TIME Syria

Syrian Rebels, Government Clash in Golan Heights

Mideast Israel Palestinians
U.N. soldiers observe Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point near the border with Syria on Sept. 1, 2014 Sebastian Scheiner—AP

Syria's state news agency says the military killed "many terrorists"

(BEIRUT) — Syrian rebels clashed with government troops on Monday in the Golan Heights, where al-Qaida-linked insurgents abducted U.N. peacekeepers last week, activists said.

The fighting was focused around the town of Hamidiyeh in Quneitra province near the disputed frontier with Israel, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said there were casualties on both sides but did not have exact figures.

Syria’s state news agency said the military killed “many terrorists” and destroyed a heavy machine gun in the fighting. The government refers to those trying to oust President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Heavy clashes have raged in the area since Syrian rebels captured a border crossing near the abandoned town of Quneitra on Wednesday. One day later, fighters from al-Qaida’s Syria branch, the Nusra Front, abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two Filipino contingents serving in the U.N. mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

The Filipino troops escaped over the weekend, while the Fijians are still being held by the Nusra Front. The United Nations says that it is seeking the Fijians’ immediate and unconditional release. It says it has not established where the peacekeepers are being held.

Fiji’s military commander said Tuesday that the Nusra Front has issued three demands for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers.

Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said the Nusra Front wants to be taken off the U.N. terrorist list, wants humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wants compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with U.N. officers Tikoitoga said the U.N. has sent hostage negotiators to Syria.

The rebels’ targeting of the U.N. mission has touched off criticism among some nations contributing troops to the peacekeeping force about how the Golan Heights operation functions.

Ireland, which contributes a 130-member armored rapid response unit to the U.N. mission, warned Monday it would not replace its troops next month if U.N. leaders in New York do not agree on strengthening the force’s firepower, command and control, and rules of engagement.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to continue to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a very fundamental review of how it’s going to operate. Clearly this is no longer a demilitarized zone,” Irish Defense Minister Simon Coveney told RTE state radio in Dublin.

“We need to get a significant reassurance from the U.N., and the Syrian side, that we can operate a mission safely. The risk levels, given what’s happened over the last three days, are not acceptable.”

He said Irish troops in armored vehicles exchanged fire with rebels Saturday as they rescued Filipino troops from one of the besieged border posts. The Indian-led, 1,250-member force includes soldiers from Fiji, India, Nepal, the Philippines and the Netherlands.

Coveney said the Irish unit remained on standby for a potential rescue of the seized Fijian troops. Ireland’s current military deployment has been in the Golan Heights since March and is supposed to be replaced by other Irish soldiers next month.

An Irish withdrawal could deal a final blow to the U.N. mission, which has already seen Austria and Croatia pull their forces last year over fears they would be targeted. The Philippines, meanwhile, has said it would bring home its peacekeepers after their tour of duty ends in October.

The group that abducted the peacekeepers, the Nusra Front, published a statement online on Sunday that included photos showing what it said were the captured Fijians, along with 45 identification cards. The group said the men were “in a safe place and in good health.”

The statement mentioned no demands or conditions for the peacekeepers’ release.

The Nusra Front accused the U.N. of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. It said the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the U.N.’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria” and even colluding with Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights.

The group is one of the two most powerful extremist factions fighting in Syria’s civil war, which the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000 people. However, the Nusra Front has been eclipsed by the Islamic State group, which broke away from al-Qaida earlier this year and has since carved out a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

Human Rights Watch said Monday that it has credible evidence that the Islamic State group has used ground-fired cluster munitions in at least one place in northern Syria. These weapons explode in the air, releasing hundreds of tiny bomblets. Those that fail to explode pose a long-lasting danger to civilians.

The New York-based rights group said that reports from local Kurdish officials as well as photographs indicate the extremists fired cluster munitions on July 12 and Aug. 14 during clashes with Kurdish forces around Ayn Arab near the Turkish border. Five people were killed in the attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

It was no clear how Islamic State fighters had acquired the weapons, the group said.

The Syrian government has used at least 249 cluster munitions since mid-2012, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Any use of cluster munitions deserves condemnation, but the best response is for all nations to join the treaty banning them and work collectively to rid the world of these weapons,” said HRW’s Steve Goose.

TIME Companies

These 2 Harmful Chemicals Will No Longer Be Used to Assemble Your iPhone

Activist groups called for the ban earlier this year.

Apple said Wednesday that its factories would no longer use two chemicals that are potentially hazardous to workers in the assembly of iPhones and iPads.

On the heels of a petition earlier this year by two activist groups, Apple moved to ban benzene and n-hexane from final production, the Associated Press reports. Some 500,000 people work on final production at more than 20 factories, primarily in China but also in Brazil, Ireland, Texas and California. The California-based company also lowered the maximum amount of the chemicals that can be present during earlier production phases, which occurs across hundreds of other factories.

The company said that a four-month investigation found no evidence that those workers were at risk from the chemicals, which are often found in solvents used to clean machinery. Benzene, which is also found in gasoline, paints and detergents, is believed to be a carcinogen and n-hexane has been linked to nerve damage, according to the AP.

“We think it’s really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives, told the AP.

[AP]

MONEY The Economy

WATCH: How Some U.S. Companies Are Dodging Taxes

Major American corporations are reincorporating overseas to avoid paying higher U.S. taxes.

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 19 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From swamp soccer to baby giraffes, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME Television

Now You Can Plan Your Very Own Game of Thrones Vacation

Arya Stark and The Hound
Helen Sloan—HBO

You might not be able to go to Westeros or Essos, but you can still visit all the places that play them on TV

Game of Thrones is done for roughly the next 10 months, sadly. On the bright side, you can use the off-season to travel to all the places that the show is filmed—assuming you, die-hard fan that you are, haven’t already done so. Hopper, a Boston and Montreal-based travel planning site, has done most of the hard work for you, putting together a detailed map of the major GoT filming locations.

The site also breaks down the destinations by both season and house (Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, etc.), so it won’t be too difficult to pledge allegiance to a particular one. Or you can just pull a Littlefinger and pick and choose whatever suits your desires at that particular moment.

The vast majority of production takes place in Europe (Ireland, Iceland and Croatia are three of the more popular settings), but Morocco in northern Africa has also played host to some of Daenerys Targaryen’s conquered cities. This won’t come as a particular shock to fans of the show, but the destinations cut a fairly wide swath of climates and terrains, so if you can find the time (and money) to tour all of them before Season 5 kicks off next spring, there’s little chance you’ll get bored.

TIME Ireland

Jacqueline Kennedy’s Letters Removed from Irish Auction

The All Hallows College is now reportedly exploring better ways to preserve the archive with the help of the Kennedy family

A collection of letters between former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and an Irish priest was removed from an auction in Ireland on Wednesday. In the letters, the former first lady questions her faith in the wake of the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

The Vincentian Fathers and All Hallows College, where the letters between Jackie Kennedy and Father Joseph Leonard were being held, said Wednesday the letters “are being withdrawn from auction at the direction of All Hallows College and the Vincentian Fathers,” according to a statement to the BBC.

Representatives of the college and the Vincentian Fathers are now “exploring with members of Mrs. Kennedy’s family how best to preserve and curate this archive for the future.”

Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, which was scheduled to host the sale of the personal letters, said in a statement on its website that Sheppard’s is in the process of returning the archive and related items to the vendor. TIME’s requests for further comment were not immediately returned. In an earlier statement, the auction house referred to the letters as a “unpublished autobiography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.”

Critics of the sale, however, said the correspondence was never meant for public consumption. Controversy over the sale had been brewing since the sale of the 33 letters was announced in April, given their deeply personal nature.

TIME animals

Name That Geep: Farmer’s Sheep-Goat Crossbreed Needs a Moniker

Geep
Goat sheep crossbreed on Irish farm. The as yet un-named Geep (a cross breed of a goat and a sheep) on Paddy Murphy's farm in Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare, April 4, 2014. Niall Carson—PA Wire/AP

The rare hybrid--whose mom is a sheep and dad is a goat--usually results in stillborns. Now an Irish farmer is seeking a name for his healthy newborn.

An Irish farmer who claims his sheep birthed a cross between a sheep and a goat is launching a charity competition to name the newborn, the Press Association reports.

The crossbreed–generally known as a geep–is said to be extremely unusual, with most reported cases resulting in a still born.

Patrick Murphy told the Press Association that he was overwhelmed by the attention the animal received after a video by the Irish Farmers Journal was posted to Youtube and is now hoping to raise funds with the naming competition for a sick child in his village of Ballymore Eustace.

[Press Association]

TIME Agriculture

Climate Change Could Cause the Next Great Famine

Climate change impacts crop yields
A warmer climate could reduce the yield of staple crops like maize Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A new study finds that as the planet warms, yields for important staple crops like wheat could decline sharply.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, which means the 100 million or so people of Irish descent around the world get the opportunity to celebrate their heritage with song, food and increasingly controversial parades. The sheer size of the Irish diaspora is what has made St. Patrick’s Day an international event—after all, there are only 6.4 million Irish people in Ireland. But it’s also a reflection of the waves of emigration that marked Ireland’s history until recently—emigration that was fueled in part by the great famine of the 1840s. Triggered by a disease that wiped out the potato, Ireland’s staple crop, the Great Famine—an Gorta Mor in Irish—led to the death of a million people and caused another million to flee the country. Without the potato blight, that Irish diaspora—and your local St. Patrick’s Day festivities—might be significantly smaller.

The Great Famine is a reminder of the way failures in agriculture can drive lasting historical change—while leading to immense human suffering. That’s a useful backdrop of a new analysis on the impact global warming will have on crop yields, just published in Nature Climate Change. The news isn’t good: the research, based on a new set of data created by the combination of 1,700 previously published studies, found that global warming of only 2º C (3.6º F) will likely reduce yields of staple crops like rice and maize as early as the 2030s. And as the globe keeps warming, crop yields will keep shriveling unless drastic steps are taken to adapt to a changing climate. As Andy Challinor, a professor of climate impacts at the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study, put it in a statement:

Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected…Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place—with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.

The effect that warming will have on crop yields is one of the most vital areas of climate research—and one of the most vexing. Warming will have different impacts on different kinds of crops in different parts of the world. Warmer temperatures—and the higher levels of carbon dioxide that come with them—may enhance yields in the short-term, but as the climate gets hotter and hotter, crops could wilt, especially in the tropics. Changes in precipitation—both prolonged droughts and bigger storms—will hit farmers hard as well. And with a 842 million hungry people around the world—and another 2 billion or so who will need to be fed by mid-century as global population grows—accurately nailing down the impact climate change will have on crop yields could make the difference between life and death for vast numbers of people.

The last assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2007 found that temperate regions like Europe would be able to deal with moderate, 2º C warming without much of an impact on crop yields. But the newer research used in the Nature Climate Change study indicates that that conclusion might have been too optimistic, especially as the climate gets warmer and warmer towards the century’s end. Farmers in the tropics will have it particularly difficult—yields from maize could drop by 20% or more if temperatures increase by more than 3º C (5.4º F). And those reductions in yield could hide much bigger year-to-year swings, if the weather gets more extreme. “Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years,” said Challinor. “The overall picture remains negative.”

We should have a better sense of where climate research stands on crop impacts later this month, when the IPCC comes out with the next chapter in its newest climate science assessment. And farmers—especially in developed nations—can and likely will adapt to what global warming will throw at them, whether by changing crop planting schedules, shifting to more efficient irrigation or taking advantage of biotechnology. But there’s no guarantee that poor farmers—who already produce less per acre—will be able to keep up. The Great Famine was triggered by the potato blight, but it was intensified by cruel policy on the part of Ireland’s British masters, who ensured that rich stores of grain and livestock were exported out of the country even as Irish citizens starved to death in the streets. As a warming climate makes the difficult task of keeping the world fed even tougher, we can only hope that wiser policy prevents the next famine.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,470 other followers