raids," the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Other activists from the province circulated a photograph on social media of a child's arm, seared off above the elbow, still clutching the strap of a dusty black rucksack. 

    Shaky video footage depicted rescue workers sprinting towards the site of the raids and pulling a frail, elderly man out of a collapsed building.

    The authenticity of the pictures and footage could not be independently verified.

    The latest attacks took to 89 the number of civilians killed in air strikes on Idlib province in the past seven days, said the Observatory.

    Airstrikes Syria Idlib

    'Intentional' attack

    A leading opposition group condemned the raids. 

    The Istanbul-based National Coalition said Russian and regime warplanes "targeted children in their schools, deliberately and intentionally hitting civilians with high-explosive material".

    Idlib province is controlled by the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebel groups and jihadists including the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after breaking off ties with Al-Qaeda earlier this year.

    Syrian and Russian warplanes regularly bomb Idlib, but air strikes have intensified in recent weeks, according to the Observatory. 

    Russia is facing pressure at the United Nations to rein in its Syrian ally and halt air raids in rebel-held east Aleppo, where 250,000 civilians have been living under siege since July.

    UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said he was "incandescent with rage" over the Security Council's failure to take action, deploring that "nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering."

    With food growing scarce, "civilians are being bombed by Syrian and Russian forces, and if they survive that, they will starve tomorrow," said O'Brien.

    "Aleppo has essentially become a kill zone."

    Russian ambassador Churkin shot back, accusing O'Brien of making "arrogant remarks" and failing to recognise that Russia had declared a humanitarian pause that he maintained had been holding for eight days.

    "If we needed to be preached to, we would go to a church," Churkin quipped.

    The ambassador blamed opposition rebels and Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists for the failure at the weekend of a UN plan to evacuate the wounded from Aleppo and charged that the UN official was not objectively presenting the facts.

    US ambassador Samantha Power criticised Russia, saying it had never worked cooperatively with the United Nations during the pauses to ensure humanitarian relief.

    "You don't get congratulations and credit for not committing war crimes for a day or a week," said Power. 

    The bitter exchange came as the latest attempt to revive a ceasefire fell flat.

    Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his British counterpart Michael Fallon said an offensive to drive IS out of its Syrian stronghold of Raqa, 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Aleppo, would begin in the next few weeks.

    The US-led coalition is currently supporting a 10-day-old assault by Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the jihadists' main Iraqi bastion of Mosul.

    Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. 

    But it has since evolved into a multi-front war, pitting jihadists, rebels, government forces and Kurdish militia against each other. 

    More than 300,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes.


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    A Russian warplane takes off at Hmeymim air base in Syria

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian and Syrian warplanes have not flown closer than 10 kilometres (6.21 miles) of Syria's Aleppo for nine days, the Russian defence ministry said on Thursday.

    Rescue workers and a monitoring group have said air strikes by Syrian or Russian warplanes on Wednesday had killed at least 26 people in a village in the rebel-held province of Idlib, which is in northwest Syria near Aleppo.

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    Air Strike Airstrike Classroom School Syria Idlib

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday Moscow is not responsible for an air strike on a school in Syria's province that led to deaths of 26 civilians, most of them schoolchildren.

    Russian military were not involved in the attack, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing.


    (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Maria Tsvetkova)

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, in this handout picture provided by SANA on October 14, 2016. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

    BRUSSELS, Oct 27 (Reuters) - EU governments put 10 more people under sanctions over the crisis in Syria, targeting high-ranking military officials and senior figures linked to President Bashar al-Assad, the bloc said in a statement on Thursday.

    France and Britain pushed hard for the asset freezes and travel bans as a way to respond to the bombing of hundreds of civilians, including children, in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, where Western-backed rebels are holding out against Syrian and Russian air strikes.

    However, Paris and London have been unable to persuade their EU counterparts to impose similar measures on Russian military officials over the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo after Rome resisted, worried about upsetting business ties with Moscow.

    The European Union will publish the names of the 10 people sanctioned on Friday. On Thursday it said only that they were "high-ranking military officials and senior figures linked to the regime".

    As well an oil embargo and a ban on any dealings with the Syrian central bank, the decision takes the number of people on the EU's Syrian list, which also includes Iranians, to 217. Sixty-nine companies are also under sanctions.

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    afp syria rebels say battle to break aleppo siege has begun

    Aleppo (Syria) (AFP) - Syrian opposition fighters on Friday launched a major assault on government forces to break a months-long siege of rebel-held neighbourhoods of the battered city of Aleppo.

    Rebel groups including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham faction and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front fired waves of rockets into government-held western Aleppo, killing at least 15 civilians, a monitor said.

    The rebels also targeted government positions east of Aleppo city and in the coastal province of Latakia, including the Hmeimim military base that is used by Russian forces allied with the regime.

    The assault comes more than three months into a government siege of eastern Aleppo, where over 250,000 people live, and several weeks after the army began an operation to retake the rebel east.

    Rebel groups "announce the start of the battle to break the siege of Aleppo," said Abu Yusef Muhajir, a military commander and spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham. The assault "will end the regime occupation of western Aleppo and break the siege on the people trapped inside," he told AFP.

    "The breaking of the siege is inevitable," said Yasser al-Yusef, a member of the political office of the Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group. "We will protect the civilians and schools and hospitals from Russian attacks and bring our people food and medicine," he said.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said at least 15 civilians, including two children, had been killed, and more than 100 wounded in rebel fire on western Aleppo.

    Smoke rises from al-Bab city behind vehicles after shelling, northern Aleppo province, Syria October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil AshawiThe monitor reported fierce clashes on multiple front on the western and southern outskirts of western Aleppo, with three suicide car bombs targeting a checkpoint in the Dahiyet al-Assad neighbourhood. It had no immediate toll in the clashes or bomb attack.

    An AFP correspondent in east Aleppo said the assault had boosted the mood in rebel-held districts, with mosques broadcasting "God is greatest" from loudspeakers to hail the battle. He said residents were burning tyres, sending smoke up over the city in a bid to provide cover for rebel forces from government and Russian warplanes.

    The Observatory said rebel forces had also fired dozens of rockets at the Nairab military airport and Aleppo international airport, both east of Aleppo city and under government control.

    And rebels also fired rockets from Idlib province into the government stronghold of Latakia, killing one person and wounding six. The rocket fire hit near the Hmeimim military airport, as well as near Qardaha, the ancestral village of President Bashar al-Assad, the monitor said.

    Syrian state television reported the assault, saying "the army has foiled an attempt by terrorists to attack Aleppo city from several axes with suicide bomb attacks and has inflicted losses on them."

    Aleppo"Terrorist groups have made no advances and clashes are continuing," it added. State news agency SANA said government planes were carrying out airstrikes south and west of Aleppo.

    Once Syria's economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began in March 2011 with anti-government protests and has since killed over 300,000 people.

    Aleppo has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012, and in September the army announced an operation to recapture the whole city.

    The assault, backed by Russian forces, has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure including hospitals, prompting international outrage.

    The UN's aid chief Stephen O'Brien this week said Aleppo had become "a kill zone", adding that "nothing is actually happening to stop the war, stop the suffering." Last week, Russia implemented a three-day "humanitarian truce" intended to allow civilians and surrendering rebels to exit the east through passages to western neighbourhoods.

    But few left, and a UN plan to evacuate the wounded failed because security could not be guaranteed. Russia says it has not bombed Aleppo since October 18, and accuses rebel groups of preventing civilians from leaving. On Friday, Syria's foreign minister was in Moscow meeting with his counterparts from key allies Russia and Iran. 

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    Russian SU-34 jet

    A Russian fighter jet unintentionally came close to a U.S.-led coalition aircraft over Syria earlier this month, a U.S. defense official said on Friday.

    The defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the incident took place on Oct. 17 in the evening. The Russian jet lost situational awareness and flew across the nose of the coalition plane, close enough that the jet's wake was felt, the official said.

    The American and Russian militaries have a communication mechanism in place aimed at reducing the risk of collisions and other incidents as they both conduct air operations over Syria. Top U.S. civilian and military officials speak by video conference with their Russian counterparts to discuss operation safety.

    The incident follows similar close encounters between Russian and American planes. In September, a Russian fighter jet came within 10 feet (3 meters) of an American spy plane over the Black Sea.

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    According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, nearly 280,000 people were killed in the South American giant from 2011 to 2015

    Sao Paulo (AFP) - More people have been murdered over the past four years in Brazil than have been killed in more than five years of war in Syria, a Brazilian group said Friday.

    Brazil has been struggling in recent years with a rise in violent crime, made worst by a sharp economic downturn and budget cuts to police forces across the country.

    According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, nearly 280,000 people were killed in the South American giant from 2011 to 2015. 

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted 256,124 killed over the same period in that country's civil war.

    To reach their figure, the Forum included purposeful killings and violent thefts that resulted in death. In 2015 alone, more than 58,000 people were killed.

    Last year's murder rate reached 28.6 per 100,000 people, much higher than the 10 per 100,000 rate that the United Nations considers the threshold for chronic violence.

    Three impoverished states in northeastern Brazil — Sergipe, Alagoas and Rio Grande de Norte — reported the highest murder rates. Sergipe alone had a stunning murder rate of 57 per 100,000 people.

    The overall murder rate however was down slightly from 2014.

    Rio de Janeiro Police

    The forum's report, now in its ninth edition, also highlighted the endemic problem of police brutality. 

    The report said that an average of nine people are killed per day by police.

    In 2015, law enforcement killed 3,345 people — but 393 police officers were also killed, about a third of them while on duty.

    Highlighting the difficulty to maintain law and order are attempts in Rio de Janeiro, population 6.5 million, to crack down on crime for the 2014 World Cup and this year's summer Olympics.

    Police created controversial "pacification" zones in the city's notorious favelas, or slums, with heavy law enforcement presence.

    While crime diminished in some areas, money ran dry on the second phase, in which the government was supposed to fund schools and clinics in an effort to turn short-term security gains into long-term ones.

    The program's main architect, Rio state security chief Jose Mariano Beltrame, resigned in mid-October following gun battles between police and drug traffickers killed at least three people and wounded five.

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