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US pullout from Syria begins amid confusion over Pentagon timetable

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Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, said the process of removing troops for the country had started.

But the Baghdad-based official did not give details and it is unclear how many vehicles or troop units had been withdrawn.

“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” he said in a statement.

The news follows weeks of confusion over Donald Trump’s plans for US withdrawal from the country.

Donald Trump
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Donald Trump has ordered the Syria pullout

It was announced that the 2,000 troops in Syria would be withdrawn over the course of 60 to 100 days, but officials including US national security adviser John Bolton have said the US States will not leave until IS is defeated.

President Trump shocked almost everyone – from Congress and the Pentagon, to America’s allies and enemies around the world – when he announced the pullout, arguing that the US was “getting nothing” from its involvement in the country.

The announcement was criticised by British defence minister Tobias Ellwood, who said IS had “morphed into other forms of extremism” and that the threat “is very much alive”.

The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the move had “dangerous implications” for stability, would “negatively affect the campaign against terrorism” and create “a political and military vacuum”.

In the weeks following his announcement, Mr Trump has given differing signals over the future of US involvement in the country.

After initially tweeting that he would bring back US troops “now”, Mr Trump this week said the US would “be leaving at a proper pace” while “continuing to fight IS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary”.

The news that a withdrawal had begun was confirmed on Thursday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the UK, which monitors activity in the war-town country through a network of activists.

It said a convoy of ten armoured vehicles and some trucks had pulled out of Rmeilan, in Syria’s north west, into Iraq.



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More than 50 children held hostage on bus in migrant death protest | World News

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A bus driver in Italy abducted more than 50 children, had their hands bound and set fire to the vehicle they were in to “protest” the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean.

After police forced the bus to stop, officers broke the glass of the back door of the burning bus, allowing all 51 children and their chaperones to escape from the bus without any serious injuries.

The driver, an Italian citizen of Senegalese origin in his forties, said he was protesting over migrant deaths, commander Luca De Marchis told local media.

Local media named him as Ousseynou Sy and said he was being investigated on suspicion of kidnapping, intention to commit mass murder, arson and resisting law enforcement.

The bus driver is believed to have been protesting migrant deaths
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The bus driver said he was protesting migrant deaths

Mr De Marchis told Sky24 TV the driver had told his passengers “no-one would survive”.

Two school classes were on the bus in Cremona province, some 25 miles (40km) from Milan.

A student told local news the driver confiscated phones and ordered guardians on the bus to tie the students’ hands with cable ties – but that one pupil managed to hide their phone.

Authorities said that an adult called the emergency services and a student called parents who alerted authorities.

Roadblocks were set up and the bus was intercepted by police, who forced it into a guardrail on the outskirts of Milan.

The burned out bus
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The driver set fire to the bus when police arrived

As police began to get the hostages off the bus, the driver managed to set fire to the vehicle.

Mr De Marchis congratulated the officers’ “swiftness and courage” and thanked them for rescuing the hostages “with no tragic consequences”.

Some of the passengers were treated in hospital, mostly for cuts and scratches sustained while escaping the vehicle. The driver is being treated for burns and was detained.

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Fed sees no US interest rate rise this year as economy slows | Business News

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The US Federal Reserve has signalled there will be no interest rate hikes in 2019, citing a slowdown in economic growth.

The announcement by the country’s central bank marked a dramatic climbdown from its expectations at the end of 2018, when it had forecast two rate rises this year.

The Fed first admitted in January that its gradual path of rate increases was at risk as it noted “global economic and financial developments” – many related to the US trade war with China.

Following its latest two-day meeting, the bank’s federal open market committee said that while it was reiterating a “patient” approach and keeping its benchmark rate within its current range of 2.25% to 2.5%, it was acting now to hold down long-term interest rates and maintain demand for credit.

Jerome Powell is expected to replace Janet Yellen in February
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Fed chair Jay Powell said the US economy would feel the effects of slower growth abroad

The Fed said it would slow the unwinding of its crisis-era $1.1tn (£830bn) asset purchase programme from May.

The monthly reduction of its holdings of Treasury bonds would fall from up to $30bn (£22.7bn) a month currently to up to $15bn (£11.3bn), the statement said.

It added that it planned to end the balance sheet Treasury bond reductions in September, with redemptions of mortgage-backed securities then being reinvested in Treasury bonds.

The Fed’s pause in credit tightening is a result of slowdowns in both the US and wider global economies – which was evident to market observers as well as policymakers when the bank last raised rates in December.

The Fed said it was expecting economic growth of 2.1% in 2019 – down from earlier estimates of 2.3%.

The dollar weakened by up to 0.6% against a basket of international currencies, including the pound, after the announcement while US stock markets pared losses.

At a news conference, the Fed’s chair Jay Powell said the US economy would feel the effects of slower growth abroad, particularly in Europe.

He told reporters potential risks included Brexit and the effects of the US-China trade war, but insisted that the extra tariffs imposed by China on US goods were having only a limited impact domestically.

Commenting on the investor reaction Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington, told the Reuters news agency: “The Fed exceeded markets’ dovish expectations, which took a toll on the greenback.

“The Fed did a big about-face on policy. The fact that the Fed threw in the towel on a 2019 rate hike was particularly dovish.”

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Scientist uses satellite imagery to create video of enormous meteor explosion | Science & Tech News

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A scientist from the University of Oxford has used satellite data to create a video of an enormous explosion in the atmosphere which took place last year, but was only recently discovered.

The blast from the meteor was 10 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and was first spotted by a US military satellite being referred to NASA.

Now, a team from the University of Oxford has created a video of the incident based on data captured by the Japanese meteorological agency’s Himawari satellites.

Dr Simon Proud of the Atmospheric Physics Department told Sky News: “We process the Himawari data ‘live’ as it comes in from the satellite and then archive all the resulting images and science data. So for this video I just had to go back into our archive and grab the right images.”

The Himawari satellite takes “one picture of the whole Earth every 10 minutes,” explained Dr Proud, who said: “The video is an zoomed-in animation of these 10 minute frames and covers around 4.5 hours in total.”

Running from roughly 11.30pm GMT on 18 December to 3.50am the next morning, the video shows the smoke trail from the meteor as it passes over the Bering Strait.

Meteor explosion
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The meteor exploded just 16 miles above the Earth. File image.

An atmospheric physicist at the University of Oxford and the UK’s National Centre for Earth Observation, Dr Proud researches how data from satellites can detect bad weather (thunderstorms and turbulence) as it happens.

This helps to make air travel safer and more efficient by alerting airlines to where this bad weather is, Dr Proud explained.

He added: “The same weather satellites can also see many other interesting phenomena, and it was exciting to see the trail made by the meteor in some of our satellite data, which is why I made the video.”

The blast from the meteor was the second-largest such explosion in the last century, just behind the meteor which exploded over the Russian region of Chelyabinsk in 2013.

It was just 25.6km (16 miles) above the planet’s surface and hurtling down at a steep angle of seven degrees when the friction of the atmosphere caused it to explode.

The explosion was detected by US military satellites last year, and subsequently referred to NASA.

According to NASA’s planetary defence officer Lindley Johnson, the fireball exploded near to a common flight route, and so researchers are asking airlines if they saw any signs of it.

The blast from the Bering Sea meteor was only 40% as powerful as the Chelyabinsk meteor strike in 2013, in which hundreds of people were injured.

It briefly outshone the sun and inflicted severe burns on observers below, as well as smashing windows and rattling buildings.

Dr Proud published a paper in 2013 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters about how his team reconstructed the orbit of the Chelyabinsk meteor using satellite observations.

It was the largest object to hit Earth since the Tunguska event of 1908, when an exploding body destroyed 2,000 square kilometres of Siberian forest.

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