On GOP demands, White House cracks Republican wish list only missing a ‘birther bill’View gallery Reporters press the White House press secretary on some of Senator Ted Cruz’s claims against law.Olivier Knox, Yahoo News 20 hours ago The White House on Thursday dismissed Republican demands in return for raising the country’s debt limit as a partisan wish list that is only missing a “birther bill.”Press secretary Jay Carney said House Republicans were insisting on “an extraordinary list of Republican perennials” if they vote to increase the government’s ability to borrow.“You know, the only thing I didn’t see mentioned was, like, a birther bill to attach to it,” Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.The spokesman’s comments came after House Republicans emerged from an hourlong meeting behind closed doors with a list of demands.They sought a one-year delay in Obamacare’s requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, increased offshore drilling and more spending cuts.President Barack Obama and top aides have repeatedly refused to negotiate for the debt ceiling increase, without which the country could default on its obligations. That would send shock waves through the global economy.”The president will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling,” Carney said. „And the debt ceiling has to be raised. It is not a concession to anybody for Congress to do that. It is not a concession for Republicans to do their constitutionally mandated job.”The „birther” crack refers to the wholly discredited conspiracy theory that Obama was born outside the United States and is ineligible to be president.
Scientists say more certain mankind causes global warmingAlister Doyle and Simon Johnson 18 minutes agoView gallery Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chairman Rajendra Pachauri (L) comments on the U.N. …By Alister Doyle and Simon Johnson STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Leading scientists said on Friday they were more certain than ever before that humans are the main culprits for climate change and predicted the impact from greenhouse gas emissions could linger for centuries.The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a report that the current hiatus in warming, when temperatures have risen more slowly despite growing emissions, was a natural variation that would not last.It said the Earth was set for more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels that could swamp coasts and low-lying islands as greenhouse gases built up in the atmosphere.Many world leaders called for stronger action to rein in rising greenhouse gas emissions and limit a rise in temperatures to within manageable limits after the report, which estimated that humanity has burnt more than half the available carbon.The study, meant to guide governments in shifting towards greener energies, said it was „extremely likely”, a probability of at least 95 percent, that human activities were the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century.That was an increase from „very likely”, or 90 percent, in the last report in 2007 and „likely”, 66 percent, in 2001.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the study was a call for governments, many of which have been focused on spurring weak growth rather than fighting climate change, to work to agree a planned U.N. accord in 2015 to combat global warming.”The heat is on. Now we must act,” he said.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the report was a wake-up call. „Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire,” he said, referring to skeptics who question the need for urgent action.They have become emboldened after temperatures rose more slowly over the last 15 years despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, especially in emerging nations led by China.DOCTOR–European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said it was time to treat the Earth’s health. „If your doctor was 95 percent sure you had a serious disease, you would immediately start looking for the cure,” she said.Compiled from the work of hundreds of scientists, the report faces extra scrutiny this year after its 2007 predecessor included an error that exaggerated the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers. An outside review later found that the mistake did not affect its main conclusions.The report said the trend of the past 15 years was skewed by the fact that 1998, at the start of the period, was an extremely warm year with an El Nino event in the Pacific that can disrupt weather worldwide.It said warming had slowed „in roughly equal measure” because of random variations in the climate and the impact of factors such as volcanic eruptions, when ash dims sunshine, and a cyclical decline in the sun’s output.The report predicted that the reduction in warming would not last, saying temperatures from 2016-35 were likely to be 0.3-0.7 degree Celsius (0.5 to 1.3 Fahrenheit) warmer than in 1986-2005.Still, the report said the climate was slightly less sensitive than estimated to the warming effect of carbon dioxide.A doubling of carbon in the atmosphere would raise temperatures by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 8.1F), below the 2-4.5 (3.6-8.1F) range in the 2007 report, it said. The new range is identical to the ranges in IPCC studies before 2007.The IPCC reiterated that a warming trend is „unequivocal”, and some effects would last far beyond the lifetimes of people now alive, such as heat penetrating ever deeper into the oceans.”As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of carbon dioxide, we are committed to climate change and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of carbon dioxide stop,” co-chair Thomas Stocker said.The report said temperatures were likely to rise by between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 8.6 Fahrenheit) by the late 21st century. The low end of the range would only be achieved if governments sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions.And it said world sea levels could rise by between 26 and 82 cm (10 to 32 inches) by the late 21st century, driven up by melting ice and an expansion of water as it warms, in a threat to coastal cities from Shanghai to San Francisco.That range is above the 18-59 cm estimated in 2007, which did not take full account of Antarctica and Greenland.”Scientists have confirmed what farmers in poor countries around the world have been telling us for years, that changes to their climate are destroying their livelihoods, ruining crops, hitting incomes, food quality and often their family’s health,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the charity Oxfam.About 15 protesters outside the conference hall dressed in lab coats as doctors carried placards saying „Climate Change: The debate is over.”(Reporting by Alister Doyle, editing by Elizabeth Piper)
Obama: Obamacare critics are ‘desperate’ fat-cat Fox News watchersView galleryOlivier Knox, Yahoo News 3 hours ago President Barack Obama went nuclear this week in his attacks on Republicans trying to derail the Affordable Care Act, painting the controversial law’s opponents as fat cats who watch too much Fox News. Or freeloaders. Or the Koch Brothers. Or folks who think the Fugitive Slave Act and Obamacare are equally terrible.That’s a slight exaggeration. Slight.And always-pugnacious senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer took to CNN to compare Republicans to terrorists. And kidnappers. And arsonists.Here’s Pfeiffer on CNN’s The Lead :“It is not a negotiation if I show up at your house and say give me everything inside or I’m going to burn it down.”And: “The Republicans have provided a laundry list of essentially ransom demands.”And-“What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.”That’s some take-no-prisoners stuff, only days before Americans can sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and the government might shut down if congressional Republicans and the White House can’t agree on a spending plan for fiscal 2014 by Tuesday.The strategy is not without risks, like alienating good-faith skeptics about the law. But Democrats say it serves multiple purposes. It rallies the troops ahead of the 2014 elections (midterm elections are generally thought of as decided by the parties’ core or “base” supporters). It also turns signing up for Obamacare into a blow against some of liberals’ favorite targets. And it aims to transform the discussion about Obamacare from a philosophical dispute about the government’s role in health care into a fight over benefits. If that sounds almost like an effort to turn Obamacare from a battleground into a popular entitlement, well, here’s another part of Obama’s message on Thursday at Prince George’s Community College just outside Washington:“Medicare and Social Security faced the same kind of criticism. Before Medicare came into law, one Republican warned that ‘one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free,” Obama said. “That was Ronald Reagan. And eventually, Ronald Reagan came around to Medicare and thought it was pretty good, and actually helped make it better.”On the possible government shutdown, it’s even simpler: Democrats say they’re sure that the public will blame Republicans.When it comes to Obamacare, the president said Thursday, “There are parts of the bill that some folks don’t like. “What kinds of folks? Here’s how Obama broke it down:The rich-Obama: Obamacare criticism „just not based on fact …Play video.”“To help pay for the program, the wealthiest Americans, families that make more than $250,000 a year, will have to pay a little bit more. Extremely costly health insurance plans will no longer qualify for unlimited tax breaks.”Freeloaders-“When uninsured people who can afford to get health insurance don’t, and then they get sick or they get hit by a car and they show up at the emergency room, who do you think pays for that? You do, in the form of higher premiums because the hospitals, they got to get their money back somehow. So if they’re treating somebody who doesn’t have health insurance, they jack up premiums for everybody who does have health insurance. It’s like a hidden tax of a thousand dollars per family every year whose got health insurance. So we’re saying, well, that’s not fair. If you can afford to get health insurance, don’t dump the costs on us.”Fox News watchers-“We need you to spread the word. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’ve talked to somebody who said, well, I don’t know, I was watching Fox News, and they said this was horrible [the transcript records “laughter, boos”] and you can say, ‘you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go on the website. See for yourself what the prices are. See for yourself what the choices are. Then make up your own mind. Just make — that’s all I’m asking. Make up your own mind.’”The Koch Brothers (though he did not name them)-“Some of the tea party’s biggest donors, some of the wealthiest men in America, are funding a cynical ad campaign trying to convince young people not to buy health care at all. I mean, think about it. These are billionaires several times over. You know they’ve got good health care.”“But they are actually spending money, on television, trying to convince young people that if you’ve got the choice between getting affordable health care or going without health care, you should choose not having any health care. Now, do you think if you get sick or you get hurt and you get stuck with a massive bill, these same folks — they’re going to help you out? Are they going to pay for your health care?”GOP extremists-“One congressman said that ‘Obamacare’ is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed. Ever in the history of America, this is the most dangerous piece of legislation. Providing, creating a marketplace so people can buy group insurance plans, the most dangerous ever.”More extremists-“You had a state representative somewhere say that it’s as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act. Think about that. Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave-owners get their runaway slaves back. I mean, these are quotes. I’m not making this stuff up.”(He isn’t making this one up, anyway. Here’s Republican New Hampshire state representative Bill O’Brien on Aug. 1: “What is Obamacare? It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, that allowed slave-owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African-Americans and use the federal courts to take them back to … slave states.”)”The closer we get, the more desperate they get,” Obama said. „All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy.”It might be tempting to view this ugly debate as the latest exhibit in the case against Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to drain the fever swamps of nasty political rhetoricBut here’s the thing about presidential candidates who promise to „change the tone” in Washington:If they mean it, they’re naïve. Republicans are hardly blameless in the escalation of Washington rhetoric since Obama took office. And even presidents can’t change their opponents’ tone, after all.If they don’t mean it, oh, right, they’re politicians.
View gallery International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts arrives for a meeting …By Fredrik Dahl VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran and the U.N. nuclear agency held „constructive” talks on Friday and said they would meet again in a month’s time, signaling hope of finding an end to nearly two years of deadlock over Tehran’s atomic program.It was the first such meeting since Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who has pledged to try to settle the decade-old nuclear dispute with the West, became Iranian president in early August, succeeding hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.The talks in Vienna, home of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), took place a day after separate but related talks at the United Nations in New York, where Iran and the United States held their highest-level meeting in a generation.Herman Nackaerts, IAEA deputy director general, said the discussions, at Iran’s diplomatic mission, had been „very constructive” but gave no details. At the next meeting on October 28, Iran and the IAEA would „start substantial discussions on the way forward to resolve all outstanding issues,” he said.The IAEA – whose mission it is to prevent the spread of atomic arms in the world – wants to reach a framework deal that would allow it to resume a long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear weapon research by Tehran, which denies the charge.For the West, the IAEA-Iran negotiations were a test of any substantive shift by Iran after Ahmadinejad’s eight-year tenure when Tehran sharply expanded its nuclear program in defiance of U.N. demands to curb it.The meeting – the 11th since early 2012 – was shorter than previous ones, just over four hours.Iranian Ambassador Reza Najafi, leading the Islamic Republic’s negotiating team for the first time since his appointment last month, said he hoped for an agreement soon.”We, indeed, should continue these constructive discussions and we hope that we could reach an agreement as soon as possible,” he told reporters, standing next to Nackaerts.ACCESS–For several years, the IAEA has been investigating suspicions that Iran may have coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.Iran says the allegations are baseless, but has pledged, since Rouhani took office in early August, to expand cooperation with the U.N. agency. Western diplomats have accused Iran of obstructing the IAEA investigation in the past.Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has said Iran’s new, conciliatory approach is merely an attempt to „buy time” to push ahead with its nuclear work without fear of military action.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who met privately in New York as well as in talks with other major powers about the nuclear dispute, both expressed cautious optimism.Separate from that big power diplomacy to settle the dispute that could yet trigger a Middle East war, the IAEA has held 10 rounds of talks with Iran since early 2012 to try to gain access to its sites, officials and documents for its inquiry.The two sets of talks represent distinct diplomatic tracks but are linked because both centre on suspicions that Iran may be seeking the capability to assemble nuclear bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program.Iran says its program is a peaceful bid to generate electricity. But its refusal to curb sensitive nuclear work and lack of full openness with IAEA inspectors have drawn tough Western sanctions, hurting its lifeline oil exports.Rouhani said this week that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons and called for a nuclear deal in three to six months.Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, and Simon Henderson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Iran had „failed to cooperate with the IAEA in resolving questions about whether it has performed design work on an implosion-type atomic bomb.””This is key to judging the honesty of Tehran’s claims that it has never intended to pursue nuclear weapons,” they said in an analysis this week.(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
U.N. probing more Syria chemical attacks, inspections to startView galleryDominic Evans 1 hour ago By Dominic Evans BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in Syria are investigating seven cases of alleged chemical or biological weapons use, including three incidents around Damascus after the August 21 attack which almost triggered U.S. air strikes.In a statement from Damascus on Friday, the United Nations said inspectors probing the attacks had returned to Syria on Wednesday and expected to finalize their work on Monday on a report to be issued by late October. The United States and its allies say an initial U.N. report that said sarin gas was used on August 21 showed government forces were responsible.Syria has denied that and accuses rebels of releasing gas. The United Nations itself has not assigned blame. The three most recent incidents it is looking into were in Bahhariyeh and Jobar, both east of central Damascus, on August 22 and 24, and Ashrafiat Sahnaya to the southwest of the capital on August 25.The U.N. gave no further details of the latest incidents.The outskirts of Damascus have seen some of the heaviest fighting in recent months. At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded by a car bomb on Friday in the town of Rankus, 30 km (20 miles) to the north, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.From Tuesday, experts from international watchdog the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will begin inspecting Syria’s stockpile of toxic munitions, under the terms of a deal struck this month to avert U.S. military action.A draft agreement on the stockpile inspections, obtained by Reuters and due to be voted on by OPCW member states in The Hague late on Friday, calls on members of to make cash donations to fund Syria’s fast-tracked destruction operation.The 41-member executive council of the OPCW is due to discuss and vote on the proposal at 10 p.m. (2000 GMT). It needs a simple majority to be passed, but decisions at the body are normally agreed upon by consensus.U.S. President Barack Obama had prepared to attack President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in response to the August 21 gassing. Faced with resistance in Congress, he accepted a proposal from Assad’s Russian ally to refrain from strikes in return for Syria giving up its chemical arsenal by the middle of next year. KILLINGS-View gallery.”United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transport a team of U.N. chemical weapons experts in Damascus Septemb …Next month’s U.N. report on the previous instances of gas being used will give more details of the August 21 incident. Other incidents include one in March in the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where authorities say rebels killed 25 people, including 16 soldiers. Rebels said government forces were behind it.The two other cases from earlier this year both date back to April – one in the Aleppo district of Sheikh Maqsoud and another in the town of Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idlib.The OPCW draft said funding is needed to hire inspectors and technical experts to destroy what Western intelligence agencies believe is about 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agents, built up over decades and spread over dozens of locations. An OPCW official said an advance team would head for Syria on Monday.Established to enforce the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW has an annual budget of under $100 million and less than 500 staff. It does not have the manpower to carry out the task without significantly increasing resources.Experts have said it will be risky and expensive to destroy the chemicals in Syria, where the civil war has killed more than 100,000 and displaced millions more.Syria has just nine months to do what some countries, including Russia and the United States, have taken more than a decade to do.Syria is instructed to provide inspectors with security and „immediate and unfettered” access to all sites. A failure to do so will trigger a meeting by the OPCW’s core members within 24 hours, the draft says.A U.N. Security Council Resolution, also to be voted on Friday, does not refer to the use of force as a means to enforce the destruction plan, a point which Washington had pressed for.The OPCW inspectors will have 30 days to visit all chemical weapons facilities declared by Syria to the organisation last week, it states.It is still unclear where and how the chemicals stockpile, the details of which have not been made public by the OPCW, will be destroyed.Syria will appoint a person within the Damascus administration to handle questions on chemical weapons and by November 1 must have completely destroyed all chemical weapon production and mixing and filling facilities, the draft states.(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch at The Hague; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
Kenya says holding eight people over mall attack, three freedView gallery This photo released by the Kenya Presidency shows the collapsed upper car park of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. Working near bodies crushed by rubble in a bullet-scarred, scorched mall, FBI agents continued fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis to help determine the identities and nationalities of victims and al-Shabab gunmen who attacked the shopping center, killing more than 60 people. (AP Photo/Kenya Presidency)1 hour ago NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan authorities are holding eight people in connection with a weekend attack by Islamist militants on a Nairobi shopping mall, while three others were released after questioning, the interior minister said on Friday.Somali Islamist group al Shabaab said its „warriors” stormed the mall on Saturday, holding out for four days in an assault that killed 67 civilians and members of the security forces. The government said five of the militants were also killed.Al Shabaab said it launched the operation to demand Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia, where Kenyan forces were sent in 2011 to strike at the group which it blamed for a series of attacks and kidnappings in Kenya’s northern area and coastline.President Uhuru Kenyatta has said Kenya would not withdraw.”Police are holding eight suspects as they seek to unmask the face behind the terror attack. Three others were interrogated and released,” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news briefing.He said the suspects were being held under anti-terrorism laws meaning they could be held „for longer periods before being arraigned in court,” although he did not give details.Ole Lenku repeated Kenya’s determination not to withdraw from Somalia, citing a mission of „national security.””That threat has not been eliminated and therefore it has not changed our position. It has been very clear that we will continue to take action on that front until our security and interests in the country are protected,” said Ole Lenku.The minister said there were no formal reports of people still missing since the attack. The Kenyan Red Cross has previously said dozens were still missing.Ole Lenku added that investigators, who would determine the identity of the attackers, were sifting through the rubble of the mall where three floors collapsed after a series of blasts and a huge blaze. He said they were making „good progress”.(Reporting by James Macharia; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)
Israeli forces clash with Palestinians over al-Aqsa visitsCrispian Balmer 48 minutes ago Religion
View gallery Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces following Friday prayers at Shuafat refugee By Crispian Balmer JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank on Friday, reflecting growing tensions over an increase in Jewish visits to the al-Aqsa mosque.Palestinian militants and youth groups have called for a general uprising in response to the entry by Jewish groups under police escort to the Jerusalem holy site, which is revered by both Muslims and Jews.Police threw stun grenades to disperse small crowds of youths outside Jerusalem’s medieval walls, and dozens of protesters marched on a crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip before being driven back by volleys of tear gas.Protests also flared in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, at an Israeli-manned checkpoint outside the northern city of Nablus and in the flashpoint holy city of Hebron, where a Palestinian sniper shot dead an Israeli soldier on Sunday.Witnesses reported several light injuries in the clashes and police said they arrested 12 Palestinians in Jerusalem for throwing stones at security forces.Palestinian protests over a visit to the al-Aqsa mosque compound by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000 spiraled into deadly clashes and a five-year Palestinian uprising, known as the second Intifada.Palestinians oppose Jewish worship at the plaza, which overlooks Judaism’s Western Wall, seeing it as a first step toward restricting access to the area for Muslims and a deepening of Israeli control over the Old City.Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks in late July, ending a three-year stalemate.But friction on the ground has risen during September’s Jewish festivals, with Palestinian leaders complaining about swelling numbers of Jewish visitors, saying some of them try to defy an effective ban on praying on the vast esplanade.THIRD INTIFADA?-„The uprising (in 2000) erupted when al-Aqsa mosque was stormed. They (the Israelis) are now raiding al-Aqsa every day,” a senior official with the Islamist Hamas group, Mushir Al-Masri, told thousands of supporters at a Gaza rally.”We call upon our people to revolt against tyranny and aggression. Let a third Intifada be declared because this is the best way to teach the aggressors a lesson,” he said, adding that „every Jew” would be extracted from Jerusalem.Despite his calls for a revolt, the protests within Hamas-controlled Gaza were low-key. There was also little sign of major confrontation looming in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exercises partial rule.In a speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Abbas made a public appeal for a halt to the al-Aqsa visits.”There must be an end to the near-daily attacks on the religious sites in Occupied Jerusalem, at the forefront of which is al-Aqsa mosque, where the continuation of such attacks will have dire consequences,” he said.Allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been among the most vocal advocates of Jewish prayer at the 35-acre site and the government has done little to stem the flow of visitors to the area.Religious Jews revere the compound as the location of their ancient biblical temples. For Muslims, it is the place where Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended into heaven – the third holiest site in Islam.Israel captured the site, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Jewish state then annexed East Jerusalem as part of its capital in a move never recognized internationally.(Reporting by Noah Browning in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Last winter Abu Bassim fled with his wife and four children from heavy fighting in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus to seek refuge in his sister’s house on the other side of the capital.Seven months later the Sunni Muslim family is living in hiding in the house in Lawan, a concrete sprawl on the city’s southwestern edge, after authorities denied Abu Bassim a residency permit which would let him live in the neighborhood.Their plight is common for Syrians who hail from areas outside government control – a fact which can be easily deduced from their ID cards – and who are often suspected by the government of being rebel sympathizers.They are singled out at government checkpoints, questioned and sometimes, according to Abu Bassim’s account of his own treatment, detained for months without charge and tortured.They cannot afford rents in central Damascus, which remains the most secure district of the capital and surrounding province, so they seek refuge on the city’s outskirts.But increasingly they are also shut out of districts considered to be „at risk” by the government, including areas like Lawan which lies on the edge of orchards used sometimes as cover by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.Many trees and cactus fruit plants were razed last year by authorities, but the restrictions remain in place.Abu Bassim, who declined to give his full name because he feared retribution from authorities, said armed men at a government checkpoint down the street from his new home told him he needed a formal residency permit to live there.”I was confused. I told them: ‘What’s a residency permit? And why do I need one if I’m a Syrian citizen living in my own country?'”FROZEN OU-Poorer neighborhoods like Lawan, on the fringes of rebel-held land, face the tightest restrictions.But some upscale districts are also affected, like the government-controlled Mashroua Dummar which is close to Qassioun mountain overlooking north Damascus and next to a garrison town of senior military families mainly from Assad’s Alawite minority sect.A few months ago, perhaps to drive this point home, authorities detained several real estate brokers in the mixed, middle class community for two or three days.When the agents were released, they spread the word that homeowners in Mashroua Dummar were not allowed to rent their properties to outsiders, effectively freezing out anyone fleeing from the fighting in the rebel-held areas.There are no clear rules or public announcements about the restrictions, making it difficult to know how many people are affected or whether officials deliberately discriminate against any particular sect.But Damascenes from rebel areas, who tend to be mainly Sunni Muslims, say they face the greatest difficulties and are frequently challenged at checkpoints.That reflects broader sectarian tensions in Syria which the civil war has exacerbated – Alawites are an offshoot sect of Shi’ite Islam who mostly support Assad, while the opposition, which includes hardline fighters from abroad, is dominated by Sunni Muslims.Displaced people from the rebel stronghold of Barzeh who have moved to other parts of Damascus, especially young men, say they avoid leaving their new homes for fear of running into a checkpoint which will cause them trouble.They all say they expect to return home one day, even if for some that means only coming home to a pile of rubble, once the civil war which has killed 100,000 people and displaced millions within Syria is finally over.ARRESTED FOR SELLING BREAD-For Abu Bassim, who says he is in his early 40s but whose face is wrinkled like an old man’s, the residency hurdle was just the latest blow in a year of troubles.He spent 4-1/2 months imprisoned in the basement of an intelligence agency after he was detained at a checkpoint and accused of aiding rebels by supplying them with bread.The accusation is a common one, frequently made against people travelling with any kind of food if they are near rebel areas or have IDs which show they come from rebel strongholds.Activists estimate that thousands of civilians languish in underground prisons throughout Damascus, being held indefinitely on such charges.Abu Bassim said he had indeed filled up his small truck with freshly purchased bread, which he was planning to sell to a list of customers willing to pay a little extra to avoid having to stand in the long bread lines.It was his way of earning a daily wage. Trained as a construction site supervisor, he had not worked for months due to the stalled economy.But it turned out to be a dangerous way to make money. His hands still trembling – a result, he says, of his incarceration – he described the conditions in detention.”There was horrible filth, urine and feces all over the concrete floor, which was cold and wet. Some people slept on it. Everyone seemed sick. And I have not fully regained my health since getting out,” he said.Rolling up his trousers he revealed blue and red dots under the skin of his lower legs. Asked to say what could have caused the discoloration, he shook his head, looked down at his legs and repeated with a soft voice: „disease by torture”.So when he was later stopped at a checkpoint and told to apply at the nearest intelligence branch for a residency permit, it took considerable courage for him to show up – and even more to protest when a colonel refused to process his application.”I told him: ‘But, what can I do? The checkpoint says I need a permit, and only you can issue it.’ I told him that my brother and cousin were both martyred while serving in the Syrian Army in this war. I told him I’ve had to flee my home. Why won’t anyone help me?” he said.”I saw anger rise in his eyes, and he lunged at me and grabbed my throat… He then kicked me and took away my ID and told me to crouch down in the corner and wait.”Squatting in discomfort, but too afraid to move, Abu Bassim said he waited there for more than 1-1/2 hours.”I was so upset. The devil would come to me in waves, tempting me to lunge at one of the guards and take away his gun and shoot them all,” he said. „But I kept my patience, until the colonel returned my ID and then I ran home.”Today, like every day since then, he wakes early to peek down the street, hoping that the checkpoint will not be there so he can venture out to earn money doing odd jobs. But if it is there, he returns home and forfeits a day’s wages.”So, some days we get to eat. Some days we don’t,” he said.(The name of the reporter has been withheld for security reasons)(Editing by Dominic Evans and Mike Collett-White)
Pilot of Seattle-bound flight dies after heart attack 1 hr 49 mins ago 1:37 KREM.com Spokane/Coeur dAlene Videos
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