Thousands of Palestinian civilians in Damascus have been trapped in the military clashes between armed local militias and Islamic State militants, according to Syrian activists.
Khaled Abdul-Majid, a spokesman for the Palestinian community in the Syrian capital, said ISIS launched an attack on several refugee camps in the Damascus area, and now the Jihadists are in control of most of the Yarmouk camp, located somewhere at the city’s periphery.
According to estimations made by the United Nations, around 18,000 refugees are trapped in Yarmouk, with the prospect of intensifying clashes looming on the horizon. The Palestinian population in the camp has been trapped under government siege for two years now, since the local factions took arms against President Assad’s regime.
Now, there is an even greater menace ahead of them, as Islamic State militants have joined up with al-Qaeda fighters to seize control of the camp. ISIS and the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch) are normally considered fierce rivals, and the two militant groups had been fighting each other since the starting of the Syrian civil war.
However, according to sources from both the Palestinians and Syrian activists, ISIS and al-Nusra seem to have set ideological differences aside in an unprecedented coordinated attack against the Damascus government and opposition forces.
The Yarmouk camp could become an important strategic stronghold for the rebels if they manage to hold it. While being very close to Assad’s palace, it is also a frequent drop zone of UN supplies and could provide the militants with a safe-place on case of airstrikes. The US-led coalition has proven reluctant to strike a location so close to the Syrian capital as it could put at risk the lives of thousands of civilians.
Out of the 160,000 inhabitants Yarmouk had in 2012, most fled when the civil war started. Those who were left behind are the poorer ones, including scores of children and old people. The Islamic State militants did not want only to take control of the camp, but also sought to prevent any civilians from escaping. Some of those who lived to tell the story claim that after they took over, the Jihadists placed snipers on the rooftops in order to counter any tentative of escape.
Latest on the ground reports from the Syrian National Coalition try to suggest the government in Damascus allowed the rebels ground access into the camp, by blockading the camp and bombing it for the whole duration of the attack.
Image Source: Albawaba
Iran, the United States and its allies have reached an agreement over the most important issues of Tehran’s nuclear program. The deal came after eight long days of talks in Switzerland.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini explained in a press conference the reached deal will set the foundation of a future complete nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. The deadline for its conclusion was set on June 30.
The deal insists that the Fordow facility will become a nuclear physics center with no missile material. The two sides also agreed that the Natantz facility would remain the only uranium enrichment complex in Iran. Tehran is obliged to refrain from developing nuclear weapons.
According to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, US and EU are to stop the international sanctions on Iran after the signing of the deal on June 30 and after IAEA verification, said
“The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the US will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments,” the statement said.
Under the future complete deal, Iran will not face any more UN Security Council resolution. “It will be an end to all UN resolutions against Iran,” added Zarif, who mentioned that the relationship between the US and Iran can be improved. “We have built mutual mistrust in the past, but some of it could be remedied by implementing the nuclear agreement,” he said in a press conference.
IAEA Director General, Yukiya Amano, has praised the plan of the nuclear deal adding that his agency will verify the implementation of nuclear measures, after the agreement will be signed. Drafting the deal for the June 30 deadline will begin immediately, said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The agreement would improve the security situation in the Middle East. Iran would now be allowed to be more active in the efforts to resolve conflicts in the region, said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon aslo praised the deal. He mentioned that it could enable all countries to cooperate more urgently in front of the security challenges they face.
US President Barack Obama lauded the agreement from the White House, calling it a ”historic” step over Iran’s nuclear deal, which is not based on trust, but on on “unprecedented verification”.
Israel criticized the deal, saying it still oppose any nuclear program in Iran while adding that the agreement is detached from reality.
Image Source: Al Jazeera
A team of researchers from the University of Tel Aviv have published a study in the Nature journal which aims to answer the long-debated question of the duration of a day on Saturn, setting a planet’s full rotation at 10 hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds.
The result was attained by using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to take measurements of the gas giant’s gravitational field, by observing how much it affected the spacecraft’s orbit. After also using data regarding the planet’s oblatement – which refers to how much does a planet start to distort around its equator while spinning – the researchers reached a theoretical model that provided them with the earlier quoted estimate of one full rotation on the planet.
The model was then applied to Jupiter, whose day-length is already established, and it provided the same result as known measurements, providing strong basis for the confirmation of the results.
“While an uncertainty of 15 minutes may appear small compared to the approximately 10.5-hour rotation of Saturn, it is actually important to know [the rotation] accurately. The rotation period has an important effect on understanding Saturn’s atmosphere dynamics and internal structure.” lead scientist and author study Ravit Helledtold Space.com via email.
Saturn’s rotation measurement is more difficult than those of other planets from the Solar System because it does not have a solid surface, and has very thick layers of atmosphere obtruding view to its planetary mass. This means that the tried-and-tested technique of observing the duration needed for a feature on the planet’s surface to reach back its initial point is obsolete in the ringed giant’s case.
The first measurement of a Saturn day was attained in 1981 by means of the Voyager 2 probe, which attained a 10 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds duration for a full spin, after making radio measurements of the gas giant’s magnetic field.
However, when the Cassini spacecraft arrived in 2004, it did the same type of measurement and yielded a different result, adding 8 minutes more to a Saturn day. This proved the unreliability of the radio measurement method. Alternative methods, such as tracking cloud movement in the gas giant’s atmosphere, proceeded to also give different results, adding to the debate of Saturn’s actual day-length.
The start of each year is mostly a hard one for most video game enthusiasts, as most big publishers are holding onto major game releases until better sales periods start. As we delve deeper into 2015, big titles are slowly making their way onto shelves and digital stores; arguably, this year’s first major release is PlayStation 4-exclusive Bloodborne – which seems to have lit a fire under reviewers and fans alike.
As it stands now, the Sony-published title holds an average reviewer score of 93 on aggregating site Metacritic, based on scores from 44 different reviewers. More impressive though is that it hold a 9.0 average user review score, as the site is known for posting large difference between critic and user score, especially on highly anticipated games – for example, 2012 Bioware game Mass Effect 3 holds a commendable 89 aggregate score from reviewers, while the user average is as low as 5.3.
What’s so special about Bloodborne, you may ask? Well, for starters, it’s not really that kind of game that builds its hype around excessive marketing or controversy, such as well-known franchises as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Instead, it borrows its following from a phenomenon either loved or hated that started in Japan.
Bloodborne is the “spiritual successor” to the popular “Souls” franchise made by developer From Software, which encompasses Demon Souls and Dark Souls 1 and 2. Although it doesn’t encompass the word Souls into its title, it shares a similar style with the previous games – all of them are fantasy-themed third person action-role playing games, with emphasis on monster slaying and exploration; a style that prompted many to deem them as “modern Legend of Zelda games.
But the defining characteristic shared by all of the games, and what earns both their cult following and critics, is the high difficulty level and the “never hold the player’s hand” approach. Players are usually driven through a paltry tutorial that teaches them basic game mechanics and after that are let loose upon the game’s world – no quest log, marker or other kind of directional help. The game itself rewards mostly players who are patient and analytical about their mistakes – because they WILL happen; an in-game Dark Souls II counter for example showed that players had died over two million times in the first 24 hours since launch.
Critics and users alike agree that Bloodborne keeps the fundamentals that earned its predecessors a cult following, while also changing enough to avoid repetition. Gamespot’s Kevin VanOrd, which scored the game a 9 out 10, praised the game’s agile enemies, and also its Victorian-London inspired setting and deep story themes. His opinion was shared by The Guardian’s Simon Parkin, who also commended the humor of its characters.
Many feel that the game’s quality should be attributed to the return of Hidetaka Miyazaki to the series, which directed Demon Souls and Dark Souls but skipped a fairly user criticized Dark Souls 2. Whatever the case, Bloodborne seems like a first serious contender for end of the year titles. It can be purchased from most major retailer, such as Amazon or BestBuy, at a price tag of $60.
Image Source: Forbes
Google continued its tradition of paying homage to important past personalities on Monday by displaying a personalized doodle meant to commemorate 133 years since the birth of German female mathematician Emmy Noether, widely regarded as the most important female contributor to the discipline in history.
The doodle, designed by graphic artist Sophie Diao, is formed out of a number of circles near a representation of Noether, with each circle outside of those containing the letters that spell Google representing mathematical or physics branches and ideas in which the German savant brought her contribution, ranging from topology to group theory and even time.
Amalie Emmy Noether was born on the 23rd of March 1882 in the Bavarian city of Erlangen into a family of Jewish origins. She overcame gender-based obstacles of Germany’s educational system at the time to become only one of the two female students at the University of Erlangen, out of the over 900 individuals in her promotion.
Noether then went on to teach without pay at Erlangen between 1908 and 1915, sometimes substituting for her father Max, an important contributor to algebraic geometry.
In 1915, she left Erlangen to join the mathematics department at the University of Gottingen at the behest of fellow savants David Hilbert and Felix Klein, but again due to gender based restrictions in the academic world of the time she was forced to teach without pay, with her lectures being advertised under Hilbert’s name.
Post World War I social changes eventually got Noether a small salary for her teaching activity during the 1920’s. Her activity in Germany was halted by the emergence of the Nazi regime, which made her ineligible to teach because of her Jewish descendance. She emigrated to the United States in 1933, where she spent her final years researching for the Bryn Mawr college, before succumbing in 1935 to an ovarian disease.
Her contribution to science ranges from abstract algebra to theoretical physics, with her eponymous theory explaining the connection between symmetry and conservation laws, among other. This made a number of savants such as Albert Einstein, Norbert Wiener or Pavel Alexandrov acknowledge her as the most important female contributor in the history of mathematics.
Image Source: Washington Post
The Robert Durst case might take a turn for the worse for the American billionaire, as the Los Angeles police has informed the public that they are mounting a criminal case against his wife, in cooperation with the FBI, with the ultimate aim of forcing her to testify against him.
Durst, who is under investigation for the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman, was allegedly helped by his 58-year old wife Debrah Lee Charatan on an attempt to flee to Cuba. The authorities hope that she will then offer more details about Berman’s murder to escape prosecution; else she might face up to five years in prison for aiding the flight of an individual soon to be prosecuted. Durst could face capital punishment if he is charged, with Berman being considered a witness in the 1982 disappearance of his wife.
Robert Durst was arrested on March 14th, after having a first degree murder warrant issued in the Berman case. He was apprehended by an FBI task force in New Orleans, having also been filed with weapon and drug possession charges, and was incarcerated on suicide watch row at a Louisiana penitentiary. His lawyers have contested the legality of his arrest on Friday, stating that there is no actual reason to keep him confined and accusing authorities of trying to make a publicity stunt.
The 71 year old billionaire is believed to have murdered journalist, author and longtime friend Susan Berman, who was found executed in her house on Christmas Eve in 2000. Investigators believe this might be related to the fact that Berman had information regarding the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathy, for which he was a main suspect but ultimately remained without charges. The case regarding Kathy Durst was set to be re-opened at the time, with investigators planning to question Berman on the matter.
Durst was arrested after he unintentionally admitted the murder while being wired with a microphone. This happened during filming for the HBO series The Jinx, a multi-part documentary about his life, with Durst talking to himself while in a bathroom, unaware that his wireless microphone was still on and that everything he said was being heard in the control room. The documentary’s crew then chose to announce authorities about the incident, with the billionaire’s off-screen remarks having good chances of being considered valid evidence in court.
Image Source: The Toast
After having received complaints about the insufficient clarity of user guidelines regarding nudity, hate speech, self-harm, violence and other criteria for being banned from Facebook, the social media company decided to clarify its principles on this touchy issue.
Hate speech (including any direct attack on someone based on their race, ethnicity, origin, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, as well as disease or disability) can be shared on Facebook only in order to criticize its practice or to raise awareness regarding its harmful effect. This is allowed only if the critical purpose is clear and the Facebook user unambiguously detaches himself/herself from the hate message in the content. Humor is allowed, as well as satire or social commentary, but the Page owners have to take responsibility for any “insensitive” content. Monika Bickert (Facebook’s head of global policy management) and Chris Sonderby (Facebook Deputy General Counsel) explained in their blog post announcing these changes that it is hard to design a global politics against hate speech on Facebook, because sometimes the site administrators lack context details, but they guaranteed that reported content is seriously evaluated.
As to nudity, images of genitalia are removed from Facebook and fully exposed adult bottoms are not allowed, either. Images of female breasts that include nipples are also restricted, unless they are pictures of mothers breastfeeding their children. Breasts with post-mastectomy scars are allowed, in order to raise cancer awareness. Breastfeeding used to be an issue in Facebook posts, because there were protests against censoring pictures of it in 2008 and once more in 2012. Nudity is allowed in paintings, sculptures and other artistic representations.
Facebook’s policy on dangerous organizations has also been clarified. Groups that plan to organize or have organized terrorist activity, groups involved in organized crime, and groups promoting hate speech as defined by the Facebook hate speech regulations are automatically banned from the social media platform. Content from other users that expresses support for this kind of groups (promoting violence, criminal activity or hate) is banned from Facebook. Users are not allowed to support or praise the heads of such organizations or express agreement with their violent acts. Threats to public celebrities are also removed and can cause a Facebook ban, although jokes about and criticism of famous people are allowed.
image source: Mashable
A recent study published in the Hippocampus journal concludes that those who used cannabis frequently in their youth have a higher chance of suffering from poor memory than non-pot smokers.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Northwestern University of Chicago and confirms a previous 2008 Australian study that linked heavy-marijuana use to development of an abnormal brain structure.
The study was done on 97 participants, both with or without mental illnesses and a heavy pot-smoking history. The marijuana users were selected on the basis of not having consumed other drugs and had used the substance daily in age periods between 16 and 20. Participants were also selected from those that had reported not using the drug in the past two years.
They were required to take a “narrative memory” test, where they were asked to recall as many details as possible from short stories they were told 20 to 30 minutes prior.
Former pot users scored on average 18% worse than their marijuana-free counterparts, with participants diagnosed with schizophrenia having scored 26% worse if they used to be heavy pot smokers. The research also confirmed past study that indicated heavy marijuana users display an abnormally structured hippocampus, a part of the brain which is very important for the ability to remember specific events. This might suggest the neuron and axons inside that part being damaged by heavy pot use.
The degrees of abnormality in hippocampus shape were higher for those who admitted to the longest term of frequent marijuana use.
However, the study is inconclusive as it stands, as while various degrees of marijuana use seem to match corresponding degrees of abnormal brain structure, the relation between the two can only be implied. A study done on a longer time period would be the only one capable of proving the link between pot smoking and poorer memory.
Marijuana use is increasing in the United States and several states have already legalized it for private use. The latest debate concerning the legalization of THC based smoking substances has the country capital’s District of Columbia stand-off with the Republican-led Congress, with an overwhelming popular support being gathered by legalize campaigns.
Image Source: USA Today
A new study has revealed that the Milky Way galaxy is actually much bigger than humans previously thought. According to new measurements, the Milky Way galaxy is 50% bigger than it was thought and our own solar system occupies a smaller space in this enormous galaxy.
Past studies have estimated that our Milky Way galaxy is around 100,000 light years, where one light year is around 6 trillion miles. Scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New Jersey, United States have done new research that suggests the Milky Way galaxy is 50 % bigger than that, which puts it at around 50,000 light years bigger.
Lead author of the study, Professor Yan Xu from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said that after extensive research, astronomers observed that the number of the stars in the Milky Way diminishes rapidly at around 50,000 light years from the center of our galaxy. After that, a ring of stars appears at around 60,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way.
This ring first discovered in 2002 is a band of stars called the Monoceros Ring and it surrounds the outer corners of the Miley Way. At first, scientists believed that these stars were just a tidal debris steam left over from a neighboring dwarf galaxy, but a new debate has recently sparked that questions the initial belief. Some scientists now believe that the stars are actually part of our own galaxy, which would make the Milk Way 50% bigger than originally thought.
Heidi Newberg, an astronomer involved in the study said that the Monoceros Ring and the Milky Way may be related because the ring is following the same spiral structure of the galaxy. Newberg was involved in the discovery of the Monoceros Ring back in 2002 and it is very much surprised by the new measurements and studies that show the Milky Way galaxy is 50% bigger than former estimates.
Professor Xu stated:
We identified an asymmetry in disk stars that oscillates from the north to the south, to the north to the south across the galactic plane in the anticenter direction. What we see now is that this apparent ring is actually a ripple in the disk. And it may well be that there are more ripples further out which we have not yet seen.
The scientists are hoping that high resolution 3D images of the Monoceros Ring are helpful in revealing even more details about the size of our galaxy. The next step for the researchers is to use the Gaia telescope in Europe to continue their investigations.
Image Source: ThinkInc
A new paper released by the US Geological Survey states that the chance California will suffer an earthquake with a magnitude bigger than 8.0 on the Richter scale has gone up to 7%, up from the previous estimate of 4,7%.
The risk of lower magnitude, but still serious earthquakes, is even higher, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. The study itself, named the “Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast” bases its estimates on a time span ranging to 2044.
“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously” explained lead study author Ned Field, a research at the USGS.
The paper also calculates the chance earthquakes will happen alongside individual fault lines that run through the state. The biggest possibility of an earthquake with a magnitude of at least 6.7 is around Hayward Fault line, near the Santa Clara county city of Milpitas, with 22.3% chance of serious seismic activity over the next thirty years.
However, the frequency of earthquakes happening near the 6.7 mark has decreased from almost one every 5 years to one every 6.3 years. California is such a high seismic activity-risk zone because of the complex and intertwined system of fault lines it has.
An earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or more would be only the second to hit the lower 48 US states in the history of recorded seismic activity, and the first since the formation of the United States as a nation.
The only previous one was the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, which hit a 600 mile wide region pertaining today to the states of California, Washington and Oregon with a magnitude of 9.0 in January 1700. It was so intense that records of it suggest it also created damage on the shores of Japan.
Besides that, the largest earthquake in California was the Fort Tejon 1857 earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.9. However, earthquakes don’t necessarily need to match its intensity to cause widespread disaster.
The 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake in 1994 managed to destroy an Interstate 5 connector and caused over $15 billion in damage. The consequences of a large earthquake range from the destruction of houses and loss human lives to irreparable damage to irrigation systems, transport networks and disruption of communications infrastructure.
Image Source: Fox News