BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army has regained control of a town on the highway linking Hama and Aleppo cities in western Syria after months of battles with insurgents, state television and a monitoring group said on Friday. The recapture of Morek, 30km (19 miles) north of Hama, is part of the military's campaign to shore up territory in the west of the country stretching north from Damascus as U.S.-led forces bomb Islamist militants elsewhere in Syria. The army "took full control of the town of Morek in the northern Hama countryside and killed a number of terrorists and mercenaries," state television said in a news alert, citing a military source. The town is significant because it sits on the main route between two of Syria's most populated cities. President Bashar al-Assad's force has intensified air raids on western areas in the past month and has been making incremental gains on the ground. Hundreds of soldiers were killed in nine months of battles for the town with rebel fighters, including some from al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, said Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. The military took control of the town late on Thursday after heavy shelling and air strikes in the area which killed fighters on both sides, according to the Observatory. A rebel brigade in northwestern Syria said Morek should not be overlooked as a battle rages further north around the Syrian town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. The hardline Islamic State group is trying to capture the town close to the Turkish border from Kurdish forces and the battle has become the focus of international attention. "Morek is more deserving of forces to prevent the progress of Assad," a statement from the Syria Revolutionaries Front said. The group is aligned with the western-backed Free Syrian Army. An intensified military campaign by pro-Assad forces is stoking fears among his opponents that the government is taking advantage of the U.S. raids on Islamic State to attack other foes. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
- Yahoo News
If it takes a miracle for Trump to stay in office, evangelicals like Michele Bachmann are fine with that
As the inevitability of President Trump’s loss became apparent even to his acolyte Kellyanne Conway in recent days, his supporters increasingly pinned their hopes for a second term on a last-ditch appeal, not to the Supreme Court, but to the one power that can outvote it: God.
- Associated Press
The leader of a pro-gun group that stages armed protests against police violence has been charged with pointing a rifle at federal officers while in Kentucky for a demonstration. John F. Johnson, who calls himself “Grandmaster Jay,” is facing a federal charge of assaulting task force officers. A complaint filed in federal court in Louisville said Johnson pointed a rifle, which had a flashlight mounted to it, at officers who were on a roof in downtown Louisville on Sept. 4.
- The Independent
Educator says she wants to keep on teaching when Joe Biden becomes president
Russia protested on Friday after Latvia charged several journalists from the Rossiya Segodnya news agency with violating European Union sanctions. The journalists were charged because of their association with Dmitry Kiselyov, who heads Rossiya Segodnya, said Sputnik Latvia, a subsidiary of Rossiya Segodnya. The Kremlin media mogul was sanctioned by the EU for his role in Russia's seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
- Yahoo News 360
Media reports suggest President Trump is eyeing another bid for the White House in four years. Will Trump 2024 become a reality?
- Associated Press
The European Union’s aviation safety agency has extended a ban imposed on Pakistan's state-run airline this year barring it from flying to Europe after a plane crash that killed 97 people in the port city of Karachi, a spokesman said Friday. At the time — and while the probe into the May 22 Airbus A320 crash was still underway — authorities acknowledged that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots, 260 out of 860, had cheated on their pilot’s exams. Pakistan International Airlines subsequently grounded 150 of its pilots while a probe by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority into the other pilots is still ongoing.
- LA Times
Jewish art dealers under pressure from Nazis sold medieval relics to Germany in 1935: Can their heirs sue to recover now?
Iran plans to install hundreds more advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges at an underground plant in breach of its deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Friday, a move that will raise pressure on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. The confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in the underground plant at Natanz, which was apparently built to withstand aerial bombardment.
- The Week
There appears to be growing support among Senate Republicans for a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill introduced earlier this week, reports The Washington Post.The $908 billion package — championed by moderate Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (D-Maine), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) — is in between what Democratic leadership is pushing for and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested. The moderates suggested an unemployment boost and money for state governments, but no stimulus checks.While McConnell on Thursday continued to resist the bipartisan bill, pushing instead for his version, which the White House has endorsed, other Republican senators got on board with the package. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) signaled they were open to the bipartisan bill.Democratic leaders said they believed the $908 billion package should be the basis for negotiations. Several Republicans echoed that, saying it wasn't exactly what they wanted but it made for a good starting point.McConnell didn't comment directly on the bipartisan proposal, but instead urged lawmakers to pull the trigger on his version, which he called "a serious and highly targeted relief proposal including elements which we know the president is ready and willing to sign into law."More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- Business Insider
President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus team met with Dr. Anthony Fauci for the first time Thursday.
- Associated Press
The Army Corps of Engineers reversed course on an Obama-era proposal to charge for water drawn from reservoirs the Corps manages, North Dakota’s attorney general said Friday. Attorneys general from a dozen Western and Plains states sent a letter last year to the Trump administration asking that the proposal be withdrawn. Republican North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem headed the effort, which was backed by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Firefighters battled to tame a wildfire on hillsides southeast of Los Angeles late on Thursday, some 24 hours after it broke out in a wooded canyon, apparently triggered by a faulty domestic generator. Two of some 500 firefighters deployed to control it had been hospitalized with injuries, the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. The Bond Fire, named for the street in Silverado Canyon where it started, ignited late on Wednesday evening and was quickly whipped up by dry Santa Ana winds.
- The Telegraph
China is conducting "human testing" to create "biologically enhanced soldiers," the head of US intelligence has claimed as he warned that Beijing poses the biggest threat to America's national security. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, warned that the US must be prepared for an "open-ended" confrontation with China which he likened to the Cold War. Mr Ratcliffe, who oversees America's intelligence agencies, said he believed China's intention was to "dominate" the planet in every sense: economically, militarily and technologically. He claimed that US intelligence showed China has "conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities". "There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power," he said. Mr Ratcliffe said his unique vantage point on the current security threats facing the US had led him to conclude that "the People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II". He went on to outline in granular detail China's strategy of economic espionage, which he framed as: “rob, replicate and replace.” “China robs US companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology, and then replaces the US firms in the global marketplace,” he said.
- Reuters Videos
"No, I don't think it should be mandatory. I wouldn't demand that it be mandatory, but I will do everything in my power, just like I don't think masks have to be made mandatory nationwide... I will do everything in my power as the President of the United States to encourage people to do the right thing," Biden said. He added that in his inaugural speech he will ask Americans to commit for 100 days to wearing a mask, saying that wearing masks is 'not a political issue, it's become one.'
- USA TODAY
Five executions are scheduled before Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment, takes office. Ninety current and former law officials want a halt.
- Associated Press
After interviewing Dan Quayle in Arizona for his documentary on the vice presidency, filmmaker Jeffrey Roth was rushing to the airport to catch a flight to Wyoming, where he had an appointment with Dick Cheney the next morning. It was Vice President Mike Pence and his entourage. “Ben Franklin, when the Constitution was written, said, ‘we should refer to the vice president as ’his superfluous excellency,'” President-elect Joe Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama's vice president, says in the film.
Philippine police on Friday threatened to cane people who violate social distancing protocols as the Southeast Asian nation fights the spread of the coronavirus during the festive season. The Philippines celebrates one of the world's longest Christmas seasons, starting as early as September, and crowds have started to flock to sprawling malls and shopping centres despite the pandemic. Police general Cesar Binag, commander of the coronavirus task force, told a news conference that police and soldiers would patrol in public areas in the capital Manila, the hotspot of COVID-19 cases, carrying 1 meter rattan sticks to measure distancing.
- The Week
The last jobs report to be released this year has arrived, and it's a major disappointment.The Labor Department on Friday said the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, which was down from the 440,000 jobs economists were expecting, CNBC reports. It was also "by far the lowest monthly total since the economy started its halting recovery," NBC News reports. In October, 610,000 jobs were added, the Labor Department says. The unemployment rate in November also dipped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent."Today's report is a firm reminder that we're not out of the woods yet," Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao said, per CNBC. “Even with a vaccine on the horizon, many are bracing for a long winter ahead."This disappointing report comes as COVID-19 cases spike around the United States, prompting states to implement new restrictions. The jobs numbers offered a "red flag that momentum is waning," The Washington Post's Heather Long wrote, while former White House deputy press secretary and CNBC contributor Tony Fratto said that although the addition of 245,000 jobs "would be a very good normal jobs day," this "isn't a normal jobs day and so it's quite a horrible number."Politico's Ben White echoed that sentiment, writing that "the pace of jobs coming back is heading toward zero" and adding that "it's quite possible, given the pace we are on, that we could return to net job losses in December, especially with no new stimulus."More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- Associated Press
The United Nations' human rights chief lamented a deteriorating situation in Belarus and said Friday that reported beatings of protesters by security forces may in some cases amount to torture. Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights, told the U.N. Human Rights Council there has been no improvement since a September debate about Belarus and “recent weeks have seen continued deterioration, particularly with respect to the right of peaceful assembly.”
- The Telegraph
Michel Barnier is accustomed to being universally praised on his regular tours of the EU's capitals to preach the gospel against Brexit. On Tuesday, he was in the unfamiliar position of coming under friendly fire for the first time in three years as the EU's chief negotiator. It was an uncomfortable moment for Mr Barnier, who was headquartered at the Hotel Conrad in Westminster and is enmeshed in intensive Brexit negotiations with his UK counterpart David Frost. Expectation had been building that a trade agreement with Britain was close and a damaging no deal avoided. A fitting legacy for a politician who had dedicated decades of service to the EU was in Mr Barnier's grasp. He was far from the poisonous briefings in Brussels that were going on behind his back – but bad news travels fast. The chief negotiator was going soft on Britain, EU diplomats in the Belgian capital sniped. He risked giving too much away.