Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Israeli military on high alert amid Iran threats to avenge Syria strike-Top Iranian official blames Israel, says Monday's missile barrage 'will not remain unanswered' after at least seven IRGC fighters are said killed on air base-By Judah Ari Gross-APR 10,18
Israel’s military has been put on high alert amid heightened tensions along the northern border and with Iran threatening to avenge an airstrike on a Syrian air base believed to have killed at least 14 people, including 7 Iranian military personnel.Russia, Syria, Iran and the United States have all said Israel carried out the predawn Monday missile barrage on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria. Israeli officials refused to comment on the strike.On Tuesday, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened Israel.“The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.Iran’s Foreign Ministry also accused Israel of “flagrant” aggression in Syria following the attack.Israeli officials did not appear to be taking the threat of a retaliatory attack lightly — either by Iran, or its proxy, the Hezbollah terrorist group.On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman appeared to allude to the strike, saying that Israel “will not allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Whatever the cost.”Keeping in line with Israel’s stance of ambiguity on attacks outside the country’s borders, the defense minister prefaced his remarks with a wry “I don’t know what happened.”“Accepting Iranian entrenchment in Syria would be to accept Iranians putting a chokehold on us. We cannot allow that,” Liberman said.In a highly unusual move, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency acknowledged that “Iranian military advisers” were killed in Monday’s attack on the military airfield.The Tasnim media outlet, which has been affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, specified that seven IRGC members were killed in the strike, including one high-ranking officer, Col. Mehdi Dehghan, who reportedly served in one of the group’s drone units.Monday’s Iranian Foreign Ministry’s press release made no mention of the dead.This appeared to be only the second time that Iran has acknowledged casualties in Syria. The first was in 2015, when an IRGC general was killed in a strike directed against Hezbollah leader Jihad Mughniyeh, which was also attributed to Israel.In that case, the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group retaliated 10 days later with an ambush, firing anti-tank missiles at two IDF jeeps, killing two soldiers and injuring seven more.Tehran, along with Moscow, is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main ally, and has played an important role in his recent victories.The Syrian regime and Moscow blamed Israel for carrying out Monday’s strike, later that morning saying two Israeli F-15 fighter jets fired eight missiles at the base, some of which they said were shot down.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s conflict, said 14 were killed, including Syrian army officers and Iranian personnel. The Syrian regime did not confirm the number of casualties, but said “there are martyrs and wounded.”Later, American officials confirmed to NBC News that Israel had conducted the strike and that they were notified of it in advance.Israel is believed to have carried out numerous raids inside Syria since 2013, targeting the regime and its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.Iran has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria, presented as “volunteers” from Afghanistan and Pakistan and trained locally by Iranian “military advisers.” It denies having a military presence in the war-torn country.Iran does not recognize the existence of Israel and routinely calls for and predicts its demise. Israel views Tehran under the regime of the ayatollahs as an existential threat that seeks nuclear arms and funds and arms terrorist groups, notably Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group on Israel’s northern border.Israel has regularly expressed its concern about the Iranian presence in Syria, fearing the long-term establishment of hostile forces in the neighboring country.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will hit anyone who intends to harm the country, appearing to indirectly refer to the predawn missile strike.“We have one clear and simple rule and we seek to express it constantly: if someone tries to attack you — rise up and attack him,” Netanyahu said.Israel conducted an airstrike against the T-4, also known as Tiyas, base on February 10, after an Iranian operator working out of it flew an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, according to the army. That incursion sparked a series of aerial clashes that resulted in the Iranian aircraft being shot down, an Israeli F-16I getting hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire and crashing in a field, and a significant percentage of Syria’s air defenses being destroyed in retaliation.“Iran and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special unit] Quds Force for some time have been operating the T-4 Air Base in Syria next to Palmyra, with support from the Syrian military and with permission from the Syrian regime,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement at the time.Construction Minister Yoav Galant, a former IDF major general and a member of Israel’s security cabinet, would not comment directly on the attack, but on Tuesday reiterated the “red lines” that Jerusalem considers grounds for launching strikes.“In Syria, many forces, from various bodies and coalitions, are operating. Each one says what it says and denies what it denies,” he told Israel Radio. “We have clear interests in Syria and we set red lines. We will not allow weapons to pass from Syria to Lebanon, and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian base.”

Netanyahu reportedly expects Trump to launch attack on Syria-Based on this assessment, Foreign Ministry blamed Assad for chemical attack in Douma, to give support for possible military action-By TOI staff-10 April 2018

At a security meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu estimated that it was “very likely” the US would launch an attack on Syria, Channel 10 reported Tuesday.A senior government official told the news site that the prime minister thought US President Donald Trump would order the strike in response to the chemical attack on civilians in Douma.The news station said one practical result of that assessment was that the Foreign Ministry on Monday issued a statement blaming the Syrian regime for the attack.The official explained to Channel 10 that the announcement was made to show support for possible US-led military action and for a US diplomatic move at the UN Security Council.“Israel strongly condemns the chemical weapons strike carried out by Syria on April 7, one year after the mass murder carried out by the regime in Khan Sheikun,” a Foreign Ministry statement said, referring to a widely condemned chemical attack on a rebel-held town last year.“The Syrian regime continues to perpetrate crimes against humanity in using these outlawed weapons.”Saturday’s suspected poison gas attack took place in the rebel-held town of Douma amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces, after the collapse of a truce. At least 40 people were reportedly killed, including children, and hundreds of others were said to have been injured.Meanwhile the US has asked the UN Security Council to vote on its proposal to set up an inquiry to investigate the attack, but the measure is likely to face a veto from Russia, diplomats said.In Washington, Trump on Tuesday cancelled plans to travel to South America later this week, choosing to stay in the United States to manage the response to the apparent chemical weapons attack, fueling speculation that a strike may be imminent.Amid the tough talk from the White House, the US military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order. A Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, was underway in the eastern Mediterranean after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a US attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.Agencies contributed to this report.

Divided UN falters in response to alleged Syria chemical attack-Russia vetoes resolution to investigate apparent toxic gas assault; Nikki Haley: 'Russia has trashed the credibility of the council'-By Carole LANDRY-TOI-APR 10,18

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Russia on Tuesday vetoed a US-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution that would have set up an investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria following an alleged toxic gas attack in rebel-held Douma.It was the 12th time that Russia has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.A rival measure put forward by Moscow failed to garner enough votes for adoption, laying bare the divisions within the council over Syria as the threat of Western military action loomed large.President Donald Trump has warned that there will be a “big price to pay” for the alleged use of toxic gas in Douma that killed at least 40 people, according to Syrian medics and rescuers.As the showdown between Russia and the United States got underway, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of “planting this resolution” as a “pretext” to justify action against Syria.“We are using the veto in order to protect international rule of law, peace and security, to make sure that you do not drag the Security Council into your adventures,” Nebenzia said.US Ambassador Nikki Haley shot back, saying “Russia has trashed the credibility of the council.”“Whenever we propose anything meaningful on Syria, Russia vetoes it. It is a travesty,” she said.Twelve of the 15 council members backed the US-drafted measure. Bolivia voted against it alongside Russia, while China abstained.Britain, France and the United States were among the seven countries that voted against the Russian proposal which they argued would not create an independent panel to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use.Haley dismissed the Russian draft as “all about protecting the Assad regime” because of provisions that would have required the Security Council to endorse its findings.-Russia warns US over military action-After warning Monday of “grave repercussions” of US military action, the Russian ambassador urged the United States to “come to your senses” and refrain from ordering strikes on Syria.“If you took the decision to carry out an illegal military adventure — and we do hope that you will come to your senses — well then you will have to bare responsibility for it,” said Nebenzia.China backed Russia’s measure along with four other countries, while two others abstained.A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no veto from the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.Russia has presented a third draft resolution that would support an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but would not create a mechanism to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks.Diplomats said that measure was not expected to pass either.After both proposals failed to win adoption, Sweden called for a closed-door meeting before the vote on the third measure to discuss the way forward.Russia and Syria have called for the OPCW to send its experts to the rebel-held town of Douma, where toxic gas was allegedly used in an attack on Saturday that killed dozens.The OPCW has said the team of experts will deploy to Syria shortly.The US proposal would have revived the work of a previous panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), that shut down in November when Russian vetoed the renewal of its mandate.That panel had found that the Syrian air force had dropped sarin on the village of Khan Sheikhun in April of last year.

Very urgent': Activists want global treaty to ban killer robots by 2019-[CBC]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

Pitted against the glacial pace of the UN's discussion process, activists hoping for an international ban on killer robots have repeatedly been left fuming and frustrated.Pitted against each other in the battlefield, lethal autonomous weapons systems — or LAWS — could in short order cause "absolute devastation," according to one of those activists.That scenario, says the activist, Prof. Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield, isn't as farfetched as it might have been even five years ago, when he helped found the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots, a group of 64 NGOs dedicated to the cause.And it's that belief that brings him and other academics, scientists and activists back to Geneva this week to yet more discussions involving more than 80 countries.Their hope is that the UN process moves from discussion to formal direct negotiations by next year to produce a pre-emptive treaty banning killer robots by 2019.The activists' chief concern isn't the military's delegation of tasks to autonomous machines — which can be useful in search and rescue and bomb disposal and myriad other tasks too dangerous or too onerous for humans.Instead, the coalition and others pushing for a treaty specifically want to ban LAWS with the "critical functions" of selecting a target and then killing, without meaningful human control.More autonomy-"I think it's very urgent that we do this now," says Sharkey, describing the UN process as "frustrating." Countries that don't want a ban just keep slowing it down, he says."Our mandate is to get a treaty for emerging weapons … so if they slow us down long enough, they'll have emerged and we'll have no chance."Thus far, no fully autonomous weapons are known to have been unleashed in the battlefield, although the development of precursors is well underway, with growing degrees of autonomy and intelligence — even the ability to learn.In this video below, the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots make its case to ban autonomous weapons.Recently, such development has stirred controversy. At Google, staff wrote an open letter last week to management demanding they suspend work on a U.S. military project that involved drones and artificial intelligence capability.And also last week, dozens of scientists and academics wrote a letter to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul threatening a boycott for a project developing artificial intelligence for military use. The university has since promised it would not produce LAWS.Still, Sharkey goes as far as describing what is happening now as a new arms race underway as militaries and companies compete to acquire increasingly autonomous and smarter weapons.Since the UN discussions started back in 2014, lightning-fast advances in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence have made it possible to build LAWS in short order, according to experts.Beyond science fiction-"You could build an autonomous weapon system with open source technology now — the question is if it's good enough to meet our standards as advanced nations," says Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics, a Canadian firm that was the first company to endorse a ban on killer robots.So the near future, says Sharkey, could see wars starting automatically with battlefields too fast for the pace of human decision-making, where "war starts automatically, 10 minutes later, there's absolute devastation, nobody's been able to stop it."That's most dangerous of all, he says."I'm not talking about science fiction here. I'm not talking about AI [artificial intelligence] suddenly becoming conscious," he said in an interview."I'm talking about stupid humans developing weapons that they can't control."There are ample examples out there of the growing role of autonomous functions in military and policing.Autonomous fire-Put aside for a moment the Terminator idea of human-like soldiers and consider the Samsung Techwin SGR-A1.It patrols the South Korean border and has the ability to autonomously fire if it senses an infiltrator. Right now, it prompts an operator first.Or what about the Russian semi-autonomous T14 Armata tank or the British BAE Systems' Taranis aircraft, both human-controlled but both also capable of semi-autonomous operation. Kalashnikov has also built some prototypes with "neural networks" modelled on the human brain.The U.S. military tests relentlessly. The Pentagon has experimented with swarms — drones made to learn to think and react collectively.Though no country admits actually pursuing LAWS, proponents have several arguments in their favour: they could make wars more efficient and accurate, lowering costs as well as civilian casualties. Delegating killing to machines could ultimately also spare soldiers any moral consequences of killing, even in self-defence, such as PTSD."It will spare the lives of soldiers, it will spare conscience of soldiers, it will spare soldiers from the threat of suicide," said Prof. Duncan MacIntosh, a Dalhousie University philosophy professor who is a leading adviser on the ethics of autonomous weapons. He made the comments in his openings statement during a debate with Sharkey at St. Mary's University in Halifax last month."You can make sure for instance that a machine will not kill from fear, anger lust, revenge, political prejudice, confusion, fog of war."Automation used in the "right way could make war more precise and more humane," says Paul Scharre, a former U.S. Army ranger who is currently at the Center for a New American Security.Is that a real weapon? That doesn't help things "for actors that don't care about civilian casualties, or trying to kill civilians," says Scharre. But for militaries who "care about humanitarian law and avoiding civilian harm, these technologies can allow them to be more precise and distinguish better between enemy and civilians."For example, AI-enabled systems could be used to tell whether someone is carrying a weapon or something that just looks like a weapon."We absolutely could do that. In fact we know that we can build machine learning systems today that can identify objects very well and actually beat humans at some benchmark tests for image recognition," says Scharre, whose book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, comes out this month.For Scharre, it's too soon to call what is happening now an "arms race."He agrees the unchecked proliferation of autonomous weapons should be avoided, but that finding global agreement on a definition of meaningful human control of autonomous weapons is preferable to an outright ban. The U.S. position is to work within existing laws.Activists say several countries interested in autonomous weapons, such as Russia, China, Britain and Israel, are resistant to an outright ban. Some accuse some of those countries of obfuscation and footdragging — and quibbling over definitions — in UN meetings to prevent progress towards a treaty.Some officials have insisted you can't ban something that doesn't exist, to the exasperation of activists."Can we afford incremental movement forward, as technology spirals to God knows where?" asked American Nobel laureate Jody Williams in a statement in 2016.There are many calls for a killer robot treaty similar to that Williams helped orchestrate to produce a global ban on anti-personnel landmines back in the 1990s — and for Canada to lead the way."Canada has already played past leadership roles, most significantly in the control and banning of landmines. I think there's a very similar role that Canada can play in this discussion as well," says Gariepy.Canada is also being pushed to articulate a clear position on killer robots and back the ban.Compromise instead of treaty? France, now apparently supported by Germany, is in favour of a compromise that sees a political declaration and international law as preferable to a new treaty. Activists criticize the two countries for failing to stand behind a ban that even Germany's Angela Merkel once said she supported.Some 22 countries support an outright ban.Signatories to the UN's Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)  held three conferences on the topic of killer robots before appointing a Group of Governmental Experts to discuss them. The first meeting of that group was held last fall.This week's meeting is one of two planned for this year."There will be some sort of agreement," says Gariepy, who has attended the UN meetings in the past.But whether that agreement is in place before these weapons begin to proliferate, and whether it "actually addresses the need to have meaningful human control … is an open question."In a letter ahead of this week's meeting, the Coalition to Stop Killer Robots stressed "the window for credible preventative action in the CCW is fast closing."

Zuckerberg discloses Facebook working with Russia probe-[The Canadian Press]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

WASHINGTON — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg disclosed Tuesday his company is "working with" special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign — and working hard to change its own operations after the harvesting of users' private information by a Trump campaign-affiliated data-mining company.The founder of the social media giant publicly apologized for his company's errors in failing to better protect the personal information of its millions of users, a controversy that has brought a flood of bad publicity and sent the company's stock value plunging. He seemed to achieve a measure of success: Facebook shares surged 4.5 per cent for the day, the biggest gain in two years.Zuckerberg told the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees that he has not been personally interviewed by Mueller's team, but "I know we're working with them." He offered no details, citing a concern about confidentiality rules of the investigation.Earlier this year Mueller charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through a social media propaganda effort that included online ad purchases using U.S. aliases and politicking on U.S. soil. A number of the Russian ads were on Facebook.During Tuesday's at-times-contentious hearing, Zuckerberg said it had been "clearly a mistake" to believe the data-mining company Cambridge Analytica had deleted user data that it had harvested in an attempt to sway elections. He said Facebook had considered the data collection "a closed case" because it thought the information had been discarded.Facebook also didn't alert the Federal Trade Commission, Zuckerberg said, and he assured senators the company would handle the situation differently today.He began a two-day congressional inquisition with a public apology for the way Facebook handled the data-mining of its users' data. He took responsibility for failing to prevent Cambridge Analytica, which was affiliated with Donald Trump's presidential campaign, from gathering personal information from 87 million users.Separately, the company began alerting some of its users that their data was gathered by Cambridge Analytica. A notification that appeared on Facebook for some users Tuesday told them that "one of your friends" used Facebook to log into a now-banned personality quiz app called "This Is Your Digital Life." The notice says the app misused the information, including public profiles, page likes, birthdays and current cities, by sharing it with Cambridge Analytica.Zuckerberg had apologized many times already, to users and the public, but this was the first time before Congress. He also is to testify Wednesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Commerce Committee chairman, told Zuckerberg his company had a 14-year history of apologizing for "ill-advised decisions" related to user privacy. "How is today's apology different?" Thune asked."We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company," Zuckerberg responded. "I think it's pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we're at now without making some mistakes."Zuckerberg said Facebook is going through "a broader philosophical shift in how we approach our responsibility as a company." He said the company needs to take a "more proactive role" that includes ensuring the tools it creates are used in "good and healthy" ways.Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Zuckerberg's appearance marked the most intense hearing for a tech company since entrepreneur and businessman Bill Gates testified before Congress in March 1998.Many of the senators' questions seemed to focus on Facebook's basic functions, such as its privacy settings and what it does and doesn't do with user data. Because each of the 44 senators had just 5 minutes to ask questions, there was little time for tough follow-ups. On some subjects, that allowed Zuckerberg to tell the lawmakers that his people would get back to them with more information.In the hearings, Zuckerberg is trying to both restore public trust in his company and stave off federal regulations that some lawmakers have floated. In his opening statement, he also apologized for his company's involvement in facilitating fake news and Russian interference in the elections.Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said he believes Zuckerberg was taking the congressional hearings seriously "because he knows there is going to be a hard look at regulation."Democrats like Nelson have argued that federal laws might be necessary to ensure user privacy. Republicans have yet to get behind any such legislation, but that could change.Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Zuckerberg if he would be willing to work with lawmakers to examine what "regulations you think are necessary in your industry."Absolutely, Zuckerberg responded, saying later in an exchange with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that "I'm not the type of person who thinks that all regulation is bad." He called for a "full conversation about what is the right regulation not whether it should be or shouldn't be."And Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary panel and the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, appeared open to regulation in a speech ahead of the hearing. Cornyn said apologies are "not enough" and suggested legislation could eventually be needed to give consumers more control over their data privacy."This is a serious matter, and I think people expect us to take action," Cornyn told reporters after his speech.At the hearing, Zuckerberg said, "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here."After resisting previous calls to testify, Zuckerberg agreed to come to Capitol Hill this month after reports surfaced — and the company confirmed — that Cambridge Analytica had gathered Facebook users' data. Zuckerberg said his company has a responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen again.He acknowledged that the company was too slow to respond to Russian election interference and said it was "working hard to get better." The company has said that as many as 146 million people may have received information from a Russian agency that's accused of orchestrating much of the cyber meddling in the election.He outlined steps the company has taken to restrict outsiders' access to people's personal information. He also said the company is investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before the company moved to prevent such access in 2014 — actions that came too late in the Cambridge Analytica case.___Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report. Ortutay reported from New York.___For complete coverage of the Facebook privacy scandal, visit Clare Jalonick And Barbara Ortutay, The Associated Press.

Poisoning victim Yulia Skripal released from hospital-[CBC]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

Yulia Skripal, who along with her father, an ex-Russian spy, was poisoned with a nerve agent in Britain last month, has been discharged from hospital, British media reported.The BBC said Yulia Skripal was released on Monday and was in a secure location.A statement from hospital officials is expected later on Tuesday.A spokesman for the hospital declined to comment.On Friday, doctors said the health of Yulia, 33, and her father Sergei Skripal had improved rapidly in the last few weeks after they were found unconscious on a bench on March 4 in the southern English city of Salisbury.Britain says they were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent and has blamed Russia for the attack. Moscow has denied any involvement in the incident which has plunged its relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.Last week, Yulia Skripal issued a statement to say her strength was growing daily while her 66-year-old father is no longer in a critical condition.

Ghouta in four weeks: U.N.-[ReMore than 130,000 have fled Syria's uters]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations voiced alarm on Tuesday at "spiraling new displacement" from the Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta, after more than 133,000 people were estimated to have fled in four weeks, and where U.N. aid agencies still do not have access.About 45,000 of those displaced are staying in eight collective shelters in the Damascus countryside. Roughly the same number of women, children and elderly men have left the overcrowded shelters after screening by government authorities."We are aware of screening taking place as civilians are leaving eastern Ghouta, but as you know we are not part of current evacuation deals or its implementation," Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told a briefing.(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles)

Seven Iranians were killed in strike on Syrian air base: Tasnim-[Reuters]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) - Seven Iranian military personnel were killed in Sunday's air strike on a Syrian air base, Tasnim news agency said, almost double the number originally reported.Syria's government and its ally Iran have accused Israel of carrying out the attack on the Tiyas, or T-4, air base near Homs - something that Israel has not confirmed or denied.The bodies of the Iranians, described as military advisers, had been flown back to Iran and funerals would take place later on Tuesday, Tasnim said. Earlier Iranian media reports said four personnel were killed.The attack took place hours after U.S. President Donald Trump warned there would be a "big price to pay" following the reports of a poison gas attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma. Syria's government has denied any involvement in that attack."It seems the U.S. government is looking for an excuse for military intervention," Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said has he arrived in Brazil early on Tuesday, according to state media."Iran's stance on chemical weapons is clear and we condemn any use of them against any target," Zarif added.The Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s most powerful military force, have been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for several years. More than 1,000 Iranians have been killed in Syria's civil war, including senior members of the Guards.(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Sex trafficking is rampant in Toronto's city-licensed spas, massage parlours, activists say-[CBC]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

When Casandra Diamond was lured into the world of licensed Toronto massage parlours as a teenager, she thought it would give her control and financial freedom.Instead, she lived in fear for the next 10 years.Forced to provide sexual services to a dozen men each night, Diamond routinely endured requests that were degrading or violent. Then she would go home to her "boyfriend" — the man who was trafficking her, cutting her off from family and friends and keeping her money.When city bylaw officers inspected the parlour she worked at, Diamond knew they weren't there to help, but to see if anyone was breaking the rules. Even speaking to them for too long could lead to punishment from her trafficker, she recalled."There are no mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of trafficked women," Diamond said.After escaping that life in 2004, Diamond became an advocate for other sex trafficking survivors through her Newmarket-based charity, BridgeNorth.She's now among those calling for more support for victims in Toronto, and questioning why the city is in the business of licensing spas and massage parlours where sex trafficking is proliferating right under bylaw officers' noses."It felt like everybody knew what was going on, and it was okay," Diamond said. "It was socially sanctioned — it made you think it was safer — but it wasn't. Not at all."City reviewing licensing of spas, body rub parlours-Sex trafficking is one piece of the conversation surrounding a review of licensing for body rub parlours and holistic spas at city council's licensing and standards committee on Tuesday.According to a new report from the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards division, there are 25 licenses for body-rub parlours right now in Toronto — a cap that's existed since 1975 — and 410 licensed holistic centres.Last year, a report from Toronto's auditor general found that more than a quarter of those holistic centres appear to advertise erotic massages and other services that may violate city bylaws.Those illicit activities are one thing, but sex trafficking is the bigger issue, according to Barbara Gosse, CEO of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, one of the groups presenting to the committee."We're tired of the anemic response this issue is getting," she said, noting how for years, there has been talk of reviewing city bylaws."There needs to be much more work done to improve the existing lax regulatory system for victims and survivors who are trafficked."Since the city's human trafficking unit was created in 2014, Toronto Police have encountered more than 200 victims.While the focus is often on those found in roadside motels and private apartments, police say many are also trafficked within city-licensed establishments.Later this year, Toronto Police will be one piece of a working group led by Municipal Licensing and Standards, which will support consultation with various stakeholder groups, including the operators of body rub parlours, holistic spas, and organizations that work with sex workers.According to the report, a piece of this work will also be identifying long-term support services for sex trafficking survivors and developing prevention strategies.'Bigger question' than city can answer-Councillor Jim Karygiannis, vice-chair of the municipal licensing and standards committee, welcomes more discussion about how to prevent sex trafficking in Toronto, but says the role the city can play is "very limited."Instead, he believes there should be more provincial or federal oversight of the regulatory bodies for spas and massage parlours. "It's definitely a much bigger question than the city can answer," he said.Still, it's one Municipal Licensing and Standards does hope to tackle, with another report proposing bylaw changes and enforcement strategies expected in 2019 following the research and consultation this year.The review will allow city staff a "full opportunity" to make recommendations on issues including trafficking, said Mayor John Tory on Tuesday.Whatever the city decides, Diamond worries that licensing illicit businesses will allow sex trafficking to continue in a way that appears "sanctioned" by the city itself."I remember thinking, 'These people know about what's going on, because they're licensing this,'" she said."I perceived that [Municipal Licensing and Standards] understood that some guy was hitting me, spitting on me, punching and kicking and slapping. It's like they knew that these requests were being made and were saying, 'It's okay.'"

Cannabis grow-op registry needed to protect homebuyers, association urges-[CBC]-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) wants the province to introduce more protections for homebuyers from properties damaged by cannabis grow-ops — and it wants those changes made before recreational cannabis is legalized later this year."Make no bones about it, as of this summer more people will be growing pot at home," warned OREA president David Reid at a media conference at the Ontario legislature Monday.Reid pointed to statistics from police in Denver, Colorado — where the drug has been legal since 2014 — suggesting one in 10 homes in that city is being used to grow cannabis."Ontario must take steps to protect homeowners and prospective homebuyers about the health and safety risks associated with former marijuana grow-ops," said Reid.The head of the Ottawa Real Estate Board, Ralph Shaw, said he's seen what can happen to homes damaged by cannabis grow-ops."It's the mould and the fungus and the moisture that causes the problem ... and it can destroy the frame structure of a house. So you're into not just tens of thousands, but certainly $50,000 to $100,000 isn't uncommon to clean up and retrofit a home that's been used as a grow-op, so it's very serious," Shaw said.5 possible fixes-An OREA report asks for these five changes to Ontario law: - Changing the building code to designate illegal drug operations as unsafe buildings requiring remediation. - Requiring municipal inspections of designated unsafe buildings. - Registering municipal work orders for remediation on the Ontario land title system. - Training home inspectors to spot damage caused by grow-ops. - Reducing the allowable number of personal plants from four to one in multi-unit dwellings smaller than 1,000 square feet. OREA has tried before to lobby the province to introduce a registry, and supported a 2013 private member's bill from Nepean—Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod, which did not pass through the legislature.OREA now suggests with legalization looming a registry is more important than ever, saying that the number of illegal grow-ops rose in Colorado following legalization there.Colorado agents worry registry could hurt values-However, Kelly Moye, a spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Realtors, said the association hasn't called for a registry in that state.Although Moye said she likes the idea of rules protecting homeowners and buyers by mandating remediation, a registry could permanently stigmatize homes and neighbourhoods.Under Colorado law, for example, homeowners don't have to disclose former meth labs as long as they're cleaned up according to state regulations, Moye said."So meth is certainly a lot more toxic than any type of marijuana growing, and we allow that disclosure to end once it's cleaned up, so it would seem fair that disclosures of marijuana should end so it doesn't impact the property forever."Ontario to consider new rules-A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General did not close the door to OREA's suggestions."As we approach the federal government's legalization of cannabis, we will continue to work with all sectors, including realtors, homeowners, landlords to ensure that people have the necessary information and protections in place to make informed decisions about buying and selling a home," wrote spokesperson Brian Gray.The province is already set to revamp training and expectations for home inspectors and the ministry "is currently developing regulations to set qualifications for home inspectors and will consider OREA's proposal as a part of this work."The province sounded less interested in limiting the number of plants grown in smaller residences, as suggested by Gray: "The federal government and their task force recommended four plants for legal home cultivation. We have aligned with that approach (...)"

Google appeals Indian antitrust watchdog's 'search bias' verdict: sources-[Reuters]-By Aditi Shah-YAHOONEWS-April 10, 2018

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Online search giant Google has filed an appeal at the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) against a judgment from India's competition watchdog that found it guilty of "search bias", two sources aware of the matter told Reuters.The appeal was filed on Monday, one of the sources said.In February, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) imposed a 1.36 billion rupees ($20.95 million) fine on Google, saying it was abusing its dominance in online web search and online search advertising markets.Google, the core unit of U.S. firm Alphabet Inc , did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.A CCI official said that its judgment was "robust" and that the competition watchdog plans to defend its verdict at the NCLAT."Google was found to be indulging in practices of search bias and by doing so, it causes harm to its competitors as well as to users," the CCI said in its 190-page judgment.The Indian watchdog's judgment is the latest antitrust setback for the world's most popular search engine. Last year, The European Commission imposed a record 2.4 billion euro ($3 billion) fine on the company for favoring its shopping service and demoting rival offerings. Google has appealed against the verdict.In India, the Commission found that Google, through its search design, had placed its commercial flight search function at a prominent position on the search results page to the disadvantage of businesses trying to gain market access.The CCI ruling brought to an end a probe first started by the watchdog in 2012 on complaints filed by matchmaking website Bharat Matrimony and a not-for-profit organization, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS).(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Euan Rocha)