Estonia says ‘encouraged’ by Trump administration’s tone on NATO

Sven Mikser stands in front of a F-22 Raptor fighter jet of the 95th Fighter Squadron from Tyndall at the newly established NATO airbase of Aemari near Tallinn, Estonia September 4, 2015.  REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser said he was “quite encouraged” that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump would maintain a strong U.S. commitment to European security despite comments that had sparked concern during the election campaign.

Mikser said he was still waiting to see whom Trump would nominate as secretary of state, but said recent remarks by Trump and his transition team had helped assuage concerns raised when the Republican candidate said he would consider a country’s contributions to the NATO alliance before coming to its defense.

“We don’t have a complete picture yet, but … I’m quite encouraged by the tone that the incoming administration has taken since the election,” Mikser told Reuters in an interview during a meeting in Hamburg of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“There will be continuity when it comes to the U.S. commitment to its alliances,” he said, adding that there could be more significant changes in U.S. trade and climate policy than in defense. “I haven’t seen or heard anything that would suggest that there’s going to be a radical departure.”

Trump’s comments had unnerved many in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, where Russian military involvement in Ukraine and Georgia has stoked fears that their former Soviet master might eventually try to intervene in the Baltic area.

Moscow says such fears are unfounded and based on anti-Russian sentiment.

Mikser said it was critical for NATO members to make good on their pledges to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product, a target Estonia already meets, and said his country remained concerned about Russian military exercises and actions.

“We have to put our money where our mouth is. Everyone should do their part,” Mikser said, adding that NATO’s plans to deploy 4,000 ground troops next year to the region next year to deter Russia remained on track.

Top British and NATO officials have spoken with Trump about the alliance and his commitment to European security, and said they do not expect any significant changes.

Mikser said he was skeptical about Trump’s pledge to reset ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that previous leaders, including former President George W. Bush, had entertained similar hopes.

“We’ve seen those attempts to charm Russia into behaving better before, but they haven’t led anywhere. I really cannot see any reason for any great optimism,” he said, citing continued military maneuvers and snap exercises across the region, as well as a wide array of disinformation campaigns.

[Source:- reuters]

Italy president starts talks to seek way out of political crisis

Italy’s president began talks with political leaders on Thursday to seek a way out of the political crisis caused by the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Sergio Mattarella, a 75-year-old former constitutional court judge, must decide if someone can lead Italy to elections scheduled for 2018, or whether an interim government should serve until a snap vote can be held in spring.

Renzi tendered his resignation on Wednesday after a bruising defeat in a referendum on which he had staked his political future.

Mattarella’s first consultations were with the leaders of both houses of parliament, and neither commented afterwards.

Mattarella, a former Christian Democrat, also met with his more interventioniest predecessor, 91-year-old Giorgio Napolitano, who asked Renzi to form a government in 2014. Napolitano also did not comment.

Meetings will expand to parliamentary parties on Friday and wrap up on Saturday evening.

The process is a familiar one in Italy, which has a notorious history of government collapses, but it is the first since the Sicilian Mattarella took office last year after a career in politics which began after the mafia assassinated his politician brother in 1980.

Mattarella could wait until Monday to make his decision known, a source close to the president said. Renzi has ruled out — for the moment — staying on as a caretaker, a parliamentary source said.

Most parties, including Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) which holds the most seats in parliament, appear to favor an early vote, which would add Italy to a list of major European countries – including France, Germany and the Netherlands – facing a national ballot in 2017.

So far markets have taken Italy’s political turmoil in their stride. Even Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which looks likely to require government intervention to survive, saw its shares close up more than 4 percent on Thursday after it asked the European Central Bank for a three-week extension to its rescue plan.

On Tuesday, Mattarella unexpectedly dictated two conditions that delay any vote until spring: the Constitutional Court must rule on the lower house’s current voting law, a decision not expected before a Jan. 24.

Subsequently parliament must draft new election rules for both houses, Mattarella indicated. Considering 45 days for campaigning are set aside by law, it would be difficult to hold an election before April.

The consultations allow Mattarella to test parliamentary waters, but Renzi’s majority – and his input as leader of the PD – are key to what happens next.

On Wednesday, Renzi said the PD would only participate in a government intended to last until 2018 if it was backed by the main forces in parliament, a prospect most of them have already ruled out. Otherwise, early elections should be held as soon as possible, he said.

The rightist Northern League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement renewed calls for immediate elections on Thursday.

Because of the strong push for an early vote, Mattarella is widely expected to ask a member of Renzi’s cabinet, or a politician from his Democratic Party, to put together an interim government.

[Source:- gsmarena]

U.S. estimates 50,000 Islamic State fighters killed so far: U.S. official

An Iraqi soldier holds an Islamist State flag, after pulling it down during a military operation against Islamic State militants in Al-Qasar, southeast of Mosul, Iraq, November 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

The U.S. military believes that some 50,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since the United States started battling the group more than two years ago, a senior U.S. military official said on Thursday, calling it a “conservative estimate.”

The official, who spoke to Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity, said the figure showed how the United States was effectively combating the group with U.S.-led coalition airpower and limited U.S. troop deployments in support of local forces.

[Source:- gsmarena]

Iraqi troops pull out from Mosul hospital after fierce battle

Iraqi forces backed by tribal militias during battle to retake a village from the Islamic State on the eastern bank of the river Tigris, Iraq December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Iraqi troops who briefly seized a Mosul hospital believed to be used as an Islamic State base were forced to withdraw from the site, but managed to establish a base for army tanks nearby after days of fierce back-and-forth fighting, residents said.

The rapid advance into the Wahda neighborhood where the hospital is located marked a change of tactic after a month of fighting in east Mosul in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

The ferocity of the fighting reflects the importance of the army’s push from southeast Mosul towards the center, their deepest advance in a grueling seven-week offensive to crush Islamic State in Iraq’s largest northern city.

The soldiers seized Salam hospital, less than a mile (just over 1 km) from the Tigris river running through central Mosul, on Tuesday but pulled back the next day after they were attacked by six suicide car bombs and “heavy enemy fire”, according to a statement by the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces.

Coalition warplanes, at Iraq’s request, also struck a building inside the hospital complex from which the militants were firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, it said.

The soldiers involved in the action are at the spearhead of a U.S.-backed, 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi forces including the army, federal police, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite Popular Mobilization forces battling to crush Islamic State in Mosul.

In another part of Mosul already recaptured by government troops, Iraqi police fired shots in the air and threatened to whip crowds with a hose as residents tried to overrun the first distribution of aid by UN agencies inside the city.

The distribution aimed to reach 45,000 people in total at several locations. As word of the aid spread, residents of the Zuhour neighborhood flocked to a boys’ primary school chosen as a distribution point.

Hundreds surged forward against just a handful of men pushing to close the gate. They burst through, and began climbing over the walls and pushing in through the exit until the police, firing shots in the air and wielding long sticks, managed to regain control.

Saad Salih, 56, came in an electric wheelchair, pushed by a neighbor because there was no electricity in Mosul to charge it. “We need everything,” Salih said.

“GATES OF HELL”

Defeating the militants in their Iraq stronghold would mark a major step in rolling back the caliphate declared by the jihadists in parts of Syria and Iraq when they took over Mosul in mid-2014.

But with two years to prepare themselves, retreating fighters have waged a lethal defense, deploying hundreds of suicide car bombers, mortar barrages and snipers against the advancing soldiers and exploiting a network of tunnels to ambush them in residential areas.

Soldiers from the army’s Ninth Armored division were left exposed on Tuesday after punching into the Wahda neighborhood.

“When we advanced first into Wahda, Daesh (Islamic State) showed little resistance and we thought they had fled,” an officer briefed on the operation told Reuters by telephone. “But once we took over the hospital, the gates of hell opened wide.”

“They started to appear and attack from every corner, every street and every house near the hospital,” said the officer, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media. He said insurgents may also have used a tunnel network reaching into the hospital complex itself.

A nurse at the hospital said that when the Iraqi army approached on Tuesday, Islamic State guards removed the militants being treated there, including some field commanders. Staff and civilian patients took shelter in the basement as fighting erupted around the hospital half an hour later.

A resident who lives just 300 meters away, a veteran of Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, said he had never seen such fierce fighting.

“It was very violent warfare – they used all sorts of weapons, it’s not traditional war. There were explosives, suicide attackers, mortar barrages and planes, everything,” he told Reuters by telephone.

After three days of fighting, Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles had managed to assemble at a site in the Wahda neighborhood, a resident said.

The statement by the coalition said Iraqi troops “fought off several counter-attacks and six VBIEDs (car bombs) … before retrograding a short distance, under heavy enemy fire”.

The Iraqi officer said that when the troops were inside the hospital complex, fighting off the militants, they came under attack from suicide bombers who he said either infiltrated through tunnels or had been hiding in the hospital grounds.

“We don’t know, they were like ghosts,” he said.

Iraq does not give casualty figures or report on its equipment losses, but the officer said 20 soldiers were killed and around 20 armored vehicles were destroyed or damaged.

Those figures could not be confirmed. Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said more than 20 military vehicles were destroyed and dozens of soldiers killed. It showed a picture of a smoldering tank, its turret blown off, next to a crater.

Around 280 km (175 miles) southwest of Mosul dozens of people, mainly civilians, were killed on Wednesday in air strikes which hit a western Iraqi town close to the border with Syria, local parliamentarians and hospital sources said.

They said the strikes hit a busy market area in the Islamic State-held town of Qaim, in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim province of Anbar. Among the victims were 12 women and 19 children.

An Iraqi military statement said Iraqi air force planes conducted air strikes “on a terrorist hideout” in the area shortly after noon on Wednesday, as well as a second attack on an unspecified location.

It said at least 50 terrorists were targeted in the air strikes. It gave no details of civilian casualties, but said that the region – and all information coming out of it – was controlled by Islamic State.

[Source:- gsmarena]

Syrian army’s Aleppo advance slows but victory in sight

Syrian government soldiers gather in Al-Haidariya neighbourhood after government forces took control of the area in Aleppo, Syria December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The Syrian army’s advance in Aleppo slowed on Thursday but a victory was still firmly in sight after President Bashar al-Assad vowed that retaking the nation’s second city would change the course of the six-year civil war in his favor.

Lightning gains in recent days in which government forces and their allies recaptured Aleppo’s historic Old City lost some momentum in the face of stiff rebel resistance but the Syrian leadership was confident.

Assad has long sought to seize divided Aleppo which would put him in control of Syria’s major cities, the south, central spine and western flank bordering the Mediterranean, dealing a devastating blow to rebels who have fought to unseat him.

Outside of Aleppo, the government and its allies are also putting severe pressure on remaining rebel redoubts. Assad said in an interview with a Syrian newspaper that victory in Aleppo would be a landmark, but not the end of the war.

The rebels on Wednesday called for an immediate five-day ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians and wounded, but gave no indication they were ready to withdraw, as demanded by Damascus and its ally Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Russian and U.S. experts would meet in Geneva on Saturday to discuss the situation in Aleppo, Moscow’s RIA news agency reported.

It also cited him as saying that the Syrian army had stopped active military operations in Aleppo to facilitate an effort to remove civilians. Reuters reporters in the city said bombardment could still be heard after Lavrov’s comments were published.

“We are close to reaching an understanding, but I want to warn against high expectations,” the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting Lavrov in Hamburg that he was not confident but “hopeful” about reaching an agreement, and was still waiting for “certain feedback and input” from Moscow.

The White House said it would adopt a “wait and see” approach on whether Russia helps cease military operations.

The U.N. assessment for a possible deal, which would see civilian evacuations from besieged rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo and help aid delivery, was bleak.

Russia and the United States were “poles apart” in trying to agree on terms for evacuations from east Aleppo, U.N. Syria humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said.

Five months of talks over aid plans all failed and produced “nothing”, Egeland said, adding it was up to Moscow and Washington to agree an evacuation from east Aleppo, where the U.N. Syria envoy said more than 100,000 people may be living.

More than 800 people have been killed and 3,000-3,500 wounded in eastern Aleppo in the past 26 days, while the remaining trapped civilians await an effective death sentence, the president of Aleppo local council said.

“Today 150,000 people are threatened with extermination. We are calling for a halt to the bombing and guarantees of safe passage of all,” Brita Haji Hassan said during a trip to Geneva.

‘WAR WILL NOT END’

As the Cold War foes struggled to agree, fighting raged on around the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the Syrian army trying to push into the few remaining rebel-held Aleppo neighborhoods.

A Reuters journalist said government forces were shelling rebel-held areas of southwestern Aleppo into the afternoon. Columns of smoke were seen rising from rebel-held areas.

Pro-Damascus media reported that Syrian government forces and their allies had launched attacks against insurgents in the Sukkari, Kalasa and Bustan al-Qasr neighborhoods, west and south of the ancient citadel.

An opposition activist in Aleppo said insurgents had staved off the attacks on the latter two districts.

A Syrian military source reported the army and its allies had also advanced in the Sheikh Saeed district in the south of the rebel enclave. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, also reported that.

Government forces have in the past two weeks seized more than two-thirds of rebel-held eastern Aleppo, which had been in insurgents hands for years.

Assad said the army advances will completely change the course of the war, and vowed to fight on after recapturing Aleppo. He described Aleppo as the “last hope” of rebels and their backers, “after their failure in the battles of Damascus and Homs”.

“Aleppo will completely change the course of the battle in all of Syria,” Assad said, speaking in an interview with the Syrian newspaper al-Watan.

“The battle of Aleppo will be a gain, but … it doesn’t mean the end of the war in Syria. It is a significant landmark towards the end of the battle, but the war in Syria will not end until terrorism is eliminated.

“Terrorists are there in other areas, so even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them,” he said.

‘MAKE A DESERT AND CALL IT PEACE’

Retaking Aleppo would also be a success for President Vladimir Putin who intervened to save Moscow’s ally in September 2015 with air strikes, and for Shi’ite Iran, whose elite Islamic Republic Guard Corps has suffered casualties fighting for Assad.

The war has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and made more than 11 million homeless, creating the world’s worst refugee crisis, and allowed for the rise of the ultra-hardline Islamic State group, which still controls areas of eastern Syria.

The head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency Alex Younger warned on Thursday that Islamic State was plotting attacks on the West “without ever having to leave Syria”.

“Russia and the Syrian regime seek to make a desert and call it peace. The human tragedy is heart-breaking,” he added.

The scale of death and destruction, and lack of access has made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach hundreds of thousands of besieged people in Syria.

Nearly 150 civilians, most disabled or in need of urgent medical care, were evacuated overnight from a hospital in Aleppo’s Old City, the first major evacuation from the eastern sector, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

It urged “all parties to allow a humanitarian pause,” adding that the situation in east Aleppo “is known to be catastrophic”.

Tawfik Chamaa, a representative of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations (UOSSM), said 1,500 people needed medical evacuation, but any evacuation should have international observers to prevent them being “executed or diverted on the way to hospital”.

[Source:- reuters]

Gionee F5 with octa-core CPU and 4,000mAh battery spotted on TENAA

A new Gionee smartphone has been certified by the Chinese telecommunication authority TENAA. The Gionee F5, the TENAA listing reveals, is powered by an octa-core 1.5GHz processor, and sports a 5.3-inch HD display.

RAM is 4GB, while internal storage is 64GB. The handset features a 13MP rear camera and an 8MP front shooter. Measuring 150 × 74.5 × 7.7mm and weighing in at 162g, the phone runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow and packs in a large 4,000mAh battery. Color options include white and gold.

[Source:- gsmarena]

New Sony Xperia X Nougat concept update brings VoLTE support

Sony has started rolling out a new Nougat-based Concept for Android firmware for the Xperia X. Carrying the build number of 38.1.A.0.367, the update brings along support for VoLTE.

At this point only German carriers Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica/02 are supported. However, given that the update is set to be rolled out in the UK and Spain next, VoLTE support for carriers in those country should also be on the way.

Aside from VoLTE support, the update also includes Android security fixes for November (Android security patch level is at Nov 5), fix for camera-related crashes, new Xperia Home version, and other minor changes.

[Source:- gsmarena]

Asus Z01HDA clears TENAA with Snapdragon 625 SoC, 4GB RAM, and 4,850mAh battery

A new Asus smartphone has been certified by the Chinese telecommunication authority TENAA. Listed as Asus Z01HDA, the device is powered by Snapdragon 625 chipset and sports a 5.5-inch full HD display.

RAM options include 2GB, 3GB, and 4GB, while storage comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. While the included image clearly shows a dual-rear camera setup, the spec sheet revealed by TENAA says the handset only features a single, 16MP rear unit. Interestingly, the phone’s Bluetooth SIG listing – according to which the device carries the ZenFone 3 Zoom moniker – says it features a dual rear camera of 12.2MP + 13MP configuration.

Anyway, a 13MP unit is on the front. The device runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and packs in a large 4,850mAh battery. It also features a fingerprint sensor on the back.

Measuring 154.3×77×7.99mm and weighing in at 170g, the phone has Navy Black, New Crafts Silver, Luxury Gold color options. There’s currently no word on its pricing and availability.

[Source:- gsmarena]

Apple is grabbing more US market share after Galaxy Note 7 demise

Kantar has some new insights on the US handset market to share. In light of the unfortunate demise of the Samsung Galaxy Note7, Apple has now managed to raise its US market share to 40.5%. That is actually up 7% year-over-year. And it is no secret that the absence of the Note7 played a big part in the process.

On a different note, Kantar also believes its numbers show that users don’t really mind the absence of the 3.5mm jack on the iPhone 7. The device was still the top seller in the states, followed by the Samsung Galaxy S7 and then the iPhone 7 Plus.

Interestingly enough, Google’s new Pixel smartphonesalso managed to make the cut in the US sales report. This is despite the fact that they were made available as late as October 20 – only a few days before the end of the sales quarter (ending in October).

Google achieved 0.5% of smartphone sales, a strong showing given that the Pixel was only widely available from October 20th. In that short time, Google has reached market parity with more established brands like Huawei and Microsoft, who are also at 0.5%.

The report also touched on many other markets, where carrier involvement and subsidised offers aren’t quite as influential. In Europe, for instance, where the Note7 never really came, nor the Note5 before it, the impact isn’t really felt. In Germany, Apple has fallen 2.7pp to 16.5%.

In China, where the local competition is now extremely fierce, Apple has also lost some ground – 17.1% market share this year, down from 22.5% in 2015.

[Source:- gsmarena]

Huawei’s Honor Magic concept phone allegedly stars in leaked image

On December 16, Huawei is holding a special event in China where it will unveil the Honor Magic. This smartphone will be a ‘concept’ device, showcasing the best of what the company can accomplish at the moment from a technology standpoint. Or simply put, it’s Huawei’s response to the Xiaomi Mi Mix.

We’ve heard a few odd things about the Honor Magic before, like the fact that it won’t sport a built-in camera or speaker, instead relying on a modular system of sorts to add those in. What we haven’t yet seen, however, is a picture of it. Well, that changes today – below is an alleged shot of the Honor Magic’s front, captured while it was at the fingerprint training stage in its initial setup.

If it’s actually showing the Honor Magic, this image confirms the fact that there’s a fingerprint scanner on the front of the device, right under the screen, housed in one of the smallest bottom bezels we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. That’s not to say that the top bezel is any bigger, though. And with the screen curving on both sides, this is set to become one of the new kings of display-to-body ratio. And it will achieve that while also having symmetric top and bottom bezels, something the Mi Mix definitely can’t boast.

Unfortunately nothing is known about the Magic’s specs at the moment. Yet we do hope that Huawei will pair the outstanding looks of this handset with high-end innards, otherwise the Honor Magic is unlikely to make a big splash.

[Source:- gsmarena]