Putin Meets Poroshenko, China Rainmaking, Emmy Selfie

Debra Messing, Jesse Tyle and Justin Makita's snap selfie at the 2014 Emmy Awards
Debra Messing, Jesse Tyle and Justin Makita's snap selfie at the 2014 Emmy Awards

President Barack Obama approved manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Syria in a bid to hit ISIS positions without reinforcing President Bashar al-Assad, The New York Times reports, describing the decision as “a precursor to potential airstrikes there.” According to officials, Washington has no intention of notifying or asking the Syrian government for permission before launching airstrikes, although the Syrian Foreign Ministry warned yesterday that it would consider uncoordinated strikes an “act of aggression.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay accused ISIS of committing crimes against humanity, and said it was “ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control.” These crimes include the June killings of up to 670 prisoners in Mosul. Read more from The Independent.

Forensic analysts quoted in British newspapers said they believed the filmed execution of U.S. journalist James Foley might have been staged. They conclude that “the execution may have happened after the camera was stopped.” Bashar al-Assad’s official spokesman has told news outlets that the journalist was in fact killed last year, despite other hostages reporting seeing him as recently as last month. Foley’s friends and boss branded the claims as “disgraceful.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Qatar is working to help free another four American hostages held in Syria, after the release of Peter Theo Curtis.


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko are in Minsk, Belarus, today for talks that will also include EU officials, but it’s unclear whether the pair will hold a bilateral meeting, the BBC reports. The summit comes amid increasing hostility over eastern Ukraine. Kiev released a video yesterday showing 10 Russian paratroopers captured by government forces. Russia’s Defense Ministry told news agency Ria Novosti that the servicemen were patrolling the border and “most likely crossed by accident at an unequipped and unmarked zone.”

“We don’t believe in Nigeria,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a new video, insisting the group has instead created an Islamic state in the towns and villages it has seized in northeastern Nigeria.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denounced “outside interference” from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in Libya after it emerged that the two Arab nations carried out airstrikes last week against Islamist militias in the country’s capital of Tripoli. U.S. officials believe the intervention “exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.” Islamist groups took control of Tripoli over the weekend, threatening to push the country closer to dismemberment, three years after Muammar Gaddafi’s regime was overthrown. Speaking to The New York Times, U.S. officials said the strikes “represent a shift from a battle of proxies to direct involvement,” as Qatar has reportedly been arming Libyan Islamist groups.

To relieve persistent drought in China's northeastern province of Liaoning, meteorological workers induced 360 million cubic meters of rain through a process called "cloud seeding."

As Israel’s Operation Protective Edge enters its 50th day, U.S. officials told Reuters they were working on a UN Security Council resolution for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. According to unnamed sources, the U.S. diplomats are working with Jordan, Britain, France and Germany to combine the resolution with two previous drafts. According to the report, Israel “appeared increasingly open to the idea of the council demanding a ceasefire.” Meanwhile, Ma’an reports that Egypt is waiting for a response from Israel on a new ceasefire proposal to which Hamas has already agreed.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is expected to introduce a new government later today after the whole cabinet resigned yesterday over an economic policy disagreement. According to Le Monde, there will be intense negotiations today to create a cabinet that will execute budget reforms. President François Hollande’s approval ratings are under 20%, a record low. Read more in English from AFP.

Breaking Bad was the big winner at last night’s Emmy Awards ceremony, taking home five Emmys, including for best drama, while Modern Family won the award for best comedy for a fifth consecutive time. Other highlights include a passionate kiss and a tribute to Robin Williams.

Crunched by Marc Alves.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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