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Two separate violent attacks shook religious communities on a weekend that was supposed to be about celebration and togetherness. In White Settlement, Texas, on Sunday, a man entered a church and fatally shot two people before being shot and killed by armed parishioners. The church had a volunteer security team that was able to be armed in a house of worship due to a law passed after the Sutherland Springs shooting took the lives of 26 people in 2017. A day before the White Settlement shooting, a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration in a New York City suburb, including a rabbi’s son. The incident was a grim reminder of the string of anti-Semitic attacks in New York lately. The suspect has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. He has pleaded not guilty, and his family says he has a long history of mental illness. Authorities are looking for a motive in both attacks this weekend. Today marks the final day of the Hanukkah season.
Remember that “Christmas gift” that North Korea said it would send to the US? We now have a new idea of what it could be. North Korea is planning to adopt a hard-line policy that involves abandoning negotiations with the US and taking denuclearization off the table, according to a source familiar with its thinking. Diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington have been trying to negotiate a trade that would see North Korea give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for relief from punishing sanctions that have hurt the North Korean economy, but the rhetoric on both sides has ramped up in recent weeks. And as the clock ticks closer to North Korea’s self-imposed end-of-year deadline for negotiations, it appears less and less likely that North Korea will cut a deal with the US anytime soon. That’s partly because Kim Jong Un sees Trump as politically vulnerable right now because of his impeachment and the looming 2020 presidential election, the source said.
The US conducted a series of airstrikes yesterday against five locations in Iraq and Syria that the Pentagon says have ties to an Iranian-backed militia. American officials have blamed the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, for several attacks against US forces in Iraq, including one on Friday that killed a US contractor and wounded four US military members. Though the airstrikes were supported by President Trump and top US officials, they’re likely to cause even bigger rifts between the US, Iraq and Iran. Iraqi officials say they were notified of the strikes a mere half an hour before they happened, and said the unilateral move was a danger to Iraq’s sovereignty and security. Meanwhile, Iranian-backed forces have been testing the US’ military patience for months with attacks on oil facilities, tankers and drones. This round of airstrikes could be a signal that while the White House is not willing to carry out military operations against Iran for attacks on unmanned American drones, the US will respond militarily when Americans are killed or wounded by Iran or its proxy forces.
3. Presidential pardons
A 30-year-old sports reporter and four others were killed in a plane crash on Saturday on the way to a college football playoff game in Atlanta. Carley McCord was a correspondent for the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans, and she was also the daughter-in-law of LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. McCord’s husband, Steven Ensminger, Jr., says McCord tried to call and text him in the moments before the crash but he was unable to answer. The plane did not make a distress call before it went down, officials said. The tragedy was one of four small plane crashes over the weekend that left a total of six people dead and at least eight wounded. One person was killed when a plane crashed in a Maryland neighborhood, several were injured when another went down in a North Carolina parking lot, and the condition of the lone person piloting a small plane that crashed in Long Island is still unknown.
Dozens of people have been killed by a wave of bombardment in Idlib, Syria, according to the White Helmets, a local volunteer search and rescue group. Airstrikes and artillery fire have killed at least 33 people since Friday. The Syrian army, with support from Russian air power, has stepped up its attacks on the northwestern province, the country’s last major bastion of opposition and home to more than 3 million Syrians. The government has said that it is targeting terrorists in Idlib. But if the violence continues, hundreds of thousands of civilians could be forced to flee their homes in the coming weeks, international aid organizations warn.
4. ‘El Chapo’ trial
Tens of thousands of residents in the southeastern Australian state of Victoria are being warned that it may be too late to evacuate in anticipation of massive wildfires heading for the region. Instead, fire officials are telling people in the popular tourist area of East Gippsland to seek shelter immediately and stay inside. Dry weather and thunderstorms are expected in the area over the next few days, which means no respite from the blaze. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of a million people have signed a petition asking that officials cancel Sydney’s famed New Year’s Eve fireworks display and redistribute the funds toward firefighting efforts. Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore says, while she appreciates citizens’ support and concern, the event’s budget has already largely been spent. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday the display will go on because it is “important to send a message to the world.”
Scientists and environmentalists are not going to be happy about this. Emergency teams in the Galapagos Islands are working to contain a 600-gallon oil spill after a cargo vessel overturned early Sunday, officials said. The spill happened on San Cristobal Island after a crane appeared to lose control of a large container that was being loaded onto the ship’s deck. Video shows the crane and container falling onto the ship, causing it to tip into the ocean and forcing the crew to jump off as it began capsizing. San Cristobal is just one of the islands that make up the volcanic archipelago located hundreds of miles off Ecuador’s coast. Conservationists have gone to great lengths to protect the Galapagos, which is home to many species that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth.
5. Soldier arrest
One of the Chinese scientists who shocked the world by creating the first-ever gene-edited babies in 2018 has been sentenced to three years in prison. He Jiankui, an associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, was convicted of illegal medical practice for his role in using gene-editing technology to produce a set of twin babies he announced was immune to HIV. The scientific deed was met with condemnation by many in the global community, who raised critical questions about the ethics of gene editing, the issue of consent and the impact of such an act on the future of biomedical research. The court that sentenced He also said that his actions went against national regulations, and that he went through with the process with the intent to profit and gain recognition. Editing the genes of embryos intended for pregnancy is banned in many countries, including the United States.
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Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have been offered honorary Greek citizenship
Hanks raised awareness for wildfires that affected the country in 2018, and Wilson, of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” is Greek through her mother! Another power couple.
Who will be the big winners in sports, politics and culture in 2020? CNN contributors weigh in
Baltimore Ravens fans, this could be your year.
A Texas man is making canes for veterans using hundreds of donated Christmas trees
Proof that the Christmas spirit can stay alive all year long.
Here are some of the most satisfying movies and TV shows of 2019
*cough* not “Game of Thrones” *cough*
“People all over America and abroad have decided they want to let me know now, while I’m alive, about the impact that I’ve been having on their existence. They have come out and they have told me, and my gosh, it makes me feel so good.”
Civil Rights icon and US Representative John Lewis, who announced Sunday he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The number of jurisdictions that will be raising their minimum wage in 2020. That includes increases in 24 states and 48 cities and counties.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot…
With the world gearing up to ring in 2020, it’s as good a time as ever to learn how different fireworks get their colors. (Click here to view.)