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Lebanon's Hezbollah says it is on the verge of defeating jihadist militants in their last foothold at the frontier

A ceasefire took effect on Thursday in a mountainous area of the Lebanese-Syrian border where Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it is on the verge of defeating jihadist militants in their last foothold at the frontier.

The ceasefire began at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT), halting fighting on all fronts in areas near the Lebanese border town of Arsal where Hezbollah launched its assault on Nusra Front militants on Friday, a military news service run by Hezbollah reported.

A source familiar with negotiations, brokered by a Lebanese internal security agency, said the remaining Nusra Front fighters were willing to accept safe passage to rebel-held parts of Syria. Talks were continuing, the source said.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday his group was close to defeating Nusra Front militants, saying they had “effectively lost” most of the land they held in the barren, mountainous border region known as Jroud Arsal.

He said negotiations had begun on Tuesday between Lebanese officials and the Nusra Front over the withdrawal of remaining militants to insurgent-held territory in Syria.

Security sources say some two dozen Hezbollah fighters have been killed overall, and nearly 150 militants.

Islamic State militants in an adjacent area of the border zone are expected to be targeted in the next phase of the operation unless they agree to withdraw.

The Nusra Front was al Qaeda’s official wing in the Syrian war until last year when it formally severed ties to the global jihadist network and rebranded itself. It now fights as part of the Tahrir al-Sham Islamist alliance, which it dominates.

Hezbollah has played a major role in fighting militants in the border region during the six-year Syrian war, part of a much bigger role it has played in the Syrian conflict in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Arsal region was the scene of one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, when Nusra Front and Islamic State militants briefly overran the town of Arsal, abducting dozens of Lebanese soldiers and policemen.

Islamic State is still holding nine Lebanese soldiers captured at that time. Their fate is unknown.
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Russian intelligence agents attempted to spy on President Emmanuel Macron’s election campaign earlier this year by creating phony Facebook personas, according to a U.S. congressman and two other people briefed on the effort.

About two dozen Facebook accounts were created to conduct surveillance on Macron campaign officials and others close to the centrist former financier as he sought to defeat far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and other opponents in the two-round election, the sources said. Macron won in a landslide in May.

Facebook said in April it had taken action against fake accounts that were spreading misinformation about the French election. But the effort to infiltrate the social networks of Macron officials has not previously been reported.

Russia has repeatedly denied interfering in the French election by hacking and leaking emails and documents. U.S. intelligence agencies told Reuters in May that hackers with connections to the Russian government were involved, but they did not have conclusive evidence that the Kremlin ordered the hacking.

Facebook confirmed to Reuters that it had detected spying accounts in France and deactivated them. It credited a combination of improved automated detection and stepped-up human efforts to find sophisticated attacks.

Company officials briefed congressional committee members and staff, among others, about their findings. People involved in the conversations also said the number of Facebook accounts suspended in France for promoting propaganda or spam – much of it related to the election – had climbed to 70,000, a big jump from the 30,000 account closures the company disclosed in April.

Facebook did not dispute the figure.

SEEKING FRIENDS OF FRIENDS

The spying campaign included Russian agents posing as friends of friends of Macron associates and trying to glean personal information from them, according to the U.S. congressman and two others briefed on the matter.

Facebook employees noticed the efforts during the first round of the presidential election and traced them to tools used in the past by Russia’s GRU military intelligence unit, said the people, who spoke on condition they not be named because they were discussing sensitive government and private intelligence.

Facebook told American officials that it did not believe the spies burrowed deep enough to get the targets to download malicious software or give away their login information, which they believe may have been the goal of the operation.

The same GRU unit, dubbed Fancy Bear or APT 28 in the cybersecurity industry, has been blamed for hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and many other political targets. The GRU did not respond to a request for comment.

Email accounts belonging to Macron campaign officials were hacked and their contents dumped online in the final days of the runoff between Macron and Le Pen.

French law enforcement and intelligence officials have not publicly accused anyone of the campaign attacks.

Mounir Mahjoubi, who was digital director of Macron’s political movement, En Marche, and is now a junior minister for digital issues in his government, told Reuters in May that some security experts blamed the GRU specifically, though they had no proof.

Mahjoubi and En Marche declined to comment.

There are few publicly known examples of sophisticated social media spying efforts. In 2015, Britain’s domestic security service, MI5, warned that hostile powers were using LinkedIn to connect with and try to recruit government workers.

The social media and networking companies themselves rarely comment on such operations when discovered.

Facebook, facing mounting pressure from governments around the world to control “fake news’ and propaganda on the service, took a step toward openness with a report in April on what it termed “information operations.”

The bulk of that document discussed so-called influence operations, which included “amplifier” accounts that spread links to slanted or false news stories in order to influence public opinion.
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UK Border control at Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport

Freedom of movement of workers between Britain and the European Union will end when Britain withdraws from the bloc, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said on Thursday.

“Free movement of labour ends when we leave the European Union in spring 2019,” Lewis told BBC radio.

Lewis also said a new immigration system would be in place by spring 2019. Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019.

“Once we have left the EU, this government will apply its own immigration rules and requirements that will meet the needs of UK businesses, but also of wider society,” Interior Minister Amber Rudd said in an article in the Financial Times.

“I also want to reassure businesses and EU nationals that we will ensure there is no ‘cliff edge’ once we leave the bloc,” Rudd said.
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Alexander Vinnik, a Russian man suspected of running a money laundering operation, is escorted by a plain-clothes police officer to a court in Thessaloniki

A Russian man suspected of laundering at least $4 billion of criminal funds by switching them into the digital currency bitcoin has been arrested in Greece, police said on Wednesday.

Police sources identified the individual as Alexander Vinnik, 38. After a tip-off, he was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece, on a US warrant, and police said the United States would seek to extradite him.

“Since 2011 the 38-year-old has been running a criminal organisation which administers one of the most important websites of electronic crime in the world,” police said in a statement, describing an alleged money laundering operation that “legalises proceeds from illegal activities”.

It was thought that ‘at least’ $4 billion in cash had been laundered through a bitcoin platform since 2011; the platform had 7 million bitcoins deposited, and 5.5 million bitcoins in withdrawals.

Bitcoin was the first digital currency to successfully use cryptography to keep transactions secure and hidden, making traditional financial regulation difficult if not impossible.

The detainee was held on four counts of running an unlicensed money-transfer operation, conspiracy, money laundering in violation of 17 acts in the U.S. criminal code, and transactions in cash acquired through illicit means.

The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow said it had no information on the case.

In a separate prominent cybercrime case, the United States is seeking to extradite another Russian, Peter Levashov, from Spain. US prosecutors have charged him with hacking offences, saying he operated a network of tens of thousands of infected computers used by cyber criminals.