Talks at the U.N. climate summit in Paris have been extended into the weekend as representatives from nearly 200 nations work to finalize a global accord. A draft text released Thursday includes the voluntary target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. Including the 1.5 degrees Celsius target meets a key demand of low-lying and vulnerable nations. Environmentalists and civil society have criticized its voluntary nature along with many other provisions, and there remain over 50 points of disagreement between nations negotiating the draft.
Syria’s key opposition groups have agreed on a negotiating position for future international talks on ending their country’s civil war. Meeting in Saudi Arabia, the rebels agreed to talks with the Syrian regime, but only if President Bashar al-Assad and his top aides step down at the start of any political transition. The groups say they would talk to the regime "within a specific timeframe that would be agreed on with the United Nations." But Assad has repeatedly rejected calls for his ouster as a nonstarter. In Washington, State Department spokesperson John Kirby called the accord a step forward.
John Kirby: "This was an important milestone in getting to a place where in early January they can actually begin to have political negotiations with the regime. This was a critical first step in getting there. There is still more work to do between now, the conclusion of today’s meeting, and sometime in early January when we hope these political negotiations can continue. For instance, one big thing is to pick a negotiating team."
A recent road map agreed to by world powers would see talks between the rebels and the regime begin next month, followed by a ceasefire. Wednesday’s meeting in Saudi Arabia excluded Syria’s Kurdish fighters.
The Iraqi government says it’s made gains despite suffering new casualties in its campagin to retake Ramadi from the Islamic State. At least two dozen Iraqi soldiers were reportedly killed in a pair of suicide bombings. But Iraq says it now controls more than half of Ramadi and plans a new push to root out the remaining ISIL fighters. The Pentagon meanwhile claims it’s killed three top Islamic State leaders in recent bombings. Army Colonel Steve Warren said U.S.-led strikes have killed ISIL’s finance chief and two other senior figures.
Col. Steve Warren: "In Iraq, we recently conducted strikes against three leaders in ISIL’s financial and leadership network. Their removal will degrade ISIL’s ability to command and control troops, and it disrupts their ability to finance their efforts."
A white former Oklahoma City police officer has been convicted in the serial rapes of mostly African-American women. Daniel Holtzclaw carried out the assaults while on duty after threatening victims with arrest if they did not comply with his sexual demands. On Thursday, a jury found him guilty on 18 counts. Thirteen victims testified during the trial, each with similar stories of threats, rape and sexual assault. They ranged in ages from 17 to 57, and all but one are African-American. Holtzclaw faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced next month.
Hundreds of people rallied in New York City on Thursday outside Donald Trump’s Midtown hotel to protest the Republican front-runner’s recent call to ban Muslims from the United States.
Radwa Elshafey: "There shouldn’t be a number on how many Syrians should be allowed into this country. And there is the Islamophobia and Arabphobia and xenophobia in all of it. It’s becoming a real issue because all these extra safety regulations that have been taken since 9/11, at one point they’re not regulations and more of they’re putting fear into the Arab community and the Muslim community."
A petition to ban Trump from entering the United Kingdom in response to his call for banning Muslims from the United States has gotten over 475,000 signatures, making it the most popular petition ever on the British government’s website. The petition’s description says: "The U.K. has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech." The British Parliament must now consider debating it because it’s surpassed over 100,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Trump’s comments, Islamophobic incidents continue nationwide. On Thursday, the Capitol Hill office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was evacuated after a threatening envelope arrived by mail. The letter contained a suspicious white powder and a note reading, "Die a painful death, Muslims." CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper told reporters that tests showed the powder posed no danger.
Ibrahim Hooper: "Field tests are showing that there’s no hazard. It is now in the hands of the FBI, who will do more extensive tests on it to confirm that there’s not a—that the substance was not dangerous. So we’re thankful to fire and police authorities for their prompt action, and we’re glad that hopefully it’s not a dangerous substance that was sent to us in an envelope that contained a hate message."
Funerals have begun for the 14 people killed in last week’s shooting massacre in San Bernardino. On Thursday, family members and friends gathered to remember Yvette Velasco, a 27-year-old woman who had been due to begin working as a county health inspector after recently passing a state exam.
Dani Podwys, family friend: "I really, really hope that her family gets comforted by knowing how many people cared and how many lives she touched and how well she’ll be remembered, that she’s not gone, because she touched too many other people’s lives to ever be gone."
As the San Bernardino funerals begin, gun-control advocates are making a renewed push for meaningful gun-control legislation on Capitol Hill. Flanked by other members of the Newtown Action Alliance, the group formed following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, co-founder Po Murray said lawmakers have failed to keep Americans safe.
Po Murray: "Gun violence is a public health crisis that must be addressed immediately. Americans are getting shot and killed everywhere and anywhere—in our streets, in our homes, schools, colleges, malls, movie theaters, workplaces and places of worship. Too many of us are affected by gun violence, and more of us feel less safe. You have failed to keep us safe. We are sick and tired of your inaction."
The White House meanwhile says it is reviewing the nation’s fiancée visa program in the aftermath of the San Bernardino killings. Shooter Tashfeen Malik entered the U.S. from Pakistan last year under a visa that allowed her to marry her husband and fellow shooter, Syed Farook. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that while President Obama won’t halt the program, it is now under review.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: "The fact that this person entered the United States and then carried out an act of terrorism on American soil, I think, is reason enough to take a look at the program. And that’s exactly what the president has ordered."
And protests continue in Chicago over the more than year-old police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and potential police cover-up. Near daily actions have been held to denounce the killing and call for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. In one of several demonstrations on Thursday, about 100 medical students wearing white coats staged a die-in outside City Hall. Hundreds also marched in the streets and blocked traffic.