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Turkish support of coalition fighting Islamic State centers on border buffer zone

ISTANBUL — With the United States continuing to pressure Turkey to do more in the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey’s position has hardened around an idea it has pushed for years as a strategy to confront the chaos of the Syrian civil war: a buffer zone along its frontier with Syria.The idea is emerging as a possible way to end the standoff between the United States and Turkey, and U.S. military planners are said to be looking at how to implement such a plan, which would require a no-fly zone and stepped up combat air patrols to take out Syrian air defense systems.

Yet the prospect of a buffer zone is proving deeply divisive in Washington, as it would go far beyond President Barack Obama’s original mission of taking on the Islamic State and would lead to a direct confrontation with the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. While Turkey has largely described the plan in humanitarian terms — to protect refugees and also Turkey’s border — the argument made privately is that a buffer zone would quickly evolve into a place where moderate rebels would be trained to fight Assad’s government; in other words, a fledgling rebel state.

“It would mainly be a place where an alternate government structure would take root and for the training of rebels,” said Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. envoy to the Syrian opposition.

Secretary of State John Kerry this week said the idea was “worth looking at very, very closely,” and officials within the State Department have been pushing it. The Pentagon and the White House quickly disavowed it although they acknowledged having discussions about it.

Obama on Thursday dispatched the envoy coordinating the coalition against the Islamic State, retired Gen. John R. Allen, to Ankara, the capital, for two days of talks to nudge Turkey to play a greater role and go beyond what it is already doing — sharing intelligence and taking measures to control the flow of foreign jihadis traveling through Turkey.

—Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, The New York Times

Schiller departs as Twitter’s head of news

Vivian Schiller, a veteran news executive who joined Twitter less than a year ago to oversee its partnerships with news and journalism organizations, said Wednesday that she was leaving the social network.

Schiller announced her departure in a series of tweets, much as her former boss, Chloe Sladden, did when she quit Twitter in June. It was the latest in a number of executive departures at the social media company.

Schiller, a former head of NPR and previously a New York Times executive, had been recruited to Twitter from NBC News by Sladden and Ali Rowghani, who was Twitter’s chief operating officer until he, too, left in June, following clashes with Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo. Her departure is the latest ripple from a series of executive changes made by Costolo. In her departure tweets, Schiller said she was stepping down so her new boss, Katie Jacobs Stanton, the head of global media at Twitter, could reorganize the operation as she saw fit.

Stanton has put Adam Sharp in charge of news and government partnerships, a role he had held until Schiller joined Twitter, a Twitter spokeswoman said. Sharp, a former C-SPAN executive and Senate aide, has helped legions of politicians figure out how to use Twitter more effectively, and now his job will be to help news organizations do the same. That puts him in an oddly conflicted position of advising government officials who are seeking to influence public opinion and journalists who are trying to get past that manipulation and explain what they see as the real story. Sharp will report to Kirstine Stewart, a former executive at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. who recently moved from Twitter Canada to take over Sladden’s responsibilities.

—Vindu Goel, The New York Times

Ancient Indonesian find may rival oldest known cave art

A team of researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday that paintings of hands and animals in seven limestone caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may be as old as the earliest European cave art. The oldest cave painting known until now is a 40,800-year-old red disk from El Castillo, in northern Spain. Other archaeologists of human origins said the new findings were spectacular and, in at least one sense, unexpected. Sulawesi’s cave art, first described in the 1950s, had previously been dismissed as no more than 10,000 years old.

“Assuming that the dates are good,” Dr. Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said in an email, “this is good news, and the only surprising thing is not that analogous finds would exist elsewhere, but rather that it has been so hard to find them” until now. Dr. Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, agreed that the discovery “certainly makes sense.” Recent genetic findings, he said, “support an early deployment of modern humans eastward to Southeast Asia and Australasia, and so having art of a similar age is reasonable as well.”

The authors of the new study, a team from Australia and Indonesia, used a uranium decay technique to date the substance that encrusts the wall paintings — a mineral called calcite, created by water flowing through the limestone in the cave. The art beneath is presumably somewhat older than the crust. Dr. Maxime Aubert and Dr. Adam Brumm, research fellows at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and the leaders of the study, examined 12 images of human hands and two figurative animal depictions at the cave sites. The researchers said the earliest images, with a minimum age of 39,900 years, are the oldest known stenciled outlines of human hands in the world.

—John Noble Wilford, The New York Times