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Trump and Erdogan discuss ‘slow’ US military pull-out from Syria | News

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US President Donald Trump said he spoke on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about “a slow and highly coordinated” withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

“We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, and the slow and highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area,” Trump said in a tweet, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. “After many years they are coming home.”

Trump said he and Erdogan also discussed “heavily expanded” trade between the US and Turkey after the two NATO allies’ relationship went into a tailspin over the summer as a result of a number of issues.

Erdogan said in a separate tweet: “I had a productive call with (Donald Trump) today, in which we agreed to strengthen our coordination on a range of issues, including our trade relations and the developments in Syria.”

Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw soldiers from Syria on Wednesday contributed to the abrupt resignation of Pentagon chief James Mattis on Thursday. Mattis cited significant policy differences with the president as a reason quitting. 

On Sunday, Trump announced Mattis would be leaving his post on January 1, two months earlier than expected. 

Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria also prompted the early resignation of the US’s top envoy in the fight against ISIL, Brett McGurk, who said he would leave at the end of the year, instead of in mid-February as previously planned. 

Washington began air raids in Syria in 2014, a year before US ground troops moved in to fight the ISIL group and train Syrian rebels in the war-ravaged country.

Turkey sends forces to the border

The conversation between the two leaders came amid activity at the Turkish-Syrian border, with Ankara sending reinforcements to the region.

Erdogan, who in the previous weeks threatened to conduct a military operation into northern Syria, said on Saturday that he might postpone the planned incursion on the armed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group, after the US’s surprise announcement to withdraw its troops from Syria.

Washington has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the ISIL group in Syria, as part of an international coalition dominated by the YPG.

Ankara considers the US-backed YPG a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged attacks on Turkish soil since the 1980s as they sought autonomy.

The US has estimated 2,000 US troops in Syria.

In the past two years, Turkey has conducted two offensives into northern Syria, dubbed “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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