News Briefs 9/8/2019

A soldier with the Tal Abyad Military Council, affiliated with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, oversees the collapse of a fortification in the safe zone between Syria and the Turkish border near Tal Abyad, Syria, on a joint patrol on Friday.

To set up ‘safe zone,’ U.S. wades into Syria politics

TAL ABYAD, Syria | U.S. flags fluttered on the back of coalition armored vehicles as they whizzed past tiny hamlets in northeastern Syria. Once part of the sprawling territories controlled by the Islamic State group, the areas are now under threat of an attack from Turkey, which considers these villages’ liberators, the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led forces, to be terrorists.

To forestall violence between its two allies along the border it has helped clear of IS militants, Washington has upped its involvement in this part of Syria.

It is part of an agreement that has set up a joint operation room with Turkey to take measures to ease tension. But details of the deal are still being worked out in separate talks with Ankara and the Kurdish-led forces in Syria known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Views are widely divergent on the purpose of these measures, but Washington seems to be buying time to avoid a crisis along the border while its troops are still deployed in Syria.

Director of MIT’s Media Lab steps down over Epstein ties

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. | The director of a prestigious research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology resigned Saturday, and the school’s president ordered an independent investigation amid an uproar over the lab’s ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab, resigned from both the lab and from his position as a professor at the Cambridge school, university President L. Rafael Reif said. The resignation was first reported by The New York Times.

Ito’s resignation comes after The New Yorker reported late Friday that Media Lab had a more extensive fundraising relationship with Epstein than it previously acknowledged and tried to conceal the extent of the relationship.

Epstein killed himself in jail Aug. 10 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Federal prosecutors in New York had charged the 66-year-old with sex trafficking and conspiracy, alleging he sexually abused girls over several years in the early 2000s.

India loses touch with lander in final approach to moon

BANGALORE, India | India’s space agency said it lost touch with its Vikram lunar lander on Saturday as it made its final approach to the moon’s south pole to deploy a rover to search for signs of water.

The fate of the lander — whether it crashed or landed — wasn’t immediately known. A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.

The space agency said the lander’s descent was normal until 1.2 miles from the lunar surface.

“Let us hope for the best,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was at Mission Control in the southern city of Bangalore.

The entire control center was jubilant during the first 10 minutes of the lander’s descent, with scientists breaking out in occasional cheers. The mood suddenly turned somber and then dejected when the lander stopped sending data during its final minutes of descent.

“I can understand the sadness in your face,” Modi later told gathered scientists after being briefed by the space agency’s chairman. “I have lived the moment with you when communication with the spacecraft was lost.”

Pope denounces exploitation of Madagascar’s resources

ANTANARIVO, Madagascar | Pope Francis denounced the illegal logging and exploitation of Madagascar’s unique natural resources on Saturday as he opened a visit to the Indian Ocean nation by urging the government to fight the corruption that is ravaging the island’s ecosystem and keeping its people in “inhumane poverty.”

Francis called on President Andry Rajoelina to provide Madagascar’s people with jobs and alternative sources of income so they aren’t forced to cut down trees to find fertile soil, poach the island’s wildlife and engage in contraband and illegal exportation of its diverse flora, fauna and mineral resources.

“The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home,” Francis warned Rajoelina and other government authorities as he began the second leg of his weeklong trip to southern Africa.

— From AP reports