By Tom Perry BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support for Damascus that is alarming the United States. "The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely," the source said in response to a question about Russian support. "We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground." The source said the army had been trained in the use of the weapons in recent months and was now deploying them, declining to give further details other than saying they were "new types." Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday Russia had provided new weapons and trained Syrian troops how to use them, without saying when or naming any specific systems. He told state television the government would be prepared to go further and ask Russian forces to fight alongside its troops if needed - though he said there were no such soldiers there now. The Russian government said on Thursday its military support for Damascus was aimed at fighting terrorism, safeguarding Syria's statehood and preventing a "total catastrophe" in the region. It includes a larger Russian military presence on the ground in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has faced increased pressure this year from rebels fighting to topple him, but its full scope and intentions remain unclear. Washington, which wants Assad gone from power, has said it believes Russia is undertaking a significant military buildup which could exacerbate the war. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook condemned any new Russian assistance to Syrian saying it would be "counterproductive to the ultimate solution in Syria, which we think is a political and diplomatic solution, not a military solution." The United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have supported insurgents battling to unseat Assad, whose foreign military backing has so far come mostly from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. A U.S.-led coalition is also bombing Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, raising the prospect of a potential clash between U.S. and Russian air forces. In a possible sign of a newly assertive posture by Assad, the Syrian air force launched heavy air strikes on the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa, an important base of operations for Islamic State in Syria often targeted by the U.S.-led coalition. The air strikes, reported by activists in Raqqa, were not confirmed by the Syrian military. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 18 people were killed in the raids that hit several areas in the city and its outskirts, including a maternity hospital. The government, which by Assad's own admission faces a military manpower problem, is seeking to shore up control over the cities of the west after losing much of the rest of Syria to an array of insurgents including Islamic State. The Obama administration said Wednesday it was considering how to respond to a Russian proposal for military talks over Syria, which may be about "deconfliction" - ensuring that U.S. and Russian aircraft do not come into conflict in Syria. On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "The United States "remains open to tactical, practical discussions" with Russia over the fight against Islamic State in Syria. RAQQA AIR STRIKE Russia says Assad should be part of international efforts to fight Islamic State. The United States believes he is part of the problem and rejects that idea. The war has already killed 250,000 people. Four million people have fled Syria and almost twice as many are displaced inside it. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have been arriving in Europe, part of the biggest migration crisis to hit that continent in decades. Activists said Syrian government war planes had mounted at least 12 air strikes in Raqqa, often described as Islamic State's de facto capital. The raids started at around 11:30 a.m. and came in three separate waves that hit eight targets. The strikes hit close to at least four Islamic State offices, including one used by its self-appointed religious police force, said an activist in Raqqa who was contacted via the Internet and declined to be named for security reasons. Islamic State imposed a curfew in two parts of the city. An activist group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said on its Twitter feed: "There is news about a large number of martyrs and wounded." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on the war using a network of sources on the ground, said government forces had recently started using new weapons including guided air-to-surface missiles. "There are modern weapons that the regime didn't previously have, be they rocket launchers or air to ground to missiles," said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Observatory. The prime minister of Israel, which has mounted its own air strikes in Syria against both Syrian military and Hezbollah targets, is due in Russia next week for talks with President Vladimir Putin on the expanding Russian military presence. Reuters has previously reported on U.S. assessments that Russia has sent about 200 naval infantry forces, battle tanks, artillery and other equipment to an airfield near Latakia. U.S. officials said on Wednesday the United States had identified a small number of Russian helicopters at a Syrian airfield. Russia has been sending about two military cargo flights a day to an air base at Latakia on the government-controlled Syrian coast, U.S. officials say. Lebanese sources familiar with military and political developments in Syria have also previously told Reuters that Russians are taking part in military operations in the country. Syrian officials say the Russian military presence is restricted to experts. Hezbollah has deployed directly in combat, while Iran has mobilized militias and sent military advisers. (Additional reporting by Naline Malla and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)
- Business Insider
Opinion: The costs of a foreign policy that emphasizes US global preeminence are now inescapable clear, and US leaders need to change course.
Archaeologists have unearthed a unique ancient-Roman ceremonial carriage from a villa just outside Pompeii, the city buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The almost perfectly preserved four-wheeled carriage made of iron, bronze and tin was found near the stables of an ancient villa at Civita Giuliana, around 700 metres (yards) north of the walls of ancient Pompeii. Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the Pompeii archaeological site, said the carriage was the first of its kind discovered in the area, which had so far yielded functional vehicles used for transport and work, but not for ceremonies.
- The Telegraph
Perched on the mountain range that divides the sprawling city of Caracas from the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela’s Hotel Humboldt can be seen from nearly all corners of the capital. The 65-year-old, 14-floor structure can only be reached by cable car from the city below. It currently boasts 69 rooms, six dining areas, a casino, a night club, and a swimming pool and spa. “It will be the first seven star hotel in Venezuela,” President Nicolas Maduro once proudly proclaimed as the 1956 symbol of oil wealth was being lavishly renovated. Now, the hotel is open again as a symbol of an impending economic recovery and tourism boom in a country that has suffered the worst economic crisis in modern Latin American history. But the so-called Socialist president’s touting of the luxurious, $300 per night hotel in a country where most live in poverty represents something else to others - an abandonment of a political project promising a socialist utopia in favor of an 'anything goes', capitalist kleptocracy.
- Reuters Videos
Among the fatalities, most died from bullet wounds, a hospital source said, adding that about 120 protesters were wounded. At least 57 members of the security forces were injured, according to another hospital source and a security source.The clashes continued on Friday evening after a week of violence that erupted on Sunday when security forces fired to disperse protesters, who were trying to storm the provincial government building using rocks and Molotov cocktails.Protesters are demanding the removal of the governor and justice for protesters killed since 2019.Iraq's biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out in October 2019 and continued for several months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and the removal of the ruling elite, whom they accused of corruption.Nearly 500 people were killed, and the protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May 2020, has pledged justice for activists killed or abused by armed groups. But no prosecutions have occurred so far.The clashes come just a week before Pope Francis visits Iraq from March 5 to 8. He is due to tour the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur, only about 20 kilometres away from the clashes.
SCOTUS quietly banned the abortion pill from mail - the only mail-in medication barred during the pandemic
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Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler is out as owner of WNBA team, and the new owners include former star player who retired to fight for social justice
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- Business Insider
QAnon's most devout followers believe bizarrely that former President Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 19th President on March 4, 2021.
- Associated Press
The U.S. is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two. Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways. The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death.
- Yahoo News Video
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she won't take AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine because she is too old, a comment that comes as millions of Germans refuse to take the vaccine because they do not trust it.
Residents of an Indian slum thought they were getting vaccinated like everyone else but were unknowingly part of a clinical trial
After a white van advertised COVID-19 vaccines to a central-Indian slum, many of its residents feel duped after finding out they were in a trial.
It's been 40 years since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement with a televised interview.
- Business Insider
Go back to the place you got your first shot if you lose your paper card, and make sure to take a photo of the vaccine card after your first dose.
- Business Insider
Trump supporters and right-wing reporters wouldn't stop heckling CNN's Jim Acosta during second day of CPAC
A crowd of Trump supporters and right-wing reporters were filmed following Jim Acosta around CPAC while chanting "CNN sucks!"
- Business Insider
Merkel says she won't take AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine because she's too old, as 1.4 million jabs are left unused
The German chancellor said she wasn't eligible because the vaccine isn't approved for people over 65 in Germany.
Jill Biden said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" that her daughter, Ashley, was the first to tell her that the Valentine's Day scrunchie sparked a trend.
A harmless side effect of the shot can be swollen lymph nodes. That means the vaccine is working, but could cause false alarm, so you should wait.
- The Week
Democrats decry Biden's airstrikes in Syria as unconstitutional. Republicans praise them as 'proportional.'
Democrats are calling the Biden administration's airstrikes in Syria unconstitutional. President Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, his first military action since taking office. The strikes were in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. While Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the limited scope of the airstrikes "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq," many Democrats expressed concerns on Friday that the move has done just the opposite, and argued it wasn't legally justified. "Some Democrats said that Congress has not passed an authorization for the use of military force specifically in Syria," reports CNN. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "there is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization ... we need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate." Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) agreed, calling for an immediate congressional briefing and saying "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances." Republicans, however, were seemingly largely pleased with the move. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.S. response a "necessary deterrent" to tell Iran that attacks on U.S. interests "will not be tolerated," reports CNN. As Fox News notes, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), among others, also applauded the strike, calling it "proportional." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the action as "necessary," and said Biden "has the right to take action" as he sees fit. She said "there was a thorough, legal response" and the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership in advance. More stories from theweek.comBiden in the quagmireBen Sasse on Matt Gaetz: 'That guy is not an adult'Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is 'obsessed' with creating 'clean-energy jobs'
Ben Affleck says his divorce from Jennifer Garner and other 'life experience' shaped him into a better actor
In a new interview as part of The Hollywood Reporter's Actor Roundtable series, Affleck spoke about Garner and the three kids they share.
- The Independent
Republicans cite ‘public health emergency’ for skipping Covid relief votes while speaking at maskless CPAC
Lawmakers due to attend conservative conference where crowds booed hosts for asking guests to wear masks
The Queen urged everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine, saying skeptics 'ought to think about other people rather than themselves'
The message from Queen Elizabeth II promoting the COVID-19 vaccine is reminiscent of her support of polio vaccination efforts more than 70 years ago.