AP News in Brief 02-18-19

  • President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on Friday to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

  • A man selling chicken sits in an area recently retaken by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Islamic State militants in Hajin, Syria, Saturday. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

‘Taking their last breath’: IS hides among Syrian civilians

BAGHOUZ, Syria — From a self-proclaimed caliphate that once spread across much of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State group has been knocked back to a speck of land on the countries’ shared border. In that tiny patch on the banks of the Euphrates River, hundreds of militants are hiding among civilians under the shadow of a small hill — encircled by forces waiting to declare the territorial defeat of the extremist group.

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A spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the militants said Sunday that the group is preventing civilians from leaving the area, closing a corridor from which nearly 40,000 residents have managed to escape since December.

“They are taking their last breath,” said Dino, an SDF fighter deployed at a base near the front line in the village of Baghouz, about 1.25 miles from the militants’ last spot.

An Associated Press team visited the base Sunday, escorted by the SDF, driving past mostly one-story rural houses that were destroyed, a reminder of the cost of the battle. Occasional airstrikes and artillery rounds by the U.S.-led coalition supporting the SDF, meant to clear land mines for the advance, could be seen in the distance.

The road to the base passes through a number of villages and towns from which IS were uprooted in recent weeks.

White House indicates Trump to veto disapproval of emergency

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.”

The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges. After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action.

Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

Polish PM cancels Israel visit amid new Holocaust tensions

WARSAW, Poland — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki canceled his plans to attend a meeting of central European leaders in Israel starting Monday amid new tensions over how Polish behavior during the Holocaust is remembered and characterized.

Morawiecki informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s of his decision by phone Sunday, Michal Dworczyk, who heads the prime minister’s chancellery, said. Poland’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, plans to attend instead, he said.

It “is a signal that the historical truth is a fundamental issue for Poland, and the defense of the good name of Poland is and always will be decisive,” Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek explained.

Netanyahu said Thursday during a Middle East conference hosted by the United States and Poland that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” – wording suggesting that some Poles participated in killing Jews during the German occupation of Poland.

He was initially quoted by some Israeli media outlets as saying not “Poles” but “The Poles” cooperated, phrasing which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation.

Aurora shooter’s permit was revoked but gun wasn’t seized

AURORA, Ill. — An initial background check failed to detect a felony conviction that should have barred the man who killed five co-workers and wounded six other people at a suburban Chicago manufacturing plant from buying the gun.

Months later, a second background check of Gary Martin found his 1995 aggravated assault conviction in Mississippi involving the stabbing of an ex-girlfriend. But it prompted only a letter stating his gun permit had been revoked and ordering him to turn over his firearm to police — raising questions about the state’s enforcement to ensure those who lose their permits also turn over their weapons.

A vigil for the victims , including a university student on his first day as an intern and a longtime plant manager, was held Sunday outside the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, about 40 miles west of Chicago. More than 1,500 people braved snow and freezing drizzle to attend.

Martin, 45, was killed in a shootout with officers Friday, ending his deadly rampage at the plant. His state gun license permit was revoked in 2014, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said.

But he never gave up the .40-caliber Smith &Wesson handgun he used in the attack. Investigators are still trying to determine what exactly law enforcement agencies did after that letter was sent, Ziman said.

School board in Virginia may end transgender bathroom ban

NORFOLK, Va. — For nearly four years, Gavin Grimm has been suing his former school district after it banned him from using the boys bathrooms in high school.

Along the way, he’s became a national face for transgender rights. His case almost went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He graduated and moved to California but kept fighting.

The school board in Virginia may finally be giving in, although not in court. It will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the possibility of allowing transgender students to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

“I have fought this legal battle for the past four years because I want to make sure that other transgender students do not have to go through the same pain and humiliation that I did,” he said.

The Gloucester County School Board’s meeting comes just months before a trial is set to begin over its current bathroom rules.

From wire sources

Family: UK teen who joined Islamic State has baby in Syria

LONDON — The family of a British teenager who ran away to join the Islamic State group and now wants to return to the U.K. said Sunday she has given birth to a baby boy.

The family’s lawyer said 19-year-old Shamima Begum and the baby are in good health. In a recent interview with The Times newspaper, Begum said she had previously lost two babies to illness and malnutrition.

News about Begum and her desire to go back to Britain have ignited a debate in the U.K. about how to deal with citizens who joined IS and want to leave Syria now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.

Begum was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to Syria to marry IS fighters in 2015 at a time when the group’s online recruitment program lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Speaking to Britain’s Sky News from Syria, where she has been living in a refugee camp, Begum said she didn’t know what she was getting into when she left and wants to bring her baby back to Britain with her.

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Return to sender: High court to hear undeliverable mail case

WASHINGTON — Mitch Hungerpiller thought he had a first-class solution for mail that gets returned as undeliverable, a common problem for businesses that send lots of letters.

But the process he helped develop and built his small Alabama technology company around has resulted in a more than decadelong fight with the U.S. Postal Service, which says his solution shouldn’t have been patentable. The David vs. Goliath dispute has now arrived at the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the justices will hear Hungerpiller’s case, which involves parsing the meaning of a 2011 patent law.

“All I want is a fair shake,” said Hungerpiller, who lives in Birmingham and is a father of three.

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Hungerpiller, 56, started thinking seriously about returned mail in 1999 when he was doing computer consulting work. While visiting clients he kept seeing huge trays of returned mail. He read that every year, billions pieces of mail are returned as undeliverable, costing companies and the Postal Service time and money.

So he decided to try to solve the problem. He developed a system that uses barcodes, scanning equipment and computer databases to process returned mail almost entirely automatically. His clients, from financial services companies to marketing companies, generally direct their returned mail to Hungerpiller’s company, Return Mail Inc., for processing. Clients can get information about whether the mail was actually correctly addressed and whether there’s a more current address.

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