Hello

Congratulations

Monthly Archives: December 2016

1 2 3 12

Business: US stocks move lower in afternoon trading; oil heads down

NEW YORK (AP) — The latest on developments in financial markets (All times local):

4:00 p.m.

U.S. stocks are closing out a solid year following a flat 2015.

Indexes ended the last week of 2016 on a soft note, slipping in quiet trading Friday ahead of the New Year’s Day weekend.

For the year, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 9.5 percent, its fourth year of gains in the last five.

Technology stocks led a broad decline on the last day of trading of the year.

Chipmaker Nvidia slumped 4.2 percent, the biggest loss in the S&P 500. It’s still the biggest gainer for the year overall, having tripled in value.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 57 points, or 0.3 percent, to 19,762.

The S&P 500 fell 10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,238. The Nasdaq declined 48 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,383.

____

Technology companies led U.S. stock indexes modestly lower Friday afternoon on the final day of trading for the year. Real estate stocks and banks were on track to eke out small gains. Trading was subdued ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average slid 55 points, or 0.3 percent, to 19,764 as of 2:27 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,238. The Nasdaq composite gave up 52 points, or 1 percent, to 5,380.

THE QUOTE: “So many times we look for a rally at the end of the year, particularly between Christmas and New Year’s,” said J.J. Kinahan, TD Ameritrade’s chief strategist. “But with the incredible up move we’ve had since the election, people are either hesitant to buy things heading into the new year or are taking a little bit of profit.”

TALKED OUT: Charter Communications lost 2.1 percent on reports that talks with NBCUniversal are going badly, which could potentially lead to a blackout for Spectrum subscribers. Charter gave up $6.20 to $286 and was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500.

NOT PUMPED: Opko Health slumped 19.9 percent after a trial of a long-acting human growth hormone product produced disappointing results. The stock lost $2.27 to $9.19.

YELLOW CARD: Cabela’s fell 4.8 percent after the sporting goods chain said antitrust regulators have asked it to provide more information about its proposed sale to rival Bass Pro Shops for $4.5 billion. The companies said they still expect to close the deal in the first half of 2017. Cabela’s shares were down $2.93 to $58.75.

SHARP MOVE: Iconix Brand Group rose 5.5 percent after the company said it would sell its Sharper Image brand for $100 million to ThreeSixty Group, the largest Sharper Image licensee. Iconix shares added 49 cents to $9.45.

ATTENTION-GETTER: Mylan rose 73 cents, or 2 percent, to $38.12. The drugmaker has begun selling a generic version of Concerta, a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

LEADING THE PACK: Endo International was up 4.2 percent, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500. The stock added 66 cents to $16.34. End is the worst-performing stock in the index this year, off by more than 73 percent.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: Global stocks mostly rose on the year’s last day of trading, with Britain’s index rallying to hit another all-time high. The FTSE 100, which was trading for only a half day, rose 0.3 percent. That leaves the index 14.4 percent higher over 2016. Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent, while France’s CAC 40 gained 0.5 percent higher. Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.2 percent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 1 percent.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 19 cents to $53.58 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 26 cents to $56.59 a barrel in London.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.44 percent from 2.48 percent late Thursday. In currency trading, the dollar strengthened to 116.79 yen from 116.65 yen late Thursday. The euro rose to $1.0547 from $1.0485.

METALS: The price of gold fell $6.40 to $1,151.70 an ounce. Silver slid 23 cents to $15.99 an ounce. Copper rose 2 cents to $2.51 a pound.

New England digs out from heavy snow as a winter storm brews in the West

(PhatzNewsRoom / USA Today)    —-   Portions of northern New England were digging out from more than two feet of snow Friday as the first winter storm of the season knocked out power and created hazardous road conditions.

Meanwhile, residents of the Pacific Northwest braced for another round of weather expected to bring rain to southern California and more snow to the Great Lakes and New England.

In the first few days of 2017, parts of the Plains, Midwest and Northeast can expect a “wintry mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain,” according to The Weather Underground. Look for freezing rain, sleet or even snow along parts of Interstate 80, from northern New Jersey to Nebraska, into Sunday night, the Weather Underground forecast.

By Monday, snow, sleet or freezing rain is likely into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with sleet or freezing rain from northern Pennsylvania to New York and, by Monday, into New England.

By Tuesday, snow — heavy at times — is likely to pound parts of the northern Plains, upper Midwest and northern Great Lakes.

In Maine, the latest strong winter blast left more than 100,000 people without power and dumped 27 inches of snow in Naples, Oxford and Standish, Maine, the National Weather Service reported.

The weather service recorded more than 17 inches in Mount Washington, N.H., the highest peak in the Northeast, where officials said there was “considerable danger” of an avalanche. Moretown, Vt., reported more than 10 inches of snow.

The heavy snow and slippery driving conditions in New England were likely factors in the death of a 69-year-old man whose car went off the road and crashed into a tree in Cornwall, Vt., Vermont State Police said.

Strong winds, as high as 52 mph in Mashpee, Mass., and 48 mph in Warwick, R.I., also hit the area.

Ski areas, however, cheered the heavy snow. Mount Snow in Vermont has received more snow so far this year than it did all of last season. Loon Mountain in New Hampshire has 51 trails open compared to just 17 at this time last winter, the Associated Press reported.

Putin says Russia won’t expel US diplomats in hacking flap

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin castigated the United States on Friday for imposing sanctions and expelling Russian diplomats amid allegations of Russian meddling in the American presidential election, but said no U.S. diplomats will be ousted in reprisal for President Barack Obama’s moves in the wake of hacking attacks.

In a burgeoning controversy surrounding complaints from the Obama administration about a cyberattack against America’s political system, the White House on Thursday unleashed a string of sanctions and coupled them with an order that 35 Russians be expelled.

Putin, however, said on Friday that Moscow would not eject American diplomats in response to what he described as “provocation aimed at further undermining Russian-American relations” less than a month before Donald Trump is to take over the White House.

The decision came as a surprise; tit-for-tat expulsions are common diplomatic practice and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had suggested hours before Putin’s announcement that Russia would oust 31 American diplomats.

“The Russian diplomats returning home will spend the New Year holidays with their relatives and dear ones,” Putin said in a statement published on the Kremlin website. “We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats. We will not expel anybody.”

He added: “Moreover, I am inviting all children of U.S. diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas parties at the Kremlin.”

Putin appeared to aim at playing a long game and at making a barbed reminder that Obama is a lame duck.

“Putin’s asymmetric response to Obama’s new sanctions is an investment in the incoming Trump presidency,” Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said on Twitter. “A different kind of tit-for-tat: even as Obama seeks to constrain Trump in his Russia policy, Putin counters that step with a show of magnanimity.”

The diplomatic confrontation between Washington and Moscow, which had been festering even before Trump won the Nov. 8 presidential election, puts pressure on the billionaire businessman not to let Russia off the hook after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Russia’s government had threatened retaliation, and it continues to deny U.S. accusations that it hacked and stole emails to try to help Trump win.

Trump said the U.S. should move on, but in a sign he was no longer totally brushing off the allegations, he plans to meet with U.S. intelligence leaders next week to learn more.

In his statement published on Friday, Putin said Russia will not bar the diplomats’ “families and their children from using their favorite places of recreation during the holidays.”

New Year’s Eve has been the main holiday in Russia since Soviet times. Russians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7

Obama on Thursday ordered sanctions against the GRU and FSB, the Russian intelligence agencies the U.S. said were involved in the hacking attacks. In an elaborately coordinated response by at least five federal agencies, the Obama administration also sought to expose Russia’s cyber tactics with a detailed technical report and hinted it might still launch a covert counterattack.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” said Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii.

Yet the sanctions could easily be pulled back by Trump, who has insisted that Obama and Democrats are merely attempting to delegitimize his election.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged earlier on Friday that Washington has become immersed in “anti-Russian death throes.”

Medvedev, who focused on improving U.S.-Russia ties when he was president from 2008-2012, called the latest diplomatic breach “sad” in a Twitter post.

U.S. relations with Russia have suffered during Obama’s presidency as he and Putin tussled over Ukraine, Edward Snowden and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, took to Facebook to call the Obama administration “a group of foreign policy losers, angry and ignorant.”

As part of the punishment leveled against Moscow, the U.S. kicked out 35 Russian diplomats, in response to Russia’s harassment of U.S. diplomats. Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland that U.S. officials said were being used for intelligence were also shut down.

It was the strongest retaliation the Obama administration has taken for a cyberattack, and more comprehensive than last year’s sanctions on North Korea after it hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. The new penalties add to existing U.S. sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Senior Obama administration officials said that even with the penalties, the U.S. had reason to believe Russia would keep hacking other nations’ elections and might well try to hack American elections again in 2018 or 2020. The officials briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

Though the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint report on “Russian malicious cyber activity” the government still has not released a broader report Obama has promised detailing Russia’s efforts to interfere with U.S. elections.

The report has been eagerly anticipated by those hoping to make it politically untenable for Trump to continue questioning whether Russia was really involved.

Obama’s move puts Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office. U.S. officials suggested that building the case against Russia now would make it harder for Trump to justify easing up. Putin mentioned on Friday that Russia will be taking steps in the bilateral relations depending on what Trump does once he’s sworn in.

___

Lederman reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Washington and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.

US levels sanctions against Russia over election hacking

HONOLULU (AP) — The United States is unleashing a string of sanctions and other punitive measures against Russia amid allegations that it engaged in cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign, and Moscow is responding with a threat to expel dozens of Americans.

The diplomatic showdown, which has been building for weeks, puts pressure on President-elect Donald Trump not to let Moscow off the hook after he takes office.

Russia’s government threatened retaliation and continued to deny U.S. accusations that it hacked and stole emails to try to help Trump win. Trump said the U.S. should move on, but in a sign he was no longer totally brushing off the allegations, he planned to meet with U.S. intelligence leaders next week to learn more.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expanded on the threat of retaliation Friday, suggesting 35 American diplomatic personnel be kicked out of the country.

In televised remarks, Lavrov said the foreign ministry and other agencies have suggested that President Vladimir Putin order expulsion of 31 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. Another suggestion is to bar American diplomats from using their summer retreat on the outskirts of Moscow and a warehouse south of Moscow.

A month after an election the U.S. says Russia tried to sway for Trump, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies the U.S. said were involved. In an elaborately coordinated response by at least five federal agencies, the Obama administration also sought to expose Russia’s cyber tactics with a detailed technical report and hinted it might still launch a covert counterattack.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” said Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii. He added, “Such activities have consequences.”

He said the response wasn’t over and the U.S. could take further, covert action — a thinly veiled reference to a counterstrike in cyberspace the U.S. has been considering.

Yet the sanctions could easily be pulled back by Trump, who has insisted that Obama and Democrats are merely attempting to delegitimize his election.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged Friday that Washington has become immersed in “anti-Russian death throes.”

Medvedev, who focused on improving U.S.-Russia ties when he was president from 2008-2012, called the latest diplomatic breach “sad” in a Twitter post.

As part of the punishment leveled against Moscow, the U.S. kicked out 35 Russian diplomats, in response to Russia’s harassment of U.S. diplomats. They also shut down Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland that U.S. officials said were being used for intelligence.

It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack, and more comprehensive than last year’s sanctions on North Korea after it hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. The new penalties add to existing U.S. sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which have impaired Russia’s economy but had limited impact on President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.

Russia called the penalties a clumsy yet aggressive attempt to “harm Russian-American ties.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take into account the fact that Trump will soon replace Obama as it drafts retaliatory measures.

U.S. relations with Russia have suffered during Obama’s years in office as he and Putin tussled over Ukraine, Edward Snowden and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, took to Facebook to call the Obama administration “a group of foreign policy losers, angry and ignorant.”

It was unlikely the new sanctions, while symbolically significant, would have a major impact on Russian spy operations. The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets and block Americans from doing business with them. But Russian law bars the spy agencies from having assets in the U.S., and any activities they undertake would likely be covert and hard to identify.

“On its face, this is more than a slap on the wrists, but hardly an appropriate response to an unprecedented attack on our electoral system,” said Stewart Baker, a cybersecurity lawyer and former National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security official.

Indeed, senior Obama administration officials said that even with the penalties, the U.S. had reason to believe Russia would keep hacking other nations’ elections and might well try to hack American elections again in 2018 or 2020. The officials briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

Though the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint report on “Russian malicious cyber activity” — replete with examples of malware code used by the Russians — it still has not released a broader report Obama has promised detailing Russia’s efforts to interfere with U.S. elections.

The report has been eagerly anticipated by those hoping to make it politically untenable for Trump to continue questioning whether Russia was really involved. But U.S. officials said those seeking more detail about who the U.S. has determined did the hacking need look only to the list of sanctions targets, which includes the GRU head, his three deputies, and two Russian nationals wanted by the FBI for cybercrimes.

The move puts Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office, and U.S. officials acknowledged that Trump could use his executive authorities to do so. Still, they suggested that building the case against Russia now would make it harder for Trump to justify easing up.

U.S. allegations of hacking have ignited a heated debate over Trump’s approach to Russia and his refusal to accept the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s government was responsible and wanted to help him win. Though U.S. lawmakers have long called for Obama to be tougher on Russia, some Republicans have found that position less tenable now that Trump is floating the possibility of closer ties to Moscow.

“While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was trying to help Trump when hackers connected to the government breached Democratic Party computers and stole tens of thousands of emails that were then posted on WikiLeaks, some containing embarrassing information about Democrats. Clinton aide John Podesta’s emails were also stolen and released publicly in the final weeks of the campaign.

___

Abdollah reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

Syria’s cease-fire holding despite minor violations

BEIRUT (AP) — A nationwide Syrian cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that went into effect at midnight was holding Friday despite minor violations, marking a potential breakthrough in a conflict that has been shredding high-level peace initiatives for over five years.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes early Friday between troops and rebels in the central province of Hama and near the capital, Damascus, but said there have been no reports of civilian casualties since the truce began.

Opposition activist Mazen al-Shami, who is based in the Damascus suburb of Douma, said minor clashes nearby left one rebel wounded. Activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh, in the southern Daraa province, said government forces had opened fire on rebel-held areas.

Several past attempts at halting the fighting have failed. As with previous agreements, the current cease-fire excludes both the al-Qaida-affiliated Fatah al-Sham Front, which fights alongside other rebel factions, and the Islamic State group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the cease-fire will be guaranteed by both Moscow and Turkey, and the agreement has been welcomed by Iran. Moscow and Tehran provide crucial military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has long served as a rear base and source of supplies for the rebels.

Russia said the deal was signed by seven of Syria’s major rebel factions, though none of them immediately confirmed it, and one denied signing it.

The truce came on the heels of a Russian-Turkish agreement earlier this month to evacuate the last rebels from eastern Aleppo after they were confined to a tiny enclave by a government offensive. The retaking of all of Aleppo marked Assad’s greatest victory since the start of the 2011 uprising against his family’s four-decade rule.

“The defeat of the terrorists in Aleppo is an important step toward ending the war,” Assad said in an interview with TG5, an Italian TV station, adding that the capture of the city does not mean that the war has ended because “terrorists” are still in Syria.

The United States was left out of both agreements, reflecting the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington after the failure of previous diplomatic efforts on Syria.

In an interview with TG5, and Italian TV station, Assad said “we are more optimistic, with caution,” about the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has suggested greater cooperation with Russia against extremist groups.

“We can say part of the optimism could be related to better relation between the United States and Russia,” Assad said, speaking in English.

“Mr. Trump, during his campaign – (said) that his priority is fighting terrorism, and we believe that this is the beginning of the solution, if he can implement what he announced,” Assad said in the interview, which was apparently filmed before the cease-fire was announced.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency meanwhile quoted the military as saying Russia carried out three airstrikes against Islamic State targets near the northern town of al-Bab, where Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces have been battling the extremist group. The strikes indicated that Russia and Turkey may work together to combat IS once the fighting elsewhere in Syria has been halted.

The Turkish military statement quoted by Anadolu did not say when the Russian air strikes took place, but said they killed 12 IS militants.

Separately, 26 IS militants, including some senior commanders, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on al-Bab and the Daglabash region, and some 17 IS targets were destroyed, Anadolu reported. It said a Turkish soldier was kill in a IS attack on troops south of the al-Azrak area.

Turkey sent troops and tanks into northern Syria in August to help opposition forces clear a border area of IS militants and curb the advances of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, who are also battling the extremist group.

____

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

With clock ticking, Palestinians pin hopes on Paris summit

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — After a pair of diplomatic victories, the Palestinians are now setting their sights on a Mideast peace conference in France next month in a bid to rally support as they prepare for the uncertainty of the Trump administration.

The Palestinians are hopeful that a strong international endorsement in Paris will insulate them from what they fear will be a close alliance between President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With their hopes for gaining independence in a deep freeze, the Palestinians had a rare week of optimism. First, the U.S. allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt Resolution 2334, which declared Israeli settlements on occupied lands illegal. Then, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a farewell speech that harshly criticized Israeli settlements, saying Israel’s continued construction was imperiling hopes for a peace agreement and endangering the country’s democracy.

Palestinian officials say they are now counting on the French-hosted Mideast peace conference to build on the momentum and set clear terms of reference for any future negotiations with Israel. Some 70 nations are expected to attend, although Israel and the Palestinians will not be participating.

“The tools we have now are Security Council Resolution 2334, the Kerry speech and the Paris conference,” said Husam Zumlot, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said the Palestinians would seek to make the resolution “a base for any political initiative.”

The Palestinians seek the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, for an independent state. They say that Israeli settlements in these areas, now home to about 600,000 Israelis, are threatening their hopes for independence by taking in lands where they hope to establish their state.

The latest U.N. resolution, along with Kerry’s speech, essentially endorsed the Palestinian position by calling for the pre-1967 lines to serve as the reference point for a final border. Netanyahu, who opposes a return to the 1967 lines, has condemned the moves as “skewed” and “shameful.” Netanyahu says all disputes must be settled through direct negotiations without any preconditions, and that any international pressure undermines the negotiating process.

In a speech on Thursday, Netanyahu dismissed Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as a “marginal issue.” The real issue, he said, is the “collapse of entire nations, of entire states in internal conflict, and in the wars of radical Islam over the future of the Arab world and the Muslim world.”

With the gaps so wide, and with little faith in the U.S. as a neutral broker, the Palestinians have long tried to engage the international community in their conflict with Israel, seeking membership in the U.N. and other international bodies to promote their cause.

“We are going to end the old formula of direct talks with Israel under U.S. sponsorship,” Zumlot said. “Now we have the tools to do that.”

That strategy appears even more critical as Trump prepares to assume the presidency. While the president elect has not outlined a Mideast strategy, he has given a number of signs that he will be far more sympathetic to Netanyahu than was the Obama White House.

His campaign platform made no mention of Palestinian independence, an objective of Republican and Democrat presidents for the past two decades, and his choice for ambassador to Israel has strong ties to the West Bank settler movement. He has promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite Palestinian objections, and says Obama has treated Israel with “total disdain.”

“Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” Trump wrote on his Twitter feed shortly before Kerry’s speech on Wednesday.

Netanyahu replied with his own tweet, thanking Trump for his “warm friendship” and “clear-cut support for Israel.”

The Palestinians have said little about Trump publicly, but some officials privately say they are concerned about his budding friendship with Netanyahu. Earlier this month, Trump transition officials turned down a request to meet with a Palestinian delegation in Washington, after holding meetings with several senior Israeli officials, including the head of the Mossad spy agency.

Jibril Rajoub, a senior Palestinian official, played down the Trump-Netanyahu partnership. “What can this alliance to do us?” he said. “They know that any pressure tactics on us would lead to deterioration. That is not in the interest of anyone.”

In the meantime, the Palestinians say they are pressing forward with an outreach program to the Israeli public in hopes of rallying support for moderates who oppose the policies of Netanyahu’s nationalist government.

On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hosted a group of 13 officials from the Israeli opposition Zionist Union party. Another group of Israeli leaders is expected on Jan. 5.

“We are reaching out to the Israeli society to remind everyone of the mutual interest in the two-state solution,” said Ziad Darwesh, an official in the Palestinian outreach program. “We see changes in the Israeli society.”

Business: Major US stock indexes close slightly lower; oil price slips

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Friday with little economic news to move the markets on the final trading day of 2016.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.4 percent to 19,067.74 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.8 percent to 21,970.92. China’s Shanghai Composite Index inched up 0.1 percent to 3,099.35. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.4 percent to 5,678.20. South Korean markets were closed for holiday.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Wall Street can be seen repositioning toward the New Year and that could be the case for Asia as well amid moderate movements in major markets,” said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG in Singapore. “Pressure may nevertheless set in for markets that have underperformed lately in Asia.”

WALL STREET: Wall Street closed with slight losses on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 13.90 points, or 0.1 percent, to 19,819.78. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 0.66 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,249.26 The Nasdaq composite lost 6.47 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,432.09.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude added 7 cents to $53.84 per barrel in New York. The contract fell 29 cents to close at $53.77 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 1 cent to $56.84 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 116.79 yen from 116.37 yen. The euro fell to $1.0525 from $1.0556.

US stocks drift lower in afternoon trading; oil price slips

NEW YORK — Banks led stocks slightly lower Thursday as the Dow slipped further from the 20,000 mark.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished less than 0.1% lower, down 13 points and 180 short of 20,000.

Markets, slightly up in the morning, basically languished all day — even after the mid-afternoon news that the Obama administration is giving 35 Russian diplomats the boot. The president’s team responded to evidence that Russia hacked Democratic Party officials during this year’s presidential election, touching off an extraordinary tweet from Russian officials in London taunting Obama as a lame duck.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 ended fractionally lower, while the Nasdaq composite dipped 0.1%.

Utilities and real estate stocks rose, while U.S. crude oil prices fell 29 cents to $53.75 a barrel. Newmont Mining (NEM) jumped 7.6%.

Trading was light on the next-to-last session of 2016 and ahead of the New Year’s Day holiday.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.46%.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 19,827 as of 3 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,247. The Nasdaq composite lost 12 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,426. Small-company stocks also veered lower. The Russell 2000 gave up 1 point, or 0.1 percent, to 1,359. More stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

THE QUOTE: “The market is just taking a breather here,” said Jeff Zipper, managing director of investments for The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank. “We moved so much in the month of November, there may be some profit-taking, maybe positioning for the first quarter.”

BIG GAINER: Newmont Mining climbed 6.6 percent, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 index. The stock added $2.17 to $34.96.

DOWN THE MOST: Chipotle Mexican Grill slid $10.01, or 2.6 percent, to $375.36, on pace for the steepest loss in the S&P 500 index.

FINANCIAL LIFELINE: Sears jumped 7.6 percent after the struggling retailer said it obtained a letter of credit that the company can use to fund its operations. The stock gained 62 cents to $8.80.

UNEMPLOYMENT WATCH: The Labor Department said fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, continuing a nearly two-year trend that suggests a solid job market. Weekly requests for jobless aid fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000. Over the past year, the number of people collecting benefits has fallen almost 5 percent to 2.1 million.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX fell 0.2 percent, while France’s CAC 40 was 0.2 percent lower. Britain’s FTSE 100 ended the day with its second record-close in two days, trading 0.2 percent higher at 7,120.26 points. British stocks have benefited from a decline in the value of the pound against other world currencies, which tends to drive up earnings for the multinationals and energy companies that dominate the index. Earlier in Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 1.3 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi inched up 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 29 cents to close at $53.77 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 8 cents to close at $56.14 a barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added a penny to $1.68 a gallon and heating oil held steady at $1.70 a gallon.

METALS: The price of gold rose $17.20, or 1.5 percent, to $1,158.10 an ounce. Silver added 18 cents to $16.22 an ounce. Copper fell a penny to $2.49 a pound.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.47 percent from 2.51 percent late Wednesday. In currency trading, the dollar fell to 116.68 yen from 117.19 yen late Wednesday. The euro fell to $1.0480 from $1.0407.

 

Cease-fire deal reached in Syria, raising hopes for peace

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria and its chief ally Russia reached a cease-fire agreement with Syria’s mainstream rebel fighters Thursday, a potential breakthrough in the six-year civil war that has left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe.

The nationwide truce, set to begin at midnight local time, was brokered by both Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the war, and was confirmed by a Syrian opposition spokesman, who said most major rebel groups would abide by it.

If it holds, the cease-fire will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition groups, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

The truce does not include the Islamic State group or al-Qaida’s branch in Syria. And several previous cease-fires all collapsed, some of them in a matter of days.

Nevertheless, the deal raised hopes that a political settlement for a ruinous war that has generally defied all attempts at resolution could be reached in the coming months, in part because the landscape has significantly shifted recently.

Thursday’s announcement comes days after the Syrian government recaptured Aleppo from rebels who had held the eastern part of the city for more than four years. Not only has the balance of power tilted in favor of Assad, but Turkey, which is fighting Kurdish and Islamic militants at home, appears more willing to strike a bargain with Russia if it means protecting its borders.

“This is a different political scene, and one would expect some outcomes to emerge,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. He cautioned, however, against expecting immediate results from the first round of talks.

Putin said the cease-fire will be guaranteed by Moscow — Assad’s chief patron and battlefield ally — and by Turkey. Turkey is a main backer of the opposition forces, who use the country’s long border with Syria to cross back and forth, and has wide influence on them. The agreement was also praised by Iran, one of Assad’s strongest backers.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the truce will include 62,000 opposition fighters across Syria and that the Russian military has established a hotline with its Turkish counterpart to monitor compliance. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will be welcome to join the peace process once he takes office.

Putin said he ordered the Russian military to scale back its presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial support to Assad’s forces. Putin didn’t say how many troops and weapons will be withdrawn. He said Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting Assad’s military.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, welcomed the cease-fire announcement, saying he hopes the agreement will save civilian lives, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and pave the way for productive peace talks.

Earlier Thursday, Turkey called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria. The Iranian-backed extremist group has sent thousands of fighters to support Assad and has been playing an instrumental role in the civil war since 2013.

Foreign fighters from around the world have joined both sides of the Syrian conflict, which has displaced half the country’s population and produced more than 4 million refugees. Many of those refugees have been streaming into Europe, fueling anti-immigration sentiment and terrorist fears that are reshaping the continent’s political landscape.

Syria’s military noted that the cease-fire comes after the “successes achieved by the armed forces,” an apparent reference to the fierce fighting in Aleppo.

Osama Abo Zayd, a spokesman for mainstream Syrian opposition groups, told reporters in the Turkish capital of Ankara that 13 armed opposition factions have signed the five-point agreement and that they have agreed to abide by the cease-fire.

He said the peace talks will be based on the Geneva 2012 declaration that calls for a governing body with full executive powers to run affairs in Syria during a transition period. “This means that there will be no presence for Assad in the future,” he said.

Assad’s future has been the main sticking in previous negotiations between the warring sides, and he is seen as unlikely to step down, particularly when he’s on the winning side.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem suggested Syria would not be willing to compromise on Assad’s fate. “Everything is negotiable except national sovereignty and the people’s right to choose its leadership,” he told Syrian TV.

Khashan, the political analyst, said Assad’s exit is “out of the question.”

“Neither the Russians nor the Iranians would allow it to happen,” he said.

Saeed Sadek, a professor of political sociology at Cairo’s Future University, said Assad has no power to accept or reject any deals.

“He is now under the control of Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. All these countries will decide his future,” he said.

___

Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Najib Jobain in Cairo contributed to this report.

Obama retaliates against Russia for election hacking

HONOLULU (AP) — In a sweeping response to election hacking and other meddlesome behavior, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and closed down two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said. He added: “Such activities have consequences.”

In a bid to expose Moscow’s cyber aggression, the U.S. also released a detailed report about Russia’s hacking infrastructure that it said was designed to help computer specialists prevent more hacking. And Obama said more action was coming.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The U.S. has previously left open the possibility it could mount a retaliatory strike.

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new sanctions were a sign of Obama’s “unpredictable and, if I may say, aggressive foreign policy” and were aimed at undermining President-elect Donald Trump.

“We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Ahead of the announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry had threatened to retaliate against American diplomats if the U.S. took action against Russian officials.

The White House has promised to release a report before Obama leaves office detailing Russia’s cyber interference in U.S. elections, a move that could address Russia’s complaints that the U.S. hasn’t shown proof of its involvement. But the U.S. moved forward with the response Thursday even as the report has yet to be released.

Still, Obama administration officials said the list of entities Obama was sanctioning made clear who exactly the U.S. believes was behind hacking of Democratic groups and the theft of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies which the U.S. says support the GRU. The cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU.

The sanctions freeze any assets the entities or individuals have in the United States, and also block Americans from doing business with them. It wasn’t immediately clear what impact they would have on the intelligence services’ operations.

The FSB is Russia’s main domestic and counter-terrorism intelligence agency. It was formed following the Soviet collapse when the KGB was split into the FSB and the foreign intelligence agency SVR. The GRU is the Russian military intelligence agency.

The president also sanctioned Lt. Gen. Korobov, the head of the GRU, and three of his deputies. Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.

Obama’s move puts Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office, and U.S. officials acknowledged that Trump could use his executive authorities to do so.

U.S. allegations of hacking during the campaign have ignited a heated debate over Trump’s approach to Russia and his refusal to accept the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia’s government was responsible and wanted to help him win. Though U.S. lawmakers have long called for Obama to be tougher on Russia, some Republicans have found that position less tenable now that Trump is floating the possibility of closer ties to Moscow.

“While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Obama said the hacking “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” a contention the U.S. has used to suggest Putin was personally involved.

Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behavior: harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russian personnel and police.

The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. They were declared “persona non grata,” and they were given 72 hours to leave the country. The State Department declined to identify them.

The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia’s government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said. The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

___

Abdollah reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

On the front lines of the fight for the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa

(PhatzNewsRoom / WP)    —    TAL SAMAN, Syria — “Raqqa we are coming” say the words spray-painted in Kurdish at the entrance to this empty little town, which lies on the front line of a U.S.-backed advance toward the Islamic State’s capital.

The city of Raqqa is 17 miles away, a tantalizingly short hop to the place showcased in the militants’ propaganda videos as an Islamist utopia, where the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels were planned and where, U.S. officials warn, new plots against the West are being forged.

But a full offensive to retake the city could still be months or more away, despite hopes in Washington that an operation to take the Islamic State’s most symbolically significant stronghold would be well underway before President Obama left office.

A rare visit to the Raqqa front line illustrated how near and yet so far the defeat of the Islamic State remains. The battle for Mosul in neighboring Iraq has stalled, the attack in Berlin has brought home the continued threat of terrorism, and there is still no plan for an offensive on Raqqa, making the war one of the most immediate, and complicated, challenges the Trump administration will have to confront.

Meanwhile, a preliminary operation to isolate and besiege Raqqa is going well. Over the past month, a Kurdish-Arab alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been slicing briskly through Islamic State lines in the northern and western countryside of Raqqa province. The fighters have captured some 140 villages and nearly 800 square miles of mostly empty rural land on two fronts in a just over a month, countering little resistance along the way.

This is not the battle for Mosul, where large armored formations are converging from different directions. There are more sheep than soldiers scattered across the empty fields. Flocks trot through the landscape herded by boys on donkeys as the lightly armored pickup trucks and SUVs used by the Kurdish and Arab militia weave among them.

Every now and then, American soldiers hurtle past, a reminder that the U.S. military is very much invested in the Raqqa front, however remote it may be. There are around 600 Special Operations troops embedded with the SDF in northeastern Syria, a number that could rise before the battle fully takes shape, U.S. officials say. One of those troops was killed on Nov. 24, the first U.S. casualty of the war in Syria.

He died in Tal Saman, a victim of one of the mines and booby traps that have become the Islamic State’s hallmark defense against advancing foes in Iraq and Syria.

Otherwise, the militants have put up little resistance, firing mortars as the soldiers advance but retreating well before their enemies arrive.

Bigger obstacles loom, however, in the form of a geopolitical tangle that could prove more daunting than any defenses mounted by the Islamic State.

At the heart of the issue is the U.S. military’s policy of sending arms to the area controlled by the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, widely known as the YPG.

The decision has paid off so far. The YPG — which constitutes the Kurdish component of the SDF — has proved to be the United States’ most effective military ally in Syria, and it has retaken vast swaths of territory. It is also expanding deep into Arab areas as it presses forward against the militants, raising questions among observers about the long-term sustainability of the gains.

The cooperation has, moreover, provoked the ire of Turkey, because of the YPG’s long-standing ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Turkey is waging its own offensive against the Islamic State in nearby Aleppo province but has hinted it may soon turn on the SDF alliance and perhaps then make its own push for the Islamic State capital.

The Syrian government also opposes the Kurdish expansion and has repeatedly said it plans to retake Raqqa, which it lost control of in 2013. Syria is backed by Russia, which is forging a new alliance with Turkey over Syria, potentially setting the stage for a global clash over who wins the prize goal.

To ameliorate the concerns of its NATO ally, the U.S. military says it is giving arms only to Arab fighters within the umbrella SDF, formed last year to serve as a vehicle for the delivery of military aid. There are 13,000 Arabs now serving with the SDF, alongside 45,000 Kurds with the YPG, according to a U.S. military spokesman, Col. John Dorrian.

But there seems to be little doubt that the YPG is leading the fight. Its flags flutter over the checkpoints along the newly liberated rural roads and at the military bases closest to the front lines. Its graffiti is scrawled over the walls of the captured towns and villages, as in Tal Saman, where the initials “YPG” were scrawled alongside the pledge to take Raqqa.

The Kurdish-Arab alliance, with U.S. assistance, plans to recruit and train an additional 10,000 Arab fighters for an offensive on Raqqa, said Rojda Felat, one of the commanders of the offensive to encircle the city. But YPG participation will be essential “because we have proved that we are the most effective fighters,” she said.

“We will even go past Raqqa,” she added, to other areas farther south controlled by the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

Whether it is wise to send an overwhelmingly Kurdish force to capture the overwhelmingly Arab city of Raqqa is in question, however. A Kurdish push on Raqqa risks alienating the local population, perhaps encouraging residents who otherwise would not support the Islamic State to fight on its behalf, according to Abu Issa, a commander with the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa, or Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade.

“We saw in Iraq and other places that if the local people are not involved in the liberation, there won’t be any stability,” he said in an interview at his headquarters, in a remote farmhouse in the countryside of Raqqa province. He and his group are from Raqqa, and though they are loosely allied with the SDF, they fly the flag of the Free Syrian Army.

“All the Arabs know that the SDF are YPG, and if things continue as they are, there will be big problems in the future, sectarian clashes and conflict,” Abu Issa said. “People don’t understand why the YPG are going to Raqqa. It’s an entirely Arab area, and the Arabs feel marginalized.”

Arab residents of the areas recently freed from Islamic State control seem mostly just relieved to be rid of the extremists — and to have survived yet another battle, one that has so far proved mercifully brief. The fight has been so easy that there have been few casualties and relatively little damage to the isolated villages dotting the desert landscape.

The YPG fighters conduct what appear to be well-organized evacuations of the villages that lie in the path of the offensive. As people from areas close to the front lines leave, those from villages that have been cleared are allowed to return.

On one recent day, hundreds of people streamed into Ain Issa from villages well behind Islamic State lines, in trucks piled high with children, mattresses and sheep. They had responded, they said, to messages sent by the Kurds to vacate their homes before the battles arrived. They said they were glad to seize the chance to escape the seemingly collapsing rule of the Islamic State fighters fleeing in the other direction.

“They used to take people with them to use as human shields, but now they are not even doing this,” said Saleh Hassan, one of the men who said he escaped his home through minefields to reach the Kurdish lines. “People were with them before, but now even their fighters are trying to defect.”

Ahmed Naim, 23, said he had covertly sold cigarettes and had many run-ins with the militants, who banned smoking. “Their days are numbered,” he said. “Daesh is finished, and the majority of the people are happy.”

It is hard to tell how happy people really are when armed guards are standing nearby. As the villagers who escaped areas behind the Islamic State lines arrived in Ain Issa, others were returning to their homes in the village of Hisha, which was freed last month after a brief battle.

At the local barbershop, a line of long-haired customers waited on wobbly plastic chairs for haircuts that were forbidden under Islamic State rule. “Nobody wants ISIS,” Mouay ad Khalaf said as he snipped the curly locks of a teenage boy.

But some men, when stopped in the street and asked what they thought of the change of authority, seemed less thrilled.

“They haven’t caused us any problems,” one man said vaguely. He didn’t want to be named.

“It’s okay,” said another who didn’t seem sure. “We’re cooperating with them.”

U.S. officials acknowledge the concerns about sending Kurds into battle in Raqqa but say that at the moment there is no alternative. “The only force that is capable on any near-term timeline is the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters last month.

Turkey has, meanwhile, been waging a rival offensive against the Islamic State farther west, in the province of Aleppo, where Turkish troops are backing Syrian Arab rebels with the Free Syrian Army, with the support of the United States. Though the focus of the fighting is on the Islamic State, Turkey has threatened to attack the SDF, potentially drawing troops and resources away from the Raqqa battle.

So complicated are the politics that there is still no plan for a Raqqa offensive, said Nasir Haj Mansour, a veteran Kurdish fighter who is now an adviser to the SDF. “Unfortunately, yes,” he said when asked whether he thought the Islamic State would still be in control of Raqqa in six months’ time.

And in a year?

“Probably, yes.”

Assad gains Aleppo, but others likely to shape Syria’s fate

BEIRUT (AP) — Under different circumstances, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s capture of Aleppo would project an aura of invincibility. He has survived nearly six years of revolt.

Instead, it has underscored his dependence on outside powers.

Turkey, Iran, and Russia have tilted recent events in his favor, and it is those three players — and perhaps the incoming Trump administration — that are now best placed to determine Syria’s endgame.

The three nations met in Moscow last week for talks on Syria that pointedly included no Syrians, indicating they prefer to pursue a grand bargain among great powers rather than a domestic settlement between the government and the opposition.

The warming of ties between Russia and Turkey, who back opposing sides of the civil war, may prove to be a game changer, potentially helping to end a conflict that has confounded the world’s top diplomats for more than five years.

Their joint efforts on Syria — there is now talk of a nationwide cease-fire — reflect a desire to establish spheres of influence. Turkey might drop its support for rebels fighting Assad in exchange for freedom of movement in a border region where its troops are battling the Islamic State group and trying to curb the advance of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute, called the Moscow summit “a perfect example of how the Syria solution is now about a grand bargain whereby other countries negotiate on behalf of Syrians.”

Syria’s army was only able to win the battle of Aleppo with Russian support and the aid of thousands of Iran-backed militiamen from across the region. Turkey struck a deal with Russia to manage the rebels’ surrender when they were on the verge of total defeat.

Turkey was an early backer of the rebels, allowing them to retreat and rearm across its largely porous border. But as Syrian Kurdish forces – answerable neither to Assad nor to his opponents – have expanded their canton along the border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come to view them as a greater threat than Assad.

Turkey sees the main Syrian Kurdish faction as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in its southwest. It has also grown increasingly concerned about IS following a series of attacks. The Syrian Kurds are battling IS, but Turkey describes both as “terrorists” who must be eliminated.

In August, Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces poured across the border, and in the following weeks they drove IS from its last strongholds along the frontier and halted the Kurdish advance.

With more than 5,000 forces inside Syria and a seat at the table, Turkey seems poised to establish a “sphere of influence” in northern Syria, according to Faysal Itani, an analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

It will likely press the issue when it meets with Russia and Iran in Kazakhstan next month. The Syrian government and some conciliatory opposition groups will be there, but it’s unclear whether Syria’s main, armed opposition will be invited.

The U.N. has meanwhile vowed to relaunch the long-defunct Geneva negotiations between the government and the armed opposition on Feb. 8. That process has repeatedly failed to produce tangible outcomes.

The deepening involvement of the outside powers has strengthened the government, but there are still large parts of the country outside its control, and many retaken areas have been reduced to rubble. The rebuilding effort in Aleppo alone is expected to require tens of billions of dollars , and the government is unlikely to get much Western aid.

“Europe has the money for reconstruction, and not Russia and Iran, and (Western nations) have made it clear they will not legitimize the regime,” said Bassam Barabandi, a political adviser to the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee.

Any efforts to strike a grand bargain will also need to contend with a new U.S. administration that has hinted at a major change in policy while providing few details.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants closer cooperation with Russia in order to combat IS, while also suggesting he could drop U.S. support for the armed opposition. “We have no idea who these people are,” he said in a newspaper interview last month.

On the other hand, he is openly hostile toward Iran and may seek to curb its influence in Syria.

Either way, despite the government’s victory in Aleppo, Syria’s fate is unlikely to be determined in Damascus.

Relations between Obama, Netanyahu camps hit rock bottom

HONOLULU (AP) — It took eight years of backbiting and pretending they got along for relations between President Barack Obama’s administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to finally hit rock bottom.

Though they’ve clashed bitterly before, mostly notably over Iran, the two governments seemed farther apart than ever after a speech Wednesday by Secretary of State John Kerry and last week’s United Nations resolution.

The key question for the Obama administration, newly willing to air grievances with Israel on live television, is why now?

“We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing and say nothing when we see the hope of peace slipping away,” Kerry said in a speech that ran more than an hour.

Yet in just over three weeks, Obama will no longer be president, Kerry will no longer be secretary of State, and the U.S. will have a new leader under no obligation to embrace any of what Kerry said. President-elect Donald Trump has assured Israel that things will be different after Jan. 20, when he’s to be inaugurated, and lamented how the Jewish state was “being treated very, very unfairly.”

Kerry took pains to voice America’s staunch commitment to Israel’s security and support for its future, and to detail U.S. complaints about Palestinian leadership and its failure to sufficiently deter violence against Israelis. He laid out a six-point framework for a potential peace deal that it will be up to the next U.S. government to try to enact, if it chooses to do so.

The White House has portrayed Obama’s decision to break with tradition by abstaining — rather than vetoing — a U.N. Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal as a reaction forced by other countries that brought it up for a vote.

The White House has also acknowledged that Obama had long considered the possibility of taking some symbolic step before leaving office to leave his imprint on the debate. For much of the year, his staff pored over options that included a U.N. resolution outlining principles for a peace deal and a presidential speech much like the one Kerry gave Wednesday. Yet there was reluctance to act before the U.S. election, given the way it would have thrust the Israeli-Palestinian issue into the campaign.

Kerry acknowledged Trump appears to favor a different approach. Yet frustrated by years of Israeli actions he deemed counterproductive for peace, Obama appeared to have decided it was better to make his administration’s views known while still in office, even if it risked a blockbuster clash with America’s closest ally.

In his speech, Kerry tore into Israel for settlement-building, accusing Netanyahu of dragging Israel away from democracy. He defended the move to allow the U.N. vote, the spark that set off an extraordinary and deepening diplomatic spat between the U.S. and its closest Mideast ally.

“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace,” Kerry said

Shortly after, Netanyahu appeared on camera in Jerusalem and suggested he was done with the Obama administration and ready to deal with Trump. The Israeli leader faulted Kerry for obsessing over settlements while paying mere “lip service” to Palestinian attacks and incitement of violence.

“Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders,” Netanyahu said.

Trump wouldn’t say whether settlements should be reined in. But he told reporters Israel was being “treated very, very unfairly by a lot of different people.”

In a nod to Netanyahu’s concerns that Obama would take more parting shots, Kerry seemed to rule out the possibility Obama would support more U.N. action or, even more controversially, recognize statehood.

The U.S, the Palestinians and most of the world oppose Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians for an independent state. But Israel’s government argues previous construction freezes didn’t advance peace and that the settlements — now home to 600,000 Israelis — must be resolved in direct talks Israelis-Palestinian talks.

While Israel’s Arab population has citizenship rights, the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank do not, and most in annexed east Jerusalem have residency rights but not citizenship.

Kerry said a future deal would have to ensure secure borders for Israel and a Palestinian state formed in territories Israel captured in 1967, with “mutually agreed, equivalent swaps.” He said both countries must fully recognize each other, ensure access to religious sites and relinquish other existing claims. Kerry also called for assistance for Palestinian refugees.

___

Lederman reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Vivian Salama in Palm Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.

___

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Russian plane crash probe rules out explosion

MOSCOW (AP) — Flight recorders revealed no evidence of an explosion on board a Russian plane that crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 92 on board, but investigators haven’t ruled out foul play, a military official said Thursday.

Russian air force Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, who heads the Defense Ministry commission conducting the crash probe, said that a cockpit conversation recorder contained the captain’s words that indicated a “special situation” that began unfolding on board the plane.

Bainetov wouldn’t elaborate on what may have led to the crash, but noted that it likely had been caused by several factors.

The Tu-154 of the Russian Defense Ministry crashed into the sea early Sunday, moments after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year’s concert at a Russian military base in Syria.

Bainetov said that the plane crashed 70 seconds after takeoff from an altitude of 250 meters (820 feet) while it was traveling at a speed of 360-370 kilometers per hour (224-230 miles per hour).

“After deciphering the first flight recorder we have made a conclusion that there was no explosion on board,” Bainetov said at a news conference.

But asked if that means that investigators have ruled out a terror attack, Bainetov said “we aren’t ruling out that version yet.”

“A terror attack doesn’t always involve an explosion,” he said. “Along with an explosion on board, there could have been some mechanical impact.”

He wouldn’t offer any details, saying that Russian law-enforcement agencies are working on the case.

Bainetov’s words appeared to contradict a previous statement from Russia’s top domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, which has said it found “no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage.”

It said investigators were looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines.

Bainetov noted that “according to a preliminary assessment of information from the flight parameter recorder there had been no obvious equipment failures.”

Investigators also have taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow’s Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refueling.

In an apparent attempt to downplay Bainetov’s statement, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov emphasized that “the version of a terror attack isn’t being considered as the main version.”

Sokolov said search teams have completed the bulk of efforts to recover bodies and debris from the crash site. He said 19 bodies and more than 230 body fragments have been recovered, adding that 13 big fragments of the plane and about 2,000 smaller fragments have been pulled from the seabed.

Bainetov said that Syria-bound planes normally stop for refueling at the North Caucasus military air base in Mozdok, but the plane that crashed had been diverted to Sochi because of bad weather in Mozdok.

Flights of the military’s Tu-154s have been suspended during the investigation.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. Russian airlines decommissioned the noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft years ago, but the military and other government agencies continue using the plane, which is still loved by crews for its maneuverability and sturdiness.

“The aircraft has proven itself well,” Bainetov said, but said they will likely resume after the investigation is over.

The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983 and underwent factory checkups and maintenance in 2014, and earlier this year. Investigators have taken relevant documents from the plant that did the job.

The crash wiped out most singers of the Alexandrov Ensemble, popular for its fiery performances.

“It will be very difficult to replace the gifted artists who were famous around the world,” Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said, adding that the military will work on reviving the choir.

US senators: Russia should be sanctioned for election hacks

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. senators visiting eastern European allies to discuss security issues called for sanctions against Russia for interfering in the presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts. Their demands came amid ongoing discussions among U.S. officials on an imminent response to alleged Russian meddling that would ensure the U.S. takes action before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

“We have to sanction Russia for these cyberattacks (and) send a clear message to the incoming administration that there is a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for going after this,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told The Associated Press by phone from Latvia.

Klobuchar joined Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in their visits to Russian neighbors, the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Georgia as well as Montenegro.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the highest-levels of the Russian government were involved in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

The Obama administration has said the U.S. will respond at a time and with a means of its choosing, and that all responses may not be publicly known.

The lawmakers on Wednesday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the Baltics, saying the relationship with the three former Soviet states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — “will not change” under the new administration.

“I predict there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly (President Vladimir) Putin as an individual,” Graham told reporters in Riga, the Latvian capital. He didn’t elaborate on possible sanctions.

The U.S. has already sanctioned Russia over its annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, but it could potentially use an April 2015 executive order allowing for the use of sanctions to combat cyberattacks.

A year after the order was issued, Democratic Party officials learned their systems were attacked after discovering malicious software on their computers.

But the executive order “(isn’t) well suited to the Russian activities,” said Stewart Baker, a partner specializing in cybersecurity for Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Baker said that order was primarily aimed at cyberespionage, for example spying by the Chinese military for commercial advantage.

The order covers a response to attacks on critical infrastructure, and Klobuchar called on the administration to amend it to also include election systems, which are not considered critical infrastructure.

A presidential policy directive in 2013 identified 16 sectors that are considered critical infrastructure, including energy, financial services and health care. The U.S. Homeland Security Department is mulling over adding election systems to that list.

The designation places responsibilities on the secretary of Homeland Security to conduct comprehensive assessments of vulnerabilities and track as well as provide information on emerging and imminent threats that may impact critical infrastructure.

More importantly, in this case, it would allow for a response to a cyberattack against election systems.

And while Trump could change back any amended or new order allowing for the U.S. to impose sanctions on entities involved in a cyberattack on election systems, “he would have a lot of explaining to do,” Klobuchar said. “The executive order gives tools to respond.”

Speaking to journalists at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate Wednesday, Trump was not addressing the issue of sanctions, but said: “We don’t have the kind of security we need.” He added: “Nobody knows what’s going on.”

Trump said he has not spoken with senators calling for sanctions, but believes “we have to get on with our lives.”

President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyberattacks.

Russia’s neighbors have long suffered the wrath of its hackers, whose actions have frequently complemented the government’s political and military aims. In 2014, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission was targeted by a pro-Russian hacking group.

The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

___

Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at https://twitter.com/latams

Business: Global stocks mostly fall after Wall Street’s slide

TOKYO (AP) — Global shares mostly fell in thin trading Thursday, taking their cues from a slide on Wall Street. A stronger yen helped send Japanese stocks lower.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 lost 0.5 percent to 4,822.78 in early trading, while Germany’s DAX fell 0.5 percent to 11,416.75. Britain’s FTSE 100 sank 0.3 percent to 7,086.44. U.S. shares were set to drift lower with Dow futures down nearly 0.1 percent at 19,763. S&P 500 futures were down 0.05 percent at 2,244.10.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 1.3 percent to finish at 19,145.14, as the strengthening yen, which reduces export earnings, weighed on market sentiments. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 recouped earlier losses and rose 0.3 percent to 5,699.10. South Korea’s Kospi inched up 0.1 percent to 2,026.46. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 21,795.02, while the Shanghai Composite lost 0.2 percent at 3,096.10. Shares were also lower in Taiwan.

TAKATA JUMPS: Shares of Takata Corp., the Japanese air bag manufacturer at the center of a massive recall, surged 16 percent amid speculation that it will reach a settlement as soon as next month with U.S. authorities on criminal charges related to its air bag troubles. Sixteen deaths around the world have been linked to Takata air bag inflators that can explode with too much force.

TOSHIBA PLUNGES: Toshiba Corp.’s shares plunged 17 percent, their third straight day of double-digit losses after the company said it anticipates huge losses related to its acquisition of Chicago Bridge & Iron.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 1.3 percent to finish at 19,145.14, as the strengthening yen, which reduces export earnings, weighed on market sentiment. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 recouped earlier losses, gaining 0.3 percent to 5,699.10. South Korea’s Kospi inched up 0.1 percent to 2,026.46. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 21,795.02, while the Shanghai Composite lost 0.2 percent at 3,096.10. Shares were also lower in Taiwan.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 30 cents to $53.76 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was down 1cent to $56.95 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: In currency trading, the dollar fell to 116.37 yen, down from 117.62 yen late Wednesday in Asia. The euro fell to $1.0454 from $1.0468.

___

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to name China a currency manipulator on his first day in the White House.

There’s only one problem – it’s not true anymore. China, the world’s second-biggest economy behind the United States, hasn’t been pushing down its currency to benefit Chinese exporters in years. And even if it were, the law targeting manipulators requires the U.S. spend a year negotiating a solution before it can retaliate.

Trump spent much of the campaign blaming China’s for America’s economic woes. And it’s true that the U.S-China trade relationship is lopsided. China sells a lot more to the United States than it buys. The resulting trade deficit in goods amounted to a staggering $289 billion through the first 10 months of 2016.

WHAT DOES CURRENCY HAVE TO DO WITH THE TRADE GAP?

When China’s currency, the yuan, falls against the U.S. dollar, Chinese products become cheaper in the U.S. market and American products become more costly in China.

So the U.S. Treasury Department monitors China for signs it is manipulating the yuan lower. Treasury has guidelines for putting countries on its currency blacklist. They must, for example, have spent the equivalent of 2 percent of their economic output over a year buying foreign currencies in an attempt to drive those currencies up and their own currencies down.

Treasury hasn’t declared China a currency manipulator since 1994.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE US DECLARED CHINA A CURRENCY MANIPULATOR?

Probably not much, at least initially.

If Treasury designates China a currency manipulator under a 2015 law, it is supposed to spend a year trying to resolve the problem through negotiations.

Should those talks fail, the U.S. can take a number of small steps in retaliation, including stopping the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp., a government development agency, from financing any programs in China. Trouble is, the United States already suspended OPIC operations in China years ago — to punish Beijing in the aftermath of the bloody 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.

So naming China a currency manipulator is mostly “just a jaw-boning exercise,” said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade department at the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed and a former Commerce Department official. “There’s no immediate consequence.”

IS CHINA GUILITY OF USING CURRENCY TO HELP ITS EXPORTERS?

Not lately. In fact, for the past couple of years it’s been intervening in markets to prop up the yuan, not push it lower.

For years, China pretty clearly manipulated its currency to gain an advantage over global competitors. It bought foreign currencies, the U.S. dollar in particular, to push them higher against the yuan. As it did, it accumulated vast foreign currency reserves — nearly $4 trillion worth by mid-2014.

But now the Chinese economy is slowing, and Chinese companies and individuals have begun to invest more heavily outside the country. As their money leaves China, it puts downward pressure on the yuan.

The yuan has dropped nearly 7 percent against the dollar so far this year. The Chinese government has responded by draining its foreign exchange reserves to buy yuan, hoping to slow the currency’s fall. China’s reserves have dropped by $279 billion this year to $3.05 trillion.

If Beijing stepped back and let market forces determine the yuan’s level, it likely would fall even faster, giving Chinese exporters even more of a competitive edge.

So Beijing is doing the opposite of what Trump says it’s doing. Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad earlier this month called Trump’s plans to name China a currency manipulator “unmoored from reality.”

“The whole discussion is ironic,” said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former official at the World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department. “It’s out of date.”

COULD TRUMP DO ANYTHING ON HIS OWN?

Gary Hufbauer, an expert on trade law at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, notes that as president, Trump could nonetheless escalate any dispute over the currency on his own. Over the years, Congress has ceded the president broad authority to impose trade sanctions. Trump has threatened to slap a 45 percent tax, or tariff, on Chinese imports to punish it for unfair trade practices, including alleged currency manipulation.

Brookings’ Dollar said China likely would bring a case to the World Trade Organization “against any protectionist measures that are a violation of U.S. commitments to the WTO,” which oversees the rules of global commerce and rules on trade disputes.

Some trade analysts wonder if Trump is using the tariff threat as a negotiating tool to win concessions from China.

Whatever the U.S. motive, China has a consistent record of retaliating against trade sanctions. When the Obama administration slapped tariffs on Chinese tire imports in 2009, for instance, China lashed back by imposing a tax on U.S. chicken parts.

China’s Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, has already speculated that “China will take a tit-for-tat approach” if Trump’s tariffs are enacted. The paper suggested that Beijing might limit sales of Apple iPhones and Boeing jetliners in China.

“The Chinese are predictable and reliable,” DeBusk said. “If they get punched, they punch back.”

Entertainment: Actress Debbie Reynolds has died at 84, son says

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actress Debbie Reynolds, the star of the 1952 classic movie “Singin’ in the Rain” has died one day after the death of her daughter, actress-writer Carrie Fisher. Reynolds was 84.

Her son, Todd Fisher, said Reynolds died Wednesday.

“She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken,” Fisher said from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where his mother was taken by ambulance earlier Wednesday.

He said the stress of his sister’s death on Tuesday “was too much” for Reynolds. Carrie Fisher, who was 60, had been hospitalized since Friday.

“She said, ‘I want to be with Carrie,'” her son said. “And then she was gone.”

Reynolds enjoyed the very heights of show business success and endured the depths of personal tragedy and betrayal. She lost one husband to Elizabeth Taylor and two other husbands plundered her for millions. Fisher, who found lasting fame as Princess Leia in “Star Wars” and struggled for much of her life with drug addiction and mental health problems, died after falling ill on a plane and being hospitalized.

Reynolds was a superstar early in life. After two minor roles at Warner Bros. and three supporting roles at MGM, studio boss Louis B. Mayer cast her in “Singin’ in the Rain,” despite Kelly’s objections. She was 19 with little dance experience, and she would be appearing with two of the screen’s greatest dancers, Donald O’Connor and Kelly, who also co-directed.

“Gene Kelly was hard on me, but I think he had to be,” Reynolds, who more than held her own in the movie, said in a 1999 Associated Press interview. “I had to learn everything in three to six months. Donald O’Connor had been dancing since he was three months old, Gene Kelly since he was 2 years old. … I think Gene knew I had to be challenged.”

“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was based on the life of a Colorado woman who rose from poverty to riches and triumphed over tragedy, including the sinking of the Titanic

The 1964 Meredith Willson musical, with Molly’s defiant song “I Ain’t Down Yet,” brought Reynolds her only Academy Award nomination. She also received a Tony nomination in 1973 when she starred on Broadway in the revival of “Irene,” in which her daughter also appeared.

After her transition from starlet to star, Reynolds became immensely popular with teenage girls and even more so when in 1955 she married Eddie Fisher, the pop singer whose fans were equally devoted.

The couple made a movie together, “Bundle of Joy,” which seemed to mirror the 1956 birth of Carrie. The Fishers also had a son, Todd, named for Eddie’s close friend and Taylor’s husband, showman Mike Todd.

During this period, Reynolds had a No. 1 hit on the pop charts in 1957 with “Tammy,” the Oscar-nominated song from her film “Tammy and the Bachelor.” But the Cinderella story ended after Mike Todd died in a 1958 airplane crash. Fisher consoled the widow and soon announced he was leaving his wife and two children to marry Taylor.

The celebrity world seemed to lose its mind. Taylor was assailed as a husband stealer, Fisher as a deserter of his family. Reynolds won sympathy as the innocent victim, a role emphasized when she appeared before news cameras with diaper pins on her blouse. A cover headline in Photoplay magazine in late 1958 blared: “Smiling through her tears, Debbie says: I’m still very much in love with Eddie.”

Fisher’s singing career never recovered, but Taylor, who left him for Richard Burton in 1962, remained a top star. And Reynolds’ film career flourished. She starred with Glenn Ford in “The Gazebo,” Tony Curtis in “The Rat Race,” Fred Astaire in “The Pleasure of His Company,” Andy Griffith in “The Second Time Around,” with the all-star cast in “How the West Was Won” and Ricardo Montalban in “The Singing Nun.”

She also provided the voice of Charlotte the spider in the 1973 animated “Charlotte’s Web.”

But over the years, her marital woes continued.

In 1960 Reynolds married shoe magnate Harry Karl. The marriage ended in disaster when she discovered that Karl, a compulsive gambler, had devastated her assets and left her deeply in debt. She divorced him in 1973 and toured tirelessly with her song and dance show to pay off creditors.

Reynolds’ third marriage, to Virginia businessman Richard Hamlett in 1984, proved equally disastrous. In 1992, against friends’ advice, she paid $10 million to buy and convert the faded Paddlewheel Hotel in Las Vegas into the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino. She performed nightly and conducted tours of her movie memorabilia, which she had collected since MGM auctioned its artifacts in 1970.

Reynolds, who ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1997 and selling the property at auction the next year, accused Hamlett of making off with her money. She once again went on the road.

“All of my husbands have robbed me blind,” she asserted in 1999. “The only one who didn’t take money was Eddie Fisher. He just didn’t pay for the children.”

In her later years, Reynolds continued performing her show, traveling 40 weeks a year. She also appeared regularly on television, appearing as John Goodman’s mother on “Roseanne” and a mom on “Will & Grace.” Her books included the memoirs “Unsinkable” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.”

In 1996 she won critical acclaim in the title role of Albert Brooks’ movie “Mother,” in which Brooks played a struggling writer who moves back home and works on his strained relationship with Reynolds’ character. A few years earlier, she had wanted to play the mother in the film adaptation of Fisher’s bittersweet autobiographical novel “Postcards From the Edge,” which featured mother-daughter actresses. Director Mike Nichols cast Shirley MacLaine instead.

Reynolds and Fisher were featured together in the HBO documentary “Bright Lights,” scheduled for release in 2017.

Mary Frances Reynolds spent the first eight years of her life in Depression-era poverty in El Paso, Texas, where she was born on April 1, 1932. Her father, a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad, was transferred to southern California and the family settled in Burbank, near Warner Bros. studio.

The girl flourished, winning 48 Girl Scout merit badges, excelling in sports and playing French horn and bass viola in the Burbank Youth Symphony. Girlfriends persuaded her to enter the beauty contest for Miss Burbank, and she won over the judges by lip-syncing to a Betty Hutton record.

She did team up with Taylor — long since divorced from Fisher — and two other veterans, Joan Collins and MacLaine, for the 2001 TV movie “These Old Broads.” The script, co-written by Reynolds’ daughter, was about aging, feuding actresses who get together for a reunion show. Reynolds would look back wryly on the Taylor affair, acknowledging that no man could have resisted her and that she actually voted for Taylor when she was up for best actress in 1960. The former romantic rivals had reconciled years before Taylor died in 2011; Reynolds recalled they had both been passengers on the Queen Elizabeth.

“I sent a note to her and she sent a note to me in passing, and then we had dinner together,” she told The Huffington Post a few months after Taylor’s death. “She was married to Richard Burton by then. I had been remarried at that point. And we just said, ‘Let’s call it a day.’ And we got smashed. And we had a great evening, and stayed friends since then.”

___

AP entertainment reporters Hillel Italie in New York and Sandy Cohen and Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles contributed to this report. The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed biographical material to this report.

Kerry to offer US vision of Israel-Palestinian peace Wednesday

(PhatzNewsRoom / AFP)   —-   US Secretary of State John Kerry will offer a “comprehensive vision” of how to revive the Israel-Palestinian peace process in a major speech on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama’s administration, including Kerry, is to leave office in four weeks and last week gravely offended Israel by failing to veto a critical UN resolution.

But US officials said they plan to keep pushing both Israel and the Palestinian leadership to take concrete steps to revive talks on a two-state solution to the conflict.

Toner said Kerry believes “it is his duty in his remaining weeks and days as secretary of state to lay out what he believes is a way towards a two-state solution.”

“It’s always important to keep the process moving forward,” Toner said. “We haven’t given up on this and we don’t think the Israelis and Palestinians should do either.”

Officials said Kerry would make the speech to an invited audience, including the Washington diplomatic corps, at the State Department.

On Friday, in a historic move, the United States failed to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning its ally Israel’s building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and many of Israel’s supporters in Washington reacted with fury and accused Obama of working behind the scenes to betray them.

US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on January 20, has signalled he will take a softer line on Israeli settlement building by promising to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

He has also nominated as US ambassador to Israel an American Jewish lawyer known as a strong supporter of the settlement movement.

Obama, Japan’s Abe decry ‘horrors of war’ at Pearl Harbor

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — The leaders of Japan and the United States sought to remind the world that even the most bitter enemies can become allies, during a historic pilgrimage to the hallowed waters of Pearl Harbor.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not apologize, but conceded Japan “must never repeat the horrors of war again.”

Seventy-five years after Japan’s surprise attack, Abe and President Barack Obama peered down Tuesday at the rusting wreckage of the USS Arizona, clearly visible in the tranquil, teal water. In a show of respect for the war dead, Obama and Abe dropped purple petals into the water and stood in silence.

More than 1,000 U.S. war dead remain entombed in the submerged ship, which Japan struck as part of the devastating attack that killed more than 2,300 Americans and sent America marching into World War II.

“As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place,” Abe said later at nearby Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

That was the closest Abe would get to an apology for the attack. And it was enough for Obama, who also declined to apologize seven months ago when he became America’s first sitting president to visit Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in a bid to end the war.

It was enough, too, for Alfred Rodrigues, a U.S. Navy veteran who survived the attack. The 96-year-old said he had no hard feelings and added, “War is war.”

“They were doing what they were supposed to do, and we were doing what we were supposed to do,” Rodrigues said before the visit.

In the years after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps before dropping atomic bombs in 1945 that killed some 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.

Since the war, the U.S. and Japan have built a powerful alliance that both sides say has grown during Obama’s tenure, including strengthened military ties. Yet there are questions about whether the relationship will fray under President-elect Donald Trump, a possibility neither Obama nor Abe addressed.

Abe, who became Japan’s first leader to visit Pearl Harbor with a U.S. president, said the visit “brought utter silence to me.” His remarks capped a day that was carefully choreographed by the U.S. and Japan to show a strong and growing alliance between former foes.

Japanese officials said that in their talks, Abe and Obama agreed to closely monitor the movements of China’s first and sole aircraft carrier, which has sailed into the western Pacific for the first time.

The Japanese officials also said the two leaders affirmed that movements by the Chinese carrier Liaoning “warrant close attention from mid-term and long-term perspectives.”

White House officials who accompanied Obama to Hawaii did not comment on the announcement from the Japanese, and in an unusual move, they didn’t release a written description of the meeting. But in Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. recognizes lawful uses of the sea, and the same rights apply to the U.S., China and other nations.

He said, “as we often make the case with our own naval vessels sailing … in those same waters, it’s freedom of navigation.”

Obama and Abe started Tuesday’s activities here with a formal meeting at a another nearby military base, in what the White House said was likely Obama’s last meeting with a foreign leader before leaving office in January. It was a bookend of sorts for the president, who nearly eight years ago invited Abe’s predecessor to be the first leader he hosted at the White House.

Speaking after he and Abe laid green-and-peach wreaths at the memorial, Obama called Pearl Harbor a sacred place and said that “even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and lasting peace.” It’s a notion Obama tried throughout his presidency to put into practice, as he reached out to former adversaries Iran, Myanmar and Cuba.

Japanese leaders have visited Pearl Harbor before, but Abe was the first to go to the memorial above the sunken USS Arizona, where a marbled wall lists the names of U.S. troops killed in the Japanese attack.

“There’s this sense of guilt, if you like, among Japanese, this ‘Pearl Harbor syndrome,’ that we did something very unfair,” said Tamaki Tsukada, a minister in the Embassy of Japan in Washington. He said he believes Abe’s visit would “absolve that kind of complex that Japanese people have.”

___

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, with U.S. President Barack Obama, speaks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Honolulu. Abe and Obama made a historic pilgrimage Tuesday to the site where the devastating surprise attack sent America marching into World War II. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff in Kailua, Hawaii, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

___

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Israel intensifies battle with U.S. over U.N. resolution on settlements

(PhatzNewsRoom / WP)   —-   The Israeli government stepped up its running battle with the Obama administration on Tuesday, saying it had proof that the United States had orchestrated a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlement activity.

“We have ironclad information that emanates from sources in the Arab world and that shows the Obama administration helped craft this resolution and pushed hard for its eventual passage,” David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters. “We’re not just going to be a punching bag and go quietly into the night.”

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner denied the administration had “precooked” the resolution. But the U.S. explanation did little to quell fears in Israel that another Security Council censure may be forthcoming, even though U.S. officials insisted no more U.N. resolutions are expected.

Toner said the United States had abstained, allowing the resolution’s passage, because it was “balanced,” also condemning Palestinian incitement to violence and terrorism, and there was growing concern that increased settlement activity was imperiling a two-state solution.

“This was a resolution that we could not in good conscience veto, because it condemns violence. It condemned incitement,” Toner said. “It reiterates what has long been the overwhelming consensus internationally [on settlements], and it calls for the parties to take constructive steps to advance a two-state solution on the ground. There was nothing in there that would prompt us to veto that kind of resolution.”

The Israeli case of U.S. collusion in the resolution appears to be linked to meetings Secretary of State John F. Kerry had in recent months with Palestinian and Egyptian diplomats and officials from resolution co-sponsor New Zealand, where Kerry stopped last month en route to Antarctica. State Department officials said no specific language was discussed.

“There is no truth to the notion that we discussed the text of any resolution or that we previewed any position we might take on a hypothetical resolution in those meetings,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to comment on the private meetings.

Amid acrid bitterness in Israel over what is seen as the United States’ failure to protect Israel in not using its veto, Kerry is returning to Washington from vacation to give a speech Wednesday morning outlining his vision for resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. There will be an end-to-an-era undertone to his remarks. With less than a month left before President Obama leaves office, President-elect Donald Trump has vowed that the U.S.-Israel relationship will be markedly different.

But there appeared to be little chance that the Israeli government would heed the “wake-up call” that Toner said he hoped the U.N. resolution would sound for Israel and curtail settlement activity.

Israeli officials pressed ahead, preparing to approve construction permits Wednesday to build 600 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, in an area of the city that became part of Israel after the 1967 war. Since Friday’s vote, Netanyahu has summoned diplomats from countries that voted for the resolution and recalled Israel’s ambassadors in New Zealand and Senegal, two of the four countries that sponsored the resolution. Some right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition have called on him to ramp up settlement construction and said Israel should annex parts of the West Bank.

Meanwhile, new details have started to emerge about the behind-the-scenes diplomatic scramble that preceded the resolution, approved by a vote of 14 to 0, declaring that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation under international law.” It calls the settlements an obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.

A diplomat from a Security Council nation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, largely backed up the Obama administration’s account that it played no role in bringing the resolution to a vote. It had been discussed among Security Council members for months, but the U.S. position was well known.

The United States never told anyone how it would vote, not even in a consultation room where the 15 members of the Security Council gathered before they filed in to vote, according to the diplomat. The U.S. officials in attendance said they were still in “consultations” over the resolution, the diplomat said.

In Israel, the newspaper Haaretz reported that Britain, not the United States, appears to have been the driving force behind the resolution after Egypt, which had initially sponsored the resolution, withdrew. It described Netanyahu being sharp and caustic in a phone call to New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, calling the resolution “a declaration of war.” Haaretz said that Netanyahu vowed to recall the Israel’s ambassador to Jerusalem but that McCully rebuffed the threat.

The report said that after Egypt backed down, Palestinian and Arab Persian Gulf diplomats urged the four co-sponsoring nations to move on with the resolution anyway. The message was driven home by Britain, which had worked directly with the Palestinians on drafting the language.

A last-minute glitch came up when Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, proposed postponing the vote until after Christmas, according to an interview the deputy Russian ambassador to Israel gave on Israel Army Radio. This reportedly followed a phone call between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. The other Security Council ambassadors refused to wait, however.

_____

Earth-moving equipment stands in the disputed Israeli settlement of Ramat Shlomo on Dec. 23 after reports emerged that an additional 300 housing units are planned for this neighborhood just north of Jerusalem.

Second flight recorder recovered from Black Sea crash site

MOSCOW (AP) — Search teams on Wednesday recovered another flight recorder from a military plane that crashed in the Black Sea, killing all 92 people aboard, the Defense Ministry said.

The first flight recorder was found the previous day and experts have started analyzing its data, seeking to identify the cause of the crash.

The Tu-154 of the Russian Defense Ministry crashed into the sea early Sunday, two minutes after taking off in good weather from the city of Sochi. It was carrying members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, widely known as the Red Army Choir, to a New Year’s concert at a Russian military base in Syria.

The Defense Ministry said 15 bodies and 239 body fragments have been recovered from the crash site. It previously said 17 bodies had been found.

A massive recovery effort has involved 3,600 people, including about 200 navy divers flown to the site from all over Russia. They have been aided by drones and submersibles.

Investigators were looking into whether the crash might have been caused by bad fuel, pilot error, equipment failure or objects stuck in the engines. The top Russian investigative agency said it had taken samples from a fuel tank used to fill the plane, which flew from Moscow’s Chkalovsky military airport and stopped in Sochi for refueling.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily and online publication Life.ru published what they described as a script of cockpit conversation, with a pilot yelling about a problem with the plane’s flaps and then shouting: “Commander, we are falling!” It was impossible to verify the report, but both publications were known to have good connections with Russian security agencies.

Flaps are moveable panels mounted on the edge of the wings to increase lift.

The Kommersant daily also said that investigators believed that the crash was caused by a combination of malfunctioning flaps and pilot error, which caused the plane to lose speed and stall.

However, Nikolai Antoshkin, the former deputy chief of the Russian air force, dismissed the claim, saying that responding to flap malfunctions is part of standard pilot training. “If flaps fail to retract or extend in time … pilots know how to deal with it, it’s not a problem at all,” he said in remarks carried by state RIA Novosti news agency.

Russia’s main domestic security and counter-terrorism agency, the FSB, said it found “no indications or facts pointing at the possibility of a terror attack or an act of sabotage.”

However, some aviation experts have noted that the crew’s failure to report any technical problem and the large area over which fragments of the plane were scattered could point to an explosion on board.

The Tu-154 is a Soviet-built three-engine airliner designed in the late 1960s. Russian airlines decommissioned the noisy, fuel-guzzling aircraft years ago, but the military and other government agencies continue using the plane, which is still loved by crews for its maneuverability and sturdiness.

The plane that crashed Sunday was built in 1983 and underwent factory checkups and maintenance in 2014, and earlier this year. Investigators have taken relevant documents from the plant that did the job.

Report: Turkey, Russia agree on Syria cease-fire plan

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and Russia have reached an agreement on a cease-fire plan comprising the whole of Syria, and the two countries will work to ensure that it comes into effect at midnight Wednesday night, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Wednesday.

The Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed sources, said the plan would be presented to all sides of the Syria conflict and aims for a cease-fire that would come into force “in all regions” where fighting between pro-government forces and opposition groups is taking place.

Terror organizations would be kept out of the scope of the cease-fire agreement, the agency said, without elaborating on which insurgent groups would be considered terror organizations.

It said a peace process in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana would go ahead under Russia and Turkey’s leadership if the cease-fire holds. Anadolu said the two countries would act as “guarantors” of the peace process.

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.

____

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

1: 45 p.m.

Turkish media reports are quoting Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying a lasting cease-fire and political solution in Syria are “close.”

His comments to a small group of journalists on Wednesday, and reported by state television and other media, come hours after the state-run news agency said Russia and Turkey had reached an agreement for a cease-fire plan comprising the whole of Syria.

Cavusoglu said terror organizations would be kept out of the cease-fire agreement, CNN Turk television reported. He said that Turkey’s offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian Kurdish forces in northern Syria would continue.

Sabah newspaper also quoted the Turkish minister as saying the cease-fire could come into effect “at any moment.”

___

1:30 p.m.

Syrian opposition factions say they are withholding judgment on a Russian-Turkish brokered cease-fire until they receive details about its terms.

An official with one of the country’s rebel factions told The Associated Press the proposed agreement would cover all of Syria. Rebels have spoken up in the past against proposals that would allow the government to continue its offensives around the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

The proposal was first reported by Turkish state media on Wednesday. There has been no official comment from Turkish or Russian officials.

The official said intense discussions were underway between the opposition factions.

Another official with a different group said the proposal has not been formally presented to the opposition.

“It is difficult to accept or refuse the matter before we look at the details, of course,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to bias intra-opposition talks.

–Philip Issa in Beirut

___

1:15 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says Russia and Turkey are in “constant contact” to prepare for planned Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t comment on Wednesday’s report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency that claimed Moscow and Ankara had reached an agreement on a plan for a cease-fire comprising the whole of Syria. The report quoting unnamed sources said the two countries were working to ensure that the cease-fire would come into effect at midnight Wednesday.

Peskov said he had no information on the subject. He added in a conference call with reporters that Russia and Turkey are in “constant contact to discuss various modalities of a possible dialogue planned in Astana,” the capital of Kazakhstan. Neither country has announced a date for these proposed talks.

___

12:30 a.m.

A top Russian diplomat says a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria for chemical weapons use is unacceptable to Moscow, which has veto power on the council.

A resolution drafted by Britain and France, which was obtained by The Associated Press, would impose sanctions on an array of Syrian individuals, organizations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks in the warring country. It would also ban sales of helicopters to Syria.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the state news agency Tass on Wednesday as saying the resolution “is categorically unacceptable to us. We warn them against attempts to fan tensions in the U.N. Security Council.”

___

11 a.m.

Syrian activists say at least 20 civilians have been killed in an airstrike on an Islamic State-held village in Deir el-Zour province in eastern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported Wednesday that several unknown warplanes bombed the village of Hajna the night before, killing 12 people from one family and 10 from another. It said at least 10 children were killed.

The activist group Deir Ezzor 24 said no one in the two families survived.

___

10:15 a.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkey and Russia have reached an agreement on a plan for a cease-fire comprising the whole of Syria.

The Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed sources on Wednesday, said the two countries were working to ensure that the cease-fire would come into effect after midnight.

It said however that terror organizations would be kept outside of the cease-fire agreement, without elaborating on which insurgent groups would be considered terror organizations. It said a peace process in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana would go ahead under Russia and Turkey’s leadership if the cease-fire holds. Anadolu said the two countries would act as “guarantors” of the peace process.

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.

Business: Global shares mixed after Nasdaq hits record high

TOKYO (AP) — Shares meandered in quiet trading Wednesday after the Dow Jones industrial average inched closer to 20,000 and the Nasdaq Composite rose to a record high.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX was flat at 11,472.09 and the CAC 40 of France edged 0.1 percent higher to 4,850.98. The FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent to 7,083.94. Markets on Wall Street looked set to extend gains, with Dow futures up 0.1 percent and S&P 500 futures up 0.2 percent.

WALL STREET: The New York Stock Exchange had its lightest full day of trading since October 2015. The Dow added 11.23 points, or 0.1 percent, to 19,945.04. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 5.09 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,268.88. The Nasdaq rose 24.75 points, or 0.5 percent, to a record high 5,487.44.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “Like a pendulum losing momentum, markets have trudged on at this subdued pace … waiting for a new catalyst to re-energize trade in the New Year,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. “Historically the market has always been up into the final days of the year and that seasonality trend certainly appears to hold true,” Pan said.

JAPAN DATA: Retail sales edged up 0.2 percent from the month before in November, after a 2.5 percent jump in October. Industrial output rose 1.5 percent from the month before, in line with economists’ expectations. Surging prices for fresh foods, especially vegetables, have dented consumer’s appetites for spending, economists said. The data provided a “flicker of optimism” Mizuho Bank economists said in a commentary, “But this is a far cry from an emphatic recovery.”

THE DAY IN ASIA: Japan’s Nikkei 225 was flat at 19,401.72 as Toshiba Corp.’s shares plunged a “limit-down” 20 percent due to anticipated losses on its U.S. nuclear power operations. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gained 1 percent to 5,685.00. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent to 21,754.74 while the Shanghai Composite index fell 0.4 percent to 3,102.24. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.9 percent to 2,024.49. Shares in Southeast Asia were mostly higher.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 20 cents to $54.10 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 88 cents, or 1.7 percent, to close at $53.90 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 23 cents to $57.06 a barrel. It gained 93 cents, or 1.7 percent, to close at $56.83 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 117.61 yen from 117.44. The euro fell to $1.0444 from $1.0462.

Final goodbye: Roll call of some of those who died in 2016

(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —-    Death claimed transcendent political figures in 2016, including Cuba’s revolutionary leader and Thailand’s longtime king, but also took away royals of a different sort: kings of pop music, from Prince and David Bowie to George Michael.

Embracing Soviet-style communism, Fidel Castro, who died in November, overcame imprisonment and exile to become leader of Cuba and defy the power of the United States at every turn during his half-century rule. Perhaps befitting the controversial leader, his death elicited both tears and cheers across the Western Hemisphere.

However, shock, grief and nostalgia greeted the deaths of several giants of pop music. David Bowie, who broke musical boundaries through his musicianship and striking visuals; Prince, who was considered one of the most inventive and influential musicians of modern times; and George Michael, first a teenybopper heartthrob and then a mature solo artist with videos that played up his considerable appeal.

Among the political figures who died in 2016 was the world’s longest reigning monarch: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was revered in Thailand as a demigod, a father figure and an anchor of stability through decades of upheaval.

Others in the world of public affairs included former United National Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, ex-senator and astronaut John Glenn, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former Israeli leader Shimon Peres and former U.S. first lady Nancy Reagan.

In the sports arena, the year saw the passing of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, whose fast fists and outspoken personality brought him fans around the world. Other sports figures included: golfer Arnold Palmer, Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe, basketball players Dwayne “Pearl” Washington and Nate Thurmond, Olympians Vera Caslavska and Tommy Kono, wrestlers Harry Fujiwara and Chyna, and mixed martial arts fighter Kimbo Slice.

Artists and entertainers who died in 2016 included author Harper Lee, conductor Pierre Boulez, musicians Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Phife Dawg, and actors Gene Wilder, Abe Vigoda, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Robert Vaughn, Garry Shandling, Doris Roberts, Alan Thicke, Fyvush Finkel and Anton Yelchin.

Here is a roll call of some of the people who died in 2016. (Cause of death cited for younger people, if available.)

JANUARY:

Pierre Boulez, 90. Former principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic, one of the leading figures in modern classical music. Jan. 5.

Otis Clay, 73. Hall of fame rhythm and blues artist known as much for his charitable work in Chicago as for his singing. Jan. 8.

David Bowie, 69. Other-worldly musician who broke pop and rock boundaries with his creative musicianship and a genre-spanning persona he christened Ziggy Stardust. Jan. 10.

Alan Rickman, 69. Classically-trained British stage star and sensual screen villain in the “Harry Potter” saga and other films. Jan. 14.

Glenn Frey, 67. Rock ‘n’ roll rebel who co-founded the Eagles and with Don Henley formed one of history’s most successful songwriting teams with such hits as “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” Jan. 18.

Abe Vigoda, 94. Actor whose leathery, sad-eyed face made him ideal for playing the over-the-hill detective Phil Fish in the 1970s TV series “Barney Miller” and the doomed Mafia soldier in “The Godfather.” Jan. 26.

FEBRUARY:

Maurice White, 74. Earth, Wind & Fire founder whose horn-driven band sold more than 90 million albums. Feb. 3.

Antonin Scalia, 79. Influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court. Feb. 13.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 93. Egyptian diplomat who helped negotiate his country’s landmark peace deal with Israel but clashed with the United States as U.N. secretary-general. Feb. 16.

Harper Lee, 89. Elusive novelist whose child’s-eye view of racial injustice in a small Southern town, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” became an Oscar-winning film. Feb. 19.

MARCH:

Nancy Reagan, 94. Backstage adviser and fierce protector of Ronald Reagan in his journey from actor to president — and finally during his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. March 6.

Rob Ford, 46. Pugnacious, populist former mayor of Toronto whose career crashed in a drug-driven, obscenity-laced debacle. March 22. Cancer.

Phife Dawg, 45. Lyricist whose witty wordplay was a linchpin of the groundbreaking hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. March 22. Complications from diabetes.

Garry Shandling, 66. Actor and comedian who masterminded a brand of phony docudrama with “The Larry Sanders Show.” March 24.

Patty Duke, 69. As a teen, she won an Oscar for playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” then maintained a long career while battling personal demons. March 29.

APRIL:

Merle Haggard, 79. Country giant who rose from poverty and prison to international fame through his songs about outlaws and underdogs. April 6.

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, 52. Basketball player who went from New York City playground wonder to Big East star at Syracuse. April 20.

Prince, 57. One of the most inventive and influential musicians of modern times with hits including “Little Red Corvette,” ”Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry.” April 21.

MAY:

Tommy Kono, 85. He took up weightlifting in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans and went on to win two Olympic gold medals for the United States. May 1.

Morley Safer, 84. Veteran “60 Minutes” correspondent who exposed a military atrocity in Vietnam that played an early role in changing Americans’ view of the war. May 19.

Rosalie Chris Lerman, 90. Survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp who was a passionate advocate of Holocaust remembrance. May 19.

JUNE:

Muhammad Ali, 74. Heavyweight champion whose fast fists, irrepressible personality and determined spirit transcended sports and captivated the world. June 3.

Gordie Howe, 88. Known as “Mr. Hockey,” the Canadian farm boy whose blend of talent and toughness made him the NHL’s quintessential star. June 10.

Anton Yelchin, 27. Rising actor best known for playing Chekov in the new “Star Trek” films. June 19. Hit by his car in his driveway.

Pat Summitt, 64. Winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who lifted the women’s game from obscurity to national prominence during her 38-year career at Tennessee. June 28.

JULY:

Elie Wiesel, 87. Romanian-born Holocaust survivor whose classic “Night” launched his career as one of the world’s foremost witnesses and humanitarians. July 2.

Clown Dimitri, 80. Beloved Swiss clown and mime who studied under Marcel Marceau. July 19.

Rev. Tim LaHaye, 90. Co-author of the “Left Behind” series, a literary juggernaut that brought end-times prophecy into mainstream bookstores. July 25.

AUGUST:

John McLaughlin, 89. Conservative political commentator and host of a television show that pioneered hollering-heads discussions of politics. Aug. 16.

Sonia Rykiel, 86. French designer whose relaxed sweaters in berry-colored stripes and eye-popping motifs helped liberate women from stuffy suits. Aug. 25.

Gene Wilder, 83. Frizzy-haired actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in “The Producers.” Aug. 28.

Vera Caslavska, 74. Seven-time Olympic gymnastics gold medalist who stood up against the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Aug. 30.

SEPTEMBER:

Phyllis Schlafly, 92. Outspoken conservative activist who helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Sept. 5.

Rose Mofford, 94. Arizona’s first female governor and a shepherd for the state during a period of political turbulence. Sept. 15.

Arnold Palmer, 87. Golfing great who brought a country-club sport to the masses with a hard-charging style, charisma and a commoner’s touch. Sept. 25.

Shimon Peres, 93. Former Israeli president and prime minister whose life story mirrored that of the Jewish state and who was celebrated as a Nobel prize-winning visionary who pushed his country toward peace. Sept. 28.

OCTOBER:

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88. World’s longest reigning monarch, he was revered in Thailand as a demigod, a humble father figure and an anchor of stability through decades of upheaval. Oct. 13.

Junko Tabei, 77. The first woman to climb Mount Everest. Oct. 20.

Tom Hayden, 76. 1960s antiwar activist whose name became forever linked with the Chicago 7 trial, Vietnam War protests and his ex-wife, actress Jane Fonda. Oct. 23.

NOVEMBER:

Janet Reno, 78. First woman to serve as U.S. attorney general and the center of several political storms during the Clinton administration. Nov. 7.

Leonard Cohen, 82. Canadian singer-songwriter who blended spirituality and sexuality in songs like “Hallelujah,” ”Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire.” Nov. 7.

Gwen Ifill, 61. Co-anchor of PBS’ “NewsHour” and a veteran journalist who moderated two vice presidential debates. Nov. 14.

Florence Henderson, 82. Broadway star who became one of America’s most beloved television moms in “The Brady Bunch.” Nov. 24.

Fidel Castro, 90. He led his bearded rebels to victorious revolution in 1959, embraced Soviet-style communism and challenged U.S. power during his half-century of rule in Cuba. Nov. 25.

DECEMBER:

Jayaram Jayalalithaa, 68. South Indian actress who turned to politics and became the highest elected official in the state of Tamil Nadu. Dec. 4.

John Glenn, 95. His 1962 flight as the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth made him an all-American hero and propelled him to a long career in the U.S. Senate. Dec. 8.

Alan Thicke, 69. Versatile performer who gained his greatest renown as the beloved dad on the sitcom “Growing Pains.” Dec. 13.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99. Jet-setting Hungarian actress and socialite who helped invent a new kind of fame out of multiple marriages, conspicuous wealth and jaded wisdom about the glamorous life. Dec. 18.

George Michael, 53. Musician who shot to stardom at an early age in the teen duo WHAM! and moved smoothly into a solo career. Dec. 25.

Carrie Fisher, 60. Actress who found enduring fame as Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars.” Dec. 27.

___

Follow Bernard McGhee on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BMcGhee13

Israel: ‘Ironclad information’ White House behind UN rebuke

JERUSALEM (AP) — Doubling down on its public break with the Obama administration, a furious Israeli government on Tuesday said it had received “ironclad” information from Arab sources that Washington actively helped craft last week’s U.N. resolution declaring Israeli settlements in occupied territories illegal.

The allegations further poisoned a toxic atmosphere between Israel and the outgoing administration in the wake of Friday’s vote, raising questions about whether the White House might take further action against settlements in President Barack Obama’s final weeks in office.

With the U.S. expected to participate in an international peace conference in France next month and Secretary of State John Kerry planning a final policy speech, the Palestinians hope to capitalize on the momentum. Israel’s nationalist government is banking on the incoming Trump administration to undo the damage with redoubled support.

Although the U.S. has long opposed the settlements, it has generally used its Security Council veto to protect its ally from censure. On Friday, it abstained from a resolution calling settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law, allowing it to pass by a 14-0 margin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a cool relationship with Obama, called the resolution “shameful” and accused the U.S. of playing an active role in its passage.

On Tuesday, his spokesman went even further.

“We have ironclad information that emanates from sources in the Arab world and that shows the Obama administration helped craft this resolution and pushed hard for its eventual passage,” David Keyes said. “We’re not just going to be a punching bag and go quietly into the night.”

He did not identify the Arab sources or say how Israel obtained the information. Israel has close security ties with Egypt, the original sponsor of last week’s resolution who, as the lone Arab member of the Security Council, was presenting it at the Palestinians’ request. Under heavy Israeli pressure, Egypt delayed the resolution indefinitely — but other members presented it for a vote a day later. Egypt ended up voting in favor of the measure.

The Obama administration has vehemently denied Israel’s allegations.

“We did not draft, advance, promote, or even tell any other country how we would vote on this resolution in advance of the Egyptians putting it in blue last week,” said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that it considered the possibility of abstaining on a settlements resolution over the past year as various drafts were circulated by different countries. In announcing the abstention, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power referred to continued Israeli settlement construction and a recent effort to retroactively legalize dozens of illegally built settlement outposts.

A White House official said the U.S. was approached repeatedly by countries urging it to let the resolution pass, yet only replied by saying the U.S. would feel forced to veto any resolution that didn’t also criticize the Palestinians for inciting violence. The official wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

The Palestinians, with strong international backing, seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967, as part of an independent state. They say continued Israeli settlement undermines that goal, since already some 600,000 Israelis live in these areas.

Israel is livid that the resolution does not appear to recognize its claim to any part of the occupied areas, including Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, though the resolution leaves the door open to agreed land swaps. The Palestinians did not embrace several past peace offers that would have left them with a state on the vast majority of the land, with a foothold in Jerusalem.

Past Security Council resolutions on the issue have been more vague. Critics of Israel argue that by insisting on the settlements, Netanyahu has earned the global impatience.

Netanyahu has made no secret that he is counting on President-elect Donald Trump to contain the damage. Trump has indicated he will be far more sympathetic, and has appointed an ambassador with deep ties to the settler movement.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, a close Netanyahu ally, dismissed Obama. “He is history,” she told Channel 2 TV. “We have Trump.”

The resolution seems largely symbolic, lacking any enforcement mechanism.

But Palestinians believe it will strengthen their position as they push on with a campaign to pressure Israel on the international stage.

President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he hopes an upcoming Mideast conference in France will lead to concrete measures. “We hope this conference comes up with a mechanism and timetable to end the occupation,” Abbas told a meeting of his Fatah party. “The (resolution) proves that the world rejects the settlements, as they are illegal.”

Husam Zumlot, an adviser to Abbas, told The Associated Press the Palestinians want the resolution to serve as a “foundation” for any future peace talks. He also said the Palestinians would use the text to bolster their case at the International Criminal Court, where they are trying to push a war crimes case against Israel over settlement policies.

French officials expect some 70 nations to participate in the Jan. 15 conference. Israel and the Palestinians are not expected to be invited, though officials are considering inviting the Israeli and Palestinian leaders for follow-up talks. Abbas seems open to this, while Netanyahu has chafed, saying international dictates undermine negotiations.

Netanyahu has instead called off a number of diplomatic meetings and visits with countries that supported the resolution.

On Wednesday, a Jerusalem municipal council is expected to grant building permits for roughly 600 new homes in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem.

Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman, who heads the zoning committee, also said this week he will push plans for some 5,600 additional housing units in the eastern part.

A municipal official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said those projects are only in their preliminary phases.

___

Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Honolulu contributed.

1 2 3 12
PhatzNewsRoom / AP – News Videos Updates
LISTEN TO PHATZRADIO



We Play Smooth Jazz!

phatz-radio-click

Latest FaceBook Posts

NFL MVP tracker: Patriots' Tom Brady closing gap on Chiefs' Alex Smith
#NFL
#NFLMVP
#AlexSmith
#TomBrady
www.phatzradio.com/nfl-mvp-tracker-patriots-tom-brady-closing-gap-on-chiefs-alex-smith/
...

View on Facebook

College Football Picks: Playoff-elimination possibilities
#APTop25
#CFBTop25
#BCS
#CollegeFootball
www.phatzradio.com/college-football-picks-playoff-elimination-possibilities/
...

View on Facebook
Weekly Music / Sports Talk Schedule
NBA Unplugged 1:00PM
Audibly Offensive 2:02PM
The War Room 3:01PM
Smooth Jazz 5:11PM
PopSports Sports Radio Tues.AM
The Broad Street Line Wed.AM
After Further Review Wed.AM
HoopGirlz Radio Thur.AM
Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Fri.AM
Follow Us on Facebook
Follow Us on Facebook
PhatzNewsRoom – Recent Posts
  • 2017 (2099)
  • 2016 (2591)
  • 2015 (1201)
  • 2014 (48)