By Samia Nakhoul BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia's military build-up in Syria is aimed mainly at propping up President Bashar al-Assad and helping him reinforce his threatened coastal heartland, where he is seeking to bolster the communities that form his power base as his army falters. The Russian escalation has ended any prospect of Assad being ousted by military force, despite the near collapse of his army in the face of rebel advances, and will consolidate the de facto partitioning of Syria, most analysts believe. Residents of the coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad’s Alawite minority, say the increase in Russia’s military presence began as early as June and, along with it, preparations for an eventual breakup of the country of 23 million people. The population of Latakia has swollen fourfold during four years of civil war, and the government is now facilitating the settlement of other minorities such as Christians and Shi'ites. But since most Syrians are Sunnis, those who flee to the coast are not allowed to move their civil registration there, a move designed to prevent the Sunni majority from becoming a threat to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. With roughly two thirds of Syria controlled by mainly Islamist rebels, whether Syrian fighters backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, or the cross-border Islamic State, it looks inconceivable that Russia could retake territory lost by government forces unless it were to commit ground troops. That is not on the table so far, analysts say. What does seem clear is that Russia’s move was prompted by alarm that government forces were losing ground so fast that the survival of the Assad family, for decades Moscow’s closest ally in the Middle East, was in question. When Islamist rebels started to threaten Latakia, which is near the Russian naval base at Tartous, Moscow's only naval facility in the Mediterranean, the Kremlin decided to step in. Russia's close ties to the Syrian government go back to the Soviet era when Moscow counted Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, as a firm ally. Even before the latest build-up, it had teams of military advisers and trainers on the ground. ASSAD TO STAY Russia's plan is to help forces loyal to Assad hold and reinforce the Alawite enclave in the coastal and mountainous north-west, Syria-watchers say. If Assad were pushed out of Damascus and the capital fell either to Islamic State or other Islamist rebels, Russia and the Syrian government's allies such as Iran and Hezbollah will have dug him a well-fortified fallback position in Latakia. Amid uncertainty about President Vladimir Putin’s goals in Syria, there are contrary opinions about whether Moscow intends to follow its show of regional force with a diplomatic initiative to end Syria's four-year civil war. But there is a near consensus that Assad's forces were fading, and Russian intervention will accelerate the partition of the country into warring fragments. The Russians were quick to send in air forces and more ground equipment, said Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to and then special envoy for Syria, who resigned because of differences with U.S. policy on Syria. "It makes me think that the Assad regime was actually becoming very weak and the Russians became scared," he said. While the Kremlin says its deployment is part of the international fight against Islamic State, its main goal is to boost Assad and defend Russia's beachhead on Syria’s north-west coast, Ford said. "Why would you put the air units in Latakia instead of Damascus if you want to fight the Islamic State?" he said. "Why do you send anti-aircraft equipment when the Islamic State doesn’t have any air force? "So it seems to me that this is designed to help Assad first," Ford said. After that they may attack Islamic State and other elements of the opposition in north-west Syria. He saw no evidence that the Russians would jettison Assad and risk the stability of what remains of the Syrian state. TURNING POINT A former senior Syrian official said Assad had asked Russia to intervene "because he was desperate and the army was collapsing". Assad had briefed his loyalists that Moscow would provide reinforcements and weapons, and take command of the air force. "The Russian intervention is to help Assad preserve the status quo, maintain the areas of the regime, the enclave," the former official said. He had doubts, however, about Assad's long-term prospects. "This will allow the regime to continue with its policy of no negotiation with the opposition but it won’t solve the problem." Fawaz Gerges, Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, said the Russian action was a turning point in stiffening Assad’s resolve that removed any prospect that he would leave the scene sooner rather than later. "Contrary to what the U.S., Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been trying to say and do, the Russian intervention in Syria shows that Assad is not going anywhere," Gerges said. At the same time, he said, the ramped-up Russian presence will reinforce Assad’s feeling that neither the United States, Turkey, nor any other regional power will intervene enough to tilt the balance of power away from stalemate. Yet Putin, who sees Syria as part of a wider Russian bid for influence in the Middle East, is taking a gamble. "Russia now is taking big risks. Syria is a quagmire in which everyone is basically drowning. Everyone is losing and Syria could prove to be a graveyard for Russia's influence in the Middle East," Gerges said. Many analysts believe that while Assad's external foes now realize he is going to stay, that does not mean they want to cooperate with Putin. After Russia grabbed Crimea and divided Ukraine, some feel its surge back into the Middle East is a bargaining chip for its European agenda. Ford said Washington would continue bombing Islamic State in central and eastern Syria, and working with the Syrian Kurdish militia. "I think the Americans are going to pretend that the Russians aren't there," he said. "If I were Assad in Damascus now," said Gerges, "I know that I have my superpower ally with direct influence, direct presence in the heartland, in my birthplace." Ayham Kamal, an analyst at Eurasia Group, agrees: "The Russian intervention will make it very difficult for anyone to push forward with regime change. Assad is there to stay, at the very least in a transitional capacity, and the rest depends on negotiations between the West and Russia." (Editing by Giles Elgood)
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- The Telegraph
Boris Johnson takes on football giants over new super league plan Priti Patel accuses Facebook of putting profit before children's safety Greensill: Key Starmer ally works for lobbying firm Coronavirus news: Volunteers exposed to virus for second time Subscribe to The Telegraph for a month-long free trial Boris Johnson has been urged to intervene over plans to create an 'elite' European Super League, after six of England's biggest clubs announced they would be joining the new closed tournament. The Prime Minister last night said the clubs involved - Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur - "must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps". But Labour is piling on the pressure for the Government to do something, with Sir Keir Starmer saying if clubs don't rethink the plan "they should face the consequences of their actions". Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the Today programme: "They should be sitting down with those clubs and saying ultimately they have a responsibility to the rest of football." This morning Christopher Pincher, the housing minister, confirmed that conversations would be taking place, but urged against a "knee-jerk reaction" to the news. He told Sky News: "We are on the side of the fans... we will ensure the fans are properly represented." He added: "We don't want to see a footballing elite, which is by the elite, for the elite, of the elite. Read the latest updates below.
- Business Insider
Marjorie Taylor Greene says she'll introduce a resolution to expel Rep. Maxine Waters for her 'continual incitement of violence.'
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- The Telegraph
The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge will hold a summit to decide the future of the monarchy over the next two generations following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. In consultation with the Queen, Britain’s next two kings will decide how many full-time working members the Royal family should have, who they should be, and what they should do. The death of Prince Philip has left the Royal family with the immediate question of how and whether to redistribute the hundreds of patronages he retained. Meanwhile the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step back from royal duties, confirmed only last month after a one-year “review period”, has necessitated a rethink of who should support the sovereign in the most high-profile roles. Royal insiders say that the two matters cannot be decided in isolation, as the issues of patronage and personnel are inextricably linked. Because any decisions made now will have repercussions for decades to come, the Prince of Wales will take a leading role in the talks. He has made it clear that the Duke of Cambridge, his own heir, should be involved at every stage because any major decisions taken by 72-year-old Prince Charles will last into Prince William’s reign. The Earl and Countess of Wessex, who were more prominent than almost any other member of the Royal family in the days leading up to the Duke’s funeral, are expected to plug the gap left by the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by taking on more high-profile engagements. However, they already carry out a significant number of royal duties – 544 between them in the last full year before Covid struck – meaning they will not be able to absorb the full workload left by the absences of the Sussexes and the Duke of York, who remains in effective retirement as a result of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. In 2019 the Sussexes and the Duke completed 558 engagements between them. It leaves the Royal family needing to carry out a full-scale review of how their public duties are fulfilled. Not only do they have three fewer people to call on, they must also decide what to do with several hundred patronages and military titles held by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Sussexes and possibly the Duke of York, if his retirement is permanent. Royal sources said the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge would discuss over the coming weeks and months how the monarchy should evolve. The issue has been at the top of the Queen and the Prince of Wales’s respective in-trays since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s one-year review period of their royal future came to an end last month, but the ill health and subsequent death of Prince Philip forced them to put the matter on hold.
- Associated Press
A crackdown by Pakistani security forces on protesting supporters of a banned Islamist party left at least three people dead and 20 others injured Sunday, a police official and a party spokesman said. Lahore police spokesman Rana Arif said supporters of the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party attacked police with a petrol bomb and took custody of five police officers, including Deputy Superintendent Umar Farooq Baluch.
- Associated Press
A high-ranking general key to Iran's security apparatus has died, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced on Sunday. Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, who died at 65, served as deputy commander of the Quds, or Jerusalem, force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. The unit is an elite and influential group that oversees foreign operations, and Hejazi helped lead its expeditionary forces and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
- The Telegraph
The soldiers came at night on motorbikes, in armoured cars and on the flatbeds of trucks, descending on La Victoria dressed in all black to "liberate" the humid jungle border town. When they left, bodies of civilians were left strewn in the streets, in front yards and on rural scrubland - victims of a clumsy crackdown ordered by Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro. The assault, carried out by Venezuela's shadowy special forces, was designed to halt the rise of a new Colombian militia muscling in on lucrative drug smuggling routes on Venezuelan soil. Rising demand for cocaine in Europe is fuelling conflict - and apparent state-sponsored murder - here, more than 5,500 miles away from the bars and clubs in London, Madrid and Paris. The Venezuelan military operation is its largest in decades and risks destabilising a region teeming with illegal armed groups and state security forces. It has also caught the eye of Joe Biden's administration, with US spy planes circling.
From Trae Young to Kyrie Irving to Stephen Curry, we decided to rank the 15 best point guards in the NBA today.
A leading conspiracy theorist who thought COVID-19 was a hoax died from the virus after hosting illegal house parties
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- The Telegraph
She is said to be the Queen’s favourite daughter-in-law, and now the monarch is set to turn to the Countess of Wessex to fill the gap left by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in carrying out royal duties. The 56-year-old Countess was one of the most prominent members of the Royal family in the days following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death. She made the first public comments about his passing, repeatedly visited Windsor Castle and provided a photograph of the Queen and the Duke at Balmoral that Her Majesty chose to share with the world as a tribute to her late husband. The departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from the UK, and the effective retirement of the Duke of York, has left a major hole in the roster of Royal family members available to carry out public duties, and the Countess has been groomed to step out of the shadows in the year since “Megxit”. Her husband, the Earl of Wessex, 57, is also expected to increase his public profile as he prepares to take on the title Duke of Edinburgh when the Prince of Wales - who automatically inherited the title from his father - becomes king.
- The Telegraph
The Queen was seated two metres apart from her loved ones on Saturday as just 30 members of the Royal family attended the Duke of Edinburgh’s Covid-complaint funeral. Buckingham Palace said the 94-year-old monarch had faced “difficult decisions” over who to invite to the 3pm ceremony at St George’s Chapel and the seating plan reflected a strict adherence to the Government’s coronavirus rules on indoor worship. Her Majesty was seated alone at the front of the quire, on the south side of the chapel, where only three years ago she and Prince Philip watched Prince Harry marry Meghan Markle. She was in the same spot for Princess Eugenie’s wedding to Jack Brooksbank three months later in October 2018.
- Business Insider
Elon Musk's brother Kimbal Musk, typically a Democrat donor, gave $2,800 to each GOP lawmaker who voted to impeach Trump
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- Business Insider
Nearly two-thirds of Trump voters disapprove of Meghan Markle, while Biden voters overwhelmingly like her: poll
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His resignation ends his family's six-decade hold on power in Cuba.
- Associated Press
For a sixth day, rescue crews returned Sunday to a capsized lift boat in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, looking for nine crew members who have not been found, the Coast Guard said. Officials have released little information about their continuous search in the murky seas surrounding the capsized Seacor Power lift boat some 8 miles (13 kilometers) off the coast since announcing divers found two bodies inside the ship Friday night. “We have hope,” Marion Cuyler wrote in a text to a reporter.
Mayim Bialik says not even the 'Big Bang Theory' writers were originally sure if Amy would say yes to marrying Sheldon
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Neighbor who tossed an elderly Jewish woman off a balcony while yelling 'Allahu Akbar' avoids trial because he smoked weed
A court ruled that Kobili Traoré, a drug dealer who smoked cannabis every day, will not go to trial for murdering Orthodox Jew Sarah Halimi in 2017.
- Business Insider
When it comes to China, the US need to figure out which fights are principled, and which fights are petty
Saber-rattlers think we can't cooperate with and confront China. They are wrong and delusional about where the US-China relationship is right now.
Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey has a double-digit lead over Gov. Greg Abbott in latest Texas gubernatorial election poll
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