Syrian forces press offensive despite IS threats to hostages
Monday, July 30
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces pressed ahead with their offensive in the country’s south on Monday despite threats by the Islamic State group to kill civilians it recently captured there.
Syrian state TV and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitoring group, both reported government attacks on the Yarmouk basin region in southern Syria.
The area is controlled by a group linked to IS that has been in retreat in recent weeks near the border with Jordan and the frontier of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian state TV aired live footage from the area in which troops pounded IS positions with multiple rocket launchers.
The Observatory reported that government helicopter gunships pounded several villages held by IS, including Shajara, Abdeen and Koya.
The Observatory said some 4,000 civilians are still present in the small pocket controlled by IS-linked fighters.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said that government forces and their allies entered the IS stronghold of Shajara from two fronts on Monday, without giving further details.
The Observatory said the offensive resumed Monday after a day of relative calm following the release of a video on Saturday in which a woman said she was being held with other women. The woman said they could be freed if the government releases IS detainees and halts the offensive. She said if the demands were not met the militants would kill the captives.
The extremists abducted around 18 people, mostly women, in a wave of attacks in the nearby province of Sweida last Wednesday that killed more than 200 people.
The Sweida 24, an activist collective in Sweida, said IS sent the photos of 14 women they are holding to their relatives, saying they want to negotiate over them.
Sweida 24 said IS is believed to be holding 30 people, including 20 women whose ages range between 18 to 60. It said IS is also believed to be holding 16 young boys and girls.
The activist group said the bodies of two women were found near the village of Shabki, a focus of Wednesday’s attack. One had been shot in the head and the other, an elderly woman, apparently died of exhaustion. Four other women were found alive hiding in a cave, it said.
Those abducted are members of the minority Druze sect. The Druze, followers of an esoteric offshoot of Islam, have kept their own local militias in the area. The Sunni Muslim extremists of IS view them as apostates, and have a history of abducting members of other religious minorities and keeping women as sex slaves.
Until Wednesday, Sweida, home to a predominantly Druze community, had largely been spared from Syria’s seven-year-long civil war.
IS has been driven from virtually all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, but holds scattered pockets of territory in southern Syria and along the border.
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‘Secrets of the Zoo’ Sunday on Nat Geo WILD
July 25, 2018
Powell – With more than 10,000 animals in their care and over 2.4 million guests welcomed a year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds have many compelling stories to tell. Wildlife fans will get the opportunity to share in some of these heartwarming and moving adventures on Sunday, July 29, when Secrets of the Zoo premieres on Nat Geo WILD. Two one-hour-long episodes will premiere this Sunday at 9 p.m. (EDT).
Over the course of the last year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium staff and documentarians at Nat Geo WILD have been working together to share a glimpse into the incredible bonds between caretakers and animals at the Zoo.
Secrets of the Zoo also focuses on the Columbus Zoo’s incredible conservation work, including an in-depth look at The Wilds, one of the largest conservation centers in North America at 10,000 acres, and home to rare and endangered animals from around the world.
Upcoming episodes feature both heartwarming and heart-pounding stories, including the following:
Secrets of the Zoo – Stand by Your Manatee
Premieres Sunday, July 29, 9/8c
An orphaned baby manatee is rescued from the wild, and the zoo staff manages to retrieve an important urine sample from a beloved manatee mom. It’s a big new world for the zoo’s newest additions — adorable tiger cubs. A male oryx joins a herd of females, while the zoo staff collects lifesaving blood from a giraffe, and has some fun feeding their hyenas.
Secrets of the Zoo – Run, Cheetah, Run
Premieres Sunday, July 29, 10/9c
The zoo doctors go into hero mode, attempting to replace a missing bone in a cheetah’s shoulder and rescuing 16 macaws from a hoarding situation. They also perform pregnancy tests on rare mares, give baby polar bear cubs swimming lessons and treat rambunctious — but loveable — flamingos with leg problems.
Secrets of the Zoo – Kangaroo-mance
Premieres Sunday, Aug. 5, 9/8c
Young kangaroo Fergus gets a gut check in the love department while Zuri, an expectant warthog, delivers unexpected results. Baby, a beloved black rat snake, develops a concerning mass, while Mac, the zoo’s oldest silverback gorilla, gets a surprise birthday party.
Secrets of the Zoo – Rhino-mite!
Premieres Sunday, Aug. 12, 9/8c
At the zoo, a white rhino ultrasound shows surprising results, and a sick guinea fowl becomes an emergency. From Florida to California, the zoo team hits the coasts, returning two rescued manatees to their native waters, and transporting four wild cats to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Late, Late Show With James Corden.”
Secrets of the Zoo – Beauties and Beasts
Premieres Sunday, Aug. 19. 9/8c
Baby fever spreads through the zoo as a cheetah repopulation program goes into full effect, a takin has a hitch in his getalong and Jack Hanna cases chaos through the zoo as he prepares to delight a crowd, while the park’s most chill residents get a frozen spaghetti seal treat.
Secrets of the Zoo – Bringing Up Baby
Premieres Sunday, Aug. 26, 9/8c
The keepers make their morning breakfast rounds at the Heart of Africa exhibit, a young bull elephant has a play date while his expectant mother gets an ultrasound, a rare okapi gets a checkup, a cougar has a concerning abscess and it’s a winter herd roundup at The Wilds.
“More than 175 million Americans visit a zoo every year, but nothing compares to the behind-the-scenes experience we deliver,” said Geoff Daniels, executive vice president and general manager, Nat Geo WILD. “Thanks to the Columbus Zoo and their incredible staff, our audience of animal lovers and their families will get an exclusive golden ticket to witness all the extraordinary work, heartwarming stories and inspiring moments most people never see at a place where the passion and commitment to wildlife has to be seen to be believed!”
More than anything, Secrets of the Zoo places the Columbus Zoo and the Central Ohio community into the national spotlight by showcasing a progressive zoo with a mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife. The Columbus Zoo team accomplishes this by providing memorable and meaningful on-site experiences, engaging educational programs and inspiring outreach activities, as well as constantly striving to make an even bigger global impact.
“We are proud to have some of the most talented, knowledgeable, dedicated and passionate staff members in the world on our animal care team,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President and CEO Tom Stalf. “The fact that the Columbus Zoo and The Wilds were selected for this show is a true testament to our team as well as our supportive Central Ohio community that has helped to make our Zoo one of the best in the nation. While sharing the true heart behind the care provided to the animals by our team of experts, we are excited that Secrets of the Zoo is also providing us with the opportunity to help us establish that emotional connection between a national audience and these animals so that we can further lead in inspiring people to take action to help protect wildlife and wild places.”
About the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Home to more than 10,000 animals representing over 600 species from around the globe, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium leads and inspires by connecting people and wildlife. The Zoo complex is a recreational and education destination that includes the 22-acre Zoombezi Bay water park and 18-hole Safari Golf Course. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also operates The Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation center and safari park located in southeastern Ohio. The Zoo is a regional attraction with global impact; annually contributing more than $4 million of privately raised funds to support conservation projects worldwide. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Columbus Zoo has earned Charity Navigator’s prestigious 4-star rating.
About National Geographic Partners LLC
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 129 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Opinion: Community Is a Place and a Perspective
By Tom Melia
The Catalyst, via InsideSources.com
We often think of “community” as a place, which of course is true. In towns and cities, people share space — usually inhabiting a piece of land together. The Latin root of the word also means “sharing in common,” which can mean holding a shared belief or pursuing a common interest or perspective.
I have been fortunate to see the world in both dimensions. Having traveled to more than 100 countries for work, study and adventure, I have often enjoyed wandering thorough exotic and interesting towns and villages, as well as the neighborhoods of cities big and small.
Some have been quite pleasant and welcoming, like mountain villages in Bavaria or irrigated farm fields in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. (I lived in Germany as a child, in the self-contained communities of post-war American military bases. Much later, I traveled outside Kabul in 2002, after the repressive Taliban had been driven from power and a kind of normalcy was returning.)
One can often measure the vitality of a place and its people by the nighttime buzz. They might be teeming with life around the clock, as in Lisbon and London as well as Dhaka in Bangladesh. Or they might be quiet as a cemetery, as Prague was back in the last years of communism when I visited before 1989, or as Dushanbe in Tajikistan remains today.
As readers, we can travel even farther afield through time and space, visiting grim and gruesome places we would likely not know otherwise. For instance, in her marvelous new book, “Amity and Prosperity,” Eliza Griswold tells the tale of two tiny towns in southwest Pennsylvania bearing those names, and of the fierce attachment to broken-down homes and failed farms by the struggling Americans who live there, and who become divided over the promise of windfall wealth, and the threats to their health, that comes to town with the fracking industry.
In a somewhat different vein, The New York Times reported recently about the very rough justice meted out in Mosul, Iraq when the brutal Islamic State held power for several years until its recent liberation. No matter how difficult life can be, sometimes people just want to stay close to home, usually meaning family, or cannot escape.
Of course, many people have no choice but to live in desperate situations. One of the most widely shared residential experiences in the world today is to live in an impoverished shanty town on the outskirts of a major metropolis.
The favelas of Brazil or the barrios of Mexico can look and feel a lot like the slums of India, where millions of families struggle to survive on pennies a day. They lack indoor plumbing or reliable electricity, usually go without official streets or addresses, and often live within walking distance of gleaming high-rise office or apartment buildings. (Sadly, the same conditions exist in some colonias in South Texas.)
In the Philippines these neighborhoods are called barangays, the native Filipino Tagalog word for a village. When I visited some of these barangays last year, in the city of Navotas — a highly urbanized city in its own right that is also a part of Metro Manila — I was struck by vivid juxtapositions. The barangays were simultaneously cozy and perilous.
There was the immaculately-tidy church of the parish priest who took us on a walking tour and the dirty hovels in which people crammed their families under wobbly roofs in the rain. There were dirty, barefoot children zigzagging happily through unpaved shantytown alleyways and the anxious faces of their parents with whom we spoke.
These fragile villages-within-a-city were, and remain, imperiled by President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “drug war.” By the end of last year, Human Rights Watch calculated, more than 12,000 drug suspects had been killed. Often the dead were not drug dealers at all, but drug users with meager prospects of finding help with their addictions.
There are other kinds of communities, some stretching across borders and uniting like-minded men and women who share something in common beyond location. A powerful example is the bond that law enforcement officers share around the country, knowing they encounter similar challenges no matter where they live and work. Or, more playfully, there are the scattered devotees of a band, like the Grateful Dead or U2.
I was reminded of this definition of community in June at a gathering of men and women concerned about the current global demise of democratic performance and the disappearance of U.S. leadership from the world order long championed by Washington.
We met in Portugal, at the annual Estoril Political Forum, which brings together democracy advocates and activists from around the world. Here, people whom I had never met, from two dozen countries, spoke knowledgeably and passionately about American leaders over the years, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s depiction of our democracy. A Portuguese undergraduate attending the conference cited this passage from “Democracy in America”: “Democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves they will seek it, cherish it, and view any deprivation of it with regret.”
This was truly a community of the like-minded, yearning for the return of U.S. leadership to the trans-Atlantic alliance. A broad group of Republicans and Democrats and independents in the United States had recently issued a Declaration of Principles that similarly called for the return our country to leadership in defense of democracy and prosperity.
An ocean away, far from my current home in Maryland, I felt also at home, part of a community with whom I share a worldview — one that aspires to a world based on free peoples, living under just laws, open borders, and free trade. It was noteworthy that virtually all of the participants were not governmental officials; the center-of-gravity of the trans-Atlantic democratic community appear to have decisively shifted recently from officialdom to civil society — to writers and journalists, educators and scholars, business people and religious leaders.
On the trip back, I realized that communities are constructed — and not just by engineers, architects and builders.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Tom Melia is Washington director of PEN America and former fellow of Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute. This essay originally appeared in The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute. This is distributed by InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Liberating the ‘Enemy’
By Benjamin R. Naimark-Rowse
JOHANNESBURG — “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.”
Nelson Mandela — whose centenary was celebrated July 18 — wrote these words in his autobiography in 1994. But they are just as applicable to the world today as they were to the world that Mandela traversed before, during, and after his 27 years as a political prisoner in apartheid-era South Africa.
While watching the celebrations of Mandela’s life in Johannesburg, I wondered what he would think about the state of affairs today in my country, the United States. Despite many differences between Mandela’s South Africa and the United States today, the similarities are striking: brutal police assaults on black and brown bodies, legalized discrimination, pervasive propaganda, communities separated by walls — real and imagined, electoral disenfranchisement and entrenched economic inequality along racial and ethnic lines.
What might Mandela think about the assault on democracy in the United States? Would he propose a multi-racial movement for democracy as he led in South Africa? Would he propose reaching across “enemy” lines as he did throughout his own lifetime? And what would he say to people losing hope in the face of intolerance, hate and violence?
Unlike most pro-democracy movements of its time, the African National Congress that Mandela led for many years was committed to the idea of a multi-racial society as a matter of principle and strategy. They included sympathetic allies of all races and religions in the movement and all people in their vision for the future. This vision was radical and unique relative to liberation movements of its time and it helped to prevent government and activist violence from leading to civil war, and to create a democracy — albeit flawed — with one of the world’s most inclusive constitutions.
Today in the United States, it is easier to include all people of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic classes in a vision of the future than it is to include them in our day-to-day political organizing, electoral mobilizing and public narratives.
Mandela, however, would have reminded us that we are all impoverished until we recognize everyone’s humanity. Recognizing the humanity of those we most vociferously disagree with is not only a matter of principle, it is a powerful strategy to say that even our “enemies” have a place in society. When we don’t explicitly leave the door open to marginalized white communities, for example, then they’re right when they say they have no place in our United States.
Inclusion of everyone in our vision for the future cannot be unconditional. Everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion, but not their own facts. Human rights and human dignity must be respected. Yet, Mandela would have reminded us that many people are victims of propaganda — infected with learned prejudices. And demonizing millions of regular people as unredeemable excludes them from our vision of the future.
Hate cannot drive out hate. Just as prejudice is learned, it can be unlearned. And although manufacturers of hate may never change their views, their followers, hypnotized by propagandists, might change their actions, if not their beliefs. Isn’t there a difference between Steve Bannon and our family members who voted for Trump?
We can speak truth to power without demonizing everyone we disagree with. For example, calling family members “racists” shuts down conversation. But telling them they did something racist leaves open a space for dialogue, learning and change. Shutting down those spaces gives them another reason to push us even further away.
Twelfth-century philosopher Maimonides argued that hope is a belief in “the plausibility of the possible.” But the spike in intolerance, hate and violence since November 2016 puts into sharp relief the intolerance, hate and violence that many have endured since the founding of this country. And so where will we find hope? And how will we make the possible more plausible?
Perhaps we will participate in a moral revival through faith traditions. Perhaps we will mobilize to elect candidates at all levels who are representative of our country’s diversity. Perhaps we will get trained as organizers. And perhaps for those of us living with privilege, we will step aside and intentionally create space for women, African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, immigrants and others to lead us.
Hope is not blind faith, although it can be grounded in faith. We can create hope. It can come from learning skills that empower. It can come from protecting those most vulnerable among us. For some, simply surviving may bring hope for a better future. For those who feel safe enough — making ourselves uncomfortable by extending an open hand to family, colleagues and neighbors with whom we disagree might even surprise us and yield hope.
Mandela wrote that he never lost hope for a great transformation in his country because of the courage of ordinary men and women in the struggle. Today in the United States, we have the capacity to create a great transformation. This not a pitch for a perfect polity — one of the many phony wares that populists peddle. Nor is this a pitch for a golden age of the past or a utopia of the future.
This work requires us to show up in our brokenness and ignorance with a willingness to learn, a commitment to not give up when we make mistakes, which we will, and an understanding that no matter how much we disagree, our humanity and our fates are intertwined.
In 1994, once Mandela was declared the winner in South Africa’s first democratic elections, he reminded South Africans “that the liberation struggle was not a battle against any one group or color, but a fight against a system of repression.” If he were alive celebrating his centenary with us, this is the struggle Mandela would remind us to undertake.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Benjamin R. Naimark-Rowse is a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project and the Topol Fellow in Nonviolent Resistance at The Fletcher School, Tufts University. His dissertation is titled “Liberating the ‘Enemy’ in South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Struggle.” He wrote this for InsideSources.com.