Syria bombing: base was home to jets allegedly used in sarin attacks

US military officials tailored attack on key Assad regime airfield after more than 70 died in Khan Sheikhoun atrocity

The Syrian base hit by US missile strikes has played a central part in the war, housing a jet fleet responsible for extensive bombing of the north and large numbers of Hezbollah and Iranian fighters who had turned the conflict in Bashar al-Assad’s favour.

All Syrian forces had evacuated the al-Shayrat airfield by the time the strikes occurred, as had fighters from the Lebanese militia, who had been heavily involved in countering an opposition offensive on nearby Hama in recent weeks.

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Let’s stop pretending we’re not clueless about the state of the world | Marina Hyde

Claiming to know what motivates Assad or Trump is comforting when the future looks so uncertain

Whatever happened to known unknowns – and indeed, to their even more mysterious relative, unknown unknowns? These were the range of risks, uncertainties and unforeseeables that need careful assessment and management, whose primary misfortune appears to have been making their popular debut in a speech by Donald Rumsfeld. As a brand association, that’s marginally less desirable than being handed to a riot cop by Kendall Jenner.

Related: Trump’s airstrike: a convenient U-turn from a president who can’t be trusted | Jonathan Freedland

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The Guardian view on religious broadcasting: imagination and commitment needed | Editorial

BBC television plans to close its religion and ethics section. Will the new approach lead to the Great British Pray Off?

The BBC is to close its religion and ethics television studios in Manchester and rely on outside companies to produce its content in future. In some ways this move to external production companies is merely part of the long slow dismembering of the corporation. Songs of Praise, the archetype of an unfashionable BBC programme, is now to be made by two independent firms, using almost all the old BBC personnel, but off the corporation’s books. It is important that the BBC should continue to broadcast some shows that have no appeal to metropolitan people, or to anyone much under the age of 65. That is an important part of public service. It matters less, perhaps, who makes these programmes.

But the move is disturbing in wider directions. It suggests that the London-centric BBC has little interest in questions of religion and ethics – a suggestion that has grown over 20 or 30 years, symbolised first by the religious department’s move to Manchester all those years ago. There are some really talented and knowledgable journalists working for the BBC in this field but they have had considerable difficulty getting channel controllers to believe they are worth backing. This is in part a consequence of the decline in organised religion, especially in mainstream Christianity, over the same period, but to some extent the BBC department has been complicit in the corporation’s narrowness of vision. Songs of Praise is necessary television but all of the growth and most of the interest in religious stories in the last three decades has come from outside traditional Anglican Christianity.

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Syria nerve agent attack: why it made sense to Assad | Emma Graham-Harrison

The president’s army is battle-weary, but the sarin attack and the US missile strikes show this war is far from over

Russia PM calls Trump’s airstrike ‘good news for terrorists’ – live

April seemed start well for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, six years in to a civil war he once looked unlikely to survive.

Fighting still raged across the battered country but his army and the collection of militias and foreign militaries backing his government had the upper hand, and the White House appeared to have taken any push for regime change off the table.

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Trump’s security chief shaped by tough posting near Syria

HR McMaster has shown himself to be an accomplished military strategist and an adept White House infighter

The toughest posting for an American officer in the early years of the Iraq conflict was Tal Afar, a small scrubland town close to the Syrian border dominated by a castle and held by Islamist extremists. Lieutenant-General HR McMaster, Donald Trump’s national security adviser pivotal in the decision to attack a Syrian airbase on Friday, was deployed to Tal Afar in spring 2005 – and it was to be the making of him.

Tal Afar, held by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at present, was at the time in the hands of several extremists groups, including ISIL’s predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq. McMaster, then a colonel and an unorthodox military thinker, made a point of immersing himself in Iraqi culture, winning over the local police and portraying the US army not as an occupier, but a protector to the town’s 150,000 inhabitants.

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Tens of thousands march against Jacob Zuma in South Africa

Nationwide protests calling for president to quit after country gets second ratings agency ‘junk’ downgrade

South Africa’s political crisis intensified on Friday as tens of thousands of people joined demonstrations across the country calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down, police fired rubber bullets in scattered clashes and a second ratings agency downgraded the country to “junk” status.

Thousands marched through the rainy centre of Johannesburg, the commercial capital, amid a heavy police presence, while smaller crowds of a few hundred people protested on street corners and bridges in other cities and towns.

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It’s no longer just London: now Britain is encircled by the property sharks | Deborah Orr

Once the capital was the prime target for foreign speculators, now it’s all our major cities. We could have stopped them, but we didn’t

A single generation transformed London into a capital where no person with normal resources could hope to own a modest home. It transformed London into a city where young people couldn’t start their careers, unless they had parents who could help them out. It transformed London into a place where every flat was in a block of “luxury apartments”, its price arranged in some weird dimension that had absolutely no connection to the wages paid at the coffee shop on the ground floor.

Related: Don’t blame foreign investors – the roots of the housing crisis lie closer to home | David Madden

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Free speech and historical accuracy in the Livingstone affair | Letters

Whatever motivated Ken Livingstone to play the Hitler card in a bizarre, unprompted and unwanted attempt to defend Naz Shah, justifications on the basis of alleged historical accuracy (Letters, 6 April) miss the point that the context and purpose of such remarks need to be taken into account.

It is difficult to see them as anything other than another way of saying that Zionism equals Nazism, an equation that is not only offensive to many Jews and others who resolutely oppose Israel’s policies, but also undermines the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people. It would have been difficult for members of Labour’s national constitutional committee to have reached any conclusion other than that the party had been brought into disrepute, though the sanction has proved controversial.

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Improving air quality requires a little less conversation, a lot more action | Letters

The findings in your article (Hundreds of thousands of children being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution from diesel vehicles, 4 April) are scandalous. We are storing up huge unknowns in terms of the future of our children’s lung health. We need urgent action. The government must bring in a fair and ambitious Clean Air Act with targets to ensure pollution levels are monitored around every school and nursery located close to busy roads, arming parents and teachers with the information they need to take action to protect children’s health. Traffic emissions are the main culprit, but we know people bought their old diesel cars in good faith. A targeted scrappage incentive scheme would be a positive step, which could persuade drivers to switch quickly to cleaner vehicles. The Guardian and Greenpeace’s investigation shows our children’s lung health demands action now.
Dr Penny Woods
Chief executive, British Lung Foundation

• Your article highlights diesel fumes in London.In Hampstead, north-west London, pleas to Camden council to take account of the EU air quality directive and limit developments with massive lorry movements have not been heard. The council accepts that if it complied with the directive it will have to stop developments, and it is just not going to do that. Some 12,500 children go to schools in Hampstead every day, many under the age of seven. Development after development is approved by Camden and government planning inspectors right next to schools where children are exposed to lorry diesel fumes. One such development will see 2,000 lorry movements.

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Improving air quality requires a little less conversation, a lot more action | Letters

The findings in your article (Hundreds of thousands of children being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution from diesel vehicles, 4 April) are scandalous. We are storing up huge unknowns in terms of the future of our children’s lung health. We need urgent action. The government must bring in a fair and ambitious Clean Air Act with targets to ensure pollution levels are monitored around every school and nursery located close to busy roads, arming parents and teachers with the information they need to take action to protect children’s health. Traffic emissions are the main culprit, but we know people bought their old diesel cars in good faith. A targeted scrappage incentive scheme would be a positive step, which could persuade drivers to switch quickly to cleaner vehicles. The Guardian and Greenpeace’s investigation shows our children’s lung health demands action now.
Dr Penny Woods
Chief executive, British Lung Foundation

• Your article highlights diesel fumes in London.In Hampstead, north-west London, pleas to Camden council to take account of the EU air quality directive and limit developments with massive lorry movements have not been heard. The council accepts that if it complied with the directive it will have to stop developments, and it is just not going to do that. Some 12,500 children go to schools in Hampstead every day, many under the age of seven. Development after development is approved by Camden and government planning inspectors right next to schools where children are exposed to lorry diesel fumes. One such development will see 2,000 lorry movements.

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No conflict of interests on pesticide advice | Letters

The assertion by Professor Dave Goulson (Farmers could slash pesticide use without losses, research reveals, 6 April) cannot go unchallenged. He says that pesticides are massively over-used because farmers are advised by agronomists working on commission to sell products.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation represents the majority of businesses that supply both agronomy advice and crop protection products to UK farmers. Farmers can elect to pay separately for agronomy advice and crop protection products. Farmers also have access to information from agrochemical manufacturers as well as independent agronomy research organisations – much of it free online. In many instances, those delivering advice do not receive commission.

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No conflict of interests on pesticide advice | Letters

The assertion by Professor Dave Goulson (Farmers could slash pesticide use without losses, research reveals, 6 April) cannot go unchallenged. He says that pesticides are massively over-used because farmers are advised by agronomists working on commission to sell products.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation represents the majority of businesses that supply both agronomy advice and crop protection products to UK farmers. Farmers can elect to pay separately for agronomy advice and crop protection products. Farmers also have access to information from agrochemical manufacturers as well as independent agronomy research organisations – much of it free online. In many instances, those delivering advice do not receive commission.

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BBC has no regrets on Brexit coverage | Letters

Simon Jenkins writes in his opinion piece (6 April) that BBC director general Tony Hall went round the London “dinner circuit” after the Brexit referendum stating that BBC balance had “lost us the election”. While the BBC understands that this is a piece that by its very nature expresses an opinion, the words above are attributed directly to Tony Hall and presented as a quote by him. For the record, Tony Hall has never made any such statement or assertion. The words attributed to him do not reflect his view in any way. The referendum was hard-fought, and the BBC reported it impartially and fairly – something widely acknowledged during and after the vote. The BBC has no regrets or otherwise about its coverage.
John Shield
Director of communications, BBC

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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Protestant ascendancy was not at all Irish | Brief letters

Duke of Wellington | Term-time hols | Yorkshire lavatories | London addresses | Phonetic initials | Baker’s apostrophe

Being born in Dublin didn’t make the Duke of Wellington Irish (Letters, 6 April). He and his parents belonged to the Anglo-Irish Protestant ascendancy who’d stolen their land and wealth from Irish Catholics. Their allegiance was to England – and to the empire. They were no more Irish than colonialists in India were Indian.
Chris Hughes
Leicester

• Apropos children being taken out of school in term time for holidays (Report, 7 April): there has been criticism of the parents and of the school authorities, but I have seen little condemnation of the root cause, the hiking of prices during school breaks by the holiday industry. Market forces? The same sacred cow that is behind so many of our problems.
Denis Ahern
Stanford-le-Hope, Essex

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Barnier ‘lobbied to stop May withdrawing article 50 in two years’

EU negotiator requested ‘red line’ amid fears PM could ‘abuse’ process to extend negotiations, Brussels sources say

The EU’s chief negotiator lobbied for the UK to be barred from stopping the article 50 process without the rest of the union’s consent, it has been claimed.

Senior Brussels sources say Michel Barnier asked for the line stopping the UK from unilaterally reversing the process to be included in a European parliament resolution that passed on Wednesday. The move came amid fears in Brussels that Theresa May could “abuse” the process to extend talks when the two-year negotiations are over.

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UK eats almost four times more packaged food than fresh

Most of western Europe and north America also consumes more calories from packaged food than fresh according to analysis of data from 54 countries

The UK eats almost four times as much packaged food as it does fresh produce, according to new data, with most of western Europe and north America following a similar pattern.

The packaged food revolution – which includes ready meals and calorific cakes and biscuits – is held at least partly to blame for the rise in obesity in the US and Europe. Fresh food has played a smaller and smaller part in some families’ lives as the pace of life has speeded up over recent decades, working hours have increased and more women have entered the workplace. Set against this is the rise of ever more tasty instant meals.

Related: Jack Monroe's ready-meal challenge

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After the missiles, the plan: here’s how Syrian safe zones could actually work | Hamish de Bretton Gordon

Donald Trump’s military action will have been for nothing if humanitarian and diplomatic steps aren’t now taken, to help the millions of desperate Syrians

The US airstrikes to neutralise President Assad’s ability to conduct chemical attacks – like those we saw in Idlib this week, Aleppo before Christmas and East Ghouta last August – are most welcome. But they will be entirely counterproductive, if they are not rapidly followed by concerted UN action.

To do nothing to follow up with humanitarian, diplomatic and political activity would be to repeat the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq invasion. The ceasefire brokered in Astana a few weeks ago, though not perfect, offers hope for millions of civilians suffering in Syria, and secretary of state Rex Tillerson is now suggesting safe zones.

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Truck drives into Stockholm pedestrians in suspected terror attack – video report

A truck has driven into pedestrians on Stockholm’s largest pedestrianised shopping street. The attack, which Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has described as a terrorist act, has killed three people and injuring several more. Following Friday’s incident, police have suspended public transport and advised people to avoid the city centre

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How pictures of Syria’s dead babies made Trump do the unthinkable

Within hours images of chemical attack victims galvanised the US administration into military retaliation and sidelined the leader of China

The first sign of a change came on Wednesday afternoon, when Donald Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden. He was giving a news conference. The previous day a rocket had fallen on the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.

At first this appeared to be another airstrike by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad on an area in Idlib province long controlled by opposition forces. It was, seemingly, a routine act of barbarism. An airstrike was unremarkable in Syria’s grinding six-year-long civil war.

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