GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Syria plans a resumption of peace talks “as soon as feasible” between the government and opposition, but he set no new date and expects that it will “certainly not” come within the next two to three weeks, his office said Thursday.
The lack of a solid date from Staffan de Mistura for the resumption testifies to continued violence in Syria and difficulties for U.N. efforts to ship humanitarian aid to beleaguered Syrians amid fighting between President Bashar Assad’s troops and their allies and rebel fighters. The talks were suspended last month with little to no progress.
De Mistura, in a closed-door videoconference briefing to the U.N. Security Council, “reiterated the need to see progress on the ground — particularly in reference to the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access,” his office said in a statement.
“He briefed on his intention to start the next round of talks as soon as feasible but certainly not within the next two/three weeks,” it said.
In New York, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Washington shared the “frustrations and concerns” of de Mistura, and pointed a finger at Russia — which has backed Assad’s forces.
“It is clear that violence has increased in the past month and is nearing pre-cessation of hostilities levels. It is also clear that the dangers to the cessation are largely being driven by the Syrian regime and its allies and attacks on civilians,” she said.
“Russia has special responsibility to press the Assad regime to abide by the cessation of hostility and end its bombardment and siege of innocent civilians,” Power added.
Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, de Mistura noted a “sense of urgency” for resuming the talks before Aug. 1 — a previously announced deadline for an agreement.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in the first week of June, “will not be a factor” in determining the talks’ timetable, de Mistura added.
Also Thursday, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for Syria, Jan Egeland, sounded alarm bells, saying the threat of children dying from malnutrition hangs over at least three communities besieged by government troops.
Access to besieged areas in Syria has fallen short of what was planned for May, he said. Of 1 million people, only 160,000 have been reached with aid so far, Egeland said, citing problems including government restrictions.
Two Damascus suburbs — Daraya and Moadamiyeh — and the al-Waer district of the central Syrian city of Homs, which are all besieged by government forces, are locations where the situation “is still horrendously critical,” Egeland said.
“Children are so malnourished in these places that they will be dying if we are not able to reach them,” he added.
Additionally, activists in Daraya said government forces shelled several areas in the town Thursday, attempting to advance from the south in violation of a cease-fire. There were no reports of casualties.
The International Support Group of Syria, which includes the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, had set a June 1 deadline for the resumption of humanitarian aid to areas cut off from the outside world, saying if land routes remain blocked, food aid will be air dropped.
At least 700 tons of aid has been air dropped on at least 110,000 people in areas besieged by Islamic State fighters in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
De Mistura said the World Food Program is preparing new aid drops but the government of Syria needs to cooperate more to make them happen.
Activists in besieged areas of Damascus and Homs appealed in a Facebook statement to the Syrian opposition to boycott any future talks until aid is allowed in.
Considering air drops “is a shy step by an international community promising to impose a political solution on the regime, yet incapable thus far of compelling it to allow humanitarian aid,” the statement said.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, and Michael Astor at the United Nations, contributed to this report.
The Memphis Grizzlies have their new coach: David Fizdale.
The Miami Heat assistant has accepted the Grizzlies’ offer to be their next coach, a person familiar with the negotiations said. Fizdale as accepted the offer after he met with Memphis controlling owner Robert Pera on Wednesday in California, the person said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Grizzlies have not commented on the negotiations.
Yahoo! Sports first reported Fizdale has agreed to a four-year deal.
Fizdale replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired May 7 after three seasons and three playoff appearances. This will be Fizdale’s first head coaching job. He has been with the Heat since the 2008-09 season and has been assistant head coach the past two seasons.
The Grizzlies are giving a longtime NBA assistant his first head coaching opportunity during an offseason when many other teams have hired NBA head coaching veterans such as Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, Nate McMillan in Indiana and Frank Vogel in Orlando.
They wrapped up their selection process less than three weeks after dismissing Joerger, who has since been hired as Sacramento’s head coach. Memphis also considered former Grizzlies and Nets coach Lionel Hollins, Charlotte assistant Patrick Ewing, Portland assistant Nate Tibbets, Spurs assistants James Borrego and Ettore Messina as well as Vogel.
In Miami, Fizdale helped with player development and game preparation. He also coached the Heat’s summer league teams in 2010 and 2012.
Fizdale also was an assistant coach with Golden State in 2003-04 and the Atlanta Hawks between 2004 and 2008. He started coaching as an assistant at his alma mater, the University of San Diego, in 1998 through 2002 where he was a three-year starter at point guard. Fizdale spent a season as Miami’s video intern in 1997-98.
Memphis also considered former Grizzlies and Nets coach Lionel Hollins, Charlotte assistant Patrick Ewing, Portland assistant Nate Tibbets, Spurs assistants James Borrego and Ettore Messina and Frank Vogel, who took the Orlando job last week.
The Grizzlies have the NBA’s third-longest postseason streak currently at six straight seasons behind only San Antonio (19) and Atlanta (9).
Now that they’ve found their coach, the Grizzlies can concentrate on personnel matters.
The Grizzlies are waiting for center Marc Gasol’s broken right foot to heal after his season ended in February. Point guard Mike Conley is due to become a free agent after left Achilles tendinitis ended his season in early March, and Memphis also has to decide whether to exercise the option on Lance Stephenson and if they should keep Vince Carter, JaMychal Green and Xavier Munford.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
HONOLULU (AP) — When you come upon an ocean bay that has features known as “Toilet Bowl” and “Witch’s Brew,” you may not envision a welcoming tropical oasis. But Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay, nestled inside a breeched volcanic cone on the southeastern shore of Oahu, has some of the state’s calmest waters, most pristine beaches and world-renowned snorkeling over coral reefs that teem with colorful fish.
For the second year in a row, a beach in Hawaii has been selected as the best beach in America by a Florida professor who’s made a career ranking and studying beaches around the country. This year’s top spot goes to Hanauma Bay, a picturesque nature reserve with gin-clear, turquoise water and abundant sea life.
Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, uses about 50 criteria to assess and rank beaches across the country. In recent years, he has given extra points to beaches that prohibit smoking, saying cigarette butts are not only environmentally damaging, but can ruin the experience for beach-goers. Safety and environmental management are other major factors, he said.
“It’s so safe and easy. A lot of times if you want to see those kinds of fish you’ve got to go offshore, you’ve got to go take a boat ride somewhere,” Leatherman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview last week. “I’ve never seen so many fish swimming around your feet.”
Other beaches that made the list this year, in order of ranking, are: Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida; Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Grayton Beach State Park in Florida; Coronado Beach in San Diego; Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Caladesi Island State Park in Clearwater, Florida; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Hanauma Bay became a marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. In 1990, local officials formulated a plan to better protect the area. All first-time visitors who come to the popular snorkeling spot are required to watch an informational video that teaches them about preservation and conservation, as well as the safety rules for the bay. It’s against the law to mistreat any marine life in the bay, and visitors are not allowed to touch or walk on the coral reefs.
Leatherman says Hanauma Bay was the first beach in the state to ban smoking because they found that fish were eating cigarette butts.
“We don’t really want these cigarette butts on the beaches anyway, because kids eat them, too,” Leatherman said. “They’re disgusting.”
Now all public beaches in Hawaii prohibit smoking, which helped give the edge to last year’s winner, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park on Oahu.
Now in his 25th year of ranking beaches, Leatherman has reset the list and allowed all beaches to be eligible for the top spot in 2016. Until now, any beach that won previously had been disqualified for another win, and Hanauma Bay won the honor about a decade ago, Leatherman said.
“It’s one of the most unique beaches in the world, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Safety is an important factor in Leatherman’s decision, noting that the water in Hanauma Bay is relatively shallow and calm and that you don’t have to go very far offshore to see the marine life. The park also has lifeguards posted across the beach and many signs warning visitors of the dangers that do exist.
The area is not without hazards, however. There have been 51 drowning deaths at Hanauma Bay since 1995.
Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokeswoman Shayne Enright told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday that inexperienced snorkelers often underestimate the dangers of swimming in the bay.
“It’s the lifeguard’s job to survey all these people who are face-down in the water and figure out who is in trouble and who is OK,” Enright said.
She said that there are some misconceptions that visitors have about snorkeling, especially that the activity is easy.
“If you don’t practice snorkeling, you will swallow water,” she said. “If you swallow a lot of water, you can actually paralyze your vocal cords and you’re unable to make any noise and panic sets in.”
Enright noted that while the waves rarely get very big in the bay, certain areas have very strong currents that can suck you out to sea. Areas known as “Witch’s Brew” and “Toilet Bowl” are both off limits because of the strong currents, she said. There were about 650 rescues in 2015, ranging from people who were unresponsive in the water to those who simply needed some help getting back to shore.
Only four of the 51 drowning victims at Hanauma Bay since 1995 were Hawaii residents, 28 were from other countries and the remaining 19 were from out of state, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.
Yichuan Chiang, who has lived in Honolulu for about 45 years and comes to the park three times a week to swim laps in the “Keyhole” section of the bay, says the fish, scenery and warm water are the reasons he loves the beach so much.
“I don’t think there’s any other place like this in the state,” he said as the sun rose above the horizon on an early May morning. “There are probably 200 varieties of fish in the bay, so you’re bound to run into some of them every time you’re out there.”
Hanauma Bay is closed to visitors on Tuesdays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day to allow the fish to feed without the stress of swimmers nearby. President Barack Obama spent New Year’s Day in 2015 snorkeling with his wife and daughters in the bay. They spent more than four hours at the site, which was closed to the public during their visit. The Obamas visit nearly every year.
There are only about 300 parking spaces available so guests should plan to arrive early if they want to drive to the bay. There are also tourist shuttle busses from Waikiki that operate daily.
Follow Caleb Jones on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CalebAP Find more of his work here: http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/caleb-jones
Under pressure to prevent people from sneaking onto runways and planes at major U.S. airports, authorities are cracking down — not on the intruders who slip through perimeter gates or jump over fences, but on the release of information about the breaches.
A year after an Associated Press investigation first revealed persistent problems with airports’ outer defenses, breaches remain as frequent as ever — about once every 10 days — despite some investments to fortify the nation’s airfields. As Americans wait in ever-longer security screening lines inside terminals, new documents show dozens more incidents happening outside perimeters than airports have disclosed.
At the same time, leaders at some airports and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are saying some of the 345 incidents AP found shouldn’t count as security breaches, even when intruders got deep into secure areas.
Was it a perimeter security breach in March 2015 when a woman walked past a vehicle exit gate at San Francisco International Airport and onto the tarmac, where she tried to flag down a jet for a trip home to Guatemala? No it was not, said the airport and TSA officials, who also tried to suppress information about the case.
After discussing intrusions openly at first, officials at several airports and the TSA started withholding details, arguing the release could expose vulnerabilities.
Following a two-year legal struggle with the TSA, AP has now used newly released information to create the most comprehensive public tally of perimeter security breaches. The 345 incidents took place at 31 airports that handle three-quarters of U.S. passenger travel. And that’s an undercount, because several airports refused to provide complete information.
The count shows that an intruder broke through the security surrounding one of those airports on average every 13 days from the beginning of 2004 through mid-February; starting in 2012, the average has been every 9.5 days. Many intruders scaled barbed wire-topped fences or walked past vehicle checkpoints. Others crashed cars into chain link and concrete barriers.
Airport officials point out that no case involved a known terrorist plot. Police reports suggest many trespassers were disoriented, intoxicated or delusional. Some came on skateboards and bikes, while others commandeered vehicles on the tarmac. One man got into a helicopter cockpit and was preparing to take off.
Five intruders brought knives and one a loaded gun.
Over the past year, the TSA and airports have been focused less on perimeter security than on stopping weapons that passengers or baggage handlers try to sneak onto planes.
“It doesn’t surprise me that people sometimes try to jump over fences to see what they can get away with,” said TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger. “The question is: What’s your ability to detect it and … what might you do to mitigate that happening in the future?”
Democratic U.S. Rep. William Keating of Massachusetts reacted to AP’s findings by saying the TSA must extend its focus beyond screening passengers and help airports protect their perimeters.
“It’s like saying your door is locked but your window’s wide open,” he said.
Airport officials would not discuss how much they are spending on fortifying perimeters. Some that added security in the past year saw fewer intruders, others had more.
Altogether, there were at least 39 breaches nationwide in 2015, which also was the annual average from 2012 through 2015. The low was 34 in 2013 and the high 42 in 2012, when incidents spiked after several years hovering around 20 breaches.
Aviation security consultant Jeff Price said the TSA and airports have not done enough to address gaps in perimeter security.
“The straight-up honest answer as to why it’s not being vigorously addressed? Nothing bad’s happened. Yet,” Price said.
Airport officials stress that the miles of fences, gates and guardhouses protecting their properties are secure and say many intruders are quickly caught.
Perimeters are not “a gaping vulnerability,” said Christopher Bidwell, vice president of security at the advocacy group Airports Council International-North America. When intruders are quickly caught, “their ability to do anything nefarious isn’t really there,” Bidwell said. “It’s being neutralized because they are actively being surveilled.”
But video cameras and guards don’t always spot intruders.
After eluding security and reaching parked planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, one intruder warned an airport worker in December that he “better not say” anything. Authorities never found the man, though they did arrest three others at different times in 2015, including one man who managed to drive his vehicle in with a convoy entering the airfield during a visit by Pope Francis.
The large airports with the most known incidents serve San Francisco (41), Las Vegas (30), Philadelphia (30) and Los Angeles (26). New York’s JFK ranked 10th with 12 breaches.
Pritchard reported from Los Angeles, Mendoza from San Francisco. Contributing were Dan Kempton in Phoenix, Monika Mathur and Alicia Caldwell in Washington, and Brian Barrett, Rhonda Shafner, Jennifer Farrar and Jacob Pearson in New York.
Contact Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman and Martha Mendoza at https://twitter.com/mendozamartha
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Image is everything in Dubai — even when fighting crime.
Police in this desert metropolis have built up a high-horsepower arsenal of luxury sports cars and SUVs over the years to complement their fleet of green-and-white patrol cruisers.
The high-end squad cars fit into the greater gearhead ethos of Dubai, where fire-engine red Ferraris growl at stoplights and convertible Rolls Royces prowl the boulevard ringing the world’s tallest building.
Lamborghinis also glisten through the glass of a massive new showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road, the country’s longest thoroughfare that is a dozen lanes at its widest when cutting through Dubai.
But don’t expect their Lamborghini Aventador to show up if you rear-end someone.
These police cars don’t see duty at traffic accidents or engage in high-speed pursuits, said Dubai police Lt. Saif Sultan Rashed al-Shamsi, who oversees the tourist police’s patrol section.
Instead, al-Shamsi said the cars appear for special events across Dubai — or cruise areas frequented by tourists, offering visitors a glamorous image of the Dubai police.
That also is a way for the city-state’s police force to be more accessible and welcomed by the public in a country home to a huge foreign workforce, al-Shamsi said.
“One of the funny stories we have is that a lot of tourists and people here call the Dubai police … on (the emergency number) 999 to ask about these cars,” al-Shamsi said. “They want to know which location they will be in and how they can find them and take pictures with them.”
Their photogenic qualities came out in force on a recent day as officers parked several outside the Armani Hotel in the 828-meter (2,717-foot) Burj Khalifa.
The twin scissor doors of the police’s BMW i8 swung open like wings on the $140,000 car, which flies to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The car’s license plate read 2020, a nod to Dubai hosting 2020 World Expo, a world’s fair held every five years.
Along for the ride were a two-door Bentley Continental and a Nissan GTR, its license plate the same as Dubai’s police emergency number and the plastic wrap still around its backseat.
Tim Dean, a 24-year-old tourist from St. Petersburg, Florida, used to the Ford Crown Victoria police cars on the streets of the United States, stopped to snap a quick photograph of the assembled exotic vehicles.
“You don’t see many cop cars like this,” Dean said.
That’s true, especially as the force’s vehicles also include brands like Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Ferrari.
However, one place you do see these cars is online. Videos of vehicles have millions of views and the cars themselves serve as characters in advertisements for Dubai events and in stunt clips.
In the United States, many police departments use sports cars captured in drug seizures for anti-narcotic efforts in schools. Al-Shamsi declined to discuss whether the Dubai police cars were purchases or donations.
There’s been little academic study on what effect such cars have on actual policing and Dubai’s effort may be more about projecting an image, said Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“I know that the police in Dubai also like to tout their high-end sports cars as traffic vehicles which beyond going really fast aren’t too functional for any other aspects of policing,” Kenney said.
That could be seen on a recent morning when Cpl. Mohammed Ali piloted the force’s Brabus Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, an SUV that retails for over $200,000. He eased it over a speed bump, slipped the transmission into neutral and tapped the accelerator, drawing a throaty roar from its V8 engine.
“It’s very strong,” the corporal said, a smile on his lips as he revved the engine again.
Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jon-gambrell .
HAWAII NATIONAL PARK, Hawaii (AP) — Two new lava flows have broken out at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, but neither is threatening nearby communities.
Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. In 2014 lava from one of its vents crept into the town of Pahoa, smothering part of a cemetery and burning down a home.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says the new lava flows broke out Tuesday morning from one of Kilauea’s cones.
The U.S. Geological Survey released video showing the glowing red lava as it pushed through a black landscape.
Kilauea has been erupting continuously for more than 33 years. It’s one of five volcanoes that make up Hawaii’s Big Island.