Militants in Pakistan kill six soldiers near Afghan border

Taliban security personnel patrol after clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan forces at Torkham border crossing, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 20, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 May 2023

Militants in Pakistan kill six soldiers near Afghan border

  • No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the bloodshed
  • "A fire exchange took place between terrorists and our own troops," the army said in a statement describing the incident in North Waziristan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants killed six Pakistani soldiers in an exchange of fire with the military in a northwestern tribal district bordering Afghanistan, the army said on Thursday.
No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the bloodshed, which comes after Pakistan declared a new offensive against militants following a resurgence of attacks, including a mosque bombing that killed more than 100 people in February.
Islamabad says the militants, who want to establish a hard-line version of Islamic law in Pakistan, enjoy safe haven in Afghanistan to plan and execute the attacks, a charge Kabul denies.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, foreign minister of Afghanistan’s Taliban administration, is arriving in Islamabad on Friday for meetings with his Pakistani and Chinese counterparts.
“A fire exchange took place between terrorists and our own troops,” the army said in a statement describing the incident in North Waziristan, which has long been a hotbed of militants who operate on both sides of the border.
Three “terrorists” were also killed when the army engaged them, it said, adding that it was searching the area to determine if any more attackers were in hiding.
The incident came within a week of attacks by militants, including an assault by a suicide bomber who drove into a military base camp just outside Pakistan’s rugged, lawless tribal district, killing three soldiers.
The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of several Sunni militant groups, has been behind the attacks against the state, which have become more frequent since last year after it revoked a cease-fire and peace talks with the government in Islamabad collapsed.
The government says the peace talks allowed the release from prison of hundreds of the militants and their leaders, enabling them to regroup and launch fresh attacks.

Moscow says 50 Ukrainian drones shot down as attacks spark fires at Russian power stations

Updated 4 sec ago

Moscow says 50 Ukrainian drones shot down as attacks spark fires at Russian power stations

Fifty drones were shot down by air defenses over eight Russian regions, including 26 over the country’s western Belgorod region
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet

KYIV: Ukraine launched a barrage of drones across Russia overnight, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said Saturday, in attacks that appeared to target the country’s energy infrastructure.
Fifty drones were shot down by air defenses over eight Russian regions, including 26 over the country’s western Belgorod region close to the Ukrainian border. Two people — a woman with a broken leg and the man caring for her — died during the overnight barrage, after explosions sparked a blaze that set their home alight, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on social media. A pregnant woman and her unborn child were also killed in shelling later Saturday, he said.
Drones were also reportedly destroyed over the Bryansk, Kursk, Tula, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga regions across Russia’s west and south, as well as in the Moscow region.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it had shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet. It provided no details and the claims could not be independently verified.
Ukrainian officials normally decline to comment about attacks on Russian soil. However, many of the drone strikes appeared to be directed toward Russia’s energy infrastructure.
The head of the Kaluga region, Vladislav Shapsha, said Saturday that a drone strike had sparked a blaze at an electrical substation, while Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz and Smolensk Gov. Vasily Anokhin also reported fires at fuel and energy complexes.
In recent months, Russian refineries and oil terminals have become priority targets of Ukrainian drone attacks, part of stepped-up assaults on Russian territory.
Ukrainian drone developers have been extending the weapons’ range for months, as Kyiv attempts to compensate for its battlefield disadvantage in weapons and troops. The unmanned aerial vehicles are also an affordable option while Ukraine waits for more US military aid.
Moscow also said Friday evening that an American citizen known to have fought with Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine between 2014 and 2017 had died in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region.
Russell Bentley, 64, was no longer involved in military operations and previously worked for state-owned Russian news agency Sputnik. His death was confirmed by his former battalion and by Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-funded television channel RT, who described him as “a real American.” He used the call-sign “Texas” and had spent time in prison on charges of drug smuggling before leaving the United States.
No information has been released as to the cause of Bentley’s death, but local police had previously reported the American as missing on April 8.
Meanwhile, Russia attacked Ukraine overnight with seven missiles, and air defenses downed two missiles and three reconnaissance drones, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.
Gov. Oleh Kiper, head of Ukraine’s Odesa region, said that ballistic missiles had damaged infrastructure overnight, but did not provide further details. Previous attacks on the Black Sea city on Friday damaged port infrastructure, including two food export terminals, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
Russian shelling also killed two men, including an 81-year-old pensioner in the city of Vovchansk, said Gov. Oleh Syniehubov, head of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.
A 60-year-old woman was also injured after shelling struck a nine-story apartment block, he said.

Efforts underway to bring home Filipinos killed in UAE floods

Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

Efforts underway to bring home Filipinos killed in UAE floods

  • At least three Filipinos lost their lives in the unprecedented flooding
  • Philippine consulate received assistance requests from at least 100 Filipinos

Manila: The Philippine government is assisting Filipinos affected by the record-high rains and flooding that hit the UAE this week, authorities said on Saturday, as it works to repatriate the nationals who lost their lives.

A strong storm first hit Oman last weekend, killing at least 20 people, before it pounded the UAE on Tuesday, marking the heaviest rains in 75 years and bringing the Gulf state to a standstill.

The Philippine Department of Migrant Workers has confirmed the deaths of at least three Filipinos who died in road accidents as their vehicles were submerged in floodwaters.

Philippine Consul General Marford Angeles told Arab News the consulate had received assistance requests from at least 100 Filipinos — some working in the UAE, some studying, and some transiting via Dubai.

“Over 1 million Filipino nationals are currently residing in the UAE ... Majority of assistance requests received by the consulate so far originate from the populous emirates of Dubai and Sharjah, reflecting the concentration of Filipino residents in these areas,” he said.

“The unprecedented weather conditions in the UAE affected most residents.”

The three Filipinos who lost their lives in the floods were two women who died inside their flooded vehicle, and a man who died after sustaining major injuries when his vehicle fell into a sinkhole. His two passengers have been hospitalized.

“The Department of Migrant Workers, through its Migrant Workers Offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is working with local authorities for the repatriation of the remains of three overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who died during the severe flooding,” the DMW said in a statement.

“Two other OFWs, both male, suffered injuries from the vehicular accident that happened in the sinkhole. They are recuperating from their injuries.”

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

Updated 20 April 2024

US House to vote on long-awaited $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid package

  • Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid

WASHINGTON: The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Saturday is set to vote on, and expected to pass, a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from party hard-liners.
More than two months have passed since the Democratic-majority Senate passed a similar measure and US leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell have been urging embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.
Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hard-line members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes some $60.84 billion for Ukraine as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.
The unusual four-bill package also includes funds for Israel, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific and a measure that includes sanctions, a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.
“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment. The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”
A bipartisan 316-94 House majority on Friday voted to advance the bill to a vote, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told senators to be ready to work over the weekend if it passes the House as expected.
“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”
Some hard-line Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid, with some arguing the US can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hard-liners.
Representative Bob Good, chair of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”
But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the US
The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

Updated 20 April 2024

AI’s relentless rise gives journalists tough choices

  • AI tools imitating human intelligence are used to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate
  • Columbia University teacher says collaborating with AI “tempting” in the face of increasingly right media resources

PERUGIA, Italy: The rise of artificial intelligence has forced an increasing number of journalists to grapple with the ethical and editorial challenges posed by the rapidly expanding technology.

AI’s role in assisting newsrooms or transforming them completely was among the questions raised at the International Journalism Festival in the Italian city of Perugia that closes on Sunday.

AI tools imitating human intelligence are widely used in newsrooms around the world to transcribe sound files, summarize texts and translate.

In early 2023, Germany’s Axel Springer group announced it was cutting jobs at the Bild and Die Welt newspapers, saying AI could now “replace” some of its journalists.

Generative AI — capable of producing text and images following a simple request in everyday language — has been opening new frontiers as well as raising concerns for a year and a half.

One issue is that voices and faces can now be cloned to produce a podcast or present news on television. Last year, Filipino website Rappler created a brand aimed at young audiences by converting its long articles into comics, graphics and even videos.

Media professionals agree that their trade must now focus on tasks offering the greatest “added value.”

“You’re the one who is doing the real stuff” and “the tools that we produce will be an assistant to you,” Google News general manager Shailesh Prakash told the festival in Perugia.

The costs of generative AI have plummeted since ChatGPT burst onto the scene in late 2022, with the tool designed by US start-up OpenAI now accessible to smaller newsrooms.

Colombian investigative outlet Cuestion Publica has harnessed engineers to develop a tool that can delve into its archives and find relevant background information in the event of breaking news.

But many media organizations are not making their language models, which are at the core of AI interfaces, said University of Amsterdam professor Natali Helberger. They are needed for “safe and trustworthy technology,” he stressed.

According to one estimate last year by Everypixel Journal, AI has created as many images in one year as photography in 150 years.

That has raised serious questions about how news can be fished out of the tidal wave of content, including deepfakes.

Media and tech organizations are teaming up to tackle the threat, notably through the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, which seeks to set common standards.

“The core of our job is news gathering, on-the-ground reporting,” said Sophie Huet, recently appointed to become global news director for editorial innovation and artificial intelligence at Agence France-Presse.

“We’ll rely for a while on human reporters,” she added, although that might be with the help of artificial intelligence.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has expanded its media rights brief to defending trustworthy news, launched the Paris Charter on AI and journalism late last year.

“One of the things I really liked about the Paris Charter was the emphasis on transparency,” said Anya Schiffrin, a lecturer on global media, innovation and human rights at Columbia University in the United States.

“To what extent will publishers have to disclose when they are using generative IA?“

Olle Zachrison, head of AI and news strategy at public broadcaster Swedish Radio, said there was “a serious debate going on: should you mark out AI content or should people trust your brand?“

Regulation remains in its infancy in the face of a constantly evolving technology.

In March, the European Parliament adopted a framework law aiming to regulate AI models without holding back innovation, while guidelines and charters are increasingly common in newsrooms.

AI editorial guidelines are updated every three months at India’s Quintillion Media, said its boss Ritu Kapur.

None of the organization’s articles can be written by AI and the images it generates cannot represent real life.

AI models feed off data, but their thirst for the vital commodity has raised hackles among providers.
In December, the New York Times sued OpenAI and its main investor Microsoft for violation of copyright.

In contrast, other media organizations have struck deals with OpenAI: Axel Springer, US news agency AP, French daily Le Monde and Spanish group Prisa Media whose titles include El Pais and AS newspapers.

With resources tight in the media industry, collaborating with the new technology is tempting, explained Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia University’s journalism school.

She senses a growing external pressure to “Get on board, don’t miss the train.”

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

Updated 20 April 2024

Fighting flares at Myanmar-Thai border as rebels target stranded junta troops

  • Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11

Fighting raged at Myanmar’s eastern frontier with Thailand on Saturday, witnesses, media and Thailand’s government said, forcing about 200 civilians to flee as rebels pressed to flush out junta troops holed up for days at a bridge border crossing.
Resistance fighters and ethnic minority rebels seized the key trading town of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side of the frontier on April 11, dealing a big blow to a well-equipped military that is struggling to govern and is now facing a critical test of its battlefield credibility.
Three witnesses on the Thai and Myanmar sides of the border said they heard explosions and heavy machine gun fire near a strategic bridge from late on Friday that continued into early Saturday.
Several Thai media outlets said about 200 people had crossed the border to seek temporary refuge in Thailand.
Thai broadcaster NBT in a post on social media platform X said resistance forces used 40-milimeter machine guns and dropped 20 bombs from drones to target an estimated 200 junta soldiers who had retreated from a coordinated rebel assault on Myawaddy and army posts since April 5.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports and a Myanmar junta spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he was closely monitoring the unrest and his country was ready to provide humanitarian assistance if necessary.
“I do not desire to see any such clashes have any impact on the territorial integrity of Thailand and we are ready to protect our borders and the safety of our people,” he said on X. He made no mention of refugees.
Myanmar’s military is facing its biggest challenge since first taking control of the former British colony in 1962, caught up in multiple, low-intensity conflicts and grappling to stabilize an economy that has crumbled since a 2021 coup against Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.
The country is locked in a civil war between the military on one side and, on the other, a loose alliance of established ethnic minority armies and a resistance movement born out of the junta’s bloody crackdown on anti-coup protests.
The capture of Myawaddy and surrounding army outposts is a significant setback for a junta that has been squeezed by Western sanctions, with the town a key tax revenue source and conduit for more than $1 billion of annual border trade.
The Khaosod newspaper in a post on X showed a video of Myanmar civilians, many of them women and children, being marshalled by Thai soldiers at an entry point to Thailand.
Thailand had on Friday said no refugees had entered the country and it was discussing with aid agencies about increasing humanitarian relief to civilians on the Myanmar side.