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Unidentified drone hits position at Syria-Iraq border
17 September 2019, 3:48 PM

An air strike by an unidentified drone hit a position near a Syrian government-held town at the Iraqi border overnight, a source in the regional alliance that backs Damascus and security sources in Iraq said on Tuesday.

The attack near the town of Albu Kamal struck a position held by Iran-backed Iraqi fighters of the Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Forces, and caused no casualties, the pro-Syrian government source said.

The security sources in Iraq said the attack by unmanned aircraft had hit Syrian territory in Albu Kamal, without giving further information.

Last week, Hezbollah-run media reported that Israeli planes had struck a Syrian army camp being built in the Albu Kamalarea.

Israel, alarmed by Iran’s growing regional influence, says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria.

Iran-backed forces, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, played a major role in recovering Albu Kamal from Islamic State in late 2017. The border crossing has how ever remained closed since then.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq met the Iraqi official responsible for border crossings in Baghdad last week to discuss ways to “accelerate” the reopening of the crossing, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

Apple says $14 billion EU tax order ‘defies reality and common sense’
17 September 2019, 3:06 PM

The European Union’s order for Apple to pay 13 billion euros ($14 billion) in back taxes to Ireland “defies reality and common sense,” the US company said on Tuesday, as it launched a legal challenge against the 2016 ruling.

The iPhone maker also accused the executive European Commission of using its powers to combat state aid “to retrofit changes to national law,” in effect trying to change the international tax system and in the process creating legal uncertainty for businesses.

Apple’s arguments at the General Court, Europe’s second-highest, came after the EU executive in 2016 said the tech giant benefited from illegal state aid due to two Irish tax rulings which artificially reduced its tax burden for over two decades.

The case is key to European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s crackdown on sweetheart deals for multinationals, a campaign which has also led to action against Starbucks, Fiat, Engie, Amazon and others.

Apple’s Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri led a six-strong delegation to the court where a panel of five judges will hear arguments from both sides, as well as Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland and the EFTA Surveillance Authority, over two days.

“The Commission contends that essentially all of Apple’s profits from all of its sales outside the Americas must be attributed to two branches in Ireland,” Apple’s lawyer Daniel Beard told the court.

He said the fact the iPhone, the iPad, the App Store, other Apple products and services and key intellectual property rights were developed in the United States and not in Ireland, showed the flaws in the Commission’s case.

“The branches’ activities did not involve creating, developing or managing those rights. Based on the facts of this case, the primary line defies reality and common sense,” Beard said.

“The activities of these two branches in Ireland simply could not be responsible for generating almost all of Apple’s profits outside the Americas.”

Beard dismissed criticism of the 0.005% tax rate paid by Apple’s main Irish unit in 2014, which was cited by the Commission in its decision, saying the regulator was just seeking “headlines by quoting tiny numbers”.

Paying an average global tax rate of 26%, Apple has said it is the largest taxpayer worldwide and is now paying around 20 billion euros in US taxes on the same profits that the Commission said should have been taxed in Ireland.

In its current financial quarter, Apple expects revenue of $61-64 billion and a gross margin of 37.5-38.5%.

Ireland, whose economy has benefited from investment by multinational companies attracted by low tax rates, is also challenging the Commission’s decision.

“As Ireland has already emphasized, it undermines legal certainty if state aid measures are used to retrofit changes to national law … and legal certainty is a key principle of EU law; one upon which businesses depend,” Beard said.

“Some may want to change the international tax system; but that is a tax law issue – not state aid,” he said.

Ireland said it had been the subject of entirely unjustified criticism and that the Apple tax case was due to a mismatch between the Irish and US tax systems.

“The Commission’s decision is fundamentally flawed,” Paul Gallagher, lawyer for Ireland, told the court.

Lawyers for the Commission will also make their case on Tuesday. The court is expected to rule in the coming months, with the losing party likely to appeal to the EU Court of Justice and a final judgment could take several years.

The joint Apple cases are T-778/16 Ireland v Commission and T-892/16 Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe v Commission.

Hurricane Humberto gains strength as it heads toward Bermuda
17 September 2019, 12:33 PM

Hurricane Humberto is expected to become a major hurricane with 178 kph winds by Tuesday night or early Wednesday, forecasters said, as the storm tracked towards Bermuda after strengthening early on Tuesday.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that Bermuda could be hit with tropical storm force winds and up to three inches of rain by Wednesday, and was at risk of life-threatening waves and tides.

The center of the hurricane is expected to approach the archipelago Wednesday night, the NHC said, and current tracks show it side-swiping Bermuda’s west coast Thursday.

Packing 90 150 kph winds early Tuesday morning, Humberto was 920 km west of Bermuda, picking up speed and moving at 13 kph, the forecasters said.

After gaining hurricane strength late Sunday, Humberto dropped another two inches of rain on the storm-ravaged North western Bahamas as it churned away from the US coast, the NHC said.

It is bringing life-threatening waves and tides to parts of the US east coast from Central Florida to North Carolina and dangerous conditions will remain for the next few days, forecasters said.

Explosion hits Afghan capital Kabul, six killed
17 September 2019, 11:53 AM

A blast in the centre of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul killed at least six people on Tuesday, police officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We are investigating whether it was a suicide attack or whether a magnetic bomb was attached to a motor-bike,” interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said.

In a separate incident, an explosion near an election rally attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani killed 24 people.
In the same incident 31 people were injured.

This happened in Charikar, capital of Parwan province, northof Kabul, health officials said.

Taliban commanders have said they will intensify clashes with Afghan and foreign forces to dissuade people from voting in the September 28th presidential election. This is when Ghani will bid for a second five-year term.

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