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Netanyahu Stares Down UN General Assembly

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Iran nuclear deal in a Thursday speech to the UN General Assembly.

With no way to defeat the deal with Iran signed by the U.S. and five world powers, Netanyahu spent most of his speech on other pressing issues, but he pulled no punches when discussing his concerns about a deal that he feels would allow Iran a route to a nuclear weapon.

“After three days of listening to world leaders praising the deal with Iran,” Netanyahu said, “I begin my speech by saying, ladies and gentleman, check your enthusiasm at the door.”

“This deal doesn’t make peace more likely,” he remarked. “By fueling Iran’s aggressions by billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.”

“If Iran’s rulers were working to destroy your countries, perhaps you’d be somewhat less enthusiastic about the deal,” Netanyahu added. “If Iran’s terror proxies were firing thousands of rockets at your cities, perhaps you’d be more measured in your praise.”

And yet “the response from this body,” Netanyahu said “has been absolutely nothing. Utter silence. Deafening silence.”

He stared silently at a number of the representatives in attendance for more than 40 seconds, appearing frustrated, before remarking that “perhaps you can now understand why Israel is not joining you in celebrating this deal.”

In addition to reaffirming his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu focused more on Iran’s support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. He argued that Iran is helping Hezbollah to set up new terrorist networks on the Syrian side of Golan Heights.

Netanyahu also criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to hold direct peace talks with Israel.

On the Temple Mount clashes, Netanyahu repeated that Israel has no intention to take over, divide or allow non-Muslim prayer at the holy site — all of which he called lies by the Palestinians.

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Afghan Military Claims Victory After Retaking Kunduz from Taliban

NASIR WAQIF/AFP/Getty Images(KUNDUZ, Afghanistan) — The Afghan government claims that its military forces have retaken the northern city of Kunduz that was seized by hundreds of Taliban fighters on Monday. A large Afghan force, supported by American airstrikes, retook the city in a bloody fight that the Afghan military says killed 150 Taliban fighters and injured 90. It is expected that Taliban fighters outside the city could soon launch a new offensive against Afghan military forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced Thursday that Afghan military forces had retaken Kunduz following a six-hour assault on hundreds of Taliban fighters.

“We thank God we had no fatalities,” Ghani claimed as he praised Afghan security forces who “were able to foil one of the most significant operations to have taken place in Afghanistan in fourteen years.”

American officials had acknowledged that the Taliban’s takeover of Kunduz was a setback for Afghan security forces that have received U.S. and NATO training for more than a decade.

A U.S. official told ABC News that while Kunduz is back in the hands of the Afghan military, the city will likely remain contested as the Taliban has massed forces outside the city in an attempt to retake it.

Appearing alongside Ghani, Afghan Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi praised the performance of Afghan security forces.

“We never took our eyes off the ball,” he said. “We had to protect citizens and so the security forces retreated.”

The Afghan counteroffensive was supported by American and coalition special forces.

A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul confirmed that American military aircraft conducted as many as five airstrikes “to eliminate threats to coalition and Afghan forces.”

The U.S. still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, serving as part of a training mission that will conclude by the end of next year. After that planned draw down the only U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would involve several hundred personnel at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The Taliban takeover of Kunduz has raised concerns that the Afghan security forces may not be ready to fend off expected Taliban offensives once American troops leave at the end of next year.

U.S. officials confirm that General John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has prepared troop level options that could keep a U.S. military force in Afghanistan beyond 2016.

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US and Russia Hold Talks to Clear Up Syrian Airspace

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The United States and Russia began talks via video link Thursday to keep their respective military aircraft from coming into contact over the skies of Syria, where both countries are now conducting airstrike operations.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said that it was clear that ISIS was not targeted by Russian aircraft on Wednesday.

On Monday, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that both nations should work out details to hold the talks as it appeared that Russia would soon begin air operations in Syria.

Two days later, U.S. officials were surprised that Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria even before details had been worked out for when to hold the talks.

The U.S. did not receive advance notification of the start of the Russian airstrikes until an hour before when a Russian general went to the American embassy in Baghdad to request that American aircraft vacate the area where the missions would strike.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter later described that initial Russian contact as a “drop in” and labeled that kind of notification as “unprofessional.” He told reporters that his goals for the talks to “de-conflict” Syrian airspace would be “to facilitate the flow of information between coalition forces and Russian elements that will help us maintain the safety of our personnel in the region, which is critical. To ensure that any additional Russian actions do not interfere with our coalition’s efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. And to clarify that broader U.S. security commitments in the region remain unchanged.”

Defense officials confirmed that the talks began Thursday morning via a secure video conference between officials at the Pentagon and their Russian counterparts.

The U.S. team is headed by Elissa Slotkin, the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs and vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, the Joint Staff’s Director of Strategic Plans and Policy.

A military spokesman in Baghdad said the Russian strikes had not affected U.S. air operations over Syria.

Warren confirmed that Russian aircraft conducted more than half a dozen strikes on Wednesday, but did not have information as to how many airstrikes may have taken place today.

“In the last 24 hours, we have conducted several sorties over Syria,” said Col. Steve Warren. “We have not altered operations in Syria to accommodate new players on the battlefield.”

While noting that there is always the risk of a miscalculation or inadvertent contact involving aircraft from different nations over the skies of Syria, he also noted there are “a lot of square miles in Syria”and American pilots “have terrific situation awareness.”

Warren said that even though Russia has claimed that it is striking at ISIS targets inside Syria, “We don’t believe that they struck ISIL targets.“

A U.S. official told ABC News that Wednesday’s airstrikes near Homs and Hama struck al Nusra and Free Syrian Army locations. The Free Syrian Army is a moderate opposition force that has received assistance from the U.S. for several years. There were also reports that other groups that have received training and equipment from the CIA were also struck by Russian …read more […]

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NASA’s Dawn Probe Uncovers New Mysteries on Dwarf Planet Ceres

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA(NEW YORK) — NASA’s Dawn probe has unlocked new mysteries about the terrain of the dwarf planet Ceres, including irregularly shaped craters and a solitary 4-mile-high mountain.

New images and data sent back to Earth from the mission have captivated scientists — while also raising new questions about the dwarf planet’s topographical features.

“Ceres continues to amaze, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energetic particle bursts,” Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, said in a statement.

One of the new mysteries includes observations from Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which found that three bursts of energized electrons could possibly be the result of interaction between Ceres and the sun’s radiation, however the hypothesis is still being investigated.

Another shows the cone-shaped 4-mile-high mountain in the Occator crater, which is also home to some of Ceres’ brightest spots. Scientists are still trying to determine what processes could have created the mountain or shaped Ceres’ irregular craters.

Nearly 600 miles in diameter, about 25 percent of Ceres’ mass is believed to be ice. Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will begin this month descending to its lowest orbit of Ceres, reaching an altitude of 230 miles. The probe has been orbiting Ceres since March and will continue studying the dwarf planet through June 2016.

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Netanyahu to Highlight Iran and Middle East Terrorism in UN Speech

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Unlike in past years, the Iranian nuclear threat will not make up the centerpiece of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the UN General Assembly. With no way to defeat the deal with Iran signed by the U.S. and five world powers, Netanyahu will spend most of his speech on other pressing issues.

While Netanyahu is expected to repeat his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, he likely will focus more on Iran’s support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. He’ll argue that Iran is helping Hezbollah to set up new terrorist networks on the Syrian side of Golan Heights.

Netanyahu also is expected to criticize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to hold direct peace talks with Israel.

On the Temple Mount clashes, Netanyahu will most likely repeat that Israel has no intention to take over, divide or allow non-Muslim prayer at the holy site — all of which he called lies by the Palestinians.

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Russia Targets in Syria Chosen in Cooperation With Assad Army

Mohammed Khair/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) — Russia has launched at least 20 air strikes in northern Syria, its Defense Ministry said Thursday, marking Russia’s biggest Middle East intervention in decades.

While Russian officials say they bombed at least four ISIS targets including “headquarters and coordination centers in the mountains,” U.S. officials are concerned that is not the case and that Russia is targeting other militants, some of which could be U.S.-backed. The Russian military website also posted a video of the strikes.

“It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces, and that is precisely one of the problems with this whole approach,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday, using the government’s acronym for ISIS.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “these targets have been determined in coordination with the Syrian armed forces,” and that “all the flights took place after air surveillance and careful verification of the data provided by the Syrian military.”

A pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad TV station in Lebanon, Al Mayadeen, reported Thursday that the strikes in the area of Jisr al-Shugour targeted militants of the “Army of Conquest,” which is dominated by hardline Islamist factions, including Nusra (al Qaeda), not ISIS.

At a news conference Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they agreed their countries should meet soon on the Syrian situation.

“We agreed on the imperative of as soon as possible, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, but as soon as possible, having a military-to-military deconfliction discussion,” Kerry said.

Such an approach would ensure that Russian aircraft do not interfere or clash with Western warplanes, which are already operating in the area.

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Afghan Officials Claim to Have Regained Control of City from Taliban

NASIR WAQIF/AFP/Getty Images(KUNDUZ, Afghanistan) — Afghan officials claim to have regained partial control of the city of Kunduz from the Taliban after the city fell to the group earlier this week.

BBC News reports that an overnight operation involving Afghan forces recaptured government landmarks and killed numerous members of the militant group. The Taliban, however, still claims it controls large swaths of the city.

A senior military officer in Afghanistan told ABC News that the Taliban has control of some of the buildings in Kunduz, but that the Afghan police force has retaken the police station and the prison.

U.S. Army Col. Brian Tribus said in a statement that U.S. forces had conducted six airstrikes in an effort to “eliminate threats to coalition and Afghan forces.” The strikes were aimed around the Kunduz airport and on the outskirts of the city.

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Residents in England Evacuated Overnight Due to Massive Sinkhole

ABC News(HERTFORDSHIRE, England) — Residents were evacuated overnight in St. Albans, north of London, after a 32-foot deep and 66-foot wide sinkhole appeared in front of a driveway.

“Fire crews attended a sink hole on Fontmell Close, St. Albans,” Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service tweeted, “and worked with other agencies to ensure people were safely evacuated.”

Properties around the sinkhole have reportedly been cut off from electricity and gas because of a smell of gas, and highway engineers are assessing the damage before repairing the crater.

“Holes of this kind crop up across Hertfordshire often for historic reasons and we’d like to reassure the public that it is rare for them to turn into large holes,” Richard Thake, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, told local radio BOBfm Home Counties.

The local Fire and Rescue Service said an evacuation center had been set up and was being assisted by the British Red Cross.

In August, a large hole reported to be 40 feet deep appeared on a busy road in Manchester, while earlier in the year, “Traigh Golf Course” on Scotland’s west coast saw a sinkhole cause $25,000 in damage.

“The strata at the site consist of about 13ft of sands, silt and gravels overlying chalk,” Peter Hobbs, from the British Geological Survey, told the Press Association while adding that “sinkholes in this chalk formation are not uncommon.”

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