Damascus, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — Israel attacked Damascus International Airport with missiles Saturday night, Syrian state media said, adding that air defenses shot down some of them. A war monitoring group said the attack targeted an arms depot for Iranian forces or Lebanon's Hezbollah group.
Explosions during the attack were heard across Damascus. The state news agency SANA posted pictures showing what appeared to be air defenses firing into the air.
State media quoted an unidentified military official as reporting the attack but gave no further details.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the attack targeted an arms depot near the airport where new weapons recently arrived for the Iranians or Lebanon's Hezbollah group. The monitoring group had no immediate word on casualties, saying the strike did cause material damage.
Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria, but has said it would use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies.
Earlier this month, an Israeli military official said the Jewish state has struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.
Israel is widely believed to have been behind a series of airstrikes mainly targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria that have joined the country's war fighting alongside the government. It rarely confirms the attacks.
An Israeli official said earlier this month that the targets were connected to Iran's elite Al-Quds force and included air force components, support infrastructure, and weapons storage and manufacturing facilities.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said that Iran and Hezbollah should end their armed presence in Syria. Israel says it is alarmed by the expansion of operations by Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
Paris, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — The Iranian Embassy was damaged by a crowd that a local police official said Saturday was made up of "individuals," while Iran's Foreign Ministry accused them of being extremists and charged that the response by authorities in Paris was slow and weak.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said protesters tried to attack embassy Friday, the country's official IRNA news agency reported. IRNA quoted ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying officers did not arrive quickly after the disturbance was reported.
He said the troublemakers were members of an extremist organization that he did not identify, IRNA said.
"It is necessary for the French government to take serious measures to protect Iranian diplomatic missions in that country," Ghasemi said, according to the news agency.
A Paris police spokeswoman gave a somewhat different version of what transpired. She said "individuals" threw objects and smashed windows at the embassy. She said she did not have information about the motives or identities of the people outside the embassy.
The spokeswoman said the responding officers searched 12 people, but didn't take anyone into custody because embassy personnel didn't want to file a complaint. She declined to give her name, a common police practice in France.
Ghasemi said some suspects were arrested and Iran has asked the French government to prosecute and punish them, IRNA reported. Tehran is doing its own investigation of the commotion and the allegedly tardy arrival of Paris police, the news agency said.
Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard last week claimed responsibility for a missile attack targeting an Iraqi base of the Kurdish separatist group Party of Democratic Kurdistan of Iran. The Revolutionary Guard said the attack killed at least 11 people and wounded 50.
Hong Kong, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong and southern China hunkered down under red alert Sunday as strong winds and heavy rain from Typhoon Mangkhut lashed the densely populated coast, a day after the biggest storm of the year left at least 28 dead from landslides and drownings in the northern Philippines.
Nearly half a million people had been evacuated from seven cities in Guangdong province, the gambling enclave of Macau closed down casinos for the first time and the Hong Kong Observatory warned people to stay away from the Victoria Harbour landmark, where storm surges battered the waterfront reinforced with sandbags. Mangkhut is due to make landfall in Guangdong later Sunday.
The national meteorological center said southern China "will face a severe test caused by wind and rain" and urged officials to prepare for possible disasters.
On Sunday morning, the typhoon packed sustained winds of 155 kilometers (96 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 190 kph (118 mph). The Hong Kong Observatory said although Mangkhut had weakened slightly, its extensive, intense rainbands were bringing heavy downfall and frequent squalls.
Hundreds of flights were canceled. All high-speed and some normal rail services in Guangdong and Hainan provinces were also halted Sunday, the China Railway Guangzhou Group Co. said.
In Fujian province and elsewhere, tens of thousands of fishing boats returned to port and construction work came to a stop.
Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde told The Associated Press that 20 people had died in the Cordillera mountain region, four in nearby Nueva Vizcaya province and another outside of the two regions. Three more deaths have been reported in northeastern Cagayan province, where the typhoon made landfall before dawn Saturday.
Among the fatalities were an infant and a 2-year-old child who died with their parents after the couple refused to immediately evacuate from their high-risk community in a Nueva Vizcaya mountain town, said Francis Tolentino, an adviser to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
"They can't decide for themselves where to go," he said of the children, expressing frustration that the tragedy was not prevented.
Tolentino, who was assigned by Duterte to help coordinate disaster response, said at least two other people were missing.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan said at least three people died and six others were missing in his mountain city of Baguio after strong winds and rain destroyed several houses and set off landslides, which also blocked roads to the popular vacation destination. It was not immediately clear whether the dead and missing had been included in the overall death toll.
About 87,000 people had evacuated from high-risk areas of the Philippines. Tolentino and other officials advised them not to return home until the lingering danger had passed.
In Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, where the typhoon hit land, Associated Press journalists saw a severely damaged public market, its roof ripped apart and wooden stalls and tarpaulin canopies in disarray. Outside a popular shopping mall, debris was scattered everywhere and government workers cleared roads of fallen trees.
The Tuguegarao airport terminal also was damaged, its roof and glass windows shattered by strong winds.
The typhoon struck at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in the northern breadbasket, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said.
In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst.
"Because Mangkhut will bring winds and rains of extraordinary speeds, scope and severity, our preparation and response efforts will be greater than in the past," Lee said. "Each department must have a sense of crisis, make a comprehensive assessment and plan, and prepare for the worst."
Cathay Pacific said all of its flights would be canceled between 2:30 a.m. Sunday and 4 a.m. Monday. The city of Shenzhen also canceled all flights between Sunday and early Monday morning. Hainan Airlines canceled 234 flights in the cities of Haikou, Sanya, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai scheduled this weekend.
For the first time in the history of Macau, next door to Hong Kong, casinos were ordered to close from 11 p.m. Saturday, the South China Morning Post reported. The gambling city suffered catastrophic flooding during Typhoon Hato last August that left 10 dead and led to accusations of corruption and incompetence at its meteorological office.
Seoul, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — The shine is starting to come off South Korean President Moon Jae-in's engagement strategy with the North.
The liberal politician, who reversed nearly a decade of conservative hard-line policy toward North Korea after his election last year, is preparing for a third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid growing public skepticism about his approach.
Moon, who goes to Pyongyang on Tuesday, has seen his approval rating fall to 49 percent in a recent Gallup Korea survey, the first time it dipped below 50 percent since he took office in May 2017 promising better ties with North Korea and political reform. Moon's approval rating stood at 83 percent after his first summit with Kim in April.
South Koreans are divided over whether this week's summit in Pyongyang will help break a stalemate over nuclear diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea, according to another survey released in early September. By comparison, surveys after the April summit found overwhelming support for Moon from a public fascinated with the historic handshakes, border crossings and other dramatic scenes the two leaders produced after years of rising tensions.
"Our people are beginning to learn that North Korea will not easily give up its nukes, something that many experts had already repeatedly predicted," said Kim Taewoo, former president of the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Moon may face increasing difficulties if his summit with Kim in Pyongyang fails to make tangible progress on efforts to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program.
Economic woes such as a lackluster job-market growth and soaring real estate prices are compounding Moon's problems, adding to opposition to his North Korea policy, many experts say.
"If Moon fails to address economic problems, he can't maintain public contentment with his government only with his North Korea policy," said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University. "If the economy gets worse, many people will demand that Moon stop looking to North Korea and start resolving our own economic problems."
Moon knows how important public support is for his North Korea policy. Most major detente projects with North Korea started by his liberal predecessors during a 1998-2008 "Sunshine Era" were suspended after conservatives took power. Moon hasn't been able to revive them because of U.S.-led economic sanctions on North Korea.
Liberal presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun endured withering conservative criticism that their little-strings-attached shipments of aid and cooperation projects with North Korea helped finance the North's weapons program. Moon served as Roh's chief of staff and was in charge of preparations for Roh's 2007 summit with Kim's father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
South Korean politics is characterized by a fundamental conservative-liberal divide over how to view North Korea. Liberals consider the North one to reconcile with while conservatives see it more as an enemy state that poses a significant security threat.
Moon's conservative predecessors, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, faced harsh criticism from liberals that their hard-line stances only led North Korea to carry out more weapons tests and attacks such as two in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.
Opposition to Moon's North Korea policy was initially weak, partly because the conservatives were in disarray following a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of Park, Moon's predecessor.
A conservative backlash erupted when Kim sent North Korean athletes and top officials to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, including a former spy chief blamed for the 2010 attacks. But any criticism was soon overshadowed by the April summit, which also improved Kim's image in South Korea — in one survey at the time, 78 percent of respondents said they had faith in the North Korean leader.
Now, as nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea stall, conservatives feel vindicated and emboldened.
Professor Lim Eul Chul at South Korea's Kyungnam University said conservatives now "tend to criticize North Korea and distance themselves from the Moon government for their own political gain."
During a Cabinet meeting last week, Moon said he needs not only strong international support but also "nonpartisan backing at home" to help make next week's summit produce a major step toward denuclearization. "Please, lay aside partisan politics in the face of these kinds of important things for Korea," he said.
Moon even asked conservative opposition leaders to travel with him to Pyongyang for the summit, but they rejected the offer immediately.
"Given that North Korea has not taken concrete denuclearization steps even after two inter-Korean summits and one U.S.-North Korea summit, it's overly excessive to ask us to go to Pyongyang," said Yoon Young-seok, a spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. "We can't help asking whether the invitation ... is aimed at giving Kim Jong Un a gift."
Washington, Sep 16 (AP/UNB) — Nature expresses its fury in sundry ways. Two deadly storms — Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut — roared ashore on the same day, half a world apart, but the way they spread devastation was as different as water and wind.
Storms in the western Pacific generally hit with much higher winds and the people who live in their way are often poorer and more vulnerable, Princeton University hurricane and climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi said Saturday. That will likely determine the type of destruction.
Mangkhut made landfall Friday on the northeastern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines with top-of-the-scale Category 5 winds of 165 mph. Florence had weakened to a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds by the time it arrived at North Carolina's coast.
Yet a day after landfall the faster-moving Mangkhut was back out over open water — weakened, but headed across the South China Sea toward China. Florence, meanwhile, was still plodding across South Carolina at a pace slower than a normal person walks. By Saturday morning, it had already dumped more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain, a record for North Carolina.
Experts say Mangkhut may well end up being the deadlier storm. As of Saturday afternoon, the death count in the Philippines was a bit higher, although still far below that of other storms that have hit the disaster-prone island nation. And with Mangkhut now headed toward the densely populated southeast coast of China, it is likely to cause more death and destruction. But watery Florence's insured loses total will eventually be higher, Ernst Rauch, head of climate research for the world's largest reinsurer Munich Re, told German media.
That's because of a combination of geography, climatic conditions and human factors.
The western Pacific has two-and-a-half times more storms that reach the minimum hurricane strength of 74 mph. It has three-and-a-half times more storms that reach major hurricane strength of 111 mph, and three times more accumulated energy out of those hurricanes, an index that measures not just strength and number of storms but how long they last, according to more than 65 years of storm data .
So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the western Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic, both regions more than 30 percent busier than average years. Hurricanes and typhoons are the same type of storm; both are tropical cyclones, but those that occur in the Pacific west of the International Date Line are called typhoons.
The water in the western Pacific is warmer, and warm water fuels storms. There are also only a few pieces of land to get in the way and weaken them, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
"If we are ever going to have a Category 6 (a speculated-on level that's above current measurement tools), the western Pacific is where it's going to be," said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.
The Philippines tends to get hit nearly every year, the Carolinas far less frequently though with lots of close calls, Maue said. That shows another big difference in the storms. Mangkhut formed further south and stayed south — over warmer water. Florence was out of the tropics when it hit land.
Because of that, Florence was weakened by the dry air and upper level winds of the higher latitudes. Not so the more southerly Mangkhut, which Maue said, "essentially had a perfect environment to intensify to a Category 5 and stay there."
"Mangkhut and Florence are certainly different animals," said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. Because Florence is moving so slowly, he said, it will dump more rain than Mangkhut, which is named for the Thai word for the mangosteen fruit.
Both storms have lasted a long time, especially Florence which formed all the way over near Africa 15 days before landfall, McNoldy said. Both storms cover a large area, but Mangkut still dwarfs Florence. Mangkhut's tropical storm force winds stretched more than 325 miles from the center, while Florence's spread about 195 miles, Klotzbach said.
Economics also play a role in a storm's impact. As a developing country, the Philippines is much poorer than the southeastern United States, which means houses tend to be less sturdy and first responders less well equipped, among other factors. This is one reason why, when disaster does strike, the effects can be devastating. In 2013, one of the most powerful storms on record, Typhoon Haiyan , killed 7,300 people and displaced more than 5 million when it swept across the islands of the central Philippines.
Straddling the famous Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also bedeviled by volcanoes and earthquakes, and while there are considerable patches of poverty in North and South Carolina, it is not the same as the rural area where Mangkhut hit.
Munich Re's Rauch said about 30 to 50 percent of storm damage is usually insured in the United States but often less than 10 percent in developing countries, meaning nine-tenths of the people hit will end up shouldering a bigger economic burden.
In the United States, "you can't move houses, but people can move out of the way," reflecting mounting damages from storms and often lower losses in life, Vecchi said.
As the world warms from the burning of fossil fuels, the globe will see both more extremely intense storms like Mangkhut and wetter storms like Florence, Vecchi said.