In a Mideast throwback, Bashar Assad’s forces reportedly fired missiles at Israeli warplanes running sorties over Syrian territory today. And unlike murky recent clashes, both sides confirmed the encounter. Israelis said their defense systems had intercepted one missile, but that none of their aircraft were hit and that the safety of civilian communities, where warning sirens were activated, was “not compromised.” The Syrian military said four Israeli aircraft entered its airspace via Lebanon to attack a military target near Palmyra. Damascus claimed to have brought down one jet over Israel, but Israeli officials denied the claim.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Are the gloves off? U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says America’s “strategic patience” is exhausted and officials are weighing a range of approaches — including military action — against Pyongyang. The chilling pronouncement came during Tillerson’s visit to South Korea, where he defended the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. Meanwhile, Japan staged its first civilian missile evacuation drill, sounding sirens in Oga, a northern fishing town. North Korea recently tested four ballistic missiles, one of which landed in the sea just 124 miles from Oga.
“Nonsense.” That was the unusually blunt appraisal from Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters of “utterly ridiculous” allegations that it helped Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump. After the FBI and other U.S. agencies debunked President Trump’s wiretapping claim, a Fox News analyst, followed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday, blamed U.K. spies for the “surveillance.” While even Republican senators and administration officials have questioned the allegations, this claim seems to have crossed a diplomatic line, prompting the normally reticent GCHQ to respond unequivocally that the accusation “should be ignored.”
The damage is done. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that an American missile strike hit a mosque in the rebel-held city of Idlib, killing 42 people Thursday. An American military spokesman said they “did not target any mosques,” but struck a building across the street housing a large al-Qaida meeting. The attack killed “several terrorists,” according to U.S. Central Command, which called Idlib a “significant safe haven” for the group. Military authorities will reportedly investigate to determine if innocent civilians were injured or killed.
Pin no more. Pinterest, one of the few Western social media sites that had been accessible in China, has now been blocked. Censorship monitoring organization GreatFire noticed the image-sharing site has been unavailable there for the past seven days, indicating a deliberate blocking effort. It’s unclear why China might restrict access to Pinterest — best known for its users’ penchant for picture-perfect crafts, recipes and fantasy wedding boards — but the annual Two Sessions gathering of China’s governing classes currently taking place in Beijing could have something to do with it.
Know This: In first White House meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump fails to elicit empathy from a proven wiretap target. A man stole a New York City ambulance, backing over and killing a female medic. Facebook has agreed to send a team to Pakistan to address government concerns about “blasphemous” posts on the network. And a BBC crew and tourists were injured on Sicily’s Mount Etna in what’s been called the most dangerous eruption in 30 years.
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Forget your childhood home. Street View has voyaged to the heart of a volcanic crater the size of two football fields on a remote South Pacific island. Google partnered with a couple of hopefully well-compensated explorers who rappelled down the walls of Vanuatu’s Marum crater, capturing 360-degree images from the rim of the Ambrym volcano’s spectacular lava lake. It’s not the first time a tech company’s ventured into an active volcano: Last year GE sent explorers into a Nicaraguan volcano to install sensors that may predict its next eruption.
It’s change they don’t believe in. A new study suggests that an important factor for whether someone believes in global warming may be the weather outside their front door. Researchers found that people from areas that experienced more record cold temperatures since 2005 were less likely to believe than those who saw record highs. Nonetheless, politics remains the overwhelming factor, with just 47 percent of conservative Republicans accepting climate change. Some scientists now suggest that communicating climate data in terms of risky gambling odds might make doubters feel the heat.
Workers sued over the touchy issue of overtime. But when the case came down to the Oxford comma, grammarians girded for battle. Oakhurst Dairy of Portland, Maine, may have to pay $10 million to three truck drivers who sued for unpaid extra hours. Maine law lists overtime exemptions in a sentence ending with “marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution.” The court ruled for the drivers, who distribute but do not pack, because “packing” was not followed by the controversial serial comma, making the meaning ambiguous. Lawmakers may want to mind their punctuation.
Is privacy dead? The actresses are reportedly taking legal action over stolen personal photos that surfaced online. Seyfried’s attorneys went after one site, which responded by removing pilfered nude shots, replacing them with images of Seyfried’s face superimposed on other naked women. Watson’s publicist says lawyers are on the case over leaked images from a fitting session with a stylist. The U.N. goodwill ambassador said she was previously targeted after a 2014 speech on gender equality: “The minute I stepped up and talked about women’s rights I was immediately threatened.”
He couldn’t shake it off. Steve Penny resigned Thursday following growing outrage over a sexual abuse scandal involving nearly 370 alleged cases over the past two decades. Penny, who has presided over USA Gymnastics since 2005, said he’s stepping aside for the “best interests” of the group, which is facing at least four lawsuits related to former physician Larry Nassar. Penny’s been heavily criticized for his handling of the scandal since an Indianapolis Star investigative report shook the organization, which plans to release results of its own probe in the coming months.