08 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


Civilians who evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo carry their belongings as they arrive in a government-held area on December 7.

Civilians who evacuated the eastern districts of Aleppo carry their belongings as they arrive in a government-held area on December 7.

Syrian and Russian leaders on December 7 rejected pleas from rebel forces and Western powers for a cease-fire and pressed their campaign to retake Aleppo, aiming for a victory they said would “change the course” of the six-year war.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in media interviews echoed reports from independent monitors and news media saying government forces appear on the verge of taking full control of the city, Syria’s most populous before the war, after years of rebel control in the east.

Rebels are estimated to have lost 75 percent to 80 percent of the territory they once controlled since mid-November, including most recently the Old City. Recapturing Aleppo would represent Assad’s most important stride to date toward ending their long-running rebellion.

“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad told the Al-Watan newspaper in an interview due to be published on December 8, according to excerpts released to the media.

“It won’t mean the end of the war in Syria,” he added, “but it will be a huge step toward this end.”

Assad said the chances of a cease-fire are “practically nonexistent” at this point.

“The Americans in particular are insisting on demanding a truce, because their terrorist agents are now in a difficult situation,” Assad told the newspaper.

Assad described Aleppo as the “last hope” of rebels and their backers “after their failure in the battles of Damascus and Homs,” pro-Damascus television Al-Mayadeen reported on December 7.

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US politics >>

Arizona advocacy group says agents chase border crossers from Mexico into hostile terrain in a strategy that leaves many injured, dead or lost

A US Border Patrol agent stands atop a dune along the US-Mexico border on 17 November 2016 near Felicity, California.

A US Border Patrol agent stands atop a dune along the US-Mexico border last month near Felicity, California. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The US Border Patrol agency has engineered the death and disappearance of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants by using the desert wilderness as a “weapon”, according to an advocacy group.

Agents chase and scatter border crossers across hostile terrain in a strategy that leaves many people injured, dead or lost, turning the US’s south-western frontier into a “vast graveyard of the missing”, the Arizona-based group No More Deaths said on Wednesday.

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the US–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day,” the group said in a blistering report, the first of three reports documenting alleged abuses by Border Patrol.

In addition to deadly apprehension methods it accused the federal agency, which deploys about 18,000 agents on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, of sabotaging humanitarian aid efforts and discriminating against undocumented people in emergency responses.

No More Deaths, a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, worked with volunteers from another group, La Coalicio?n de Derechos Humanos, on the 34-page report. It drew on a survey of 58 border crossers and 544 cases from the Missing Migrant Crisis Line. Tens of thousands have gone missing since the 1990s, including 1,200 last year, it said.

“If found, the disappeared turn up in detention centers, in morgues or skeletonized on the desert floor; many human remains are never identified. Thousands more are never located. With each passing day, another father, sister, aunt, brother, partner or child goes missing while attempting to cross the Southwest border.”

Border Patrol’s parent organisation, US Customs and Border Protection, issued a statement defending its record.

“CBP values human life, and we collaborate closely with foreign government officials, law enforcement partners, and community organizations to educate potential migrants about the true dangers of crossing the border illegally.”

It said the Tucson sector Border Patrol deploys 36 rescue beacons and more than 230 agents trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), plus 54 Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) agents.

The agency blamed deaths on smugglers. “Smugglers lie, telling their ‘customers’ their passage will be safe, but in reality, the terrain is treacherous and the conditions are extreme. Many are led to their deaths by smugglers more concerned about making money than they are about the lives of others.”

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Despite below-freezing temperatures and a victory to reroute the pipeline earlier this week, people were still out and about at the main encampment

Two days of blizzard dumped a fresh blanket of snow at Standing Rock.

Two days of blizzard dumped a fresh blanket of snow at Standing Rock. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

in Cannon Ball, North Dakota

The sun came out over the Standing Rock encampments on Wednesday, after two days of blizzard dumped a fresh blanket of snow on the tipis, army tents and shelters still standing here. But in North Dakota, the snow does not fall just once.

Fierce winds whipped through the prairie landscape, creating shifting snow drifts and momentary whiteouts. A steady stream of snow blew across the roads like rushing fog, and the flags that line the main thoroughfare through Oceti Sakowin, the main encampment, snapped and cracked like a lash.

Despite temperatures that hovered just above 0F and windchills at -20F – and despite the fact that Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault asked campers to go home after Sunday’s announcement that the Army Corps of Engineers would not grant a permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the Missouri river – people were still out and about at Oceti Sakowin.

The sacred fire that stands in the center of camp was still being tended, and singers lifted their voices against the wind.

The television trucks were gone, the lightweight summer tents were gone, and most of the hundreds of US veterans who traveled here to support the “water protector” movement were gone. But inside the canvas tent of the “California Kitchen”, stew was still being dished out, with frozen strawberries on the side.

Campers huddled around the wood stove for warmth, discussing how much longer they thought they could survive in this cold.

Outside, Semar Prom, a teacher at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, worked with a small crew constructing a wooden building with a pitched roof. Once the structure is complete, the builders will be able to continue crafting wooden hogans away from the elements. The team had continued working throughout the blizzard, though Prom lost some of his tools in the snow.

This was Prom’s second trip to Standing Rock, after staying for a week over Thanksgiving.

“I didn’t want to come unless I was needed,” he said. “They need builders.”

Though some people were leaving, Prom said that the shelters were for those who were determined to stay.

“Despite the news, people still need to stay here,” he said. “Everyone’s still working, twice as hard now.”

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Sea ice extent in Arctic and Antarctic reached record lows in November

‘Almost unprecedented’ event attributed to warm temperatures and winds, with some areas more than 20C (36F) warmer than usual

arctic penguin

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said that Arctic sea ice dipped for a short time in mid-November by around 50,000 sq km. Photograph: John Weller/AFP/Getty Images

Both the Arctic and Antarctic experienced record lows in sea ice extent in November, with scientists astonished to see Arctic ice actually retreating at a time when the region enters the cold darkness of winter.

Warm temperatures and winds drove record declines in sea ice at both polar regions in November compared to the 38-year satellite record of ice extent for the month. Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08m sq km (3.51m sq miles) for November, which is 1.95m sq km (or 753,000 sq miles) below the long-term average from 1981 to 2010 for the month.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said that Arctic sea ice extent dipped for a short time in mid-November, an “almost unprecedented” event. Sea ice shrank by around 50,000 sq km (19,300 sq miles) in this period, mainly in the Barents Sea.

This decline, which also occurred to a smaller degree in November 2013, removed an area of ice larger than Denmark from the Arctic at a time when sea ice is usually growing.

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

In Antarctica, the average extent of sea ice in November was 14.54m sq km (5.61m sq miles), which is 1.81m sq km (699,000 sq miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. This more than doubles the previous record low for the month of November.

Ted Scambos, the lead scientist at NSIDC, said: “Antarctic sea ice really went down the rabbit hole this time.” His colleague Walt Meier, who also works at Nasa, added: “The Arctic has typically been where the most interest lies, but this month, the Antarctic has flipped the script and it is southern sea ice that is surprising us.”

The Arctic’s record low, beating a mark set in 2012, was driven by unusually high temperatures over the Arctic Ocean, persistent winds that pushed ice north and a warm ocean. Areas of the Arctic have reached more than 20C (36F) warmer than usual, with an area of Russian Arctic forecast to be 33C (59F) warmer than normal on Thursday. 2016 is on track to be the warmest year on record globally.

Arctic sea ice usually grows over winter until it hits its maximum annual extent in March. However, this year has been notable for the lack of ice. “Typically sea ice begins to form in the fjords at the beginning of November, but this year there was no ice to be found,” said NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve, who assessed ice cover in Svalbard during November.

In the Antarctic air temperatures were 2-4C (3.6-7.2F) warmer than normal in November, with strong westerly winds helping disperse the sea ice pack. Several large bodies of open water have opened up within the sea ice formations around the Amundsen Sea and Ross Sea coasts.

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