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Syria conflict: US jet ‘downs Iranian-made drone’

Tensions in the region are rising as a battle develops for control over eastern Syria.

A US jet has shot down an Iranian-made drone operated by forces backing the Syrian government in the south of the country, American officials say.

The drone was thought to be armed and threatening US-led coalition troops on the ground, officials said.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the action amounted to “complicity with terrorism”.

The incident comes after the US shot down a Syrian fighter plane on Sunday and another drone earlier this month.

The F-15 plane downed the drone around 00:30 on Tuesday (21:30 GMT Monday) north-east of Tanf, an outpost of the US-led coalition, according to a US military statement.

The incident underscores the growing tensions in the region as a battle develops for the control of eastern Syria, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says.

In another development, the US military announced officially that coalition forces had killed the top cleric of so-called Islamic State (IS), Turki al-Binali, in an air strike in Syria last month. IS supporters have also reported his death.

Military officials who spoke to CNN described it as a Shahed 129, a model unveiled by Iran in 2012.

It is said by the Iranians to have a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles) and be capable of carrying bombs and missiles.

“They were threatening our forces on the ground,” the US official quoted by AFP said. “Their course was on a run toward our folks to drop a munition on them.”

The last drone the US says it shot down was also reportedly destroyed near Tanf after firing on coalition forces.

Tanf has been used by Western special forces as well as Syrian rebel forces.

The Syrian plane destroyed on Sunday, a Su-22 fighter bomber, was hit after reportedly dropping bombs near the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province.

In response, Russia, one of Syria’s main allies, announced that US-led coalition warplanes flying west of the River Euphrates would be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets

It suspended a hotline set up to avoid clashes between US and Russian aircraft in the region.

With IS under growing pressure in Raqqa the fight is on for who controls the territory after its demise, our correspondent says.

Iranian-backed pro-Syrian regime forces are pushing forward on a number of fronts, and the US is equally eager to resist what it sees as a widening of Iranian influence.

Iran says it attacked IS fighters in eastern Syria with long-range missiles on Sunday.

So the tensions locally are mounting between the US and pro-regime forces; between the US and the Russians; and more broadly between Washington and Tehran.

By accident or design, any one of these sources of friction could prompt a much more significant military encounter, our correspondent adds.

Originally from Bahrain, Binali joined IS in 2014 and played a key role within the group acting as its top religious official and offering guidance to its leaders and militants alike, BBC Monitoring reports.

US Central Command says he was killed by an air strike on 31 May in the eastern town of Mayadin.

IS supporters went online to announce his death.

Wise elk learn to outsmart hunters and tell apart their weapons

Elk get wiser as they age, learning how to adapt their behaviour to different hunting methods to avoid getting shot

As female elk get older, they also get wiser: they learn how to avoid getting shot by hunters, and appear to adapt their behaviour to the types of weapon the hunters carry.

Hunting by humans is known to affect how elk behave, selecting for more cautious behaviours by killing more of the bolder animals. But ecologist Henrik Thurfjell at the University of Alberta, Canada, wondered whether the animals might also learn how to stay safe as they age.

Thurfjell and his colleagues put GPS tracking collars on 49 female elk in western Canada, and monitored their behaviour over six years. They found that this varied between elk of different ages.

Those aged 4 were more cautious than 2-year-olds, for example, but that was not simply a case of all naturally bold elk being killed at an early age. Over time, the younger elk started acting more like their cautious elders, moving around less during the hunting season and making more use of dense forest or steep, rocky terrain, especially when near roads.

In fact, they became so good at avoiding humans that by the time they reached the age of 9, they were almost immune to hunting, says Thurfjell. “It’s remarkable how bulletproof they become around age 8 or 9,” he says.

Older elk were even able to distinguish whether hunters used bows or guns, and altered their behaviour accordingly.

During bow season, they used difficult terrain more – making things tricky for bow hunters, who need to get much closer to their prey than those who use rifles. And during rifle season, the elk stayed further away from roads, where hunters might spot them.

Rather than the elk keeping track of the seasons, Thurfjell thinks this was a reaction to the behaviour of hunters. During rifle season, for instance, there may be more slow-moving vehicles on the roads.

Nadège Bonnot, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, agrees that the combination of human selection and learning could have major effects on elk behaviour. By eliminating some behavioural traits, and by modifying the behaviour of survivors, “this has a large potential to impoverish behavioural variability”, she says.

But it could also select for more flexible animals that are able to quickly adapt to new threats, she adds.

Thurfjell says the elk’s ability to learn could help with wildlife management. A small amount of hunting pressure near agricultural land could quickly teach the animals to stay away, reducing crop damage and culls of nuisance animals. “Cooperation between hunters and landowners could get good results for everyone, including the elk,” he says.

Journal reference: PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178082

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2017 Surface Pro least repairable ever; Surface Laptop is made of glue

Compact design continues to be at odds with maintenance and repairability.

iFixit’s pictures, as ever, give a great look at the insides of the two machines. The Laptop has no external screws at all; to get into the system, iFixit had to peel off the glued-down fabric keyboard surround, an operation that obviously can’t be undone, producing a machine that offers essentially no serviceability whatsoever. With the keyboard surround removed, the system reveals its internals, with components taped, soldered, or otherwise permanently affixed in place. Given how destructive one has to be to open the machine in the first place, perhaps that’s not a big deal.

The Surface Pro teardown shows that while the work Microsoft has done to the Surface Pro on the outside is very incremental (it’s a honed version of the Surface Pro 4), the interior work has been more substantial. The batteries are bigger (45Wh, compared to 38.2Wh in the Pro 4), and a giant spidery heatsink distributes the processor’s heat across the back of the entire machine. This beefed-up passive cooling is how Microsoft has managed to make the Core i5 version of the Pro fanless; the Pro 4 had a fanless version, too, but that required the use of a low-power Y-series processor.

While the Surface Pro lines have never been especially friendly toward end-user and third-party repairing and servicing, prior models did make it possible to (theoretically, at least) replace one component: the SSD. In the Pro 4, the SSD uses a standard M.2 connector, so if you were suitably adventurous, you could swap it out for a larger capacity. In the 2017 Pro, the storage is now soldered onto the motherboard.

Hawaiian Hokule’a canoe makes it round the world

The traditional Polynesian boat completed the three-year trip without modern navigation instruments.

A traditional Polynesian canoe has returned to Honolulu in Hawaii, completing the first-ever round-the-world voyage by such a vessel.

The boat, the Hokule’a, took three years to journey around the globe.

Its crew navigated without modern instruments, using only the stars, wind and ocean swells as guides.

They aimed to use the same techniques that brought the first Polynesian settlers to Hawaii hundreds of years ago.

Hawaii celebrated the Hokule’a’s homecoming on Honolulu’s Magic Island peninsula on Saturday.

Built in the 1970s, it has travelled around 40,000 nautical miles (74,000km) on this latest trip, known as the Malama Honu voyage, meaning “to care for our Island Earth”.

Its aim has been to spread a message about ocean conservation, sustainability and protecting indigenous culture.

“Hokule’a has sparked a reawakening of Hawaiian culture, language, identity and revitalized voyaging and navigation traditions throughout the Pacific Ocean,” said the voyage organisers on their website.

Naalehu Anthony, crewmember and chief executive director of Hawaiian media company Oiwi TV which documented the trip, told Hawaii Public Radio that wherever they docked, people greeted them with a Hawaiian “ahola” greeting.

“One of the things I really admire about the voyage, looking back on it, is that we always asked the first nations peoples from these different places for permission to come. We never said we are coming. We said, would it be OK for us to come and honour the native people of this place,” he said.

The voyage, he added, had been an “opportunity to celebrate native knowledge and look at ways that we are more common than we are different”.

Police fear that figure may increase, as the PM admits support for families was “not good enough”.

Vanuatu president Baldwin Lonsdale dies after heart attack

Baldwin Lonsdale suffered a heart attack early on Saturday aged 67

The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, has died after a heart attack at the age of 67.

Mr Lonsdale, an Anglican priest, had been leader of the Pacific archipelago since September 2014.

The Vanuatu Daily Post said he died suddenly in the capital Port Vila shortly after midnight on Saturday.

Australia’s Governor-General Peter Cosgrove said Mr Lonsdale “served the people of Vanuatu with dignity and humility, and was much loved”.

While president, Mr Lonsdale oversaw the vast rebuilding of parts of Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam left an estimated 75,000 people homeless in March 2015.

In October the same year, he vowed to clean up corruption in Vanuatu after a scandal involving his deputy.

Speaker Marcellino Pipite was one of 14 MPs – half of the country’s parliament – convicted of giving and receiving corrupt payments over a vote of no confidence in a previous government.

He went on to pardon himself and the other 13 MPs while Mr Lonsdale was out of the country, a pardon the president then rescinded on his return.

Oregon first US state to add third gender option on driver ID

Residents can mark X on state-issued identification cards instead of choosing male or female.

Oregon has become the first US state to include a third gender option on state-issued identification cards.

Beginning in July, Oregon residents who do not identify as male or female can mark X for sex on driver’s licences, learner’s permits and state IDs.

The state’s Transportation Commission approved the new rule, which was hailed by LGBTQ rights groups.

The shift comes a year after an Oregon judge ruled a retired Army veteran could legally identify as non-binary.

The June 2016 landmark decision allowed Jamie Shupe to change her gender to non-binary, which refers to gender identities that do not fall into the binary categories of male and female. It was believed to be the first decision of its kind in the US.

That decision prompted Oregon officials to examine how they could recognise a third gender in its computer systems and affect the state’s gender laws.

The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which held public hearings to debate the issue, said they received little opposition to the policy change, according to the Oregonian newspaper.

“I very much plan to head to the nearest DMV and ask for that ID to be corrected on July 3rd,” Jamie Shupe said after Thursday’s decision.

“And then I’ll no doubt stand out front of the building, or sit in the car and cry.”

About 20,000 Oregonians identify as transgender, according to The Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Oregon is the only US state to allow an unspecified gender, but other countries including Germany, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand also allow a third gender option.

The Canadian province of Ontario also implemented the X option earlier this year.

California is also considering a similar policy change. The state senate in May passed a bill to add a third gender option to official state documents, including birth certificates, sending the measure to the state assembly.

Commissioner Sean O’Hollaren told the Oregonian the decision was the “right thing to do”.

“I hope those who will use X as an identifier will feel an element of comfort moving forward,” he said. “It’s something we’re not only doing because legally our hand is forced. It’s something we should do because it’s the right thing to do.”

Gender identity has become a major flashpoint across the US in places like North Carolina, which passed a bill forcing students to use toilets according to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The state passed a bill easing some of those restrictions in March, but Texas is considering a similar measure.

US President Donald Trump in February also rescinded his predecessor’s guidance to US public schools that allowed transgender students to use toilets matching their gender identity.

US woman sues casino that ‘offered dinner instead of $43m jackpot’

Katrina Bookman took a selfie showing the machine saying “printing cash ticket $42,949,672.76”.

A US woman is suing a casino that told her the slot machine displaying a $43m (£34m) jackpot was faulty and offered her a steak dinner instead, reports say.

Katrina Bookman took a selfie showing the machine saying “printing cash ticket $42,949,672.76” at the Resorts World Casino in New York last August.

But she was escorted out and was told the next day she could have just $2.25.

Her lawyer said he had tried for months to get the casino to offer more money.

The lawsuit filed at the Queens County Supreme Court said the Sphinx slot machine’s “bells, noises and lights” as well as the message on the screen told Ms Bookman she had won the jackpot, Courthouse News reported.

The subsequent disappointment left Ms Bookman anxious and depressed, the report said.

She is seeking damages from the casino for failing to maintain the slot machine as well as two companies that make and operate games machine, reports said.

A Resorts World spokesman said at the time that the machine had suffered an “obvious malfunction”.

The New York State Gaming Commission said the machine had been displaying a disclaimer that said “malfunctions void all pays and plays”.

But lawyer Alan Ripka told US media at the time that the casino had not responded to requests for an explanation about how the slot machine malfunctioned.

Before filing the lawsuit, Mr Ripka had reportedly been asking the casino to provide the Sphinx slot machine’s stated maximum payout of $6,500.

In 2011 the Iowa Supreme Court denied an 87-year old grandmother a payout of $42m after a Miss Kitty slot machine showed a message saying she had won a bonus of that amount.

10 Things to Know for Today

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today: 1. WHO IS VERIFYING IF IT KILLED ISLAMIC STATE LEADER Russia says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could have been killed in a Russian airstrike outside Raqqa in Syria — although he has been reported killed before. 2. US OFFICIAL: PENTAGON TO SEND 4,000 MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN

FILE – In this April 17, 2017, file photo, U.S. forces and Afghan commandos are seen in Asad Khil village near the site of a U.S. bombing in the Achin district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. The Pentagon will send almost 4,000 additional American forces to Afghanistan, a Trump administration official said June 15, hoping to break a stalemate in a war that has now passed to a third U.S. commander-in-chief. The deployment will be the largest of American manpower under Donald Trump’s young presidency. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Supporters of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., hold signs before the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

FILE- In this Aug. 13, 2004, file photo, Kirk Jones poses for a photo at Terrapin Point on the American side of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls State Park, N.Y. Jones, who survived a plunge over Niagara Falls without protection in 2003 has died after he went over again, this time inside an inflatable ball.
Police told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the body of the 53-year-old was found in the Niagara River by the U.S. Coast Guard on June 2, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Detroit Free Press via AP, File)

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:


Russia says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could have been killed in a Russian airstrike outside Raqqa in Syria — although he has been reported killed before.


It stands to be the largest deployment of American forces in Donald Trump’s young presidency.


Under the expected changes, the U.S. will ban American financial transactions with the dozens of enterprises run by the Cuban military-linked corporation GAESA.


The U.S. president lashes out at officials driving the Russia investigation as “very bad and conflicted people.”


House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi joins ranks with GOP lawmakers at the Congressional Baseball game, one day after a shooting rampage during a practice session seriously injures Rep. Steve Scalise.


Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose, accused of killing two prison guards, are held at gunpoint by a rural Tennessee homeowner whose vehicle they were trying to steal, authorities say.


“The community is just rallying. People have just shown up to help,” says Sinead O’Hare, a volunteer working at a donation point for people left homeless by the Grenfell Tower fire.


A diminished supply of available homes is swelling prices in large U.S. metro areas from New York to Los Angeles


The panel had deliberated about 30 hours before telling the judge that they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision in the actor’s sexual assault trial.


Kirk R. Jones, who went over the falls unprotected in 2003, died after another attempt, this time in an inflatable ball.

Trump tells Tangier Island mayor not to worry about sea-level rise

President Trump phoned Tangier Island (Md.) Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island’s erosion problem.

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The President of the United States took time out of his schedule Monday afternoon to place a telephone call to Tangier Island Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island that aired last week.
Produced by Megan Raymond

James “Ooker” Eskridge (left), mayor of the town of Tangier, gives Col. Jason Kelly, commander of the Norfolk District, a boat tour around Tangier Island, on December 4. Kelly came to brief the town of a little more than 700 people on the status of district projects around their island.(Photo: U. S. Army image/Patrick Bloodgood)

The President of the United States took time out of his schedule on Monday afternoon to place a telephone call to Tangier Island Mayor James “Ooker” Eskridge, after viewing a CNN report about the island that aired last week.

“It was unreal,” said Eskridge. “He called around 2 o’clock this afternoon.”

Staffers brought the CNN report to Trump’s attention, Eskridge said.

The president made the call during a day when his schedule also included a National Security Council briefing and leading a cabinet meeting in the morning, and welcoming to the White House the 2016 NCAA Football National Champion Clemson Tigers in the afternoon.

Eskridge first received a call from Tangier Oyster Co. The Virginia business had been contacted by the president’s office, looking for the mayor’s home telephone number.

“So I came in from crabbing and they said I got a call — I said, ‘That’s not real.’ Anyway, I hung around. I left for a short time to go to my crab house, and then came back and I got this call and the lady says, ‘I’m with the president’s office. The president would like to know if he could speak to you. I said, ‘Yes, he sure can,’ ” Eskridge said.

Trump introduced himself and told Eskridge, “You’ve got one heck of an island there.”

Eskridge had said during the CNN interview he loved Trump as much as he would a family member.

He recounted what Trump said next.

“He said, ‘I’ve just got to talk to that guy.’ “

Eskridge told the president that Tangier Island is “a huge supporter of Donald Trump. … This is a Trump island; we really love you down here.”

Eskridge continued: “I said, ‘The stuff you are doing is just common-sense stuff.’ I said, ‘I believe you’re for the working man — and you want people to get back to work — you’re for the military, and Israel and religious liberties — It’s all the stuff that we value.’ I said, ‘I believe you came along for such a time as this.’ “

A panoramic view of Tangier Island as viewed from a ferryboat. (Photo: Staff file photo by Jeremy Cox)

Trump told Eskridge he appreciated his comments and that Tangier looks like a beautiful place.

He also invited Eskridge to visit him when he travels to Washington, D.C.

According to Eskridge, the president also addressed the issue of sea-level rise as it affects Tangier.

“He said not to worry about sea-level rise,” Eskridge said. “He said, ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’ “

The island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay is a Republican stronghold — about 87 percent of residents voted for Trump in the November 2016 election.

Still, erosion is among the islanders’ main concerns, Eskridge said in an interview last November with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

PERSPECTIVE: Buying time for Chesapeake islands is a purchase worth making

The island, population about 450, is losing up to 16 feet of land a year, scientists say.

Islanders have been advocating for years for construction of a seawall to protect their home; a smaller project — a jetty to protect the harbor’s west entrance — is in the works and should come about in the near future.

“We’re taking it a step at a time,” Eskridge said Monday.

“The help is out there. Tangier can be saved,” Eskridge had said in the interview last fall.

“Tangier is a unique place and it’s well worth saving,” Eskridge said then.

 (Photo: AP)

Eskridge mentioned to Trump that the island had received “negative feedback” from the CNN story. He said Trump told him not to worry about it.

Tangier residents, many of whom work on the water, crabbing and oystering or on tugboats, are direct descendants of some of the earliest English settlers in Virginia and the old names, like Crockett, Pruitt and Eskridge, still are prevalent, as is the unique Tangier dialect some say dates to 17th-century England.

Most of the island is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On this day, the little island with the long history caught the attention of the nation’s leader.

“He said, ‘Me and my family, we love you and your family and we love the citizens of Tangier Island.’ So, Donald Trump knows about Tangier Island — that’s going to be the peak of my career,” Eskridge said.

For Eskridge, Monday’s phone call was a unique experience.

“The whole time I’m talking to him, it’s just in the back of my mind — I can’t believe Donald Trump’s on the phone with me. I mean, to call a crabber out here. I’m sure he had a busy schedule here on a Monday. I thanked him for that — I said, ‘I appreciate you taking time to call me,’ ” said Eskridge.

According to the mayor, Trump returned the compliment, saying, “You’re my kind of guy. When I saw the story, I said, ‘I’ve just got to talk to the mayor of Tangier.’ “

On Twitter @cvvaughnESN



How Jupiter split the asteroid belt in two shows its great age

An analysis of meteorites shows that Jupiter divided the rocks of the asteroid belt into two families within the first million years of the solar system

It’s one hell of a bowling ball. A comparison of meteorites has revealed that, in its youth, Jupiter carved a path through the solar system that separated space rocks into two separate families. And it did it within a million years of the dawn of the solar system, so Jupiter was already huge at least 4 billion years ago.

Meteorites found on Earth have different proportions of isotopes of the elements in them, depending on whether they are from a rock that originated inside or outside Jupiter’s orbit. Differences between the rocks are seen even in those chipped off planetesimals that were formed within a million years of the solar system’s formation, so they must have separated before that.

To have been big enough to carve such a gap in the protoplanetary disk – a cloud of dense gas and dust orbiting the newly formed sun – Jupiter’s core would have to have been about 20 times the mass of Earth. This new meteorite analysis, by Thomas Kruijer at the University of Münster in Germany and his colleagues, indicates the Jupiter must have reached that size within the solar system’s first million years.

Jupiter is thought to have formed like other gas giants: its rocky core came first, then it gradually accreted more material from the dust and gas around the sun, and later acquired its gassy envelope.

Kruijer’s team analysed 19 iron meteorites found on Earth that originated from small bodies that formed alongside Jupiter. The isotopes of elements in the rocks that formed inside Jupiter’s orbit had more elements of the type that are slowly built up in stars, whereas the ones from farther out in the solar system were enriched in the heavy elements that form faster in high-energy situations.

“These isotopic labels get carried around by very small dust grains,” says Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Somehow, you have to set up a situation in which these little dust grains get mixed around one part of the solar system but not the other.”

Some of the isotopes in the meteorites from outside Jupiter’s orbit are over half a million years younger, which means after Jupiter divided the disc, they were unable to hop the gap into the inner area.

“We need more evidence that says this is where those two meteorite classes form – one inward and one outward,” says Jonathan Lunine at Cornell University in New York. “But it’s a very nice measurement.”

The work supports one of the leading theories of the early solar system – the grand tack hypothesis. This supposes that Jupiter was born a few million years before Saturn and its enormous mass was tugged towards the sun. Once Saturn formed, however, its gravity pulled Jupiter back from the brink of stellar destruction and towards the outer solar system.

These two drifts across the solar system meant Jupiter crashed through the asteroid belt twice, mixing the two types of objects in the asteroid belt, leaving behind the well-mixed objects we see today.

“The really striking thing is that the grand tack was proposed before anyone knew about this isotopic labeling, but the isotopes really seem to agree well with the grand tack,” says Nimmo. “That’s kind of powerful.”

“It’s a really neat story,” says Nimmo, “and I think it’s probably right.”

Read more: Mars is so small because Jupiter shook up its formation

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