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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial center, has become the symbol of the country’s five-year war, epitomizing the suffering of a people and setting up the pivotal battle that could decide the war’s outcome.

The city is divided in two, with government forces in the west and rebels in the east. For years, the sides have waged a savage fight for control. Over 450,000 people have been killed and 11 million Syrians, more than half of the country’s population, have fled their homes, creating one of the worst refugee crises in modern history.

The ancient city of Aleppo, once home to nearly three million people, is a shell of its former self. Some of the war’s fiercest street fighting has taken place in Aleppo, where extraordinary amounts of blood have been spilled. Four years of nonstop war there have left mile after mile, block after block, in ruin.

Then in mid-November, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched an all-out assault, hoping to retake the city once and for all.

In the neighborhood of Hanano, the streets are eerie, filled with the sounds of war, but also unsettling silence. In many places, it is a virtual ghost town. But some families are daring to return.

There is a main gathering area in this neighborhood where people can come to get food and warm drinks from aid agencies but they also come to register to let local authorities know they are going back to the homes they left behind years ago.

One resident, Samir Dawalibi, fled two years ago. He returned home to find his building in shambles, and the windows and doors of his apartment blown out. His home had been ransacked, his TV and air conditioning unit stolen.

Dawalibi said he had not expected his home to be “destroyed,” but he was “very happy” to be back.

“This is my house, my memory,” he said.

Another resident, Ahmad Mardinli, brought his sons back to see their home for the first time in four years.

“They said, ‘Daddy, we want to go whether it’s at night or not we want to go and see our homes and our neighborhoods,’” Mardinli said through a translator.

Mardinli is a government worker who fled the neighborhood with his family when the rebels took control, leaving almost everything behind. His 4-year-old son, Majed, was just a few months old at the time. All he has ever known is war.

ABC News' Alex Marquardt walked the five bombed-out blocks to their apartment building and went up the stairs with them to their front door. Before they left years earlier, Mardinli had built a brick wall in front of their door to protect their belongings while they were away. It was still in place when they arrived.

After breaking down the wall, Mardinli’s children ran inside to find many of their belongings still intact. The boys were overjoyed to re-discover lost toys: A Transformer, a Tweety Bird toy and tricycles that had been hidden away.

Mardinli said he felt confident they would be able to stay home this time.

But all around there is a bittersweet mix of homecoming and despair. Others said they had been to their homes, saw what was left and turned back around because so much had been lost.

Tens of thousands, maybe more, are still caught in the middle of the fighting.

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Lance Cpl. Samantha K. Torres(TOKYO) -- A search-and-rescue operation is underway for a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who ejected from his F/A-18 aircraft Wednesday off the coast of Japan.

The pilot ejected at about 4:40 a.m. ET, 120 miles southeast of Iwakuni, Japan, according to a news release from Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in Okinawa.

The F/A-18 was assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa and was conducting "regularly scheduled training at the time of the mishap," Marine Corps Base Camp Butler said.

The cause of the incident is under investigation, and the Marine Corps did not provide further information.

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FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A Pakistan International Airlines flight headed to Islamabad from Chitral has crashed into a mountain after losing contact with the control tower shortly after takeoff, according to Danyal Gillani, a spokesperson for the airline.

There were 42 passengers and six crew on board the flight.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 4:30 p.m. local time. They believe the plane crashed 12 minutes later, Gillani told ABC News.

Controllers reported that they had received a distress signal from the pilot.

An airline official told ABC News the wreckage of the flight has been found and that police have recovered some bodies. It is unclear if there are any survivors.


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iStock/Thinkstock(SUMRATA, Indonesia) — Nearly 100 people are dead in Indonesia after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck off the northern coast of the island of Sumrata.

The number of fatalities has risen to 97, and officials expect that number to rise.

“So far, 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing,” Aceh province military chief Tatang Sulaiman said in a TV interview, according to BBC News.

No tsunami occurred after the quake, but an official said the tremor destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in the area.

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Ray Tamarra/GC Images(TORONTO) -- American actress Meghan Markle has publicly affirmed her relationship with Britain's Prince Harry by wearing a necklace with both their initials.

The chain link necklace includes the initials "M" and "H" and was spotted on Markle, 35, while she ran errands last weekend in Toronto, where she films her television show Suits.

The necklace is believed to be from Los Angeles designer Maya Brenner and retails for $240.

Markle has used her multiple social media accounts to leave hints about her relationship with Harry. Earlier this year, she posted a photo of a beaded bracelet similar to one worn by Harry, who is fifth-in-line to the British throne.

Last weekend, just before Harry landed in Toronto for a two-day visit, Markle posted a photo on Instagram of her dog wearing a sweater emblazoned with the British flag.

Markle captioned the photo "#puppylove."

The actress also posted a photo on Instagram in November of two spooning bananas. The photo was posted when Markle's relationship with Harry first became public.

Harry returned to London Wednesday after a two-day detour to Toronto to see Markle on his way home from his Caribbean royal tour.

The prince joined brokers on the trading floor in London for ICAP Charity Day, which helped raise money for Harry's charity, Sentebale.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President-elect Donald Trump announced that Japanese telecoms and internet company SoftBank will invest $50 billion in the United States and create 50,000 new jobs along with it.

Trump addressed reporters Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of Trump Tower with Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank. Trump introduced the Japanese businessman as "one of the truly great men."

"We are going to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and commit to make, to create 50,000 new jobs," said Son.

When asked how he would do that, Son said that he will "invest into the new start-up companies in the United States."

Son said he met with Trump on his own volition. This meeting was not previously disclosed by transition officials.

"I just came to celebrate his new job. And we were talking about it, and then I said I would like to celebrate his presidential job and commit, you know, because he will do a lot of deregulation. I said this is great, United States, U.S. will become great again," Son said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Alonzo Knowles, a 24-year-old hacker from Freeport, Bahamas, was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday in connection with hacking into celebrities' email accounts.

“Alonzo Knowles hacked into the private emails of entertainment and sports celebrities, stole personal information and property, including unreleased movie and television scripts, and attempted to sell them to the highest bidder," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. "For his frightful violation of privacy, Knowles has been sentenced to a substantial term of imprisonment.”

Knowles pleaded guilty to copyright infringement and identity theft in May, after he hacked the email accounts of celebrities and stole unreleased TV and movie scripts, personal information, and private sexually explicit photos and videos, according to the press release.

He tried to sell some of the material and was arrested a year ago after he traveled to the United States to meet with an undercover federal agent who was posing as a customer, the press release states.

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David Becker/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit(NEW YORK) -- As President-elect Donald Trump expands his search for Secretary of State, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s name has crept into the mix. “I’m honored and thrilled to be on that list,” Huntsman told ABC News, although he cautions that no formal meetings have been set up yet.

Huntsman was Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011, and praised Trump’s phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. Huntsman also spent time as a missionary in Taiwan.

Here is everything you need to know about him:

Full name: Jon Meade Huntsman Jr. Party: Republican Age: 56 Birthdate: March 26, 1960 Education: Bachelors’ Degree, University of Pennsylvania

What he does now: Huntsman is chairman of the Atlantic Council, an International Affairs think tank, and co-chairman of No Labels, a political organization that describes itself, according to its website, as “the voice for the New Center, for the tens of millions of Americans who have effectively been abandoned by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

What he used to do: From 2005 to 2009, Huntsman was Governor of Utah, and subsequently became Ambassador to China, nominated by President Obama. This was Huntsman’s second stint as an ambassador in Asia -- he was U.S. Ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993. He ran as a candidate in the 2012 Presidential race, but withdrew after the New Hampshire primary.

Things you may not know about him: Huntsman has seven children, including two daughters adopted from China and India. His relationship with Trump: Although Huntsman endorsed Trump in May, he was among those who called on the President-elect to withdraw from the race after 2005 audio of Trump bragging about his ability to grope women surfaced.

"In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom —- at such a critical moment for our nation -— and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket," he said in a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune.

What we know about his world view: As a 2012 Presidential Candidate, Huntsman was opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran, but never specified what would lead him to use force over sanctions and diplomacy, which he said he preferred. He supported the withdrawal of forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In regards to Russia, Huntsman argued that the U.S. relationship with the country should be viewed more objectively.

During a GOP Presidential debate in January 2012, Huntsman said the U.S. relationship with China is the most important one of the 21st century.

In a break from Trump, however, Huntsman is a proponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade is all too often blamed for the economic challenges our country faces,” he wrote in “The National Interest” this past summer. “This is especially the case in this campaign season where America’s engagement globally is under assault.”

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ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Amidst speculation that a Trump administration will dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s president declared on Tuesday that his country would “resist” any proposed change to the agreement.

Hassan Rouhani, speaking at the University of Tehran, said that “Americans” will try to pressure Iran, but that his country will “resist this and find answers."

The nuclear deal, referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits placed on Iran’s nuclear program.

Days after the historic agreement was reached in July of 2015, then-Republican primary candidate Donald Trump tweeted that the deal was “a direct national security threat.” The president-elect has also called the agreement “terrible” and “the stupidest deal of all time,” and Vice President-elect Mike Pence has vowed the deal would be “ripped up.”

Rouhani -- who never mentioned Trump by name but referred to him as “some man…elected in the U.S.” -- suspected Trump may desire to weaken or destroy JCPOA.

“Do you suppose we will allow that? Will our nation allow that?” he asked the crowd, which at various times chanted “death to America” in Farsi.

Rouhani also accused the U.S. Congress of already violating the deal by voting for an extension of American sanctions against Iran. He said if President Obama approves the extension “it will be a flagrant violation of the JCPOA and we will react to it with the strongest possible means.”

Trump has suggested he would “renegotiate” the deal, which would involve convincing all five foreign signatories and Iran to go back to the negotiating table to rework an agreement that took years to reach. Most analysts agree that’s not realistic.

Dismantling the deal would require Trump to work with Congress to enact measures to undermine it, such as re-imposing U.S.-based sanctions that were lifted. Rouhani’s comments on Tuesday signal he would not accept such a change in the agreement, pushing Iran to walk away from the nuclear terms.

A Trump administration could also attempt to dismantle it by more strictly enforcing the existing agreement, closely monitoring Iran so that the slightest failure to meet its obligations effectively cancels the deal. As the State Department said last month, "the agreement is valid only as long as all parties uphold it."

Obama has said that Trump is going to face the reality that the Iran deal is working and that it should remain intact.

"To unravel a deal that is working and preventing Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons would be hard to explain, particularly if the alternative would be to have them freed from any obligations and to go ahead and have them pursue a weapon," Obama said.

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Chris Jackson/Getty Images(TORONTO) -- Prince Harry jetted from his Caribbean tour Sunday to see his girlfriend Meghan Markle in Toronto.

Harry, 32, had been scheduled to fly directly back to London at the conclusion of his 15-day, seven-nation royal tour. Instead, he diverted to Toronto, where Markle, 35, films the USA network legal drama Suits.

Harry, the fifth-in-line to the British throne, is due to attend an engagement in London on Wednesday so his trip to Toronto will be short.

Markle was spotted in Toronto, prior to Harry's arrival, grocery shopping and carrying flowers she purchased from a florist. Tabloid outlets also reported that blacked-out SUVs were spotted outside Markle's home in Toronto this week.

Harry and Markle have yet to be photographed together but the actress is known to drop hints on her social media accounts. Over the weekend, she posted a photo of her dog in a Union Jack flag sweater and earlier this fall she posted photos of spooning bananas and flowers in a hotel room.

Markle, who has been dating Harry since the summer, was spotted visiting the prince in London in November. That same month, Kensington Palace made an unprecedented statement acknowledging that Markle was indeed Harry's girlfriend and pleading for privacy.

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Stockbyte/Thinkstock(TOKYO) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday that the U.S. will return some land on its military base in Okinawa back to the Japanese government.

Carter made the announcement at a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

The Japanese government said it will build six helicopter landing zones and access roads so that U.S. forces can continue to train and operate at the base.

"Today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Japanese Prime Minister Abe will announce the intent to return part of the Northern Training Area in Okinawa, Japan to the Government of Japan by the end of this year," a senior defense official told ABC News.

Residents have grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, fueled by a series of incidents involving American service members stationed there. Large crowds gathered on the small island over the summer to protest a U.S. contractor's alleged rape and murder of a local Japanese woman.

In March of 2016, an American sailor was arrested on a charge of raping a Japanese woman. And just before the March incident, Stars and Stripes reported that a 33-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Navy was arrested for allegedly groping a 19-year-old Japanese woman on an airplane and punching her multiple times in the head.

The official said the agreement marks the largest land return by the United States to Japan since 1972.

The official called it "a positive development for the alliance, demonstrating the ongoing commitment of both governments to the realignment of U.S. forces."

A formal ceremony for the return will take place on Dec. 21 and 22.


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Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with President Obama later this month.

Abe will become the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the site of Japan's 1941 attack on the U.S. Naval base that prompted the United States to join World War II 75 years ago.

"The President will ... accompany Prime Minister Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those killed," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced Monday. "The two leaders’ visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values."

Abe's historic visit comes after President Obama earlier this year visited Hiroshima, the site of the U.S. atomic bombing on Japan in 1945, in another first.

Abe's visit to Hawaii is planned for Dec. 27.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President-elect Donald Trump's unprecedented phone call with the leader of Taiwan on Friday, followed by his anti-China tweets on Sunday, signal strongly that upon taking office next month he could seek to deviate further from America's long-standing "One-China" policy.

Trump's phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday (which he says was initiated by Taiwan) prompted headlines across the U.S. that Trump had broken with decades-old policy and even forced the White House to respond and affirm its commitment to current policy.

Secretary of State John Kerry even said over the weekend that it "would be helpful" if the president-elect's transition team consulted with the State Department before speaking with foreign leaders.

So, what is the U.S. position on China and Taiwan and why exactly is it so delicate?

One China, Briefly

Since the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, it's been the official policy of the United States to recognize Taiwan as part of China.

"The United States does not support Taiwan independence," reads the State Department's own fact sheet updated just this past September. But, it goes on, "maintaining strong, unofficial relations with Taiwan is a major U.S. goal, in line with the U.S. desire to further peace and stability in Asia."

In fact, Taiwan is the United States' ninth-largest trading partner, and according to State Department figures, Taiwan employed more than 12,000 workers in the United States and paid them nearly $1 billion. The One China policy amounts to a delicate balance between respecting China's claim to its territory and maintaining close ties to Taiwan.

Missiles Pointed

The U.S. commitment to Taiwan also permits the sale of defensive weapons, and just last year the U.S. sold Taiwan $1.83 billion worth of them, most of which Taipei uses to defend itself from a potential provocations from Beijing.

That last package, the first of its kind in four years, included two Oliver Hazard Perry class Navy frigates, Javelin anti-tank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-ship systems, among other things.

Since 1979, the U.S. carried out $12 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan, and Beijing voices its opposition every time.

David McKeeby, at spokesman in the State Department's bureau of political-military affairs, told ABC News Monday that the U.S is constantly reviewing Taiwan's defensive needs and requests and will continue to do so. "We do not consult Beijing about our military cooperation with or arms sales to Taiwan," McKeeby said.

Despite the weapons sales and the importance of good relations emphasized by both sides, Taiwan is not a treaty ally with the United States and the U.S. has no obligation to defend it in the event it were ever attacked.

Trump's Approach

ABC News learned Monday that Trump's congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan last week was expected and likely pre-arranged by people in his transition team. So, while it was a surprise to China and many in the United States government, Trump's advisers are claiming it was calculated.

Trump took a firm stance towards confronting a rising China during his campaign, repeatedly accusing China of manipulating its currency and once claiming “we already have a trade war [with China]," suggesting he doesn't fear an escalation.

He's also floated the idea of imposing major tariffs on Chinese products. “We have the power over China, economic power, and people don’t understand it," Trump said in April.

He also opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership, which effectively leaves the future trade relationship with China undecided.

Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016

their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016

China's Response

The Chinese government has yet to issue a public rebuke of the phone call, but the Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters Monday that Beijing has been in contact with Trump’s team since the call and suggested that it made its concerns known directly.

However, the Foreign Ministry does not wield the same power as the party leadership and a more meaningful reaction would come from that office or from the Chinese military.

Those bodies might not offer a response until Trump is actually in office and dictating policy.

China’s state owned English newspaper, the China Daily, published an editorial on Saturday saying “for Trump, it exposed nothing but his and his transition team's inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”

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U.S. State Department(ACCRA, Ghana) -- A fake U.S. embassy in the Ghanaian capital of Accra has been issuing counterfeit U.S. visas and false identification documents for about a decade, according to the U.S. State Department.

A recent online story released by the State Department's Diplomatic Security public affairs office detailed how this fake embassy's long criminal history finally ended this past summer when the Regional Security Office, in co-operation with Ghanaian authorities, shut down the operation.

The article began circulating widely over the weekend and a State Department official confirmed the report Monday. Department officials insist that -- to their knowledge -- no one who obtained a counterfeit visa was able to enter the U.S.

The building that housed the fake embassy flew the American flag three days of the week and featured a photo of President Obama inside. Flyers and billboards in Ghana and neighboring Cote d'Ivoire and Togo advertised their fraudulent services for the cost of $6,000.

An investigation found that the operation was run by Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings, as well as a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law. The State Department said Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch posed as "consular officers."

They paid off corrupt officials when suspicions arose over their illegal activities. Those corrupt officials also provided real bank documents so they could be altered by the criminals.

An informant tipped off the Regional Security Office that a fake U.S. embassy and a fake Netherlands embassy were operating in Accra. At the time, diplomatic security agents were looking into a separate fraud investigation under "Operation Spartan Vanguard," which works to address trafficking and fraud plaguing the U.S. embassy in Ghana and the region more broadly.

"The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations," the State Department article said. "The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players."

A series of raids led to the arrest of several suspects and collected evidence that included a laptop, cell phones, 150 passports from 10 countries, legitimate and counterfeit visas, and counterfeit identity documents.

The Ghanaian police plan to pursue the arrest of several other suspects still at large, including the Turkish organized crime group, according to the State Department article.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said during Monday's news briefing that the department was not aware of anyone who attempted to use the counterfeit visas to gain entry into the U.S.

Toner elaborated on how the criminals were able to produce fraudulent documents, saying they obtained a handful of real Ghanaian and foreign passports that were either lost, stolen or sold. Fewer than ten of those contained expired U.S. visas, which the criminals then used as models for counterfeit U.S. visas.

"The visas in question were not stolen from the U.S. embassy," he said.

Toner emphasized the difficulty in producing counterfeit U.S. visas, calling them a "highly secured document" with numerous security features.

As a result of the fake U.S. embassy raid in Accra, as well as other raids identified through Operation Spartan Vanguard, the export of fraudulent documents has decreased by 70 percent in West Africa, according to the State Department article. They views these types of operations as essential to stopping these criminal networks who produce passport and visa fraud, adding, "This is only the beginning."

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Eleonora Costi(ROME) -- Italian photographer Eleonora Costi’s project highlights abandoned places.

"I traveled all through Italy seeking for places filled with stories and lived life, left forgotten and to the power of dust," she said.

Her work features everything from houses, still furnished with richly painted large rooms, to former psychiatric hospitals; from churches to border schools and monasteries.

Shot across Italy, some of the places she features collapsed after earthquakes and the old owners were forced to abandon them. In others, it seems, the people just walked away.

"I'm trying to revive with my photos saving them from oblivion and decay," Costi said.

Costi has found objects like photo albums, medicine, pianos and books. Some places have been looted by vandals, some virtually untouched.

"It's exciting, but also sad to find the objects from previous owners, dinner tables, ready beds and closets full of clothes."

She said she hopes to preserve these places through the images and evoke "stunning emotions, astonishment and uneasiness" for viewers.

"This is the only way to breathe new life into these places," she said.

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