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US Continues Airstrikes Against ISIS Targets in Iraq


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. military forces used fighter and attack aircraft to conduct three more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets near the Mosul Dam in Iraq, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Friday.

The U.S. strikes against the terrorist group successfully destroyed "two ISIL armed vehicles and a machine gun emplacement that was firing on Iraqi forces," CENTCOM said in a statement Friday.

The U.S. military has been conducting the airstrikes in support of Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense operations.

The fighter and attack aircraft used in the strikes all managed to exit the area safely.

The goal is to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, as well as critical infrastructure, while supporting humanitarian efforts in the region.

Since Aug. 8, CENTCOM says it has conducted 93 airstrikes across Iraq, 60 of which have been near the dam.

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Alexander Gerst Does First Ever Facebook Interview in Space


Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center(NEW YORK) -- Alexander Gerst, who is perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut, logged onto Facebook Friday from the International Space Station to answer questions from curious Earthlings.

Facebook said it was the first ever question and answer session from space to take place on the social network.

Gerst, who is German, has also been actively tweeting and sharing photos from space, including a striking photo capturing the Israeli-Gaza conflict.

Here are three things we learned from Gerst's question and answer session:

What Time Is It in Space?


The International Space Station is in orbit, but the astronauts don't adjust their body clocks to new time zones. Instead, Gerst said they adhere to GMT, Greenwich Mean Time, which is the local time in London.

What If There's a Medical Emergency?

Gerst said the ISS is configured for basic medical care. Each crew also has a designated member who handles medical incidents, he said.

The Role of Astronauts in 50 Years


Billionaire space enthusiast Richard Branson asked Gerst what he thinks the role of astronauts will be 50 years from now.

"My hope would be that in 50 years from now, space travellers will not only be professional Agency astronauts, but that everybody should have a realistic chance to make the incredible experience I am having right now. Anyway, I hope there will still be pioneers out there who will fly to destinations farther away," Gerst wrote.

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James Foley Among Many Young, Close-Knit Freelance War Reporters


Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- James Foley became the face of freelance journalists covering conflicts abroad when he was taken hostage and killed, earlier this week, by the terror group ISIS.

But there are dozens of young reporters covering the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere in the world who take similar risks: a band of brothers and sisters who rely on one another for help traveling to, reporting on and surviving in dangerous war zones.

"[During] the Arab Spring, freelancers got quite close covering the uprising in Egypt and Libya, where most of us were cutting our teeth," reporter Sarah Topol told ABC News Friday. "Young journalists came into Cairo, shared hotel rooms, information, and kind of a general optimism that we were on the cusp of witnessing and recording seismic change."

Topol, 29, is from New York City originally. When asked why she and other young reporters go into such a dangerous line of work, with no guarantee of a salary or benefits or, in fact, surviving, she said it’s "because we care."

"It's obviously not for the money or the stability or even the recognition," she said. "I could be cynical and say part of it is inherently selfish, there aren't a ton of people who will run towards danger. But I think if we didn't believe in some way that our work would actually make some kind of difference, most of us wouldn't do it. It's something I know my friends I think a lot about."

Topol was among the dozens of freelance journalists who went to Libya in 2011 to cover the revolution there, and describes getting to know other reporters and photographers who then went to cover Syria, including Foley.

In a piece she wrote for Newsweek in 2012, Topol explained how Foley and photographer Nicole Tsung, 29, were covering the Syrian conflict in Aleppo, and Tsung had relayed how many inexperienced freelancers she had seen coming to Syria to try and report. Foley disappeared just a month after Topol's piece was published.

The troupe of hungry freelancers stay in close contact with one another, using Facebook, GChat and Skype to stay in touch from places around the world, Topol said.

"I would say [we] try to meet up when we are in the same city. There's always a freelancer's couch to crash on)," she said.

Many are part of the "Vulture Club," a Facebook group where journalists can share stories and information.

Matthew Van Dyke, a documentary filmmaker who first went to the Middle East to cover conflicts and then became involved in the actual fighting in Libya, told ABC News he became friends with Foley in Libya.

"There's not a lot of people who will risk their life to do work in a conflict zone, so we all get to know each other," Van Dyke said.

He also knows Steven Sotloff, another freelancer being held by ISIS and threatened with death. Van Dyke and Sotloff met up in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2013 to discuss Sotloff's upcoming trip to Syria. Sotloff disappeared last August.

Some of the freelancers who cover conflicts abroad do so on assignment from U.S. magazines or newspapers; others go to these places on their own and then try to sell the stories they've found upon their arrival.

Often the latter option can be incredibly difficult financially. Topol said she has done it both ways, in Libya on assignment for GQ and later, freelancing from the country on her own.

In addition to GQ, Topol has written for the Atlantic, Businessweek, Harper's, Newsweek and Foreign Policy. She has won awards for her writing, including the 2012 Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, the only award for freelance conflict writing, in honor of a reporter who was killed in Sierra Leone. A story she wrote on Bedouins’ taking foreigners hostage was named a Best American Travel Writing piece in 2013.

"You have to be some kind of insane, delusional optimist to be a freelancer in the Middle East these days, to believe that the risks you take are worth it, that people care about these stories, and that the media industry will continue to function and pay you,” Topol said. “That said, there are still plenty of us, which is heartening.”

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Russian Aid Convoy Enters Ukraine Without Permission


iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- After a week of diplomatic delays, Russia has decided to send its massive aid convoy into Ukraine without permission from Ukrainian authorities.

In a statement Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the delays had become "intolerable" and it accused Ukraine of shelling its destination to prevent the delivery.

The convoy of roughly 280 trucks are carrying water, food and shelter for hard hit areas in eastern Ukraine, yet Ukraine viewed the convoy with suspicion -- a possible Trojan Horse.

The plan had been to get the trucks inspected by Ukraine and the Red Cross first but on Friday, Russia said it had to act, accusing Ukraine of inventing "new pretexts."

The development also brings new potential dangers. In its statement, Russia said Ukraine now holds all responsibility for the convoy's security, raising fears that if it's threatened, it could provide an excuse for Russian military intervention.

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Pope Francis Speaks to James Foley's Parents


Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) -- Pope Francis phoned the parents of murdered U.S. journalist James Foley on Thursday to offer comfort.

The leader of the Catholic Church spoke to John and Diane Foley for about 20 minutes through a translator. He offered the parents of Foley, both Catholics, condolences for the grisly murder of their 40-year-old son by a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Earlier this week, the pope said he would support using military force against Islamic militants attacking religious minorities in Iraq if the decision is made by the international community.

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Watch Koala Brought Back to Life in Dramatic Rescue


Steven Kuiter and Michelle Thomas/Animalia Wildlife Shelter(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- Firefighters and wildlife workers in Melbourne, Australia, performed lifesaving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on an unconscious, injured koala Thursday -- a dramatic effort that was captured on video.

Rescuers dropped the koala from a tree to crews below holding a blanket.

A worker from the Animalia Wildlife Shelter performed mouth-to-mouth and rubbed the koala’s chest, while a firefighter from the Frankston Fire Brigade gave the koala oxygen through a tube.

“C’mon, wake up,” a woman said.

The koala eventually woke up, groaning, drawing relief from the rescuers, who nicknamed the animal “Sir Chompsalot.”

He was later taken to a local animal hospital for treatment.


Watch more news videos | Latest from the US

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North Korea Gets Gnarly with New Surf Destination


Photos.com/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- Surfers looking for an exotic destination to slice waves have a hot new option in the Hermit Kingdom.

Korea International Travel Company, North Korea’s tourism bureau, recently announced that a handful of resorts along its 1,550-mile coastline will host four-day and five-night packages for those who like to hang ten.

Accommodations range from stays at Songdowon, Lake Sijung and Majon resorts bordering the East Sea, according to NK News. The latter resort boasts an indoor bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room, an oversized "Yut" board (a traditional Korean game), in-house restaurant and bar, as well as beach access and ocean views.

In addition to surfing, the tours include excursions to historic and cultural sites in nearby areas such as Pyongyang, the capital.

The Pyongyang Times reported that American travelers on the first tour, which took place between July 28 and Aug. 6, "had a very good time" with "fascinating scenery and refreshing environment."

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"New York Times" Reporter Booted Out of Afghanistan


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Matthew Rosenberg has left Afghanistan.

As The New York Times reported, its journalist flew out of the country Thursday night following his expulsion by the Afghan government for writing an article that said a possible coup was in the works if the two presidential candidates couldn't work out a compromise regarding claims of fraudulent election results.

After Rosenberg refused to expose his sources to the Afghan attorney general, he was ordered to leave Afghanistan, the first Western journalist expelled from the country since the Taliban was driven from power by a U.S.-led invasion almost 13 years ago.

U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham expressed the Obama administration's anger at the expulsion to President Hamid Karzai, calling it an "unwarranted action."

The envoy also asked Karzai to "affirm his government’s recognition of the importance of protecting the freedom of the press, as an important part of the legacy of his presidency."

Meanwhile, Rosenberg later tweeted his expulsion order, which referred to him as "a spy" with "secret relations."

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Top Hamas Leaders Killed by Israeli Airstrike


David Silverman/Getty Images(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) -- Thousands of mourners turned out for the burials of three top Hamas commanders who were killed early Thursday by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

The attack came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that leaders of the militant group were essentially fair game as his forces try to knock out Hamas' ability to fire rockets at the homeland.

Thursday's successful assassination of Hamas commanders was part of the resumption of hostilities between the two sides that began July 8 when Israel began its full-scale assault on Hamas.

Since then, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed, with much of Hamas-controlled Gaza devastated.

Israeli fatalities have totaled 64 soldiers and three civilians as it has managed to repel most of the rockets fired from Gaza.

There have been several cease-fires over the past six weeks, but none that have held for more than five days. The last one ended just a few hours into the temporary truce after Israel accused Gaza of continuing to fire missiles.

Meanwhile, a Hamas official claimed Wednesday that the group's military wing was behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last June, who were later found dead. The group had previously denied culpability.

Salach Al-Aruri said that the reason for the abduction was to stir up a Palestinian uprising. Instead, a Palestinian teen was kidnapped and murdered in retaliation, and some observers believe that Israel used these incidents as its motivation to defeat Hamas, once and for all.

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General: Fight Against ISIS Would Have to Stretch into Syria


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that any long-term strategy against Islamic State forces would have to include military action against the extremist group in Syria, where it first originated.

However, Dempsey did not reveal any plans by the White House to widen the fight against ISIS, which would certainly mean more air power and the possibility of ground troops.

Going into Syria, at this stage of the three-year-long conflict, would prove extremely problematic, given the high stakes involved in dealing with both Syrian government forces and their rebel enemies that include al Qaeda and ISIS.

Presently, the U.S. is trying to keep ISIS from advancing in Iraq through a series of airstrikes that have so far enabled Kurdish and Iraqi forces to retake the Mosul Dam while also protecting Americans deployed in the northern city of Erbil.

The policy of the White House up to now has been one of only containing ISIS. President Obama has not made clear what the objectives are in Iraq, nor has he spoken about stepping up airstrikes or arming Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces.

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James Foley's Last Images of the Syrian War


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Slain U.S. journalist James Foley's intrepid reporting in Syria gave civilians across the world a glimpse into the country's brutal civil war, one video report at a time.

Even after his death at the hands of ISIS, those clips live on.

Some of his final footage was taken in the August of 2012 in Aleppo, the country's largest city and the site of many attacks between the Syrian army and rebel forces. Foley, who was captured in November, ventured into dangerous territory to capture the clashes from the frontlines.

His camera rolled as Syrian rebels carried a wounded fighter to safety in Aleppo, and later as other fighters armed with machine guns patrolled the streets, eager to put an end to Muammar Gaddafi's reign. Another clip films an attack by the Syrian army on the city of Saraqeb.

Foley's reporting showed us what life was like for Syria's civilians, too. In one clip, he spoke to wounded children – including a 13-year-old boy who was struck by a bomb dropped from a helicopter as he waited in a bread line, and a man whose injured 8-year-old daughter was turned away from the hospital, because there was no room.

He videotaped a young couple's wedding ceremony in Aleppo, capturing the heartfelt moment a Syrian rebel sniper exchanged rings with his bride, a young nurse who treated his leg wound.

After Gaddafi was killed in October, Foley recorded reactions from rebel fighters in Sirte, where the dictator died.

The terrorist group ISIS beheaded Foley in a disturbing video posted online Tuesday. Foley, originally from New Hampshire, was a journalist for publications including GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse.

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Iran Foreign Minister Confusion: Did he say 'Iraq' or 'Arak'?


Joerg Koch/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- A defiant statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister linking cooperation against ISIS in Iraq to sanctions relief might actually be a giant, lost-in-translation misunderstanding, the State Department said Thursday.

According to state-run media, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would help the West with the crisis in Iraq if the West lifts sanctions -- a report that has made its way into English-speaking media.

"If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return," Zarif is quoted as saying. "All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear programme should be lifted," he added.

But State Department translators believe Zarif was actually referring to "Arak," the nuclear reactor in Iran that shares the same pronunciation as "Iraq," the country.

"We've looked at the language a couple of times, actually, and think he was not linking, in that specific quote, fighting ISIS in Iraq to lifting of Western sanctions. He was talking about making progress on Arak, the nuclear facility, to lifting of Western sanctions.

"Our Farsi speakers have taken a bunch of looks at it and think that he was referring to that. I'll let him speak for himself, and if he wants to clarify and disagree with me -- I am not a Farsi speaker," she continued.

"It's almost unbelievable," she conceded.

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Could Money Have Saved James Foley?


Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When James Foley’s mysterious captors finally contacted his family and revealed their demands in exchange for the American journalist’s release, they were so absurd that the group didn’t appear to be serious about actually freeing Foley, according to GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni and a former U.S. government official.

Foley had been kidnapped while working for GlobalPost in Syria in November 2012, but word from his abductors didn’t come until a year later when his family and news organization received an email “in very serviceable English” demanding 100 million Euros ($132 million), said Balboni.

“We never took that amount seriously,” Balboni told ABC News, who added that from the beginning all information was shared with the FBI. But Balboni said he was never really sure who they were dealing with and “it was impossible to say who was in control during the negotiating process.”

A former U.S. government official with direct knowledge of the American hostages’ cases confirmed the amount -- which is tens of millions more than all of al Qaeda reportedly received from all kidnappings last year -- and said the Islamic extremists also demanded the release of high-profile Muslim prisoners in the U.S.

“They were not substantive demands,” the former official said. The group of hostage-takers, who turned out to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “wasn’t serious about negotiating for money… They knew their demands were unattainable.”

In the past, ISIS -- taking a cue from al Qaeda franchise AQIM in North Africa -- has demanded far less money for European hostages who were eventually released, with the dollar amounts between $2 million and $3 million, current and former officials have told ABC News.

Nicholas Henin, a French journalist who was held alongside Foley for seven months and suffered several mock executions before he was freed in April, said Foley was optimistic about his chances of being freed, even though the United States by policy does not negotiate with terrorists.

“There are two kinds of countries in the world,” Henin said, those like the U.S. and U.K. which do not negotiate with extremists, and those that do.

According to a New York Times report in late July, several European governments have been effectively bankrolling a number of terrorist groups by paying high-dollar ransoms for their captured citizens, to the long-simmering frustration of their American and British allies.

“Aside from state-sponsored terrorism, ransom payments are the greatest source of terrorist funding today,” U.S. Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen said in June, noting that al Qaeda-linked terror groups have collected “tens of millions of dollars in ransoms in the last several years.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner said that “knowing the United States does not negotiate with terrorists” is one of the “greatest protections” for Americans working and living abroad. At the time, Boehner was criticizing President Obama for authorizing the exchange of five mid- to high-level Taliban figures for Taliban captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June.

In addition, Kelly Ayotte, a Republican U.S. Senator from Foley’s home state in New Hampshire, told ABC News that ISIS, in particular, could not be trusted anyway.

“If you’re dealing with a group that’s willing to act in the barbaric way that ISIS has not only in the case of James Foley, but in the case of what they’ve done to Christians, what they’ve done to women, and to other Muslims in Iraq and in Syria, the brutality of it…how can you have a negotiation with a terrorist group like that?” Ayotte said. “How could you ever trust that that negotiation would lead [to] a result and wouldn’t lead to more violence?”

Americans and Brits have been freed through ransom payments in the past, however that is usually done through the intervention of a private or third party.

Speaking to the public earlier this week, Foley’s parents, John and Diane, said they were considering fundraising to pay ransom right up until their son was killed.

“We were making a video…it’s a video of all Jimmy’s experiences and all of the many people whose lives he touched,” John Foley said. “And that’s going to continue, despite his death.”

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People in Gaza Facing Water Shortage Amid Fighting


iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Thursday marked another day of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.  

The cease-fire last week gave Palestinians only a short respite to try to put their lives back in order after a month of fighting. One major challenge they are facing is coping with a water shortage.

Taking a shower or drinking a glass of water is far from easy in Gaza, where officials say they can only pump half the amount of water needed because of structural damage done by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Water Authority says more than a dozen water wells and six purification plants have been damaged.

Cut power lines make pumping water erratic, and distribution is difficult with nearly 20 miles of underground broken sewage pipes.

Repairs began during the cease-fire, but renewed fighting means the severe water shortage could lead to a serious health risk for Gazans.

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Fox Too Friendly to Be Released into Wild


iStock/Thinkstock(YORKSHIRE, England) -- One fox at the National Fox Welfare Society in England is just too friendly too be released back into the wild -- Pudding is the fox that doesn't quite act like a typical fox.

"Pudding came to us from Yorkshire, hence the name Pudding," NFWS founder Mark Hemmington told ABC News. "She was found on her own at a very young age."

The plan was to slowly integrate Pudding, found around three years ago, into a litter of cubs to prepare her for release back into the wild, but things didn’t go as planned, Hemmington said.

The day before Pudding was set to join the other fox cubs in their pen, a fallen 200-foot tree closed off the entrance, leaving Hemmington to feed the cubs trapped inside and Pudding all alone. Though it took months to remove the tree, no cubs were hurt, and those cubs were able to be released to the wild soon after.

Pudding, on the other hand, was unable to go with them.

"Pudding had no cubs to integrate with and bonded more with me," Hemmington said.

Though similar attempts to assimilate Pudding into the wild were made, none were successful, leaving the friendly fox too domesticated to survive on her own.

Pudding now permanently lives at the site as a resident fox, living with her very own domesticated fox friend, a cub that was found and raised as a pet by a family who passed him on to the NFWS a year later.

As cute as Pudding may be, Hemmington does not suggest owning a fox as a pet, noting that "they are wild animals and that is where I believe they should be."

For now, the NFWS continues to enjoy Pudding's company and her incredibly photogenic fox face.

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