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Assad Forces Pound Syria’s Northwest, Ignoring Trump Warning

Government forces in Syria have bombed a market in the country's northwest

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Assad Forces, Syria's Northwest
FILE - People walk past a damaged building in the city of Idlib, Syria, May 25, 2019. VOA

Government forces in Syria have bombed a market in the country’s northwest, killing at least four civilians, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump demanded Syria, Russia and Iran stop “bombing the hell out of Idlib province in Syria.”

The airstrike Monday hit a public market in the town of Maaret al-Naman in Idlib province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Video of the aftermath of the bombing shows residents along with the opposition Syrian Civil Defense forces looking for victims under the rubble of damaged market stalls and buildings.

Trump said in a late Sunday tweet that the bombings by Syrian forces are “indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians.”

Assad Forces, Syria's Northwest
Plumes of smoke rise from a location, said to be Khan al Subul, Idlib province, Syria, following an airstrike, in this still image taken from a video uploaded May 28, 2019. VOA

“The world is watching this butchery. What is the purpose? What will it get you? STOP!” he wrote.

Trump, in comments to reporters at the White House Sunday, also noted his call last year for Syria and its allies to avoid an all-out offensive in Idlib due to humanitarian concerns.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed similar sentiment in late April, but his government has also warned that the presence of militants in Idlib was undermining attempts to end Syria’s eight-year conflict.

The Kremlin reiterated Monday that the Russian army is only targeting “terrorists” in Syria’s Idlib region.

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Idlib is in northwestern Syria along the Turkish border. It is the last major part of Syria still controlled by rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Rebels and their families who surrendered other parts of Syria under the threat of a bloody offensive have crowded into Idlib looking for safety.

The rebels, who still hold the province, have so far refused to give up. Syrian and Russian forces and, as Trump says, “to a lesser extent” Iran, have sharply increased their bombardment and rocket attacks on Idlib.

The surge in violence comes months after Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed on a cease-fire plan under which Turkey would try to curb militant behavior in Idlib. Turkey is concerned that a major offensive there could send people fleeing across the border into Turkey, which is already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Assad Forces, Syria's Northwest
Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walk at a military complex after they recently recaptured areas in southwestern Aleppo, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on Sept. 5, 2016. Image source: VOA

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week the latest violence against Idlib has killed about 950 people.

On Sunday, the Observatory says a car bomb in the pro-Turkish rebel-held city of Azaz killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 20.

Witnesses told the monitor the bomb went off as people were leaving a mosque after evening prayers and meal breaking the daily Ramadan fast.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which also burned or blew out the windows of more than a dozen nearby stores.

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The area has been the target of several other recent terrorist bombings.

Azaz is the main city in the part of Aleppo controlled by pro-Turkish rebels, who drove out Islamic State while keeping Kurdish forces out of the area as well. (VOA)

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Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for Vaping Devices: ‘An Age Limit of 21 or So’

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details

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Trump, Sales, Vaping
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping.

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details.

“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said Trump, speaking outside the White House.

Currently the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping product is 18, under federal law. But more than one-third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age to 21.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018. VOA

A federal law raising the purchase age would require congressional action.

Administration officials were widely expected to release plans this week for removing virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Those products are blamed for soaring rates of underage use by U.S. teenagers.

However, no details have yet appeared, leading vaping critics to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Trump resisted any specifics on the scope of the restrictions.

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“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working — there are some pretty good aspects,” Trump said.

Mint flavor

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

On Thursday, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, announced it would voluntarily pull its mint-flavored e-cigarettes from the market. That decision followed new research that Juul’s mint is the top choice for many high school students who vape.

With the removal of mint, Juul only sells two flavors: tobacco and menthol.

Vaping critics say menthol must be a part of the flavor ban to prevent teens who currently use mint from switching over.

‘Tobacco 21’ law

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Juul and other tobacco companies have lobbied in support of a federal “Tobacco 21” law to reverse teen use of both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. The effort also has broad bipartisan support in Congress, including a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes and other products is clear: Most underage teens who use e-cigarettes or tobacco get it from older friends. Raising the minimum age to 21 is expected to limit the supply of those products in U.S. schools.

Delaying access to cigarettes is also expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades.

Still, anti-tobacco groups have insisted that any “Tobacco 21” law must be accompanied by a ban on flavors, which they say are the primary reason young people use e-cigarettes. (VOA)