Man firing into Toronto cafes shoots 14 people, killing 1

TORONTO (AP) — A man firing a handgun into restaurants and cafes as he walked along a Toronto street shot 14 people, killing one of them, before dying after an exchange of gunfire with police late Sunday, police said.

Police Chief Mark Saunders did not rule out terrorism as a motive in the shooting in the city’s Greektown neighborhood.

“Other than the shooter we have a young lady that is deceased,” the police chief said.

Saunders also said a girl aged 8 or 9 was in critical condition.

A video from one witness shows a man dressed in black clothes and a black hat walking quickly and firing three shots from the sidewalk into at least one shop or restaurant. Toronto’s Greektown is a lively residential area with crowded Greek restaurants and cafes.

The condition of the other victims was not known yet, police spokesman Mark Pugash said.

Witnesses heard many shots and described the suspect walking past restaurants and cafes and patios on both sides of the street and firing into them.

John Tulloch said he and his brother had just gotten out of their car when he heard about 20 to 30 gunshots.

“We just ran. We saw people starting to run so we just ran,” he said.

An army of police, paramedics and other first responders soon descended on the scene, while area residents, some in their pajamas, emerged from their homes to see what was happening.

Toronto Councillor Paula Fletcher told CP24 she heard that the gunman was emotionally disturbed.

“It’s not gang related. It looks like someone who is very disturbed,” Fletcher said.

Councillor Mary Fragedakis also said she heard the gunman was disturbed.

Fletcher said for this to happen in an area where families gather for dinner is a tragedy.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada’s largest city.

“We were so use to living in a city where these things didn’t happen,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said. “But there are things that happen nowadays and they are just unspeakable.”

This past weekend Toronto police deployed dozens of additional officers to deal with a recent spike in gun violence in the city. Tory said the city has a gun problem.

“Guns are too readily available to too many people,” Tory said.

Police urged people to come forward with video or witness testimony.

The mass shooting comes a few months after a driver of a van plowed into pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 14. Authorities have not disclosed a motive. But they have said the arrested driver, Alek Minassian, posted a message on social media referencing a misogynistic online community before the attack.

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This story has been corrected to show that Saunders said the wounded girl was 8 or 9, not that she was 9.

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Australian love-scam victim wins her appeal in Cambodia

An Australian woman serving a 23-year prison sentence in Cambodia has achieved a stunning legal victory after her 2014 drug smuggling conviction was quashed by Cambodia’s Supreme Court.

The woman, 46-year-old Yoshe Ann Taylor, a kindergarten teacher and mother of two from Queensland, fell victim to an internet scam, revealed by Fairfax Media in 2016 to have been run by an international drug smuggling syndicate.

Australian woman Yoshe Ann Taylor, imprisoned in Cambodia for her role in attempting to smuggle 2.2kg of heroin to Australia in 2013.

Australian woman Yoshe Ann Taylor, imprisoned in Cambodia for her role in attempting to smuggle 2.2kg of heroin to Australia in 2013.

Photo: Supplied

Ms Taylor, who was lured to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on the promise of starting a business in the arts and crafts, was arrested at the airport in September 2013 after being caught trying to leave the Cambodia with two kilograms of heroin concealed in her luggage.

The Cambodia Supreme Court’s decision means that her case will now be remitted to the Cambodian Court of Appeal to be redetermined.

Unbeknown to Cambodian authorities at the time of Taylor’s 2014 trial, or her unsuccessful appeal in 2016, her co-accused, Nigerian national, Nwoko Precious Chineme, who went by the online pseudonym “Precious Max”, had duped several other Australian nationals caught entering Australia with drugs after making similar trips Cambodia.

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In Pakistan’s elections, minorities face daunting challenge

As Pakistan heads into parliamentary elections this week, the country’s minorities are looking for better representation and a voice that will speak up for them in what rights groups warn is in an increasingly intolerant atmosphere in this Muslim-majority nation.

It’s an uphill struggle for Pakistani Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis and others. Minority religions make up just 4 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people; Shiites account for about 15 to 20 percent of the Muslim population.

The country’s complicated electoral system allots minorities and women a small number of “reserved” seats, based on their parties’ gains at the polls.

But for the rest of the seats — both in the 342-seat National Assembly, the law-making lower house of parliament, and the four provincial legislatures — members of minority groups are increasingly choosing to run as independent candidates, without affiliation to any political party.

The minorities’ major concern ahead of Wednesday’s vote has been the plethora of radical religious and sectarian groups that have resurrected themselves under new names and fielded candidates for the polls — including Sunni extremists who promise to rid Pakistan of Shiite Muslims.

Other radical parties have campaigned on promises to enforce Pakistan’s controversial law on blasphemy, which carries the death penalty and which has allowed for the prosecution of anyone deemed to offend Islam. Frenzied mobs have killed at the mere suggestion that an act of blasphemy was committed.

Pakistan “is becoming more and more intolerant of minority rights,” said rights activist I.A. Rehman, a founding member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

He is urging the government to “make sufficient effort to ensure minorities can cast their votes.”

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THE CHRISTIANS

Garbage is piled by the roadside and cinderblock homes have flimsy curtains instead of doors in Rimshah, a squatters’ settlement on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Years ago, scores of Christian families settled here when a mob of Muslim men, enraged over an alleged act of blasphemy by an 11-year-old Christian girl, tried to kill her and drove them out of their homes.

They named the slum Rimshah, for the 11-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome who was eventually cleared of charges of tearing up pages of an Islamic religious book.

Michael Rose, an outspoken advocate of the Christian community, which numbers about 3 million in Pakistan, campaigns in Rimshah for Asif Shahzada, an independent Christian candidate.

Rose says that independent minority candidates are the best hope of getting Christian grievances heard. Minority representatives chosen on the “reserved” seat system tow the party line and rarely raise their community’s legitimate concerns, he says.

“I jumped into this race only for my community,” says Shahzada, looking around the slum. “We have so many problems, no education, no health care, no jobs. We don’t even have enough water.”

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THE SIKHS

Radesh Singh is one of about 200,000 Sikhs living in Pakistan, mostly in the conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province along the border with Afghanistan. The Sikhs are easily identifiable because of their tightly wound and often colorful turbans, and because they share the surname Singh.

Singh said attacks by the Taliban and lately also the Islamic State group have forced thousands to leave the province, including his son. The radicals, Singh says, are killing both fellow Muslims and members of minority groups.

He is campaigning as an independent candidate in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and refuses to leave.

“I wanted to show that a poor man can fight, run his own campaign and compete against these rich candidates … who take the poor people’s votes but then give them nothing in return,” said Singh.

On a street lined with small shops in his neighborhood, he stops at each store, run by his Muslim neighbors, and is greeted with a smile. An elderly neighbor, Allah Mir, gave Singh a gentle hug, shook his hand and promised him his vote.

“I don’t care about his religion,” Mir said. “I care only that he is a good man.”

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THE HINDUS

Hindus make up Pakistan’s second-largest minority, with more than 2 million, living mainly in southern Sindh province where they are among the poorest.

Many live as indentured slaves on the estates of some of Pakistan’s largest landowners, working on the farms.

The Hindus also suffer widespread discrimination because of the decades-old rivalry between Pakistan and neighboring India, a majority Hindu nation.

Whenever relations between the two countries deteriorate, the treatment of Pakistani Hindus gets worse. Rights activist also routinely raise concerns about forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam.

Veeru Kohli was born a slave but fled bondage, walking for three days until she found offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to help her. She then returned to the landowner to recover her children and free eight other families.

Kohli is now running as an independent candidate.

If she wins, she will become the second Hindu woman in parliament in Pakistan. In March, Krishna Kumari, a member of Pakistan People’s Party, was elected to the 104-seat Senate, the upper house of parliament — becoming the first Hindu woman elected, albeit in a vote by parliament members and not a popular election.

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THE SHIITES

Though Muslim, Pakistan’s Shiites have suffered enormous losses, with hundreds slaughtered at the hands of radical Sunni Muslims who consider Shiites heretics and believe it is their religious duty to kill them.

However, unlike other minorities, Shiites in Pakistan are not allocated any special seats in parliament and can run either on their party’s ticket or as independents.

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THE AHMADIS

Ahmadis revere the 19th century founder of their Muslim sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a messiah, challenging the basic tenet of Islam that Mohammad is the final prophet.

Since Pakistan declared them non-Muslims in 1974, their numbers are difficult to gauge; they are believed to number several hundred thousand. Hundreds have been killed by zealots and their places of worship have been targeted; thousands more have fled Pakistan.

Saleem Uddin, a spokesman for the community, says Ahmadis plan to boycott Wednesday’s elections after being put on a separate list of registered voters.

“It means we are not the same as other Pakistanis,” said Uddin. “Why?”

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Gunman dead after shooting 14, killing one, in Toronto: Canadian police

TORONTO (Reuters) – Fourteen people, including a young girl, were shot near downtown Toronto, police in Canada’s biggest city said on Sunday, with one person killed and the gunman also dead.

People leave an area taped off by the police near the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto, Canada, July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The young girl was in a critical condition, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said.

Police are seen near the scene of a mass shooting in Toronto, Canada, July 22, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

“We are looking at all possible motives… and not closing any doors,” Saunders told reporters at the site of the shooting.

Paramedics, firefighters and police converged on the shooting in Toronto’s east end, which has many popular restaurants, cafes and shops.

Police said the gunman had used a handgun. Earlier reports said nine people had been shot.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Reports of gunfire in the city’s Greektown neighborhood began at 10 p.m. local time (0200 GMT Monday), CityNews.com said.

Witnesses said they heard 25 gunshots, the news website reported.

Toronto is grappling with a sharp rise in gun violence this year. Deaths from gun violence in the city jumped 53 percent to 26 so far in 2018 from the same period last year, police data last week showed, with the number of shootings rising 13 percent.

Toronto deployed about 200 police officers from July 20 in response to the recent spate in shootings, which city officials have blamed on gang violence.

Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters that the city has a gun problem and guns were too readily available to too many people.

Reporting by Denny Thomas and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Tait

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Prominent S Korea politician found dead in possible suicide

A prominent liberal South Korean lawmaker embroiled in a corruption scandal was found dead on Monday, police said, in what appeared to be one of the country’s highest-profile suicides in recent years.

Three-term lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan of the small opposition Justice Party was found dead near a Seoul apartment building on Monday morning. Paramedics tried to resuscitate him before he was pronounced dead, police said.

South Korean media including Yonhap news agency reported Roh leapt to his death from the building after leaving a suicide note saying he feels sorry to his family.

Police said they couldn’t immediately confirm the report.

Roh faced an investigation over an allegation that he received money from an associate of an influential blogger jailed over an online opinion-rigging scandal. The allegation tarnished Roh’s clean and reform-minded image.

The independent counsel investigating the rigging scandal, Huh Ik-bum, told a televised briefing that he feels distressed with the “tragic news” of Roh’s death. Huh said he personally “respects” Roh and will pray for his soul.

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among developed countries. A string of business executives, K-pop stars and other celebrities have killed themselves.

If Roh’s death is determined as a suicide, he would be the highest-profile politician who killed himself or herself since former President Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his death in 2009 amid a corruption scandal involving his family.

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Complicity risk dogs congressional Republicans after Helsiniki

That battle will be put to the test again this week, when senators have their first chance to grill Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the meeting and lawmakers begin to formally weigh enacting additional sanctions on Russia.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Photo: AP

All this is playing out against the backdrop of midterm elections, where lawmakers will face Republican voters who are still wildly enthusiastic about Trump and have, in many cases, adopted his scepticism about the Russian interference. Attacks by Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill and Fox News against those investigating him have not only fired up the president’s base but, polls show, substantially eroded trust in the impartiality of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the FBI itself.

Democrats view Russia’s election interference as nothing short of an existential threat to US democracy, and have repeatedly pushed Republican leaders to take a tougher line toward Trump and stop the attacks on investigators.

“The road to the Helsinki disaster was paved by Republican inaction every time Trump overstepped,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader. “Their silence, their acquiescence to things they know are wrong have given Trump the extra jolt he needed.”

Even before Trump was elected, Democrats and Republicans grappled with how to respond as Russians were hacking and leaking Democratic emails, flooding social media with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton messages, and even organising pro-Trump rallies. In September 2016, President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to the Oval Office to ask them to issue a strongly-worded bipartisan letter to state and local officials raising alarms about the Russian threat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Photo: AP

Democrats say Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, dragged his feet and watered down the letter’s language. Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader, said McConnell “set a tone of weakness and complicity,” while Denis R. McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, accused McConnell of “a stunning lack of urgency.”

Aides to McConnell strongly disputed that account and said Democrats were shifting blame for the Obama administration’s failure to prevent the interference. “They made a lot of mistakes; they should not compound them now by trying to shift their failures onto others,” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s deputy chief of staff.

After the election, as the full scope of the Russian campaign was coming into focus, Republican leaders empowered their intelligence committees to begin full-scale investigations into their new president and his campaign, over Trump’s objections.

Six months later, Republicans again angered the White House by passing, nearly unanimously, legislation imposing tough new sanctions on Russia as punishment for their interference. Wary of Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia, the lawmakers limited his authority to lift them and dared him to issue a veto. Republicans say they also appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars in new grants to states for election security and issued detailed reports on hardening election security.

And a smaller group of senators have chided Trump for second-guessing his intelligence agencies and attacking law enforcement agencies.

“I’ve said it over and over again, I’ve said it to the president,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If we have problems, let’s fix them, but when you start trying to cause Americans purposefully to distrust the Department of Justice or the FBI, you’re doing tremendous damage to our nation.”

But in the House, Trump loyalists have taken the opposite tack. They have wielded the considerable oversight powers of Congress to initiate a damaging investigation of the Russia investigators, publicly sowing doubts about the conclusions of US intelligence agencies and the work of the FBI and the Justice Department. Often drowning out the more temperate voices in their party, they have provided a forceful lift to Trump’s frontal assault on the special counsel investigation and potentially emboldened him on the world stage.

Just as the House Intelligence Committee began the chamber’s Russia investigation, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, moved immediately to undercut the inquiry with a bizarre late-night dash to the White House. There, he received classified intelligence that, he suggested, at least partly justified Trump’s unsupported claim that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

The unusual episode quickly became the subject of an ethics investigation in the House, and Nunes temporarily removed himself from his committee’s Russia inquiry. Rather than take a back seat, he began collecting documents and evidence that Republican allies of Trump have used against the Mueller investigation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, has not participated in those attacks and has defended Mueller. But he has also given Nunes and his allies wide latitude, and has defended him. “He’s focusing on keeping our country safe, focused on national security,” Ryan told reporters in February, rejecting demands from Democrats that Nunes be stripped of his chairmanship.

Along the way, Trump and his allies have benefited from the missteps by the FBI and the Justice Department. After the department released damning anti-Trump texts from two top FBI officials, congressional Republicans put them center stage — especially in the conservative news media — by accusing them of cooking up a politically-motivated investigation of the president.

“The public trust in this whole thing is gone,” Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, said in December, demanding that the Mueller investigation be called off.

The attacks have not let up. There were charges that the FBI and Justice Department abused their power to spy on a former Trump campaign aide; charges by Trump and some Republicans that the FBI had planted spies inside the Trump campaign itself (“Spygate,” the president called it); repeated threats to impeach Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry, who recently announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers.

And when the House Intelligence Committee closed its Russia investigation, declaring no evidence of collusion, it raised doubts about the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Putin had wanted Trump to win, before backtracking. (In Helsinki last week, Putin confirmed that he had indeed wanted Trump to win. “Yes, I did. Yes, I did,” he told reporters.)

“What’s been allowed to happen on the House Intelligence Committee is shameful, disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” said Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to Senator John McCain.

McConnell and Ryan have repeatedly said Mueller should be allowed to finish his job.

But even now, the threats continue. On the same day that Rosenstein announced the last round of special counsel indictments, Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was spotted on the House floor carrying the deputy attorney general’s impeachment papers.

A day earlier, House Republicans convened a raucous hearing featuring Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents who sent the anti-Trump texts, as the sole witness. Over nearly 10 hours and countless shouting matches, they grilled Stzrok on everything from the early days of the Russia investigation he helped start to his love life, prompting him at one point to declare that the hearing was “another victory notch in Putin’s belt.”

Meadows and others say they are not out to protect Trump but to conduct legitimate oversight. Congress has a right to know, they say, particularly if investigators have made mistakes. They insist they take no issue with examining Russia’s cybercampaign, but view the investigation into whether the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia as a partisan attack on Trump.

“I think he sees it as a push to delegitimize his presidency, and I would not necessarily disagree,” Meadows said. “There are a lot of people who are using this narrative to delegitimise the election results from November.”

The Helsinki meeting, where Trump stood shoulder to shoulder with Putin and signaled he accepted the Russian president’s denials, might have been a turning point for the party. But in the days that have followed, it seems only to have reinforced the competing positions.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” McCain said in the wake of the summit.

But a day later, at a regular forum hosted by the Freedom Caucus, lawmakers close to Trump declared the meeting a success, pinning blame not on his performance but on the reporters who had the audacity to ask the two leaders about the attacks.

“They ask about election collusion or election meddling,” Representative Andy Harris, a Republican said. “That’s the problem.”

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Mexican president-elect vows improvements to deter migration

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday released a seven-page letter he sent to U.S. President Donald Trump detailing how he plans to improve Mexico’s economy and security when he takes office in December so that Mexicans do not feel the need to migrate.

“There will be many changes,” he promised in the letter. “And in this new atmosphere of progress with well-being, I’m sure we can reach agreements to confront together the migration phenomenon as well as the problem of border insecurity.”

Lopez Obrador also suggested the two countries draft a development plan backed by public funds and invite Central American countries to join, with the aim of making it “economically unnecessary” for Central Americans to migrate.

Marcelo Ebrard, who is slated to become Mexico’s foreign minister, read the letter aloud to reporters gathered at Lopez Obrador’s political party headquarters. Ebrard said Trump had received the letter.

The incoming Mexican president plans to cut government salaries, perks and jobs. Savings from those cuts, he says, will be directed toward social programs and infrastructure. He also plans to reduce taxes for the private sector in the hopes of spurring investment and job creation.

Lopez Obrador said Sunday that some of his future collaborators in government posts have offered to work for free during his six-year term. Several of his proposed Cabinet members are independently wealthy.

“It’s an enormous privilege to participate in a process of transformation. There’s no price on this,” the president-elect said.

He said he will publish salaries of government employees, from high-ranking ministers to police officers. He also said his political party, Morena, will turn down the extra public financing it is supposed to receive next year because it won additional seats in Congress.

Lopez Obrador said Morena could collect up to 1.4 billion pesos ($73.5 million) and more than double what it was allocated for 2018. Mexican electoral authorities assigned the party 650 million pesos for this year.

“That’s too much in an atmosphere of austerity,” Lopez Obrador said.

He said he doesn’t want Morena to turn into an economic power with career politicians who forget that their mission is to serve the people.

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Macron’s bodyguard under investigation over May Day beatings

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s top bodyguard was placed under investigation on Sunday after he was identified in an amateur video beating a protester on May Day in a case that has sparked a political storm.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron walks ahead of his aide Alexandre Benalla at the end of the Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

Alexandre Benalla, long a fixture at Macron’s side, had been taken into custody for police questioning on Friday.

The prosecutor’s office said on Sunday evening he would now be investigated over group violence, interference in public service and illegal wearing of a police badge along with two other felonies.

Being the target of an investigation in France does not necessarily lead to a trial.

Macron fired Benalla, the head of his personal security detail, on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner.

Le Monde newspaper released a video last week showing Benalla at the May 1 protests in Paris wearing a riot helmet and police tags while off duty.

In the footage, he can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.

Another man who appears with Benalla was also placed under investigation on Sunday along with three other police officers who are suspected of having passed on official video surveillance material earlier this week to Benalla to help him prepare his defense.

Benalla had initially been suspended for 15 days and allowed to return to work. Under pressure, the French presidency said on Friday it had decided to begin dismissal procedures.

Critics of Macron have called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch.

Benalla has not commented publicly on the allegations against him.

French media reported that Benalla, 26, had been granted perks by the presidency such as an apartment in a high-class Paris area and a chauffeur-driven car. He had also been given the highest level of security clearance to the lower house of parliament.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb is to be questioned by members of the national assembly on Monday and by the Senate on Tuesday.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont, Sophie Louet; Editing by Adrian Croft

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US commander in Middle East hesitant to cooperate with Russians in Syria on refugees

The commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East has expressed reservations about America possibly working with Russia in Syria to help Syrian refugees return to their war-torn nation, a proposal that emerged from last week’s summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

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Given Russia’s continuing support for the Assad regime, General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, says he would prefer to see confidence-building measures from Russia before the U.S. possibly entered into such an arrangement.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, FILE
President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.

“I would want to make sure that this isn’t something that we stepped into lightly,” Votel told reporters from ABC News and the Wall Street Journal, who are accompanying him on a trip to the region.

The idea of a joint U.S.-Russian military effort to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees had emerged as one of the topics discussed by presidents Trump and Putin during their private one-on-one meeting in Helsinki last week.

Since Syria erupted into civil war in 2011 almost 1.7 million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries and Europe.

PHOTO: A Syrian national flag with the picture of the Syrian President Bashar Assad hangs at an Army check point, in the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, Syria, July 15, 2018. Hassan Ammar/AP
A Syrian national flag with the picture of the Syrian President Bashar Assad hangs at an Army check point, in the town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region, Syria, July 15, 2018.

Votel stressed he has not received any guidance from the White House about the Helsinki talks and had only seen press reports about the proposed joint plan to return Syrian refugees.

“You don’t just go do things,” Votel stressed. “I have not asked for that. I am not recommending that. And that would be a pretty big step at this point.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council who asked not to be identified said there were no agreements made except that both governments would continue discussions.

Cooperation between the two militaries to help return the Syrian refugees is not possible under current law. Since 2014, the U.S. military has been prohibited from cooperating with their Russian counterparts in any capacity after Congress passed legislation prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

However, both militaries engage in daily contact over a hotline for the “deconfliction” of the crowded airspace over Syria where American and Russian military aircraft operate.

PHOTO: Russian military service personnel watch as supplies are loaded onto an airplane in France, July 20, 2018. France and Russia are jointly delivering humanitarian aid to the former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta.
Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
Russian military service personnel watch as supplies are loaded onto an airplane in France, July 20, 2018. France and Russia are jointly delivering humanitarian aid to the former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

“I think if we went beyond that, I think there would have to be some level of trust, confidence-building, that would need to take place before we would feel confident that we were moving in the right direction,” Votel said. “I think it’s a different step when you go to coordination or synchronization or some level of mutual support or alliance between each other.”

Votel cited Russia’s continuing support for the Assad regime in Syria following chemical attacks on civilians and false claims of Russian troop reductions as reasons to be hesitant about possible future cooperation.

“I’ve watched some of the things that Russia has done,” said Votel. “It does give me some pause here.”

“These are not things that give me great confidence that just by stepping over into the next level of coordination that things are going to be fine,” he added.

“It’s Russia. Let’s not forget that,” he continued. “So there would have to be a lot, I think, beyond just people saying we can do it. That would help me build confidence we can do it. I wouldn’t want to step right in.”

Few details have emerged from U.S. officials about what the two presidents discussed in their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki. Instead, Russian officials have made vague references to “verbal agreements” made by the two leaders to deal with hot-button issues around the world, including Syria.

But on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the presidents discussed the return of refugees to Syria.

PHOTO: A general view of refugee tents erected on the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border, July 17, 2018.Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
A general view of refugee tents erected on the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border, July 17, 2018.

“There was a discussion between President Trump and President Putin about the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back,” Pompeo told reporters following a visit to the United Nations in New York. “The president shared with me the conversations that they’d had. It is important to the world that at the right time, through a voluntary mechanism, these refugees are able to return to their country.”

Neither Defense Secretary James Mattis nor General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have reacted publically to the proposal.

For now, the deconfliction contacts are a “professional military exchange and we can handle that,” said Votel.

“I am not suggesting we should be doing anything more with Russia than we’re doing right now,” he added. “I’ve not asked for that. I don’t see anything that we ought to be doing militarily right now beyond what we are currently doing.”

“Furthermore, moving beyond deconfliction to actual cooperation between the two militaries, even for a humanitarian mission, would require a change in the legal prohibition as well as new authorities,” Votel said.

ABC News’ Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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Trump claims his campaign was spied on illegally and FBI misled courts

In the four decades that FISA has been in effect, it’s not clear that any application for surveillance has ever been released.

Materials related to FISA operations and legal process are among the most highly classified and closely guarded in the government.

Visible portions of the 412 pages, mostly heavily redacted, show the FBI telling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government” to undermine the election.

The agency also told the court that “the FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government”.

The secretive court signed off on surveilling Page.

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Page, who left the Trump campaign in September 2016, has denied being an agent of the Russian government and has not been charged with any crime.

In his first public response to the documents’ release, Page said on Sunday that law enforcement officials had fabricated information to strengthen their bid to monitor his communications.

He said claims that he spoke with Russian nationals about incriminating information about Hillary Clinton were “totally false” and e denied he ever discussed lifting Western sanctions with Igor Sachin, a high-ranking Russian official.

“I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” Page said on CNN’s State of the Union. He said allegations he was a Russian agent or an informal adviser to the Kremlin are “ridiculous” and a “complete joke.”

“It’s really spin,” he said. “I sat in on some meetings. To call me an adviser is way over the top. This is really nothing.”

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the documents about Page confirmed the Department of Justice and FBI misled the courts.

In his tweets, Trump also took aim at defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), her party’s governing body.

“Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” he said.

“Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”

Referring to the Page documents, he said: “As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!”

The documents released include applications and renewal warrants filed in 2017 after Trump took office.

They said: “The FBI believes that the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with [Trump’s campaign].”

And: “[Page] has established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”

And further: “The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”

Last week, a federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed US accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the presidential election to help Trump.

Reuters, The Washington Post, AP

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