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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

French Reporters Witnessed Previous Chemical Attacks on Syrian Rebels

In light of claims that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched deadly chemical attacks on rebel-held areas of the Damascus suburbs on Wednesday, it is worth noting that journalists for the French newspaper Le Monde reported in May that they had witnessed repeated chemical attacks on rebel forces in that same region.

The journalists, who “spent two months clandestinely in the Damascus area alongside Syrian rebels,” first reported their findings in a news article illustrated with video, which was later translated into English by Le Monde.fr.

A video report on chemical warfare in the Damascus suburbs published in May by Le Monde.

The article, by Jean-Philippe Rémy, began:

A chemical attack on the Jobar front, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, doesn’t look like anything much at first. It’s not spectacular. Above all, it’s not detectable. And that’s the aim: by the time the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army who have penetrated furthest into Damascus understand that they’ve been exposed to chemical products by government forces, it’s too late. No matter which type of gas is used, it has already produced its effects, only a few hundred meters from residential areas of the Syrian capital.

At first, there is only a little sound, a metallic ping, almost a click. And in the confusion of daily combat in Jobar’s Bahra 1 sector, this sound didn’t catch the attention of the fighters of the Tahrir al-Sham (‘Liberation of Syria’) Brigade. ‘We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the brigade, which holds this forward position less than 500 meters from Abbasid Square.

Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.

Reporters from Le Monde witnessed this on several days in a row in this district, on the outskirts of Damascus, which the rebels entered in January.

American Uses Kremlin-Financed Network to Denounce Russia’s Anti-Gay Legislation

The American journalist James Kirchick’s appearance on the Kremlin-financed news channel RT, or Russia Today, was cut short on Wednesday.

An American journalist who accepted an invitation to appear on a television channel owned by the Russian government surprised producers in Moscow on Wednesday by raising the subject of Russia’s anti-gay legislation and denouncing the network’s employees as propagandists for Vladimir Putin.

The columnist James Kirchick’s two-minute outburst â€" which began with a quote from the gay-rights activist and playwright Harvey Fierstein and the donning of rainbow-colored, “gay pride suspenders” â€" took place during live coverage of the Bradley Manning trial on the Kremlin-financed news channel RT, or Russia Today.

When the host, Yulia Shapovalova, tried to steer her guest back to the Manning trial, Mr. Kirchick said, “I’m not really interested in talking about Bradley Manning; I’m interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now, and to let the Russian gay people know that they have friends and allies, and solidarity from people all over the world, and that we’re not going to be silent in the face of this horrific repression that is perpetrated by your paymasters, by Vladimir Putin. That’s what I’m here to talk about.”

He continued: “I don’t know as a journalist how you can go to sleep at night, seeing what happens to journalists in Russia â€" who are routinely harassed, tortured and sometimes even killed by the Russian government â€" how you can call yourself a journalist and and how you can go to sleep at night, I find that abominable. You should be ashamed of yourself; everyone who works for this network should be ashamed of yourself.”

Given that guests on the network generally express support for criticism of the United States government, whoever booked Mr. Kirchick apparently failed to do much research on his politics or writings. Just three weeks ago, Mr. Kirchick, who was a fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in a column for New York’s Daily News that Private Manning had committed treason and should have been sentenced to death. Last year, in an essay for Out.com headlined “Bradley Manning is No Gay Hero,” he attacked Wikileaks, whose founder Julian Assange has hosted a talk show on RT, arguing that Private Manning’s leas had “imperiled the lives of brave human rights defenders around the world.”

In a Daily Beast post earlier this month, Mr. Kirchick also denounced Russia’s “infamous measure banning ‘non-traditional relationships propaganda,’” and called the prosecution of Pussy Riot for an anti-Putin stunt a “show trial.” The RT booker also apparently missed Mr. Kirchick’s coverage of a gay pride parade in Belgrade in 2010 and failed to scan his Wikipedia page, which notes that he is a past winner of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ Association Journalist of the Year Award.

Before the network’s producers dropped the satellite feed bringing Mr. Kirchick’s comments to their viewers, the English-language channel’s Irish news editor, Ivor Crotty, stressed that the network, which was set up by the Russian government’s information office, had covered the debate over the anti-gay legislation.

Last week, the channel did host a panel discussion on calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics over the new law, although the debate was moderated by a news anchor who constantly undercut criticism of the law and stressed that “Russia’s interior ministry has said there’ll be no discrimination against gay people coming to watch of even participate in the Sochi Winter Olympics.” The segment began with a representative of the Russian L.G.B.T. Sport Federation rejecting calls for a boycott.

A panel discussion of calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia on the Kremlin-financed news channel RT, or Russia Today.

Today’s Scuttlebot: Zuckerberg’s Facebook Page Hacked and McAfee’s Regrets

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Today’s Scuttlebot: Homeless Coding, and Yahoo Gets More Visitors Than Google

Every day, The New York Times’s staff scours the Web for interesting and peculiar items.

Many people awoke to news from Facebook that it was leading a coalition of technology companies, called Internet.org, aimed at lowering the barriers to Internet access around the world, especially in developing nations.

“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, told The Times’s Vindu Goel.

The announcement spread quickly around the tech community, leading many to wonder what the implications of the initiative would be. It also led at least one person to wonder where the coalition landed such a seemingly coveted domain like Internet.org.

It turns out the previous owner, who registered the domain 15 years ago, had no idea who he was selling it to.

Here’s what else we noticed today:

Finding the Unjustly Homeless, and Teaching Them to Code.
Medium |  Teach a man to fish and … the embrace of technology solves every problem, right? - Damon Darlin

Yahoo Sites Are the Most Visited in July
Marketing Land |  Yahoo received more traffic in July than Facebook or Google, and those numbers don’t count a boost from Tumblr now being a part of Yahoo’s family. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Some Lessons From Vine
AVC |  Some thoughts from a venture capitalist on Vine’s growth and why Instagram hasn’t killed it - at least, not yet. - Jenna Wortham

Instagram Bragging Leads to Gun Bust
The Verge |  An aspiring rapper’s Instagram photos lead to the largest gun bust in New York City history. - Ashwin Seshagiri

When the Thing People Like Isn’t What You Set Out to Do
Forbes |  When an accidental feature becomes your entire business. - Ashwin Seshagiri

‘Causal Recipes’ Return to Twitter
TechCrunch |  IFTTT, a service that lets users personalize actions if something occurs on a predetermined site, gets a fresh set of Twitter triggers that allow users to build commands that react to tweets. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Cheaper rivals eat into Apple’s China tablet share
The Financial Times |  Apple is losing market share to rivals in China. That was inevitable. But how many of them are making money? - Damon Darlin (Subscription required)

More Details About the Georgia School Gunman Saga

An ABC interview with a school employee in Decatur, Ga., posted Wednesday on YouTube.

A 20-year old man who entered a Georgia elementary school with an AK-47, then exchanged fire with the police before being arrested, was facing charges on Wednesday as details emerged about him and the tense moments before his arrest.

No one was killed or injured on Tuesday in the armed invasion of the school, the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, in Decatur, Ga. But the gunman, Michael Brandon Hill, held one or two school employees captive in an office, then opened fire about half a dozen times at the police before surrendering, the authorities said.

On Wednesday, the police gave more information about the charges and their investigation, and released a photograph of Mr. Hill holding a gun.

Cedric L. Alexander, the police chief in DeKalb County, said on Tuesday that Mr. Hill parked his car in front of the school, then likely gained access to the building by following someone else inside. He also spoke on Wednesday about the case.

News coverage has focused on how the start of the academic year was kicking off with yet more images of students fleeing a gunman in their school and that it conjured up memories of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, in which 20 children were among the 26 people gunned down before the shooter killed himself.

On Wednesday, the school’s students were sent to classes in a nearby high school, where administrators said they were providing meals and lessons to try to give them as normal a day as possible. But attendance was apparently low.

Mr. Hill was expected to be charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a felon, The Associated Press reported earlier.

CBS reported that Mr. Hill had been arrested in March for “terroristic threats and acts” but was given three years’ probation and ordered to take anger management classes.

In an interview with WSBTV, an ABC affiliate, Mr. Hill’s brother Timothy said that Michael had a troubled past.

“I couldn’t tell you what his mind-set was when he went up there. I honestly can tell you he’s got a long history of medical disorders, including bipolar,” Timothy Hill was quoted as saying.

A WSB-TV reporter, Mark Winne, said on his Twitter account @MarkWinneWSB that investigators said Mr. Hill was taken into custody without resistance, while explaining that he had not been taking his medication.

“When we took him into custody he said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m off my meds.’ He seemed like he was tired,” said Investigator T.L. Wortham, of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Fugitive Unit.

As my colleagues Kim Severson and Alan Blinder reported, Antoinette Tuff, a school employee, tried to keep Mr. Hill engaged throughout the ordeal. She said in a televised interview that he appeared agitated, “willing to kill,” and at one point put clips into his weapon.

“He said that he didn’t have any reason to live and that he knew he was going to die today,” she said, adding that he tried to leave the office to where the students were. “I called him back and kept talking to him to keep him calm, to stay inside with me, because I knew that if he got outside, that he was going to start shooting the kids.”

In a longer version of her remarks, Ms. Tuff explained in an interview with WSB-TV’s Channel 2 that she had been sitting in someone else’s desk temporarily when he entered with his gun drawn, and he said; “I am not playing, this is for real, this is not a show.”

Ms. Tuff said she kept talking to him, telling him about her life and the loss she went through when her husband died. She said Mr. Hill instructed her to call a television station to come to the school and record events, and to apologize for him over the school intercom, which she did. He made phone calls to an unidentified person, who she tried to speak with as well. Eventually she got through to him, and at one point she told him to put the gun down.

“I told him to put the guns down on the table, empty his pockets,” she said, adding he had ammunition, bags and a bottle of water “to sit for a while.”

“He put it all down on the counter,” she added.

She then told him to get down on the floor, and he did, putting his hands behind his back, saying “tell them I am on the floor.” Shortly thereafter she sat behind the desk so the officers could see she was not harmed. The police, who had been shot at while closing in, arrested him.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Video and Images of Victims of Suspected Syrian Chemical Attack

As my colleagues Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad report from Beirut, antigovernment activists accused the Syrian government of deploying chemical weapons in a string of towns in the rebellious countryside east of the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, killing hundreds of men, women and children.

Rebels claimed that victims of the attack, shown in dozens of video clips, were killed by chemical weapons, just days after United Nations inspectors arrived in the country to investigate previous attacks said to have involved poison gas. Syria’s government called the accusations “false and untrue” and a spokesman told the state news agency President Bashar al-Assad’s forces “will never use any weapons of mass destruction against its own people, if such weapons exist.”

While the veracity of the visual evidence uploaded to YouTube could not be independently established, chemical weapons experts told The Times that the injuries seen in footage from the region did not appear to be consistent with the effects of a conventional chemical weapon like sarin or mustard gas and that the deaths might have been caused by the use of a weaker chemical agent in a confined space.

Rebels in the town of Jobar uploaded video of a doctor describing his experience treating many of the dead and injured Wednesday, and his description seemed to suggest that the initial assessments of chemical weapons experts may indeed be accurate. The doctor, who did not state his name, said that many of the dead hid in their basements during the attack, unaware that chemical agents are more dense than air and therefore are more concentrated and powerful in enclosed, low-lying spaces.

Opposition activists added English subtitles to a copy of the video with the doctor’s account.

A doctor in Jobar said that many of the dead were found in basements, according to video posted by rebels and loaded to YouTube by a group of antigovernment Syrian translators.

“The negative thing that happened was dealing randomly with the matter and the poor education of citizens,” the doctor said. “The gas loses its effect after half an hour, but unfortunately citizens hid in basements although the gas is heavy and it comes down to basements. This increased the damages and the number of injuries. With the descending of the citizens to the basements, the number of injuries and martyrs increased.”

Video shared online shows graphic images of dozens of dead people, including women and a large number of young children, including babies in diapers, most of whom were said to have suffocated. All of the video has been posted by YouTube accounts affiliated with rebels and activists in towns in the Eastern Ghouta region, including Erbeen, Kafr Batna, Saqba and Jisreen.

One clip posted on a channel affiliated with activists in Kafr Batna showed the bodies of a group of men, women and young children, including a baby in a diaper, all lying on the floor of a room. The cameraman, sobbing, said that the dead were all members of one family. Outside the room, a dimly lighted hallway was also lined with dead bodies.

Video posted on YouTube by Syrian activists affiliated with rebels in Kafr Batna showed several members of one family, including a baby in a diaper, said to have been killed Wednesday.

Another video clip uploaded to the same channel showed a room filled with the bodies of dozens of people killed in what the cameraman called, “a new massacre in Kafr Batna.” The dead included a large number of young children. Many of the bodies are shown with their shirts lifted up to expose bare stomachs and chests, and none appear to have bled or to have sustained bodily injuries, further suggesting that suffocation was the cause of death.

Dozens of dead bodies, including those of children, can be seen in video recorded by opposition activists in Kafr Batna.

Activists in the town of Erbeen uploaded video showing similar images: a room filled with dozens of bodies covered in sheets and blankets, slabs of melting ice balanced on their chests to fend off decomposition. The cameraman said there were more than 40 dead in the room, including a number of young boys whose bodies were in a row.

Video posted online from Erbeen showed dozens of dead bodies lined up in a room.

The Erbeen revels also released video that showed doctors attempting to treat children in a clinic. In the clips, one doctor pressed a manual respirator against the mouth of a boy who appeared to be nonresponsive, while a second doctor prepared to give a second child an injection. The second child appeared to barely respond, and his lips were a deep shade of blue.

Video posted by rebels in Erbeen showed doctors trying to treat two young boys, who appeared to be barely responsive.

Another video from Erbeen, which appears to have been filmed inside the same clinic, showed a group of doctors trying to treat a man, holding him down as his body convulsed. His eyes were closed, and the only sound he made was a series of high-pitched cries.

Video posted by rebels in Erbeen shows doctors treating a man whose body convulses.

Daily Report: Facebook Leads Effort to Widen the Net

About one of every seven people in the world uses Facebook. Now, Mark Zuckerberg, its co-founder and chief executive, wants to make a play for the rest â€" including the four billion or so who lack Internet access, Vindu Goel reports.

On Wednesday, Facebook plans to announce an effort aimed at drastically cutting the cost of delivering basic Internet services on mobile phones, particularly in developing countries, where Facebook and other technology companies need to find new users. Half a dozen of the world’s tech giants, including Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson, have agreed to work with the company as partners on the initiative, which they call Internet.org.

The companies intend to accomplish their goal in part by simplifying phone applications so they run more efficiently and by improving the components of phones and networks so that they transmit more data while using less battery power.

For Mr. Zuckerberg, the formation of the coalition is yet another way in which he is trying to position himself as an industry leader. He has been speaking out more forcefully than other tech executives on topics like immigration overhaul, which the industry sees as critical to its hiring needs. With Internet.org, he is laying out a philosophy that tries to pair humanitarian goals with the profit motive.

“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” he said in a recent interview. “Ultimately, this has to make business sense on some time frame that people can get behind.”

But the effort is also a reflection of how tech companies are trying to meet Wall Street’s demands for growth by attracting customers beyond saturated markets in the United States and Europe, even if they have to help build services and some of the infrastructure in poorer, less digitally sophisticated parts of the world.