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US-backed Kurds tighten siege of Syrian army-run enclaves in northeast

US backed Kurdish-led forces tightened the siege on neighborhoods under the control of the Syrian government in two Kurdish-controlled cities in northeast Syria, officials from both sides said on Thursday.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they took over about 10 government offices ranging from the local finance, grains and education branches in a zone in the heart of the city of Qamishli.

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The grouping of US-backed militias, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG, also prevented for a sixth consecutive day the entry of wheat and fuel to the other zone in the city of Hasaka under control of Syrian government forces.

Most of the neighborhoods of the two biggest cities in northeastern Syria have been under SDF control since Syrian troops handed control to the Kurds in the early years of the 11-year war to fight mainly Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The SDF also closed a highway leading to government-run Qamishli airport, two witnesses said – a crisis that the Kurdish led forces blame on Damascus for besieging the mainly Kurdish inhabited Sheikh Maqsoud district in the northern city of Aleppo since the beginning of the month.

Over 200,000 mainly Kurdish inhabitants live in the area.

Russian-mediated talks failed on Tuesday to defuse the crisis with the YPG insisting that the Syrian army must lift restrictions that have prevented trucks carrying food and wheat to the Aleppo enclave it administers.

“The Syrian regime has been for a while holding back food supplies to Sheikh Maqsoud in an attempt to exert political pressures on the SDF,” said Mohammad Abdul Sattar Ibrahim, a Syrian analyst in touch with Kurdish officials.

Russian forces have, however, consolidated their military foothold in the area where most of Syria’s oil and wheat is produced after Turkish threats prompted the YPG to seek Russia’s help to reinforce frontlines with Turkey-backed rebels.

Syrian officials have accused the SDF of starving people.

“The SDF are preventing entry of wheat, foodstuffs and fuel that are needed to run bakeries and this is adding to the hardship of people in these difficult times,” Ghassan Khalil, the governor of Hasaka told state media.

The YPG and Syrian authorities have for years been tacit allies, with lucrative oil and commercial links between them.

Assad has in the past two years accused the YPG of treachery and helping Washington lay its hands on Syria’s oil and wheat production. Syria also accuses the Kurds of harboring separatist ambitions, which the YPG denies.

Read more: Kurdish forces kill 16 ISIS members in Syria prison clashes: Monitor

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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