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US fighter jets shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon over Atlantic

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The US has shot down a giant Chinese balloon that it says has been spying on key military sites across America.

The Department of Defense confirmed its fighter jets brought down the balloon over US territorial waters.

Three airports were shut and airspace was closed off the coast of North and South Carolina as the military carried out the operation on Saturday.

Footage on US TV networks showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion.
An F-22 jet fighter engaged the high-altitude balloon with one missile – an AIM-9X Sidewinder – and it went down about six nautical miles off the US coast at 14:39 EST (19:39 GMT), a defence official told reporters.

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Defence officials told US media the debris landed in 47ft (14m) of water – shallower than they had expected – near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The military is now trying to recover debris which is spread over seven miles (11km). Two naval ships, including one with a heavy crane for recovery, are in the area.

US President Joe Biden had been under pressure to shoot the balloon down since defence officials first announced they were tracking it on Thursday.

After the balloon was shot down, Mr Biden said: “They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”

The discovery of the balloon set off a diplomatic crisis, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately calling off this weekend’s trip to China over the “irresponsible act”.
The Chinese authorities have denied it is a spying aircraft, and instead said it was a weather ship blown astray.BBC

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Western efforts to isolate Iran backfired – Khamenei

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Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei

Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, said on Tuesday that the West exerted pressures on Iran in order to isolate it but their efforts in this regard backfired.

Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech on Tuesday afternoon at the holy shrine of Imam Reza on the occasion of the New Iranian year.

The leader started his speech by focusing on the concept of “transformation” as meaning “the strengthening of advantages and the elimination of weak points and flaws.” The Leader of the Islamic Revolution described this kind of “transformation” as an essential need of the country.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution pointed out that the main objective of the enemies in broaching the concept of “structural transformations” is to change the identity of the Islamic Republic. “The goal of the enemy is to eliminate the country and establishment’s points of strength and to get issues that remind the people of the Revolution, pure and revolutionary Islam fade into oblivion,” Ayatollah Khamenei noted.

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Underlining that the ultimate goal of the apparently pro-change and transformation statements by the Arrogant Powers is to turn Islamic democracy into one-man and submissive government or one that is superficially democratic but is submissive to the West in practice, he said, “In everything they do, they seek to politically and economically dominate Iran and plunder it.”

The Leader considered “the strong and firm internal foundation of the Iranian nation” as one of the country’s prominent points of strength. “This intrinsic firmness and strength stems from the people’s faith because even those of individuals who apparently do not fully practice some of Islam’s laws, they do believe in God, the Qur’an, and the [Twelve] Imams,” he added.

In explaining the overt indications for the internal cohesion and strength of the Iranian nation, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution pointed to “the overcoming by the nation over the cycle of the enemy’s consecutive and decades-long hostilities of the world’s Arrogant Powers.” He further stated, “Which country and revolution do you know that has been able to resist the blows of the world’s most powerful countries? The Iranian nation has stood firmly against a long chain of the enemy’s schemes, including coup attempts, sanctions, and media assaults.”

Supreme Leader considered “coups, political pressures, unprecedented media assault, security conspiracies, and unprecedented economic sanctions” as being dimensions of the enemies’ nonstop conspiracies. “During recent unrest, US president and heads of states of certain European countries openly offered weapons, and financial and security support to rioters to at least weaken the Islamic Republic. But what happened was the opposite,” he said.

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The Leader of the Islamic Revolution described making progress under economic siege and the most severe pressures possible as indicative of the Iranian nation’s bright performance. He stated that the US said the economic pressures they’ve put on Iran are unprecedented in history. Despite all their lies, they were true on this.

Supreme Leader highlighted the progress made in science and technology and Iran ranking among the top countries of the world in fields such as Nano and Biotechnology, health, aerospace, nuclear, defense, infrastructure, medical centers, oil refineries, etc. “With regard to foreign relations, the West’s efforts to isolate Iran have failed,” he said.

The Leader added, “Our relations with Asia became 100 percent stronger and we will continue to do so.” Referring to Iran’s membership in important treaties, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution said the strengthening of ties with Africa and Latin America is one of the definite plans. “We haven’t refused to have any relations with Europe. We are ready to work with any European country or government that does not blindfoldedly follow US polices,” the Leader said.

In this regard, Leader emphasized that dependence on the US dollar is one of the problems the country’s economy is suffering from. He continued, “Some of the sanctioned countries put an end to their dependence on the US dollar and their situation got better. We know certain countries, which I won’t name, that have been heavily sanctioned by the West. Their link to SWIFT, which is a Western-led international mechanism, was cut. They then put aside the US dollar and conducted transactions and imported and exported with national currencies, and their situation got better. We should do the same thing.”

Ayatollah Khamenei also underlined the need for raising awareness among the people regarding hybrid warfare and the enemy’s policies in this regard. “There is no military attack in hybrid warfare. But foreign propagandists and their followers in the country attack the political and religious beliefs of the people with temptation so that they undermine the nation’s will, sow despair among the youth, and make them disappointed at the future, work, and progress by fudging the facts,” he said.

He further said, “In a hybrid warfare, the enemy uses the media and cultural, security, and economic elements as well as its influence to bring blockades against the nation, to cause despondency, and to cause a people to ignore their own potential.”

Dismissing the allegations of the ill-wishers, Leader noted, “It’s been years that the enemy vociferously asserts that they want to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees. But the Leader says in response that ‘You can’t do a damn thing.’ This is not a repetition but perseverance.”

Emphasizing Iran’s support for the Axis of Resistance, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution rejected the lie that Iran is involved in the Ukraine war. “We categorically deny any presence in the Ukraine war. And such a thing is not true at all,” he said.

The Leader also referred to America’s role in the Ukraine war, stating that America waged the Ukraine war in order to expand NATO to the east and now while the people of Ukraine are in trouble and grappling with problems, America and its weapons manufacturing companies are making the most of this war in terms of profits. And for this reason, they stand in the way of the necessary things to end this war.”

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution also pointed to the Americans’ confusion in the region. “The path and policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran toward the region is clear and we know what we’re doing. But the Americans are confused and desperate because if they stay in the region, like in Afghanistan, they will face the increasing hatred of nations and will be forced to leave the region. And if they leave, they will lose their ambitions. This confusion is indicative of their obvious weakness,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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Deadly Mississippi tornado brings devastation to US state

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At least 26 people have died in Mississippi and Alabama after a tornado tore through the southern US states.

Search and rescue efforts are continuing, and the Mississippi state government has declared a state of emergency.

In Rolling Fork, crushed cars, bricks and glass litter the streets – the town has been almost entirely wiped out.

One resident told the BBC he was lucky to survive after seeking shelter in his bath tub.

Approaching the neighbourhood in western Sharkey County, there is little indication of anything unusual.

The lush farmland that surrounds it is completely untouched, the trees aren’t even bent out of shape by wind.

Then, suddenly, you see the houses that were in the tornado’s path.
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They have been totally obliterated.

In this rural town of only 2,000 people, where one fifth of residents live below the poverty line, dozens of buildings have been flattened by the fury of the tornado.

Homes where family and friends had gathered less than 24 hours before, ready for the weekend, have been reduced to rubble.

Timber frames have been snapped into pieces. There are upturned washing machines, but it is impossible to identify anything that might have been a kitchen.

Amongst the rubble, there are vehicles that have been tossed around. There is the occasional children’s toy and other signs of the lives that were lived here just hours earlier.

The tornado hit in the middle of the night – people had been sleeping and had not heard the alerts. For many the first indication that something terrible was happening was the noise.

Francisco McKnight told the BBC it was a miracle that he is alive. The only warning he had was the sound, he said – he had never heard anything like the noise of the wind on Friday night and never wants to again.

He took one look outside and then ran into his bathroom and got into the bath tub. He said that was what saved him.

The only part of his home that is still standing are parts of two of the bathroom walls.

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The tornado lasted just five to 10 minutes he said, and he sat in the tub as the rest of his home was ripped away. For now, he is staying in one of the shelters that have been set up in the area.

He does not know what he will do next, but he says somehow he will rebuild his life.

Mississippi state governor Tate Reeves visited Silver City and Winona on Saturday to meet affected residents who had been hit by the tornado’s fury.

Sharing an update on Twitter, Mr Reeves described the situation as a “tragedy”, writing: “We are blessed with brave, capable responders and loving neighbours. Please continue to pray.”

Mr Reeves requested an expedited disaster declaration for the region and said: “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure that we get as many resources to this area as possible.”

The search and rescue efforts will continue in Mississippi as more storms are predicted to hit parts of Alabama and Georgia early on Sunday and potentially bring large hail.

US President Joe Biden also offered his support for the affected region. He described the images coming out of Mississippi as “heartbreaking”.

On Sunday, the White House stated that President Biden ordered federal aid to support local recovery efforts in areas affected by the tornadoes, including grants for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

BBC News

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US retaliates as suspected Iran drone kills US worker in Syria

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A strike Thursday by a suspected Iranian-made drone killed a U.S. contractor and wounded five American troops and another contractor in northeast Syria, the Pentagon said. American forces said they retaliated soon after with “precision airstrikes” in Syria targeting facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, with one activist group reporting the U.S. strikes killed fighters on the ground.

The attack and the U.S. response threaten to upend recent efforts to deescalate tensions across the wider Middle East, whose rival powers have made steps toward détente in recent days following years of turmoil.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the American intelligence community had determined the drone was of Iranian origin, but offered no other immediate evidence to support the claim.

“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria” by groups affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, Austin said.

The Pentagon said two of the wounded service members were treated on-site, while three others and the injured contractor were transported to medical facilities in Iraq.

Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Syria’s Deir el-Zour, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which also has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.

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Iran and Syria did not immediately acknowledge the strikes, nor did their officials at the United Nations in New York respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, reported that the American strikes killed six Iranian-backed fighters at an arms depot in the Harabesh neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour. The Observatory, which relies on a network of local contacts in Syria, said U.S. bombing at a post near the town of Mayadeen killed another two fighters.

A separate American strike hit a military post near the town of Boukamal along the border with Iraq, the Observatory said. The AP could not immediately independently confirm the report.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been suspected of carrying out attacks with bomb-carrying drones across the wider Middle East.

In recent months, Russia has begun using Iranian drones in its attacks on sites across Ukraine as part of its war on Kyiv. Iran has issued a series of conflicting denials about its drones being used in the war, though Western nations and experts have tied components in the drones back to Tehran.

The exchange of strikes came as Saudi Arabia and Iran have been working toward reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The kingdom also acknowledged efforts to reopen a Saudi embassy in Syria, whose embattled President Bashar Assad has been backed by Iran in his country’s long war.

U.S. Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the head of the American military’s Central Command, warned that American forces could carry out additional strikes if needed. “We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks,” Kurilla said in a statement.

Addressing the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Kurilla warned lawmakers that the “Iran of today is exponentially more militarily capable than it was even five years ago.” He pointed to Iran’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and bomb-carrying drones.

Kurilla also alleged that Iran had launched some 78 attacks on U.S. positions in Syria since January 2021.

“What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies,” Kurilla said.

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Diplomacy to deescalate the crisis appeared to begin immediately around the strikes. Qatar’s state-run news agency reported a call between its foreign minister and Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser. Doha has been an interlocutor between Iran and the U.S. recently amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Qatar’s foreign minister also spoke around the same time with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Austin said he authorized the retaliatory strikes at the direction of President Joe Biden.

“As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said. “No group will strike our troops with impunity.”

The U.S. under Biden has struck Syria previously over tensions with Iran. In February and June of 2021, as well as August 2022, Biden launched attacks there.

U.S. forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. still maintains the base near Hasakah in northeast Syria where Thursday’s drone strike happened. There are roughly 900 U.S. troops, and even more contractors, in Syria, including in the north and farther south and east.

Since the U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020, Iran has sought “to make life difficult for US forces stationed east of the Euphrates,” said Hamidreza Azizi, an expert with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

“Iran increased its support for local proxies in Deir el-Zour while trying to ally with the tribal forces in the area,” Azizi wrote in a recent analysis. “Due to the geographical proximity, Iraqi groups also intensified their activities in the border strip with Syria and in the Deir el-Zour province.”

The strikes come during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Syria’s war began with the 2011 Arab Spring protests that roiled the wider Middle East and toppled governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. It later morphed into a regional proxy conflict that has seen Russia and Iran back Assad. The United Nations estimates over 300,000 civilians have been killed in the war. Those figures do not include soldiers and insurgents killed in the conflict; their numbers are believed to be in the tens of thousands.

Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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