US-backed Syrian rebels defect, join government forces

A small number of US-backed rebels have defected and joined government forces south of the country days after the US announced an end to a CIA program that backed opposition fighters, Syrian opposition activists said Saturday.

The defection of at least four rebels came after The Washington Post reported that the White House has decided to halt the CIA supply-and-equip program for Syrian rebels.

US President Donald Trump essentially confirmed the existence of the program and its cancellation Monday night when he lashed out at The Washington Post.

The president tweeted that the newspaper "fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad."

The defection also came as Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, told CNN this week that "the coalition supports only those forces committed to fighting" the Islamic State group.

The US has been mainly backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that have been among the most effective in fighting IS in Syria. SDF fighters are currently trying to capture the northern city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremists, under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

The chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said four members of the Revolution Commando Army defected Thursday.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist based in southern Syria, and another activist with wide knowledge about US-backed rebels confirmed the defections on Saturday.

"Some rebel groups were not active and did not go into battle but they were still getting assistance," al-Masalmeh said. He added that the four defected with their weapons and joined government forces.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities or US officials about the reported defection.

Last month, Syrian troops and their Iran-backed allies circled around US-backed rebels and reached the border with Iraq.

The move dealt a blow to the declared U.S. mission to defeat IS in the desert region.

Abdurrahman said four others defected and joined the Islamic State group but no other activists confirmed the claim.

Syrian soldiers walking among damaged buildings on a street filled with debris near the ancient Umayyad Mosque, in the Old City of Aleppo
Syrian soldiers walking among damaged buildings on a street filled with debris near the ancient Umayyad Mosque, in the Old City of Aleppo Source: Associated Press

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The mystery of the purple orange solved in Brisbane

A sharpened knife has been revealed as the culprit in the mystery of an orange that turned purple in Brisbane earlier this month.

Resident Neti Moffitt asked for an investigation after slices of an orange she cut up for her two-year-old son turned purple hours later.

Pieces he'd sucked on, and uneaten pieces Ms Moffitt had left on the kitchen bench, all turned part-purple.

"It looks like someone's dipped it on an ink pad, which I guarantee you we haven't," Ms Moffitt told the ABC at the time.

A Queensland Health officer took the discoloured orange slices, a knife used to cut it, a sharpener that had been used on it recently and other items for forensic testing.

Scientists have now revealed the discolouration was due to a natural reaction between the fruit and the sharpened knife, the BBC reports. 

Queensland Health's chief chemist, Stewart Carswell, said numerous tests were conducted to determine the cause of the colour change.

The results revealed that anthocyanins - a naturally occurring antioxidant in oranges - had reacted with iron particles from the newly sharpened blade, he said.

"We see samples that range from blood, urine, water, soil, fish and foodstuffs. So to have an orange come through was really different for our team." 

The Queensland government said it had assured the family the orange was not a health risk.

Following the incident, Ms Moffitt found one other case on the internet of an orange turning purple, also in Queensland in 2015, the ABC reported.

A Nine News report at the time had said forensic testing had ruled out artificial colouring, and no iodine was found.

One of the slices of orange that turned purple after being cut open. Source: ABC/ Neti Moffitt

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Virginia suspends new policy barring women visiting inmates from wearing tampons, menstrual cups

Virginia is suspending a newly introduced policy that would have barred women who visit inmates at state prisons from wearing tampons or menstrual cup.

Secretary of Public and Homeland Security Safety Brian Moran said today on Twitter that he had ordered an "immediate suspension until further review."

The abrupt about-face comes a day after widespread media coverage of state prison officials' plan to ban tampons starting next month as a way to prevent contraband from being smuggled into prisons.

Moran said he understands the worries about contraband, but added that "a number of concerns have been raised about the new procedure."

"I feel it appropriate to immediately suspend the newly developed policy until a more thorough review of its implementation and potential consequences are considered," Moran said.

Inmate advocates have been sharply critical of the now-suspended policy, saying it violates the privacy rights of female visitors.

ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastanaga said the policy should be permanently put to rest rather than simply suspended.

And Phyllis Randall, a former chairwoman of the state Board of Corrections, sent Moran a letter Tuesday saying the policy "represents a major systemic failure and an admission" that Moran and Department of Corrections Director Harold Clark "have lost the ability to effectively keep contraband out of Virginia's prisons."

Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney previously said that the agency had consulted with the state Attorney General's Office about how to implement the policy and "it was decided that facilities would offer pads to women who are wearing tampons while visiting a prison so the tampons don't appear as possible contraband on a body scan."

She said that when potential contraband is seen on a body scan, visitors are offered the choice of a strip search or leaving the prison without visiting with an inmate. She said at the time that the new policy "aims to help visitors avoid that altogether."

"Offenders in Virginia have died of drug overdoses while inside our prisons. It's our job to keep the offenders and staff as safe as we can," Kinney said.

Close-up of male feet in chains
Source: istock.com

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Two men jailed over fatal beating of Melbourne Airbnb guest who owed rent

An Australian judge sentenced two men to prison today over the fatal beating of their Airbnb guest who owed rent.

The guest, Ramis Jonuzi, 36, was killed at a rented house in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton East on October 25 last year.

Housemates Ryan Charles Smart, 38, and Craig Jonathon Levy, 37, each pleaded guilty in the Victoria state Supreme Court to his manslaughter after murder charges were downgraded.

Smart must serve a minimum six years of a nine-year sentence. Levy was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison and must serve at least 4 1/2 years.

A third housemate, Jason Colton, will stand trial next year for Jonuzi's murder. He faces a potential life sentence in prison if convicted.

Jonuzi had been renting a room in the trio's home through the house-sharing website for a few days and extended his stay to a week.

He was asked to leave the day he died after failing to pay $A210 in owed rent, according to prosecution facts accepted by defense lawyers.

An argument erupted about the unpaid money after Jonuzi packed up to leave. Jonuzi was kicked and punched in the living room until he lost consciousness.

Levy helped carry him outside then used a phone to have Jonuzi check his bank balance and confirm it contained just $6, before the attack continued. Jonuzi cried and apologized as he was beaten.

"For some of the attack, Mr. Jonuzi was unconscious on the ground, for all of it he was helpless," Justice Andrew Tinney said.

A preliminary court hearing in May was told that Levy called police to remove Jonuzi from the house, but officers arrived to find Jonuzi lying face down in chocolate cake in the front yard and with blood around his nose and eyes.

Police could not revive him.

An autopsy found Jonuzi died from "compression of the neck and blunt-force trauma to the head."

Novi Sad, Serbia - March 24, 2016: Close-up of an unrecognizable woman using the Airbnb App on her Lenovo A916 Android smartphone in a car. Login screen with Facebook and Google sign up options. Airbnb is a service for people to list, find, and rent lodging. It currently has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.
Airbnb (file picture). Source: istock.com


Girl, 4, and father in hospital after WWII bomb explodes in New South Wales backyard

A four-year-old girl and a man have been left with shrapnel wounds after a World War II-era ordnance exploded at their home near Newcastle, New South Wales.

Emergency services were called to a home at Anna Bay in Port Stephens about 10pm on Monday night to find the man, 37, and girl with non-life-threatening lacerations.

NSW Police Chief Inspector Brian Tracey said a WWII "ordnance" had exploded sending shrapnel into the man and girl's lower limbs.

"The four-year-old girl is undergoing surgery now for shrapnel wounds to her leg and hip," he told reporters at Raymond Terrace yesterday.

It's unclear if the man needs surgery at this stage.

Insp Tracey said the man had recovered the explosive from a nearby beach and may have narrowly escaped serious injury or death.

"The gentleman is very, very lucky he's actually picked it up at the beach and taken it home," he said. "It could have exploded any time."

Police and army specialists removed several items from the home and rendered them safe but an explosives detection dog remains on scene.

Insp Tracey could not confirm what type of items were found in the man's home but said there were enough "to fill the bottom of a bucket".

He said it wasn't uncommon for ordnances and unexploded bombs to wash up on the beach north of Newcastle, with some of the area historically used as a military dumping ground.

"If it looks like a bomb and it's old rusty metal don't touch it," he said, urging the public to notify police who will send in the bomb squad to deal with the threat.

The man is yet to be interviewed by police.

The dad’s actions have become the focus of a police investigation. Source: Nine


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