Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

Xinhua
Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

AFP

This handout picture released by the Ukrainian presidential press service early on December 10, 2019, shows (from left to right) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin giving a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace, in Paris.

Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a full and comprehensive implementation of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before the end of 2019, announced leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on Monday evening.

“The parties commit to fully implementing the ceasefire, which will be consolidated by the implementation of all necessary ceasefire support measures, before the end of 2019,” said a joint declaration issued by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Following the talks called Normandy Four Summit, the parties also agreed to hold another meeting in the Normandy format in the next four months, discussing “political and security conditions for local elections,” said the declaration.

Established in June 2014, the Normandy Four is a contact group for senior officials from the four countries to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted in April 2014.

Monday’s summit was the first of its kind in three years. The last was held in Berlin in 2016.

It was also the first time that Putin and Zelensky met face to face since the latter was elected president earlier this year. After the four-party talks, the two leaders had a separate one-on-one meeting.

5 largest employers in the world

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL GENIUS)

 

5 largest employers in the world

Unless you’re a trust fund baby, you probably work for a living. We go to a place of business on specific days and earn a wage so that we can afford to live. In the United States, many people are employed by small businesses, which according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, can range from a staff of one to as many as 1,500 employees. But many firms employ an international workforce or have so many employees that they are considered some of the largest employers in the world. From smallest to largest, these are the five largest employers in the world according to the World Economic Forum.

5. China National Petroleum Corporation – 1.7 million employees

Credit: Piotr Swat / Shutterstock.com

Regardless of your feelings about oil discovery and production, it’s a major industry with activity around the world. You might think that a multinational company like Royal Dutch Shell or British Petroleum would make this list, but they don’t. China National Petroleum Corporation is a state-run organization that operates rigs and refineries in 30 countries around the world, even north of our border in Canada.

The organization employs roughly 1.7 million employees, making them the fifth largest employer worldwide. Additionally, they’re also the third largest incorporated energy production firm in the world that specializes in oil and gas. Not only do they explore for new deposits, but they also focus on refining and marketing their products beyond their home country.

4. McDonald’s – 1.7 million employees

Credit: Ratana21 / Shutterstock.com

Even if you’re not a big fast food fan, you’re familiar with the Golden Arches, Ronald McDonald and his wacky crew of friends, and iconic sandwiches like the Big Mac and Fillet ‘o Fish. McDonald’s makes the list as the fourth largest employer; they operate in over 100 countries and serve over 69 million customers. Between franchise and corporate employees combined, the eatery employs 1.7 million people. If you narrow the criteria to private companies, the burger chain rises higher as the second largest employer in the world.

3. Walmart – 2.1 million employees

Credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Depending on who you talk to, Walmart is either the savior of budget-focused families or the bane of small business owners. Either way, there’s no denying that the big box conglomerate is a major employer in the United States and abroad. Often, they replace positions lost when factories and manufacturers move production elsewhere. Because of this, they are the third largest employer in the world.

Walmart also beats out McDonald’s as the largest private employer in the world. The retailer isn’t limited to the United States: The family-owned firm also has subsidiary locations in the United Kingdom under the supermarket name Asda and South Africa as Massmart. Across all of its verticals, Walmart employs 2.1 million employees worldwide.

2. People’s Liberation Army of China – 2.35 million employees

Credit: Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock.com

War is big business, which explains why the second runner-up and leader of this list are two major military operations. China holds the title for the largest population at 1.42 billion people. So, it makes sense that they have a fairly large army. The People’s Liberation Army employs 2.35 million active military personnel or 0.18% of the nation’s population.

Just like in the U.S., China’s army is segmented into branches: Support Force, Navy, Air Force, Ground Force, Rocket Force, and a reservist branch. While the U.S. still has the largest military force in the world, China is quickly ramping up its assets. The nation’s military is currently classified as the fastest growing military outfit in the world thanks to numerous technological advances.

1. United States Department of Defense – 3.2 million employees

Credit: Sergey Kohl / Shutterstock.co

We round out this list with the United States Department of Defense. At 3.2 million employees worldwide, they eclipse China’s army by nearly 1 million. However, the U.S.’s figure doesn’t just refer to active duty military and reservists of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard or National Guard. This also includes members employed by the other 38 critical agencies that fall under the Department of Defense.

So why does the Department of Defense have such a huge workforce? This is because the U.S. has the largest military budget in the world and eclipses any other nation in money allocated toward technological defense advancements.

The above list might be a big surprise if you were expecting only Fortune 500 firms. This top five list reflects the fact that China’s influence as a nation and economic force continues to grow while the U.S. is able to maintain a strong presence since more than half of the countries with the largest workforces are headquartered in the United States.

Hong Kong: China deploys troops and warns SURRENDER is only option

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)

 

Hong Kong chaos: China deploys troops and warns SURRENDER is only option

CHINA has sent troops to Hong Kong in a bid to restore order following the months of violent riots, warnings it will not allow the city to spiral into chaos.

Hong Kong: Police fire tear gas at protesters

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This comes after police said the demonstrators inside the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong had no option but to come out and surrender. The protests began peacefully in June and were sparked by proposed legislation that would have meant criminal suspects could be extradited to the mainland. Although the bill was withdrawn, the protests had broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.

Many of the protesters wear masks to shield their identities for protection.

China’s ambassador to Britain accused the UK and the US of meddling in the country’s affairs and warned that the Chinese government “will not sit on our hands” if the Hong Kong situation “becomes uncontrollable”.

Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, said: “These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts.

Hong Kong protester

China has warned they will cease control of Hong Kong (Image: GETTY )

Hong Kong protests

The protests kicked off in June and have strengthened in size (Image: GETTY )

“Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see that there’s any viable option for them.”

China’s ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaming has said that China has the “resolution and power” to end Hong Kong unrest amid protests.

Liu said that the People’s Liberation Army could be deployed in Beijing, warning: “They are already there in the Hong Kong garrison. They are there to show sovereignty and are responsible for defence purposes.

SEE MOREHong Kong protests: 800 students under siege in university

Hong Kong protesters

Protesters do not want Hong Kong to lose its autonomy (Image: getty )

“If the situation becomes uncontrollable, the central government certainly would not sit on our hands and watch. We have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.”

This comes as China has denounced a Hong Kong court ruling declaring the government’s mask ban unconstitutional.

This decision has been seen as “seriously weakening” the power of the Hong Kong chief executive.

Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, said in an interview that police alone are not able to end the violence.

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Hong Kong Protests

Protesters have worn masks to protect their identities (Image: GETTY )

Protesters believe the extradition bill is an example of Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy under Beijing.

They worry China is taking back the freedoms given to Hong Kong when the UK returned the territory to China.

Hong Kong police have laid siege to a university, pinning 800 students inside and threatened to use live ammunition on them, as the latest round of anti-government protests escalates.

Hong Kong Protests timeline

The Hong Kong Protests – how they happened (Image: EXPRESS )

China said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy, while the city’s police deny accusations of brutality and say they show utmost restraint.

The UK has urged an “end to the violence and for all sides to engage in meaningful political dialogue”.

China’s aircraft carrier passes through Taiwan Strait

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWS NETWORK)

 

China’s aircraft carrier passes through Taiwan Strait

Xinhua

A Chinese aircraft carrier passed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday to conduct scientific research tests and routine training in relevant waters of the South China Sea, according to a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

The organization of the cross-regional tests and training of the homemade aircraft carrier is a normal arrangement in the process of aircraft carrier construction, is not aimed at any specific target and has nothing to do with the current situation, spokesperson Cheng Dewei said.

Turkish Army Vehicle Kills Protester in North Eastern Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Turkish Army Vehicle Kills Protester in North Eastern Syria

Friday, 8 November, 2019 – 12:15
Turkish army armoured vehicles arrive near the Turkish town of Idil at the Turkey-Syria border before Turkish and Russian troops conduct their third joint patrols in northeast Syria, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. AP
Asharq Al-Awsat
A Kurdish group and a Syria war monitor said on Friday that a protester has been killed after he was run over by Turkish military vehicle.

Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the man was killed in northeastern Syria.

The man was run over in the village of Sarmasakh near the border by a Turkish vehicle during a joint patrol with Russia, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights .

The Observatory said the man died in the hospital in the town of Derik from internal bleeding and broken bones, the Associated Press reported.

The man was among residents who pelted with shoes and stones Turkish and Russian troops who were conducting their third joint patrol in northeastern Syria, under a cease-fire deal brokered by Moscow that forced Kurdish fighters to withdraw from areas bordering Turkey.

India, China coordinate patrolling of disputed area 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

India, China coordinate patrolling of disputed area

Fish Tail-I and II are in the easternmost corner of Arunachal Pradesh. Fish Tail -I is largely glaciated terrain, and patrols from either side are few and far between.

INDIA Updated: Oct 26, 2019 08:57 IST

Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen

New Delhi
India and China are for the first time patrolling Fish-Tail II,  one of the 13 disputed areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in south-east Arunachal Pradesh. (Representative Image)
India and China are for the first time patrolling Fish-Tail II, one of the 13 disputed areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in south-east Arunachal Pradesh. (Representative Image)(PTI)

India and China are for the first time patrolling Fish-Tail II, one of the 13 disputed areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in south-east Arunachal Pradesh, in coordination with each other in an attempt to build mutual confidence and maintain peace along the border, a senior official in the security establishment said on condition of anonymity.

Fish Tail-I and II are in the easternmost corner of Arunachal Pradesh. Fish Tail -I is largely glaciated terrain, and patrols from either side are few and far between.

The proposal for “coordinated patrolling” was made by India at a high-level meeting between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Indian army in June in the run-up to the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram,Tamil Nadu, earlier this month.

The two sides met in Arunachal’s Kibuthu, one of the seven designated border personnel meeting points. The Indian side was led by the commander of theDinjang (Assam)-based 2 Mountain Division of the III Corps of the Indian Army, the senior official cited above said.

China agreed to the Indian proposal, leading to structured “coordinated patrolling” along Fish-Tail II, the first time that such an exercise has been undertaken by the two countries, the official said.

“One of the key takeaways of the 2018 Wuhan summit, which followed the 73-day-long standoff between the Chinese People’s Army and the Indian army at Doklam, was to give strategic guidance to both armies to reduce border tensions. The coordinated patrolling is a step in that direction,” a senior ministry of defence official said.

The standoff at Doklam, in the India-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction, began on June 16, 2017, when the PLA entered the area in a bid to alter the status quo in violation of Beijing’s existing understanding with both India and Bhutan. The issue was eventually resolved with the disengagement of border personnel on August 28 that year. India had suggested “coordinated patrolling” of the border earlier too, but found no takers in Beijing. “Coordinated patrolling would mean both sides would inform the other about their outgoing foot patrols, and the areas that the patrol is likely to go and the duration of the patrol,” a second senior official who did not want to be named said.

Patrols from either side go up the designated “claim-line” and mark their presence before returning. “When patrols come face to face, each have to challenge the other,” the third official said. Recently, Indian and Chinese troops came face to face on the disputed Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, leading to a scuffle, according to some reports, the defence ministry official said.

Fish-Tail -I &II are among the most remote areas along the LAC and India’s road infrastructure is extremely poor in this area. India, however, regularly sends patrols, some of which take up to a month to reach their destination. The PLA undertakes sporadic patrols in the region.

“Given the terrain, connectivity and security implications, it’s basically a low hanging fruit where coordinated patrolling can be done. And it may be a good idea and place to experiment with coordinated patrolling and used in other areas too,” the first senior official cited above said, explaining the move.

In response to a detailed questionnaire, the Indian army did not comment on “coordinated patrolling” of Fish Tail -II or on the road through Bisa to the LAC being constructed by the Chinese PLA. But it did underline that borders have not been “demarcated,” leading to “differing perceptions” of the border. Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd), who handled several India-China standoffs in the past, said, “If handled maturely and with respect for each other’s security concerns; it is a good concept.” The arrangement holds the promise to negate incidences witnessed at the Pangong Tso Lake between the two armies.”

First Published: Oct 26, 2019 03:52 IST

India, Pakistan trade barbs over deadly Kashmir clash

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS)

 

India, Pakistan trade barbs over deadly Kashmir clash

Several soldiers and civilians killed on both sides, as India and Pakistan blame one another for ‘unprovoked’ firing.

Relatives and friends mourn next to bodies of victims in cross border shelling in Pakistan's Neelum valley [Sajjad Qayyum/AFP]
Relatives and friends mourn next to bodies of victims in cross border shelling in Pakistan’s Neelum valley [Sajjad Qayyum/AFP]

India and Pakistan blamed one another for cross-border shelling in the disputed Kashmir region which killed and injured soldiers and civilians on both sides and made it one of the deadliest days since New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s special status in August.

India said there was heavy shelling by Pakistan across the border in northern Kashmir’s Tangdhar region late on Saturday night, killing two Indian soldiers and one civilian.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Armed Forces said one of its soldiers and three civilians had died and that India had violated the ceasefire.

There was an unprovoked ceasefire violation by Pakistan, Indian defense spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said.

“Our troops retaliated strongly, causing heavy damage and casualties to the enemy,” Kalia said.

Pakistan’s army, meanwhile, claimed that India’s attacks in Jura, Shahkot and Nowshera sectors was “unprovoked” and deliberately targeted civilians.

Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistani Armed Forces, said Pakistan responded “effectively”, killing nine Indian soldiers, injuring several others and destroying two bunkers.

DG ISPR

@OfficialDGISPR

Indian unprovoked CFVs in Jura, shahkot & Nousehri Sectors deliberately targeting civilians. Effectively responded. 9 Indian soldiers killed several injured. 2 Indian bunkers destroyed.
During exchange of fire 1 soldier & 3 civilians shaheed, 2 soldiers & 5 civilians injured.

9,779 people are talking about this

Islamabad has summoned the Indian envoy in protest over the shelling and killings, and offered to have diplomats from the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members, including the United States and Russia, visit the border and see that no rebel camps exist there.

Both sides accused each other of violating a 2003 ceasefire accord.

Border clashes

Sunday’s clashes came days after Pakistan’s foreign ministry protested against similar incidents from across the heavily militarized Line of Control (LoC) by Indian forces that killed three civilians and wounded another eight on October 15.

Deadly border clashes have spiked over the past few weeks which have seen Indian and Pakistani forces target frontier posts as well as villages, leading to casualties among soldiers and civilians on both sides.

Tensions between the neighbors have remained high since India revoked Kashmir’s autonomy on August 5 and imposed movement and communications restrictions to quell unrest.

Islamabad has warned that changing Kashmir’s status would escalate tensions but India said the withdrawal of the special status is an internal affair and is aimed at faster economic development of the territory.

Pakistan and India both control parts of Kashmir, but each lays claim to the entire region since the countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the region.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

President Trump Is Trying To Give Afghanistan Back To The Taliban ‘With Honor’

President Trump Is Trying To Give Afghanistan Back To The Taliban ‘With Honor’

 

As most of you know, I loathe Donald Trump and his adult family but I am not going to knock him in this article. The reason is the reality that he is stuck in a no win situation with Afghanistan. Once again our politicians and our military rushed into a combat situation with no thought of an exit plan. This 18+ year war was started under the George W. Bush administration in the fall of 2001 so it ate up over seven of his eight years as President. The war then continued for all eight years of the Obama administration and is now continued for the first three years of Mr. Trump’s term in Office.

 

During this war there have been almost 2,500 American Soldiers killed plus another one thousand of our Allies Soldiers. There has also been right at 2,500 American Soldiers wounded. Plus the Congressional Budget Office says that the American tax payers have spent right at thee Trillion Dollars on this war. There is no such thing as leaving with honor or making an honest deal with the Taliban no matter what Mr. Trump thinks or tries. The civilians of the Nation of Afghanistan know that as soon as the U.S. pulls out all of our troops with those of all of our Allies that they will be back under the control of the Taliban and many thousands more of their civilians will be butchered. Even if our Government is able to strike some type of Government Sharing deal with the Taliban as Mr. Trump is trying to do and as Mr. Obama tried to do that is never going to end ‘Honorably’. Those of us old enough remember when President Nixon got on TV when we pulled out of Vietnam and lied to us all saying that we ended the war ‘with honor’ while we were still bombing the countries around Vietnam and with him knowing that we were leaving American POW’s there. There was no ‘Honor’ the way we left thousands of people there to be butchered nor will there be any Honor in our leaving Afghanistan.

 

Mr. Trump is between the preventable ‘rock and a hard place’. Our enemies always play the ‘long game’ while America always does not. If our Government had spent about 2 of that 3 Trillion dollars fixing Afghanistan’s infrastructure, building roads, schools, hospitals, and grids for electricity and water for the citizens maybe we could have won the hearts of the Afghan people. Several times I have heard the stat that about 90% of their people only have the single set of clothes they have on and that food is still a major issue for their people. These wars are great for American business that supply the war materials but couldn’t a lot of other type of businesses done well also if we had chosen to go that route?

 

I know that several folks who are reading this are thinking about how much our Nations own infrastructure and our own American workforce could have helped our own Nation’s people if we had spent that money here. If our Government would have looked at how to do only surgical strikes at the Leaders of these Islamic groups there would be many more people alive and uninjured today. In the short term there may be some propaganda put out by our Government about how we ended the war in Afghanistan ‘with honor’ but it will be in fact just a line of BS. When we eventually do completely leave Afghanistan the Taliban will retake over governing that Nation, we the people of America have in fact wasted our Blood and our Gold and the Afghanistan people will be right back where they were in September of 2001.

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

A commercial satellite image from the company Maxar (bottom); the image tweeted by President Trump (top) appears to be of better quality.

(Bottom) Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies; (top) @realDonaldTrump

President Trump has tweeted what experts say is almost certainly an image from a classified satellite or drone, showing the aftermath of an accident at an Iranian space facility.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir [Space Launch Vehicle] Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” the president said in a tweet that accompanied the image on Friday. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

NPR broke the news of the launch failure on Thursday, using images from commercial satellites that flew over Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center. Those images showed smoke billowing from the pad. Iran has since acknowledged an accident occurred at the site.

Some of the highest-resolution imagery available commercially comes from the company Maxar, whose WorldView-2 satellite sports 46-centimeter resolution.

But the image shown in the president’s tweet appears to be of far better quality, says Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, who specializes in analyzing satellite imagery. “The resolution is amazingly high,” says Panda. “I would think it’s probably below well below 20 centimeters, which is much higher than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Panda says that the tweet discloses “some pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before this.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions about the image to the White House, which declined to comment.

The image shows the aftermath of the accident, which experts believe took place while the rocket was being fueled. Clearly visible is the truck used to transport and erect the rocket, and the words “The product of national empowerment,” which have been written along the edge of the pad. The picture also shows extensive debris and charring around the pad.

It was not entirely clear where the president’s photo came from. Panda believes it was most likely taken by a classified U.S. satellite. But Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network at the One Earth Foundation, believes that the resolution is so high, it may be beyond the physical limits at which satellites can operate. “The atmosphere is thick enough that after somewhere around 11 to 9 centimeters, things get wonky,” she says.

That could mean it was taken by a drone or spy plane, though such a vehicle would be violating Iranian airspace. Hanham also says that the European company Airbus has been experimenting with drones that fly so high, they are technically outside the atmosphere and thus operating outside national boundaries. But she says she doesn’t know whether the U.S. has such a system.

Glare in the center of the image suggests the image in the tweet was itself a photo of a briefing slide. Panda suggests it could have been displayed on a computer screen in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. It’s also possible it was a photo of a piece of paper.

Either way, Panda notes that a small redaction in the upper left-hand corner suggests the intelligence community had cleared the image for release by the president.

But both he and Hanham question whether releasing it was a good idea. “You really risk giving away the way you know things,” Hanham says. “That allows people to adapt and hide how they carry out illicit activity.”

“These are closely held national secrets,” Panda adds. “We don’t even share a lot of this kind of imagery with our closest allies.” In tweeting it out to the world, Trump is letting Iran know exactly what the U.S. is capable of. He’s also letting others know as well, Panda says. “The Russians and the Chinese, you’re letting them know that these are the kind of things that the United States has the capability of seeing,” he says.

With additional reporting by Greg Myre and Ayda Pourasad

Syria/Russia Regime Presses on in NW Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Regime Presses on in Northwest Syria

Thursday, 29 August, 2019 – 11:15
FILE PHOTO: Road direction signs are pictured at the entrance to Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
Russian-backed regime forces seized a cluster of towns and villages in northwest Syria Thursday, as deadly air strikes hit the opposition-held bastion, a monitor said.

Seven civilians died in air strikes in the south of the bastion, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, a day after regime air strikes killed 12 others, including six children in a single town.

Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been chipping away at the southern edge of the stronghold for three weeks, after months of deadly bombardment.

Last week, the regime took control of the town of Khan Sheikhoun on a key highway that runs through Idlib province, linking Damascus to second city Aleppo.

Overnight, pro-regime fighters “managed to advance in the southern Idlib countryside”, according to the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman.

They took control of the towns of Al-Tamaanah and Al-Khuwayn, as well as nearby villages, east of Khan Sheikhoun, he said.

“The forces are trying to further extend their control in the area of Khan Sheikhoun before they advance north in the direction of the town of Maaret al-Noman,” he added.

Maaret al-Noman is the next stop northwards on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.

Regime air strikes killed 12 civilians — half of them children — in Maaret al-Noman on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, another four civilians, including one child, were killed in other parts of the bastion.