LISTEN: Initial search for AirAsia flight turns up empty; Afghan war officially ends (UCNN Weekend Report #94)

1. According to CNN, an AirAsia passenger jet carrying 162 people lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control early Sunday, gripping Southeast Asia with a second missing plane crisis in less than a year. The search operation for the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 has been halted for the night, but big ships won’t return to shore and will leave their searchlights on, according to the Indonesian Transportation Ministry. Before communication was lost, one of the pilots asked to fly at a higher altitude because of bad weather. The aircraft, flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, went missing as it flew at 38,000 feet over the Java Sea between the islands of Belitung and Borneo — a heavily traveled shipping channel with shallow waters.

2. According to the AP, the war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from U.S.-led combat troops to the country’s own security forces. In front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission, the green-and-white flag of the International Security Assistance Force was ceremonially rolled up and sheathed, and the flag of the new international mission called Resolute Support was hoisted. U.S. Gen. John Campbell, commander of ISAF, commemorated the 3,500 international soldiers killed on Afghan battlefields and praised the country’s army for giving him confidence that they are able to take on the fight alone.

3. According to The Week, Malaysian authorities have evacuated more than 100,000 people from five northern states in the southeast Asian country. While Malaysia faces near-annual flooding as a result of the yearly Northeast Monsoon, this year’s rains have been especially destructive, and the floodwater levels have made it difficult for officials to relocate residents. Meanwhile, some Malaysians expressed anger toward Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was photographed earlier this week golfing with U.S. President Barack Obama in Hawaii. Najib defended his actions, saying that the trip had been planned for some time, and noting that he returned when the flooding “became more serious.”

4. According to the AP, New York City’s police commissioner says it was “very inappropriate” for officers to turn their backs on the mayor in a sign of disrespect as he spoke at an officer’s funeral. Commissioner William Bratton appeared Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” and defended Mayor Bill de Blasio. He says de Blasio is “totally supportive” of officers. On Saturday, hundreds of police officers standing outside the church where Officer Rafael Ramos’ funeral was held turned their backs as de Blasio eulogized him. Ramos and his partner were shot and killed a week ago in a brazen daylight attack on their patrol car. The mayor has been portrayed by some critics as too supportive of protesters who have been criticizing police.

5. According to the LA Times, the Syrian government said Saturday that it would be willing to participate in a Russia-sponsored conference to end its almost four-year-long civil war. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said there had been “ongoing discussions” to plan a meeting that would be a prelude to a peace conference in Moscow. It also vowed to continue to combat terrorism “over every part of Syrian soil.” The Syrian government regards the rebellion against its rule as terrorism, and routinely uses that term when discussing the anti-government forces. Russia has been a staunch ally of the government of President Bashar Assad, and is deeply distrusted by his foes, limiting the odds of success of any such conference.

6. According to CNN, a new CNN/ORC poll found that Jeb Bush is the clear Republican presidential frontrunner, surging to the front of the potential GOP pack following his announcement that he’s “actively exploring” a bid. He takes nearly one-quarter — 23% — of Republicans surveyed in the new nationwide poll, putting him 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tallied 13%. Physician Ben Carson comes in third, with 7% support, and Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are both tied for fourth with 6%.

7. According to the AP, a fire erupted on a ferry carrying 478 people from Greece to Italy on Sunday, leaving one person dead and trapping hundreds on top decks as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered evacuation. The Italian Navy said that the victim and an injured person were transported by helicopter to the southern Italian city of Brindisi on Sunday evening. Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the crippled ferry, battered by 90 kilometer per hour (55 mph) winds that pushed it toward the Albanian coast. Nearby merchant ships lined up to form a barrier to protect the ferry from towering waves and facilitate rescue. As darkness fell, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said rescue operations would continue throughout the night.

8. According to the AP, a senior commander in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard has been killed during a battle against the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq.
A statement posted on the Guard’s website said Brig. Gen. Hamid Taqavi was “martyred while performing his advisory mission to confront ISIS terrorists in Samarra.”
Shiite Iran says it has sent military advisers to assist Syria and Iraq in battling Sunni-led rebels and extremist groups, but has denied sending any combat forces to either country. The Guard said Taqavi was assisting Iraqi troops and Shiite volunteers defending Samarra, a city north of Baghdad which is home to a major Shiite shrine. It did not provide any details on how he was killed but said a funeral procession will be held in Tehran on Monday.

9. According to the AP, The US military has slowly been stockpiling equipment and gear coming out of the war in Afghanistan in a Kuwait depot, ultimately destined for Iraq ahead of a possible spring offensive against the Islamic State. The warehouse in Kuwait’s Shuhaiba port houses over 3,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles and electronic gear. The US-led coalition is reportedly planning a major operation this spring aimed at helping Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces retake land conquered by the Islamic State in a blitz that started in June. U.S. military authorities are set to focus on wresting back Anbar province and the city of Mosul.

10. According to Reuters, a woman is critically ill in Hong Kong with the deadly H7N9 strain of bird flu, the first confirmed case in the city this winter. The woman, 68, was admitted to hospital on Thursday after falling ill on Dec. 19. The case has been classified as “imported” after it emerged the woman had recently been in the Longgang district of Shenzhen in mainland China, where the first human case of the deadly H7N9 strain was reported in March 2013. The government is trying to track down friends of the woman who may have been exposed to the virus, the source of which had not been determined.

As you go throughout this day, keep this word in mind. Matthew 11:28 says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

As always, we want you to know that God loves you. He loves you so much that the Bible says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, why don’t you get to know Him today. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose by the power of God for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening. May God bless your day.

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