TIME India

Indians Flood the Internet With #SelfieWithDaughter Photos

India's Prime Minister has led the campaign to boost the standing of women in India's highly patriarchal society

Thousands of people across India (and several from various corners of the globe) flooded social media Sunday with selfies taken with their daughters in response to a call from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi appealed to his country during his monthly radio address to share photos with the tag #SelfieWithDaughter — an attempt to recognize and celebrate the girl child as part of his Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign.

Modi mentioned the head of a small village in the state of Haryana (which has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the country) as the source of the idea, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

India’s netizens responded enthusiastically.

Many women, young and old, used the opportunity to take selfies with their doting dads as well.

Gender inequality has long been a major problem in India’s highly patriarchal society, where female children are being perceived as inferior and even killed in the womb or as infants — a phenomenon Modi has fought to reverse since he took office about a year ago.

TIME Greece

Greeks Wrestle With Bailout Dilemma as ATM Lines Grow

It was easy to gauge the rising panic in Athens this weekend by the length of the lines at the ATMs. On Saturday, when Greeks learned that they would have to vote on the terms of their country’s bailout program in a snap referendum on July 5, clusters of people began to gather at the machines that still had cash to give. By Sunday afternoon these lines were sometimes stretching entire blocks as word spread of the government’s shocking announcement: the banks would not be allowed to open in the morning, and they would start limiting how much money their clients could withdraw.

The resulting anxiety, which would seem to herald an imminent climax in the five-year-old saga of Greece’s depression, will now form the atmosphere for next weekend’s referendum. The choice voters face is stark: They can either vote Yes to more tax hikes and pension cuts as a condition of keeping financial aid from Europe flowing, or they can vote No and reject the deal from Greece’s creditors, potentially forcing the country to default on its debts and pull out of Europe’s currency union.

For many in Athens, however, the decision came down to a simpler and more depressing question: What do we really have left to lose? Tionysis Matheakakis, who plans to vote No, says he has already hit rock bottom. When the global financial crisis first pushed Greece to the edge of bankruptcy five years ago, he lost his job as a milk truck driver at the age of 48, leaving him too old, he says, to find another job since then. Though he has no source of income, he still has to pay higher property taxes on his home, among other new levies that Greece has imposed as part of its push to raise revenue and pay back debts.

Now, the new cuts to pensions that Greece’s creditors are demanding threaten to eat away at the only steady income he sees, nine years from now, when he can legally retire. “They are squeezing us dry,” he says on the city’s Syntagma Square, where lines formed at cash machines over the weekend as the government announced the banks would not open Monday. “It’s time to break the chains,” he says.

That is the option Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras offered his demoralized electorate in the early hours of Saturday morning. In a televised address, he called for a nationwide referendum to decide whether or not Greece should accept the latest bailout terms from its so-called troika of creditors – the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Even though the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter in the past five years, these institutions have refused Tsipras’ demands for a reduction in debt and an easing of the Greek austerity program. Instead they are demanding further tax hikes and pension cuts as a condition of continued assistance. After five months of fraught talks, their negotiations broke down late last week, prompting Tsipras to ask his electorate how the government should proceed.

“The day of truth is coming for the creditors, the time when they will see that Greece will not surrender,” Tsipras, a self-professed radical leftist who was elected in January, told an emergency session of parliament on Saturday afternoon. “I am certain that the Greek people will rise to the historical circumstances and issue a resounding ‘No’ to the ultimatum.” The chamber, which is dominated by a coalition bent against austerity, then approved his bid to hold the referendum.

But according to early polls, Greek voters seem likely to reject the pleas of their Prime Minister. In a survey commissioned by the newspaper Proto Thema and released on Sunday, 57% of respondents said they would accept the troika’s bailout terms with a Yes vote, potentially forcing the anti-austerity government to resign and call new elections.

Nick Kontodimos, an accountant in Athens, is among the voters ready to accept the troika’s deal. The only way Greece will get its finances in order, he says, is under pressure from its European creditors, which have forced Athens to impose fiscal discipline and curb government waste for the first time in generations. “These foreign guys put the gun to our head and told us to do the most obvious things,” he says. “It’s ridiculous, but it seems like we needed this gun to our head.”

Removing it could result in disaster for Greece, especially if it abandons the euro and goes back to its previous currency, the drachma. On the upside, that would allow the government to print money and boost spending in order to stimulate growth. But inflation would then be sure to spike as the value of the drachma plummets against the euro and the dollar, making it more and more difficult for the government to afford basic imports such as oil and machinery.

Greek banks would also come under tremendous pressure. If their clients suddenly start receiving their paychecks in drachmas, many of them would be unable to repay the loans they took out in euros, forcing them to default. Already the risks of Greek banks collapsing has prompted many to pull out their savings and stash them at home — or attempt to at least, as many did over the weekend.

“We have no choice. We have to feed ourselves somehow,” said 38-year-old Antonia, who lost her job in the medical supplies business three years ago and has since been unemployed. On Sunday afternoon she was among those thronging an ATM on Syntagma Square. When asked how she would vote in the referendum, her anger at the creditors spilled out. “They’re killing us,” she seethed. “We have to break free of the constraints they have surrounded us with.”

Never mind that those constraints may the only things keeping the Greek economy afloat.

TIME Military

The Islamic State Celebrates Its First Birthday

ISIS flag Raqqa
Reuters A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa on June 29, 2014.

The durability of the terror proto-state proves daunting

Military commanders like to say that “quantity has a quality all its own.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that greater numbers of inferior weapons or troops often can beat smaller, superior forces. Given that Monday marks the first birthday of the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, it’s also worth noting that the passage of time, too, has a quality all its own.

The quantity of time counts, as days turn into weeks, and months have become a year. Time isn’t an inert presence, either on the physical battlefield or in the war of ideas. It’s a measure of will, a magnet to attract followers, and a manifestation of reality. Bottom line: persistence produces power.

This isn’t good. The Pentagon has adopted a go-slow approach, with its modest air campaign and turgid training schedule, in part to prod Iraq to do the fighting. That’s fine, so long as you believe ISIS is a slow-growing tumor, confined to Iraq and Syria. But as last Friday’s attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia that killed at least 60 make clear, it’s a malignancy that’s spreading.

“They’ve been able to hold ground for a year,” says retired Marine general James Mattis, who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. “The longer they hold territory it become this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again.”

“Listen to your caliph and obey him,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a recording released June 29, 2014. “Support your state, which grows every day.”

Chillingly, al-Adnani issued a call last Tuesday calling on Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by making it “a month of disasters for the kuffar”—non-Muslims. He pledged those carrying out such attacks “tenfold” rewards in heaven in exchange for their martyrdom. Last week’s attacks followed. ISIS took responsibility for the beachfront attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38; an ISIS affiliate claimed credit for the blast at a Kuwait City mosque that took 27 lives; the suspect in the French attack reportedly told police of his ties to the Islamic State after decapitating his employer.

IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency CentreThis map shows where Islamic state and its affiliates are located. The black borders delineate where Islamic State has formally announced a wilaya (province) and the red shows attacks carried out in the name of Islamic State between the declaration of a caliphate on June 29, 2014, and June 22, 2015.

After a year in existence, ISIS continues to keep its grip on the huge swatch of land straddling what used to be the border between eastern Syria and western Iraq. “After awhile, possession is nine-tenths of legitimacy,” Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says of ISIS’s first anniversary. “Just being there, visible, over time gives you more and more influence and ability to create more extremists.”

This represents a new kind of threat. “The Islamic State is not an insurgency like the United States fought from 2003 until its departure from Iraq,” Rand Corp. analyst David Johnson notes in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army’s professional journal. “Rather, it is an aspiring proto-state bent on taking and holding territory.”

The U.S. actually has been fighting ISIS and its forebears for years. “Washington continues to fail to recognize the persistence of this organization going back to the declaration of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq,” Brian Fishman of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “We don’t often recognize our long history of fighting ISIS, but we have effectively been fighting this organization for a decade already.”

As ISIS grew and began controlling greater swaths of Iraq and Syria, there was a sense its days were numbered. Following its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just over a year ago, Pentagon officials repeatedly said that Iraqi forces, perhaps aided by small numbers of U.S. troops accompanying them to call in air strikes, would take back the city sometime in the first half of 2015. That hasn’t happened. And for every Tikrit that Iraqi forces, aided by Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, have taken from ISIS by military force, ISIS has attacked and occupied a city like Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS last summer, little has changed. “Very little consequential territory has been reclaimed,” says retired general Jack Keane, who served as the Army’s second-ranking officer from 1999 to 2003. “ISIS still enjoys freedom of maneuver to attack at will, whenever and wherever it pleases.”

While the U.S.-led air campaign has led pretty much to a stalemate on the ground, ISIS’s survival has attracted supporters to its ranks, and led others around the world to claim membership. “What we see very frequently in Afghanistan, with respect to [ISIS], is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in Belgium. They’re donning the ISIS label because “they regard as a better replacement for names they’ve had in the past.”

ISIS’s continuing existence is also generating American recruits, according to an alert last month from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. law enforcement agencies shortly after police killed a pair planning to shoot up a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. “We judge … that [ISIS’s] messaging is resonating with US-based violent extremists due to its championing of a multifaceted vision of a caliphate,” the agency warned. A key reason for its success in attracting followers, DHS added, is “the perceived legitimacy of its self-proclaimed re-establishment of the caliphate.”

Every day that the undefeated caliphate persists boosts the chances that its followers will strike targets in the U.S. “The most important way to discredit the appeal of their ideology is by military defeat,” Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told that armed services panel hearing last week. “If they’re not holding terrain, if there is no caliphate,” he said. “There is no Islamic utopia.”

TIME Turkey

Turkish Police Break Up Gay Pride Parade With Rubber Bullets

It's not clear why police wanted to break up the parade

Police in Turkey broke up a gay pride celebration in Istanbul Sunday with water guns and rubber bullets.

An annual gay pride celebration has been held in Istanbul for years and it is not immediately clear why police wanted to break up the celebration, Reuters reports.

Some speculated that conservative Muslim officials took issue with the event because it fell during the month of Ramadan this year. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Turkey, but many in the predominately Muslim country still don’t approve of gays and lesbians.

The pride event was held in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, a large public gathering place that has been home to protests against the Turkish government. The Agence France-Presse reported that police targeted the crowd after hearing slogans accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of engaging in “fascism.”

The violence captured the attention of some high profile figures in the U.S., where Pride Week celebrations are also under way:

[Reuters]

TIME Greece

Greek Banks to Be Shuttered on Monday as Crisis Deepens

Reports financial institutions may remain closed all week

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn’t increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank.

Sunday’s move comes after two days of long lines forming at ATMs across the country, following Tsipras’ decision to call a referendum on creditor proposals for Greek reforms in return for vital bailout funds.

Tsipras gave no details of how long banks will remain closed or what restrictions will be placed on transactions. Banking officials said lenders would remain shut for at least a day, with some media reporting the institutions would remain closed for at least a week.

The news comes after Tsipras called for a referendum on creditor proposals for Greek reforms in return for bailout cash — a decision which shocked Greece’s European partners.

The country’s negotiations with its European creditors have been suspended, with both sides accusing each other of being responsible. The European Central Bank has left unchanged the amount of emergency liquidity available to Greek banks, putting further pressure on the system.

TIME Iran

Iran Nuclear Talks to Continue Past June 30 Deadline

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna. Kerry is joining negotiations from six powers and Iran seeking an agreement under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Carlos Barria—Reuters U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna on June 28, 2015.

The U.S. wants fuller access to nuclear facilities than Iran is prepared to give

VIENNA (AP) — A senior U.S. official acknowledged Sunday that Iran nuclear talks will go past their June 30 target date, as Iran’s foreign minister prepared to head home Sunday for consultations before returning to push for a breakthrough.

Iranian media said Mohammed Javad Zarif’s trip was planned in advance. Still, the fact that he was leaving the talks so close to the Tuesday deadline reflected his need to get instructions on how to proceed on issues where the sides remain apart — among them how much access Tehran should give to U.N. experts monitoring his country’s compliance to any deal.

The United States insists on more intrusive access than Iran is ready to give. With these and other disputes still unresolved the likelihood that the Tuesday target deadline for an Iran nuclear deal could slip was increasingly growing even before the U.S. confirmation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Vienna for their third encounter since Saturday. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are also in Vienna, and their Russian and British counterparts were to join later. China was sending a deputy foreign minister in a building diplomatic effort to wrap up the negotiations.

For weeks, all seven nations at the negotiating table insisted that Tuesday remains the formal deadline for a deal. But with time running out, a senior U.S. official acknowledged that was unrealistic.

“Given the dates, and that we have some work to do … the parties are planning to remain in Vienna beyond June 30 to continue working,” said the official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department practice.

Asked about the chances for a deal, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, told reporters: “It’s going to be tough … but not impossible.”

Steinmeier avoided reporters but told German media earlier: “I am convinced that if there is no agreement, everyone loses.”

“Iran would remain isolated. A new arms race in a region that is already riven by conflict could be the dramatic consequence.”

Both sides recognize that there is leeway to extend to July 9. As part of an agreement with the U.S. Congress, lawmakers then have 30 days to review the deal before suspending congressional sanctions.

But postponement beyond that would double the congressional review period to 60 days, giving both Iranian and U.S. critics more time to work on undermining an agreement.

Arguing for more time to allow the U.S. to drive a harder bargain, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a fierce opponent of the talks — weighed in on Sunday against “this bad agreement, which is becoming worse by the day.”

“It is still not too late to go back and insist on demands that will genuinely deny Iran the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he said.

The goal of the talks involving Iran and the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia is a deal that would crimp Tehran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran insists it does not want such arms but is bargaining in exchange for sanctions relief

On Saturday, diplomats told The Associated Press that Iran was considering a U.S.-backed plan for it to send enriched uranium to another country for sale as reactor fuel, a step that would resolve one of several outstanding issues.

___

Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran contributed to this report.

TIME Tunisia

Tunisia Terrorist Attack Survivors Describe Scenes of Horror

TUNISIA-UNREST-TOURISM
Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images Tourists look at flowers at the site of a shooting attack on the beach in front of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port el Kantaoui, on the outskirts of Sousse south of the capital Tunis, on June 28, 2015.

At least 38 people were killed and dozens of others wounded in Friday's beachfront rampage

SOUSSE, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s postcard destination for tourists is reeling from the terror that blighted another day of play at the Mediterranean seaside resort of Sousse. A man armed with a Kalashnikov and grenades gunned down tourists on a private beach, and then moved methodically through the grounds of a luxury hotel — to the swimming pool, reception area and offices.

At least 38 people were killed and dozens of others wounded in Friday’s deadly noon rampage by a young Tunisian disguised as a tourist ready for fun in the sun.

From accounts of the attack by shocked survivors, tourists who stayed on, lifeguards and beach employees who helped at the site of the massacre emerge stories of love and horror.

No one grasped what was happening at first in what became Tunisia’s worst terrorist attack. Were the popping sounds and explosions fireworks for yet another celebration?

On Saturday, the private beach of the 370-room Imperial Marhaba Hotel was immaculate with chairs lined up under straw umbrellas — and police tape sealing it off. Only the emptiness and an overturned lounge chair with flowers accumulating hinted at the horror. “Why? Warum?” read a note on one bouquet. “Warum” is German for “why.” Sousse is a popular destination for Germans and at least one German was killed in the attack.

Some people cried as they placed their offerings.

Then there are the horrific recollections of the living — many of whom quickly fled Sousse.

___

Tony Callaghan of Norfolk, England, was near the pool around midday when he heard what many others thought were fireworks. With his 23 years in the Royal Air Force, Callaghan knew better.

“I knew it was gunfire … The hotel was being attacked.”

Callaghan, 63, suffered a gunshot wound to his leg and his wife, Christine, 62, had her femur shattered. Both were among those being treated at Sahloul Hospital, the largest in Sousse.

Along with what he said were some 40 people, they had taken refuge in the hotel’s administrative offices, not far from the reception area. They climbed to the first floor, “but then we were trapped.” Callaghan said he told people to hide because the gunman was following “and shooting coming up the stairs.”

His wife stumbled in the corridor and “was screaming ‘Help me! Help me!'” Callaghan said shortly before heading for surgery. Another woman had been shot four times, he said, and “was lying in a pool of blood.”

The gunfire appeared endless. For Callaghan, it lasted about 40 minutes. “It was, like, incessant.”

But no one really counted as they looked to save their lives. Some others suggested it lasted about 20 minutes.

The attacker “took time to go to the beach, to the pool, the reception, the administration, climbing the stairs,” said Imen Belfekih, an employee for seven years at the hotel. She was among those hiding in the administration offices, along with a fellow employee, who was wounded in the attack.

Belfekih said that the attacker threw a grenade as he climbed the stairs to the rooms where the group was hiding, apparently following the screams of fear. Her colleague was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds.

“We saw only black. It was smoky. Everyone was hiding in offices …. I hid under a desk,” she said.

A police officer who was called to the scene told The Associated Press that the gunman threw three grenades — but one failed to explode. He wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the case and asked not to be identified by name.

Belfekih said she was on the beach when she first heard the gunfire. She and her wounded friend only left their hideout “when we heard silence.”

The varying accounts of the ordeal made it difficult to understand exactly where the gunman was killed by police. However, he apparently went back downstairs to make an escape. Several accounts put the location outside. And no one who spoke with the AP could clearly describe him.

“I never saw him because we were running for our lives,” Callaghan said.

___

The hotel manager, Mohamed Becheur, said he had no details about the tragedy that befell his establishment, arriving later when notified and after the attack.

He has not officially closed the hotel, though concedes that everyone will shortly be gone.

“We may have zero clients today but we will keep our staff,” Becheur said.

His hotel was a scene of chaos for hours, with people hiding out in halls, offices and bathrooms.

Marian King, from the Dublin suburb of Lucan, was in her final few hours before departure when chaos struck. Then a British woman ran into the lobby screaming that her husband had been shot and was “lying on a sunbed in a pool of blood.”

King immediately returned with her son to her room, hiding for two hours in the bathroom as sounds of gunfire continued for what she said was an hour. Others from the hotel joined them.

“There were footsteps in the corridor and people running back and forth, shouting in all languages, every language,” she told Irish radio station RTE.

Travel agents were calling with rides out of town, and with a 10-minute warning “we chucked everything into bags and went.”

___

On Saturday, a pall hung over sunny Sousse. Scattered sunbathers who said they weren’t afraid waded in the water. An occasional police patrol boat skimmed the water, and police on horseback worked the sand. But there was little sign of the violence a day earlier.

But there was lots of praise from tourists for employees of their respective hotels who may soon be out of work ifTunisia’s prime industry, tourism, is gutted by the attack.

Employees at nearby hotels or those with outlets on the beach joined in the rescue operation, running to the massacre site to lend a hand.

“You hear the gunfire. You can’t count the number of times,” said Haytham, a lifeguard at the nearby Royal Kenz Hotel. He and others cleared the beach and moved some wounded into ambulances. Visibly shaken, he and a group of tourists laid a bouquet at the doomed beach.

Faycal Mhoub, who from his post at the beach offers camel rides, rushed from his circuit when he heard the news, putting tourists in the family home, then went to help moved the wounded.

“I live with the tourists more than with my family,” he said. “I don’t know how many months or years tourists won’t come, but I’ll be at my spot.”

TIME Greece

Greece on Edge as Banks Run Low on Cash

European Central Bank is pondering whether to extend funds after Tuesday's deadline

The European Central Bank has announced it is maintaining emergency credit to Greek banks at its current level.

The decision keeps a key financial lifeline open but does not provide further credit to Greece’s banks, which are seeing deposits drain away as anxious Greeks withdraw savings.

The ECB said it was working closely with the Bank of Greece to maintain financial stability and added it could reconsider the decision on credit levels.

ECB head Mario Draghi said “we continue to work closely with the Bank of Greece and we strongly endorse the commitment of Member States in pledging to take action to address the fragilities of euro-area economies.”

Worried Greeks were lining up at ATM machines on Sunday, the day after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for a referendum on creditors’ financial proposals in return for rescue loans and creditors refused to extend Greece’s international bailout beyond Tuesday.

While some machines in Greece were running out of cash, others were being replenished. Another top Greek financial official urged Greeks on Sunday to remain calm and not withdraw all their savings.

The news came as France’s prime minister urged Greece and other nations to do whatever they can to keep Greece in the 19-nation bloc that uses the euro currency.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Sunday that “we don’t know — none of us — the consequences of an exit from the eurozone, either on the political or economic front. We must do everything so that Greece stays in the eurozone.” He was speaking on France’s i-Tele TV.

Valls added that “means respecting Greece and democracy, but it’s also about respecting European rules. So Greece needs to come back to the negotiating table.”

Tsipras’ call for a national referendum on creditors’ demands has thrown Greece’s negotiations with its international lenders into turmoil.

 

TIME Syria

ISIS Fighters Kill 200 Civilians in Syrian Town

Turkey Syrian Islamic State
Yasin Akgul—AP People standing on the Turkish side of the border with Syria, on the outskirts of Suruc, Turkey, watch as smoke rises over Kobani, in Syria, June 27, 2015.

The victims were mostly shot dead in cold blood, some in their own homes, activists said

(BEIRUT)—Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria fighters who launched a surprise attack on a Syrian border town massacred more than 200 civilians, including women and children, before they were killed and driven out by Kurdish forces, activists said on Saturday.

Kurdish activist Mustafa Bali, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kurdish official Idris Naasan put at 40-50 the number of elite IS fighters killed in the two days of fighting since the militants sneaked into the town of Kobani before dawn on Thursday.

Clashes, however, continued to the south and west of the predominantly Kurdish town on the Turkish border on Saturday, they said, although the fighting in the south quietened down by nightfall.

Naasan said 23 of the city’s Kurdish defenders were killed in the fighting, but the Observatory put the number at 16. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled, but conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of major fighting.

“Kobani has been completely cleared of Daesh, and Kurdish forces are now combing the town looking for fighters who may have gone into hiding,” Bali, using the Arabic acronym for the IS, told The Associated Press by telephone from Kobani. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, also reported that Kobani has been cleared of IS fighters.

The more than 200 civilians killed in the last two days include some who perished in IS suicide bombings, including one at the border crossing with Turkey, but they were mostly shot dead in cold blood, some in their own homes, the activists said.

“They were revenge killings,” Rami Abdurrahman, the observatory’s director, told the AP.

Others were caught in the cross-fire as gun battles raged in the town’s streets or were randomly targeted by IS snipers on rooftops.

Bali, Abdurrahman and Naasan all said the number of Kobani civilians and IS fighters killed was likely to rise as rescue teams continue to search neighborhoods where the fighting took place.

Massacring civilians is not an uncommon practice by the Islamic State group, whose men have slaughtered thousands in Syria and neighboring Iraq over the last year, when its fighters blitzed through large swathes of territory and declared a caliphate that spans both nations.

The Islamic State group often posts on social media networks gruesome images of its fighters executing captives as part of psychological warfare tactics designed to intimidate and inspire desertions among their enemies. Last week, it posted one of its most gruesome video clips, showing the execution of 16 men it claimed to have been spies. Five of the men were drowned in a cage, four were burned inside a car and seven were blown up by explosives.

The killing of so many civilians in Kobani, according to Abdurrahman, was premeditated and meant by the Islamic State to avenge their recent defeats at the hands of Kurdish forces.

The Western-backed Kurdish forces have emerged as a formidable foe of the extremist group, rolling them back in the north and northeast parts of Syria, where the Kurds are the dominant community, as well as in northern Iraq, where they have also made significant gains against the IS.

Kobani has become a symbol of Kurdish resistance after it endured a months-long siege by the Islamic State group before Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, broke through and drove the militants out in January.

Thursday’s surprise attack on the town and a simultaneous one targeting the remote northeastern town of Hassakeh came one day after the Islamic State group called for a wave of violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and piety that is now in its second week.

“You Muslims, take the initiative and rush to jihad, rise up you mujahideen everywhere, push forward and make Ramadan a month of calamities for the nonbelievers,” IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said in an audio message released Tuesday.

In what also appears to be a response to that call, terror attacks took place Friday across three continents: shootings in a Tunisian beach resort that left 39 people dead, an explosion and a beheading in a U.S.-owned chemical warehouse in southeast France and a suicide bombing by an Islamic State affiliate at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait that killed at least 27 worshippers.

The attacks also came after the group suffered a series of setbacks over the past two weeks, including the loss last week of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad — one of the group’s main points for bringing in foreign fighters and supplies.

Fighting is continuing in Hassakeh for the third successive day, with government and Kurdish forces separately fighting IS militants who have seized several neighborhoods in the mostly Kurdish town, according to the Observatory. Forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad have brought in reinforcements from the town of Deir el-Zour to the south while the Syrian air force pounded IS positions inside the town.

TIME Taiwan

Hundreds Injured in Taiwan Water Park Fire

Taiwan park fire
EPA Taiwanese push a young man suffering from burns on his legs to an ambulance at the Formosa Fun Coast park in the Bali District of New Taipei City, northern Taiwan, June 27, 2015.

The fire's cause is under investigation

More than 200 people were injured in a fire that broke out at a water park in Taipei, Taiwan on Saturday.

The fire ignited in the midst of “colour play” party at the Formosa Water Park, which featured music and dancing. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but BBC reports it may have sparked when a colored powder being thrown on the audience burst into flame.

There were at least 215 people injured, with 83 of them suffering severe burns, BBC reports. There were about 1,000 people near a stage where the fire started.

The fire was brought under control.

[BBC]

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