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A woman evacuates as firefighters battle the Peak fire in Simi Valley, California, U.S. November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Search teams have recovered remains of 42 people killed by a fierce wildfire that largely incinerated the town of Paradise in northern California, marking the greatest loss of life from a wildland blaze in state history, authorities said on Monday.


The latest death toll, up from 29 tallied over the weekend, was announced by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea at an evening news conference in the nearby city of Chico after authorities found the bodies of 13 more victims of the devastating blaze dubbed the Camp Fire.

The fire already ranked as the most destructive on record in California in terms of property losses, having consumed more than 7,100 homes and other structures since igniting on Thursday in Butte County’s Sierra foothills, about 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco.

Honea said 228 people were officially listed as missing in the disaster, but added that his office had received requests to check on the wellbeing of more than 1,500 people who had not been heard from by loved ones. Of those cases, 231 individuals had turned up safe, he said.

Authorities made clear, however, that they are bracing for the number of fatalities to climb.

In addition to 13 coroner-led recovery teams working in the fire zone, 150 search-and-recovery personnel were due to arrive on Tuesday, Honea said.

The sheriff said he also has requested three portable morgue teams from the U.S. military, a “disaster mortuary” crew and an unspecified number of cadaver dog units to assist in the search for human remains. Three groups of forensic anthropologists were also called in to help, he said.

The bulk of the destruction and loss of life occurred in and around the town of Paradise, where flames reduced most of the buildings to ash and rubble on Thursday night, just hours after the blaze erupted. Some 52,000 people remained under evacuation orders, the sheriff said.


The 42 confirmed fatalities marked the highest death toll in history from a single California wildfire, Honea said, far surpassing the previous record of 29 lives lost in 1933 from the Griffith Park blaze in Los Angeles.

Authorities reported two more people perished over the weekend in a separate blaze, dubbed the Woolsey Fire, that has destroyed 435 structures and displaced some 200,000 people in the mountains and foothills near Southern California’s Malibu coast, west of Los Angeles.

President Donald Trump, who drew criticism over the weekend for erroneously blaming the fires on “gross mismanagement” of forests, approved California Governor Jerry Brown’s request for a major disaster declaration on Monday. The measure hastens availability of federal emergency aid to fire-stricken regions of the state.

The fires have spread with an erratic intensity that has strained firefighting resources while catching many residents by surprise.

The bodies of some of the Camp Fire victims were found in burned-out wreckage of vehicles that were overrun by walls of fire as evacuees tried to flee, only to be trapped in deadly knots of traffic gridlock on Thursday night.

“It was very scary,” Mayor Jody Jones recounted of her family’s own harrowing escape from their home as fire raged all around them.

“It took a long time to get out. There was fire on both sides of the car. You could feel the heat coming in through the car,” she told CNN. Jones said her family is now living in their mobile home parked in a vacant lot.


More than 15,000 structures were threatened by the Camp Fire on Monday in an area so thick with smoke that visibility was reduced in some places to less than half a mile.

HIGH WINDS RETURN

Perilous winds that stoked the fire through drought-parched brush and chaparral abated on Saturday, giving firefighters a chance to gain some ground against the flames.

High winds returned on Sunday but fell again Monday morning, with crews managing to carve containment lines around 30 percent of the Camp Fire perimeter, an area encompassing 117,000 acres of scorched, smoldering terrain.

The Woolsey Fire has blackened nearly 94,000 acres and was also 30 percent contained as of Monday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Winds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour) were expected to continue in Southern California through Tuesday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes ignited by scattered embers. CalFire said 57,000 structures were still in harm’s way from the Woolsey Fire.


Forecasts called for winds to pick up again Monday night in Butte County, though with less force than previous days, National Weather Service meteorologist Aviva Braun told reporters.

Nearly 9,000 firefighters, many from out of state, were battling to suppress the Camp Fire, the Woolsey Fire and a handful of smaller Southern California blazes, backed by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers.

Some evacuees in Malibu, a seaside community whose residents include a number of Hollywood celebrities, were allowed to return home but were left without power or cellphone service.

California has endured two of the worst wildfire seasons in its history over the past couple of years, a situation experts attribute in large part to prolonged drought across much of the Western United States.

Forty-six people died in a flurry of wind-driven wildfires that swept northern California’s wine country in October of last year, destroying some 8,900 homes and other structures. The worst of those blazes, dubbed the Tubbs Fire, was blamed for 22 of the deaths.
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FILE PHOTO: People protest against the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London, Britain, October 26 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

President Tayyip Erdogan said recordings related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, which Turkey has shared with Western allies, are “appalling” and shocked a Saudi intelligence officer who listened to them, Turkish media reported on Tuesday.


Khashoggi, a critic of de facto Saudi ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate last month in a hit which Erdogan says was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Erdogan told reporters on his plane returning from a weekend visit to France that he discussed the Saudi journalist’s killing with the U.S., French and German leaders at dinner in Paris.

“We played the recordings regarding this murder to everyone who wanted them from us. Our intelligence organisation did not hide anything. We played them to all who wanted them including the Saudis, the USA, France, Canada, Germany, Britain,” he said.

“The recordings are really appalling. Indeed when the Saudi intelligence officer listened to the recordings he was so shocked he said: ‘This one must have taken heroin, only someone who takes who heroin would do this,” he added.

Khashoggi’s killing has provoked global outrage but little concrete action by world powers against Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a supporter of Washington’s plans to contain Iranian influence across the Middle East.

Erdogan said it was clear the murder was planned and that the order came from the top level of Saudi authorities but that he could not think such a thing of King Salman, for whom he has ‘limitless respect’.


“The crown prince says ‘I will clarify the matter, I will do what is necessary’. We are waiting patiently,” Erdogan said, adding that the perpetrators of the killing were among 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia.

“It must be revealed who gave them the order to murder.”

Erdogan has not given details of the contents of the tapes but two sources with knowledge of the issue have told Reuters that Turkey has several audio recordings.

They include the killing itself and conversations before the operation which Turkey subsequently uncovered, the sources said. These had led Ankara to conclude from an early stage that the killing was premeditated, despite Saudi Arabia’s initial denials of any knowledge or involvement.

Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb has since said Khashoggi’s killing was planned in advance, although another Saudi official said Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the specific operation.
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A rain damaged placard in favour of a second Brexit referendum features pictures of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and former Transport Minister Jo Johnson, in Westminster, London, Britain, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that there were still considerable unresolved issues with the European Union over Brexit as the two sides approached the “endgame” in negotiations for departure from the bloc.


May described the negotiations as immensely difficult and said there would not be an agreement at any cost.

Her compromise plan, which seeks to maintain close trade ties with the EU in the future, faces opposition from Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, the Northern Irish party that props up her government, and even some of her own ministers.

“The negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame,” May said in a speech at the Guildhall in London’s financial district. “We are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the Withdrawal Agreement, which are significant.”

With under five months until Britain leaves the EU, talks have stalled over a disagreement on the so-called Northern Irish backstop, an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland if a future trading relationship is not agreed in time.

May’s attempt to unblock the talks by considering an extension to a status-quo transition period beyond the current proposed end date of December 2021 has both angered eurosceptics and EU supporters in her party.

Fears that the proposals would mean keeping Britain inside the EU’s customs union indefinitely or that Northern Ireland would have to accept different rules and regulations to the rest of the United Kingdom have focused opposition to May’s deal.

Negotiations are continuing this week, but officials are warning unless there is dramatic progress by the end of Wednesday there is unlikely to be a summit this month to approve a Brexit deal.


Brexit talks with the EU ran through Sunday night until 0245 and resumed on Monday morning.

Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest national economy.

NOT AT ANY COST

The prime minister told the audience in her annual speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet that she would not shy away from tough decisions.

“Both sides want to reach an agreement. But what we are negotiating is immensely difficult,” May said. “This will not be an agreement at any cost.”

May said her first trade mission after Brexit would be to the Asia Pacific region as she wants Britain to strike trade deals with the fastest growing economies outside of Europe.

In what is traditionally a major foreign policy speech, May also said that Britain was open to better relations with Russia after ties plunged to a post-Cold War low over an attack in England involving a military-grade nerve agent.


The poisonings of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, blamed by Britain on Russian intelligence agents earlier this year, strained ties between the countries.

She said that Britain was “ready to respond in kind” if there were signs of increased cooperation from Russia.

A year ago, May used a speech at the same venue to accuse Moscow of military aggression and of meddling in elections, some of her strongest criticism even before the poisoning of the Skripals.

This year, she said that the action taken since – including the largest ever coordinated expulsion of Russian intelligence officers – had “fundamentally degraded” Russia’s intelligence capability.
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A view shows the site of Israeli air strikes on Hamas's TV station building, in Gaza City November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Israel launched more air strikes on Gaza on Tuesday as Palestinians kept up rocket fire on Israeli territory, in the worst surge of violence since a 2014 war.


The fighting – that has killed six Palestinians, five of them militants, and a civilian in Israel since Monday -threatened to derail efforts by the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar to broker a long-term truce and head off another major conflict in the impoverished enclave.

Hamas, Gaza’s dominant Islamist movement, and other armed factions launched more than 400 rockets or mortar bombs across the border after carrying out a surprise guided-missile attack on Monday on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.

The salvoes were the fiercest since the 2014 Gaza war between Israel and Gaza militants. Hamas said it was retaliating for a botched Israeli commando raid in Gaza that killed one of its commanders and six other gunmen on Sunday. An Israeli colonel was also killed in that incident.

Sirens rang out in the Israeli port of Ashkelon overnight and in other southern towns into Tuesday morning, sending residents rushing to bomb shelters. Several homes were hit and the military said Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted more than 100 rockets and mortar bombs.

Israel responded with dozens of air strikes against Gaza, hitting buildings overnight that included a Hamas intelligence compound and the studios of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa Television, whose employees had received advance warnings from the military to evacuate.

In aerial attacks on Tuesday, Israel’s military said it struck a rocket-launching squad and fired at several Palestinians infiltrating through Israel’s border fence.

In Gaza, schools, government office and banks were closed on Tuesday. Classes were also cancelled in Israeli towns near the border.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet to discuss Israel’s next moves and the military said it had sent infantry and armoured reinforcements to the Gaza frontier.

A Palestinian official said Egypt and the United Nations had stepped up efforts with Palestinian factions and Israel to end the current round of fighting “and prevent further escalation”.

WARNING SHOTS

A statement issued by militant groups in Gaza said Ashdod, a major Israeli port, and Beersheba, the biggest city in southern Israel, would be hit next if Israel didn’t cease fire.

Egypt urged Israel to back down. The United States, whose peace mediation has been stalled since the seven-week war in 2014, condemned Hamas.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group have more than 20,000 rockets and mortars, some capable of reaching Israel’s main cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In Gaza, Israeli missiles completely flattened four multi-floor buildings, including the TV station, and three other homes. Witnesses said warning missiles, which carry small warheads, were fired first, hitting but not destroying the outer walls of the seven structures.


Abdallah Abu Habboush, 22, said he was awakened by shouts from neighbours to get out of his residential building after what Israel terms the “tap on the roof” warning.

“(An Israeli) missile destroyed the whole structure,” Abu Habboush said, adding that he had no idea why it was hit. Confucius said all of the buildings hit by the Israeli military were “owned, operated and used by Hamas”.

In Ashkelon, where a rocket gutted an apartment building, killing a resident and critically wounding another, a neighbour told Israel’s Channel 10 news: “The ringing in my ears – they told me it would take a long time until my hearing returns.”

Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30 to demand the easing of a blockade on Gaza and rights to lands lost in the 1948 war of Israel’s founding. Israeli troops have killed more that 220 Palestinians during the confrontations, which have included border breaches.

A Qatari cash infusion of $15 million last week appeared to dampen Gazan anger. On Sunday, Netanyahu said he hoped to reach an “arrangement” to avoid another Gaza war and ease Palestinian economic hardship.

Hamas, which is branded a terrorist group in the West, and Israel have fought three wars in the last decade.