Cyber armies, info wars and fake news add to Syria’s suffering

Moademiyeh. A severely ill child is evaculated by ambulance by Syrian Arab Red Crescent first aiders from the besieged city during a joint aid operation by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC.”Fake news” in the Syria war. Photo: KRZYSIEK, Pawel “Fake news” in the Syria war.Rural Damascus, Madaya. head of ICRC delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, speaks to residents as they gathered around an aid convoy.Photo n Red Cross
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An intense information war being waged alongside armed hostilities in Syria is affecting efforts to help victims of the conflict, a senior humanitarian official says.

Pawel Krzysiek, the spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria, says there is an atmosphere of “information chaos” as adversaries spread misinformation to discredit one another using social media and other digital channels.

“This war is being conducted very heavily in cyberspace – the regular armed groups also have cyber armies,” he said. “There are multiple sources pushing their own agendas.”

Krzysiek, an Arab-speaker who has been based in Syria since 2015, said Syria’s cyber-combatants regularly “hack each other” and constantly “troll the news” in a bid to counter information disseminated by their opponents.

The result is a stream of fake news that makes it difficult to get credible information about what is really happening within Syria.

“There is a proliferation of militias and armed groups controlling places – it is really chaotic and this is all reflected in the media sphere,” he said.

The misinformation has an effect on life-saving humanitarian operations in Syria.

“It makes the humanitarian response extremely complicated,” Krzysiek said.

Aid convoys in Syria carrying emergency supplies are now routinely “broadcast live” by local observers using social media platforms such as Facebook.

“Today with citizen journalists your convoys are broadcast right away in real time ??? people are there on the check points filming you. All they need is a smartphone.”

Aid agencies have no control over how this type of information is portrayed by those broadcasting the images.

Krzysiek said this makes it more difficult for humanitarian organisations to give local people reliable information about the purpose of their operations.

“This is a big challenge today,” he said. “The risks are very high.”

There was international condemnation for the bombing of a 31-truck United Nations convoy carrying food, medicines and supplies bound for rebel-held areas of Syria’s western Aleppo Province in September last year.

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent worker was among 20 people killed in the attack.

“The Syrian crisis is absolutely unprecedented in terms of how many humanitarian workers have died while on duty,” Krzysiek said.

At least 65 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have been killed during Syria’s six-year civil war.

Pawel Krzysiek has crossed the frontlines in Syria many times, including in the besieged town of Madaya when aid convoys made it through to starving people in early 2016.

He gave the keynote address about the media’s portrayal of the Syrian conflict at the n Red Cross International Humanitarian Law and Journalism Symposium at Sydney University on Thursday November 2.

Mr Krzysiek said the dangerous conditions in Syria coupled with the challenges of verifying sources had made it difficult for journalists working for mainstream media organisations to accurately report events in Syria.

“It is a very tough game for the journalists covering the Syria conflict today,” he said.

The Red Cross has often played the role of a “humanitarian news agency” because of the way it has been able to verify facts for reporters, he said.

The Lowedown: Newcastle’s positive play pays off

The politicians might choose to call it an educational trip, travelling to Melbourne to watch the top two sides clash in the A-league, but I won’t even try to sneak that one past the taxman.
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It’s true I had to forego the Jets v Wellington, on a wet night in Newcastle, to go to Flemington on Derby Day, but these are the sacrifices you make in concession to passing years, friendship and tradition!

So it seems did many other Novocastrians, and a big hello to the statuesque Tanya Wood of Maitland (close enough to qualify) and her hubby Tim, and Adam D, representing a famous rugby league family in Newcastle, and the 2291 postcode, with much pride.

BODY AND SOUL: Newcastle attackers Andrew Nabbout and Joey Champness battle with Wellington’s Daniel Mullen. Picture: Darren Pateman, AAP

That little posse didn’t brave the cold on Friday night and head to AAMI Park, but if they had they would have watched Sydney FC surgically dismantle Melbourne City for much of the 90 minutes.

The margin (1-0) wasn’t large, but Graham Arnold’s team bossed the game, and having tipped you all into the $1.90 about them to win the minor premiership last week, I am more convinced than ever that quest is nearly a fait accompli.

Most impressive was the way Sydney played through a pretty decent City line-up, pulling them one way before finding an outlet for a switch of play, almost at will, until the hosts had to push on, man on man, and chase the game.

Sydney were slick, functional, and very professional, which is more than can be said for the shuttle train back to town from Flemington, post-battle.

Ready to roll at 6:15, plenty of time for a quick shower, and to take up a prime position at the casino’s sports bar, or so we thought.

More than an hour later, and stuck after going about 500 metres due to drunken (I suspect) trespassers on the tracks, I started to worry about missing the Jets’ kick-off time.

Apparently Wellington did, but that is incidental, if you can picture a 54-year-old man, with a 54-year-old bladder sitting in a stationary train, jam packed with well-dressed folk, between stations, and nary a toilet in sight.

My silent but urgent scouting for empty bottles had just begun, when the offenders were apprehended, and we were thankfully on our way. A quick update on the boys’ phones confirmed it was 0-0 at McDonald Jones Stadium, so no damage done, in either respect.

Still 0-0 when we find the big screen, just in time to watch the Phoenix commit hari-kari, and go from a shaky position at 40 minutes to a disastrous two goals down, and all but out of the game at half-time.

Roy O’Donovan, in rare touch, had an unlikely miss from a gilt-edged opportunity earlier, but was Johnny on the spot twice inside five minutes to profit from some awful defending.

There was no commentary on offer, the Great Britain v Lebanon rugby league International (pffttt) booming on the audio, but I imagine the analysts on Foxsports, “Bozza”in particular, would hardly have been complimentary about Wellington.

From a Newcastleperspective, they don’t need to care about what Wellington did, or didn’t offer.

Job done, three points banked, momentum maintained, and as my roomie PT pointed out, the chance to open up a little gap between themselves and the Wanderers, who should have had a stern test at Melbourne Victory last night.

O’Donovan’s brace takes him comfortably clear at the top of the goalscoring charts, and Andrew Nabbout would have silenced any questions about his goalscoring form, with his first of the season, a pretty curling peach from about 20 metres out at the top of the penalty box.

Communication and information can be scarce down here in Mexico at this time of the year, particularly when you are reliant on a $22 phone, but I imagine Jets coach Ernie Merrick is trying to keep a lid on emotions and gazing too far ahead, instead concentrating week to week.

“Can the Jets keep it going like this?”has become are you very popular question in the past fortnight, and Merrick will probably be posing that very inquiry to his squad for motivational purposes at this time.

There are bigger challenges ahead, have no doubt.Sydney FC, Melbourne City, and Melbourne Victory (despite their slow start) spring straight to mind, but you can only beat the team that’s put in front of you.

This busy week, the opponent is Adelaide, who are competitive, robust, and quite dangerous, particularly at Hindmarsh Stadium.

Another solid, positive performance will give the Jets a real chance of of snaring three points and maintaining their roll, and will keep a happy throng of supporters smiling.

A healthy result and performance in Honduras by the Socceroos, will also lead to miles of smiles, in anticipation of World Cup qualification next Wednesday night.

This two-legged tie is a million miles away from being a small hurdle, and the logistical challenges faced by the team have been further exacerbated by suspensions, injuriesand games to be completed by some players over the weekend just past.

I know Ange has declared the team will be bold, but I’m hoping to go to Sydney in just over a week’s time to celebrate comfortably, not cringe and curse as we chase goals.

A good solid away performance, with some key troops absent, and then a pretty much full deck to choose from in the second leg, with a monster home crowd to add some energy and belief, will do me for a scenario at this stage.

I had hoped as a side benefit of this work-related weekend away, to confidently tip you the winner of the Melbourne cup today, but it is as open as Wellington’s porous defence was on Saturday night.

I will stick my neck out just for the faithful and say that I believe it will be an imported horse wearing an odd numbered saddle cloth between five and nine.

Is it asking too much for that, a draw at least in San Pedro Sula for the Socceroos on Saturday morning our time, and then a Jets win later that day in Adelaide? Let’s hope not.

Enjoy your sporting week comrades.

Passengers’ feedback positive after first day of park and ride service between Broadmeadow and Newcastle CBD

Last stop: Passengers step off the park and ride service at McDonald Jones Stadium on Monday afternoon, after a day at work in the CBD.Commuters were positive in their feedback after the first day of Newcastle’s new park and ride service between Broadmeadow and the CBD.
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Almost 100 people used the service on Monday, despite the rainy weather, which took workers from their cars at McDonald Jones Stadium and into the city in the morning, before it returned them in the afternoon.

Several commuters who spoke to theNewcastle Herald said they were pleased with the service and planned to use it again.

Though onepassengersaid an extra service in the morning, closer to 9am, would be beneficial for workers who started their day at 9.30am.

“It was easy, I got here at about 7am, walked straight up here and jumped on the busand off we went,” said Todd Lloyd, who lives in Glendale and works in Hunter Street.

Newcastle City Council interim CEO Jeremy Bath said the level of patronage on day one was“a great result, given the inclement weather”.

Mr Bath said council would analyse passenger numbers in the coming weeks to determine whether it needed to“tinker with” theservice’s start and finish times.

“Based on the positive feedback from commuters and the continuing increase in registrations, we expect to see patronage rise every day this week,” he said.

“Many people mentioned they were going to share their positive park and ride experience with their family, friends and colleagues.

“One of the interesting lessons learnt today was the number of people who were dropped off at the stadium and made use of the free bus ride.

“Council’s view on this is the more people the better using public transport to access the CBD.”

Council, along with Newcastle Transport, Transport for NSW, Hunter Development Corporation, Venues NSW and Revitalising Newcastle, announced the new initiative last week.

It is expected to take up to 350 vehicles out of the CBD daily and save motorists as much as $1400 a year in parking fees.

Commuters mustfirst register for a free permit either online calling council on4974 2000.

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Free trial in bid to ease pressure on CBDKeolis Downer promises a bus every 15 minutes on main routesCouncil eyes more spaces after incredible responsePark and ride to help counter city gridlock

WestConnex chief says reintroduction of M4 toll is ‘exciting’

Traffic on the M4 after toll commenced , Homebush. Pic Nick Moir 15 aug 2017The chief executive of the company building the $16.8 billion WestConnex motorway has described the reintroduction of tolls on the widened M4 as “exciting” while ridiculing concerns about the health impact of exhaust ventilation stacks.
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At a conference on Monday, Dennis Cliche also said 17 million toll “transactions” had taken place with about 150,000 vehicles using the 7.5km widened section of the M4 on weekdays.

Mr Cliche confirmed that since the reintroduction of tolls in August there had been a 25 per cent drop in traffic using the widened section of the M4 – stage one of the three stage, 33km WestConnex – pushing more cars onto congested Parramatta Road.

But in his speech to the Infrastructure Partnerships conference, he said the result is “a really great story” because the drop off is far less than the 40 per cent forecast.

As well, motorists were saving up to 18 minutes between Burwood and Pendle Hill, he said.

The decision to reintroduce a toll on the widened section of the M4 to prove up traffic numbers and help pay for WestConnex has been controversial, with the state opposition describing it as “a tax on western Sydney motorists”.

The new distance-based tolls between Parramatta and Homebush range from $1.77 to $4.56 each way for cars and motorbikes and $5.30 to $13.67 for trucks and other heavy vehicles.

But Mr Cliche – who earns a base salary of $717,000 a year plus bonuses – said the members of the Sydney Motorway Corporation are “now all very excited because previously we were just spending money”.

“And it’s a very strange position to be in as a chief executive when you have no revenue,” he said.

“So the day we turned on the tap and started collecting tolls was very exciting for us.”

Bringing up a slide of a Parramatta Road exhaust ventilation stack under construction, Mr Cliche joked it was “where all those nasty exhaust gases come up, you know, and kill the community and all the rest of it”.

He insisted that “I would have no problem living underneath one”.

“We do a huge amount of modelling and air studies and I won’t quote, but the submission from the chief scientist of NSW was extremely complimentary on the [Environmental Impact Statement] work we had done on our ventilation facilities,” he said.

Mr Cliche also said reporting of how his corporation had treated the residents of the inner west suburb of St Peters, the site of a major interchange, “gets me a little bit irate”.

He pointed out that Sydney Motorway Corporation had cleaned up a major landfill site in the area.

The NSW government is selling a 51 per cent stake in the Sydney Motorway Corporation to the private sector, with the winning tenderer expected to be announced in June next year.

$10,000 bet on fairytale horse that could cost a bookie $500,000

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British hopes of plundering a first Melbourne Cup continue to grow with Marmelo poised to start a commanding favourite as the race’s fairytale horse Single Gaze stands to be a horror result for bookmakers after an erratic Call of the Card.

Nervous bookmakers turned away a flood of money intended to back the popular Marmelo during Monday’s event, which included a single bet of $10,000 on Single Gaze at $51, which threatens to rip more than $500,000 from CrownBet’s coffers.

Stubborn bagmen wouldn’t budge from an $8.50 quote about Marmelo on the eve of ‘s biggest betting race as punters shied away from Lloyd Williams’ Almandin making it back-to-back wins.

Marmelo’s fast-finishing sixth in the Caulfield Cup has seen him elevated to the top of betting markets with most bookmakers – and they are convinced he will start even shorter.

William Hill boss Tom Waterhouse was among the Call of the Card audience frustrated in not being able to get set on Marmelo. He had a bet to win $100,000 blocked.

Punters’ dream shot: Melbourne Cup outsider Single Gaze attracted big bets at the Call of the Card. Photo: AAP

But a frenzy of smaller bets flowed for Hugh Bowman’s mount, which is destined to be Britain’s best hope of snapping their Melbourne Cup curse.

“I’ve marked him $6 and I think he’ll run close to that,” CrownBet’s Matt Tripp said.

“You go back a couple of years and Fame Game’s run in the Caulfield Cup was almost identical. It ran $5.50, I think this is a weaker race and I just can’t see why it won’t run much shorter than the $8 or $8.50 quote.

“I just thought in his Caulfield Cup run he was on the wrong leg the whole way and every time he balanced up and got a bit of momentum he improved in the run. He kept wanting to spit the bit out and I don’t think Caulfield suited him.

“A big track at Flemington drawn to possie up seventh or eighth as the race tempo builds he’s going to be right in the finish.”

Tripp did his best to inspire a subdued Crown auditorium, holding the initial call on more than half of the Cup field.

It is believed he held close to twice the sum of the other three bookmakers fielding at the function, Robbie Waterhouse, Mark Sampieri and Warren Woodcock.

Tom Waterhouse backed Wall Of Fire ($14-$13) to win $200,000 with the Melbourne Storm part-owner Tripp and also stands to win $100,000 if Big Duke or Libran are successful.

The 2015 runner-up Max Dynamite ($16 to $15), one of three runners in the race for Irish training genius Willie Mullins, was one of the most popular runners at the Call of the Card alongside Humidor ($11 to $10) and Johannes Vermeer ($11).

One punter had a bet to win $1 million on Cox Plate runner-up Humidor with Woodcock shaved back to a potential collect of $250,000, while Waterhouse’s father Rob stands to lose a quarter of a million if Single Gaze ($51 to $41), trained by Canberra’s Nick Olive, can win.

He initially refused the punter to win $1 million on the mare, agreeing to part with $250,000 if Single Gaze helps Kathy O’Hara be the second female jockey to win the race in the last three years.

“I hope it gets beaten,” Rob Waterhouse said. “I didn’t like it. I make lots of mistakes, but I marked it 100s. I thought Wall Of Fire has got a great chance. On form Humidor looks to have a really good chance in the race, I just don’t think it will be suited by the 3200 [metres].”

Tom Waterhouse was adamant Marmelo and Wall Of Fire, both of who include Melbourne entrepreneur Aziz Kheir in the ownership, were the leading chances.

“You saw here all the tough money wanted to be on [Marmelo] and the bookies didn’t want to lay it,” he said. “I think the bookies were keen to lay Almandin and I like Gai’s horse [Cismontane] down the bottom as a roughie.

“I think it’s a great Cup to bet in and I think we have to lay them all and let the punters work it out.”

Sportsbet bucked the Marmelo ($8) trend until late on Monday night, finally posting him favourite over defending champion Almandin ($9).

“We’ve taken so much money on Marmelo that we simply had to make him the new favourite,” Sportsbet’s Christian Jantzen said.

“More than twice as much money has been placed on Marmelo compared to Almandin, who’s the second most popular in the eyes of the punters.

“We’re scared stiff of Almandin, which will be a terrible result for us. We think he’s still the horse to beat despite the last start disappointment and the rise in weight from last year.

“Punters are also latching on to the Single Gaze fairytale which is fine by us and we’re happy to lay her.”