A Syrian military helicopter has been shot down over the last major rebel bastion in the northwest of the country, the second such incident in a week of high tensions with neighbouring Turkey.
The attack on Friday in a region where Turkish troops and Russian-backed government forces have engaged in multiple clashes came as Washington urged Ankara to look to its western allies in light of Moscow’s actions.
Syrian and Russian forces have conducted a deadly offensive against the shrinking pocket in the country’s northwest since December, claiming the lives of eight civilians on Friday.
“At approximately 1:40pm (local time), one of our military helicopters was hit by a hostile missile in the western countryside of Aleppo,” Syrian state news agency SANA said.
“This led the helicopter to crash, killing all crew on board.”
It said the aircraft was downed near the town of Urum al-Kubra, where Turkey-backed rebels operate, but did not say who fired the missile.
The Turkey-backed National Liberation Front rebel group claimed responsibility in a statement posted on the Telegram app.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the helicopter’s two pilots were killed.
Three days earlier, another Syrian military helicopter was downed over Idlib province, killing at least three crew members.
Turkish media blamed that attack on rebels, but the Observatory said Ankara’s troops had fired rockets at the aircraft over the village of Qaminas, southeast of Idlib city.
Turkey did not claim responsibility.
Since December, Syrian government forces have undertaken a blistering assault on the last major rebel pocket in the northwestern Idlib region and parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The Observatory said eight civilians, including three children, were killed in the bombardment on Friday, adding that five died in Russian raids near the almost deserted city of Atareb.
Government forces are within 5km of the city, the monitor said.
The assault has sparked the largest wave of displacement in the nine-year conflict, with 800,000 people fleeing since December, according to the United Nations. Among them, some 82,000 people are sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures.
European members of the UN Security Council called Friday for an immediate end to the Idlib offensive to save lives.
“We demand that the parties, especially the Syrian regime and its allies, immediately end their military offensive, establish a genuine and lasting ceasefire,” said permanent member France and non-permanent members Belgium, Estonia and Germany.
“There can be no sustainable military solution to the Syrian conflict,” they said in a joint statement.
The unprecedented exodus of civilians has triggered alarm in Turkey, which fears an influx across its border.
Turkey first sent troops to Syria in 2016 and has sent reinforcements to the northwest in recent weeks to contain the assault.
That has led to a series of confrontations, including deadly clashes this week that saw government shelling kill five Turkish troops.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened the Syrian government in recent days, saying the offensive violates a 2018 deal with Russia meant to prevent a broad military operation.
Good morning and welcome to this Thursday briefing with me, Alison Rourke.
Some 10,000 more deaths than normal have happened at homes across the UK in the past three months, which experts say may suggest people have been avoiding hospitals or sending loved ones to care homes. “Deconditioning”, which is caused by decreased physical activity among older people shielding at home, for example not walking around a supermarket or garden centre as they might normally, is also thought to be a factor. David Leon, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says lower infection figures during the period means much of the excess can be excluded as being related to Covid. “So what we see is probably more to do with decisions that are being taken by families, by individuals, their GPs and also hospitals’ willingness to admit.”
Abroad, and our correspondent in Rome, Angela Giuffrida, writes about how the devastating first wave has led to the widespread adoption of Covid rules in Italy, and an excellent tracking and tracing system has left the country faring better than some of its European neighbours. You can stay up to date on all the global news on our live blog.
Sir Harold Evans dies – The trailblazing newspaper editor, whose 70-year career as a hard-driving investigative journalist, magazine founder, book publisher and author made him one of the most influential media figures of his generation, has died at the age of 92 from congestive heart failure. A former editor of the Sunday Times and the Times, Evans championed causes either overlooked or denied. He and his team uncovered human rights abuses and political scandals, and advocated for clean air policies. One of his most famous investigations exposed the plight of hundreds of British thalidomide children who had never received any compensation for their birth defects.
Xinjiang – China has built nearly 400 internment camps, with construction on dozens continuing over the past two years, even as Beijing claimed their “re-education” system was winding down, an Australian thinktank has found. The information has been made public, including the coordinates for individual camps, in a database that can be accessed online, the Xinjiang Data Project. “Camps are also often co-located with factory complexes, which can suggest the nature of a facility and highlight the direct pipeline between arbitrary detention in Xinjiang and forced labour,” the report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said.
Breonna Taylor killing – Protests erupted in more than a dozen US cities on Wednesday in response to the announcement that three officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor would not be charged over her death. One officer was charged with wanton endangerment for firing shots that went into another home with people inside, but jurors didn’t indict any of the officers on charges directly related to Taylor’s killing. The protests came as Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he wins in November. “We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.” The reporter pressed the president: “I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to make sure that there’s a peaceful transferral of power?” Still Trump refused to commit: “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
Labour – The party has sacked three junior shadow ministers who joined with Jeremy Corbyn and 14 other Socialist Campaign group MPs in breaking the party’s whip by voting against the second reading of a controversial armed forces bill, that aims to introduce a presumption against prosecution for British soldiers serving abroad. Sources close to the party’s leadership said that the three MPs, Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake, were warned in advance that they could not remain in their posts as parliamentary private secretaries if they voted against the bill.
DrFrostMaths –A London maths teacher has been shortlisted for a $1m (£780,000) international teaching prize after his tuition website went global during lockdown. Dr Jamie Frost, who is maths lead at Tiffin school, an all-boys grammar in Kingston-upon-Thames, is a top-10 finalist for the 2020 Global Teacher Prize. His website, DrFrostMaths, became a lifeline for pupils – and teachers – during lockdown, offering teaching resources, videos and a vast bank of exam questions free of charge as schools around the world were forced to close and move lessons online.
Today in Focus podcast: Is the UK ready for a Covid second wave?
From hospitals to care homes to community testing, the first wave of Covid-19 infections was met with unprecedented national efforts but also with panic, errors and delays. As infections begin to rise again, is the country better prepared?
Lunchtime read: BLM co-founder: ‘I do this because we deserve to live’
Seven years ago Opal Tometi helped to create what is possibly the biggest protest movement in US history. She tells the Guardian’s Ellen Jones what the critics of BLM get wrong, how her family’s story made her an activist and why she is certain the movement will succeed.
Several papers splash on the chancellor dumping the budget. “Sunak axes budget in scramble for urgent measures to save jobs” is the Guardian’s headline. The Telegraph has “Wage subsidies to replace furlough”. The FT says “Sunak scraps Budget to focus on emergency jobs package” and the Times leads with “Sunak puts billions into new Covid rescue plan”. The Express describes the chancellor’s plan as a “Jobs lifeline to save economy”. The Mail says the bailout will be a “Price we can’t afford to pay”. The Mirror carries a large photo of the PM with the headline: “The blame lies here …”, and the i says “Students get Christmas lockdown warning”.
The Guardian Morning Briefing is delivered to thousands of inboxes bright and early every weekday. If you are not already receiving it by email, you can sign up here.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unveiled an “ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality” amid rising Covid-19 cases.
His expansive new legislative agenda includes new investments and initiatives to help the country recover from the pandemic.
It came with a vow to support Canadians “through this crisis as long as it lasts, whatever it takes”.
Opposition parties have criticised the Liberals’ plan.
The Conservatives said it lacked a commitment to fiscal restraint and failed to address the needs of “everyday Canadians”.
The four-pronged approach to the pandemic and the recovery was delivered on Wednesday by Governor General Julie Payette, the Queen’s representative in Canada, in a Speech from the Throne.
Mr Trudeau warned Canadians in a televised address following the speech that a second wave of the pandemic was “already under way”.
“We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” he said.
What are some of the promises?
The Liberal federal government said it would work with Canadian provinces to improve testing capacity.
There were also vows to assist in the economic recovery, including a plan to create more than a million jobs, a commitment to extend wage subsidies until next summer, and support for industries hardest hit by Covid-19, like the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors.
There was a promise to make a significant, long-term investment in childcare, which is seen by some economists as key to helping women fully return to the workforce.
Long-term care homes were especially hard hit early in the pandemic in Canada, highlighting issues of inadequate care within the system. The speech included commitments to bring in national standards of care and tougher penalties for cases of neglect.
Climate initiatives were billed as the “cornerstone” of the recovery efforts, including the creation of green jobs.
Canada’s chief public health officer said this week the country was at a “crossroads” because of the accelerating national count of Covid-19 cases.
In the last week, an average of about 1,100 cases were reported daily, compared to 380 cases reported each day in mid-August.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made a rare address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, using the moment to highlight the foundational notions of his regime — his steadfast commitment to the Palestinians, his stature as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites and his assertion that Iran is responsible for much of the region’s instability.
The prerecorded speech to world leaders suggested that the 84-year-old king, who delivers only a handful of public remarks each year, retains oversight of high-level policies despite the immense powers amassed by his son, the crown prince.
In delivering his remarks, he became only the second Saudi king to deliver a speech to the world assembly. The first was his late brother, King Saud, in 1957 at U.N. headquarters in New York. And like his brother’s speech 63 years prior, King Salman noted the sacred role of Islam in Saudi Arabia and the importance that entails.
“We in the kingdom, due to our position in the Muslim world, bear a special and historic responsibility to protect our tolerant Islamic faith from attempts by terrorist organizations and extremist groups to pervert it,” Salman said.
He emphasized at the top of his speech that he was speaking from “the birthplace of Islam, the home of its revelation” — a reference to the Muslim belief that the word of God was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago in the mountainous caves of Mecca.
Those words carry political undertones as well. Saudi rivals Turkey and Iran also profess to champion Muslim causes worldwide as part of a broader struggle for leadership of Muslims globally.
The king oversees a nation that is the Arab world’s biggest economy and the planet’s most prolific oil producer. Saudi Arabia has long been a close U.S. ally in the region and a strategic partner, though some in American politics worry where the relationship will go in coming years given the unpredictability of the brash Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Reading from a piece of paper and seated at a desk under a large portrait of his father, King Abdulaziz, the current monarch reiterated his support for Palestinian statehood as a prerequisite for recognition of Israel.
He said the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel full ties with Arab states in exchange for concessions that lead to a Palestinian state, provides a basis for resolving the region’s longest-running conflict. That 2002 initiative stands in stark contrast to the White House’s Middle East Peace plan, which has been rejected outright by the Palestinians as one-sided in favor of Israel.
The king made no mention of recent deals struck by neighboring United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to formalize ties with Israel. The agreements were brokered by the Trump administration and branded by the Palestinians as acts of betrayal.
Despite the appearance Wednesday that Salman was in control of major policies, there are indications that change is already underway with Israel under the guidance of the crown prince. The divergent messages on the possibility of Saudi ties with Israel reflect what analysts call a generational divide between the world views of the prince and the king.
Salman hails from an era of leadership that holds with high regard the ideals of pan-Arab and pan-Islamic multilateralism. He was born just four years after his father founded the country by unifying tribes and establishing control over the western Hijaz region, where Mecca is located. He also witnessed the country’s oil-fueled transformation, and as the governor of Riyadh helped to turn the desert capital into a city teeming with skyscrapers, highways, universities and malls. His reign marks the final chapter of power being passed from brother to brother from among the sons of King Abdelaziz as a new generation prepares for the throne.
The crown prince, on the other hand, reflects a cohort of younger Gulf Arab rulers whose policies prioritize national interests and greater self-reliance. He’s pushed for localizing the production of defense equipment, transforming the economy to be less dependent on oil exports and overseen efforts to supplant a religiously conservative Saudi identity with one rooted in hyper-nationalism.
King Salman has backed his son by elevating him from near obscurity and handing him day-to-day decision making powers. He’s stood by him amid the protracted Yemen war, international fallout from the killing of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and as Prince Mohammed moved to crackdown on dissidents, businessmen and sideline more experienced and senior royals in the line of succession.
It’s unclear how much the king knows about controversies, such as the November 2017 debacle with then-Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whom top Lebanese officials at the time said had been forced to resign and was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will before France’s president personally intervened.
What was clear as Salman spoke Wednesday, though, was that his nation’s views on nearby Iran remained unwavering. He blamed Iran for targeting Saudi oil facilities with missiles and drones last year, saying: “It demonstrated that this regime has total disregard for the stability of the global economy or stability of oil supplies to international markets.”
Yemeni rebel Houthis claimed responsibility for that attack and Iran has denied involvement. A U.N. probe concluded the missiles were of Iranian origin. The king said Iran interfered in Yemen by backing the Houthis when they ousted the internationally-backed government from the capital in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led war there.
Salman said Saudi Arabia has tried to extend its hand over the years to Iran, “but to no avail.”
For observers of the kingdom with no access to the inner workings of the royal court, the U.N. speech was Salman’s first public statement before cameras since he was discharged from the hospital for gall bladder surgery in late July.
Follow Dubai-based Associated Press journalist Aya Batrawy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ayaelb.
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