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Tensions across northern Syria have escalated sharply amid a series of clashes between powers, including Israel, Iran, Turkey and the Syrian government. On Saturday, Israel shot down what it claims was an Iranian drone that had entered Israel’s airspace after being launched in Syria. Israel then mounted an attack on an Iranian command center in Syria, from where the drone was launched. One of the Israeli F-16 military jets was then downed by a Syrian government anti-aircraft missile. Israel then carried out a series of retaliatory strikes against both Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria.
Saturday’s events mark the first Israeli jet shot down since the 1980s. It is also believed to be the first time Israel has carried out an attack in Syria on a site where Iranian troops were present.
Meanwhile, also in northern Syria on Saturday, a Turkish Army helicopter was shot down by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters near the Syrian Kurdish city of Afrin, where Turkey has launched a bombing and ground offensive. All this comes as the United Nations is warning of soaring levels of civilian casualties in Syria. This is Elizabeth Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Elizabeth Throssell: “This has been a week of soaring violence and bloodshed in Syria—more than a thousand civilian casualties in six days. We’ve received reports that at least 277 civilians have been killed; 230 of these people were killed in airstrikes by the Syrian government and their allies. In addition, 812 people were injured.”
President Trump continues to defend members of his administration who are resigning amid serious accusations of domestic violence and abuse. On Friday, White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned after his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett, told The Washington Post he had physically abused her during their short marriage, including by putting out a lit cigarette on her hand and running over her foot with a car. His resignation comes after senior aide Rob Porter resigned as staff secretary last week, after two of his ex-wives accused him of verbal and physical abuse.
On Saturday morning, President Trump tweeted, “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused–life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” President Trump also said he wishes Porter well, speaking from the Oval Office on Friday.
President Donald Trump: “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So, you’ll have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House. Thank you very much, everybody.”
On Sunday, Porter’s second ex-wife, Jennie Willoughby, published a powerful Time magazine essay in which she addressed Trump’s comments, writing, “[W]hen Donald Trump repeated twice that Rob declared his innocence, I was floored. … My friend turned to me and said, 'The President of the United States just called you a liar.' Yes. And so he did.”
President Trump himself has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by at least 16 women. Senior White House officials—including Chief of Staff General John Kelly—knew for months that the FBI had heard testimony from Porter’s ex-wives about the verbal and physical abuse. But on Sunday, Porter told the news outlet Axios that White House officials had encouraged him to “stay and fight” the accusations rather than resign.
The Justice Department’s third-highest-ranking official, Rachel Brand, announced abruptly on Friday she plans to step down. Her resignation comes as President Trump has repeatedly attacked the Justice Department over the ongoing investigation into Trump and whether his presidential campaign colluded with Russia. Rachel Brand is next in line in succession after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Brand is leaving to take the top legal position at Walmart. Before she left the Justice Department, she revoked hundreds of so-called guidance documents on issues including healthcare, the environment, civil rights and labor. The revocation of the Justice Department documents will make it significantly harder for companies to be sued on a wide range of issues.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is set to begin a debate on immigration today. Lawmakers are expected to debate how to handle the future of DACA—that’s the Obama-era program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gave 800,000 young undocumented people permission to live and work in the United States before President Trump canceled the program last year. President Trump has proposed opening a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million undocumented people in exchange for a slew of dramatic anti-immigrant measures, including $25 billion in funding for a border wall, as well as ending the family reunification program and the diversity lottery, which primarily benefits immigrants from Africa.
In more news on immigration, a federal judge has stayed the deportation of New York City immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir, after he filed a free-speech lawsuit arguing immigration officials unconstitutionally used their power to suppress political dissent by targeting outspoken activists for surveillance and deportation. Ragbir is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition. He has now been ordered to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on March 15. He had been slated for deportation on Saturday. We’ll speak with Ravi Ragbir after headlines.
More than 100 public defenders walked out of a New York City courthouse on Thursday to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arresting undocumented immigrants at the courthouse. The Legal Aid Society, which helped organize the strike at the Bronx courthouse, said, “The presence of ICE officers in our courthouses and the perception that no immigrant is safe to seek their day in court, is threatening to upend our entire legal process and the principles upon which it stands.”
A federal appeals court has ruled a group of immigrants detained at the for-profit Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado can proceed with their class action lawsuit against the prison’s owner, GEO Group. The men accuse GEO Group of forcing detained immigrants to clean the prison without pay, under threat of solitary confinement. The men are also accusing GEO Group of breaking labor laws by paying detained immigrants only $1 a day.
Back in Washington, D.C., President Trump has blocked the release of a Democratic memo that refutes the arguments of the controversial, now-released memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes. The Nunes memo purported to show the FBI and Justice Department abused their authority by placing Trump campaign adviser Carter Page under surveillance in 2016 over his ties to Russia. The counter memo, written by the House Intelligence Committee’s highest-ranking Democratic member, Adam Schiff, refutes those claims and was declassified by the committee last week. But over the weekend, Trump blocked the release of that memo, even though he allowed the Nunes memo to be released.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sued Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company over years of sexual harassment. The lawsuit has threatened the company’s potential sale, which comes after more than 100 women accused Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and harassment, in cases that stretch back decades. Among the allegations in the New York lawsuit is that Weinstein sexually abused female workers and verbally threatened to kill employees and their entire families.
In Britain, the charity Oxfam is facing a crisis after an investigation by The Times of London revealed Oxfam tried to cover up sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. The reports accuse Oxfam’s senior aid workers—including the country director—of turning Oxfam’s rented house into a makeshift brothel, including with sex workers who may have been under 18 years old. Senior members of Oxfam are meeting with British government officials today amid warnings the charity could lose its government funding. This is Haitian Ambassador to the U.K. Bocchit Edmond.
Bocchit Edmond: “It is clear it’s a cover-up case. The fact that those folks were allowed to leave the country without any punishment, without even informing relevant Haitian authorities about that, it was a cover-up. And now, the fact that they did such a crime, or there was such a cover-up, now we are wondering how many of those cases are still being happening in Haiti. We don’t know.”
In news from the Korean Peninsula, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit the North Korean capital Pyongyang, in what could be the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than a decade. The offer is the latest in a thaw of tensions on the peninsula amid the Winter Olympics in South Korea. While returning from the Olympic opening ceremonies, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says the United States would be open to talks with North Korea, although he recently announced a new round of sanctions against North Korea.
The Reuters news agency has published a shocking report about how Burmese soldiers and members of an informal militia killed 10 Rohingya Muslim captives in September. At least two of the men were hacked to death. The others were shot. Reuters published one photo showing the 10 men lined up in a row on the day of their execution. A second photo shows the men’s bloodied bodies buried in a single grave. The killings were part of what the United Nations has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” During the reporting of the article, two Reuters journalists were arrested by Burmese police. They have been detained since December 12. Fellow journalist Salai Thant Zin of the publication The Irrawaddy criticized the detention of the journalists during a protest on Sunday.
Salai Thant Zin: “The situation is now more obvious that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested because of their investigative report on the Inn Din massacre. Journalists have the right to access the news according to journalistic ethics. This incident is an abuse of justice. This is also evidence that the media are being intimidated in Burma.”
The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary inquiry into the reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings by police and security forces in the Philippines as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called war on drugs. Duterte has repeatedly endorsed the use of extrajudicial killings.
In Honduras, thousands of people protested outside the United Nations building in the capital Tegucigalpa on Friday, demanding the United Nations recognize opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla as president. His rival, the U.S.-backed, right-wing incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, has been inaugurated as Honduras’s president after November’s presidential election, which was marred by widespread reports of election fraud. A new report by the group COFADEH says at least 30 protesters have been killed and more than 1,000 were arrested by police and military forces since the contested election. Among those imprisoned is longtime activist Edwin Espinal. This is Espinal speaking on Democracy Now! back in 2013, when he was protesting against President Juan Orlando Hernández’s first election.
Edwin Espinal: “This electoral process is very important to me and my family, because with the social movements and the community organizers, we’ve been targeted by the militaries and police and the government. But just like the [inaudible] are organizing people in our communities to—you know, to improve our communities and educate people in our communities about the political situation in our country.”
In Iran, hundreds of thousands of people gathered Sunday to mark the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. During the demonstrations, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal and criticized the United States for threatening to undo the landmark accord.
President Hassan Rouhani: “We witnessed the failure of America in the past year. The Americans wanted to interfere in our state matters. But our people said no to them. Through their unity, through their togetherness, through their steadfastness, they nullified the Americans’ plans and conspiracies.”
In more news on Iran, the family of a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmentalist and professor is demanding an independent autopsy after he was found dead in a prison in Tehran. Kavous Seyed Emami was one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. He’d been arrested along with other environmental activists in late January. Iranian authorities say he committed suicide.
In the latest news about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, The Guardian is reporting Sweden attempted to drop extradition proceedings against Assange five years ago but were pressured to reverse course by British prosecutors. Sweden eventually dropped its investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Assange last year. The news comes just days after a British judge upheld the British arrest warrant for Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012. Another judicial decision is expected on Tuesday, when a British court is scheduled to respond to a motion by Assange’s attorneys, who are attempting to force Britain to drop its arrest warrant for him.
A Russian commercial plane crashed near the capital Moscow on Sunday afternoon, killing all 71 people on board. Among the victims of the crash were three children. The cause of the crash is unknown.
In Puerto Rico, wide swaths of the island were plunged back into darkness on Sunday, after an explosion and fire at an electrical station. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority says several municipalities lost power, including parts of the capital, San Juan. This comes after Puerto Rico’s electrical power grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Parts of the island have still not regained power since the hurricane five months ago.
And world-renowned Pakistani human rights lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir has died at the age of 66. For decades, Jahangir has been a leading advocate for women, minorities and democracy in Pakistan. In 1983, she was imprisoned for her work with the Movement to Restore Democracy during the military rule of General Zia ul-Haq. Later, in 2007, she was put under house arrest for helping lead a lawyers’ protest movement that helped oust military leader Pervez Musharraf. As one of Pakistan’s most powerful lawyers, she founded the country’s first legal aid center in 1986. She went on to serve as the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. This is Asma Jahangir, speaking in a video produced by the Right Livelihood Award, which she won in 2014.
Asma Jahangir: “Justice is a rare commodity in our part of the world. Very rare. But sometimes even shouting for justice gives you some satisfaction that you’re being heard. And you must be heard. You knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and one day they are going to hear.”
Asma Jahangir died on Sunday in Lahore at the age of 66 after suffering cardiac arrest.