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Syrian rebels' last stand as Assad forces close in

18 August

Syria's defeated rebels have for years been allowed to escape to the northern territory of Idlib under a deal with the government - but now this too is under threat of attack from President Assad.

Our special correspondent Alex Crawford was given special access to Idlib province as fighters prepare for their last stand after years of shrinking territory.
They call this Free Syria but armed checkpoints are scattered throughout Idlib.
There are a dozen different rebel factions operating here and many don't like cameras.
Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) is in control of much of Idlib - an alliance of jihadists who insist they are no longer linked to al Qaeda.
They have a strict code of conduct and I'm told to dress accordingly.
We spot several black signs several telling women they should be veiled, and others banning smoking.
A few miles away, a group of men are accused of being IS bombers and a picture by the HTS media wing shows the six saying their final prayers.
The next picture is taken after the shooting.
Islamic State is still operating in parts of this area but the rebels are now focused on one last big battle.
They are building their defences with diggers and by hand, constructing sandbags and trenches.
This is their last stand against the Syrian regime led by Bashar al Assad and after seven years of fighting Idlib is the last province still holding out.
"We're going to be much better prepared than they expect," says one man shown in an HTS film.
Another warns: "We'll hit him in a way he's never experienced before."
The civilians are not at all convinced.
They have been living under these conditions, some of them for years, moving from place to place, fleeing from bombing and shelling, trying to get to safety.
This is the last rebel holdout and now it is under threat. The regime wants Idlib under its control and those in the middle are terrified.
One family of 16 we met has moved four times already: "We are afraid. We are afraid of everything," one of them tells me.
"We don't know what to do with the children or where to go for safety," her sister says.
The population here has roughly doubled to nearly three million with all the displaced people. They struggle under tents with few facilities and many have never known any other life than war.
"Just the word regime terrifies us because they kill children and women - no one cares about whats happening to us," says Mohammed al Jaseem
The clinic that we saw serves 90,000 people, many of whom have lost relatives or bear the scars of war, and the doctors are too scared to show their faces on camera.
"We are living in a prison," says one. "No water, no electricity, things are very difficult."
The UN and human rights groups have warned of an humanitarian disaster if the regime tries to take Idlib by force - the people sheltering here can only await their fate.

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324 dead and thousands homeless as worst flooding in 100 years hits India

17 August

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands left homeless after the worst floods in a century hit Kerala in India.

At least 324 people have died and more than 223,000 people have been rendered homeless and placed in relief camps.
Monsoon rains have unleashed devastating flooding and landslides in the state.
Since the monsoon began at the end of May, Kerala has received 37% excess rain water. In some parts it has been in excess of 84%.
The unprecedented rains have led to 37 of the 42 dams in the state running over the dangers mark, with gates being opened to drain excess water from catchment areas.
The Idduki dam has been releasing 10-15 lakh litres (1m-1.5m litres) of water every second for the last three days. The waters released caused the rivers to flood the adjoining areas.
Hundreds of military personnel from the army, navy, air force and coast guard have been pressed into rescue and relief operations. They are being supported by hundreds from the National Disaster Response Force.
Air force helicopters have been rescuing many from remote places, while the navy has docked a ship on the coast in preparation for its efforts.
Emergency services have been overwhelmed by the flooding, and local fishermen have come in to help, using their boats in urban areas to deliver relief material to those stuck.
Flood waters have submerged some homes up to two storeys high.
The homeless have been accommodated in 1,568 relief camps across the state.
Damage to the roads and highways is hampering relief operations as flood waters have washed a number of roads while landslides have caused blockage.
The rail networks have also been affected badly with many trains being cancelled.
Food, medicines and essential supplies are in shortage, particularly in remote areas.
Schools have been closed and some districts have banned tourists citing safety concerns
The Indian Meteorological Department said heavy rains will continue, but the intensity has lessened slightly.
In a tweet the Chief Minister's Office issued a fresh alert. "Alert: all districts apart from Kasargode are under red alert... heavy rains may affect these 13 districts. Everyone please be cautious,"
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to reach Kerala later today for an aerial survey.

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Genoa bridge collapse: 'Buried daughter stroked my hand so I knew she was alive'

18 August

In an Italian chapel this lunchtime, four friends were remembered together; mourned together.

Their coffins sat side by side; flowers at their foot; photographs on top.
Matteo Bertonati, Antonio Stanzione, Giovanni Battiloro, and Gerardo Esposito had been heading to France for a holiday. They'd chosen to drive, not fly.
Their families have chosen now to hold their own funerals.
They've declined to be included in the state funeral because they hold the state responsible.
In Genoa, through the day there have been difficult scenes as the families of more victims gathered for moments to reflect on it all.
A couple sit quietly next to a coffin.
It's a scene repeated through the large hall by the port which will be the location for Saturday's state funeral.
The relatives here have said they are content for their grieving to be part of the state's event.
The president, prime minister and cabinet will be here; full state honours for lives lost in a tragedy caused, say so many, by state failings.
Not far from the funeral hall, we caught up with the country's deputy transport minister.
Eduardo Rixi, from the right-wing Lega party - half of the governing coalition - was born in this city. Now its tragedy is his problem.
"We are in the government for 60 days. So the problem is before they took a wrong decision and I work so that these kind of things can't happen anymore," he says.
I ask if he understands that some families are shunning the state funeral.
"Yes. They are right. I think we have to be here.
"And the people have to decide to be here or not be here, because I think 20 years ago, 10 years ago, some decision were the wrong decision, that bridge should be destroyed and rebuilt."
The miracle survival stories continue to come.
Marina Gualiata was sheltering from the rain with her daughter under the bridge when it collapsed.
"When I woke up I was stuck in the rubble and I was holding my daughter's hand but I could not see her because she was completely buried," she told Sky News Italia.
"So I started to call for help, to shout that they had to save my daughter, that we had to get her out of there.
"She couldn't talk to me, but to make me understand that she was still alive she caressed my hand."
"The firefighters finally arrived and started to dig her out. Her face was turned to the ground and I saw the rescuers pulling rubble out of her mouth to allow her to breathe."
At the collapse site, the vast panels of the bridge must be broken up and removed.
It's now a recovery and clear-up operation here. There is little expectation of any more people being found alive.
Families who live next to the bridge are still being evacuated.
Initially, 10 blocks were evacuated. But a closer inspection by specialists revealed that two more pillars here were deteriorating.
And so a further five blocks have now been emptied. Six hundred people now need new homes.
At a reception centre in town, Sefer Sefa is among those waiting for help.
He needs somewhere to live with his wife and two young children.
He shows me his apartment's location on Google Street View. It's shudderingly clear why he's been asked to leave his home.
The apartment is right next to the bridge. Its imposing shadow hangs over the building.
"When I went to rent that house, on the first day I went inside and my son told me, 'Daddy, (what) if that bridge comes down?' I laughed at him because it was something impossible.
"Four days ago my son told me, 'do you remember that I told you... so..."
He trails off, emotional and clearly in shock still.
He doesn't blame anyone: "I am not an engineer so it would be wrong of me to pretend to know who was responsible."
But he's really worried about where he will now live.
It is easy for the coalition government to say "it's not our fault we've only been in office five mins".
But then for the half of the coalition Luca Pirondini represents, that would be disingenuous.
He is a Five Star Movement politician in Genoa. His party once said the idea the bridge could collapse was a "fairytale".
"The position of the Five Star Movement on infrastructure is not to spend too much money for a few big projects but instead to spend money for lots of little interventions - maintenance," he told me.
"Autostrada Per Italia (the operator of the bridge) said the bridge could last for 100 years. And that's what we based our position on," he said.
Most of the funerals will take place this weekend amid a mixture of grief and deep anger.

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Record 162,000 people have their say on plastic reduction

18 August

A record 162,000 people have had their say in a government review of how tax could reduce plastic pollution.

The high number of responses reflects the public's concern about the impact of plastic on the environment.
Since January last year, Sky Ocean Rescue has campaigned for deposits on plastic bottles and for plastic in packaging to be replaced by alternative materials.
According to details released by the Treasury, individuals, businesses and campaign groups all submitted evidence to the review.
Among the popular measures were using the tax system to encourage greater use of recycled plastic in manufacturing, discouraging the use of hard-to-recycle black plastic, and reducing demand for single-use plastics such as coffee cups and takeaway boxes.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated that he will announce tax measures in the November Budget to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste.
Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary, said: "Tackling the scandal of plastic pollution is one of our top priorities and we know the public is right behind us.
"I've been overwhelmed by the public support and the responses we have received will be invaluable as we develop our plans for using the tax system to combat this."
Latest figures from the recycling group Recoup show that 2,260,000 tons of plastic packaging were put on the UK market in 2016.
Just under 45% (1,015,226 tons) were collected for recycling, with the rest sent to landfill or incinerated.
Suez, one of the country's largest recycling and waste management companies, wants businesses using plastic to take more responsibility for their products.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez, said: "Producers can currently produce unsustainable products that are difficult, or impossible, to recycle and these are simply thrown away.
"The consumer and environment pick up the cost.
"An extended producer responsibility scheme, designed with the right fiscal measures, would consign unnecessary single-use plastics to the scrap heap and spawn a new generation of better-designed products using more recyclable content."
Hugo Tagholm, who heads the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, said: "This is a clear indication of the public appetite for more fiscal interventions to help reduce plastic pollution littering our environment, from inner-city streets and countryside to our oceans."
:: Sky's Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to cut back on single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com
:: Oceans campaigner Lewis Pugh is swimming the length of the Channel - from Land's End to Dover - to raise awareness of the plastic pollution problem. You can read more about The Long Swim here.

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Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to set sail from Portsmouth for US visit

18 August

Britain's largest warship is ready to set sail on her maiden voyage to the US.

The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will leave her home city of Portsmouth on Saturday evening for the 11-week trip, which will see two F-35s flown onto her deck for the first time.
The fighter planes are American - from a base in Maryland - but the first landing will be made by a British pilot.
Three British pilots will be taking part in the US deployment - a Royal Navy commander, an RAF squadron leader and a civilian test pilot.
They will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will not get a chance to test the British-owned versions of the planes until next year.
:: Navy's new flagship is a true feat of engineering
It is planned that, by the time the carrier is fully deployed in 2021, it will carry a squadron of around 12 of them.
They arrived from the US in June and are currently based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Until then, she has been rehearsing with helicopters, carrying out more than 1,000 take-offs and landings since arriving at Portsmouth around a year ago.
For the US trip, the aircraft carrier will be joined by support ship RFA Tiderace, frigate HMS Monmouth, Merlin helicopters from various squadrons across the country and Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.
With a price tag of £3bn, the 65,000-ton ship has been criticised by some as too expensive but the Queen Elizabeth's commanding officer said Russian activity was among the reasons for the Royal Navy to maintain a "balance, strong and able, capable fleet".
Captain Jerry Kyd said: "The increase in Russian activity we have seen in the last couple of years is frightening and for national security reasons it just underlines why we need to maintain a balanced, strong and able, capable fleet.
"It's been quite eye-watering what we have seen in the last couple of years."
He added: "Crossing a major ocean with 1,500 sailors, aircrew and marines embarked and the spectre of the first F-35B Lightning landing on the deck in September is very exciting for us all."
Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said Russian submarines were more active in the North Atlantic now than at any time since the Cold War ended.
:: HMS Queen Elizabeth - facts and figures
He said the ship would be "well protected" as she made her way across the sea, adding: "We are not seeking confrontation, we are heading to the east coast of the United States to conduct trials.
"These first F-35B embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy."

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