In breaking news, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that Syria’s government has agreed to a ceasefire with rebels, set to begin at midnight tonight. Putin said Russia and Turkey would guarantee terms of the truce and that the deal excludes fighters with ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. It was not immediately clear which of the dozens of rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would take part in any truce. Claims of a truce came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 40 people, including children, were killed in airstrikes targeting rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. Amateur video purports to show the aftermath of the attacks, with children and adults seen fleeing through smoke-filled streets.
In Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry blasted Israel’s government, saying in a major address that the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threatens Israel’s democracy and has all but ended the prospect of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy. The truth is that trends on the ground—violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation—they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”
Kerry’s speech followed intense Israeli criticism of the U.S. for refusing to veto a Security Council resolution last week. The measure condemns Israel’s expansion of settlements as a flagrant violation of international law. Kerry insisted the U.S. had not abandoned its longtime ally, but said Israeli democracy would not survive under a single state.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “But here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic; it cannot be both. And it won’t ever really be at peace.”
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was willing to resume peace talks in exchange for a halt to settlement construction. This is chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Saeb Erekat: “Mr. Netanyahu knows very well that he has the choice: settlements or peace. He can’t have both. Settlements are illegal under international law. Settlements are a flagrant violation to international law. Settlements are the antidote for the two-state solution.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to John Kerry’s speech was swift and harsh.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “But now I must express my deep disappointment with the speech today of John Kerry, a speech that was almost as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed at the U.N. last week. … Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with the American Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to mitigate the damage that this resolution has done, and ultimately to repeal it.”
Donald Trump took to Twitter to blast Kerry’s speech, writing in a pair of tweets, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but....... not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties blasted Kerry’s address. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called it “delusional,” while New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said Kerry had “emboldened extremists on both sides.”
Donald Trump’s transition team said Wednesday it was considering whether to begin privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs. The so-called “public-private option” would allow veterans to skip treatment at VA hospitals, giving them funds to visit private-sector hospitals and clinics instead. Veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America, say they’ll oppose any efforts to privatize the VA.
In Washington, the Obama administration is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia today over its alleged role in hacking U.S. institutions, including the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. Lawmakers and U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly said Russian hackers helped Donald Trump’s campaign defeat Hillary Clinton, but have not provided specific evidence.
In Iraq, U.S. warplanes launched airstrikes on Mosul today, as the Iraqi Army fought to reclaim the city from ISIS. Hundreds of residents poured out of the city’s eastern neighborhoods to escape the violence.
Mosul resident: “We fled the Quds neighborhood to escape the mortars. Mortars would constantly fall on us. The situation there was difficult. Everything is expensive. We were starving.”
Iraqi security forces are screening the displaced residents and busing them to camps east of Mosul. But many camp residents say cold and wet weather has made conditions so miserable that they’re desperate to leave. As many as 1 million people remain trapped inside Mosul with increasingly limited access to food and drinking water.
In Colombia, lawmakers have approved a law granting amnesty to some members of the FARC guerrilla group. This is Fernando Cristo, Colombia’s interior minister.
Fernando Cristo: “It means that the path is clear to guarantee the demobilization and disarmament of FARC members in the first quarter of next year. It is no more and no less than the end of a 52-year conflict with the FARC. The FARC’s abandonment of arms is now in the hands of the United Nations so that the entire process of implementing the accords can begin.”
The law will not protect FARC members who committed war crimes or human rights violations. It follows a historic peace accord that formally ended a civil war that left a quarter-million Colombians dead.
In New Jersey, an 8-year-old boy is fighting to rejoin his Cub Scout pack, after he was kicked out because he was born a girl. The case of Joe Maldonado of Secaucus appears to be the first to challenge a ban on transgender boys joining Boy Scout troops. The case follows years of resistance by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay and lesbian adult leaders, before the organization finally dropped a blanket ban in July of 2015. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts said, “No youth may be removed from any of our programs on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation.”
In Texas, the Fort Worth Police Department faces new charges of racism and excessive force, after the release of a video showing an officer shooting a black man in the back. Thirty-three-year-old David Collie was left paralyzed after the encounter in July. Collie’s lawyer, Nate Washington, released a copy of a dash cam video on Wednesday capturing a Fort Worth police officer and a local sheriff’s deputy opening fire mere seconds after leaving their car. This is Nate Washington.
Nate Washington: “We know that the officers have indicated that they were telling Mr. Collie to come to them, to walk to them. They were telling him to, you know, take your hands out of your pockets, things of that sort. And so, as he attempted to comply, raise his hands as they told him to, they shot him.”
Collie spent 61 days in a hospital handcuffed to his bed and was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Washington said the officers were off duty at the time of the shooting. Police initially accused Collie of pointing a box cutter at the officers, but the video does not appear to back up the claim. A grand jury declined to indict Collie on aggravated assault charges. A Fort Worth police spokesperson says an investigation remains ongoing, and a case against the officer has not yet been presented to a separate grand jury. The release of the video came less than a week after a viral video showed an African-American mother and her teenage daughters being violently arrested by a white Fort Worth officer—after the woman dialed 911 to report an assault on her 7-year-old son.
In Florida, activists opposing construction of the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline are holding a series of protests across the state today. Environmentalists say the $3 billion, 500-mile pipeline threatens the Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 10 million people. Water protectors have set up four camps along the pipeline’s route, from which they’re organizing resistance to the project.
Meanwhile, in West Texas, activists say they’re preparing to establish a protest camp in the path of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which would carry natural gas under the Rio Grande river on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Trans-Pecos is being built by Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the Dakota Access pipeline, which has faced months of resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and over 200 indigenous nations from across the Americas.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday created new national monuments in the Southwest. The order will preserve some 1.3 million acres in Utah that are home to Native American sacred sites. In a first, the monument will be co-managed by the federal government and five tribes. Obama also set aside 300,000 acres of Nevada desert as the Gold Butte National Monument. The land abuts the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff against U.S. agents in 2014 after he allegedly allowed his cattle to graze on federally managed land without paying grazing fees.
And famed Hollywood actress Debbie Reynolds died Wednesday of a stroke, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress Carrie Fisher. Reynolds was 84 years old. In 1952, Reynolds had her breakout role in the musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain.” She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, said his mother was heartbroken over Carrie Fisher’s death on Tuesday. He reported Reynolds’s last words as “I miss her so much, I want to be with Carrie.”