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In the World

Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus

BBC World News/May 8, 2018

Syrian state media says Israel has launched an air strike against an army position south of the capital Damascus.

The Sana news agency said Syrian air defences had shot down two Israeli missiles in the Kiswah area on Tuesday.

It reported no casualties, but a monitoring group says at least nine pro-government forces had been killed, including Iranian-backed fighters.

Earlier on Tuesday, there were reports of loud explosions at a military base in the area.

A commander supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters news agency that the strike had targeted a Syrian army position.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the target was an arms depot.

The dead included members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other Shia militiamen, it added.

Israel has not commented on the reports, but it has said it will stop what it considers Iran's military "entrenchment" in Syria.

Iran has supported the Syrian government during the country's seven-year civil war, deploying hundreds of military advisers and thousands of militiamen to the country.

It has reportedly built a military base in the area where Tuesday's strike is said to have happened.

Last year, a Western intelligence source told the BBC that the Iranian military had established a compound at a site used by the Syrian army near Kiswah.

Iran has also vowed to avenge recent air strikes on its military facilities in Syria that were attributed to Israel.

High alert

Tensions between the two countries escalated on Tuesday when Israel said it had detected "irregular Iranian activity" in the occupied Golan Heights region of Syria.

It put the area, which is Syrian territory under Israeli control, under high alert and instructed bomb shelters to be unlocked.

Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said "any aggressions against Israel will be met with a severe response".

Israeli media said it was the first time there had been an order to prepare shelters in the occupied area since the Syrian civil war began.

It came as President Donald Trump said the US would quit the Iran nuclear deal.

Going against advice from European allies, he said he would reimpose economic sanctions that were waived when the deal was signed in 2015.

The deal saw Iran agree to limit the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium - which is used to make reactor fuel, but also nuclear weapons - in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he "fully supports" Mr Trump's withdrawal, saying the deal had "increased Iranian aggression".


Plymouth woman dies in Spanish Ironman Competition

BBC News/May 3, 2018

A British woman died during the swim section of an Ironman triathlon in Spain.

Sharon Lang, 39 from Plymouth, Devon is understood to have had a heart attack during the swim on Sunday.

She died in a nearby hospital the following day surrounded by her family and friends.

Her best friend Kirsty Prowse said Mrs Lang was "passionate about sports" and had "touched the lives of so many people".

The Ironman 70.3 Marbella consists of a 1,900m (6,230ft) swim, followed by a 90km (56 mile) cycle and a half marathon.

She had previously run two full marathons, numerous biking events, open water swims and seven triathlons, but this was her first Ironman event.

Ms Prowse, who travelled with Mrs Lang to support her in the event, said: "It was her dream to combine all three disciplines and compete in the Marbella Ironman.

"She trained incredibly hard for the event, often being in the pool at 6am ready to start the day, she even cycled to the Tavistock half marathon this year, completed the race and cycled home again, everyone was in awe of her."

She described her friend as "an incredibly warm young lady who constantly had a smile on her face and a positive outlook on everything she did."

The organisers of the event confirmed the death and said: "Our condolences go out to the athlete's family and friends, whom we will continue to support.

"We are working with the local authorities to gather all the details on how this incident occurred and will continue to do everything possible to provide a safe environment for our athletes."

Brian King, president of the Plymouth Musketeers Running Club where Mrs Lang was ladies captain, said she was "an inspiration" and the Marbella race was her "dream event".

The club is holding a number of memorial runs and creating an annual trophy in her name.

And in Canada

Canada to formally apologize for refusing Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939

By Staff/The Canadian Press/May 8, 2018

Canada will formally apologize for turning away a boat full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, resulting in scores of them dying, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

In a well-received speech to a sold-out Jewish fundraising event, Trudeau said the decision by Canada to force the German ocean liner “MS St. Louis” to return to Europe was a blight on our collective past.

“An apology in the House of Commons will not rewrite this shameful chapter of our history,” Trudeau said. “It will not bring back those who perished or repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our hope that this long overdue apology will bring awareness to our failings, as we vow to never let history repeat itself.”

In the run-up to the Second World War and the ensuing Holocaust, the Canadian government heeded anti-Semitic sentiment by severely restricting Jewish immigration. From 1933 to 1945, only about 5,000 Jewish refugees were accepted due to what Trudeau called “our discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy” in place at the time.

He called the turning away of the ship a “most egregious” example of the misguided policy.

The “St. Louis” was carrying 907 German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Its captain, Gustav Schroeder, tried in vain to find homes for his passengers. In addition to Cuba, the United States also turned away the refugees.

Forced to return to Europe, 254 of those aboard eventually died in the slaughter that became the Holocaust.

“We cannot turn away from this uncomfortable truth, and Canada’s part in it,” Trudeau said. “We must learn from this story, and let its lessons guide our actions going forward.”

The March of the Living program has seen thousands of Holocaust survivors and others travel to Poland to honour the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps.

Trudeau spoke eloquently of his own pilgrimage to Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

“We stared at the barbed wire fences that once separated the enslaved from their captors. We marched along the railways that delivered so many Jews to their deaths,” Trudeau said.

“My visit to Auschwitz will forever stay with me and guide my time – as prime minister, but also as a father, husband, son, brother and citizen.”

Trudeau said recent figures indicate 17 per cent of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people. He said it pained him that Jews “more than any other religious group” are the victims of hate crimes.

“We need to do more, as a society, to end xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still take root in our communities, in our schools, and in our places of work,” the prime minister said.

Trudeau said he looked forward to offering the apology himself on the floor of the House of Commons, but he gave no date. The audience applauded loudly at the announcement.

Tuesday was the first marking of May as Jewish Heritage Month, a designation passed by the Commons earlier this year.

The fundraiser raised more than $1.1 million.


Ontario has just issued its first non-binary birth certificate, recipient says

The ‘new policy will save lives in the trans community,’ says recipient Joshua Ferguson

The Canadian Press/May 7, 2018

An Ontario-born filmmaker has been issued what they say is the province's first non-binary birth certificate after a year-long legal battle with the government, and says receiving the document marks a victory for the non-binary and transgender community.

Joshua M. Ferguson, who identifies as neither a man nor a woman and uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they," returned home from a trip abroad to find the birth certificate in the mail last week.

"I'm feeling good to finally have my birth certificate that correctly displays who I am," the 35-year-old said over the phone from their home in Vancouver.

"This moment not only reaffirms who we are, and our protection under the law in Ontario and in Canada, but it's a relief because we are counted. That's quite an incredible feeling, because it makes it clear that we exist."

CBC News first reported on Ferguson last May.

Being officially recognized 'empowering'

Ferguson, who was born in Brantford, Ont., applied to a Toronto branch of Service Ontario to change the sex designation on their birth registration to non-binary in May of 2017. When the case was delayed, Ferguson filed a human rights complaint, which eventually prompted a policy change.

People can now choose between "M" for male, "F" for female and "X" for non-binary. They can also opt not to display a sex designation on the birth certificate at all.

Gender-neutral birth certificates are currently also available in Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Northwest Territories, and Ferguson hopes more provinces will follow suit.

"Ontario's new policy will save lives in the trans community. A birth certificate is the most vital form of ID for personhood. Being officially counted and recognized is empowering," Ferguson said in a release Monday.

'The most vital form of ID for personhood'

Last August, the federal government announced a plan to start offering a gender-neutral option on passports.

Ontario previously offered non-binary options for drivers' licenses and health cards, but not birth certificates. The change is significant, said Ferguson, calling birth certificates "the most vital form of ID for personhood."

Service Ontario said the new policy on birth certificates is in line with the province's goal to "recognize and respect all transgender and non-binary people in Ontario, and give all Ontarians access to identification that matches their gender identity."    

Recognition of that kind has both practical and symbolic benefits for transgender people, Ferguson said.

"The ability to change your identification... makes a big difference, and can decrease the social isolation, anxiety, depression," they said.

"My family is very proud of me and it means a lot to me to have a supportive family," Ferguson added. "They see the change in me, just over the last tiny bit of time that I've had this birth certificate."