By Dominic Evans BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebel factions battled fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) across north-west Syria on Saturday in the heaviest clashes between President Bashar al-Assad's opponents in nearly three years of conflict, activists said. The apparently coordinated strikes against the ISIL come after months of increasing resentment of the powerful al Qaeda-linked group, whose radical foreign jihadis and have alienated many ordinary Syrians in rebel-held territory. Activists said dozens of fighters were killed in the clashes between rival rebel groups which have raged since Friday in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, close to the border with Turkey. Rebel infighting has strengthened Assad's hand ahead of planned peace talks in Geneva on January 22. The president, backed by Shi'ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, has pushed back rebels around Damascus and in central Syria, and faces little pressure to make concessions. One group of fighters battling ISIL was the newly formed Mujahideen Army, an alliance of eight brigades who accused the al Qaeda affiliate of hijacking their struggle to topple Assad. They said ISIL fighters were "undermining stability and security in liberated areas" through theft, kidnapping and trying to impose their own brand of Islam, and vowed to fight them until ISIL was disbanded or driven out of Syria. In response, ISIL pledged to fight back. "The blood of our brothers will not be shed in vain," it said in a statement. Fighters from the Islamic Front, made up of several Islamist brigades which in the past were close to ISIL, were engaged in heavy clashes with the group in northern Aleppo province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory, a monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 60 people had been killed in fighting which it described as a major challenge to ISIL's authority. The Observatory and other activists also cited unconfirmed reports that Islamic State fighters in the village of Harem, about two km (one mile) from the Turkish border, killed 30 prisoners after they were surrounded by rebel fighters. The ISIL and another al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, together with Islamist fighters from the Islamic Front, have eclipsed the Free Syrian Army which Western powers had hoped would grow into a moderate force capable of overthrowing Assad. That impotence was highlighted in November when the FSA's military command lost control of a military base and main weapons depot near the Turkish border to the Islamic Front. BATTLING QAEDA 'OPPRESSION' Assad's main political opponents in exile, the National Coalition, sought to portray Saturday's clashes as a counter assault by the FSA against ISIL's "authoritarian oppression" "The Syrian people clearly have rejected al Qaeda's attempts to establish a presence in the liberated territories," coalition member Monzer Akbik said. "The solution to fighting extremism in Syria is to strengthen the Free Syrian Army at this critical juncture". The coalition said the fighting erupted after ISIL gunmen fired into a crowd of civilians in the northern village of Kafr Takharim who were commemorating the death in ISIL custody of a prominent Syrian doctor and rebel commander, Hussein Suleiman. Suleiman's body was handed over by ISIL on Tuesday as part of a prisoner swap between rival rebel forces. Video footage of his corpse showed signs of beating and one ear was cut off. Several demonstrations were held across Aleppo to mark Suleiman's death on Friday. Some brought together several hundred protesters, a dim echo of the many thousands who took to the streets for anti-Assad protests in the early months of the uprising, before it turned into armed insurgency and civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in nearly three years of conflict. Two million refugees have fled abroad and another 6.5 million are internally displaced within the country of 23 million, the United Nations says. The war pits Sunni rebels against forces loyal to Assad, from the Alawite faith which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, and has divided the Middle East along sectarian lines, with Sunni states such as Turkey and the Gulf monarchies backing the rebels, and Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah supporting Assad. Western reluctance to intervene militarily in the conflict - in contrast to the rapid NATO involvement in Libya in 2011 - has been heightened by concerns about the growth of al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim groups in rebel areas of north and eastern Syria. Their spread inside Syria has been matched across the border in western Iraq, where ISIL has tightened its grip in the Sunni Muslim province of Anbar. The group also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in southern Beirut which killed five people on Thursday, saying it was the start of a campaign targeting Hezbollah. (Editing by Rosalind Russell)
- NBC News
"The situation at the border isn't going to be transformed overnight," a senior Biden transition official told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP. Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.> Shout out to all the 50 states and 3 territories who are on their way to Washington, D.C. to support the 59th Presidential Inauguration. @TexasGuard is on their way! pic.twitter.com/Jfat7WpFV1> > — District of Columbia National Guard (@DCGuard1802) January 16, 2021Virginia National Guard soldiers are issued their M4 rifles and live ammunition on the east front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 17. "More reporters and law enforcement members were present than protesters" in Washington, D.C., USA Today notes. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty ImagesBoogaloo Bois members outside Oregon's State Capitol in Salem on Jan. 17. Photo: John Rudoff/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesNational Guard soldiers protect the Department of Health Care Services building near the California State Capitol on Jan. 17. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty ImagesMinnesota State Patrol stand guard as a few people who support President Donald Trump sit outside the state capitol building on Jan. 17 in St Paul. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images A woman and child look on as members of the Washington National Guard and state police stand outside the state Capitol in Olympia, Washington, on Jan. 17. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty ImagesA protester carries a crossbow outside the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Jan. 17. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty ImagesAn armed member of the the Boogaloo Boys protests outside of the Kentucky State Capitol on Jan. in Frankfort. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty ImagesMembers of the Utah National Guard stand watch as a man carries an upside down American flag as he walks the grounds of the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Jan. 17. Photo: George Frey/AFP via Getty ImagesA Nevada Highway Patrol vehicle passes by the State Capitol on Jan. in Carson City. Photo: Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty ImagesArmed groups rally in front of a closed Texas State Capitol in Austin on Jan. 17. Photo: Matthew Busch/AFP via Getty ImagesArmed members of the Boogaloo group in front of the State Capital in Concord, New Hampshire, on Jan. 17. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty ImagesSupporters of the Second Amendment outside the Georgia Capitol building on Jan. 17 in Atlanta. Photo: Megan Varner/Getty ImagesA couple of Trump supporters outside the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 17 in Denver. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty ImagesNew Mexico State Police patrol around the state capitol in Santa Fe on Jan. 17. Photo: Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty ImagesTrump supporters stand outside the Capitol Building in Phoenix, Arizona, on Jan. 17. Photo: Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty ImagesA man speaks with law enforcement in front of the state capitol building in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, on Jan. 17. Photo: Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
After a probe found "significant errors of judgment and procedure" in the termination of the employee, GitHub's head of human resources resigned, GitHub Chief Operating Officer Erica Brescia said on Sunday. "In light of these findings, we immediately reversed the decision to separate with the employee and are in communication with his representative," Brescia said in a blog https://bit.ly/2KnkVhI, adding that the company apologized to that employee.
- The Telegraph
Miners trapped underground in eastern China for more than a week after a blast at a gold mine have managed to send up a note to rescuers, the local government said on Monday. The blast occurred eight days ago on Sunday afternoon at a mine near Qixia city in eastern Shandong province, leaving 22 miners trapped underground more than 600 metres from the mine’s entrance. After a long period without any contact, rescuers were able to drill through the mine on Sunday afternoon and said they heard "knocking sounds". A note was then sent up from the trapped miners saying that 12 were still alive, the local government said in a statement Monday. "We are in urgent need of cold medicine, painkillers, medical tape, external anti-inflammatory drugs, and three people have high blood pressure," the note read.
- The Week
Israel has vaccinated at least 25 percent of its population against the coronavirus so far, which leads the world and makes it "the country to watch for herd effects from" the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, says infectious disease expert David Fishman. Recently, the case rate in Israel appears to have declined sharply, and while there could be a few reasons for that, it's possible the vaccination effort is beginning to play a role.> Israel's reproduction number appears to have declined rather sharply in recent days, with around 25% of the country vaccinated, and some additional percentage having at least partial immunity via prior infection. pic.twitter.com/sVyCYYd9dj> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021One study from Clalit that was published last week reports that 14 days after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, infection rates among 200,000 Israelis older than 60 fell 33 percent among those vaccinated compared to 200,000 from the same demographic who hadn't received a jab.At first glance, Fishman writes, that might seem disappointing since clinical trials suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But he actually believes the 33 percent figure is "auspicious." Because vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are mingling, there could be "herd effects of immunization." In other words, when inoculated people interact with people who haven't had their shot, the latter individual may still be protected because the other person is. On a larger scale, that would drive down the number of infections among non-vaccinated people, thus shrinking the gap between the two groups' infection rates.> Estimated vaccine efficacy is a function of relative risk of infection in the vaccinated...when there is indirect protection via herd effects, we expect efficacy estimates to decrease because the risk among unvaccinated individuals declines.> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021More data needs to come in, and Fishman thinks "we'll know more" this week, but he's cautiously optimistic about how things are going.More stories from theweek.com Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico only needs 50 votes 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious
- Reuters Videos
The protesters had gathered on a square in front of the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum art galleries, carrying signs reading "Freedom: stop this siege" and chanting "What do we want? Freedom!". None wore masks, which are not mandatory, and few respected social distancing rules. Authorities had declined an application for the protest to be held on Museum Square. The demonstrators refused to leave when police told them to do so, and some threw fireworks.
- NBC News
The imprisonment of a fourth American could derail a bid by the Biden administration to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Independent
The latest updates from the White House and beyond on 17 January 2021
The U.S. Army has identified a 1st Armored Division staff sergeant from Fort Bliss, Texas found dead at his home Thursday.
- NBC News
She displayed "a round metallic object later identified as a Military Police Challenge Coin" and said she was part of law enforcement, police said.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called on his Republican Party to rebuild itself and "repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire" in an in an op-ed for The Atlantic Saturday on the QAnon conspiracy theory.Why it matters: Many of the mob involved in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots wore items signaling their support for the far-right QAnon and a prominent member of the cult was among those arrested following the siege.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * Several Republicans who ran for Congress last year publicly supported or defended the QAnon movement or some of its tenets — something Sasee noted in his op-ed, headlined "QAnon is Destroying the GOP From Within." * Sasse blames the violence on "the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice."Driving the news: Sasse wrote in his op-ed that "until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon." * "They can't," he added. "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about." * Sasse criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for not denouncing QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) when she was running for Congress in 2020. * "She's already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president," Sasse wrote. "She'll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party."Worth noting: Sasse said before the House impeached President Trump for a second time he'd consider "definitely consider" any articles of impeachment against him over his conduct and comments at a rally before the riots. * The Nebraska senator criticized Trump's embrace of QAnon supporters last August, warning that Democrats could "take the Senate" this "will be a big part of why they won." * Months later, the Democrats went on to win control of the Senate.The bottom line: Sasse wrote that his party faces a choice when Trump leaves office: "We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories."Go deeper: * The Capitol siege's QAnon roots * House freshmen at war after Capitol siegeSupport safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- National Review
Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) warned Friday that one-third of Republican voters could leave the party if GOP senators vote in impeachment proceedings to convict President Trump. Paul made the comments in an interview on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. The senator’s remarks come amid an increasing divide between congressional Republicans who oppose impeaching the president and a smaller number who support the measure following the riots at the Capitol on January 6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is reportedly hopeful that Republicans can use impeachment to purge Trump from the GOP, although he would need the support of at least 16 additional Republican senators to vote to convict. “Look, I didn’t agree with the [Capitol] fight that happened last week, and I voted against overturning the election, but at the same time, the impeachment is a wrongheaded, partisan notion, [and] if Republicans go along with it, it’ll destroy the party,” Paul said during the interview. “A third of the Republicans will leave the party,” Paul continued. “This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.” While a majority of Americans believe Trump should be removed from office immediately, just 17 percent of Republicans support expelling Trump from the presidency, according to an Axios–Ipsos poll released on Thursday. Support for Trump among Republicans has fallen since the Capitol riots; however, 60 percent believe the party should continue to follow Trump once he leaves office, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found.
- The Telegraph
The coronavirus was found on ice cream produced in eastern China, prompting a recall of cartons from the same batch, according to the government. The Daqiaodao Food Co., Ltd. in Tianjin, adjacent to Beijing, was sealed and its employees were being tested for the coronavirus, a city government statement said. There was no indication anyone had contracted the virus from the ice cream. Most of the 29,000 cartons in the batch had yet to be sold, the government said. It said 390 sold in Tianjin were being tracked down and authorities elsewhere were notified of sales to their areas. The ingredients included New Zealand milk powder and whey powder from Ukraine, the government said. The Chinese government has suggested the disease, first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, came from abroad and has highlighted what it says are discoveries of the coronavirus on imported fish and other food, though foreign scientists are skeptical. Chinese officials have blamed cluster outbreaks on frozen food products imported from countries including the US, EU, New Zealand, Canada, India, Germany and Ecuador. And recently, China blamed an infection in a current cluster outbreak on an imported virus strain that had supposedly contaminated a package of steamed buns. The World Health Organisation has said that cases of live viruses being found on packaging appeared to be “rare and isolated". Other health experts have cautioned against drawing causal links between food packaging and outbreaks – finding traces of virus indicates it is present on a surface, but does not mean it can cause infections. The report came as China confirmed 109 new Covid-19 cases, two-thirds of them in a northern province that abuts Beijing, and no deaths. There were 72 new cases in Hebei province, where the government is building isolation hospitals with a total of 9,500 rooms to combat an upsurge in infections, according to the National Health Commission. The Health Commission on Saturday blamed the new infections on travellers and imported goods it said brought the virus from abroad. China's death toll stands at 4,653 out of 88,227 total cases.
- The Independent
Tennessee mother and son pictured with zip-ties in Senate are charged with conspiracy following Capitol riot
Both wore bulletproof vests when they entered the Capitol
As premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous, Armin Laschet has a background in executive leadership lacked by the rivals he defeated on Saturday to become chairman of the Christian Democrats (CDU). A centrist, he had presented himself as the man with the best credentials to plough the same political furrow as the party's long-time leader Angela Merkel - and to run as its candidate for chancellor in federal elections in September. But Laschet lacks her popular support and, after Saturday's narrow run-off victory, he must move swiftly and convincingly to unite a divided party or risk leaving it in a weaker position as it transitions towards the post-Merkel era.
- Associated Press
Lottery players have another chance to win big next week since there were no winners of the top prize for both the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots in their most recent drawings. The Powerball jackpot grew to an estimated $730 million after no one matched all five numbers and the red ball in the drawing on Saturday night. If a lottery player strikes big in the next Powerball drawing on Wednesday, it would be the fifth-largest jackpot ever in the United States.
- National Review
Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Sunday advised the president not to grant presidential pardons to the rioters who stormed the Capitol this month, warning that doing so would “destroy” Trump. “Mr. President, your policies will stand the test of time. You’re the most important figure in the Republican party. You can shape the direction of the party. Keep your movement alive,” Graham said on Fox News. “There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” Graham continued. “I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor, you breached the security of the Capitol, you interrupted a joint session of Congress, you tried to intimidate us all, you should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump and I hope we don’t go down that road.” On Wednesday, a large group of Trump supporters overpowered Capitol Police and forced their way into the halls of Congress. Pence and the assembled lawmakers evacuated the Senate floor, where a joint session of Congress was being held to certify the presidential election results. The violence followed a rally outside the White House earlier in the day where President Trump addressed the “Save America March” and repeated his claims that November’s election was rife with voter fraud that threatened to deprive him of his rightful second term. The violence on January 6 resulted in five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Since then, dozens of criminal cases have been brought in connection with the riot. Graham defended Trump’s rhetoric at the rally, which received bipartisan condemnation and sparked a second impeachment against the president by House Democrats. “President Trump never said, ‘Go into the capitol and try to interrupt a joint session of Congress.’ That was the choice they made and they need to live with that choice,” Graham said. Graham added that there were “irregularities in mail-in voting,” but said “the election is over,” noting that the electoral votes have been certified.” “It is now time to move on,” the South Carolina Republican said. Graham also had a message for incoming president Joe Biden, calling on him to stand up against the second impeachment of Trump, which the Senate is expected to take up after he leaves office.
- The Telegraph
Scientists say Colombia must cull its so-called “cocaine hippos” that roam the Magdalena river basin as they are breeding voraciously and are an increasing menace. The marshlands of Colombia have been home to these giant mammals since they were illegally imported in the late 1980s by the notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar. When he was shot dead in 1993, the Colombian government took control of his extravagant estate, including his personal zoo. Most of the animals were shipped away, but four hippos were left to fend for themselves in a pond, and now there are dozens of them living in the wild. Although nobody knows exactly how many there are, estimates put the total number between 80 and 100, making them the largest invasive species on the planet. Scientists forecast that the number of hippos will swell to almost 1,500 by 2040. They conclude, that at that point, environmental impacts will be irreversible and numbers impossible to control. “Nobody likes the idea of shooting a hippo, but we have to accept that no other strategy is going to work,” ecologist Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez told The Telegraph.
- The Independent
SLC’s ‘Save America’ rally also saw a defiant teenage protester and an attack on a local media member.