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Syrian government forces are continuing to bomb rebel-held Eastern Ghouta two days after the United Nations Security Council unanimously backed a 30-day ceasefire. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least nine people have died in shelling in Eastern Ghouta over the past day. More than 500 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta over the past week. Meanwhile, Turkey is continuing its offensive in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin. At the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all sides to implement the ceasefire.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Eastern Ghouta cannot wait. It’s high time to stop this hell on Earth. And I remind all parties of their absolute obligation under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times. And similarly, efforts to combat terrorism do not supersede these obligations.”
In Parkland, Florida, students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Sunday afternoon for the first time since February 14, when a 19-year-old white former student named Nikolas Cruz walked into the school and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing 17 people. Outside the school, students talked about what it felt like to return to the scene of the killing.
Mikayla Stravitz: “I’m kind of scared what it’s going to be like going back and not seeing Aaron Feis at the front gate, like his big smile, waving, and then our little stupid conversations, which they were—I miss him. And then, you know, him dying a hero, saving six kids and staying on top of them, I’m happy he did that. It’s not going to be the same, not in the mornings, not when I leave, not seeing his face, not seeing him on the golf cart. It’s going to be different.”
The Florida House speaker and 73 Republican colleagues have called on Gov. Rick Scott to suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for not doing more to prevent the shooting. Records showed Broward County deputies received at least 18 calls about the gunman Nikolas Cruz over the past decade, including one warning that he “planned to shoot up the school.”
This comes as massive pressure is growing for lawmakers to enact new gun control measures amid the rise of an unprecedented youth movement, led by survivors of the February 14 shooting. A new CNN poll shows the percentage of Americans favoring “stricter gun control laws” has risen from 52 to 70 percent over the past four months. While Congress returns to session today, Republican lawmakers have yet to announce any plans for new gun legislation. The NRA has publicly opposed calls for a ban on bump stocks and raising the age requirement to purchase a long gun from 18 to 21. But pressure is growing on the NRA. Since the Parkland shooting, more than 20 companies have cut ties to NRA—the list includes Delta, United, Hertz, Avis, Budget, MetLife and the First National Bank of Omaha.
President Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty to two charges and is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The charges deal with work Gates did in Ukraine with Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, before they joined the Trump campaign. New charges have also been filed against Manafort, in part around an effort to secretly finance lobbying for Ukraine’s government.
Democratic lawmakers have released a memo refuting key parts of a recent Republican memo that 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. Democratic Congressmember Adam Schiff said his memo showed the FBI acted appropriately.
Rep. Adam Schiff: “The FISA Court was informed that Carter Page had a history that the FBI knew of well before the Trump campaign, that he was the target, effectively, of Russian recruitment, that the court was informed that another Trump foreign policy adviser who occupied the same kind of position as Carter Page had similarly been approached by Russian agents and informed that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.”
In business news, the Weinstein Company is reportedly preparing to file for bankruptcy. This comes after around 100 women accused the company’s former chairman, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual misconduct, including rape. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently sued the company and Harvey Weinstein over sexual harassment and misconduct.
In political news, the California Democratic Party has voted not to endorse longtime Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein in her bid to win a sixth term. Feinstein is being challenged from the left by California state Senate leader Kevin de León. At their annual convention in San Diego, California Democrats voted 54 to 37 percent to back de León, who has also been endorsed by SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. On Saturday, de León said, “The days of Democrats biding our time, biting our tongue, and triangulating at the margins are over.”
The political news website Axios is reporting President Trump has privately told friends and staffers he wants to execute drug dealers. One senior administration official told Axios, “He often jokes about killing drug dealers… He’ll say, 'You know the Chinese and Filipinos don't have a drug problem. They just kill them.’” Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation into accusations that Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte had committed crimes against humanity by overseeing the killing of up 8,000 people in his so-called war on drugs.
The Trump administration announced harsh new sanctions against North Korea on Friday, just before the Olympic Games ended in South Korea. During the games, North Korean officials met with their south Korean counterparts and reportedly expressed a willingness to hold talks with the United States.
The State Department has announced the the United States will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, or what Palestinians refer to as Nakba, or the catastrophe. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized the U.S. announcement.
Saeb Erekat: “The American administration, to choose the date of the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba, to move the embassy and to take this move in this expeditious fashion reflects total insensitivities to what goes on in this region, which reiterates, which reaffirms our position that the U.S can no longer be part of the peace process.”
One of the biggest proponents of the embassy move to Jerusalem has been billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. He is now offering to help fund the construction of the new embassy, which could cost as much as $500 million.
In other news from Israel, up to 20,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday to protest Israel’s plans to push out as many as 40,000 African migrants in the coming months. Israel is threatening to jail the migrants if they do not leave Israel. Protesters on Saturday condemned the Israeli government for shutting the door on refugees.
Rabai Nava Kheferz: “We came to demonstrate against deportation. We disagree with the decision of our government, especially as Jews. We are a people of refugees, of asylum seekers, for 2,000 years. And we are here to say, now that we are in a sovereign state, we have to deal with other asylum seekers worldwide.”
Back in the United States, Oakland, California, Mayor Libby Schaaf held an unusual press conference on Sunday warning residents of a possible ICE raid in the coming days.
Mayor Libby Schaaf: “Yesterday, I learned information from multiple sources that there is potentially an ICE activity planned in the Bay Area that could be starting as soon as today. My priority is to keep this community safe. It is not my wish to panic people, but to ensure that they’re prepared with information, that they know their rights, as well as their responsibilities, and know about the resources that this community offers.”
Oakland is a sanctuary city, which has barred city employees from assisting ICE raids.
In environmental news, a federal judge in Louisiana has revoked a permit for a new crude oil pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners, the same firm which runs the Dakota Access pipeline. The Bayou Bridge pipeline has been opposed by a coalition of environmental groups as well as local fishermen.
In West Virginia, teachers have begun their third day on strike. The strike has shut down all of the state’s public schools. Teacher salaries in West Virginia are lower than in all but two other states, with salaries beginning at just over $32,000 for a new teacher.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments today in a key case that could deal a massive blow to unions nationwide. The case deals with whether workers who are covered by union-negotiated contracts are required to pay a portion of union dues even if they are not members of the union.