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Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) --  Princess Kate stepped out Thursday night wearing the famous pearl-and-diamond-clad Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara, which was a favorite of Princess Diana, for the annual white tie diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace.

The Duchess of Cambridge looked regal in red, recycling the same dress by designer Jenny Packham that she chose for her first state dinner with the Chinese President. She accessorized the look with diamond chandelier earrings.

The Duchess of Cambridge has only worn tiaras on four previous occasions. She first donned the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara last year at the same event. The jeweled headpiece was given as a wedding present to the late Princess Diana by Queen Elizabeth II in 1981.

Kate borrowed the Lotus Flower Tiara for her first State Banquet with the Chinese President and the Cartier Halo Tiara at her wedding.

 The Queen wore her sapphire and diamond tiara and a dress by Angela Kelly. Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, dressed in a white, beaded, Bruce Oldfield gown with a Boucheron tiara, a pearl choker and diamond earrings.

The reception held by the Queen is attended by the most senior members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Philip and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. More than 1,000 guests from 130 nations attend the event, which is known as one of the most coveted social invitation of the year for the diplomatic community.

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Lance Cpl. Samantha K. Torres(TOKYO) -- A U.S. Marine pilot who ejected from an F/A-18 fighter jet off the eastern coast of Japan has been confirmed dead after being recovered earlier on Thursday by a Japanese naval vessel, military officials said.

The Marine Corps identified Captain Jake Frederick as the pilot who ejected from his F/A-18C fighter aircraft after it went down 120 miles off the coast of Iwakuni, Japan.

The Japanese Defense Ministry had announced earlier in the day that a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ship had recovered Frederick.

"He is pronounced deceased," Marine Corps said in a statement today. "We will provide more releasable information after the 24-hour window. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot. The cause of the crash is still unknown."

A timeline posted on the Japanese ministry's website indicated that the missing pilot was spotted at 1:05 a.m. ET by the 71st Air Division and rescued five minutes later.

Frederick was taken to the base at Iwakuni, Japan, officials said, but no details of the pilot's condition were provided.

Initial efforts to locate Frederick on Wednesday proved unsuccessful leading U.S. and Japanese officials to broaden the search radius and increase the number of search assets.

A search-and-rescue operation was launched on Wednesday after Frederick ejected from his F/A-18 aircraft during a scheduled training mission.

 Frederick had ejected at about 4:40 a.m. ET, 120 miles southeast of Iwakuni, Japan, according to Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in Okinawa. The F/A-18 was assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa and was conducting "regularly scheduled training at the time of the mishap," Marine Corps Base Camp Butler said.

Another F/A-18 fighter that was flying alongside Frederick's aircraft remained in the area until it had to leave because it was running out of fuel, officials said.

Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Wednesday that a number of U.S. and Japanese air and surface vessels were involved in the search-and-rescue efforts.

The USS Montford Point, an expeditionary Transfer Dock, was searching the area and the guided missile destroyer USS Wilbur Curtis was moving to the search area, officials said at the time the search-and-rescue efforts were launched.

Three Japanese ships and multiple Japanese fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft also assisted in the search, officials said.

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Chesnot/Getty Images(PARIS) -- For years, placing "love locks" on a bridge in Paris had become a romantic ritual and a symbol of permanent love.

Couples walked on the famous Pont des Arts bridge to attach padlocks with their names on them and throw away the keys into the Seine River below.

But the mass of the locks damaged the bridge, since it wasn't engineered to hold the extra weight. The keys thrown into the Seine river can also pollute the water. So in summer of 2015, the city decided it was time to remove hundreds of thousands of locks that had built up and stop the ritual.

Now, the city of Paris has found a purpose for some of the locks that have been removed: an auction to raise money in support of refugees.

"Members of the public can buy five or 10 locks, or even clusters of them, all at an affordable price. All of the proceeds will be given to those who work in support and in solidarity of the refugees in Paris,” Bruno Julliard, first deputy mayor of Paris, told journalists last week.

No Love Locks, a group that was founded to advocate for a ban on the locks, supported the plan to sell them.

Paris closed the bridge and began removing locks from the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge in June of 2015. The year before, people had to be evacuated from the bridge after part of the structure collapsed under the weight of the locks.

Out of 65 tons of metal removed from the bridge, 10 tons will be sold, a Paris City Hall spokesperson told ABC News. The city plans to hold the auction in the spring, but an exact date has not been set. The city of Paris is currently working with experts to assess the value of the potential auction value of the locks and estimate how much could be raised for refugees.

More than 80,000 refugees applied for asylum in France in 2015, a 23.6 percent increase compared to the year before, the French Interior Ministry said in July.

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iStock/Thinktsock(GLAND, Switzerland) — The world's tallest land mammal is now in danger of becoming extinct in the wild, a global authority on endangered species announced on Thursday.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature released its updated annual Red List of Threatened Species, which now labels the iconic giraffe as "vulnerable," after its global population was decimated by as much as 40 percent over the past three decades.

"These majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction," said Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group.

Overall, giraffe numbers dipped to 97,562 in 2015 from between 151,000 and 163,000 in 1985.

The giraffe, the only mammal whose status changed in this year's list, is under "severe pressure" in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa, the IUCN said.

"Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction," the group warned

Across the natural world, some 860 plant and animal species have already gone extinct. Another 68 are no longer found in the wild.

The IUCN lists nearly 13,000 species as endangered or critically endangered. Many more species, including giraffes, are labeled as vulnerable, considered to be facing a "high risk of extinction in the wild," the group says.

“Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said. “This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought."


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Obtained by ABC News(NEW YORK) — ISIS released a new, hastily produced video today using one of its last known western hostages – British journalist John Cantlie, who hasn't been seen since a video appearance five months ago – making coerced statements from the rubble of besieged Mosul, Iraq at the site of an apparent coalition airstrike.

The appearance of one of the last western hostages known to be held by ISIS, who was taken captive four years ago with American fellow journalist James Foley, brought reassurance that he is still alive.

Until the video Wednesday it has been unknown to the U.K. and American governments for months whether the captive remained alive, informed sources on both sides of the Atlantic have told ABC News.

Despite appearing in a dozen ISIS videos since 2014, including in embattled Syrian cities Aleppo and Kobani as well as Mosul, authorities consider him a hostage forced to play video correspondent for the terror group – appearing as if he is a soldier of the self-declared caliphate rather than a man clearly held against his will.

At London's Frontline Club, Cantlie's portrait hangs as a reminder of his uncertain fate as he faces his fellow war correspondents belly to the bar at the opposite end of the wood counter from a display of a half-dozen combat journalists' portraits who've been killed in the Middle East in recent years.

Cantlie's physical appearance has declined considerably since he first showed up on video two years into his captivity wearing an orange jumpsuit at a wood desk and reading ISIS-written anti-western statements on a TelePrompTer screen.

In the two-camera video released Wednesday, he appeared gaunt and haggard with cropped hair and a beard, dressed in a fashionable black coat, standing beside what remains of a bridge that was reportedly bombed.

His ISIS-crafted speech alleges that only civilians are being harmed by airstrikes targeting bridges and water pipes in Mosul over the Tigris River.

"Now, can't see any mujahideen, can you?" Cantlie says, shrugging and looking over his shoulder at the last intact bridge busy with traffic, and referring to the Arabic word for a fighter engaged in holy war. "No, these are just the everyday normal people of Mosul. The mujahideen are out on the front lines, kilometers outside."

On Tuesday, the U.S.-led coalition known as Operation Inherent Resolve said three airstrikes the day before had indeed destroyed "a land bridge; damaged a bridge, a front-end loader, 47 roads; and suppressed a tactical unit” in the city of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city, which is currently under siege by coalition and Iraqi military forces.

Those forces are trying to dislodge the terrorist fighters – estimated to number between 5,000-6,000 – and the terror group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, from the city. Al-Baghdadi is suspected by senior U.S. military analysts to be hunkered down somewhere deep inside its teeming streets.

One top expert on hostage crises who once operated in the country said the video may be an effort to persuade the U.S. military that ISIS has left Mosul.

"What they're trying to say is ‘ISIS is gone, you're wasting your bullets and bombs. They're gone and the only people you're hurting is civilians.’” Chris Voss, former chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, including in Iraq, told ABC News. “The subtle messages are more effective."

Another message from ISIS seen by some government and private analysts in the nine-minute Cantlie video is that they still hold a few valuable hostages inside Mosul.

"It reminds me of how they used Cantlie in Kobani – a Western witness to the ruin rained down by Western fighter jets and an implicit threat that he and other hostages could be killed through indiscriminate bombing or ISIS reprisal," said William McCants, author of "The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State."

Aaron Zelin, an expert on ISIS at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, said the strategy of using Cantlie to telegraph messages to the West may no longer be effective since the group "doesn't have the same kind of mystique as they did two years ago, not only with how they used social media but also the towns and cities they were taking. It's one thing to say 'we're expanding' but it's another to complain about bridges and water pipes being destroyed."
 
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AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images(WASHINGTON) — Just four blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, diplomats from oil-rich Bahrain entertained guests in a lavish ballroom at the Trump International Hotel Wednesday, an event that critics said embodied growing concerns about foreign leaders booking Trump properties to try and curry favor with the next American president.

“I’m very concerned about it,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. “If folks want to win favor with the president, they go to his hotel. When they meet up with him, the first thing they will say is ‘we are staying at your hotel, we took out 30 rooms for a week.’”

It is not known what motivated Bahraini officials to move their annual “Bahrain Day” celebration from the Ritz Carlton to the Trump Hotel – embassy officials did not respond to phone and email messages. They were equally tight-lipped Wednesday, where the event went off behind heavy security.

It was just one of several events booked at the Trump property by Washington insiders and foreign leaders. Tuesday night, it was the conservative Heritage Foundation, introducing donors to Vice President Elect Mike Pence.

Next week, the embassy of Azerbaijan has booked the Trump Hotel’s “Presidential Ballroom,” at an estimated cost of $100,000, for a Hanukkah party with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Trump has disputed the notion that booking rooms in his Washington hotel will engender good feelings with him.

“They’ll say I have a conflict because we just opened a beautiful hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, so every time somebody stays at that hotel, if they stay because I’m president, I guess you could say it’s a conflict of interest,” he told the New York Times. “It’s a conflict of interest, but again, I’m not going to have anything to do with the hotel.”

But the Bahrain event clearly bothered human rights officials, who have tried to draw attention to the declining conditions in a country accused of condoning torture, even threats of rape, against political opponents.

Michael Posner, who served until recently as the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, called Bahrain an “increasingly intolerant government,” where “essentially the political opposition has been outlawed.” “The leader of the opposition is in jail and will be there for years,” he said.

Posner told ABC News he believes Bahrain and other countries are using misguided gestures, such as booking the Trump hotel ballroom, to try and build rapport with the next U.S. administration.

“I think a lot of governments around the world that depend on a strong relationship to the United States are trying to figure out in a Trump administration what is it going to take to curry favor?” Posner said.

The Trump hotel in Washington is further complicated because the historic building it occupies, the Old Post Office Pavilion, is owned by the federal government and leased to the Trump Organization for $250,000-a-month, plus additional costs based on the success of the hotel venture.

When President Elect Trump takes office, Cummings said the arrangement will essentially make him both landlord and tenant.

“I mean come on now,” Cummings told ABC News. “There's something wrong with that picture.”

Trump may solve that problem as early as next week. He has scheduled a news conference for Dec. 15 to announce his plans for stepping away from his vast global business, which operates the Washington hotel and numerous others.

That said, he also boasted in his interview with the Times that “occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, O.K.?”

“The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before,” he said.

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Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Camels in Iran will be now issued license plates.

The Iran Front Page reports that the number of camels in roads in Southern Iran at night often causes car accidents.  So in order to cut back on the number of the animals on the road, Mohammad-Sharif Khaleqinia -- who has the easy-to-remember title of secretary of the Iranian Central Task Force to Combat the Smuggling of Commodities and Currency in Sistan and Baluchestan Province -- said, “We are going to give identity cards to 35,000 camels during the first phase of issuing license plates for them.”

So far, 95,000 animals have been issued license plates since late March, the beginning of the new Iranian year.

The move is also expected to reduce animal trafficking while encouraging owners to be more responsible about taking care of their animals.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The Dalai Lama has said over the years that he would welcome a woman as the next Dalai Lama. One of his confidants for the past 52 years, Dr. Robert Thurman, offered his take in an interview with ABC News’ Dan Harris for his "10% Happier" podcast.

"He is for world peace," Thurman said. "He thinks women are less likely to use the nuclear option or go ballistic over this or that than the male, therefore it might be good to set an example to let the next Tibetan leader be a woman."

The Dalai Lama, who calls himself a feminist, stunned his followers when he said during a 2015 BBC interview that he would be happy to have a female take over his role as Tibet’s spiritual leader, but added that the "female must be attractive, otherwise it is not much use."

Thurman said His Holiness’s comments were made “a little bit humorously” but that the Dalai Lama was serious about a woman being a good fit for the role.

Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University and the president of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, a non-profit affiliated with the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University.

Thurman has traveled the world lecturing on Buddhist teachings, and he has written numerous books on the subject.

During the "10% Happier" interview, Thurman talked at length about the Dalai Lama, the history of Buddhism, his argument for the existence of infinite previous and future lives and whether he thinks nirvana is possible.

"[Nirvana means] the extinction of suffering," Thurman said. "Literally nirvana means being 'blown out' or 'blown away.' We use that when we have a wonderful ecstatic experience or some marvelous thing, 'Oh that really blew me away.' Nirvana is the ultimate 'blowing away.'"

In talking about his own meditation practice, Thurman said he practices here and there throughout the day but overall, "It’s not that good," he joked. "Which is why I haven’t obtained nirvana."

Thurman first sought enlightenment when he was studying Buddhist teachings at Harvard University and he lost an eye in an accident.

He said the accident, "made me decide ... that I should act on that, instead of floating along in a lost career of some kind."

He left Harvard and set out on a spiritual journey that led him to India, where he met the Dalai Lama in 1962. By the time he was in his early 20s, Thurman said he was immersed in Tibetan culture and became one of the first Americans ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. But he later gave up his robes, moved back to the United States to get his Ph.D. and settled down with his family.

"I wanted to be a monk ... study and meditate and do Buddhism, on every level, all my life," Thurman said. "I realized ... the only way to do that as a lay person in America, and support a family and myself, was to be a professor, so I went back to Harvard."

Thurman has five children, one of which is Oscar-nominated actress Uma Thurman, who he said was just 3 years old when she told him she would be famous one day.

"She was picking out expensive dresses in a dress shop," Thurman said. "I was a penniless professor, my wife was a penniless ex-model, and I’m looking at my wife thinking, 'What are we going to do?' and that little girl looked up at me and said, 'Don’t worry, Daddy, when I grow up I’m going to be a famous movie star and buy all my own clothes.'"

Robert Thurman is also the president of the Tibet House US, a New York city-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Tibetan culture, which Thurman was instrumental in launching in 1987. His latest project, Man of Peace, is a graphic novel produced with his co-author William Meyers through Tibet House that illustrates the Dalai Lama’s life story. The book is expected to be released in hardback this week.

"In a way, Dalai Lama is like the ultimate artifact of a Tibetan culture," Thurman said. "He’s the product of their top education system, of ancient Buddhism. He’s been put in the very stressful situation of exile, speaking up for people against a whole huge empire."

"That’s what Tibetan culture can produce out of a human being," he added.

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The Literary Man(NEW YORK) -- Traveling bibliophiles in search of a home away from home need look no further than Portugal's Literary Man hotel.

The 30-room hotel is home to 45,000 books. Works of literature are tucked into every corner and stacked from floor to ceiling.

Many guests choose to bring and donate their own books to the hotel. The property hopes to double its collection by next year.

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Lance Cpl. Samantha K. Torres(TOKYO) -- A search-and-rescue operation is underway for a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who ejected from his F/A-18 aircraft today off the coast of Japan during a scheduled training mission.

The pilot ejected at about 4:40 a.m. ET, 120 miles southeast of Iwakuni, Japan, according to a news release from Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in Okinawa.

The F/A-18 was assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa and was conducting "regularly scheduled training at the time of the mishap," Marine Corps Base Camp Butler said.

The cause of the incident is under investigation, and the Marine Corps did not provide further information.

Another F/A-18 fighter that was flying with the one that went down remained in the area until it had to leave because it was running out of fuel.

Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said a number of U.S. and Japanese air and surface assets are involved in search-and-rescue efforts.

Three Japanese ships are also assisting as are multiple Japanese fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Bodies lie lifeless in the streets of Aleppo’s old city. Rescue workers are unable to pull out the dead fast enough under the unrelenting shelling and bombing by pro-Assad forces on the march.

Two weeks into their renewed offensive on eastern Aleppo, Syria, forces backing President Bashar al-Assad have captured close to 75 percent of the territory controlled by opposition armed factions, including the old city. The fall of eastern Aleppo would grant Assad a strategic victory, returning all urban centers in the country to his control.

Suffering successive defeats, the rebels today proposed a five-day ceasefire in what many see as their Hail Mary, while a defiant Assad said the United States was “begging for a truce” seeing the dire straits the opposition factions were now in.

"Forgive me, I am not capable of saying anything. We will lose Aleppo soon," Ibrahim Hilal, leader of the White Helmets in the city, a volunteer group of rescue workers, told ABC News.

Images of death and devastation abound from eastern Aleppo. While thousands have fled the besieged part of the city over the past two weeks, many remain and continue to endure deafening explosions as well as shortages of the most basic human needs such as food, water, health care and fuel for heating. One photo shows an older man pushing his sick wife in a worn-out wheelchair in a destroyed neighborhood.

“He was looking for a hospital because his wife was very malnourished and there was no food or medicine for her to take,” Yehya Alrejjo, the photographer who took the picture, told ABC News. The only hospital open would take the man five to six hours to reach on foot, the photographer said. So, the man waited, hoping that a car would drive by and pick them up, Alrejjo said.

“He waited and waited for a car. He waited and waited until God took his wife,” Alrejjo said, adding that the man told him that he has seven children and doesn’t know where they are.

 Today, armed Syrian opposition factions proposed an immediate truce to evacuate to the northern countryside some 500 wounded and those civilians who wish to leave eastern Aleppo.

“We are just focusing on securing safe passage for these people now,” said Colonel Abu Bakr of the Jaysh al Mujahideen Islamist rebel group. “We are not discussing any withdrawal by fighters.”

Over the past few weeks, Russia had several meetings in Turkey with representatives of the major armed factions in eastern Aleppo, except for Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS) -- formerly the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra -- to negotiate a settlement. The talks were based on what is known as the U.N. four-point plan that suggested an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid deliveries, evacuation of civilians and wounded, as well as the withdrawal of JFS fighters.

“The opposition factions had initially been opposed to the U.N. plan, but they came around to it once the wind turned on the battlefield in recent weeks,” said Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who defected.

The lack of safety guarantees and concrete support from the international community in the face of the Russian onslaught was also to blame for the dramatic deterioration of the situation in eastern Aleppo, according to Barabandi.

The Syrian government rejected the U.N. proposal early on, maintaining that any truce would only be used by the armed factions, which it considers to be terrorists, to regroup.

Negotiations in Turkey petered out when Russia suddenly demanded the withdrawal of all armed factions, not just JFS.

“The Russians are not trustworthy. They are just stalling to finish the job militarily on the ground,” Abu Bakr said in Arabic. “They keep moving the goal post. Their demands never end.”

Six Western nations -- the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom -- have also called for an immediate ceasefire and denounced the actions in Aleppo of the Syrian government and its Russian backers.

“A humanitarian disaster is taking place before our very eyes,” a joint statement read. “Hospitals and schools have not been spared. Rather, they appear to be the targets of attack in an attempt to wear people down. The images of dying children are heartbreaking. We condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and its foreign backers, especially Russia, for their obstruction of humanitarian aid, and strongly condemn the Syrian regime's attacks that have devastated civilians and medical facilities and use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons.”

Secretary of State John Kerry met tonight in Hamburg, Germany, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They discussed ongoing multilateral efforts to achieve a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, as well as the delivery of humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of Syrian civilians in desperate need there, according to Assistant Secretary and State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Russian officials have been meeting with representatives of the Syrian rebel factions in Ankara to discuss a solution, two sources close to the negotiations told ABC News. The parties are discussing a deal based on a U.N. proposal that would grant rebel fighters a safe passage out of east Aleppo and leave in place an opposition local council to run the eastern side of the city, effectively keeping it under opposition control.

There have been at least 10 meetings between Russia and rebels so far, the sources said. At this stage, the different armed factions are still weighing whether to take the deal. It remains unclear how Russia would convince its partners, Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government, to agree to the deal.

When the Syrian government started its latest offensive on east Aleppo it was the largest remaining opposition stronghold -- retaking it in its entirety is a strategic goal for President Assad.

Among the rebels that Russia has been meeting with are the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist groups Ahrar al-Sham, Noureddine Zenki and Jaysh al Mujahideen. A commander of the latter group told ABC News that the rebels have rejected the Russian proposal to withdraw completely from eastern Aleppo. A diplomat told ABC News that the Russian strategy is to empty east Aleppo of civilians to be free to bomb the rebel forces.

This last-minute proposal might open the opposition factions up to slaughter, according to a Western diplomat who is involved in the Syrian negotiations who said he was surprised by the move.

“The Russian tactic has, since August, been to empty eastern Aleppo from its civilians and hence have carte blanche to carpet bomb the opposition armed factions whom they consider to all be terrorists," the diplomat, who didn’t want to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press, told ABC News.

Russia’s foreign minister has already said that rebels who stay in the area will be considered terrorists.

"We will treat them as such, as terrorists, as extremists, and will support a Syrian army operation against those criminal squads," Lavrov said during a news conference on Monday.

Some 200,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped in east Aleppo. According to the U.N.’s latest estimates, around 31,500 have been displaced in Aleppo in recent days, about half of them children -- others estimate that as many as 50,000 have fled their homes.

“This is what’s happening in my city, in Aleppo,” said resident Yasser Hmeish, via voice recording. “I’m in a hospital. ... I left my family and my wife in my neighborhood this morning. Now I can’t go there because this neighborhood was taken by the regime. I don’t know anything about them -- if they are alive or killed. There is no internet service there.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Barrel bombs, artillery shells and mortars have been raining down on the besieged towns of Madaya and Zabadani over the past three days, turning an already dire situation terrifying, according to locals. Pro-Assad and opposition forces had previously agreed to a truce.

"The shelling goes on for hours on end, one day it was in the middle of the night, another it was all day, but stopped in the evening," Madaya Mom told ABC News in Arabic. "It was all around the house, we have shrapnel strewn across the roof. It was petrifying since we don’t have shelters."

The mother of five, referred to as "Madaya Mom" to protect her from retaliation for speaking to the media, has been in contact with ABC News for almost a year. She is also the subject of an original comic book about life in the besieged country.

 At least five people have been killed so far, as a result of the renewed attack by the Syrian military and its ally in the area, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, according to a local medic in the town, Mohamed.

Among the killed is an unidentified little girl and two civil defense volunteers, according to Mohamed. He recounts frightful rescue conditions.

"They shelled and bombed all around the field clinic," he told ABC News. "It got so bad, they temporarily knocked it out of service and we had to set up a makeshift clinic nearby to treat the wounded."

"Thank God a lot of the injuries haven’t been too severe," he continued. "We are able to patch them up with the limited means we have."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights believes the field clinic was specifically targeted -- a now-favored military tactic by the Syrian government and its allies, according to Doctors without Borders.

More than 300 mortars and artillery shells have fallen on Madaya and Zabadani in the past three days, according to the local opposition council.

This escalation in violence, the worst the besieged towns have experienced in six months, is thought to be retaliation for opposition armed forces shelling the pro-Assad towns of Fuaa and Kefraya in the North.

In a statement strikingly similar to the situation reports from Madaya and Zabadani, Syrian Member of Parliament Hussein Ragheb told Iran’s Fars News that "600 rockets landed in Fuaa and Kefraya over the past three days, killing 24, wounding dozens and knocking the only field clinic out of service."

Other pro-Assad estimates, from state-friendly news outlets, put the death toll at six with 15 wounded.

Opposition armed factions tell a slightly different version of events, as the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year, often comes down to competing narratives.

"The pro-Assad side has not respected the truce agreement we reached and has been targeting the rebel positions surrounding Fuaa and Kefraya, which led to retaliatory shelling by the rebels on Fuaa and Kefraya" Abu Abd Rahman, the commander of the Ahrar Sham fighters in Madaya, told ABC News.

Fighters belonging to the same faction are part of the group besieging Fuaa and Kefraya. They are also currently on the back foot in neighboring Aleppo.

A truce was agreed a year ago between the opposition armed factions and Iran, acting on behalf of the Syrian government, to freeze the conflict around all four towns while the sieges continued.

The truce theoretically provided for humanitarian aid access. But the Syrian government, which grants permissions to international aid organizations to make such deliveries, has been accused of obstruction and of seizing vital food and medical products. The Syrian government, however, accuses rebel factions of looting aid deliveries meant for Fuaa and Kefraya.

Since January 2016, only six aid deliveries have been allowed into Madaya, according to the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations. The last one took place at the beginning of December.

"All we can do is continue to pray, pray for an end to the siege," Madaya Mom said. "When the bombs start falling, we just recite verses from the Quran, it’s the only refuge we have left."

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial center, has become the symbol of the country’s five-year war, epitomizing the suffering of a people and setting up the pivotal battle that could decide the war’s outcome.

The city is divided in two, with government forces in the west and rebels in the east. For years, the sides have waged a savage fight for control. Over 450,000 people have been killed and 11 million Syrians, more than half of the country’s population, have fled their homes, creating one of the worst refugee crises in modern history.

The ancient city of Aleppo, once home to nearly three million people, is a shell of its former self. Some of the war’s fiercest street fighting has taken place in Aleppo, where extraordinary amounts of blood have been spilled. Four years of nonstop war there have left mile after mile, block after block, in ruin.

Then in mid-November, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an all-out assault, hoping to retake the city once and for all.

In the neighborhood of Hanano, the streets are eerie, filled with the sounds of war, but also unsettling silence. In many places, it is a virtual ghost town. But some families are daring to return.

There is a main gathering area in this neighborhood where people can come to get food and warm drinks from aid agencies but they also come to register to let local authorities know they are going back to the homes they left behind years ago.

One resident, Samir Dawalibi, fled two years ago. He returned home to find his building in shambles, and the windows and doors of his apartment blown out. His home had been ransacked, his TV and air conditioning unit stolen.

Dawalibi said he had not expected his home to be “destroyed,” but he was “very happy” to be back.

“This is my house, my memory,” he said.

Another resident, Ahmad Mardinli, brought his sons back to see their home for the first time in four years.

“They said, ‘Daddy, we want to go whether it’s at night or not we want to go and see our homes and our neighborhoods,’” Mardinli said through a translator.

Mardinli is a government worker who fled the neighborhood with his family when the rebels took control, leaving almost everything behind. His 4-year-old son, Majed, was just a few months old at the time. All he has ever known is war.

ABC News' Alex Marquardt walked the five bombed-out blocks to their apartment building and went up the stairs with them to their front door. Before they left years earlier, Mardinli had built a brick wall in front of their door to protect their belongings while they were away. It was still in place when they arrived.

After breaking down the wall, Mardinli’s children ran inside to find many of their belongings still intact. The boys were overjoyed to re-discover lost toys: A Transformer, a Tweety Bird toy and tricycles that had been hidden away.

Mardinli said he felt confident they would be able to stay home this time.

But all around there is a bittersweet mix of homecoming and despair. Others said they had been to their homes, saw what was left and turned back around because so much had been lost.

Tens of thousands, maybe more, are still caught in the middle of the fighting.

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FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A Pakistan International Airlines flight headed to Islamabad from Chitral has crashed into a mountain after losing contact with the control tower shortly after takeoff, according to Danyal Gillani, a spokesperson for the airline.

There were 42 passengers and six crew on board the flight.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 4:30 p.m. local time. They believe the plane crashed 12 minutes later, Gillani told ABC News.

Controllers reported that they had received a distress signal from the pilot.

An airline official told ABC News the wreckage of the flight has been found and that police have recovered some bodies. It is unclear if there are any survivors.


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iStock/Thinkstock(SUMRATA, Indonesia) — Nearly 100 people are dead in Indonesia after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck off the northern coast of the island of Sumrata.

The number of fatalities has risen to 97, and officials expect that number to rise.

“So far, 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing,” Aceh province military chief Tatang Sulaiman said in a TV interview, according to BBC News.

No tsunami occurred after the quake, but an official said the tremor destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in the area.

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