Space station crew to inspect mysterious hole on spacewalk

MOSCOW (AP) — Two Russian cosmonauts were preparing to venture outside the International Space Station Tuesday to inspect a section where a mysterious leak has been discovered. The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a … Continue reading “Space station crew to inspect mysterious hole on spacewalk”

MOSCOW (AP) — Two Russian cosmonauts were preparing to venture outside the International Space Station Tuesday to inspect a section where a mysterious leak has been discovered.

The leak was spotted on Aug. 30 in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station. The crew quickly located and sealed the tiny hole that created a slight loss of pressure, and space officials said the station has remained safe to operate.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopyev will conduct a six-hour spacewalk to inspect the Soyuz's outer surface. They will uncover the thermal insulation covering the patched hole and take samples that will be studied by experts.

Kononenko, who arrived at the station earlier this month with NASA astronaut Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, said in a pre-flight interview that the spacewalk would be a strenuous effort.

"It's going to be challenging both physically and technically," he said.

Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in September that the hole could have been drilled during manufacture or while in orbit. He didn't say if he suspected any of the crew, but the statement has caused some bewilderment.

Rogozin has since backpedaled on his statement, saying that he never pointed the finger at U.S. astronauts and blaming the media for twisting his statement.

He said recently that the Russian official probe is ongoing and some of the station's crew who are set to come back to Earth on Dec. 20 will take the samples that are collected during the spacewalk. Rogozin added that Roscosmos will discuss the probe findings with NASA and other space station partners.

Google has ‘no plans to launch search in China,’ CEO Pichai says

Speaking in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday amid allegations of anti-conservative bias and privacy violations on the platform, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company had "no plans to launch search in China."

Pichai responded to Congresswoman Jackson Lee's (D.-Tx.) question when she said she was concerned about the company's controversial Project Dragonfly and asked what the company is doing to minimize the efforts.

The Google CEO said: "Right now, we have no plans to launch [a search product] in China," adding that "getting access to information is an important human right."

GOOGLE CEO SUNDAR PICHAI TESTIFIES BEFORE HOUSE COMMITTEE — LIVE BLOG

Google has not yet responded to a request for comment on whether Pichai's comments signaled a new stance for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company or whether they were in line with the company's previous statements.

The search giant has typically couched its words about any potential Chinese search engine very carefully.

In October, speaking at a Wired tech conference, Pichai was asked whether Google could operate in China and if so, what would it look like. He answered the question by saying that the company would be able "to serve well over 99 percent of the queries there are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what's available."

At the Wired conference, he expanded upon that by touching on areas such as cancer treatments and said Google could help provide useful information instead of fake treatments.

"So things like that, you know, weigh heavily on us, but we want to balance it with you know with what the conditions would be," Pichai said "So we haven't made …it's very early. We don't know whether we would or could do this in China, but we felt it was important for us to explore."

REPORT REVEALS GOOGLE IS TRACKING YOU IF YOU LIKE IT OR NOT

Heat from the inside and outside

The search giant, owned by internet holding company Alphabet, has come under considerable scrutiny, both internal and external, about its intentions for the search engine, internally known as Project Dragonfly, which would be app-based, and any perception that it would be kowtowing to the Chinese government's demands for censorship.

On Tuesday, a human rights group issued a letter to Pichai and the company asking them "to drop Project Dragonfly and any plans to launch a censored search app in China, and to re-affirm the company's 2010 commitment that it won't provide censored search services in the country. The letter was first reported by The Intercept, which first broke the news of the potential search engine.

In remarks made at the Hudson Institute in October, Vice President Mike Pence specifically called out Google by name and said it should abandon the project. "More business leaders are thinking beyond the next quarter, and thinking twice before diving into the Chinese market if it means turning over their intellectual property or abetting Beijing’s oppression," Pence said in his prepared remarks. "But more must follow suit. For example, Google should immediately end development of the 'Dragonfly' app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers…"

In August, Google employees revolted over the controversial project, with more than 1,000 of them writing a letter to company management expressing their displeasure with the proposed search engine. Employees demanded that the company be more transparent about its decisions. The letter also called the project's ethics into question.

Following the letter from its own employees, more than a dozen human rights groups sent a separate letter, calling on the search giant to abandon its controversial initiative. Organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders wrote to CEO Pichai that complying with Chinese censorship would represent "an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights."

"The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities' repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China," the letter said.

In September, several employees reportedly quit their jobs over the project, citing a lack of accountability and transparency at the company.

Fox News' Christopher Carbone contributed to this report. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

Doctors caught between struggling opioid patients and crackdown on prescriptions

This is the second of a three-part series on the nation's struggle to address its crippling opioid crisis, and the unintended victims left in its wake. Read Part 1 here: As doctors taper or end opioid prescriptions, many patients driven to despair, suicide.

Dr. Stephen Nadeau received a warning from the Gainesville, Fla., hospital where he worked.

Their policy on prescribing opioids was changing, to go beyond federal guidelines aimed at the national overdose crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The hospital would stop treating pain with opioids. And every doctor, including Nadeau, had to stop prescribing them. Doctors otherwise risked losing hospital admitting privileges – and perhaps even their medical license.

In Helena, Mont., Dr. Mark Ibsen was feeling heat from the state medical board – and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), for the high-dose opioids he was prescribing to patients in severe, chronic pain. An allegation made by what he described as a disgruntled employee charged Ibsen was overprescribing.

As a result, the state medical board suspended his license. The DEA visited five times, Ibsen said, suggesting he was risking his livelihood and could end up in jail if he kept prescribing.

Both doctors complied and stopped prescribing, affecting roughly 230 of their patients. Tragically, among those were several who committed suicide, the doctors said, when they couldn’t find another health care provider to relieve the pain.

That’s a scenario playing out across the country, as government agencies respond to the staggering rate of drug overdose deaths, involving primarily illegal opioids like heroin and illicit fentanyl. Doctors who maintain they are responsibly prescribing opioids are getting caught up in the crackdown, according to dozens of medical care providers interviewed by Fox News, leaving little room to both play by the rules and properly treat huge numbers of patients who legitimately suffer chronic and intense pain.

Some doctors like Ibsen and Nadeau are opting to simply stop prescribing legal opioids, as insurers, pharmacies, and authorities warn them about overstepping guidelines issued in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Meanwhile, other doctors, nurses and medical associations accuse the federal government of interfering in the physician-patient relationship, and pursuing simplistic, politically expedient solutions that put tens of millions of Americans at risk.

“Not only is the government legislating the way we care for chronic pain patients,” said Nadeau, a professor of neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, “they are substantially taking away our ability to do it.”

CDC GUIDELINES CONTROVERSY

Critics of the way the 2016 guidelines have been applied note they were not intended as law, but as a means to advise primary care physicians. The CDC specifically cautioned against abruptly stopping or forcibly tapering opioid treatment for patients already taking them, because of the danger of withdrawals, or debilitation.

More than 300 health care professionals, including former drug czars in the Clinton, Nixon and Obama administrations, have signed an as-yet unpublished public letter to the CDC, warning of a brewing crisis among pain patients, despite the “laudable goals” of the guidelines.

“Within a year of (CDC) Guideline publication, there was evidence of widespread misapplication of some of the Guideline recommendations,” said the letter, written by three doctors and a pharmacist. “Soon, clinicians prescribing higher doses, pharmacists dispensing them, and patients taking them came under suspicion.”

“Patients with chronic pain, who are stable and, arguably, benefiting from long-term opioids, face draconian and often rapid involuntary dose reductions,” the letter continued. “Often, alternative pain care options are not offered, not covered by insurers, or not accessible … Consequently, patients have endured not only unnecessary suffering, but some have turned to suicide or illicit substance use. Others have experienced preventable hospitalizations or medical deterioration.”

Others argue many authorities have misunderstood, or outright ignored, the CDC’s disclaimer. Health care providers who don’t drop opiate painkillers are setting strict limits on dosage limits, even for chronic pain sufferers who require more medicine because of serious conditions, or the way they hyper-metabolize opioids. Many who do so cite the CDC guidelines, saying they were told to follow them — or took them up as a kind of pre-emptive strike.

Not only is the government legislating the way we care for chronic pain patients, they are substantially taking away our ability to do it.

— Dr. Steve Nadeau, a professor of neurology at the University of Florida College of Medicine

Dozens of pain patients have told Fox News they were dropped or forcibly tapered down by doctors who long treated them quite successfully, but who became fearful about losing their license after being formally admonished, or hearing about other doctors who ran afoul of the government.

Meredith Lawrence, who lived in Tennessee with her husband, Jay, while he suffered decades of pain following a tractor-trailer accident, recalled the helplessness she felt watching him suffer, while his dosage of opioids was being sharply reduced.

Lawrence said the doctor who had treated him successfully for years was very clear about his decision to taper down the dosage.

“He said ‘My patients’ quality of life is not worth risking my practice or my license over,'" she told Fox News. "I’ll never forget that.”

“Jay felt like they gave up on him,” she said, recalling what finally prompted her husband to kill himself. “That was the day Jay gave up. He felt the doctor gave up – and he gave up.”

Dr. Stephen Nadeau

DEA TARGETING ‘WORST OF THE WORST’

Much of the opioid overdose epidemic in recent years stems from illegal drugs, not legitimate prescriptions. But more than a decade of overprescribing – out of ignorance for some, and for others the chance to rake in big profits – played a significant part, according to federal authorities and others who have studied the issue.

Assured by what some charged were deliberately deceptive pharmaceutical companies insisting opioids weren’t very addictive, some health care providers prescribed liberally, even for minor procedures such as a pulled tooth, or non-serious orthopedic injuries. Overprescribing led to greater daily dosages or easy-to-get refills – more than were needed. That, along with the theft and resale of opioids from people who had prescriptions, laid the groundwork for the crisis.

Most prescribers say they recognize many health providers were not prudent enough when prescribing opioids. And many doctors noted they were previously criticized for undertreating pain. Medical schools devoted little time to the study of pain and to opioids, they also say.

“Physicians and particularly medical school residency programs should have been taking more responsibility. Pain is the most common condition, and it’s one of the most difficult to treat,” said Nadeau. “And there [have been] pill mills that have relied on physicians to prescribe and many have done so very irresponsibly. But I think many are compassionate physicians … it’s a reflection of the inadequacy of their training that they basically had to learn the ropes on their own.”

John Martin, the DEA’s Administrator of the Diversion Control Division, said an overwhelming percentage of prescribers followed the rules. Of 1.6 million registrants, he said, less than one percent “operate outside the law.”

But there are still unscrupulous prescribers.

“Remember, with the opioid epidemic, just one practitioner that’s operating outside the law can really have a lot of serious consequences. In a small community, it can wreak havoc,” Martin said. “They’re really going after the worst of the worst of the criminal violators.”

Martin said most prescribers have nothing to worry about.

“Doctors are writing less prescriptions. And that goes down to education with the CDC guidelines," he said. "There's a new and different way of looking at using opioids for chronic pain.”

But that’s not what prescribers and patients see.

“Doctors around the country are terrified because of what happened to me and other doctors,” Ibsen said. “We don’t arrest car dealers if someone drives a car and gets into a fatal accident.”

“Standards of care are being decided by a jury of people without medical training,” Ibsen added. “It’s a very bad situation. We’re playing Whack-a-mole with the wrong mallet.”

Remember, with the opioid epidemic, just one practitioner that’s operating outside the law can really have a lot of serious consequences. In a small community, it can wreak havoc…[the DEA agents] are really going after the worst of the worst of the criminal violators.

— John Martin, DEA Administrator of the Diversion Control Division

THE CHALLENGE OF PAIN MANAGEMENT

For many medical professionals, treating pain patients has become a thankless task. The stakes are too high, they say, as even those who try to responsibly manage opioid treatment for their sickest pain patients find themselves hounded by authorities or pharmacists.

Many doctors say they view opioids as a last resort. They are very strong medicines, which often come with strong side effects, ranging from constipation, nausea, liver damage and respiratory problems. Many pain patients said in interviews they were reluctant to take them initially, and eventually did only after other treatments and surgeries failed.

“If we had a good alternative to opioids, every physician would be at the front line of it to prescribe that,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, vice president of PRA Health Sciences, and the past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

In a recent survey by the North Carolina Medical Board of its licensees, 43 percent of 2,661 respondents said they had stopped prescribing opioids. They attributed their decision to concern about getting into trouble.

Patients complained to the board doctors had cut them off, pointing to the CDC guidelines or an initiative by the board aimed at cracking down on health care providers who prescribed high doses of opioids, or who had two or more patients die of overdoses in a year.

And of 3,000 doctors responding to a recent nationwide survey by the SERMO physician network for BuzzFeed News, 70 percent said they had dramatically cut down or altogether stopped prescribing opioids. The main reasons were “too many hassles and risks involved,” “improved understanding of the risks of opioids,” and fear of “getting into trouble,” according to BuzzFeed.

Yet another survey, commissioned by The Physicians Foundation, showed about 70 percent of nearly 9,000 physicians nationwide were prescribing fewer opioids.

In Nevada, where so many doctors stopped taking pain patients after the state implemented strict opioid prescription rules – which increased required record-keeping – physicians like Dan Laird now have a six-month waiting list.

“We turn patients away every day,” said Laird, who last year could fit in patients soon after they called for an appointment. “It’s heartbreaking, but many can’t find doctors.”

Many pain patients told Fox News that after being forcibly tapered down or abandoned by their pain doctors, they have lost much of their ability to function. Many said they have made suicide plans.

"I have heard from — either through email or posts on my blogs – about 1,000 people over past two years who have been denied pain medicine or forced to dramatically reduce their dose who have expressed a desire to die or commit suicide," Webster said.

Karen Nicholson, a former federal prosecutor who credits her opioid treatment with allowing her to function after years of being bedridden, said: “We’re looking only at the supply, and cutting off people who are not abusing the medication. It made all the difference in the world, I couldn’t sit or stand or walk because of nerve damage. I went from being bed-ridden and completely non-functional to doing my work as a prosecutor.”

WARNINGS, RAIDS AND ARRESTS

Health care providers who prescribe opioids, particularly to high-impact chronic pain patients, are finding themselves on the radar of any number of sources – pharmacists, state medical boards, insurers, and law enforcement.

In a speech about the national overdose deaths epidemic in March, President Trump said: “Whether you are a dealer or doctor or trafficker or a manufacturer, if you break the law and illegally peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable.”

But the red line triggering disciplinary action often is inconsistent, and murky. The CDC considers an opioid’s benefits to outweigh risks if it improves pain and function by at least 30 percent. But, doctors say, those factors rarely are considered when authorities scrutinize prescribing patterns.

More often, it’s large amounts of opioids and high doses – statistics on a spreadsheet or chart, without the context of a patient’s medical condition — that can bring disciplinary action.

On Nov. 2, Dr. J. Julian Grove posted to Twitter a letter his Phoenix office had received from Walgreens. Grove said he wanted to provide chronic pain patients “an insight to the veiled threats” that health care providers treating pain are getting these days.

The letter said: “Walgreens has determined that you may have issued prescriptions for opioids that exceed the CDC guidelines.”

It said Walgreens had the right to refuse to fill a prescription that falls outside the guidelines, and added: “Walgreens pharmacists may notify appropriate regulatory agencies when prescriptions are refused.”

Grove blasted the letter.

“I am a double board-certified anesthesiologist and pain specialist, treating complex pain and cancer pain always w/comprehensive approach," he said. "Insulting.”

Asked about Walgreen’s pressure on prescribers to follow the CDC guidelines, company spokesman Phil Caruso told Fox News in a statement: “As a key patient touchpoint in the nation’s healthcare delivery system, we regularly communicate with prescribers to help ensure the safe and effective dispensing of medications in the best interest of our customers … Fighting the opioid epidemic requires all parties, including leaders in the community, physicians, pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies, insurance companies, PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers) and regulators to play a role and coordinate efforts.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta announced in October that some 30 doctors were put on notice there for prescribing opioids in larger quantities and higher doses than others. Prosecutors enclosed the CDC guidelines with the warning letters.

U.S. Attorney B. Jay Pak called those doctors “outliers,” adding the warning letters were meant to point out “atypical practices.” Significantly, Pak said the doctors may not have done anything wrong.

“It is our plan to strategically reduce the impact of this crisis within our community by notifying outlier prescribers that their opioid prescribing habits are not in conformity with accepted standards, or the prescribing habits of their peers,” the agency said in a statement. “Through this initiative and others, it is the goal of the Department of Justice to reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third over the next three years.”

Prescribers particularly dread getting in the crosshairs of the DEA, which can revoke permission to manufacture, distribute and dispense controlled substances. The agency opens about 1,500 new opioid cases per year and makes more than 2,000 arrests. The arrests include DEA registrants, doctor-shopping patients, and prescription forgery rings.

Martin, the DEA administrator, said that actions against prescribers are not undertaken arbitrarily.

“When we are investigating something like a doctor that may be overprescribing, you know because we're not doctors, in the course of our investigation we are going to solicit medical experts,” Martin said. “We'll try to get what's called prescription drug monitoring program information and that's information that the states have at their level that shows how many prescriptions are being written by a doctor for a patient and being filled at a certain pharmacy."

“So we'll try to look at that stuff and then maybe go out to that pharmacy and do an inspection and look at their records and just see if there's anything more there and then we'll follow up with that,” he said.

Roughly 800 prescribers each year surrender their DEA registration – a kind of license – when the agency opens an investigation. DEA investigations can involve having assets and medical records seized. In some cases that can lead to bankruptcy, doctors said, prompting many to surrender their opioid prescribing rights, rather than fight a battle against a behemoth government.

Ibsen was an emergency room doctor in Montana when he became – as he puts it, an “accidental pain doctor,” taking “pain refugees” whose doctors had been arrested. Many patients were very ill and suffered severe chronic pain, said Ibsen, who added he was able to wean many patients down to lower doses.

Ibsen said he became a target of the state board of medical examiners after an employee he fired filed a complaint, saying he over-prescribed. His license was suspended but eventually reinstated – after four years. But he decided to stop prescribing opioids after five visits from the DEA.

“They were very vague,” he said of the DEA agents. “They said ‘You’re risking your freedom by prescribing to patients like these.’ I said ‘Patients like what?’ They said, ‘Patients who might sell the pills.’”

“Doctors are taking plea deals because they don’t want to go to prison,” said Ibsen, who was not charged. “Once they arrest a doctor, they seize all their medical records. A doctor can’t make any more income. They seize your assets, and can’t afford an attorney.”

Ibsen referred patients to a prominent pain doctor in California, Dr. Forrest Tennant, who became known for taking people cut off by other doctors. Tennant for years had been researching non-opioid alternatives.

Then the DEA raided Tennant’s office. The agency never charged him, but he, too, gave up prescribing opioids.

“It’s immoral and unsafe to forcibly taper down or abandon a patient,” said Tennant, whose patients included those with terminal illnesses. “Some doctors don’t give these patients any withdrawal medication. Who is the worst offender, then? The CDC, the DEA, the U.S. attorneys who are shutting down doctors, or the doctors who abandon patients?”

One Tennant patient, Jennifer Adams, a former Montana police officer who had been treated by Ibsen, died from a self-inflicted gunshot in April, after the California doctor’s office was raided by the DEA.

Tennant said he respects the idea “the DEA has a right and responsibility to investigate.”

“But since I used high doses, they said my patients were going to overdose and die,” Tennant said. “I’ve been practicing a long time, I’ve not had a single overdose. I’ve given patients thousands of opioid equivalents. I know how patients should be monitored.”

Dr. Lesly Pompy was one of a few pain physicians in a rural part of Michigan, serving as many as 1,500, the majority of them referrals from other doctors who could not treat their chronic conditions. A pain specialist since 1995, he kept long hours, sometimes going to hospital emergency rooms when he was summoned to help a patient in severe pain. Sometimes he would try nerve blocks, many other times opioids.

On Sept. 26, 2016, roughly 25 law enforcement officers raised Pompy’s office at the ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital.

“There were DEA agents, county and local police, they had everybody in my waiting room and who worked in my office put their hands up. Children were crying. There was a helicopter over the building. It was like a scene from a Jason Bourne movie," he said.

Pompy was charged with unlawful distribution of prescription drugs and health care fraud from 2012 to 2016. A federal jury indicted him this summer on 37 counts. The indictment maintained Pompy illegally prescribed some 10 million dosage units of controlled substances that fell outside the realm of standard practice. He was also accused of inappropriately filing claims to insurers.

Pompy denies the charges and claims that because he prescribed large quantities of opioids, some to severe pain patients who require high doses, he became a target.

"The damage that the proliferation of opioid distribution has done to our community, like many across the United States has been devastating,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said, according to published reports. “It’s particularly disturbing when the distributor is a medical professional.”

Pompy’s former patients and some former employees have stood by him, saying he is being scapegoated. Former patients have held rallies and started a Facebook group in support of him.

Janet Zureki, a former patient of Pompy, said that — as often happens after a prescriber's arrest — patients were left in limbo, having to scramble to find another pain doctor. “After the raid and he could no longer prescribe, everyone was dangerously cut off of their medicines, including me,” she said. “It took me three months to find another pain doctor and they put me on a lower dose of medicine. During that three month period, I had to go without medicine and go through withdrawal.”

Zureki defends Pompy.

“As a doctor, I found him to be very compassionate and he also ran a tight ship,” she said. “I have been in his office and have heard him address someone who wasn’t taking their medicine properly, so I know he didn’t stand for that. He worked tirelessly to help the people in our community,” she said.

DOCTORS LAMENT WALKING AWAY

Nadeau is bewildered over having to stop treating his pain patients, at least one of whom died by suicide. And he said his hospital’s decision to stop working with opioids is by no means unique.

Hospitals increasingly see opioids as a liability; an overdose can land them in a lawsuit, he said. But he wrestles with the fact there are people he can no longer help.

“I can’t provide comprehensive care for my patients, meaning treatment of pain, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and other problems,” Nadeau said. “In patients with chronic pain, there nearly always are a lot of problems.”

Nadeau reached out to fellow physicians to see if they would take his pain patients.

“It’s been extremely difficult to find physicians to provide comprehensive pain therapy,” he said. “I don’t blame physicians for being scared to death and for prescribing to CDC guidelines, but I do blame [some of] them for treating patients badly.”

For his part, Ibsen is treating patients with medical marijuana. Ibsen said he always strived to get patients on opioids to agree to taper down, and about 80 percent did, often using medical cannabis. For the others, opioids were the best treatment, Ibsen said. He understands the threat of the overdose epidemic all too well.

“My nephew died of a heroin overdose” in the summer, he said. “But incarcerating doctors is not going to solve the addiction crisis.”

“There are two things doctors do – we save lives and we relieve suffering. If we’re not willing now to relieve suffering, then what are we about?”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

Lebanon: Israel destroying border tunnels won’t affect calm

BEIRUT – Lebanon's president said Tuesday that Israel's operation to destroy what it says is a series of cross-border attack tunnels built by the militant Hezbollah group won't endanger the calm along the frontier, adding that his country takes the issue seriously.

Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said that Lebanon is prepared to address the issue after assessing a full report on the situation.

Aoun said the United States has informed Lebanon that Israel has "no aggressive intentions," adding that his country harbored none either.

"We are ready to remove the causes of the disagreements, but after we get the full report and decide what are the issues we need to handle," Aoun said.

Israel launched an operation to destroy a series of tunnels last week, showing one to U.N. peacekeepers and calling it a violation of the cease-fire that ended the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

The peacekeeping force, or UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of two tunnels. On Tuesday, the mission's head, Maj. Stefano Del Col, said he met with Aoun and Lebanon's parliament speaker and informed them that UNIFIL experts have inspected two tunnels near Metulla, along the border north of Israel.

"This is a serious matter and UNIFIL is working in close coordination with the parties both at the technical level as well as at the leadership level to ensure that all related facts are objectively determined and diligently addressed in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701," Del Col said in a statement.

He said the inspection of tunnels is a "work in progress," vowing that UNIFIL will "make every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding on this sensitive matter."

Aoun spoke alongside Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who plans to visit 180 Austrian peacekeepers in southern Lebanon the following day.

Van der Bellen said he calls on the two sides "to keep calm."

"You are in a region that … will be for the next years, decades, always a difficult region as long as we have no real peace between Israel and its neighbors," Van der Bellen said. "It's in the interest of all countries of the region to keep the borders as they are, for economic reasons, for social reasons, and for development reasons. I think Israel is no exception to that."

Lawrence of Arabia may have been murdered by British secret service, new film suggests

A controversial new biopic about T.E. Lawrence suggests British secret service may have murdered the famous desert warrior.

The British army officer and archeologist, the desert warrior of Lawrence of Arabia fame who played a key role in the defeat of the Ottoman Empire a century ago, died in a motorcycle accident in England in May 1935, at the age of 46.

In an email to FoxNews.com, Mark Griffin, who has written "Lawrence: After Arabia", explained that the biopic "covers the accident as both an accident or [a] possible assassination − about 10% of the film − so the viewer can make up their own mind."

“In my opinion – and I know this is a polarizing question – it could have been a conspiracy but I also believe it could have been an accident, hence covering why we show both aspects within the movie," he said.

Griffin told British newspaper the Daily Mirror last month that a “credible” explanation for the 1935 death is that the British intelligence apparatus assassinated Lawrence. British spies opposed Sir Winston Churchill’s plan to appoint Lawrence as the director of the espionage organization, Griffin claims.

BODIES OF MISSING ICELANDIC CLIMBERS FOUND 30 YEARS AFTER THEY DISAPPEARED

Lawrence of Arabia, early 20th century. Artist: Unknown. Lawrence of Arabia, early 20th century. Thomas Edward Lawrence, (1888-1935), most famously known as Lawrence of Arabia, gained international renown for his role as a British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918.  (Colorized black and white print. Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

“There were many credible reasons someone might have wanted him dead. Zionists, the Secret Service and the establishment were all against him," he said.

“First, he continued to be involved in the Arab cause, and was in regular contact with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who was angry that the Allies hadn’t kept their promises on the Balfour Declaration about Jewish settlements in Palestine, and was talking of an Arab revolt.”

Lawrence obtained valuable experience in gathering intelligence during the British campaign against the Turks during the First World War.

The filmmaker went as far to claim that Lawrence was also linked to Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts, an infamous fascist party in the U.K., and there is also speculation about the possibility of Lawrence meeting Hitler.

“He might have been infiltrating the [fascist] group so he could find out more about the Nazis and the threat of a Second World War, or he might have gone native," Griffin said.

British soldier, adventurer and author Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888 – 1935) known as Lawrence Of Arabia. He joined the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I and was instrumental in the conquest of Palestine (1918). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The problem with Griffin’s claims are the lack of any solid evidence. Leading Lawrence scholars such as Jeremy Wilson, the author of "Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence (1989)", said: “Countless fictions have built up around Lawrence’s life.”

Wilson, who died in April 2017, wrote that people who leveled false claims about Lawrence “wanted to make money by publishing a new and preferably sensational ‘revelation.’ That process is still going on.”

In his 2010 biography "Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia", the prominent writer Michael Korda debunked the conspiracy theories about Lawrence’s death.

Griffin, whose film is expected to be released in 2020, told Fox News: “We view the film as the third in the trilogy following Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dangerous Man (1996) and the focus by the media on the ‘conspiracy’ aspect within the film has been over-egged − due I think to the local interest in the story.”

BETTIE PAGE'S 'LOST YEARS' REVEALED IN 'TREASURE TROVE' OF UNSEEN LETTERS AND PHOTOS

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made, winning seven Oscars in 1963.

Griffin told FoxNews.com his film “is a biopic which focuses on the last year of TEL’s life including his PTSD, his treatment as a teenager, his friendships with [Thomas] Hardy, [Winston] Churchill, Lady Astor etc.”

Jacob Rosen, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan and a top Lawrence expert, told FoxNews.com that Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, met with him [Lawrence] several times.

"He was very instrumental and I don’t think Zionists would have anything against him.”

Winston Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert has documented what he termed Lawrence’s “little known romance with Zionism,” including Lawrence’s comment prior to WWI on Jews in then-Palestine: “The sooner the Jews farm it the better: their colonies are bright spots in a desert.”

Rosen, who has the world’s largest collection of different foreign language versions of T.E. Lawrence’s biography Seven Pillars of Wisdom and has written and lectured on Lawrence, said Lawrence was “mentally exhausted” after he was released from his military service and he does not think he would have accepted an appointment to oversee the United Kingdom’s intelligence community.

“I am a diplomat and want to see the full picture,” Rosen said about the movie’s claims. “Let him present the evidence.”

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Indonesia rejects rebels’ demand on Papua independence talks

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia's government on Tuesday rejected a demand by rebels in the country's restive Papua province to hold negotiations on the territory's self-determination, following a Dec. 2 attack on a construction site that left at least 17 dead.

An insurgency has simmered in Papua since the early 1960s, when Indonesia annexed the region that was a former Dutch colony. It was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.

Sebby Sambom, spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army, the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, said in a telephone interview last Friday that the attack on the government construction site was carried out because the group believes the project is being conducted by the military.

He called on the government to agree to peace talks similar to ones that led to another province, Aceh, becoming semiautonomous, or a "real referendum" on independence, as occurred in the former Indonesian territory of East Timor.

Wiranto, Indonesia's coordinating minister for political, legal and security matters, told a news conference in the capital, Jakarta, that the government will not open talks with the armed group, which he said was trying to instill fear into people.

"We will not talk with criminals," said Wiranto, who goes by a single name.

Security forces have retrieved the bodies of 17 workers hired to build bridges on a section of the trans-Papua road, Papua province military spokesman Col. Muhammad Aidi said. A soldier at a military post near the site was also killed.

They have rescued 27, including seven workers, and are searching for four others with stab wounds who are still missing. Aidi said rebel strongholds in Nduga district attacked a rebuilt military post Tuesday in the same district, injuring two soldiers in a shootout.

National police chief Tito Karnavian estimated the strength of the armed group in the district at not more than 50 people with about 20 weapons, and said more than 150 police and soldiers had been sent to hunt down the perpetrators.

More than 1,500 villagers in Mbua, Yall and Yigi villages have fled into the jungle because of the fighting, which witnesses said has intensified in the mountainous district since last week and killed at least four civilians.

A Christian priest from Kingmi church, Benny Giay, said two of the four men were members of the church assembly. They were killed inside the church by security forces during the evacuation process of the bodies of workers and survivors in Mbua and Yigi villages between Dec. 4 and 5, he said. Four other villagers were reportedly injured.

Giay said villagers who fled into the mountainous jungle were in danger of being sick from cold and hunger.

"All the victims were noncombatant," he said. "We urged all sides to restrain because innocent civilians will become the victims in this armed conflict."

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press last Friday, Sambom, who claimed that the rebels have 29 operational area commands in Papua, each with 2,500 members, vowed to intensify the fight for independence with guerrilla hit-and-run attacks.

Bodies of missing Icelandic climbers found 30 years after they disappeared

The bodies of two Icelandic mountaineers who vanished scaling the Himalayas 30 years ago were discovered in November by an American climber — but exactly how the duo perished remains a mystery.

The remains of Kristinn Runarsson and Thorsteinn Gudjonsson were discovered at the bottom of a glacier, according to the Church of Scotland. The bodies were taken to Kathmandu, Nepal, for cremation and the ashes were taken back to Iceland, according to the report.

Film from a camera was discovered in a pocket on one of the bodies and was given to an expert for processing in hopes it could offer clues about how the men died, said Steve Aisthorpe, a Church of Scotland official.

Aisthorpe was with Runarsson and Gudjonsson when they set off in October 1988 to climb the Pumori mountain, and said the find provided closure.

“The discovery of the remains of Thorsteinn and Kristinn after so many years have inevitably brought many emotions to the surface for all who knew and loved these wonderful guys,” Aisthorpe said. “But it has also brought people together and I pray will help with greater closure and, in time, peace."

The empty tent belonged to the missing climbers. (Steve Aisthorpe)

Aisthorpe was forced to abandon the expedition after falling ill and encouraged Runarsson and Gudjonsson to continue on without him, according to the report. He said he thought the pair got to the summit or close to the summit due to the positioning of their ropes.

Steve Aisthorpe said the discovery of the climbers will help bring closure (Steve Aisthorpe)

Ryan Gaydos is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGaydos.

Police responding to noise complaint end up playing video games with the people they were called to check on

Police responding to a noise complaint at an apartment building in Minnesota ended up playing video games with the tenants instead of reprimanding them.

Jovante Williams, who arrived at his friend’s place to play “Super Smash Bros.” the same time the cops showed up, told Yahoo the same neighbors have called in multiple complaints.

“Lately, we’ve been playing our games on mute; we don’t want to bother anyone. We’re not trouble. We’re adults. Sometimes, we drink beer,” Williams said.

LIQUOR STORE OWNER GETS DRUNK, TRASHES OWN STORE

Williams said he was nervous at first when he saw the police were there. “It was concerning. You see so many videos of terrible results. … I’m not trying to end up in jail or hurt, or have my friends harmed, or to start a commotion,” he said.

But when the police realized the friends weren’t making much noise, they let their guard down and started inquiring about the game.

“They confirmed, a few times, that we weren’t even loud,” Williams said.

“I heard the police asking ‘What Smash Brothers?’ Instead of something negative … it was something wholesome,” he told Yahoo.

That’s when he asked if the officers wanted to join them.

“I’m like, ‘Y’all wanna play Smash?!’ And two of them literally raised their hand and walked up. They’re like, ‘How do you jump?’ They were acting,” Williams said, noting that the police were clearly familiar with the game and were only joking around.

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Williams wrote about the funny incident on Facebook, along with a photo of several officers and his friends playing the game.

“So neighbors called the cops on us and now we fighting them… In Smash Bros,” he wrote.

The post has since gone viral.

Michelle Gant is a writer and editor for Fox News Lifestyle.

Russia says 114,000 Syrian refugees repatriated in 2018

MOSCOW – Nearly 114,000 Syrian refugees have been repatriated this year, the Russian military said Tuesday, a fraction of the estimated 6 million who have fled since the start of the conflict.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said that over 177,000 internally displaced people have also returned to their homes in 2018. He said the returns demonstrate that "the war is over and the country's restoration is proceeding at full pace."

Russia, which has waged a military campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has pushed for the repatriation of refugees. Western governments say it's too early to encourage return.

The conflict, which began with a peaceful uprising against Assad in 2011, has displaced half of Syria's 23 million people, including an estimated 5.6 million refugees living in other countries.

Mizintsev also criticized the U.S. for failing to ensure delivery of aid to a desert camp for displaced Syrians in Tanf in southern Syria, near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.

"It's the last bulwark of evil, injustice and horror for simple Syrians created by the U.S.," Mizintsev said. "The U.S. has illegally occupied the territory so it bears full responsibility for conditions in the camp."

The Syrian government and Russia have blamed U.S. troops stationed near the Rukban camp near the border with Jordan for failing to provide security for aid shipments, allegations the U.S. has denied. Jordan closed the border over security concerns.

Last month, the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent organized a desperately needed aid delivery to Rukban, and Mizintsev said that Russia and Syria would support another aid convoy to the camp.

Mizintsev also assailed the U.S. for the failure to solve humanitarian problems in the northern city of Raqqa, once the capital of the Islamic State group's self-styled caliphate. A U.S.-backed offensive drove IS out of Raqqa a year ago, but Mizintsev pointed to the failure to clear Raqqa of mines and restore its electricity and water supplies.

Woman who claims to have wed 300-year-old pirate ghost now says they split up

A woman who “married” the ghost of 300-year-old pirate has now revealed the couple has split up.

Amanda Sparrow Large, 46, first appeared in the spotlight when she legally married the Haitian pirate by a shaman priest earlier this year.

The 46-year-old was tired of "physical world" men, and consequently found love in the ghost of an 18th century Haitian pirate…until she revealed things didn’t work out for them, reported The Mirror.

The pair got married on a boat off the Irish coast in international waters, reported The Irish Sun.

But now the mum from Drogheda, Co Louth, Ireland, is warning people to be "very careful when dabbling in spirituality".

She said: “So I feel it’s time to let everyone know that my marriage is over.

“I will explain all in due course but for now all I want to say is be VERY careful when dabbling in spirituality, it’s not something to mess with.”

Amanda paid a whopping €6,000 ($6,789 USD) to change her name legally, and worked as  an impersonator of “Pirates of the Caribbean” character Jack Sparrow.

She changed her appearance and had replica tattoos, dreadlocks and gold teeth fitted to look identical to the character.

Before their controversial marriage, Amanda made the headlines for her tips on “having ghost sex" sessions.

She previously claimed that she and 300-year-old ghost Jack went on dates, had rows and even had an active sex life, before their recent divorce.

She said: “Spiritual sex is all about being able to feel the energy. It’s nothing to do with masturbation.

“So although it can be tried from any position, missionary is probably best to start with because it’s easier to feel their weight and take it from there.”

Before their turbulent relationship resulted in a break up, the couple dated for two years before becoming engaged.

Amanda previously gushed about the proposal: “Jack proposed to me. I told him I wasn’t really cool with having casual sex with a spirit and I wanted us to make a proper commitment to each other."

At the wedding, she held a flag bearing a skull and crossbones as a symbol for her husband.

Because Jack couldn't wear his ring, it was fitted to a candle which was used in the wedding ceremony to represent him.

This story originally appeared on The Sun. Read more content from The Sun here.