Syrian army pauses Aleppo assault to allow civilian evacuations

There are roughly 8,000 civilians in the city -- which has been 75 percent taken back by Syrian armed forces -- who are being moved out before the army mounts its next offensive.
By Stephen Feller   |   Dec. 8, 2016 at 10:57 PM

ALEPPO, Syria, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Syria's army has paused military operations in Aleppo to allow civilians to flee the city but concerns about violence after the city falls abound.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that fighting in Aleppo has stopped for the moment ahead of meetings Saturday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders about the next steps to prevent violence after Islamic State militants are ejected from the city.

"I can tell you that today, combat operations by the Syrian army have been halted in eastern Aleppo because there is a large operation under way to evacuate civilians," Lavrov said during a meeting of European foreign ministers held Thursday in Germany.

Though Russia announced the Syrians had paused their attacks in Aleppo, some on the ground said they did not see much of a difference in fighting. Russia and China had previously rejected a U.N.-proposed seven-day ceasefire on Dec. 6, preferring instead to continue ongoing talks with Kerry and other world leaders.

Aleppo has been 75 percent taken back from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, but worldwide criticism of how the brutal battle for the city has been waged and number of civilians who have been killed or injured is motivating efforts to find a better path forward.

Right now, there are about 8,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo who the Russians say need to be evacuated, and another 9,000 Free Syrian Army fighters who may need to be evacuated as well.

There are concerns that Shiite militias Iran has sent to help Syria take back its land, who are more feared than Hezbollah or Iran's Revolutionary Guard, could turn their attention to the Free Syrian Army -- who are among the rebels the United States has backed in the Syrian civil war and battle against ISIS there -- and slaughter them all.

© 2016 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Top Democrat Reid bids farewell after 30 years in Senate, with Hillary Clinton on hand

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton made her first appearance at the Capitol since her election defeat to honor Reid.
By Doug G. Ware   |   Dec. 8, 2016 at 8:44 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- After a rigorous three decades in the U.S. Senate, Democratic minority leader Harry Reid was nostalgic on Thursday as he delivered his long-awaited farewell to Capitol Hill.

The five-term senator from Searchlight, Nev., addressed colleagues and special guests with an 80-minute speech Thursday, nearing the end of what will have been exactly 30 years in the chamber. During his remarks, he offered views in hindsight and advice on going forward.

"It's a long way from Searchlight to the United States Senate," Reid said in his farewell address from the Senate floor. He started his remarks with a recollection of his early years, being raised in the economically unstable rock-mining community of about 250 people -- a hometown he later became embarrassed to claim.

Reid said after receiving a solid upbringing, he saw his parents' health decline over the years -- long before the days of widespread employee-furnished or government-offered health care.

"I think everyone can understand a little bit of why I have been such an avid supporter of Obamacare, health care," he said.

During young adulthood, the soft-spoken senator said he found a way to accept who he was -- and even where he came from -- thanks to famed "Roots" author Alex Haley, whom he heard speak in Nevada once, when he was fairly new in government.

"He said be proud of who you are. You can't escape who you are," he recalled. "And I walked out of that event that night a different person, a new man."

Reid expressed a fondness for his years as a public servant and eventually touched on current issues during his address -- from Obamacare, to the news media, to the domestic economy.

"The stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [of 2009] -- we got that done," he said. "It was so good for our country."

"The Affordable Care Act ... It would have been wonderful if we had something like that around to help my family when we were growing up," he noted.

"We're entering a new gilded age. It has never been more important to be able to distinguish between what's real and what is fake," Reid said of the mainstream news media. "We have media outlets pushing conspiracy theories disguised as news. Separating real from fake has never been more important. ... [Pope Francis] said yesterday, 'The media that focuses on scandals and spread fake news to smear politicians risk becoming like people who have a morbid fascination with excrement.' ... I admire what you do and understand the challenges ahead of you. But be vigilant because you have as much to do with our democracy as any branch of government."

Reid has spent some of his remaining weeks in Congress as an outspoken critic of President-elect Donald Trump -- and a staunch supporter of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who on Thursday made her first public appearance at the U.S. Capitol since her shocking election defeat.

"This is not ​exactly ​the speech at the Capitol I ​hoped to be giving after the election," she said at the start of her remarks. "​But after a few weeks of taking selfies in the woods, I thought it would be a good idea to come out."

The rest of the Senate, including Vice President Joe Biden, and several other leaders attended Thursday's tribute -- which included an unveiling of his official portrait, which will hang in the Capitol from now on.

Reid, who officially arrived in the Senate on Jan. 3, 1987, announced earlier this year that he would leave office at the end of his term in January. During his tenure, he served as majority whip, minority whip, majority leader and minority leader. Before the Senate, he spent two terms in the U.S. House.

Reid will be officially succeeded by fellow Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto when she fills his seat on Jan. 3.

"Whatever success I had in my educational life, my life as a lawyer, my life as a politician, including my time in Congress, is directly attributable to Landra, my wife," he said in his concluding remarks. "We have five children. We have wonderful 19 grandchildren. She has been the being of my existence. ... We understand we will have a different life. We have said and we believe that we're not going to dwell on the past. We'll be involved in the past any way we need to be, but we're going to look to the future.

"I wish everyone the best. ... Thank you for your friendship and support over the years."

© 2016 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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