The World Today for December 19, 2016


Unnatural Disaster

The fall of Aleppo was a humanitarian disaster that will likely go down in history as a shameful failure of the international community to prevent mass carnage and the destruction of an ancient city.

Now the escape from Aleppo is prolonging the tragedy.

Around 350 people quit the last rebel-held enclave in east Aleppo in buses on Sunday, Agence-France Presse reported, citing the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“They were in a terrible state,” said a doctor in Khan al-Assal, a rebel town a few miles west of Aleppo that received the convoy. “They hadn’t eaten. They had nothing to drink. The children had caught colds. They were not even able to go to the toilet.”

And those suffering people were the lucky ones.

Still stuck in east Aleppo are thousands of others whom Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has labeled rebels or rebel sympathizers.

Their plight exemplifies why the Syrian Civil War is so complicated.

Assad had agreed to let the rebel buses depart as a quid pro quo for the rebels allowing the escape of residents living in al-Foua and Kefraya, two towns in northwestern Syria that are currently under rebel siege, France 24 explained.

The rebels are mostly Sunni Muslims. Assad is a Shiite Muslim. Al-Foua and Kefraya are Shiite towns.

But Assad changed his mind late last week after gunmen allegedly tied to the Jabhat Fateh al Sham – a group formerly called the al-Nusra Front before it broke ties with Al Qaeda – torched five of the buses that were supposed to carry away the Al-Foua and Kefraya residents. One driver died.

Around 8,500 people had left before the evacuations were halted. On Sunday in east Aleppo, dozens of buses were lined up as their shell-shocked would-be passengers coped with winter temperatures dropping below freezing at night.

France and Russia reportedly reached a deal at the United Nations on Sunday to let international monitors oversee the evacuation, a potentially game-changing move that could start the buses rolling and bring order to the chaos of a civil war that has claimed more than 310,000 lives, the New York Times wrote.

French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said the monitors would help prevent mass atrocities.

But, with the help of Russian airpower and military aid, Assad is on a roll that won’t end soon. Now that Aleppo has fallen, he is now due to focus on Idlib, the province next to Aleppo where the rebels are regrouping.

Jabhat Fateh al Sham controls Idlib, but rebel forces are growing there as others, like those from east Aleppo, join them. The presence of so many insurgents, including jihadists, would justify a decisive government offensive against Idlib that could break the rebellion in one fell swoop, the Associated Press reported.

In other words, so much for the end of mass atrocities.



Bombing Next Door

Even as the war in Syria may be winding down, the violence in Yemen shows little sign of letting up – with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State both taking advantage of the ongoing civil war to wreak havoc.

In the latest incident, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a military camp in the city of Aden on Sunday, killing at least 52 soldiers loyal to the Sunni-oriented, internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Associated Press reported.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on the base. Previously, the group had also claimed responsibility for a Dec. 10 suicide bombing that killed 57 soldiers on the same base.

The Houthi rebels that Hadi’s government has been battling since 2014 are Iran-backed Shiites – which both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State consider to be apostates. But the two terrorist groups have nevertheless staged repeated attacks on Hadi’s Saudi Arabia-backed Sunni coalition.

Podesta Posture

On the eve of the Electoral College meeting to determine who will be America’s next president, the former chairman of the Democrats’ campaign suggested that associates of Republican President-elect Donald Trump may have colluded with Russia during the race.

“It’s very much unknown whether there was collusion,” Podesta said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “What did Trump Inc. know? When did they know it? Were they in touch with the Russians?”

A Trump spokeswoman rejected the possibility that anyone close to Trump collaborated with the Russians allegedly involved in the hacking of email accounts belonging to Podesta and the Democratic National Committee or other Russian attempts to influence the election.

Meanwhile, as various Senate leaders step up their calls for a broader investigation into the hacks and for the CIA to release evidence related to the incident, Trump continued to dismiss the allegations – and the Wall Street Journal reported he appears to have sewed up a victory despite efforts to convince members of the Electoral College to vote against him.

Deeper in Debt

The end of the China-led mining boom continues to hurt Australia.

The latest government forecasts on Monday indicate that the country’s budget deficits for the next four years will increase by about 10.3 billion Australian dollars ($7.5 billion) to AU$94.9 billion, the Associated Press reported.

Australia’s treasurer said the budget would return to surplus in 2020-21, though government revenue will continue to fall, partly due to the abandonment of an incentive scheme for infrastructure investments that will shave AU$10 billion in spending.

However, the NYT quoted analysts as saying Australia might lose its coveted triple-A credit rating – a benchmark held by fewer than a dozen countries — by early 2017.

In June, the National Australia Bank projected that mining investments would plunge around 70 percent over the next three years as the result of the winding down of a “once in a century” boom stemming from the rise of China over the past decade.


Supercritical Steam

Iceland’s geothermal baths and moonlike landscape are a direct result of it being one of the most volcanically active regions in the world.

Now, scientists are interested in harnessing that activity for something more than just tourism.

Scientists are currently in the process of creating what the BBC calls the world’s “hottest borehole.” For years, they have been planning out how to drill through 5000 meters of volcanic rock in order to harvest a potentially revolutionary renewable resource.

Temperatures at that depth are as high as 500 degrees Celsius. Water trapped between molten magma reserves mixes with volcanic rock and, exposed to tremendous pressure and heat, takes on a new state between a gas and a liquid. Scientists call this new, energy-rich substance “supercritical steam.”

Drilling began in August, and once contact is made in the next few weeks, scientists hope to harvest the steam through the tremendous borehole, taking geothermal energy to a whole new level.

Click here for a video of the process.

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