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Witness to the Paris attacks embraces his ‘survivor’s obligation’

Iraq’s Yazidis return home to Sinjar

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State
         in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh
         of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 11, 2014. Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi
         ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq's human rights minister told Reuters on Sunday. The Islamic
         State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, has prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians
         to flee for their lives during their push to within a 30-minute drive of the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. Picture taken
         SEE: GM1EA8M1B4V01 - RTR424VU

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HARI SREENIVASAN: More than a year ago, the desperate plight of Iraq`s Yazidi religious minority stranded on Sinjar Mountain helped draw the United States into the war against ISIS in Iraq. The militants are believed to have killed hundreds of civilians from Sinjar and surrounding areas. Is also captured several thousand Yazidi women, whom they systematically enslaved.

Earlier this month, American airstrikes and Kurdish forces drove ISIS out of Sinjar City, cutting off a main IS supply route to Syria and allowing residents to go back.

Jane Arraf reports on what some of them have found.

JANE ARRAF: There`s no running water or electricity in Sinjar. Even making tea is a challenge. But Burgess Gharbi and two of his sons have come back every day for the past week to try to get their house in shape for the rest of the family. They were luckier than a lot of Yazidis. No one from their immediate family was killed or captured by ISIS.

Although his fabric shop was destroyed, there was only minor damage to his home. But it`s still not safe enough to live here.

BURGESS GHARBI, Shop owner (through interpreter): If the forces advanced a little further we would have been out of mortar range, and a lot of families would have come back as long as we stayed out of mortar range. We were back here two days when a mortar landed over there.

JANE ARRAF: Burgess searched the house for hidden bombs and then he and the boys started repairing and cleaning. It`s a mixed neighborhood of Yazidis and Muslim Kurds. Burgess says he has called his Muslim neighbors and hopes they`ll come back.

The last time Basima Ismael and her family saw their house they were fleeing ISIS. They`ve come back to Sinjar from Iraq`s Kurdistan region to see if there’s anything left to come home to. They spent five years building the house. They’d only lived in it for three. Every room has been damaged and looted.

They took the TV, the fridge, the freezer and the car. But they did much, much worse.

ALI QASSIM, Sinjar Resident (through interpreter): We Yazidis, Muslims, all the different people of Sinjar were the same. We were living together. They set us against each other and they killed us. We killed each other. They created sectarianism.

JANE ARRAF: The family is Muslim Kurdish in a city of Yazidis and Kurds. In one room, they find the dust-covered Koran. It`s one of the few things ISIS didn`t steal.

Rayan rescues photographs. With the takeover of Sinjar, that part of his life is now over. Basima retrieves some pots and pans, some blankets, a favorite tea-set, as they put what they can salvage in the taxi.

A roadside bomb explodes on a nearby street. They get back in the taxi to head for the safer Kurdish region.

Kurdish forces are busy still fighting ISIS on the other side of the mountain and the city seems lawless. Civilians wander around with guns. Politicians and union leaders drive around posing for photos.

Apart from fighters, the city is almost deserted. “We`re all going to America,” this resident jokes.

Security forces have placed red flags near some of the roadside bombs left by ISIS but there are a lot more remaining. Along with Kurdish government Peshmerga, there are competing Kurdish forces and Yazidi fighters staking their claim. The city feels as if it`s just waiting for a spark to re-ignite.

Sinjar has been re-captured, but the challenge now for Kurdish forces is to maintain control. ISIS controls villages to the south of here and there’s already looting in the city. So this guard unit has been brought in to maintain security.

Along these streets, ISIS has marked the homes with graffiti identifying the owners’ religion. Some of those marked “Shia” were almost completely destroyed, looted and then set on fire.

In another area, a misspelled “the Islamic State” remains. This one vowed death to the Kurdish Peshmerga.

While ISIS was driven out of Sinjar, they are still a threat just a few miles from here.

Ahmed Ghaib Hussein, the head of a mostly Shia Kurdish neighborhood here, says people won`t come back to the city until some of the surrounding villages are retaken.

AHMED GHAIB HUSSEIN, Sinjar neighborhood leader (through interpreter): Whether it`s America, Iraq, or Kurdistan, we want them to liberate those areas so people can return to their homes. If these areas are liberated, families will return.

JANE ARRAF: Of the 700 houses in his neighborhood, the owners of only about 100 have come back so far — many just to check on their houses. In between explosives laid by ISIS, and the U.S. and British air strikes, entire sections of the city are destroyed. And as Kurdish and U.S. forces recover more territory from ISIS, there is more evidence of mass killings being uncovered.

These are human bones — scattered by dogs after being buried in a shallow grave, and placed in this pile by villagers. No one has cordoned off the site, on the outskirts of what Yazidis call Shingal.

HUSSEIN HASSOLIN, Government Adviser: Really, you need to liberate the whole area, the whole Shingal to find out how many massacres. But according to our information, we have discovered already on the north, north part of the mountain, about 11 mass graves, and still here, four official in the south part of the mountain.

JANE ARRAF: Villagers believe at least 22 men are buried in this field. But the Kurds are still trying to identify victims of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign from decades ago. And identifying these bodies could take years. Near Sinjar`s technical college, ISIS turned an empty fish tank into a mass grave for Yazidi women they killed.

Hadi Breem Oulo and his family own the land for miles around here. He says ISIS used dynamite to blow up their houses. They even set fire to the pomegranate and fig trees.

He says their Arab neighbors were part of ISIS.

HADI BREEM OULO, Farmer (through interpreter): If one Arab stays here in our region, we will not be able to live together, never. Arabs took our mothers and sisters, they took our honor and they sold it. They`ve killed old people. They`ve killed children. There is no way we can all live together.

JANE ARRAF: As dusk falls, these Yazidi men stop to look out over Sinjar. Their village is still held by ISIS, but they were able to see it from a distance.

Saad Aido was looking for the body of his mother where she died on the mountain. He found only her shoe. But he thanks God they were able to catch a glimpse of their village again. Despite the tragedy, Sinjar is still home.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jane Arraf in Sinjar, Iraq.

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France, Russia unify to fight Islamic State

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande
         during a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, November 26, 2015. France and Russia agreed on Thursday to exchange
         intelligence on Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria to help improve the effectiveness of their aerial bombing
         campaigns in the country, French President Francois Hollande said. REUTERS/Sergei Chirikov/Pool - RTX1W0MO

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HARI SREENIVASAN: We return now to Russia, where The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau chief, Nathan Hodge, was at the press conference with Putin and Hollande. I talked to him earlier this evening.

So, Nathan, what sort of cooperation did these two leaders outline in their press conference today? For a lot of people, they might have assumed that France and Russia were already cooperating for the past week.

NATHAN HODGE, The Wall Street Journal: Well, that’s really been the question on everyone’s mind here because both Mr. Putin and Mr. Hollande have said what they would like to see some kind of international coalition here, but none of the outlines have been clear. President Putin said that he could see a situation that they had agreed upon where there would be certain territories that would be agreed upon, where you can strike, where you can’t strike. And there also seems to be an agreement here to go after the oil industry, or the oil trade that is one of the sources of income for Islamic State.

So, those seem to be two areas of cooperation here. But President Putin also outlined or made clear his anger over the downing of the Russian aircraft by a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday, saying that the Russians had actually been passing on information about the location of their aircraft.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, the Turks had released some audio just in the past 24 hours showing the Turkish military repeatedly telling the Russian pilot, “Hey, you’re coming into our air space. Turn away, turn away.” Did he respond to that at all today?

NATHAN HODGE: Well, President Putin didn’t respond directly to that, but he said any of the Turkish explanations were just, quote, “excuses.” And yesterday, we also got some interesting footage, an interview that was aired with the aviator, the Russian aviator, who managed to eject and survive the incident, survive the shoot-down, and he had said that the crew of the aircraft had received no warning.

But what we’ve seen today, especially just advance of Mr. Hollande’s visit, is a whipping up of some pretty strongly anti-Turkish sentiment and threats by Russian officials to retaliate, not with military force, but to respond economically. Turkey has a serious tourist trade with Russia, got strong ties with gas exports. And Russian officials have made clear that they’re going to be looking for ways to respond and respond economically to what’s happened.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And do the leaders of Russia have public support for these moves?

NATHAN HODGE: Well, that’s an interesting question because Putin’s ratings, which are steadily quite high, have reached record highs, in fact, since the intervention at the very end of September in Syria. There’s been a promise in many ways of a clean and rather surgical war from the air.

Mr. Putin has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t expect to see any forces on the ground, any Russian boots on the ground. Until the downing of this aircraft, there had been no combat deaths by Russian forces until the downing of the aircraft and the subsequent rescue mission, in which a Russian marine was also killed.

But this doesn’t seem to have dented Putin’s popularity in any way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It seems that the Turks are almost trying to ratchet things down while the Russians are trying to ratchet them up.

NATHAN HODGE: Well, this has been a pattern as well. Putin is nothing if not a confident actor on the world stage at this point, and he’s also playing, as well, to a domestic audience here.

There’s been a fair amount of genuine anger as well directed at Turkey. We’ve seen rocks and eggs pelted at the Turkish embassy here. And there is very interesting incident today as well where a number of Turkish businessmen were detained.

Again, I think this is just a case where we’re going to be seeing a fair amount of official anti-Turkish sentiment, but definitely there’s been an outrage over the death of the Russian aviator. And a fairly belligerent and I would say a somewhat angry tone that we saw today in the press conference following the meeting with French president Hollande.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There seems to be one crucial gap between France and Russia still, which is the agreement upon whether or not President Bashar al-Assad of Syria should stay or go. That has not been closed, right?

NATHAN HODGE: Right. And this meeting really underscores how much distance remains between the West and between the Kremlin, when it comes to whether or not Bashar al-Assad should stay or should go. Putin reiterated today what we’ve heard from him before, which is that it’s up to the Syrian people to decide. And he’s also made clear that he sees the only legitimate force on the ground — that is, the only one that’s capable of taking the fight to Islamic State — as Syria’s — Syrian government forces, the Syrian army, and the forces on side with Bashar al-Assad.

So, it’s — it’s pretty clear here that there’s not really been sort of a major closing of the gap between France, between the West, and between the Kremlin on this. And it’s not clear whether this meeting will resolve that or will push the ball forward in any way towards some kind of resolution in Syria.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Nathan Hodge, Moscow “Wall Street Journal” bureau chief — thanks so much for joining us.

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News Wrap: News Wrap: David Cameron calls for airstrikes in Syria

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses a joint news conference with Austria's Chancellor
         Werner Faymann (not pictured) after a meeting in the chancellery in Vienna, Austria, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
         - RTX1VZTN

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HARI SREENIVASAN: French President Francois Hollande and Russia`s Vladimir Putin agreed in Moscow today to share intelligence in their fight against the Islamic State, and Putin said he is ready to begin coordinating airstrikes with the U.S.-led coalition.

For the third time in as many days, Francois Hollande met a counterpart to press the global effort against the Islamic State

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): Terrorism is our enemy, we know it. It has a name, it is the Islamic State. We must create this large coalition.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This evening in Moscow, Hollande and Vladimir Putin met for more than two hours; their nations: the most-recent victims of the group`s international terror campaign.

Putin said he was now willing to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing the Islamic State for 16 months.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia: (through interpreter): We respect the coalition founded by the U.S. And we are ready to work with it. We think it would have been better to form a wider coalition to start with.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Russia began strikes in September, to bolster the regime of Bashar al Assad. It is hitting many areas in Syria, much of which the U.S. and others are far from the regions controlled by ISIS.

Putin said a ground force would be needed to defeat ISIS and other extremists, a force that is already fighting.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is not possible to fight successfully against terrorists in Syria without a ground operation and there is no other force for a ground operation than the Syrian army.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hollande said that the French would now begin sharing intelligence with the Russians for the air campaign. But he reiterated his position shared by the U.S. on a serious issue of division with the Russians; that is the role of Bashar al-Assad in any future Syrian government.

PRESIDENT FRACOIS HOLLANDE: The executive power must be given to an independent unity government during transition. In France`s view, it is clear that Bashar al-Assad does not have a place in the future of Syria.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For his part, Putin said it was up to Syrians to determine Assad`s fate.

Hanging over the meeting, Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane on Tuesday. The incident occurred in the skies over the southernmost border of Turkey adjacent to Syria. One pilot was killed, and the second rescued.

Russia maintains the plane was within Syrian airspace when it was struck by Turkish jets. And yesterday, the surviving crewman said as much from a base in Syria.

KONSTANTIN MURAKHTIN, Russian Air Force (through interpreter): No, this is impossible, not even for a second. I could see perfectly on the map and on the ground where the borders are and where we are. There was not even a threat of entering airspace.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But Turkey has flatly rejected those claims, and said the Russian jet traveled more than a mile into its territory and ignored multiple warnings.

Yesterday, the Turkish military released audio recordings of what it said were Turkish officials repeatedly instructing the Russian jet to leave.

TURKISH AIR FORCE: This is Turkish air force speaking on guard. You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The fallout from the downing has been swift. Today, Russia`s state-of-the-art air defense systems arrived in Syria, with a range that reaches deep into Turkey. And the country’s defense minister said all military channels with the Turks have been suspended.

Back in Russia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered officials to begin drafting measures to deepen that split.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Prime Minister, Russia (through interpreter): These documents will deal with the introduction of bans and restrictions, with respect to the activities of Turkish economic structures on the Russian territory, restriction and bans on shipments of goods including food, on works and services provided by the Turkish companies, as well as other restrictive measures.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But in Turkey, President Erdogan said any talk of severing diplomatic and economic ties goes too far.

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKEY (through interpreter): At this are such approaches fitting for politicians to adopt such a stance? First of all, politicians and military delegations need to sit down and talk about this issue. And afterwards, the mistakes should be mutually recovered. If we make emotional statements rather than doing this, it would be unfitting.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And Erdogan again condemned Russian airstrikes along the Turkish- Syrian border, which he says are targeting ethnic Turkmen fighting against Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Despite that warning, there appeared to be more strikes today along that frontier. Amateur video showed dozens of people attempting to put out a blaze cause by an alleged Russian airstrike. Rebel groups on the ground said the target was a border crossing and several aid trucks were hit. Russia said it is targeting terrorists in the region.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ll have more on this story right after the news summary.

In Britain today, Prime Minister David Cameron tried to persuade parliament to back air-strikes on the Islamic State in Syria. The Royal Air Force is part of the U.S.-led coalition hitting ISIS targets in Iraq, but not Syria. For more than two hours today, Cameron fielded questions in the House of Commons, where the main opposition Labour Party is divided on action.

DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: We shouldn’t be content with out-sourcing our security to our allies. If we believe that action can help protect us, then with our allies, we should be part of that action not standing aside from it. And from this moral point comes a fundamental question: if we won’t act now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking, “If not now, when?”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Cameron did say he would only put the issue to a vote if he there was a clear majority, not wanting to hand ISIS a “publicity coup.”

Belgium lowered its alert level by one notch in Brussels today after determining there is no “imminent” threat of an attack. There was no immediate word what prompted that move, but authorities vowed to remain vigilant. Meanwhile, Belgian officials confirmed an anthrax scare at the capital city’s main mosque turned out to be a hoax. Investigators said a suspicious white powder in a parcel was actually flour.

Security was on the minds of many this Thanksgiving holiday across the U.S. in the wake of the Paris attacks, 2,500 police officers lined the Macy`s annual Thanksgiving Day parade route, that wound its way through the streets of Manhattan. But city officials said it was a precaution, since there was no credible threat.

In Afghanistan, U.S. troops observed the holiday at NATO headquarters in Kabul with Turkey and all the trimmings, while pausing to count their blessings.

SGT. JAZZMENE LOFTUS, Army National Guard: I`m just happy to be here. I`m thankful for, you know, being alive and everything like that, and having the opportunity to serve the Afghan people as much as we can here, difference between here and home? Of course, I don`t have my family here with me, but I`m still happy to be around my military family and the other coalition forces that we have, you know, created bonds with and everything like that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama used his Thanksgiving message to appeal for greater acceptance of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. In his weekly radio address, he reminded Americans that the Pilgrims fled persecution and violence when they came to America nearly four centuries ago. The president has vowed to take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

Norway began imposing stricter border controls today in an effort to limit the flow of migrants. Police and border security officials are now checking the identification papers of people arriving and leaving the Nordic country. The measures will remain in place for ten days. Norway estimates some 33,000 asylum seekers will enter their country this year. That`s three times last year`s total.

Boko Haram militants crossed the border into Niger today and attacked a village, killing at least 18 people. Security sources said they arrived on foot in a small village in the southern border area of Diffa, opening fire on residents. The border area is rife with strikes because Boko Haram`s stronghold in northeast Nigeria is just a few miles away.

Back in this country, federal authorities are still investigating the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white Chicago police officer last year, and could bring additional charges. The officer was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday by Cook County prosecutors.

Overnight, there were more, mostly peaceful protests with only four arrests. Organizers hope for a large protest tomorrow, Black Friday, along Michigan Avenue, the city`s famous shopping district.

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