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News Wrap: Uncertainty persists over nascent Syrian ceasefire

February 29, 2016 at 8:10 PM EST
A picture taken on February 27, 2016 in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province shows smoke rising from the neightbourhood of Syrian city Tel Abyad during clashes between Islamic State Group and People's Protection Units (YPG).
ussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry "hailed" the ceasefire in Syria and discussed ways of supporting it through cooperation between their militaries, Russia's foreign ministry said on February 27, 2016. / AFP / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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GWEN IFILL: Good evening. I’m Gwen Ifill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m Judy Woodruff.

GWEN IFILL: On the “NewsHour” tonight: candidates’ last pitches to voters before Super Tuesday. We talk with Amy Walter and Tamara Keith about what’s at stake.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also ahead: Moderates and reformists score big wins in Iran’s elections, raising questions about what change is possible under a powerful hard-line leadership.

GWEN IFILL: And “Spotlight” wins the top prize at the Oscars. We examine the state of today’s investigative journalism.

MARTIN BARON, The Washington Post: Clearly, it’s going to be more difficult, given that there are fewer resources to do it. This is very expensive work to do. And yet we have to commit ourselves to doing it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”

(BREAK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news, the United States secretary-general pronounced the three-day-old truce in Syria is holding, by and large. But Syrian government forces continued airstrikes in Hama and ground assaults near Aleppo and elsewhere.

And the main opposition group warned, the U.S. and U.N. have to intervene.

SALIM AL-MUSLAT, Spokesman, High Negotiations Committee: Are they aware of the violations there? I believe there has to be a mechanism to really stop this violation on the ground for — to encourage others to go and sit on the table and negotiate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, the White House said it’s too early to assign blame for the truce violations.

GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, Shiites were hit hard again by a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 people northeast of Baghdad. Meanwhile, the death toll rose to 73 after Sunday’s twin suicide bombings in the Iraqi capital. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for that attack.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Anger boiled over today among Iraqi and Syrian refugees stranded at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia. They have run into restrictions as they try to head deeper into Europe.

Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News reports.

GERAINT VINCENT: In the footsteps of thousands who came before them, the people followed the railway line north towards the border, but this morning, the path was blocked. Young men at the front of the crowd demanded access. It wasn’t given. So they decided to gain it themselves.

Battering rams were created out of what they found along the way. When the signposts didn’t work, they got hold of something bigger. The gate was forced open and the crowd came face to face with the police line. With the stones bouncing off their riot shields, the police decide to respond with tear gas.

One officer steps forward and fires the first canister straight into the crowd. It falls back, but the man in the blue hooded top is undeterred. The next canister hits him in the chest. The police followed up the tear gas with stun grenades. Now the crowd can’t move back quickly enough.

Behind the young men at the front, there were families and children, their rucksacks packed for the journey north. Now they’re just trying to escape the gas which is stinging their eyes and burning their throats. So, it’s back to where they began this morning, a transit camp meant for 2,000 people which is now home to 10,000.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Across Europe, fire broke out as crews began dismantling a huge migrant camp in Calais, France. Activists fought with police at the site, where some 4,000 people had been living.

GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, at the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas did something he had not done in 10 years of oral arguments: He spoke. He asked a string of questions during a case about gun rights. It was the first time he’s participated from the bench since February 22, 2006.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Across the city of Washington, at the White House, a solemn ceremony today to honor U.S. Navy SEAL Edward Byers. He was presented with the nation’s highest military decoration.

It’s been some 40 years since a president bestowed the Medal of Honor on a living active-duty member of the U.S. Navy, and only five other SEALs have received one.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today’s ceremony is truly unique: a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior that so often serves in the shadows.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Edward Byers was a senior chief special warfare operator on the elite SEAL Team Six that rescued an American hostage in Eastern Afghanistan in December 2012. Dr. Dilip Joseph had been working for an aid organization when the Taliban kidnapped him.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our SEALs rushed to the doorway, which was covered by a layer of blankets. Ed started ripping them down, exposing himself to enemy fire. A teammate, the lead assaulter, pushed in and was hit. Fully aware of the danger, Ed moved in next. An enemy guard aimed his rifle right at him. Ed fired.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That first SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, died of his wounds, but Byers saved Dr. Joseph.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ed leapt across the room and threw himself on the hostage, using his own body to shield him from the bullets. Another enemy fighter appeared, and with his body, Ed kept shielding the hostage. With his bare hands, Ed pinned the fighter to the wall and held him until his teammates took action.

JUDY WOODRUFF: After today’s ceremony, however, outside the White House, Byers said the real credit goes to his comrades.

SENIOR CHIEF EDWARD BYERS, Medal of Honor Recipient: If it wasn’t for that team, I wouldn’t be standing here today. Specifically, for me, my teammate, friend, and brother Nic Checque, the award is truly his.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Byers says, he bears the responsibility to live up to the sacrifice that Checque and others made.

SENIOR CHIEF EDWARD BYERS: I don’t know for sure how this will change my life. And I just plan on taking it one step at a time. I’m going to continue doing my job in the Navy, continue being a SEAL, and doing the thing I loved ever since I was a child.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Byers joined the Navy in 1998 and has served nine combat tours.

GWEN IFILL: And on Wall Street, late selling wiped out a month’s worth of gains. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 123 points to close at 16516. The Nasdaq fell 32 points, and the S&P 500 slid nearly 16.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still to come on the “NewsHour”: Super Tuesday and the battles to unseat the presidential front-runners; a major election victory for moderates in Iran; hackers that hold your data for ransom; and much more.

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