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EU-exit backer's Russia links draw look

LONDON -- The chairman of the British Parliament's media committee said Sunday that a millionaire backer of the successful campaign to leave the European Union has questions to answer about his contacts with Russian officials.

Lawmaker Damian Collins said his committee plans to question Arron Banks, co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign group, later this week. The announcement came after The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Banks' contact with Russian officials was more extensive than previously acknowledged.

"He said he only met the Russian ambassador on one occasion; we now know it was more than that. There were trips to Moscow, you know, supposedly lucrative business deals offered. Did those business deals go through?" Collins said in an interview with the BBC.

Leave.EU was backed by Nigel Farage, the former chairman of the U.K. Independence Party who pressured the British government to hold a referendum on EU membership.

The Times said Banks held three meetings with Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko.

"I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me," The Sunday Times quoted Banks as saying. "It's a convenient political witch hunt, both over Brexit and Trump," referring to President Donald Trump.

Rescue ship with migrants stays at sea

ROME -- A private rescue ship carrying 629 migrants remained Sunday evening on a northward course in the Mediterranean Sea after more than a day of not receiving permission to dock in either Italy or the small island nation of Malta.

Aid group SOS Mediterranee said the passengers on its ship, the Aquarius, included 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy, the country's coast guard and private cargo ships and transferred. The rescue ship's crew itself pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers' unseaworthy boats Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

The Aquarius and its passengers were caught up in a crackdown implemented by the right-wing partner in Italy's new populist government, which has vowed to stop the country from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe."

"Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-migrant League party, tweeted Sunday.

Salvini and Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is part of the 5-Star Movement faction in the new government, said in a joint statement Sunday that it was Malta's responsibility to open its ports for the ship.

But the Maltese government said in a statement that the Aquarius took on the passengers in waters controlled by Libya and where Italian authorities coordinate search-and-rescue operations.

Israelis destroy Hamas' tunnel to sea

JERUSALEM -- Israel destroyed a tunnel dug by Hamas leading from Gaza into the Mediterranean Sea intended for use by the Islamic militant group that rules the territory to carry out attacks, the military said Sunday.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that last week, aircraft struck a position belonging to Hamas' naval forces in northern Gaza that incapacitated its first-of-a-kind tunnel to the sea.

He said it was designed to allow divers to slip out of Gaza and attack Israeli targets. The tunnel was dug about 2 miles south of the border with Israel and stretched dozens of yards into the sea, he said.

Israel has placed a high priority on eliminating the tunnel threat since Hamas gunmen infiltrated Israel during the 2014 war. Although they did not manage to reach civilian areas, the infiltrations caught Israel off guard, with one attack killing five soldiers and terrifying the local population.

There was no immediate word from Hamas, a group sworn to Israel's destruction.

Taliban claim deadly Afghanistan attack

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan official said the Taliban have attacked a checkpoint in the southern Kandahar province, killing five security forces

The attack late Saturday comes ahead of a three-day cease-fire timed to coincide with the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial governor in Kandahar, said three other members of the security force were wounded in the attack.

The Taliban claimed the attack in a statement to media.

The Taliban announced the upcoming cease-fire on Saturday, saying they would continue to defend themselves if attacked and would continue targeting foreign forces. The government announced the cease-fire last week.

The holiday, and the cease-fire, is expected to begin this week.

A Section on 06/11/2018

Print Headline: 2-16-1 EU-exit backer's Russia links draw look Rescue ship with migrants stays at sea Israelis destroy Hamas' tunnel to sea Taliban claim deadly Afghanistan attack

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