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Syria attacks supposed 'safe zones,' U.S. offers no help to rebels

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: U.S. offers rebels no help as Syria attacks 'safe zones'; meet some of the incredible Canadians graduating from high school this year; street protests in Tehran amid economic unrest

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Syrian rebel fighters ride a tank in Daraa on Saturday as Syrian regime forces attacked the region with ground troops after several days of intensified bombardment. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • An emboldened President Bashar al-Assad is moving to retake control of what were supposed to be Syria's ceasefire safe-zones
  • Meet some of the incredible Canadians graduating from high school this year
  • Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran today, clashing with police outside Iran's parliament in a protest against rising prices and a crumbling economy
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Syria's 'safe zone' under attack

The Syrian government is pounding a rebel-held enclave along the Jordanian border with barrel bombs, missiles and artillery, as an emboldened President Bashar al-Assad moves to retake control of what were supposed to be ceasefire safe-zones.  

The fighting in Daraa province, along the country's southwest frontier, started last week and picked up steam over the weekend as it became clear that no one is coming to the aid of the anti-government Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Smoke rises from al-Harak town in Daraa on Monday after a Syrian government airstrike. (Alaa al-Faqir/Reuters)
Daraa was designated as a "de-escalation zone" in a truce brokered by the U.S. and Russia last summer — an agreement that Donald Trump hailed as life-saving.

On Friday, Nikki Haley, America's ambassador to the United Nations, was talking tough about the Syrian attacks, saying they "unambiguously" violated the ceasefire. She warned that Russia "will ultimately bear responsibility for any further escalations."

But by yesterday, the Guardian was reporting that representatives of the FSA — a group that was armed and financed by the CIA until last July — have been quietly told not to expect any military assistance from American forces.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that Russian warplanes are now joining in the attacks, which have killed at least 28 civilians since last week.

A house burns after an airstrike by Syrian regime forces in the town of Busra al-Harir in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on Sunday. Russian-backed regime forces have for weeks been preparing an offensive to retake Syria's south, a strategic zone that borders both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)
Terrified families are said to be fleeing the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, and seeking shelter in olive groves just outside the city limits.

Daraa was the birthplace of the Syrian revolution. A group of teenagers started spray-painting anti-Assad graffiti in 2011, sparking demonstrations that spread across the country. It has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting throughout the seven-year civil war.

Government troops now control the eastern half of the city, but the rebels still hold the west and most of the surrounding countryside.

Even as the fighting escalates in the south, Assad is turning his attention to the other remaining rebel stronghold in Idlib province to the north.

Displaced Syrians from Daraa province, fleeing shelling by pro-government forces, wait in a makeshift camp on Friday in the province of Quneitra, southwestern Syria, near the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Thousands of civilians have fled regime bombardment on rebel-held areas. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)
In an interview with the Russian television network NTV yesterday the Syrian president said he is open to "reconciliation," but vowed to bring a swift end to the civil war if the "terrorists" don't surrender.

"We will fight with them and return control by force. It is certainly not the best option for us, but it's the only way to get control of the country," he said.

According to the UN, more than 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict and 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, with a further 6 million people displaced within its borders.

David Common on assignment

The news this spring has been dark — full of bad people doing bad things. Even in perpetually cynical newsrooms, we needed an antidote. So we wrote to dozens of schools across the country and asked about some of their most inspiring students from the Class of 2018.

The responses were incredible, and the job of shortening the list to three students was challenging.

Kardeisha Provo was the first we met.

Kardeisha Provo in North Preston, N.S. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

At 18, she has become the unofficial voice of her hometown in North Preston, N.S.  As Canada's only all-black community, it has a rich history but became known more for a series of shootings.

"Often in the world, black people are labelled as being violent, being people who won't amount to things," Provo, a top student and prolific volunteer, told us when we met.

"I wanted change that narrative and spread a positive light on the successes of our people."

Kardeisha Provo on why she's speaking out about issues in her neighbourhood

CBC News

3 years ago
Kardeisha Provo, 18, wasn’t happy with the way her Halifax community of North Preston was being portrayed in the news, so she decided to change the narrative and start telling the neighbourhood's positive stories. 0:46

Kardeisha's method is a personal video blog. She has addressed the violence head-on, but also broadcasts the good, from sports events to the challenges faced by teenagers in the community.

Rather than accept outsiders defining the community only for the violence it has experienced, she's been credited with helping those who live in North Preston to write their own history.

And the confidence it has built shows — especially when Kardeisha walks down the street through the small community. Not a single car drives by without stopping to talk to her. At a young age, she's a leader beyond just her peers.

  • Watch David Common's feature on some of the most remarkable members of Canada's 2018 graduating class tonight on The National, on CBC Television and streamed online
  • Read the online feature

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Economic unrest in Iran

Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran today, clashing with police outside the country's parliament in a protest against rising prices and a crumbling economy.

The anti-government protests are said to have been the largest in Iran's capital since 2012, when international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program were causing severe economic hardship.

Videos posted to social media show crowds marching through Tehran's Grand Bazaar, encouraging merchants to close their shops in solidarity. And little later, police firing tear gas at chanting demonstrators outside the nearby parliament building.

A group of protesters chant slogans in Tehran, Iran, on Monday, swarming its historic Grand Bazaar and forcing shopkeepers to close their stalls in apparent anger over the Islamic Republic's troubled economy, months after similar demonstrations rocked the country. (Associated Press)
The protests come one day after shopkeepers at two upscale malls that specialize in cellphones and other imported electronics staged a strike to draw attention to their rising costs.

The value of the rial, Iran's currency, has plummeted since President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose U.S. sanctions. It is now trading at 90,000 for one American dollar on the black market, more than double the rate at the end of last year.

The Iranian government has tried to stop the slide by setting a fixed U.S. exchange rate of 42,000 rials, but hard currency is in short supply, making it difficult for businesses to purchase foreign goods. For example, the Financial Times reports that the cost of Hyundai Tucson has risen from 1.7 billion rials to 3.7 billion in just one year.

Iranian shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar were closed Monday in a rare strike movement and in the wake of demonstrations to protest against the depreciation of the Iranian currency. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
The government has promised to aid the cellphone merchants. Today the head of Iran's Central Bank told state television that measures are coming that will shut down the black market currency trade.  

In December and January, a wave of similar protests against galloping inflation and rising unemployment spread across the country, eventually involving 75 cities and towns. At least 25 people were killed and 5,000 arrested as the government tried to stifle the movement.

Last week, President Hassan Rouhani approved a plan for designated protest zones in Tehran, including soccer stadiums, parks and a site near the parliament, where citizens will be allowed to express dissent as long as they don't violate "Islamic principles." But history suggests that the size of such rallies is likely to be carefully managed, and that only a certain level of anti-government criticism will be tolerated.

A few words on …

The challenges facing Canada's peacekeepers in Mali:

Quote of the moment

"Your whole character is torn apart and stripped down and you're villainized."

- RCMP Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Greenwood, the lead plaintiff in a new $1.1 billion class action suit against the force, on the alleged bullying and harassment he endured after passing on reports that fellow officers were on the take.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Greenwood says he suffered PTSD as a result of reprisals and harassment on the job after investigating allegations of police corruption. (Supplied by Kim, Spencer, McPhee Barristers)

What The National is reading

  • Mali 'far messier' than other peacekeeping missions, says Canada's defence chief (CBC)
  • Erdogan win has Turkey 'entering era of one-man rule' (BBC)
  • Algeria abandons 13,000 migrants in the Sahara desert (CBC)
  • Trump no longer listening to his defence secretary, officials say (NBC)
  • $6 million malpractice settlement for N.S. boy who suffered brain damage at birth (CBC)
  • French police arrest 10 suspects over plot against Muslims (RFI)
  • Harley-Davidson to move some production out of U.S. after European tariffs (CNN)
  • Russian vodka pulled from Alberta shelves over Communist-style logo (Edmonton Journal)

Today in history

June 25, 1983: The Guess Who, together again

Would fans shell out "as much as $20" to see four "almost 40 and fatter" musicians run through their decade-old hits? Given that the reunion tour kicked off in Winnipeg — the Guess Who's hometown — the answer was a resounding yes. The real thrill here though is hearing The National anchor George McLean pronounce "rock 'n roll" like it's a foreign word.

The Guess Who: together again

Digital Archives

38 years ago
The hit-making lineup kicks off a sold-out reunion tour in hometown Winnipeg. 1:59

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.