SYRIA

Troops push closer
to key rebel-held town

Government forces captured five villages in northwest Syria on Wednesday, inching closer to a major rebel-held town that was the scene of a deadly 2017 chemical weapons attack and forcing thousands to flee farther north, opposition activists and state media reported.

Opposition activists also reported that a Syrian warplane was shot down by rebels in the area and that the fate of the pilot was not clear. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the plane was shot down on the southern edge of Idlib province.

The capture of the five villages puts Syrian troops about three miles west of Khan Sheikhoun, one of the largest towns on the southern edge of Idlib province, which is the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country.

Khan Sheikhoun is a bastion of al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The town was the scene of a chemical attack on April 4, 2017, that killed 89 people.

At the time, the United States, Britain and France pointed a finger at the Syrian government, saying their experts had found that nerve agents were used in the attack. Days later, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a base in Syria from where they said the chemical attack was launched.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive against rebel bastions in the north of Hama province and the southern districts of Idlib since April 30.

— Associated Press

CANADA

Trudeau violated rules, ethics watchdog says

Canada’s ethics commissioner said Wednesday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau improperly pressured an official, then the attorney general, to halt the criminal prosecution of a company, a development that could hurt his reelection chances.

The report comes just before the official start of campaigning for the Oct. 21 general election and threatens to re-inflame a scandal that rocked the government earlier this year.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion said Trudeau’s attempts to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was also justice minister, were contrary to the constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.

Wilson-Raybould believes she was demoted in January because she did not give in to pressure to enter into a remediation agreement with a Canadian company accused of bribing officials in Libya.

That solution would have avoided a potential criminal conviction that would bar SNC-Lavalin from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer.

Trudeau said at a news conference that he takes responsibility “for everything,” but “can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs.”

The scandal led to multiple resignations, including that of Trudeau’s top aide.

— Associated Press

Iranian British anthropologist held in Tehran: A British Iranian anthropologist who has studied child marriage and female genital mutilation in Iran has been detained there over unknown charges, his wife and activists said, becoming the latest dual national held there amid tensions with the West. Kameel Ahmady is in Tehran's Evin prison, where other dual nationals detained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are held. The detention fits a wider pattern of Tehran holding those with Western ties as bargaining chips for negotiations.

Christchurch suspect sent letter from prison: New Zealand officials say they erred in allowing the man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques to send a letter from his prison cell. Brenton Tarrant's letter was posted this week on the website 4chan. It comes at a sensitive time, with other alleged killers citing him as an inspiration. The letter, addressed to "Alan" in Russia, sounds relatively innocuous, though it warns that a "great conflict" is coming and uses language that could be construed as a call to arms.

— Associated Press

Indian court acquits 6 in deadly cow vigilante case: An Indian court acquitted six men in the killing of a 55-year-old Muslim dairy farmer, citing lack of evidence, despite videos of a crowd beating him. The 2017 attack on Pehlu Khan and his two sons in the western state of Rajasthan by a mob of cow vigilantes caused public outrage. Videos shot on cellphones showed the crowd setting upon Khan and his sons after stopping his truck, which had cows in the back. He died; his sons survived. In Hindu-majority India, many consider cows sacred.

— From news services