Syrian army regains ground against Islamic State in Hasaka city

AMMAN, June 7 (Reuters) – The Syrian army said on Sunday it had repulsed a major offensive by Islamic State militants in the northeastern city of Hasaka and drove out fighters who had taken over key installations on the southern edge of the city.

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The northeastern corner of Syria is strategically important because it links areas controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Syrian Kurds have also sought to expand their territorial control over a region that streches from Kobani to Qamishili they see as part of a future historic Kurdish state.

The militants, approaching from their stronghold the city of Shadadi, further south of Hasaka city, made lighting advances this week after conducting around a dozen suicide attacks using explosives-laden trucks on army checkpoints in the city. 

But Syrian state television, quoting an army source, said in a newsflash they had taken back an electricity station, a juvenile prison and two villages almost two kilometers (one mile) south of the city that had been occupied by militants. 

The attacks were the biggest push launched by the ultra hardline militants on Hasaka, the provincial capital of the oil and grain producing province of Syria, that is divided into zones run separately by the government of President Bashar al Assad and a Kurdish administration. 

The offensive was meant to relieve pressure on hardline jihadists who have otherwise lost signficant ground recently to Kurds and some local Arab tribes backing them after their loss of Arab inhabited villages around Ras Al Ayn and Tal Abyad, both major towns that lie north west of Hasaka along the Turkish border.

The Kurds, whose well-organised militia YPG receives air support from a U.S. led alliance bombing Islamic State, had been helping government forces to repel last week’s attack, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory, which tracks violence across the country, said at least 71 army and loyalist militias were killed in the week-long battles with Islamic State. 

The United States and its allies said on Thursday they staged 17 air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq with four of the raids near Hasaka.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Hawks hand Saints AFL lesson

Hawthorn have produced a professional day at the office to defeat St Kilda by 63 points, claiming back-to-back AFL wins for the first time in 2015.

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The premiers were barely stretched in their 20.12 (132) to 10.9 (69) victory, earned with 12 individual goalkickers.

Alastair Clarkson’s 150th win as Hawthorn coach came with a minimum of fuss and moved the Hawks to fifth on the ladder.

Sam Mitchell was proficient in the middle, ably assisted by captain Luke Hodge.

Running machine Billy Hartung turned the Hawks from defence and through midfield well, with Liam Shiels, Luke Breust and Isaac Smith strong contributors.

In attack, Jack Gunston and Jarryd Roughead top scored with three goals.

Despite the loss, there was at least progress for the Saints to report, having slumped to a 145-point loss on their most recent date with the Hawks last year.

Josh Bruce kicked two goals while Jack Steven gathered 38 possessions.

Nick Riewoldt spent most of his time in a roaming role, with Bruce admirably carrying the load up front.

Former Hawk Shane Savage, playing as the substitute, and Jack Sinclair were the only other Saints to kick two.

By contrast, the Hawks had a fine spread of goalkickers, with 10 different players kicking their first 10 goals.

Ryan Schoenmakers, playing as a forward, snapped that streak with his second major in the third term.

Hodge and Gunston followed with their second goals within two minutes, blowing the lead out to 58 points.

It didn’t feel like a 10-goal game, but Hawthorn’s ability to score quickly greatly assisted their cause.

Most in the St Kilda dominated crowd of 33,886 felt the umpires also helped the Hawks along, with a free kick count reading 15-3 in the third term.

But the Saints’ loose tackling typified the gulf in class on display, as the Hawks kept accumulating their score.

Six straight fourth-term goals to Hawthorn threatened to push the margin into three figures before the Saints kicked the final three goals of the match.

With little to cheer, St Kilda fans went home doubly disappointed by the cancellation of kick-to-kick after the siren.

Clarkson said in a “strange old game” he was most pleased with two factors.

“The margin at the end and the fact we won all four quarters,” he said.

“There are elements of the game we were really, really pleased with but they had a bit too much ball control for our liking.”

Richardson said his players were very down in the changerooms after the loss, a sign of increasing expectation at the improving club.

“We were able to execute the plan to some extent,” he said.

“There were five minute periods in each quarter then they just got a hold of us.”

Germany, Brazil march on as proud Fiji bow out

Uzbekistan’s win and Honduras’ 5-1 thumping by Germany, saw the Central Asian side catapult from bottom to second place in Group F.

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Fiji, who won fans worldwide with their 3-0 win over Honduras, needed just a point to advance and looked set to progress after a barren first half but goalkeeper Miswani Nairube weakly allowed a header from Eldor Shomurodov slip through his hands to put the Uzbeks 1-0 up.

Zabikhillo Urinboev shot under Nairube a minute later for the second and Mirjamol Kosimov fired across goal into the bottom corner in stoppage-time for the third.

“It was most probably unexpected by a lot of people that we would have this opportunity going into the last game. We’ve most probably over achieved,” Fiji coach Frank Farina told reporters.

“I truly believed that the team who scored first would go on. I’m disappointed with the manner that the (first) goal was conceded but we are really proud of how the boys have performed.”

In the group’s other match, Germany opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the second minute and though Honduras equalised in the 19th, they never really threatened Germany’s 100 per cent record.

The Uzbeks finished tied on three points with Honduras and Fiji but advanced due to a superior goal difference and will now play Austria in the last 16.

In Christchurch, Brazil were made to wait an hour by North Korea but the Latin Americans won 3-0 to sail into the last 16 where they will meet Uruguay.

Goals from Taiwo Awoniyi in each half helped Nigeria to a 2-0 win over Hungary and set up a last-16 clash with Germany.

The Hungarians still went through as one of the best third-placed teams and will take on Serbia in the knock-out phase.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)

Gallen returns, NSW sweat on Morris, Farah

One down.

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Two to go for NSW coach Laurie Daley.

Paul Gallen is all but assured of leading out the NSW Blues for State of Origin II.

On Monday, Daley will learn the fate of two of Gallen’s most trusted deputies, Robbie Farah and Brett Morris.

The NSW captain made a successful return from a glute injury in Cronulla’s 10-4 win against the Sydney Roosters at Remondis Stadium on Sunday.

Gallen was taking a cautious approach having played just one game in nearly two months, however he said his body had pulled up fine.

“I spoke to Laurie earlier in the week and just told him that I’d be right to play this week,” Gallen said.

“I’ll just wait and see what he comes up with in the next 24 hours. Just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed, I’m ready to go.”

Morris is likely to return for Canterbury against his former club St George Illawarra on Monday in a bid to prove his fitness for Origin II.

The Bulldogs fullback trained with his side on Sunday.

But the coaching staff are waiting to see how he pulls up before giving him the green light to return from a hamstring problem.

He has not played since round five but will be an automatic selection for Blues coach Laurie Daley on the wing, at the expense of Daniel Tupou or Will Hopoate.

Farah will today speak with Blues officials to make a ruling on his injured shoulder ahead of game two at the MCG on June 17.

The Wests Tigers hooker has not taken the field since suffering the injury in Origin I, however will be given the okay to take his spot provided he can train from day one of team camp in Coffs Harbour.

The Queenslanders also received a piece of good fortune when halfback Cooper Cronk was cleared of a major knee injury after going down in Melbourne’s win over Penrith.

Despite being without Billy Slater, Melbourne punished a sloppy Penrith outfit 20-0 at Pepper Stadium.

Five-eighth Blake Green was a standout, crossing for two tries as the Panthers looked rudderless without Jamie Soward.

South Sydney made it three wins on the trot when they thrashed an undisciplined Warriors 36-4.

Dylan Walker was in devastating form, grabbing two tries while Greg Inglis returned to his best having recovered from a bout of tonsillitis and a niggling knee injury.

Blake Austin added to his reputation as the buy of the season as he spearheaded Canberra’s 44-22 win over Newcastle.

Coach Ricky Stuart played down calls for Austin to be added to the NSW side, however his five-eighth was a standout, setting up one try and scoring a double.

The Brisbane Broncos heaped more misery on under-fire Manly coach Geoff Toovey with a 44-10 win at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

Jack Reed and Anthony Milford were standouts on the left edge while Daly Cherry-Evans received a chorus of boos after earlier in the week reneging on his deal to join the Gold Coast.

Wests Tigers suffered their fourth loss in a row as the Gold Coast held off a second half comeback to run out 27-20 winners at Leichhardt Oval.

Anthony Don who was the hero for the Titans, crossing for the match-winning try in the 71st minute.

Aust not following NZ with Milo change

A new recipe for Milo may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many New Zealanders, but Aussies can rest easy in the knowledge the classic drink’s flavour here has not changed.

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The vanilla flavour has been removed from the New Zealand recipe, leaving a number of rattled Milo drinkers expressing their distaste on the chocolate drink’s Facebook page on Sunday.

But the Australian recipe does not include vanilla flavouring, a spokeswoman for Nestle told AAP.

Margaret Stuart said there had been changes to the Australian recipe, but none that would affect the taste.

Vitamin D “to build strong bones” and extra B vitamins “to support energy release in the body” have been added to the Milo recipe both here and in New Zealand “to help active kids perform at their best”, Stuart said.

The company has also moved to sustainably sourced cocoa, she said.

The New Zealand recipe is now also sourcing sustainable palm oil, an ingredient the Australian recipe does not use.

“New Zealand has a couple more changes because they have a different recipe,” Stuart said.

This is because there are different taste preferences in different countries and the way people drink Milo is different too, she said.

“People in New Zealand tend to drink Milo hot; here in Australia we tend to drink it cold.”

Stuart said the company expected there to be resistance to a new flavour of an old classic.

“We understand that many people don’t like changes being made to favourite products, so change is not made lightly, but these changes make a more nourishing drink,” she said.

Milo is sold in 40 countries worldwide.