Hood hits pull-up 3 to give Jazz 103-100 win over Mavericks

By KAREEM COPELAND, AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rodney Hood had never hit a game-winning shot — at any level. So when he knocked down a big one Friday night, all he could think to do was give a little shoulder-shimmy.

Hood pulled up for a 3-pointer in transition with 0.8 seconds left that gave the Utah Jazz a 103-100 win over Dallas after a furious rally by the Mavericks in the fourth quarter.

“It’s crazy,” Hood said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I just shook a little bit. It felt good, though.

“Everybody dreams of that feeling, time going down, 3-2-1, and you hit a shot and the crowd goes crazy. I did it a lot of times in my front yard, but never in a real game.”

Dallas used a 9-0 run late in the fourth to tie the score at 100 before Hood grabbed the rebound of Deron Williams’ miss with several seconds left.

“As a point guard, I know when to run a play,” Williams said. “We started the play too early. Couldn’t really check the time because of how the play developed. I’ve just got to do a better job of controlling the game. At the end of the game like that, we’ve got to get the shot with as little time as possible.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder passed on calling a timeout, waving his arms at Hood to push the ball up the floor. Hood did exactly that and drained a 26-footer from the left side to send Utah to its 10th victory in 12 games.

Following a timeout, Dallas had one more chance to tie it. But an inbounds pass deflected off Harrison Barnes’ hands, and time expired.

“All there is, is fight in this team,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “These guys were determined to hang in.”

Rudy Gobert posted his sixth straight double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, tying Karl-Anthony Towns for the longest active streak in the NBA. Hood finished with 15 points.

Barnes led the Mavericks with 21 points, and Williams added 18 points and seven assists against his former team.

The normally stout Utah defense wasn’t at its best and allowed Dallas to come back from a 15-point deficit, but the Jazz shot 56.9 percent from the field and held on.

“We were atrocious the first half, defensively,” Snyder said. “It was awful. We made so many mental mistakes. … They can shoot, that’s what they do. If you give them open 3s, they’re going to make them and then they’re going to get even more confident and they’re going to hit tough shots.”

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Williams was booed lustily even though he hasn’t played for Utah since 2011. … Andrew Bogut missed his sixth consecutive game with a right knee injury.

Jazz: Gordon Hayward passed Ricky Green for 10th on the team’s scoring list. Hayward has 6,925 points. … Derrick Favors played 13 minutes in his second game back from a knee injury.

HILL UPDATE

Jazz point guard George Hill missed his eighth consecutive game with a sprained left big toe, but Snyder said Hill is walking, shooting off his toes and doing toe raises.

“Frankly, he hasn’t been able to do (that),” Snyder said. “I feel like he’s turned a corner, being able to do a little bit more.

“Now the biggest thing, too, is once he’s able to start doing things more aggressively and moving, he’s going to have to start and stop. It’s different than when he was coming back from his thumb. His feet, your lower body, and particularly your big toe, I don’t know when you’re not using it.”

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Barnes entered averaging career highs in points (20.4) and rebounds (5.6). Carlisle said he expected Barnes to have a big year when the team signed him away from Golden State during the offseason.

“He’s taken quantum leaps in the first two months of the season,” Carlisle said. “When you’re third, fourth, fifth option, you’re a guy that’s living off other great players. He needed to develop a foundation of footwork and a means to create based on his skill set and situations on the court.

“He’s done a terrific job of scoring and now he’s learning how to make plays, penetrate, find guys — those kinds of things which are essential to a guy being one of those guys.”

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Dallas hosts the Sacramento Kings on Sunday before beginning a four-game road trip.

Jazz: Utah is on the road Sunday to face a Memphis Grizzlies team that got Mike Conley back from injury Friday.

Bode Miller has to show he’s still got speed to race again

By ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer

VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — If Bode Miller wants to return to ski racing this season as he approaches the age of 40, he’s going to have to show U.S. team coach Sasha Rearick that he’s still got the necessary speed.

“There’s always a chance with Bode, always. But at this point right now we’re not expecting a miracle return real quick,” Rearick told The Associated Press on Friday.

Still, Rearick would not rule out a return by Miller this season, saying the six-time Olympic medalist could “possibly” race in January.

Miller has won 33 World Cup races but he has never won the famed Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria, which is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Also Friday, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Miller had filed against ski manufacturer and his former sponsor Head. Miller ended his nearly 10-year partnership with Head in 2015 and signed an agreement not to use other skis in World Cup or world championship races for two years. He was attempting to get out of the remainder of the deal so that he could race on skis by New York-based Bomber, which he helped develop.

It’s not clear what effect the dismissal might have Miller’s return.

While he has not raced since severing his right hamstring tendon in February 2015, Miller might be tempted to return in time for Kitzbuehel. That could enable him to qualify for the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in February.

The U.S. team can start only four skiers in each race at the worlds.

“He’s going to have to qualify for the world championships,” Rearick said. “He would have to show me he’s ready to play or qualify straight up by criteria.”

The 39-year-old Miller did not show much speed during training at Copper Mountain in Colorado last month, trailing several teammates.

“He was not in the mix in those four-five guys, and we were ahead of the Norwegians there,” Rearick said.

The training in Copper was on a 30-second track of about 800 meters (yards), just a fraction of the distance of a full World Cup downhill or super-G.

Miller has not had any race training since Copper, according to Rearick, who added Miller will come to Europe to train next month and then be evaluated.

At the 2015 world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, Miller was leading the super-G after several intervals despite not having raced all season. Then he crashed.

“That was the perfect end to this career — green light, green light, green light and then crash,” Norwegian great Kjetil Andre Aamodt said, referring to Miller’s unpredictability.

Meanwhile in Miller’s lawsuit against Head, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in Orange County, California where Miller lives ruled Friday that Miller had no personal jurisdiction to sue the Austria-based company in his court.

Miller’s attorney, Mark B. Seiger, said in an email that the lawsuit may be refiled in Colorado, home of Head’s U.S. headquarters. But he said Miller and Bomber might not find it worth the money to litigate “against a behemoth international corporation.”

“Unfortunately, our legal system enables ‘Goliath’ to win a litigation by outspending its opponent,” Seiger said.

In a statement released Friday before the lawsuit was dismissed, Miller said the legal fight was “nothing more than a case of corporate oppression against an individual ski racer and our startup ski company.”

“This is my last real chance to race competitively in the World Cup and world championship, and it is disappointing to me that Head is trying to block me from doing that,” Miller said.

Jason D. Russell, attorney for Head, said his team was pleased with the decision and said it was strange that the lawsuit had been filed in California in the first place.

Head’s racing director Rainer Salzgeber suggested Miller shouldn’t race again.

“It’s better when he doesn’t ski. That’s clear,” Salzgeber said in comments that came before the lawsuit was dismissed. “It would be nice for the crowd. But his level of skiing in Copper was not there where we want to see Bode.”

Meanwhile, Salzgeber suggested that Lindsey Vonn, who is still supplied by Head, could return from a broken arm in Cortina d’Ampezzo in late January.

“She will start skiing hopefully beginning of January,” Salzgeber said. “Cortina should be OK.”

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Associated Press Writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

Clippers hang on and beat Heat for 4th straight win, 102-98

By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer

MIAMI (AP) — Turns out, DeAndre Jordan does more than catch lobs. Sometimes he grabs offensive rebounds and scores to clinch games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

And that was a most fitting ending on Friday night.

Blake Griffin scored 20 points, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick each added 17 and the Clippers held on to beat the Miami Heat 102-98 for their fourth consecutive win. Jordan had a putback of a missed free throw by Paul with 7.7 seconds left to seal the win for Los Angeles.

“That’s what he does,” Paul said. “Rebound, get buckets, make shots.”

Jordan had 12 points and 19 rebounds, his big night coming a day after Heat center Hassan Whiteside said Jordan “just catches lobs” — a comment he would insist Friday was misconstrued.

“I just wanted to come out here and get a win,” Jordan said.

Goran Dragic had 21 points and 11 assists, Justise Winslow scored 15 and Wayne Ellington added 13 points before leaving injured for Miami.

Whiteside had 11 points and 17 rebounds, and wasn’t on the floor for Jordan’s final rebound. Miami was going with a small lineup, guessing that Paul wouldn’t miss from the line and trying to set up what it figured would be a 3-point shot for a tie.

“DJ took advantage of the size and then made the shot, which was even better,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

The Clippers led by 16 in the first half. Miami got within six before Los Angeles went up 16 again in the third quarter — then had to hang on.

“We lost this game in the first half,” Dragic said.

A three-point play by Josh Richardson with 13.2 seconds left got Miami within three, and the Heat forced a turnover on the Clippers’ ensuing inbounds pass. The Clippers didn’t want to give up a 3 and fouled Dragic, who made both to make it 99-98.

“A terrific second half against a team that’s obviously a championship-caliber team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play 48 minutes.”

TIP-INS

Clippers: Los Angeles had 60 points in the first half, 42 in the second. … It was Paul’s 800th regular-season game. No one in NBA history had as many points, assists and steals through 800 games, and only John Stockton, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson had more assists at this point in their careers. … Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) missed his second consecutive game.

Heat: Tyler Johnson (illness) did not play. … Ellington left in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain. … Miami made 10 of its first 17 shots, then four of its next 17. … Winslow met up with U.S. soccer star Jozy Altidore postgame, chatting and posing for photos.

SAGER TRIBUTE

The Heat had a pregame tribute video and moment of silence to honor the life of broadcaster Craig Sager, who died this week after a long fight with leukemia.

Rivers was a business partner of Sager’s for about nine years in a sports bar called “Jocks & Jills.”

“I didn’t get any profits — I think Craig enjoyed himself quite a bit,” Rivers said.

Spoelstra called Sager “a pillar of greatness and character.”

PIERCE IN MIAMI

Paul Pierce didn’t get in for the Clippers on Friday, meaning he’s probably played for the last time in Miami. He has more regular-season points (1,205) against Miami than anyone in history, and no one has more than his 79 combined regular-season and playoff appearances against the Heat. Pierce has said he will retire after this season.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Visit Washington on Sunday, their last road game against an East team until Jan. 23.

Heat: Host Boston on Sunday, the second and final time the Celtics visit this season.

Blue Jackets get eighth straight win, 4-1 over Flames

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets and their emerging rookie defenseman are enjoying this breakout season.

Sam Gagner got his fifth goal in five games, Zach Werenski continued his impressive rookie season with two assists and the Blue Jackets beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Friday night for their eighth straight win.

The streak is tied for the second-longest ever for Columbus, which is in third place in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division with 42 points.

Werenski has 20 points on the season, tied for fourth among rookies. He has six more points than the closest rookie defenseman.

“We’re pretty hot right now and it’s fun to be on a winning team.” said Werenski, who was selected eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.

His first assist came when he forced a turnover in the neutral zone that led to Brandon Saad’s goal with 5:34 left in the first, putting Columbus up 2-0.

Werenski also assisted on Gagner’s power-play goal 1:14 into the second for a 3-1 lead. The 19-year-old defenseman fired a slap shot from the blue line that Gagner deflected for his team-leading 13th goal.

“It seems like the puck is finding the back of the net,” Werenski said. “I just threw it to the net, hoping it got there. I couldn’t really see anything and next thing I know guys are celebrating.”

Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad and Matt Calvert also scored for Columbus, which owns the NHL’s best winning percentage at .750. The Jackets are 13-1-2 in their last 16.

“We’ve had a really good mindset where we’re just trying to approach every day as a new day and trying to get better,” Gagner said. “That mindset has been huge for us. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Sergei Bobrovsky made 22 saves to run his winning streak to seven and improve to 18-5-2.

Sean Monahan scored for Calgary, which has lost two straight on the heels of a six-game winning streak. Chad Johnson had 25 stops.

“Last couple games, it’s been frustrating because guys are trying to block them and they’re just getting piece of them or pucks are floating through three guys,” Johnson said.

Monahan extended his career-best point streak to nine games (five goals, six assists), which is now the NHL’s longest active streak after Sidney Crosby ended his nine-game run Friday.

Calvert got his goal short-handed 7:31 into the second. He intercepted Johnny Gaudreau’s pass at the blue line and raced away on a breakaway, tucking his fifth goal through Chad Johnson’s pads.

It was redemption for Calvert, who took the penalty in the first period that put the Flames on a two-man advantage and led to Monahan’s goal at 16:45.

Gaudreau combined with Kris Versteeg to set up Monahan’s one-timer. Gaudreau has points in six straight (two goals, eight assists) since returning from his broken finger.

NOTES: Columbus coach John Tortorella (499-413-127) is one win away from becoming the 24th NHL coach to win 500 games. … The Blue Jackets team record for a winning streak is nine games from March 18-April 4, 2015. … Flames have power-play goals in seven straight games for the first time since 2005-06.

UP NEXT

Blue Jackets: Play at Vancouver on Sunday.

Flames: Play at Arizona on Monday night.

China says ‘appropriately handling’ US Navy drone issue

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China said Saturday that its military was in contact with its American counterparts on “appropriately handling” the Chinese navy’s seizure of a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater glider, one of the most serious incidents between the two militaries in years.

The one-sentence comment by the foreign ministry offered no details on what discussions were underway or why China on Thursday seized the drone, which, according to the Pentagon, was being operated by civilian contractors to conduct oceanic research. The U.S. said it issued a formal diplomatic complaint over the seizure and demanded the drone’s return.

“According to (our) understanding, the U.S. and Chinese sides are working on appropriately handling this matter through channels between the two militaries,” the foreign ministry told The Associated Press in a faxed statement.

China’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the issue.

The drone was seized while collecting unclassified scientific data about 92 kilometers (57 miles) northwest of Subic Bay near the Philippines in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.

“It is ours. It’s clearly marked as ours. We would like it back, and we would like this not to happen again,” Davis told reporters. He said the drone costs about $150,000 and is largely commercial, off-the-shelf technology.

The USNS Bowditch, which is not a combat ship, was stopped in international waters Thursday afternoon and recovering two of the gliders when the Chinese ship approached, Davis said. The two vessels were within about 450 meters (500 yards) of each other. He said that the USNS Bowditch carries some small arms, but that no shots were fired.

According to the Pentagon, as the Chinese ship left with the drone, which is about 3 meters (10 feet) long, its only radio response to the U.S. vessel was, “We are returning to normal operations.”

President-elect Donald Trump blasted the seizure. Apparently misspelling “unprecedented,” he tweeted Saturday: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.”

He later reissued the tweet, correcting the spelling to “unprecedented.”

Last weekend, Trump was criticized on social media for bad spelling in a tweet in which he accused CNN of reporting “rediculous” fake news. Hours later, he put out a fresh tweet correcting the spelling to “ridiculous.”

Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the seizure of the glider occurred inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, not China, and appeared to be a violation of international law.

China delineates its South China Sea claims with a roughly drawn sea border known as the “nine-dash line” that runs along the west coast of the Philippines. However, it hasn’t explicitly said whether it considers those waters as sovereign territory, and says it doesn’t disrupt the passage of other nations’ shipping through the area. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on sovereignty claims, but insists on freedom of navigation, including the right of its naval vessels to conduct training and other operations in the sea.

Davis said that the incident could be the first time in recent history that China has taken a U.S. naval vessel. Some observers have called it the most significant dispute between the sides’ militaries since the April 2001 mid-air collision between a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from China’s Hainan island that led to the death of a Chinese pilot.

Whatever the outcome, the incident is likely to fray the already tense relations between U.S. and China. Beijing was angered by Trump’s decision to talk by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2, and by his later comments that he did not feel “bound by a one-China policy” regarding the status of Taiwan, unless the U.S. could gain trade or other benefits from China. China considers the self-governing island its own territory to be recovered by force if it deems necessary.

There also have been increased tensions over Beijing’s ongoing military buildup in the South China Sea, mainly the development and militarization of man-made shoals and islands aimed at extending China’s reach in the strategically vital area, through which about $5 trillion in global trade passes annually.

In one of the few reports in state media about the drone’s seizure, a newspaper published by China’s ruling Communist Party cited an unidentified military official as saying that a “smooth resolution” to the matter is expected.

A Chinese navy ship discovered an “unidentified device” Thursday and was checking on it for the sake of maritime safety, the Global Times quoted the official as saying.

“China has received the U.S. request to return the device, communication is open between the relevant departments of the two sides and I believe this matter will obtain a smooth resolution,” the official was quoted as saying.

In a separate report, the paper quoted retired Chinese admiral Yang Yi as saying China considered itself well within its rights to seize the drone.

“If China needs to take it, we’ll take it. (America) can’t block us,” Yang was quoted as saying.

Yang said he was unsure of the purpose of seizing the drone, but didn’t think the matter qualified as a “military conflict.” However, he added that the chances of a confrontation had risen following Trump’s recent comments, which were seen as testing China’s bottom line on Taiwan and other sensitive issues.

“It’s natural for us to take possession of and research for a bit these types of things that America sends to our doorstep,” Yang said. “The louder they shout, the more their protests ring hollow.”

Car bomb kills 13 Turkish soldiers on bus; 7 suspects held

By DOMINIQUE SOGUEL, Associated Press

ISTANBUL (AP) — A suicide car bomber set off an explosion Saturday that demolished a public bus transporting off-duty soldiers in Turkey’s central province of Kayseri, killing 13 troops and wounding 56 other people, authorities said.

Saturday’s blast comes a week after a car bomb attack claimed by Kurdish militants killed 44 people, mainly riot police, and wounded over 150 others near a soccer stadium in Istanbul.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the identity of the Kayseri attacker was known and that seven people had been taken into custody in connection with the attack. Police were searching for five others.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the suicide bomber ambushed a commando brigade on weekend leave in the city of Kayseri.

The Turkish army said 48 troops were among the wounded in Saturday’s “treacherous attack.” The state-run Anadolu Agency said the explosion at the entrance gate to Erciyes University hit a bus transporting off-duty soldiers.

Speaking in Kayseri, Health Minister Recep Akdag told reporters 56 people had been wounded in the attack, including four who were in critical condition.

Images taken moments after the explosion showed a smoking public bus, still in flames, with its windows blown open and its interior blackened.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the statements of top officials suggested suspicion was focused on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Ankara and the West consider a terrorist organization. Kurdish militants have claimed multiple attacks against soldiers and police across Turkey this year in violence that has also caused many casualties among civilians.

“Turkey is under a combined attack by terrorist organizations, especially the divisive terrorist organization,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement Saturday, referring to the PKK.

Turkey has fought the PKK for decades in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The collapse of a two-and-a-half year cease-fire in July 2015 set the stage for a violent new chapter and ushered vast security operations in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Turkey is also at odds with Western-backed Kurdish factions fighting against Islamic State extremists in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Turkey views these groups as extensions of the PKK.

“We know that these attacks we have endured are not unrelated to happenings in Syria and Iraq, or even our economical fluctuations,” Erdogan said.

A state of emergency was declared following a botched July 15 coup attempt in Turkey and remains in force. The Turkish government has detained tens of thousands of people and fired tens of thousands of others for alleged ties to a cleric-led movement it says was behind the attempted coup, a claim the group denies.

As usual with attacks in Turkey, the prime ministry office imposed a temporary blackout on coverage of Saturday’s explosion and urged media to refrain from publishing anything that may cause “fear in the public, panic and disorder and which may serve the aims of terrorist organizations.”

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Ayse Wieting, Bulut Emiroglu and Neyran Elden in Istanbul also contributed reporting.

Deal reached that could restart Aleppo evacuation

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — An agreement was reached Saturday to allow “humanitarian cases” to leave two besieged government-held Shiite villages in northwestern Syria, a step that would allow the resumption of civilian and rebel evacuations from eastern Aleppo which were suspended a day earlier, Hezbollah’s media arm and a monitoring group said.

The opposition’s Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the evacuation of some 4,000 people, including wounded, from the villages of Foua and Kfarya was expected to start Saturday. It later reported that 29 buses were heading toward the two villages to start the evacuation process, adding that insurgents in the area rejected allowing 4,000 people to leave and saying they will only allow 400 people to be evacuated.

It was not immediately clear whether the alleged evacuation limits set by the insurgents in the two villages would undermine evacuation efforts in Aleppo.

Hezbollah fighters have joined the Syrian war fighting along with President Bashar Assad’s forces. Opposition activists blamed the Lebanese group for blocking the main road south of Aleppo and blocking evacuations from rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the city.

The Aleppo evacuation was suspended Friday after a report of shooting at a crossing point into the enclave by both sides of the conflict. Thousands were evacuated before the process was suspended.

An amateur video posted online by opposition activists Friday showed scores of men, women and children running away from a crossing point for fear of being shot at. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other reporting of the events by The Associated Press.

The Syrian government has said that the village evacuations and the one in eastern Aleppo must be done simultaneously, but the rebels say there’s no connection.

Hezbollah’s Military Media said the new deal also includes the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani near the border with Lebanon where tens of thousands of people are trapped under siege by government forces and the Lebanese group.

A Syrian state TV correspondent, speaking from Aleppo, said Saturday that the main condition for the Aleppo evacuation to resume is for residents of Foua and Kfarya to be allowed to leave.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said thousands of people including women, children, the sick and injured, remain trapped in eastern Aleppo waiting in freezing temperatures for the evacuation to resume. The ICRC said it is aware a new agreement could be reached soon and has called on all parties on the ground to “do their utmost to end this limbo.”

“We’re ready to resume facilitating the evacuation according to our humanitarian mandate. But we now expect all the parties on the ground to provide us with solid guarantees in order to keep the operation going,” said ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, who is currently in Aleppo. “They’re the ones who have to protect the people and provide safe passage. We cannot abandon these people.”

The cease-fire and evacuation from east Aleppo earlier this week marked the end of the rebels’ most important stronghold in the country’s civil war, now in its sixth year. The suspension demonstrated the fragility of the cease-fire deal, in which civilians and fighters in the few remaining blocks of the rebel enclave were to be taken to opposition-held territory nearby.

In announcing the suspension, Syrian state TV said Friday that rebels were trying to smuggle out captives who had been seized in the enclave after ferocious battles with troops supporting Assad.

Reports differed on how many people remain in the Aleppo enclave, ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 civilians, along with an estimated 6,000 fighters.

With the agreement of all parties, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC have already managed to evacuate around 10,000 people, many of whom are in a critical condition, the ICRC statement said. As tension between parties escalated yesterday, the evacuation was put on hold leaving thousands of people still in eastern Aleppo, it added.

There also were conflicting reports on the number of evacuees who left on Thursday and early Friday from east Aleppo. Syrian state TV put it at more than 9,000 while Russia, a key Assad ally, said over 9,500 people, including more than 4,500 rebels, were taken out.

Central American migrants await asylum in southern Mexico

By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN, Associated Press

TENOSIQUE, Mexico (AP) — Carlos Mejia sleeps on a bare mattress in an otherwise unfurnished room with his girlfriend and spreads a sheet on the cool tile for their two young children, a small respite from the sweltering heat. Their neighbors on both sides are Hondurans like them.

He earns $8 a day working 12 hours slicing plastic bottles to put into a compactor, enough to pay the electricity and water and buy some food. But the U.N. refugee agency picks up the rent and that of a growing number of immigrant families in this Mexican city of 32,000 people near the Guatemalan border.

Mejia is among more than 8,000 immigrants expected to seek asylum this year from Mexico, the majority fleeing gang violence in Honduras and El Salvador and to a lesser extent Guatemala. The exodus is turning southern Mexico towns like Tenosique as well as Palenque and Tapachula in neighboring Chiapas state into informal refugee camps.

The decision to settle in Mexico and not continue to the United States is tied to increased recognition of the risks of crossing Mexico and more recently the hostile rhetoric of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, the immigrants and their advocates say.

The number of those seeking asylum in Mexico this year is more than double the 3,423 applicants last year — itself a 65 percent increase from 2014. Applications have risen by about 9 percent each month this year, says the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR.

According to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, or COMAR, about 4,000 of the 6,898 applications it received through October this year made it to the end of the process and of those, 2,162 applicants got refugee status. Another 414 applicants who did not qualify as refugees received other kinds of government protection and escaped deportation.

More migrants are seeking asylum as information about the possibility spreads, said Rafael Zavala, director of the UNHCR office that opened here a year ago as the number of Central Americans seeking protection rose.

“We expect this year’s trend of people seeking protection here in Mexico to continue,” he said.

Mejia, 27, and his girlfriend Saimi Julio, 19, surrendered in October to Mexican immigration authorities at the El Ceibo border crossing, along with their 2-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. They spent 26 days separated in immigration detention before being released to the migrant shelter here.

The couple had applied for asylum as well as a permit letting them seek work, so they only spent a week at the shelter before getting their room with the U.N. agency’s help. It took Mejia another month to find a job.

A response to their asylum requests could take up to three months. Applicants cannot leave the area in the meantime, each week signing in at the local immigration office. If amnesty is denied, they can appeal and continue waiting.

Mejia said he never considered going to the United States.

“It’s hard to go to the U.S.,” he said sitting on the stoop outside his room. “You risk a lot of violence, so much crime along the way.”

The number of asylum applicants remains a fraction of the overall flow. More than 400,000 immigrants — mostly Central Americans — were apprehended along the U.S. southwestern border during the fiscal year that ended in September.

But everything signals migrants are increasingly seeking asylum.

There is a precedent. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mexico took in more than 40,000 Guatemalans fleeing their country’s civil war.

There is no sign Central America’s current violence is letting up. El Salvador’s homicide rate last year was 103 killings for every 100,000 residents, making it the most deadly country not at open war.

Honduras had 64 killings per 100,000 people in 2015. Two of Mejia’s brothers were killed last year in a robbery and he received threats in their homeland.

Tenosique neighborhoods now teem with Hondurans. Narrow passageways lead to rows of rooms housing families.

Wendy Jimenez and her family met Mejia and Julio in Tenosique. They fled Honduras after her husband, Angel Castellon, refused to sell drugs for gang members who retaliated by setting fire to their home.

A large, twisting scar covers Castellon’s upper arm and their 2-year-old daughter has burn scars on her legs and chest. Jimenez earlier lost an uncle and a brother in the country’s violence.

Jimenez and her family made it to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, across the border from Texas on a previous trip. But they were eventually deported back to Honduras. The day after they arrived, they left again.

“Our idea was the United States, but with the situation as it is, I don’t think we can go to the United States,” Jimenez said, referring to Trump’s vows to deport millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally. They heard about the possibility of asylum in Mexico, and on this journey they applied.

In a written response to questions, COMAR said that in September it signed a cooperation agreement with UNHCR, under which the Mexican entity is hiring more staff to keep up with increasing applications.

Tomas Gonzalez Castillo, a friar who founded the migrant shelter in Tenosique, said he has seen changes since it opened a few years ago.

There are more Central American families in Tenosique and they stay longer, unlike earlier waves that rested briefly and continued north. The number of visitors through the shelter is up by about a third this year.

“It is an obligatory migration, forced by the generalized violence,” Gonzalez said. “It is a terrible decomposition of the social fabric.”

The U.N. is laying groundwork for more asylum seekers to stay in Tenosique and “avoid in the future any type of feeling of rejection toward the people who are arriving,” said Zavala, head of the refugee agency’s local office.

The agency has worked with city officials to open a gym and otherwise bring together local youth and their migrant peers, “so the foreigner won’t become a threat, but rather an acquaintance.”

Iran calls for P5+1 meeting over US sanctions extension

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s Foreign Minister in a letter to the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called for a joint commission meeting on the nuclear deal over the extension of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency is reporting Saturday that Mohammad Javad Zarif has requested that Mogherini inform all P5+1 nation members to hold a joint commission meeting over extension of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

American lawmakers voted to extend some sanctions against Iran for another 10 years and although President Barack Obama declined to sign the act it still became law.

Iran believes the U.S. has violated the nuclear deal by renewing the Iran Sanctions Act, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

Gambian electoral crisis tops agenda at West African summit

By MICHELLE FAUL and BASHIR ADIGUN, Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — West African leaders at a summit Saturday discussed how to get Gambia’s longtime ruler to accept an electoral defeat — and a military intervention was among the possible options.

Coup leader Yahya Jammeh shocked Gambians by conceding defeat after a Dec. 1 vote, then changed his mind and called for a new election. The United Nations, the United States and the African Union have all condemned the move.

Gambians “voted decisively for a change in the political leadership of the country,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told the summit. Leaders must decide “measures to bring this matter to successful conclusion before Jan. 19” when Jammeh’s mandate expires.

She is the chair of the Economic Community of West African States. Eleven presidents were at Saturday’s summit in Abuja, Nigeria, with four absentees, most notably Jammeh.

Community President Marcel de Souza said this week a military intervention and “draconian measures” must be considered if diplomacy fails with Jammeh. He spoke in an interview with Radio France International.

Jammeh’s defiance challenges the first regional community in the world to agree to military interventions in member states accused of abusing human rights and democratic principles. It has spent 25 years nurturing democracy in a region once prone to military coups.

Jammeh acted after an opposition coalition official in Gambia said he should be prosecuted for gross human rights abuses. Jammeh is accused of arbitrarily detaining, torturing and sometimes killing political opponents.

Jammeh used the excuse of errors in the vote tally, ignoring the insistence of the country’s Independent Electoral Commission that the winner remains businessman Adama Barrow who won with a revised count of 227,708 votes to Jammeh’s 208,487. Barrow says he now fears for his life.

The ruling party filed a court challenge against the election results Tuesday, a constitutional move complicated by the fact that Gambia’s Supreme Court does not have a quorum. The United States said it doubts it is “a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of Gambia’s democratic process.”

Jammeh on Tuesday sent troops to take over the electoral commission’s office in Banjul, the capital, shortly before a delegation of West African leaders arrived on an inconclusive mission.

Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 in the country of 1.9 million people which is known for its beaches.

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Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.