Pakistan, Mar 4 (AP) — Residents near the disputed boundary in divided Kashmir region said Sunday it was quiet overnight, their first lull since a dangerous escalation between Pakistan and India erupted last week bringing the two nuclear-armed rivals close to full-out war.
Many villagers used the calm in Pakistani-held Kashmir to leave their homes in Chakoti area along the so-called Line of Control, the demarcation line that divides the troubled Himalayan region on an Indian and a Pakistani sector, and move to safety.
Nazakat Hussain said his and many other families have no underground shelters or bunkers on their land to protect them and have no other option but to leave. The rough cold weather and snow, along with the cross-border shooting, prevented them from leaving earlier.
Pakistani government official Moazzam Zafar said some 200 families have already taken shelter in three large government buildings in the territory. Zafar said the authorities were providing warm clothing, bedding, food and medicines, and would establish more such camps.
At least eight civilians and two soldiers have been killed in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since tensions soared following India's airstrike last Tuesday inside Pakistan that New Delhi said targeted militants behind a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.
Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a fighter jet on Wednesday and detaining its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday. India, in turn, on Saturday handed over the body of a Pakistani civilian prisoner beaten to death by inmates in a jail in India last week. The man, Skahir Ullah, was buried later Sunday in his home village of Sialkot in Punjab province.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan practically since their independence from British rule in 1947. The two countries each claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two of the three wars between them over it.
The rivals struck a cease-fire deal in 2003 but regularly violate it and trade cross-border fire.
On Sunday British Prime Minister Theresa may spoke by phone with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan welcoming the return of the captured Indian pilot and reduction in tensions.
But she also urged Khan to crack down on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, according to a Downing Street statement.
"The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups, in support of global efforts to combat terrorism," the statement said.
Syria, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Islamic State militants are desperately fighting to hang on to the last tiny piece of territory they hold on the riverside in eastern Syria, deploying snipers, guided missiles and surprise tunnel attacks. The resistance prompted a fierce pounding Sunday by the U.S-led coalition and its ground allies in their final push to end the extremist group's territorial hold.
Rings of black smoke billowed over the besieged speck of land still controlled by the group in the village of Baghouz, after airstrikes hit several targets.
Mortar rounds from a hill overlooking a tent encampment where the militants are still holed up rang into the night.
The U.S.-backed force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed an offensive to recapture the area in Baghouz on Friday night, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area. Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end IS' self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that once straddled vast territory across Syria and Iraq.
The group continues to be a threat, however, with sleeper cells in scattered desert pockets along the porous border between the two countries.
SDF commanders estimate that hundreds of fighters remain in Baghouz, taking cover in tunnels and trenches.
A senior SDF commander described the militants as "rats" but acknowledged that they're still fighting to the bitter end.
Commander Akeed, who leads one of the main fronts in the last battle against IS, said the militants are sticking to their trademark techniques, carrying out swift attacks without aiming to hold ground but laying the area with mines to increase casualties. They also deploy "inghimasiyoun," a term that the group uses to refer to infiltrators who enter areas behind their enemies' lines, in a bid to take hostages.
Early Sunday, one of Akeed's units came under attack from a group of 10 IS militants, including four women who emerged from a tunnel but were met with fire. At least two militants died but the rest escaped, he said.
"They have said they will engage and won't leave," Akeed told The Associated Press from his position, hundreds of meters from a very noisy front line. "They are strong enemies but they are besieged from three fronts. What could they do? Attack to prove themselves."
What appears to be a major weapons depot was targeted Saturday in the opening salvo of a ground assault on the tent encampment and parts of the villages still in IS hands. On Sunday, airstrikes continued to hit the depot, as fire raged for more than 24 hours and ignited ammunition flew in the air.
Other airstrikes hit another mortar depot on the other edge of the tent encampment, which days ago was full of residents before they were evacuated ahead of the military assault. A third hit a building where a sniper was taking cover.
Sefqan, another SDF commander who leads a special forces unit that advanced into Baghouz Saturday night, said the targeted weapon depot appeared to be a major one for the militants.
He said the airstrikes continued to target the two-floor depot to keep the militants away from whatever remains there.
SDF fighters tightened the noose on the militants Saturday, advancing from two fronts, and cutting off their access to the river that abuts their last territory from two sides.
Mustafa Bali, the SDF spokesman, said coalition airstrikes destroyed several car bombs during the past two days of battle in Baghouz. In a tweet, he said three car bombs that were trying to hit SDF positions were destroyed.
President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, described the territory IS holds as an "insignificant piece of real estate." Asked in an interview with CNN whether IS has been defeated in "100 percent of the land" in Syria, as Trump had asserted earlier this week, he said: "It will happen very, very soon."
The global fight against the Islamic State group is one conflict in a country that has been at civil war for nearly eight years.
Near the northwestern province of Idlib, a Syrian jihadist group linked to al-Qaida killed 21 Syrian soldiers and allied militiamen, in one of the most serious violations of a months-old truce in the area, according to activists and a Syria war monitor.
Sunday's attack by Ansar al-Tawhid fighters was carried out in the village of Massasneh in the north of Hama province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack, saying "terrorist groups" launched a pre-planned attack on armed forces stationed along the main road of Massasneh, killing and wounding a number of soldiers.
"Syria confirms the full readiness and integrity of the Syrian army in dealing with these crimes and violations," the statement added.
Washington, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Declaring it's "very clear" President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the chairman of the House committee that would be in charge of impeachment says the panel is requesting documents Monday from more than 60 people from Trump's administration, family and business as part of a rapidly expanding Russia investigation.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the House Judiciary Committee wants to review documents from the Justice Department, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Former White House chief of staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Don McGahn also are likely targets, he said.
"We are going to initiate investigations into abuses of power, into corruption and into obstruction of justice," Nadler said. "We will do everything we can to get that evidence."
Asked if he believed Trump obstructed justice, Nadler said, "Yes, I do."
Nadler isn't calling the inquiry an impeachment investigation but said House Democrats, now in the majority, are simply doing "our job to protect the rule of law" after Republicans during the first two years of Trump's term were "shielding the president from any proper accountability."
"We're far from making decisions" about impeachment, he said.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump blasted anew the Russia investigation, calling it a partisan probe unfairly aimed at discrediting his win in the 2016 presidential election. "I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal & should never have been allowed to start - And only because I won the Election!" he wrote.
Nadler's comments follow a bad political week for Trump. He emerged empty-handed from a high-profile summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization and Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in three days of congressional testimony, publicly characterized the president as a "con man" and "cheat."
Newly empowered House Democrats are flexing their strength with blossoming investigations. A half-dozen House committees are now probing alleged coordination between Trump associates and Russia's efforts to sway the 2016 election, Trump's tax returns and possible conflicts of interest involving the Trump family business and policy-making. The House oversight committee, for instance, has set a Monday deadline for the White House to turn over documents related to security clearances after The New York Times reported that the president ordered officials to grant his son-in-law Jared Kushner's clearance over the objections of national security officials.
Nadler's added lines of inquiry also come as special counsel Robert Mueller is believed to be wrapping up his work into possible questions of Trump campaign collusion and obstruction in the Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. In his testimony, Cohen acknowledged he did not witness or know directly of collusion between Trump aides and Russia but had his "suspicions."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Sunday accused House Democrats of prejudging Trump as part of a query based purely on partisan politics.
"I think Congressman Nadler decided to impeach the president the day the president won the election," McCarthy said. "Listen to exactly what he said. He talks about impeachment before he even became chairman and then he says, 'you've got to persuade people to get there.' There's nothing that the president did wrong."
"Show me where the president did anything to be impeached...Nadler is setting the framework now that the Democrats are not to believe the Mueller report," he said.
Nadler said Sunday his committee will seek to review the Mueller report but stressed the investigation "goes far beyond collusion."
He pointed to what he considered several instances of obstruction of justice by the president, including the "1,100 times he referred to the Mueller investigation as a 'witch hunt'" as well Trump's abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey in 2017. According to Comey, Trump had encouraged the then-FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump has denied he told Comey to end the Flynn probe.
"It's very clear that the president obstructed justice," Nadler said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has kept calls for impeachment at bay by insisting that Mueller first must be allowed to finish his work, and present his findings publicly — though it's unclear whether the White House will allow its full release.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House intelligence committee, on Sunday also stressed that it's too early to make judgments about impeachment.
"That is something that we will have to await Bob Mueller's report and the underlying evidence to determine. We will also have to look at the whole body of improper and criminal actions by the president including those campaign finance crimes to determine whether they rise to the level of removal from office," Schiff said.
Nadler and McCarthy spoke on ABC's "This Week," and Schiff appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
London, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Britain's international trade secretary on Sunday welcomed proposals drawn up by hard-line Brexit supporters that outline what it would take for them to support Prime Minister Theresa May's deal with the European Union.
Liam Fox told the BBC that the European Research Group's proposals, published in the Sunday Times, could be seen as an attempt to find common ground on the sticky issue of the Irish border.
"I hope it's a genuine attempt, and I think it is, to try to map out ground where we can have common territory" before the House of Commons votes on the deal next week, Fox told the BBC.
Parliament rejected May's deal in January, largely because of concerns about the so-called backstop, which is designed to prevent the need for physical border checks along the Irish border if negotiators fail to agree on a free-trade deal. Lawmakers on all sides opposed the provisions because they could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely.
In its published proposal, the European Research Group demanded a "clear and unconditional route out of the backstop."
While the group didn't detail how its goal should be achieved, it said the change must be contained in a treaty-level clause that "unambiguously overrides" the text of the current agreement.
Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative lawmakers, expressed optimism that a breakthrough was close. Brady suggested he could back May's deal if the right compromise on the backstop emerged.
"The whole country is tired of vacillation and delay," he wrote in the Mail on Sunday, adding that "this is not a time to make the best the enemy of the good."
"We know what is needed to shift the logjam," he said. "The attorney general needs to give a legally binding guarantee that the backstop is temporary."
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party remained divided over its next moves after party leader Jeremy Corbyn last week supported calls for a second Brexit referendum.
John McDonnell, Labour's spokesman on treasury issues, signaled Sunday that the party was likely to force its lawmakers to back legislation on a new referendum. But former minister Caroline Flint told Sky News that up to 70 of Labour's lawmakers would oppose any such move.
Corbyn had an egg thrown at him Sunday during a visit to a north London mosque. The Labour leader was not hurt and met with constituents at the Finsbury Park Mosque and Muslim Welfare House as planned, according to Britain's Press Association.
A 41-year-old man was "quickly detained" and arrested on suspicion of assault, the Metropolitan Police department said.
Berlin, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Hungary's populist prime minister described members of a European Union political group who want his party expelled as "useful idiots," saying in an interview published Sunday they are playing into the hands of left-wing opponents.
Discussion over whether Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party should remain part of the center-right European People's Party intensified after the Hungarian government launched a public ad campaign last month opposing the positions of EU leaders on migration.
Critics see anti-Semitic undertones in the billboards, posters, print and television ads that carry images of Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
By suggesting that Soros influences European Union policies on mass migration, some of those offended by the campaign say it evokes Nazi-era propaganda that portrayed Jews as puppet-masters and international enemies.
Orban said in an interview with Germany's Welt newspaper that EU parliament members who want Fidesz kicked out of the European People's Party were "useful idiots" for the left, using an expression commonly attributed to Lenin.
"While they believe they're fighting in a spiritual struggle, in fact they're serving the power interests of others — indeed, of our opponents," Orban said.
Orban said Hungarians don't consider the posters anti-Semitic.
"I can't do anything about the fact that George Soros is a Hungarian of Jewish origin," he added. Soros has been the target of various Hungarian government smear campaigns in the past few years.
The European People's Party is the largest trans-national political group in the European Parliament. It was founded to represent Christian Democrats.
Some of Fidesz's fellow members, including parties from Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and Greece, have fiercely criticized Hungary's campaign. The ads follow years of grumbling within the group over Orban's efforts to build an "illiberal state."
The European Parliament voted in September to launch a sanctioning process over the Hungarian government's perceived shortcomings regarding the rule of law and European values. The procedure could lead to Hungary losing its voting rights in the EU.
In his interview with Welt, Orban seemed to offer a possible compromise, which on closer inspection hardly changed his position on the migration policy campaign.
He told the newspaper that government ads against Juncker would soon be withdrawn. However, he said Fidesz would be launching its own campaign, with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans replacing the EU chief.
Timmermans is the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists to succeed Juncker after May's European Parliament election. He has been highly critical of Orban, and Orban has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the Dutch politician.
The European People's Party candidate seeking to succeed Juncker, Manfred Weber, tweeted in response to Orban's interview that the Hungarian leader was "following the wrong political path, particularly when it comes to style or fundamental questions about the democratic order."
Weber linked to his interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, published Friday, in which he said "Orban badly damaged the EPP" with the Soros poster campaign.
In the interview, he said Orban had a "weak" approach that relies on "scaremongering" instead of persuasive advocacy.
"I expect him to apologize and put an end to the poster campaign," Weber said in the interview. "Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual....We will take concrete steps very soon."
He did not say whether he'd support the removal of Fidesz from the EPP, but told Spiegel "all options are on the table."
"Enough is enough," Weber said. "That is our message."