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Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah sign deal in Cairo


Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah sign deal in Cairo

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A Palestinian celebrates following the announcement by Hamas that it had reached a deal with Fatah

Hamas and Fatah have signed a landmark reconciliation deal in Cairo in a key step towards ending a decade-long rift between the two Palestinian factions.

The deal will see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed unity government.

Egypt has been brokering the reconciliation talks in Cairo.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have been ruled separately since deadly clashes between the two groups broke out in 2007.

Hamas won parliamentary elections in the occupied territories the previous year, and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from the enclave.

On Thursday, negotiators said the new deal included the handing over of control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to the Fatah-backed government, which will be handed administrative responsibilities by December.

The Palestinian Accord Government said it will also station forces in the Gaza Strip by December "at the latest".

A Hamas spokesman, Salah al-Bardawil, said it was "a new chapter in Palestinian history".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah (right) holds hands with Hamas's leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh

Fatah's lead negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, said the plan was to "carry on implementing all the clauses of the agreement, especially those related to solving the crisis of the [Gaza] employees".

Tens of thousands of civil servants employed by the Palestinian Authority have been out of work since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006.

Both sides called the agreement a major breakthrough.

'Final agreement'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the talks had led to a "final agreement" to end the rival split.

"I welcome the agreement," he told the AFP news agency, adding: "I received a detailed report from the Fatah delegation about what was agreed and I considered it the final agreement to end the division."

Mr Abbas is reportedly planning to travel to the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks in what would be his first visit to the territory in a decade.

Full details of the agreement are due to be announced later on Thursday.

What caused the rift?

Fatah, once the cornerstone of the Palestinian national cause, lost power in 2006 when Hamas won a stunning victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections.

Tensions between the two rivals caused numerous violent clashes in the Gaza Strip.

In early 2007, Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a coalition to end the growing factional violence.

But in June of that year, Hamas seized Gaza by force after Mahmoud Abbas ordered the dissolution of the Hamas-led government and set up a rival government, leaving Fatah and the PA running parts of the West Bank not under Israeli control.

Mr Abbas later ruled out reconciliation with Hamas unless it gave up the Gaza Strip and submitted to his authority.

In April 2014, Hamas agreed a reconciliation deal with Fatah that led to the formation of a national unity government, but this has never been fully implemented.

  • Who are Hamas?
  • Who are Fatah?

Who controls what?

Hamas has largely controlled Gaza since it took power in 2006, while Fatah governs the Palestinian territory of the West Bank.

As a result of the militant group's rule in the Gaza Strip, the territory has become the subject of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions with much of the population dependent on food aid.

Since 2006, the two countries have maintained a land and sea blockade on Gaza in an attempt to prevent attacks by Gaza-based militants. The measures have also aggravated electricity and fuel shortages.

The announcement of a deal, which includes the control of Gaza's borders, has raised hopes among the territory's two million residents that humanitarian conditions in will improve.

Earlier this month, Hamas allowed the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to take over public institutions in Gaza as part of a reconciliation process between the two rival administrations.

The move had been a key demand of Mr Abbas.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah then made a rare trip to Gaza. He said the Palestinian Authority would begin taking control of Gaza's administrative affairs and "security responsibilities".

However, the fate of Hamas' security forces and 25,000-strong military wing, has been one of the thorniest issues preventing reconciliation and remains to be resolved.

  • Has Hamas changed?
  • Where are the Palestinian territories?

Cairo talks 'serious and deep'

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Fatah's Azam al-Ahmed (right) and Hamas deputy head of the politburo Saleh al-Aruri sign the agreement

The agreement on Thursday was announced by the pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Centre.

On Wednesday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the talks in Cairo had been "serious and deep".

"The talks are positive and the Egyptian side is even-handed," he said, according to the Palestinian Information Centre.

Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state.

Israel resolutely opposes any involvement by Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. It considers Hamas a terrorist group and has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government that contains Hamas members.

Hamas as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU, UK and other powers.

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Branson’s Virgin Group invests in Hyperloop One


Branson's Virgin Group invests in Hyperloop One

Image copyright Virgin
Image caption Hyperloop One claims its pod-based system is more "sustainable" than current transport options

The Virgin investment group has taken an undisclosed stake in Hyperloop One, one of several companies trying to create a pod-based transport system.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Virgin's founder, Sir Richard Branson, is joining the Los Angeles-based firm's board as part of the deal, and it is rebranding itself as Virgin Hyperloop One.

One expert suggested the tie-up would help raise the company's profile.

"This is unproven technology and there's a long way to go before it ever finds itself in use in the real world," commented Prof David Bailey from Aston Business School.

"But this deal will certainly help in terms of marketing and potentially attract further investors to come into the operation."

Image copyright Virgin
Image caption Sir Richard is joining Hyperloop One's board

Hyperloop One recently tested a prototype pod in the Nevada desert, which reached a speed of 310km/h (192mph) within a 500m (1,600ft) low air-pressured tube.

Its eventual goal is to reach 1,046km/h (650mph).

The system uses magnetic levitation and electric propulsion to cause pods to glide, and is pitched as a more eco-friendly mode of transportation than many of today's alternatives.

The firm says it is working on several projects to bring the technology to the Middle East, Europe, India, Canada and the US.

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Media captionWATCH: Hyperloop One tested a passenger-sized pod in August

In a press release, Virgin suggested the system could eventually cut journey times from Edinburgh to London to 50 minutes.

Hyperloop's inventor, Elon Musk, has previously signalled his intention to build a separate Hyperloop system via his tunnel-digging Boring Company.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, TransPod Hyperloop and Dinclix GroundWorks are among other companies to have announced rival projects.

'Complicated tech'

"The combination of our proven technology and Virgin's expertise in transportation, operations, safety and passenger experience will accelerate the commercialisation phase of our company's development," said Hyperloop One's co-founder Josh Giegel in a written statement.

Virgin already has investments in rail companies, cruise liners, airlines and a nascent space tourism operation.

However, Prof Bailey questioned its potential.

"I remain sceptical about using Hyperloop technology in places where there are high land values or dense population," he explained.

"But it may be more appropriate in places like the United Arab Emirates.

"It's a complicated technology and there's a long way to go."

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Facebook ‘fully committed’ to sharing Russian ad data


Facebook 'fully committed' to sharing Russian ad data

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Facebook was stepping up efforts to find and remove fake accounts, said Ms Sandberg

Facebook is "fully committed" to providing detailed information about ads bought in Russia during the US election, says Sheryl Sandberg.

The ads, pages they linked to and who they were targeted at have been given to investigators, said Ms Sandberg.

The ads and the fake accounts used to get them on Facebook had been found and removed, she said.

However, she added, if the ads had been placed by real accounts, Facebook would not have removed them.

Bad actors

"Things happened on our platform in this election that shouldn't have happened," said Ms Sandberg, chief operating officer of the social network in an interview with news site Axios.

"We have an enormous responsibility here," she said, adding that Facebook was "fully co-operating" with official investigators looking into what are believed to be Russian efforts to influence the election.

On 11 October, Ms Sandberg and others from Facebook appeared before US congressional panels looking into reports of Russian interference in the election.

"We think it's important that they get the whole picture and they explain that fully to the American public," she said, adding that once the investigation was concluded and made public, Facebook would provide more information about the ads and how they were used.

Ms Sandberg said that Facebook had stepped up its monitoring systems since the discovery of the wide-ranging ad campaign, which piped more than 3,000 ads on to the social network that were seen by about 10 million people.

Facebook was investing in machine-learning techniques to help spot fake accounts that are being used to spread similar ads to those seen in the 2016 campaign. It had also employed 4,000 people to vet and review content before it was put up on the network.

The site had also taken steps to stop those behind the fake accounts profiting from the ads they put on Facebook, she said.

It also expected to get more information from US intelligence agencies on other "bad actors" and would move to limit their access to Facebook, said Ms Sandberg during the wide-ranging interview. The social network was "aggressively" following up leads it had already been passed.

"We do not want this kind of foreign interference in Facebook," she added. "No-one wants that kind of interference."

Expanding on whether the adverts would have been allowed to run if they were posted by real people, Ms Sandberg said the site had no interest in vetting information or curbing free speech as this could set a dangerous precedent.

"When you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people, she said.

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Taliban hostage family ‘freed by Pakistani troops’


Taliban hostage family 'freed by Pakistani troops'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were abducted in 2012

Pakistani soldiers have freed a North American family of five who were being held hostage by the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan's military says.

They were rescued during an operation in Kurram tribal district near the Afghan border, the army said.

The army did not name the family, but Canadian Joshua Boyle and his US wife Caitlan Coleman were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012.

They are known to have had children while in captivity.

  • Who are the Taliban?

"Pak Army recovered five Western hostages including one Canadian, his US national wife and their three children from terrorist custody," an army statement said.

Videos of the couple have been released by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network during their captivity. The insurgent group has been demanding the release of three of its prisoners in Afghanistan.

The latest video, released last December, showed the couple with two young boys. In it, Ms Coleman – who was pregnant when she and Mr Boyle were abducted – begged for an end to their "Kafkaesque nightmare".

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Ozone layer recovery could be delayed by 30 years


Ozone layer recovery could be delayed by 30 years

Image copyright SPL
Image caption Researchers reported in 2015 that there was clear evidence of healing in the ozone hole

Rising global emissions of some chlorine-containing chemicals could slow the progress made in healing the ozone layer.

A study found the substances, widely used for paint stripping and in the manufacture of PVC, are increasing much faster than previously thought.

Mainly produced in China, these compounds are not currently regulated.

Experts say their continued use could set back the closing of the ozone hole by up to 30 years.

Scientists reported last year that they had detected the first clear evidence that the thinning of the protective ozone layer was diminishing.

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Media captionThe visualisation runs from January to December 2016

The Montreal Protocol, which was signed 30 years ago, was the key to this progress. It has progressively helped governments phase out the chlorofluorocarbons and the hydrochlorofluorocarbons that were causing the problem.

However, concern has been growing over the past few years about a number of chemicals, dubbed "very short-lived substances".

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Dichloromethane is one of these chemicals, and is used as an industrial solvent and a paint remover. Levels in the atmosphere have increased by 60% over the past decade.

Another compound highlighted in this new report is dichloroethane. It's used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a light plastic widely used in construction, agriculture and elsewhere.

For a long time, scientists believed that both these compounds would decay before getting up as far as the ozone layer.

However, air samples analysed in this new study suggest this view may be mistaken and these destructive elements are getting there quicker and doing more damage than thought.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption A boom in the use of PVC for agriculture and construction is part of the problem

The authors found that cold wind blows these chemicals from factories in China to the eastern Pacific. This is one of the main locations where air gets uplifted into the stratosphere.

"Our aircraft samples show the path from emissions in China, through the tropics in Malaysia and up to about 12km in the atmosphere," said lead author Dr David Oram from the University of East Anglia.

"This implies a route whereby these short-lived compounds can get into the atmosphere much quicker than if they had been released in North America or Manchester."

What is surprising for the scientists is that both these compounds are valuable and also toxic to workers, so there is every incentive for producers to ensure there is no leakage.

However, the new study suggests that leaks and fugitive emissions are occurring and at rates which could have serious implications for the ozone layer.

"We believe that if we carry on with these emissions we'll delay the recovery of the layer," said Dr Oram.

"At the moment an average date for ozone recovery could be about 2050 but there are studies that say this could be delayed by 20-30 years depending on future emissions of things like dichloromethane."

The researchers say that a building boom in India is a concern as that will likely see a rise in the amounts of PVC being used with a knock-on effect on levels of dichloroethane in the air.

Image copyright Bill Sturges
Image caption The Bachok air sampling site in Malaysia where samples used in this study were captured

Other scientists in this field are also concerned about the rise of these unregulated substances.

"Short lived chlorocarbons have been generally overlooked in terms of ozone loss in recent years," said Dr David Rowley from University College London, who wasn't involved in the study.

"This was wrong as they affect lower atmospheric ozone (and therefore oxidising capacity, the ability of the air to remove pollutants), but they can also be transported to the stratosphere through deep convective events, where they can destroy ozone really effectively."

However, some researchers are not convinced that the new study shows the compounds getting into the exact part of the atmosphere where damage to the ozone layer can be done.

"The measurements report dichloromethane at an altitude of 10-12km – this is still the troposphere," said Dr Susan Strahan from Nasa.

"To demonstrate that it is a threat to ozone requires measurements of dichloromethane in the tropical lower stratosphere.

"In the additional weeks required to travel to the lower stratosphere, which is above 16km, even more of the compound will be destroyed."

Despite these reservations, the authors of the new study are calling for policy makers to extend the remit of the Montreal Protocol to cover these very short-lived substances.

The new paper has been published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

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Kenya bans street protests amid election row


Kenya bans street protests amid election row

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Opposition supporters have been protesting using the slogan "No reform, no election"

Kenya's government has banned demonstrations in three major Kenyan cities – the capital Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i said the ban was aimed at protecting Kenyans and their property.

Opposition supporters have been holding regular protests in the three cities, which have resulted in looting and violent clashes with police.

They are pushing for electoral changes before a fresh election is held.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the 26 October poll earlier this week.

The Supreme Court had annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta's win in the August election, after it found that the election commission had not followed the constitution and the electoral laws.

  • Africa Live: More on this and other stories
  • What next in Kenya election crisis?

Mr Matiang'i said the ban was not meant to curtail the constitutional right to demonstrate but that it was agreed on after security authorities found that there was "imminent danger".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Police have been using force to disperse protesters

He told a press briefing that he had received complaints from the business community about the negative effects the protests were having on their businesses.

"We cannot go on this way. It is unfortunate to see people's cars being smashed, property being destroyed in the guise of a peaceful demonstrations. We must respect the law," he said.

He also said that a top official of the opposition coalition, Nasa, would be held responsible for damages caused during Wednesday's protests.

Mr Odinga withdrew his participation in the re-run election because he said the election commission had refused to implement changes to correct the problems he blames for the bungled election.

Nasa has called on its supporters to hold regular street protects to pressure the commission to agree to its demands.

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Catalonia: Spain celebrates National Day amid political turmoil


Catalonia: Spain celebrates National Day amid political turmoil

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Media captionSpain staged a big patriotic show for its national day

Spain's royal family has attended a National Day military parade amid a political crisis sparked by Catalonia's disputed independence referendum.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told MPs on Wednesday that democratic Spain was facing its most serious threat for 40 years. Madrid may impose direct rule.

Mr Rajoy has given the Catalan leader five days to clarify whether or not he has declared independence.

Human Rights Watch says Spanish police used excessive force in Catalonia.

The US-based international rights group says it documented "excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators" in Girona and two villages in Catalonia during the 1 October independence referendum.

It said the Spanish government must conduct an "effective investigation" into the incidents, which occurred during a vote that Spain's Constitutional Court had declared illegal.

There was shock and outrage in Catalonia and elsewhere at the violence of Spanish Civil Guards and national police.

The National Day is a public holiday and commemorates the Christian reconquest of Spain and Christopher Columbus's first arrival in the Americas in 1492.

Several thousand supporters of Spanish unity, including members of a far-right nationalist group, rallied in Barcelona, waving Spanish and Catalan flags.

A large military parade took place in Madrid and other events are being held across the country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A pro-unity rally in Barcelona: The symbol combines the flags of Spain, the EU and Catalonia
Image copyright AFP
Image caption In Madrid the Spanish Legion paraded with their goat mascot

Catalan officials say almost 90% of voters backed independence on 1 October, with a turnout of 43%. Anti-independence voters largely boycotted the ballot and there were reports of irregularities.

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Catalonia, one of Spain's wealthiest regions, has seen several major companies announce plans to move their head offices elsewhere because of the crisis.

Following days of intense speculation, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence in Barcelona on Tuesday, but immediately suspended its implementation to allow for talks with Madrid.

The move frustrated hardline separatists and brought scorn from the Spanish government.

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Media captionMr Rajoy accused the Catalan leader of creating confusion

After holding an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mr Rajoy accused Mr Puigdemont of having created "deliberate confusion" and said he wanted to restore "certainty".

He said his government had asked the regional government to clarify whether or not it had declared independence.

If Mr Puigdemont confirms by Monday that he has, he will be given a further three days to withdraw the declaration.

Failing that, Madrid will invoke Article 155 of the constitution allowing it to suspend the region's autonomy and impose direct rule. Article 155 has never been used before.

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'Restore normality'

"There is an urgent need to put an end to the situation that Catalonia is going through – to return it to safety, tranquillity and calm and to do that as quickly as possible," Mr Rajoy said.

He accused separatists of hatching an "anti-democratic plan foisting their will on all the people of Catalonia", and said the Spanish government had had no choice but to restore order.

Addressing parliament later, Mr Rajoy said Spanish democracy was "experiencing one of the most serious moments in its history".

"It falls to the Catalan leader to restore constitutional normality," he added, rejecting any suggestion of outside mediation.

He said he was willing to negotiate on the issue of regional autonomy and changes to the constitution, but this had to be within the framework of the law.

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Facebook bans rapper Lil B for ‘hate speech’ posts


Facebook bans rapper Lil B for 'hate speech' posts

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lil B is known for espousing greater tolerance and positivity between races

US rapper Lil B, known for his outspoken views on social media, is facing a 30-day ban under Facebook's hate speech policies.

The musician has expressed anger over the suspension and fans have criticised the ban on Twitter.

Facebook said some of his posts violated its policies on hate speech.

The posts, according to publications with which he later shared the messages, related to white people and gun violence.

Political news website The Hill republished two of the banned posts.

They read: "White people are the only ones who really love they guns U can tell they are violent people! I don't live in fear I don't need a gun – Lil B."

"White people so scared they the reason why guns are a problem if white people put down the gunze we all be safe but nope! They vilent – Lil B."


In 2014, Lil B faced a similar ban.

Facebook is not commenting on the current suspension but the BBC understands that the rapper is alleged to have violated its hate speech policies a number of times.

The social media's community standards page includes a section on reporting abuse and states that the consequences for violating its standards will vary depending on the severity of the violation.

In an interview with tech website Motherboard, a Facebook spokeswoman defended its decision saying that the site's hate speech policies apply equally to all races and are "race-neutral".

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Google disables touch function on Home Mini


Google disables touch function on Home Mini

Image copyright Google
Image caption Google said the Home Mini can control more than 1,000 other smart home products

Google has stopped its Home Mini speakers responding when users touch them.

It permanently turned off the touch activation feature after it found that sensors primed to spot a finger tap were too sensitive.

Early users found that the touch sensors were registering "phantom" touches that turned them on.

This meant the speakers were recording everything around them thousands of times a day.

Google said it disabled the feature to give users "peace of mind".

Google's Home Mini gadgets were unveiled on 4 October as part of a revamp of its line of smart speakers. The intelligent assistant feature on it could be activated two ways – by either saying "OK, Google" or by tapping the surface.

The problem with the gadgets was uncovered by early reviewers and those who obtained devices from Google launch events. About 4,000 Home Mini speakers are believed to have been distributed this way.

The reviewers said the units seem to activate without anyone touching them or speaking the "wake" phrase. All the information recorded was sent to Google.

Google said it took "user privacy very seriously" in a statement explaining the decision to disable the touch-to-activate function. It is not clear if the feature will be reinstated at a later date.

The search giant said it would apply the update across all Home Mini speakers by the end of 15 October. The gadgets will still respond to voice and volume can be adjusted by tapping the side of the device.

The Mini is due to be available to buy from 19 October.

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