By Tom Perry and Vladimir Soldatkin BEIRUT/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian air force and Syrian military are preparing a joint operation to take Aleppo from rebels, the Syrian prime minister was quoted saying on Sunday, and an opposition official said a ceasefire was on the verge of collapse. With a U.N. envoy due in Damascus in a bid to advance struggling diplomatic efforts, the "cessation of hostilities agreement" brokered by Russia and the United States came under new strain as government and rebel forces fought near Aleppo. The ceasefire came into effect in February with the aim of paving the way for a resumption of talks to end the five-year-long war. But it has been widely violated, with each side blaming the other for breaches. The fighting south of Aleppo marks the most significant challenge yet to the deal. Diplomacy has meanwhile made little progress with no compromise over the future of President Bashar al-Assad, his position strengthened by Iranian and Russian military support. A top Iranian official, in comments to Iran TV, rejected what he described as a U.S. request for Tehran's help to make Assad leave power, saying he should serve out his term and be allowed to run in a presidential election "as any Syrian". Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halaki told a delegation of visiting Russian lawmakers of preparations to "liberate" Aleppo, Syria's biggest city and commercial hub before the conflict that erupted in 2011. Aleppo is divided into areas controlled separately by the government and opposition. "We, together with our Russian partners, are preparing for an operation to liberate Aleppo and to block all illegal armed groups which have not joined or have broken the ceasefire deal," he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency. Dmitry Sablin, a member of Russia's upper house of parliament and a member of the delegation, told RIA news agency "Russian aviation will help the Syrian army's ground offensive operation". The deployment of the Russian air force to Syria last year helped tip the war Assad's way as it bombed rebels supported by his enemies including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States. President Vladimir Putin last month withdrew some of the Russian forces, but maintained an air base in Latakia, and kept up strikes on the Islamic State group. Neither the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front or Islamic State are included in the partial ceasefire. Rebels have reported the resumption of Russian air strikes south of Aleppo, an important theater where Iranian forces and Lebanon's Hezbollah are fighting in support of the army and the Nusra Front is deployed in close proximity to rebels. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 35 combatants had been killed on both sides in a 24 hour period in the area, where fighting has been raging for some 10 days. Graphic on areas of control http://tmsnrt.rs/1oNV0hX "ABOUT TO COLLAPSE" A member of the main opposition council said the last 10 days had "witnessed a serious deterioration, to the point where the ceasefire is about to collapse". Bassma Kodmani of the High Negotiations Committee also told Journal du Dimanche that a U.S.-Russian ceasefire monitoring mission was "powerless". The war has killed more than 250,000 people, created the world's worst refugee crisis, and allowed for the rise of Islamic State. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said "in Aleppo there is a real collapse of the truce". The army says groups that had agreed to the cessation of hostilities had taken part in Nusra Front attacks on government-held positions south of Aleppo. Free Syrian Army groups meanwhile blame the fighting on government violations. "The air strikes are now roughly back to what they were," said Mohamed Rasheed, head of the media office with the Jaysh al-Nasr rebel group. A Syrian military source said: "The battles are raging because ... armed groups that were part of the (truce) joined Nusra in the attack." The Observatory also reported fighting on Sunday between government and rebel forces near the opposition-held town of Douma outside Damascus, and said government helicopters had dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held areas north of Homs. Barrel bombs are oil drums filled with explosives. While the government denies dropping them, their use has been widely recorded, including by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria. IRAN REJECTS U.S. "PRECONDITION" U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura is due to arrive in Damascus on Sunday evening, and is expected to meet Syrian officials on Monday. He said last week he would go to Damascus and Tehran to sound out their position on a political transition before beginning a new round of peace talks on Wednesday. De Mistura has said the next round of talks needs to "be quite concrete in the direction of a political process leading to a real beginning of a political transition". Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top adviser on international affairs, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had asked "Iran to help so that Bashar Assad leaves. "We should ask them: "What does this have to do with you? Shouldn't the Syrian people decide?'" "From Iran's point of view Bashar Assad and his government should remain as a legal government and legal president until the end of his term. And Bashar Assad shall be able to take part in a presidential election as any Syrian citizen. And their precondition that Bashar Assad should go is a red line for us." In a sign of Assad's confidence, the Syrian government plans to hold parliamentary elections on Wednesday. Salim al-Muslat, opposition spokesman, said the vote was illegitimate. "I don't know how they can really announce an election in Syria. In Idlib or in Aleppo or in Deir al-Zor or in Homs, can people go there and vote?" he said. (Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Laurence Frost in Paris, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, and Dubai newsroom; writing by Tom Perry, editing by Philippa Fletcher)
- The Independent
CPAC: Gaetz says media ‘biased’ over Ted Cruz’s Cancun trip and should have focused on ‘caravans’ of migrants instead
Outspoken GOP congressman complains ‘the left and the media’ were less concerned about ‘caravans going through Mexico’ than Texas senator visiting
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- The Independent
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The UK’s top court has unanimously ruled that a British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State should not be allowed to return.The Supreme Court said on Friday (February 26) Shamima Begum cannot come back to Britain to challenge the government taking away her citizenship because she poses a security risk.She left London in 2015 when she was 15 years old and went to Syria via Turkey with two school friends, where she married an IS fighter. Since that time she gave birth to three children, all of them died.Now aged 21, Begum is being held in a detention camp in Syria.President of the UK Supreme Court Robert Reed said on Friday "The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public".It was stated that Begum can still pursue her appeal against the revoking of her citizenship, but she cannot do that in Britain.This decision overturns a ruling made by the Court of Appeal last year saying she could only have a fair appeal if she were allowed back to the UK.The case has provoked heated debate in Britain, pitting those who say she gave up her right to citizenship by traveling to join IS against those, including Human Rights groups who argue she should not be left stateless but rather face trial in Britain.
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- USA TODAY
'We're done with that lifestyle': Jessica Watkins, Ohio woman charged in Capitol riot, renounces Oath Keepers
Jessica Watkins, 38, says she has disbanded her local armed group and is canceling her Oath Keeper membership after her arrest.
- The Telegraph
Lady Gaga is poised to hand over a $500,000 reward to a mystery woman who returned her beloved French bulldogs kidnapped in a violent street robbery near her home in Hollywood. Koji and Gustav, thought to be worth up to $10,000 dollars each, were given in at a downtown LAPD Police Station by an unnamed woman late on Friday night. Authorities believe the woman who handed the dogs in was "uninvolved and unassociated" with the attack - but she is still eligible for the "unconditional" $500,000 and is said to be in contact with Gaga’s representatives. “If you bought or found them unknowingly, the reward is the same,” Gaga had said in a post confirming the hefty sum before the dogs were handed back on Friday. The violent abduction on Wednesday saw the singer’s dog-walker and close friend Ryan Fischer shot in the chest. Gaga's third dog named Miss Asia escaped the attack and was later found by police. The singer, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, has kept silent since the dogs were handed into police. But her reward offer has raised eyebrows.
- USA TODAY
GOP congresswoman's husband, whose truck had Three Percenters decal, says he never heard of armed group before
Illinois state Rep. Chris Miller said he was given the sticker featuring the armed group's logo by a friend "who said that it represented patriotism."
- Business Insider
Trump supporters and right-wing reporters wouldn't stop heckling CNN's Jim Acosta during second day of CPAC
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- USA TODAY
Nearly two dozen Republicans attending CPAC in Florida have designated a proxy to vote on their behalf, citing the "ongoing public health emergency."
- Business Insider
Decades ago, 9 Russian hikers mysteriously fled their tent and froze to death. A new study sheds light on the cold case.
In 1959, nine hikers fled their tent in Russia's snowy Dyatlov Pass and froze. A new study suggests a slab avalanche crushed their tent in the night.
- National Review
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) on Friday urged the New York State legislature to open an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo brought by his former staffer, Lindsey Boylan. The progressive congresswoman told reporters that survivors “deserve to be heard” and noted that the “process for hearing this allegation falls squarely in the state legislature.” Meanwhile, New York attorney general Letitia James is reportedly reviewing a letter from state Republicans who have also called for an investigation into the allegations against the governor, according to Fox News. Lindsey Boylan, the former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to Cuomo, on Wednesday published an essay detailing alleged sexual harassment she endured while working for the governor, including unwanted kissing and touching. She wrote in the essay that Cuomo, with the help of top female aides, “created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.” She also detailed an increasingly uncomfortable relationship she developed with the governor, in which he sought her out and set up one-on-one meetings with her. Boylan recounted a flight she shared with the governor from an event in October 2017 in which Cuomo allegedly said, “Let’s play strip poker.” On another occasion, Boylan says the pair met one-on-one for a briefing when Cuomo allegedly kissed her. “We were in his New York City office on Third Avenue,” she writes. “As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock, but I kept walking.” Boylan later resigned on September 26, 2018.
- Business Insider
Ted Cruz engages in an online spat over Biden's HHS secretary nominee who sued the Trump administration more than 100 times
Cruz and Princeton historian Kevin M. Kruse had a back-and-forth over the qualifications of Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee to lead the department.
- The Guardian
Artist Tommy Zegan reveals figure was constructed in country the former president has assailed and demonized Sculptor Tommy Zegan polishes his statue of Donald Trump at CPAC. Photograph: John Raoux/AP A golden statue of Donald Trump that has caused a stir at the annual US gathering of conservatives was made in Mexico – a country the former president frequently demonized. The statue is larger than life, with a golden head and Trump’s trademark suit jacket with white shirt and red tie. Video and pictures of the tribute being wheeled through the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, went viral on Friday. The conference is seen as a vital gathering of the Republican right, and this year has become a symbol of Trump’s continued grip on the party, despite being cast out of office after two impeachments, seemingly endless parades of scandals and a botched response to the coronavirus pandemic that has cost half a million lives in the US. Now the artist behind the huge statue of Trump – Tommy Zegan – has revealed that the object was made in Mexico; a country that has been the target of much Trump racist abuse over his political career, and somewhere he has literally sought to build a wall against. “It was made in Mexico,” Zegan told Politico’s Playbook newsletter. Zegan, who lives in Mexico on a permanent resident visa, described the transport of the monument to CPAC in full to Playbook. Politico reported: “Zegan spent over six months crafting the 200lb fiberglass statue with the help of three men in Rosarito. He transported it to Tampa, Florida, where it was painted in chrome, then hauled it from there to CPAC.”
- 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.
- The State
“Her daddy got to heaven just before she did.”
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Martin hosted The Russ Martin Show on 97.1 The Eagle.
- The Daily Beast
Twitter/Lady GagaLady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, stolen off the streets of Los Angeles Wednesday night, were found tied to a pole in an alley by a passerby who took them to a police station on Friday night, according to TMZ.The unidentified woman reportedly turned the animals in to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Community Police Station around 6 p.m., Capt. Jonathan Tippett told a local NBC outlet. Tippett said that the woman was “uninvolved and unassociated” with the dog thieves. No arrests have been made in the case. The canines were unharmed, and the singer’s representatives confirmed they were the right animals. Lady Gaga, who is currently in Rome, had offered a $500,000 reward for the canines’ return, “no questions.”TMZ reported Lady Gaga wept “tears of joy” upon receiving the news and sources told the outlet Gaga would “gladly” pay the $500,000 reward to the woman.Lady Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, told The Daily Beast on Saturday morning that the family is “extremely happy” with the news. “The phone rang last night, everybody was relieved and there were a lot of happy tears,” he said. Germanotta also thanked the LAPD, and the doctors and nurses who treated dog walker Ryan Fischer, who was shot once in the chest during the robbery. “That’s the most important thing, that Ryan is going to be okay,” he added. “Now, it’s about finding these guys.” Why Lady Gaga’s Dognapping Has Stumped Pet DetectivesMultiple assailants stole the animals from Lady Gaga’s dog walker as he took them for a walk Wednesday evening in Hollywood. They pulled up beside Fischer in a white Nissan Altima with four doors, surrounded him, and shot him in the chest before making off with two of the dogs, Koji and Gustav. A third, Asia, escaped and later made it back to Fischer. Fischer is in treatment and is expected to recover. The LAPD released a description of the two suspects in a Thursday night statement.The suspect who shot Fischer was described as a Black male, aged 20-25, with blond dreadlocks and wearing a black hoodie. He was armed with a semi-automatic handgun. The second man was described as a Black male, aged 20-25, wearing dark clothing.My beloved dogs Koji and Gustav were taken in Hollywood two nights ago. My heart is sick and I am praying my family will be whole again with an act of kindness. I will pay $500,000 for their safe return. Email KojiandGustav@gmail.com to contact us. pic.twitter.com/3NY9u7Mw2K— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) February 26, 2021 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
Kelly Pichardo, 30, and Leeza Rodriguez, 29, were charged with disorderly conduct and Pichardo also faced an additional assault charge.
Jill Biden said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" that she and President Biden have a dinner date ritual before he goes back to work and she grades papers.