By Stephen Kalin BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army entered eastern districts of the town of Yabroud, the last rebel bastion near the Lebanese border north of Damascus, on Saturday and tightened its grip on the remaining rebels there from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Soldiers advanced inside Yabroud and "eliminated terrorist strongholds", said a reporter on Syrian state television SANA who was broadcasting live from the town's outskirts. He said the army had taken control of hills and mountaintops southeast of Yabroud, gaining a strategically advantageous position. A military source confirmed to Reuters that the army had taken a series of peaks and said it had "fastened pincers around Yabroud." Capturing the town would help President Bashar al-Assad cut off a cross-border rebel supply line from Lebanon. It is near the highway linking Damascus to the former commercial hub of Aleppo in the north and to the Mediterranean coast in the west, where Assad's minority Alawite community is concentrated. The government has been making incremental gains along the highway as well as around Damascus and Aleppo in recent months, regaining the initiative in a conflict which enters its fourth year this month. Thousands of people fled Yabroud, a town of about 40,000 to 50,000 people roughly 60 km (40 miles) north of Damascus, and the surrounding areas after it was bombed and shelled last month ahead of the government offensive. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the government pounded some districts of Yabroud with barrel bombs on Saturday and shelled the town's outskirts. The SANA reporter said the army had imposed a cordon around the western part of the town before entering from the east. "With the entrance of the Syrian army forces from the east and the west, the noose was tightened around the (armed) groups," he said. Some of the rebels had withdrawn to Rankos, a village 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Yabroud, said SANA. But others, mainly from the Nusra Front, had stayed in Yabroud and were fighting the advancing government forces. The reporter said the Nusra militants had blocked roads to prevent other rebels from retreating. "Most of them are non-Syrian nationals and therefore are still insistent on remaining in Yabroud even though the Syrian army is dealing strong, severe strikes against these groups." AL QAEDA-LINKED COMMANDER KILLED Footage broadcast by Al Mayadeen television from the outskirts of Yabroud and some of its eastern districts showed soldiers charging through a field towards an arched gate and a sign saying "Welcome to Yabroud". Soldiers fired machine guns and advanced through what appeared to be lightly populated residential areas. Gunfire could be heard in the background. Other footage from Al Mayadeen and Hezbollah-run Al Manar television showed dark plumes of smoke rising over a section of the town, as the army targeted suspected rebel holdouts. The Observatory, an anti-Assad group, said five rebel fighters were killed in heavy fighting between government forces supported by Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah and rebel factions including the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda splinter group. A senior commander in the Nusra Front was killed late on Friday on the outskirts of Yabroud during shelling and clashes with the army and Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory said. Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti was the deputy leader of the Nusra Front in Qalamoun, the mountainous zone between Damascus and the Lebanese border where Yabroud is situated. He had been a principal negotiator in the prisoner exchange last week which secured the release of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns held by the Nusra Front since December, according to the Observatory. INTERNATIONAL APPEALS As rebels appeared on the verge of losing another town, opposition leader Ahmad Jarba urged world leaders to fulfill their promises to provide weapons to the Free Syrian Army. "I remind them that the time they are trying to buy today through procrastination will tomorrow put a knife to the neck of the region and peace and security in the world," he said in Istanbul. Jarba was speaking to mark the third anniversary of the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against Assad but turned into an armed insurgency after a violent security crackdown on demonstrators. More than 140,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have fled abroad as refugees in an increasingly sectarian civil war. European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, in a statement on Saturday to mark the anniversary, urged Assad's government to comply with a June 30 U.N. deadline to eliminate its entire chemical weapons program. Damascus did not meet a commitment to destroy 12 chemical production facilities by March 15, after having already missed several deadlines laid out in last year's agreement. Ashton also said the international community had a responsibility to bring the conflict to an end. "The tragedy in Syria has no parallel in recent history. The only solution to the crisis is a political one: the establishment of a transitional governing body, and a genuine Syrian-led inclusive political process to establish a democratic and pluralistic Syria." (Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich/Rosalind Russell)
- USA TODAY
The snake involved was an African bush viper. There is no known antivenom for their bites.
- The Week
Use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine has been paused in multiple states after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory recommending they do so "out of an abundance of caution." The reason is a tiny handful of unusual blood clotting events — just six of them, to be precise, out of a total of 6.8 million doses administered in the United States thus far. This is an incomprehensible decision. As Helen Branswell writes at STAT News, every single clotting event involved a woman aged between 18 and 48 with a condition called thrombocytopenia (or low blood platelets). It isn't even clear yet that the vaccine actually caused the clots — the background rate of this particular kind of clotting is about five per million people, per year. Now, of course public health authorities should be vigilant about potential side effects, and they should inform the medical and scientific communities about any troubling data that comes up. It would be understandable to pause a treatment that was just a precaution for some rare disease. But we are still right in the middle of a deadly viral pandemic, and cases are increasing: up from about 55,000 per day in mid-March to 70,000 per day, thanks mainly to an exploding outbreak in Michigan. Deaths are falling, but still coming in at about 750 per day. COVID-19 is a serious disease, even for younger people — indeed, one of the common complications is dangerous blood clots. It might be reasonable to recommend that women under 50, or anyone with thrombocytopenia, get one of the other vaccines while scientists try to figure out what is going on. But pausing all use of the J&J vaccine will certainly prevent many thousands of people from getting vaccinated so long as the pause lasts, and will likely do long-term damage to the reputation of all the vaccines. The anti-vaccine crowd on Fox News is going to to go nuts with this, spreading fear and paranoia and increasing the resistance of Republicans to vaccination. This decision is the opposite of caution. More stories from theweek.comTrump finally jumps the sharkBiden gets positive GOP reviews after infrastructure meeting, a hard no on corporate tax hike7 brutally funny cartoons about Mitch McConnell's corporate hypocrisy
- The Daily Beast
Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool/Getty ImagesPrince Philip was often said to have vowed never to be in the same room as Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of his son Andrew, after photographs appeared in a newspaper in 1992 of Sarah topless and having her toes sucked by a lover in the South of France.Gyles Brandreth, Philip’s official biographer whose book The Final Portrait will be published later this month, has confirmed that long-standing rumor today in the second lengthy excerpt from his book.Even as a Corpse, Prince Philip Has to Take Second Place to the QueenPhilip, he said, declared “enough was enough” after the pictures appeared. He told Brandreth Fergie was “simply beyond the pale,” and resolved not to have anything more to do with her.At the time when the pictures were first published, Sarah was staying at the queen’s Scottish country estate of Balmoral. Philip put his resolution into immediate action, as Ferguson herself recalled to Brandreth, saying: “It was ridiculous. As soon as I came in through one door, he’d be falling over the corgis to get out of the other. It was very funny. Except, of course, it wasn’t.”Although the queen continued to receive Fergie even after her separation and subsequent divorce from Prince Andrew, Philip made it clear that he had no desire to ever see her again.Sarah plaintively told Brandreth: “Of course I want to see him. I am the mother of his granddaughters, after all.”Brandreth said when he raised this with Prince Philip, he just shrugged and said: “But the children come and stay,” adding, “I am not vindictive, but I don’t see the point.”He described Andrew and Sarah’s post-divorce arrangements which have seen them continue to share a home as “truly bizarre,” adding, “I don’t pretend to understand it.”Brandreth writes that Fergie and Philip held diametrically opposed views on “bottling up your feelings” which she believed was positively harmful.Brandreth writes that when her daughters were children she would tell them to stand in the middle of the extensive grounds of their home, Sunninghill Park, and scream.Brandreth wrote that Sarah then demonstrated, catching him by surprise as she let out a blood-curdling scream.He writes: “The prospect of encountering his former daughter-in-law screaming in the middle of Sunninghill Park could have been one of the reasons the Duke of Edinburgh decided to give her a wide berth after her separation from Prince Andrew. He regarded reticence as a virtue and self-control as a quality to be admired.”Philip did not sit down for the 2011 six-parter on the Oprah Winfrey Network Finding Sarah, in which Fergie wept on screen with a TV psychiatrist. He told Brandreth he was in favour of “self-awareness” but against “the endless introspection that seems to be so prevalent these days.” As reported on Monday, he regarded Harry and Meghan’s decision to do a similar interview as “madness.”Fergie, Brandreth reports, tried to repair relations with Philip but was constantly rebuffed.For Philip’s 80th birthday, she sent him “a handsome dinner service.” But even here, fate conspired against her, Brandreth writes: “It was supposed to have 12 settings, but it arrived with 13: the ‘sample’ had been included with the set. With Sarah, somehow, something always goes wrong.”Philip’s allegedly vow to never be in the same room as Fergie was broken only when they both attended the wedding of Prince Harry at Windsor Castle in May 2018.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- The Daily Beast
ALEXEY NIKOLSKYAll-out cyberwarfare, nation-wide forced blackouts, and the targeted disruption of internet services—for one of the Kremlin’s top propagandists, all of those tactics are fair game in what she describes as a fated war-to-come against the U.S.“War [with the U.S.] is inevitable,” declared Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the state-funded Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik, who believes the conflict will break out when, not if, Vladimir Putin moves to seize more territory from Ukraine.As Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s doorstep mounts, Kremlin loyalists have been urging for even more overt aggression and bloodshed in the campaign to annex Ukraine’s Donbas region. The only thing standing in the way, they say, is U.S. support for their beleaguered neighbor.NATO issued a statement on Wednesday demanding an end to Russia’s troop movements on the border with the disputed territory of Donbas in eastern Ukraine. It is the largest buildup of Russian troops since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The U.S. underlined the statement this week by deploying two warships to the Black Sea.On Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov threatened retaliation. “We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” he said.The escalation was foreshadowed on state television’s Sunday Evening With Vladimir Soloviev over the weekend. Simonyan explained that it was time for Russia to gear up for a showdown against the U.S., and prophesized a kind of war driven by hacking, the forced disruption of internet access, the shutting down of power supplies, and an all-out offensive on U.S. infrastructure.“I do not believe that this will be a large-scale hot war, like World War II, and I do not believe that there will be a long Cold War. It will be a war of the third type: the cyberwar,” said Simonyan.She warned that—in this theoretical battle—the U.S. would plot to cut off the electricity of entire Russian cities. In turn, she speculated, Moscow would be able to force a blackout in Florida or New York’s Harlem at the flip of a switch.“In conventional war, we could defeat Ukraine in two days,” Simonyan said, “but it will be another kind of war. We’ll do it, and then [the U.S.] will respond by turning off power to [the Russian city] Voronezh,” she said.The top RT editor asserted that “[Russia] needs to be ready for this war, which is unavoidable, and of course it will start in Ukraine,” arguing that the Kremlin is “invincible where conventional war is concerned, but forget about conventional war... it will be a war of infrastructures, and here we have many vulnerabilities.”Her solution consists of Stalin-type measures to eliminate “vulnerabilities” in the run-up to another escalation, emphasizing the need for a hack-proof, government-controlled internet. “We still don’t have a sovereign internet, but God willing, we will,” she said.She wholeheartedly endorsed a suggestion from Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, who argued that all of Russia’s opposition must be eliminated by May 1, 2021. With imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a hunger strike—and suffering from severe health ailments after being denied appropriate medical treatment—the Kremlin seems to be firmly set on that course.Simonyan argued that once Russia minimizes its vulnerabilities and renders Putin’s opposition powerless—which she argued could happen in a matter of months—the Kremlin will finally be ready to annex Ukraine’s eastern region.“I’ve been agitating and even demanding that we take Donbas. We need to patch up our vulnerabilities as fast as we can, and then we can do whatever we want,” she boldly proclaimed. The host, Vladimir Soloviev, wholeheartedly agreed: “We only lose if we do nothing.” He argued that by absorbing parts of Ukraine—or the entire country—Russia would be able to remove the zone of American influence further away from its borders.As one of the Kremlin’s most valued propagandists, Margarita Simonyan is notoriously close to the Russian president and has received multiple awards directly from Putin. After accepting one such award in 2019, Simonyan thanked Putin “for the most important reward in life… this honor to serve one’s Motherland.”Her “service” has involved RT and Sputnik-driven disinformation operations aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which she often boasts about by pointing to the inclusion of her name in various U.S. intelligence reports.Russia’s recent cyberspace activities seem to serve as good practice for the “inevitable war” foreshadowed by Simonyan.Last year, six Russian intelligence officers were criminally charged by the U.S. for using the world’s most destructive malware to force blackouts in Ukraine and damage the critical infrastructure of multiple countries, which caused nearly $1 billion in losses. On Monday, hackers operating from Russia targeted France’s homeschooling platform.The Kremlin is prepared to intensify its offensive against the West, but fears of the retaliation that would follow. The idea of a bulletproof “sovereign internet”—completely under government control within Russian borders—is already on the books, with Moscow having introduced the idea as a preventative measure against retaliatory hacking attempts from other nations.Simonyan argued that Russia will surely be able to exploit the U.S.’s “catastrophic” educational standards, and referred to American military analysts and specialists as incompetent and stupid. She heartily laughed about news that more than 200,000 U.S. service members experienced hearing loss due to defective earplugs.“We can never come to any agreements with [Americans],” Simonyan said, arguing that instead, Russia can just as easily defeat the U.S. in a cyberspace war.She added, mockingly: “We don’t even need the nukes.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- Business Insider
Blood clots have been reported in a small minority of people after receiving COVID-19 vaccines by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
- Business Insider
Veterans of color say video of police pepper-spraying a Black Army officer shows that not even a military uniform is protection from police violence
"Once you put on the uniform, it doesn't erase the fact that you are a Black person in America," a former Army combat medic told Insider.
DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran said on Tuesday it would start enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the fissile material closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon, a day after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site. The disclosure came soon before the resumption of talks in Vienna aimed at reviving Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago.
Teachers are hitting a wall more than a year into the pandemic. Some have decided to walk away from the profession amid a growing educator shortage in the US.
Between technology challenges, low student engagement, and the risk of catching COVID-19, teachers told Insider they're struggling.
- The Telegraph
As Prince Harry boarded a plane from Los Angeles to London, we can only imagine the inner turmoil he must have felt as he prepared for the long and lonely journey home. His adored grandfather had died at a time of unprecedented familial discord, with the Royal Family still reeling from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s corrosive, finger-pointing Oprah Winfrey interview. Prince Philip’s death may have prompted an outpouring of national gratitude and affection, but the question now is whether it can cement the deep fissures within the House of Windsor itself. How will Harry be welcomed by Princes William and Charles, after accusing his family of racism? Not to mention following reports, via Gayle King, a US news anchor and friend of Meghan, that private telephone calls between the California-based prince and his father and brother had been “unproductive” - disclosures said to have gone down badly at the Palace. That Harry had not seen his grandfather for more than a year, after he whisked his wife and son, Archie, to the other side of the world to escape being “trapped” by the monarchy, can only add to the Duke of Sussex’s inevitable feelings of wretchedness and grief. His sense of isolation will likely have been compounded by the fact that Meghan, heavily pregnant with their second child, hasn’t been able to accompany him. The echoes of history here are uncanny as, nearly 70 years ago, a similar scenario played out. Another once-beloved member of the Royal Family had to leave his American wife behind in the United States to make the solitary journey home for a royal funeral, where he had to face his frosty relations, saddened that he had quit monarchical life. In 1952, when King George VI died, his brother Edward, the Duke of Windsor - exiled to France after the abdication - was staying in New York with his wife, Wallis Simpson.
- The Daily Beast
Duncan McGlynn/Getty ImagesThe shamelessness of Britain’s Prince Andrew really does take some beating.He has suggested that a photograph of him with his arm around a teenage sex trafficking victim was faked because he has “chubby fingers.” He said that same woman’s description of him pouring with sweat at a nightclub must be a lie because he cannot sweat (he can). He ascribed his week-long 2010 visit to Jeffrey Epstein to his extreme sense of honor. Don’t even mention his love of pizza.Prince Andrew Says Prince Philip’s Death Has Left ‘Huge Void’ in Queen’s LifeIncredibly, Andrew now appears to be using his father’s death to crawl out from under the rock of royal exile to which his brother Charles, who has long struggled with him, banished him after the disastrous November 2019 Newsnight interview in which those, and many other questionable claims, including the cynical lie that he would co-operate with law enforcement inquiries into Epstein’s crimes, were made.Coming out of church on Sunday morning, just 48 hours after the death of his father, whose greatest disdain was reserved for royals embarrassing the family, Andrew made a beeline for the camera and started giving what appeared to be an off-the-cuff interview to a news camera about how the entire royal family was “all feeling a great sense of loss.”Andrew has clearly missed his media appearances. On and on he went. How grateful he was for the tributes paid to his father. How “calm” his father was as a man. He was also careful to suggest his father’s death had helped connect him to the proletariat, saying it “brought it home to me not just our loss but actually the loss that everybody else has felt, for so many people who have died and lost loved ones during the pandemic.”It was shockingly unshocking to see Andrew, not a drop of perspiration on him despite having gained a few extra pounds, bad British teeth and all, standing there in his black suit, acting like nothing had happened, freelancing away for the cameras.Maybe we had all just imagined the past year and a half, especially the bit where Prince Charles, now more than ever the acting head of the royal family, had stripped him of all his royal patronages, kicked him out of his office in Buckingham Palace, and removed his obscene $300,000 a year grant from the British taxpayer.It was, at first, all rather inoffensive waffle that was emanating from Andrew’s mouth. It might not have even made the evening news. But if there is one thing that is guaranteed to galvanize the British public, it is insight into that most mysterious of things: how the queen is actually feeling, up close and in private.Asked about the effect of Philip’s death on Her Majesty, Andrew, stunningly, decided to go there: “She described it as having left a huge void in her life,” he said, adding that she had described her husband’s passing as a “miracle.”His words were plastered over news websites and TV stations within moments.Given that Andrew was filmed outside the private Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Castle, which he had attended along with other members of the royal family including his younger brother, Prince Edward (who spoke more traditionally to reporters outside the chapel saying that his father’s death was a “dreadful shock”) there was at first an assumption that Andrew had been given permission to speak to the media. Had Charles had a change of heart? It seemed incredible, but was Andrew back on his way inside the charmed circle, entitled to free food and air miles once again?On Monday, however, leaks began trickling out suggesting that that assumption was far from an accurate characterization.Dan Wooton, the journalist who broke the news that Harry and Meghan were leaving the U.K., reported in the Daily Mail that sources had told him: “Prince Andrew might hope that this sad situation changes things, but Prince Charles is adamant there is no way back while allegations hang over him. He spoke on camera in a private capacity because this is a family event. No one can stop him doing that.”Neither the palace nor an advisory firm retained by Prince Andrew responded to inquiries from The Daily Beast.Andrew’s fantasy of a comeback has been oft-reported over the past two years. And he is still at it, with a source described as “close to Prince Andrew” telling Wooton, “He still harbors thoughts that he can make a comeback. He genuinely thinks that’s possible.”If Andrew needs any further reminder that he is no longer welcome in public life or in British sitting rooms, and that his father’s death changes nothing, he may want to consider this statistic: Almost 400 people have already written to the BBC to complain about Andrew featuring on the corporation’s coverage.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Provides an overview of Vietnam, including key events and facts about this east Asian country
- Business Insider
Former President Donald Trump issued a new attack on Senate Minority Mitch McConnell after labeling him a "dumb son of a b---h" earlier this week."
Hideki Matsuyama took home $2.1 million after becoming the first Japanese player to win the Masters, and that is just the beginning.
- Business Insider
Facebook took down the official page of the small French town of Bitche, then restored it after being called out
The page was taken down on March 19, per local media, so officials created a new one named after the town's postal code: Mairie 57230.
- Miami Herald
Dr Seuss books have made headlines lately, but not for this reason.
BRUSSELS/MOSCOW (Reuters) -The United States called on Russia to halt a military build-up on Ukraine's border on Tuesday as Moscow, in words recalling the Cold War, said its "adversary" should keep U.S. warships well away from annexed Crimea. Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and fighting has escalated in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
Refs pulled 4 red cards in 4 minutes as a wrestling match unfolded in stoppage time of an opening-night NWSL game
As play between Portland and Kansas City became more physical, two players went to blows and received red cards in the final minutes of the game.
- The Telegraph
Alex Salmond has been accused of pandering to extreme Scottish nationalists after his new party released a campaign video which spoke of breaking "the spine of English superiority” and he claimed the support of a King who died nearly seven centuries ago. The former First Minister’s Alba Party on Monday broadcast a supposed endorsement from Robert the Bruce, who successfully led Scotland during the first War of Independence against England in the fourteenth century. In the clip, 'The Bruce', who actually died in 1329, predicts that Mr Salmond’s new rival party to the SNP would “unite the clans”. The bizarre video was in fact voiced by Angus Macfadyen, an actor who played the Scottish King in the 1995 blockbuster Braveheart, and is a supporter of Mr Salmond’s party.
A woman was told to put on a mask inside a Florida Walgreens. Instead she went on a racist and Islamophobic rant against other customers.
"We're proud we're Muslim, and this is not going to change. We're not going to kick off our hijabs," said Nahla Ebaid, who uploaded the video.
- The State
Police said the man attacked the woman for “retaliation for hate crimes committed against the Asian community.”