NEWS   SATURDAY, MARCH  18, 2017   NEWS

 
President Trump on Friday once again suggested former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election, joking during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that they have "something in common." The president briefly touched on the wiretapping comment controversy when asked by a reporter about his allegations from earlier this month. “At least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped. Merkel cracked a smile as reporters in the room laughed. Trump’s comment was a reference to 2013 reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had listened in on Merkel’s phone calls. An inquiry was launched into the allegations after former NSA worker Edward Snowden revealed details of the secret U.S. eavesdropping programs. Fox News
VOA VIEW: The meeting was a tale of two sides.
 
The White House issued a directive to all VA facilities, instructing them to hang a portrait of President Trump, Ed Henry reported this morning. "Fox & Friends" has reported on this all week after Republican congressman and Army veteran Brian Mast hung a portrait of President Trump and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. The pictures were then taken down by staffers, with one reportedly declaring that President Trump was not his president. Mast and local veterans spoke out against the move, though the management argued there was a protocol for hanging the photos and they'd need to be authenticated. Fox News
VOA VIEW: Dumb!
 
White House press secretary Sean Spicer flatly denied Friday that the White House apologized to the British government after citing an uncorroborated Fox News report to allege that a UK intelligence agency spied on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama'  Earlier in the day, however, a senior administration official told CNN that Spicer and national security adviser H.R. McMaster offered what amounted to an apology to the British government for Spicer's comments on Thursday, when he cited a Fox News report that said British intelligence helped wiretap Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. CNN
 
Secret Service laptop containing Trump Tower evacuation and floor plans stolen
A laptop with highly sensitive information was stolen from a Secret Service agent's car Thursday morning in Brooklyn and has not been found, according to two senior New York law enforcement officials. The officials said the laptop, which was highly encrypted and contained floor plans and evacuation protocol for Trump Tower, cannot be traced or erased by officials remotely, leaving the information at risk of being discovered. The agent described the incident as a compromise of national security, according to one of the officials. Also stolen were the agent's lapel assignment pins that gave her access to security details that protected Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, the pope and the United Nations General Assembly. The laptop and pins were in a backpack that was taken from the car, which was parked in the agent's driveway. CNN
 
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President Donald Trump challenged a reporter at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Friday who called his trade police “isolationist” and asked why he was so was afraid of diversity in the media that he calls them “fake news.” “I’m a free trader, but I’m also fair trader, and our free trade has led to a lot of bad things happening. You look at the deficits that we have, and you look at all of the accumulation of debt. We’re a very powerful...country. We’re a very strong, very strong country. We’ll soon be at a level that we perhaps have never been before,” the president said. “Our military is going to be strengthened. It’s been depleted, but I am a trader. I am a fair trader. I am a trader that wants to see good for everybody worldwide, but I am not an isolationist by any stretch of the imagination, so I don’t know what newspaper you’re reading, but I guess that would be another example of as you say fake news,” he added. CNS
 
At a White House St. Patrick’s Day reception, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny invoked the sentiments of Irish-American President John F. Kennedy to explain why “Ireland came to America.” On Thursday, Kenny and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence each commemorated St. Patrick’s Day in a ceremony in the East Room.During his remarks, Kenny paid tribute to the Irish immigrants who have come to America and forged a strong bond between the two nations that still exists today: “Ireland came to America because, deprived of liberty, deprived of opportunity, of safety, of even food itself, the Irish believed, four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp, we were the “wretched refuse on the teeming shore.”We believed in the shelter of America, and the compassion of America, and the opportunity of America.We came, and we became Americans. CNS
  During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump downplayed his business ties with Russia. And since taking office as president, he has been even more emphatic. “I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” President Trump said at a news conference last month. “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.” But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records. The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics. Reuters
VOA VIEW: Something to review, if true.
 
The U.S. Justice Department on Friday said it delivered documents to congressional committees responding to their request for information that could shed light on President Donald Trump's claims that former President Barack Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on him.The information was sent to the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes, said in a statement late on Friday that the Justice Department had "fully complied" with the panel's request. Another government source, who also requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said an initial examination of the material turned over by the Justice Department indicates that it contains no evidence to confirm Trump's claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him or the Trump Tower in New York. Leaders of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including from Trump's Republican Party, have said they have found no evidence to substantiate Trump's claims that Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on Trump or his entourage. The White House has publicly offered no proof of the allegation. Reuters


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Did Trump’s Irish Proverb Come From a Nigerian Muslim Poet?

During the annual White House meeting with the Irish Prime Minister on Thursday, President Donald Trump shared one of his favorite proverbs with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The only problem was, as many pointed out on social media after the meeting's broadcast, it may not have been an Irish proverb at all. "As we stand together with our Irish friends, I'm reminded of a proverb — and this is a good one, this is one I like. I've heard it for many, many years and I love it," Trump said. "Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you." The proverb that Trump cited does indeed appear on a few websites that list "St. Patrick's Day Blessings" and in a few memes dotting Pinterest and Instagram profiles. But as viewers were quick to point out after Trump's meeting with Kenny aired on MSNBC, a Google search for the proverb quickly leads to a longer poem posted online in January 2013 by a Nigerian Muslim bank manager named Albasheer Adam Alhassan. NBC
 
The drug that killed Prince is slaying people at a rate of nearly one a day in Ohio's capital city. Fentanyl has already figured in 55 fatal drug overdoses in Columbus and surrounding Franklin County in January and February, the local coroner reported Friday. "The headline is that this is almost half the total number of fentanyl-related deaths we logged all of last year," Franklin County Coroner spokeswoman Tia Moretti told NBC News. And at this "unprecedented" rate, Moretti said, Columbus is poised to rip up the local record book as a drug that has cut like a scythe through much of Ohio wreaks havoc on the buckle of the Buckeye State. "This is killing us," Moretti said. Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says is 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin and packs 50 to 100 times more punch than morphine. NBC
 
Standing beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump pushed back Friday against the perception in Europe that he was pursuing isolationist trade policies, declaring that he was a “fair trader.” “I don’t believe in isolationist policy. I believe in fair policy,” Mr. Trump said in response to a question from a German news reporter at a joint press conference at the White House. Mr. Trump said that the U.S. has been the victim of bad trade deals for years that have driven up debt and destroyed jobs. Trade has topped the agenda during Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel’s first face-to-face meeting. The two leaders are on opposite sides of issues including immigration and refugees. But they sought common ground, they said, on trade that benefits both their citizens. Washington Times

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Juan Williams shoots down CNN’s ‘sensationalized’ gun story on Sean Hannity

Fox News contributor Juan Williams took to Twitter Thursday night to blast CNN for a “sensationalized” gun story about Sean Hannity. CNN’s Dylan Byerspublished “Sources: Sean Hannity once pulled a gun on Juan Williams” Thursday evening, which covers an October 2016 incident between the two men. Multiple sources said that a gun was brandished and a laser sight pointed at Mr. Williams‘ body, which caused complaints to Fox News executives. Both Fox stars downplayed the event in statements released to CNN and on social media. “This incident is being sensationalized — everything was under total control throughout and I never felt like I was put in harm’s way,” Mr. Williamssaid on Twitter, echoing an earlier statement to the network. “It was clear that Sean put my safety and security above all else and we continue to be great friends.”Washington Times
VOA VIEW: CNN looks bad, as usual.
 
Who needs kryptonite when you can have diamonds? A lucky teen named Kalel Langford just found a 7.44-carat diamond at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. Kalel, 14, named it “Superman’s Diamond” since the Superman character’s real name is also Kal-El. It’s the seventh-largest diamond ever found in the park. “He was really excited. The funny part is he had just played in a baseball tournament so he was pretty tired, but I think it took a day or two once he had gotten some sleep for it to fully sink in,” Kalel’s mom, Michelle Langford, of Centerton, Arkansas, told ABC News of her son’s impressive discovery on March 11. “At first he thought it might be a diamond but wasn’t convinced," Michelle said. When the family showed the find to the staff at the park, they said, “‘I’m not really sure what it is.' My son Kalel thought he had stumped everybody and found something that no one had ever found, but come to find out it was actually a brown diamond.” ABC
 
The Justice Department announced today it will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that blocked federal agencies from enforcing certain parts of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban. "The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the Maryland federal district court’s ruling, and looks forward to defending the President’s Executive Order seeking to protect our Nation’s security,” a DOJ spokesperson told ABC News. The move comes just one day after the federal judge in Maryland issued a nationwide preliminary injunction on one part of Trump's revised ban -- the section that imposes the 90-day pause on the issuance of visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries included in the executive order. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims, including claims that the executive order discriminated on the basis of religion. The nationwide preliminary injunction will remain in place indefinitely until it is either lifted by the Maryland judge or overturned by a higher court. The Trump administration is appealing the Maryland decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. ABC
 
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White House wiretapping allegations blasted by U.K. spy agency GCHQ

In the wake of President Trump’s unproven claims that Trump Tower was wiretapped, the White House is dealing with fallout from its ally, the U.K. On Thursday, press secretary Sean Spicer repeated a Fox News report that implicated the U.K. in wiretapping the Trump campaign. Spicer cited Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, who suggested that the British electronic surveillance agency GCHQ had helped former President Obama spy on Mr. Trump before last year’s presidential election. In a rare statement, the agency has denied those claims, calling them “nonsense” and saying they are “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” CBS News
 
A house in a Maryland suburb of the nation’s capital was leveled early Friday by a thunderous explosion heard for miles around, a blast so powerful it shattered windows and caused other damage to several neighboring homes, authorities said. The explosion shook the city of Rockville about 1 a.m. and scattered debris widely, a fire official said, adding that while the cause wasn’t immediately known. As a precaution, utility workers turned off gas and power at the home and others nearby. Fire and utility officials also went door to door asking neighbors to leave for their safety. Yellow police tape cordoned off the site. “It’s just a pile of bricks. There’s not anything left of the house,” said Pete Piringer, chief spokesman for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. “I’ve heard there were calls from miles away.” A legal notice appearing in The Washington Post on Wednesday stated the home would be sold at auction on Friday afternoon, but the auction firm’s website no longer listed it Friday morning. The auction firm referred questions to Brock & Scott, the firm advertising the sale, but they did not return calls seeking comment. CBS News
 
House Republicans are pushing toward a vote next week on their bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with their own programs, even as holdouts resist pressure from House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump to give the proposal enough support to pass. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the health bill as soon as Thursday -- the seven-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s signing by Barack Obama. Yet it’s not clear that there are enough votes to pass the bill in the House and send it to the Senate, where it will face a fresh set of obstacles. “I never thought I’d have to say this, but we’re facing an uphill battle in repealing Obamacare,” Ryan said in a fundraising email Friday. Ryan and his GOP lieutenants can afford to lose no more than 21 votes in the chamber, presuming all Democrats vote against the bill. But they have yet to line up the backing of a block of about 40 conservatives members known as the House Freedom Caucus who argue that the current legislation doesn’t go far enough in repealing Obamacare’s programs that cover millions of Americans. More than four-fifths of the Freedom Caucus opposes Ryan’s bill, Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for the group, said Friday. Reuters
 
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Documents Show Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump to Divest Some Assets

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner offered plans to divest some assets to comply with federal ethics standards, documents show. Kushner, who serves as senior adviser to his father-in-law, indicated that he would divest from three limited liability companies linked to Thrive Capital, the venture capital firm co-founded by Joshua Kushner, his brother. He also listed for divestment shares in closely-held Regal Bank, based in Livingston, New Jersey, where the Kushners have a home. The Thrive entities include one that appears to be linked to a $700 million fund the firm raised in July of last year. Thrive has invested in messaging app Slack, online-payments company Stripe, and Oscar, which sells insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Billionaire Peter Thiel, Trump’s most vocal supporter in Silicon Valley, was an early investor. Kushner is also selling his interest in Broadband Proliferation Partners LLC, which operates under the name WiredScore. The firm rates the internet connectivity of commercial buildings, and participates in WiredNYC, a New York City initiative to improve its high-tech infrastructure. It’s active in more than 30 other cities, according to the company’s website. Reuters
 
Trump OKs changes in GOP health care bill, winning support
President Donald Trump agreed to add fresh Medicaid curbs to the House Republican health care bill Friday, bolstering the measure with support from some conservative lawmakers but leaving its prospects wobbly. House leaders discussed other amendments calibrated to round up votes and scheduled a showdown vote Thursday. I just want to let the world know I am 100 percent in favor" of the measure, Trump said at the White House after meeting around a dozen House lawmakers and shaking hands on revisions. "We're going to have a health care plan that's going to be second to none." While the rapid-fire events seemed to build momentum for the pivotal GOP legislation, its fate remained clouded. One leading House conservative said the alterations were insufficient and claimed enough allies to sink the measure, and support among moderates remained uncertain. Las Vegas Sun
 
Of recent assertions against recreational marijuana made by leaders in President Donald Trump’s administration come to fruition, Nevada would have few options for stopping federal intervention, Gov. Brian Sandoval said this week. “That was always an issue — it’s illegal under federal law,” Sandoval told the Sun. “That hasn’t changed.” Sandoval, who opposed the initiative last November allowing adults 21 and older to possess and recreationally use up to one ounce of marijuana flower or one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana concentrates, said his office will continue to push forward framework for the voter-approved initiative, which passed 54 percent to 45 percent last fall. Sandoval on Feb. 3 signed an executive order to establish a Blue Ribbon Task Force, and one month earlier signed off on nearly $1 million in funding for the Nevada Department of Taxation for added staff to regulate and tax the new industry. Las Vegas Sun
 
The United States signaled a tougher strategy toward North Korea on Friday that leaves open the possibility of pre-emptive military action and rejects talks with the communist nation until it gives up its weapons of mass destruction. "Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. "We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table." Tillerson was speaking after visiting the heavily militarized border between the rival Koreas. His comments are likely to displease Beijing, where he travels this weekend. China has been advocating diplomacy to avoid a conflict on the divided peninsula. Newsday
 
A long-acting cholesterol medicine cut the risk of having a heart attack or some other serious problems by 15 to 20 percent in a big study that's likely to spur fresh debate about what drugs should cost. Statins such as Lipitor and Crestor are cheap and lower LDL or bad cholesterol, but some people can't tolerate or get enough help from them. The new drug, Amgen's Repatha, is given as a shot once or twice a month and is part of a novel class of medicines that drop LDL to unprecedented levels. It costs more than $14,000 a year, and insurers have balked at paying without proof that it lowers heart risks, not just the cholesterol number. The new study gives that evidence, but the benefit is not as great as some doctors had hoped. For every 200 people treated with Repatha for roughly two years, three fewer people would suffer a heart attack, stroke or heart-related death. But looked at by themselves, deaths were not reduced by the drug. Newsday
 
Poll: 60% say employed undocumented immigrants should stay
A CNN/ORC poll shows 60 percent of Americans want the U.S. government to develop a plan to allow undocumented immigrants who have jobs to become legal residents. When asked what should be the U.S. government's top priority on the issue of illegal immigration, 60 percent of Americans said it should develop a plan to allow employed undocumented immigrants to become legal residents, 26 percent said it should develop a plan to stop immigrants from entering the United States illegally, 13 percent said it should deport immigrants already living in the United States illegally and 1 percent had no opinion. The poll released Friday shows that when split along party lines, 81 percent of Democrats said the government should develop a plan to allow residency, compared to 37 percent of Republicans who said the same. Five percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans said all undocumented immigrants should be deported. Thirteen percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans said the U.S. government's priority should be to stop the illegal entry of immigrants. UPI
 
The Trump administration rolled back guidelines that barred debt collectors from charging high interest rates on past-due student loans. The Education Department wrote Thursday in a Dear Colleague Letter that a previous letter from President Barack Obama's administration is no longer in force. In 2015, agencies were barred from charging interest of up to 16 percent of the principal and accrued interest on the loans if the borrower entered the government's loan rehabilitation program within 60 days of default. Almost 7 million people with $162 billion in loans held by guarantee agencies are affected. UPI
 
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UN Official Resigns Over Report Dubbing Israel 'Apartheid Regime'

UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Rima Khalaf announced her resignation on Friday, after controversy caused by her agency’s recent report which described Israel as an “apartheid regime." Khalaf resigned as a response to a request from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who asked her to remove the report from the ESCWA website. Guterres’s office had already distanced itself from the report on Wednesday when a spokesman for the UN chief said that the report was released without any prior consultations with the United Nations Secretariat, and that, as it stands, it does not reflect the views of the Secretary-General. Both Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and his US counterpart Nikki Haley had also called on Guterres to make this clear. "The Secretary General's decision is an important step in ending the bias against Israel at the UN," Ambassador Danon said following Khalaf’s resignation. "Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN.” “It is time to put an end to the practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda,” he added. “Over the years, Khalaf has worked to harm Israel and advocate for the BDS movement. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.” Jerusalem Post
 
In a rare statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday acknowledged Israeli airstrikes in Syria, saying that they were conducted to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. "Our policy is very consistent," Netanyahu said. "When we detect attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and feasibility to carry out an operation, we will work to prevent it." Netanyahu’s comments came after the IDF also made a rare confirmation of an Israeli airstrike in Syria, releasing a statement on Friday morning saying that that “several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria during the operation. One of the missiles was intercepted by the air defense systems of the IDF.” According to the army, the jets were targeted with Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, of which one was intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, heard as far away as Jerusalem, and two others landed in Israel but caused no damage or injuries. As a result of that, a rocket alert siren was heard in Aravot aYarden Regional Council in Israel's Jordan Valley, the statement added. Jerusalem Post

Canada mid-air plane collision over shopping centre kills one
One person is dead after two small planes collided mid-air over a large shopping centre south of Montreal. Three others were injured in the accident on Friday, which took place over the Promenades Saint-Bruno. Police say one of the planes crashed into the mall's roof, while the other slammed into a car park. One pilot is dead and the other is in hospital, and two bystanders had minor stress-related injuries, they confirmed. The aircraft carried only one pilot each, and no passengers.
Nheil Martinez, who works inside the shopping centre, told the Canadian Press he saw the shadow of a plane and heard its motor before hearing a loud boom. He saw pieces of the plane fall out of sky. BBC News

Israel's Arrow anti-missile system 'in first hit'
A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say. The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria. Debris from the intercepted SAM came down in Jordan. Two other SAMs are said to have landed in Israel. In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles. Israel said none of its planes had been "compromised", despite Syria claiming it had shot down one of four aircraft involved in the raid. BBC News

US immigration judges being reassigned to speed up deportations, officials say
The US justice department is developing plans to temporarily reassign immigration judges from around the country to 12 cities to speed up deportations of undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes, according to two administration officials. Immigrant rights groups brace for more deportation raids: 'This is the beginning' How many judges will be reassigned and when they will be sent is still under review, according to the officials, but the justice department has begun soliciting volunteers for deployment. The targeted cities are New York; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; San Francisco; Baltimore, Bloomington, Minnesota; El Paso, Texas; Harlingen, Texas; Imperial, California; Omaha, Nebraska and Phoenix, Arizona. They were chosen because they are cities which have high populations of undocumented immigrants with criminal charges, the officials said. Guardian

Irish American politicians working with Trump urged to remember their history
Irish American politicians working with Donald Trump should have more awareness of how Irish people had been treated in the 19th and 20th centuries in the US and elsewhere, according to an Irish Labour party senator who made headlines after calling Trump a “fascist”. “[Historically] we were the ones who were called terrorists when bombs were going off [in the UK],” Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told the Guardian in an interview. “You call someone a terrorist or give an impression that a certain entire religious faith is connected with terrorism and that’s really undermining.”  Ó Ríordáin pointed to Trump confidants embracing their Irish cultural heritage. The speaker of the house, Paul Ryan, vice-president, Mike Pence, and White House press secretary, were among those touting their Irish heritage on Thursday in anticipation of St Patrick’s Day. Paul Ryan took a very small sip of a suspect-looking pint of Guinness as he praised the US-Ireland relationship, while Pence used the phrase “Top of the morning” to greet Kenny. Guardian

Brexit more important than keeping the UK together, public say in poll for the Telegraph
Brexit is more important to voters than keeping the United Kingdom together, an opinion poll for The Telegraph has indicated.  Sixty per cent of respondents agreed that Britain’s EU departure mattered more than stopping the UK’s break-up, while just 27 per cent disagreed.  Furthermore a majority of people said they would still vote for Brexit even if they knew it could trigger Scotland’s independence.  The results suggest there is no "buyer’s remorse" over Brexit despite a dramatic week in which the UK’s future has been called into question.  London Telegraph

US denies targeting Syrian mosque where dozens of people died in airstrike
The US has admitted carrying out an airstrike in northwest Syria but denies targeting a mosque where at least 46 people, most of them civilians, were killed.   The mosque in al-Jina, a village in Aleppo province, was decimated by an airstrike on Thursday evening between 7:00 and 7:30 local time. The US has confirmed it carried out a unilateral air strike against a meeting of senior al-Qaeda militants in the area, but denied responsibility for the civilian deaths.    "The building that we did target – which was where the meeting took place – is about 50 feet (15 metres) from a mosque that is still standing," said Colonel John J. Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command.  London Telegraph
 

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