New Delhi, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — Seventeen people died in a fire early Tuesday at a hotel in western New Delhi that left at least four others injured, police said.
The fire at the Arpit Palace Hotel has been extinguished, but authorities are still investigating what sparked it, Deputy Police Commissioner Mandeep Singh Randhawa said.
"We have to check the stability of the structure, check every room," Randhawa said.
The hotel is located in Karol Bagh, an area in India's capital city full of shops and budget hotels that is popular with tourists.
Twenty-five fire engines responded to the blaze, which had engulfed all but the ground floor of the five-story hotel, fire officer Vijay Paul said.
About three dozen people were rescued from the hotel, Paul said.
Among those rescued was Sivanand Chand, 43, a hotel guest who was jolted awake around 4 a.m., struggling to breathe.
"When I got out of my room, I could hear 'help, help!' from adjoining rooms," Chand told The Associated Press, adding that he opened the window and saw flames rising very fast.
"In 15 minutes, the whole room was black," he said.
The rescue took about 30 minutes because fire engine ladders could not initially reach Chand's floor, he said.
The injured were taken to hospitals, but their medical conditions were not immediately known.
Istanbul , Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — A military helicopter crashed Monday in a residential area of Istanbul while trying to make an emergency landing, killing four soldiers on board, Turkish officials said.
The UH-1 type helicopter crashed on the grounds of a housing complex in the Cekmekoy district on Istanbul's Asian side, Gov. Ali Yerlikaya told reporters at the site. No one on the ground was hurt.
It was the second UH-1 crash in a residential area in Istanbul in the past three months.
In November, a military helicopter with five soldiers on board crashed during a training mission after hitting the roof of a building in the Sancaktepe neighborhood, also on Istanbul's Asian side.
The four soldiers in Monday's crash were hospitalized with injuries but Yerlikaya later told reporters they did not survive.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The military said it had launched an investigation.
Television images showed emergency services working near the wreckage close to children's swings on a playground and thick smoke rising from the ground.
Mexico City, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — The head of the Mexican bishops' conference says that 152 Roman Catholic priests have been removed from the ministry over the last nine years for sex abuse offenses against "youths or vulnerable adults."
Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera says some of the priests have been prosecuted and sent to prison, but did not specify how many.
Cabrera said Sunday that Mexico still doesn't have a central clearinghouse for information on abuse by the clergy since each bishop handles cases that occur in his diocese.
Pope Francis has convened presidents of all the bishops' conferences around the world for a three-day summit this month to address the abuse of minors.
The church often uses the term "vulnerable adults" to refer to those with mental or physical handicaps.
Beirut, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — Islamic State group militants cornered in their last foothold in eastern Syria fought back with suicide car bombs, snipers and booby traps Monday, slowing Kurdish fighters advancing under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish news agencies and a Syrian war monitor said.
An Italian photographer was wounded in the clashes between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the militants holed up in the village of Baghouz, near the border with Iraq, an Italian news agency said.
No one knows exactly how many Islamic State fighters are still holding out in the sliver of territory under attack, although they are estimated to be in the hundreds, most of them foreign fighters. It is also unclear if civilians are still inside, caught under heavy bombardment.
The SDF on Saturday launched its final push to clear the area from IS, after months of fighting that saw 20,000 civilians fleeing just in the past few weeks. The numbers have overwhelmed Kurdish-run camps in northeastern Syria, where humanitarian conditions are already dire amid a cold winter and meager resources.
The capture of the IS-held village of Baghouz and nearby areas would mark the end of a devastating four-year global war to end the IS extremists' territorial hold over large parts of Syria and Iraq, where the group established its self-proclaimed "caliphate" in 2014. That in turn, would open the way for U.S. President Donald Trump to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria as he has promised to do once the Islamic State group has been defeated.
"The U.S. will soon control 100% of ISIS territory in Syria," Trump tweeted Sunday. He has said repeatedly that he doesn't want the U.S. to be the world's policeman and that he intends to bring the 2,000 U.S. troops home.
U.S. officials and Trump's own military advisers, however, have warned that losing its territorial hold does not mean that the Islamic State group is defeated, warning that IS could stage a comeback in Syria within six months to a year if the military and counterterrorism pressure on it is eased. Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, estimated there are between 1,000 and 1,500 IS fighters in the small area they still control, but he said others have "dispersed" and "gone to ground."
In recent weeks, U.S. officials have said IS has lost 99.5 percent of its territory and is holding on to under 5 square kilometers (under 2 square miles), where most of the fighters are concentrated in Syria. But activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency.
Assad Bechara, a Lebanese political analyst, said the Islamic State group is an ideology, not just a military structure, and it cannot be defeated simply by reclaiming territory from the group.
"This (American) pullout will leave a huge vacuum despite the allegations of defeating the last pockets of ISIS. This vacuum will increase the international and regional struggle for power and influence in Syria," he said, which in turn may make it easier for the militant group to return.
It is not clear how long the final push to free Baghouz from IS will take. Trump said last week he had been told that the full territorial conquest to defeat the Islamic State could be completed in the coming week.
But progress appears to be slower than what SDF officials had initially estimated. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said SDF were moving very slowly due to land mines and sniper fire, as well as the extremists' use of tunnels and suicide car bombs. IS also is using civilians as human shields, the Observatory said.
On Monday, the Observatory said 13 IS militants, including five suicide attackers, were killed as well as six SDF fighters. The Kurdish Hawar news agency also reported heavy fighting in Baghouz.
IS said in a statement posted late Sunday that two of its "martyrdom-seekers" attacked SDF fighters in Baghouz with their explosive-laden car.
Syrian state media claimed a U.S.-led coalition airstrike near Baghouz killed two women and two children. More than 20,000 civilians have left the IS-held area in recent weeks.
The Italian news agency ANSA said Milan-born Gabriele Micalizzi, 34, was injured in the face by splinters of a rocket-propelled grenade, adding that his life was not in danger. It said he was being airlifted by the coalition to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
El Paso, Feb 12 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump headed to the Texas border on Monday to argue his case that walls work as Democrats and Republicans back home in Washington announced a deal had been reached to avoid another government shutdown.
Trump was bound for El Paso, aiming to reshape the debate around the wall following a damaging shutdown fight and with his signature 2016 campaign promise hanging in limbo. In a case of pointed political counterprogramming, Beto O'Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from Texas now mulling a presidential run, planned an evening El Paso march and rally against the wall with dozens of local civic, human rights and Hispanic groups.
The first dueling rallies of the 2020 election season were set to serve as a preview of a heated yearslong fight over the direction of the country. And they made clear that Trump's long-promised border wall is sure to play an outsized role in the presidential race, as both sides use it to try to rally their supporters and highlight their contrasting approaches.
As Trump traveled to the site of his Monday rally, negotiators on Capitol Hill announced that lawmakers had reached an agreement in principle to fund the government ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to avoid another shutdown. The emerging agreement was announced by a group of lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, after a closed-door meeting.
The talks had cratered over the weekend because of Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, but lawmakers apparently broke through that impasse Monday evening. Now they will need the support of Trump, who must sign the legislation.
Trump has repeatedly pointed to El Paso to make his case that a border wall is necessary, claiming that barriers turned the city from one of the nation's most dangerous to one of its safest. But that's not true.
El Paso had a murder rate of less than half the national average in 2005, a year before the most recent expansion of its border fence. That's despite being just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by drug violence. The FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso's annual number of reported violent crimes dropped from nearly 5,000 in 1995 to around 2,700 in 2016. But that corresponded with similar declines in violent crime nationwide and included periods when the city's crime rates increased year over year, despite new fencing and walls.
The Trump campaign released a video showing El Paso residents saying the wall helped reduce crime. But many in the city have bristled at the prospect of becoming a border wall poster child.
That includes O'Rourke, a potential 2020 candidate, who came close to unseating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and maintains an army of small-dollar donors and a large social media following. While few Democratic candidates have focused on immigration in their launches, O'Rourke has described Trump's calls for the wall as the "cynical rhetoric of war, of invasions, of fear."
"While some try to stoke fear and paranoia, to spread lies and a false narrative about the U.S.-Mexico border and to demand a 2,000-mile wall along it at a time of record safety and security, El Paso will come together for a march and celebration that highlights the truth," he said in a statement ahead of the event.
Moments before leaving the White House, Trump made it clear that O'Rourke was on his mind.
"We have a line that's very long already," Trump said of his El Paso rally. "I understand our competitor has got a line, too, but a tiny little line."
At the time, short lines had formed for both events.
The El Paso rally is Trump's first since the November midterm elections and comes at a precarious moment for his presidency. Weakened by the longest government shutdown in American history, Trump is also contending with the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and a flurry of investigations by newly empowered majority Democrats in the House.