Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Says U.S. Military Will Only Hit Lawful Targets in Iran

(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that any target the U.S. military may strike in Iran, in the event Iran retaliates against America for killing its most powerful general, would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

Pompeo was asked on ABC’s “This Week” about President Donald Trump’s assertion Saturday on Twitter that the United States has 52 Iranian targets in its sights, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of cultural sites under most circumstances. The American Red Cross notes on its website that the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols, ratified by scores of nations in recent years, states that “cultural objects and places of worship” may not be attacked and outlaws “indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations.”

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The U.N. Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites. Attacks by the Islamic State group and other armed factions in Syria and Iraq prompted that vote.

“Every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission — defending and protecting America,” Pompeo said.

He also said the Trump administration has abandoned the previous U.S. administration’s focus on countering Iranian proxy groups and suggested the U.S. strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was an example of the new strategy.

“We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.

In Baghdad on Sunday, the U.S. coalition combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria announced that it has “paused” training of Iraqi security forces in order to focus on protecting coalition personnel.

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Ross Perot’s Forgotten Mission During the Vietnam War

Ross Perot spent December 1969 collecting postcards. As the 1960’s came to a close, Americans, whatever their political orientation, were weary – riots in the cities, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and RFK, seismic changes in the culture and 47,752 and counting Americans dead in Vietnam. Ross Perot’s politics were conservative, and he had observed with growing distaste the antics of the Vietnam War protest movement, which had grown militant in 1969. It represented everything that Perot thought was wrong with young Americans: a lack of patriotism; a disdain for free enterprise; sloppy appearance; and a lack of discipline. To counter a massive antiwar march on Washington in November, Perot paid for the printing and distribution of 25 million postcards in support of President Nixon, reading “Mr. President, you have my support in your efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace,” to be mailed back to the organization Perot formed for the purpose of receiving them, “United We Stand.” While Perot’s postcard drive garnered a bit of national press, it hadn’t made the media splash Perot had hoped for. Nothing if not persistent, Perot soon cooked up another venture.

To the extent Americans had heard of Ross Perot at the time, it was likely because of the blockbuster IPO of his computer company, Electronic Data Systems Corp., in September 1968. Offered at $16.50 per share, it was soon trading at ten times that price and Ross Perot became the world’s first tech billionaire. Perot was born and raised in east Texas and after graduating from Annapolis in 1953 and serving his four years of active duty in the Navy, took a job at I.B.M. in Dallas selling computer systems. He was the greatest salesman in I.B.M.’s storied history. He sold so many computers that he repeatedly refused promotions, as taking a salaried executive position would have dramatically reduced his salary. He was selling so many computers that I.B.M. had to take drastic action to reign in his compensation, cutting his commission rate by 80% and assigning him a “reverse quota” – an annual sales above which he would receive no commission. In 1962, Perot achieved this reverse quota, on January 19.

Disgusted with I.B.M., he quit a few weeks later and formed Electronic Data Systems with $1,000 of capital. In 1965, after the Medicare legislation was passed, Electronic Data Systems won the contract from Texas Blue Shield to automate the payments processing for the program. Soon, Electronic Data Systems had similar contracts in ten other states. By 1968, New York investment bankers were beating a path to Perot’s door begging to take him public. Perot, the homespun Eagle Scout suspicious of everything Eastern, particularly Wall Street, turned them away, all but one. For reasons no one can quite explain, Ross Perot took a strong liking to a tall, tough-talking young Italian American banker, Frank Langone, from the second-tier investment bank R.W. Pressprich and Company. R.W. Pressprich would take Electronic Data Systems public, and Frank Langone would become a legend on Wall Street and a billionaire himself, founding successful companies like Home Depot and becoming a governor of the New York Stock Exchange.

On December 15, 1969, Ross Perot called a press conference to announce that United We Stand would charter a plane to take humanitarian supplies and Christmas presents to American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. He told the press he had sent a telegram to Pham Van Dong, the Premier of North Vietnam, asking for permission to land in Hanoi, but had not yet been given a response. In any event, Perot said, the plane would depart Los Angeles International Airport the following week. Perot also announced that United We Stand would be sponsoring trips by the wives and children of American prisoners of war to go to the Paris peace talks and lobby North Vietnamese officials for their release. On December 19, Perot summoned the press again. United We Stand would now be sending 150 wives and children to Paris and two planeloads of supplies and Christmas presents to Hanoi. He conceded he had not heard from the North Vietnam government as whether he’d be allowed to land the planes he had chartered for the trip.

The following day, Hanoi responded. North Vietnam promised that the American prisoners would receive all gifts sent via existing protocols – the postal route through Moscow – but under no circumstances would Perot’s planes be given clearance to land in Hanoi. Undeterred, Perot told the press the planes would be taking off for Bangkok the next day. “We have sent a return cable to the North Vietnamese explaining that the purpose of our trip is to improve the relationship between the people of the United States and the people of North Vietnam,” he told the New York Times. “Allowing private American citizens to bring Christmas directly to these men would be a major step toward improving relationships between our people. We are still confident that once the North Vietnamese fully understand the purpose of our mission and the desirable effect it will have between the people of both countries they will allow us to enter.”

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On December 21, Perot left Love Field in Dallas aboard the first of the two chartered jets, which he christened the “Peace on Earth,” en route first to Los Angeles to load the supplies and then on to Bangkok. The second plane, which Perot named the “Goodwill Toward Men,” would leave the following day. On December 24, Perot and a contingent of Red Cross volunteers and reporters aboard the Peace on Earth landed in Bangkok, Thailand with 75 tons of Christmas gifts, food and medical supplies. He met with North Vietnamese officials to convince them of the merit of his mission. The North Vietnamese, however, hadn’t budged. On Christmas day, 150 family members of American POWs landed in Paris seeking to meet with the North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris peace talks in order to obtain the release of their loved ones. The North Vietnamese refused to meet with them. After only six hours on the ground in Paris, they boarded the plane and returned to New York. Perot spent Christmas in Laos. The following day, he met with North Vietnamese diplomats there, but with the same result. That afternoon, he announced he was abandoning the mission to North Vietnam, but would seek to have the supplies delivered on his behalf by the Soviet Union. On December 27, back in Bangkok, Perot held another press conference, this time announcing that the Peace on Earth would be flying to Moscow to deliver the aid packages. Perot had hoped to fly from Bangkok to Rome and an audience with Pope Paul VI – hoping to enlist the Vatican’s blessing for his mission – before flying to Moscow, but the western route was denied him when Burma and India, at the request of the Soviets, refused to allow Perot to fly across their airspace. So on December 28, Perot flew east, over the arctic circle, for a 12-hour layover in Anchorage, Alaska, before resuming the easterly journey to Copenhagen, Denmark. Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Ross Perot, still in Copenhagen, announced that the Soviets had formally denied his visa application and that he and his planes would be returning home.

Perot spent $1.5 million on the aborted mission, a financial debacle. But he had captured the heart of a weary America. His supersonic patriotic quest to aid the POWs became daily front page news in papers around the country during the 1969 holiday season, including the New York Times which covered his every stop and every pronouncement. Perot represented an American ideal seemingly lost that winter: the rugged individualist, the Texas cowboy leading the cavalry to fix the mess the Best and the Brightest in Washington made of that decade. Unfortunately, Hanoi and Moscow had other plans.

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President Trump’s Bold, Justified Gamble in Killing Soleimani May Just Pay Off

IDEAS
David French is a senior editor at The Dispatch and a columnist for Time. His next book, Divided We Fall, will be released in 2020. He is a former major in the United States Army Reserve.

When Donald Trump ordered the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, he played perhaps his strongest card in a weak strategic hand. He placed a bold bet that his strike would brush back the Iranian regime, place it on its heels, and deter future attacks. It’s a bet that he might lose (with terrible consequences), but it’s far too soon to judge the outcome.

But first, let me disclose my relevant bias. I felt a sense of real relief when I heard of Suleimani’s demise. I served in Iraq, during The Surge (President George W. Bush’s increased deployment of U.S. forces to try to destabilize the country starting in 2007), and my forward operating base was located less than two dozen miles from the Iranian border, in a mixed Sunni-Shiite part of Diyala Province. While the precursor to ISIS (then called the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq) was our principal foe, we were constantly worried about the presence of Shiite militias armed with a deadly Iranian-supplied weapon, the explosively-formed-penetrator, or EFP.

The EFP could shred our up-armored Humvees. It could punch through the armor of our Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and – properly-aimed – it could even penetrate the armor of the Abrams main battle tank.

For much of our deployment, the Shiite militias were quiet – except during a terrible series of weeks in the spring of 2008. They rose up, they deployed their EFPs, and they destroyed one of our Humvees, killing two men I knew. For days on end, until we took our own decisive actions, we were concerned that even the main supply route into our base could be cut. We felt isolated and vulnerable.

Talk to Iraq veterans, and you’ll hear countless variations of stories like this. Forces under Suleimani’s command and control conducted direct strikes against the United States, they supplied weapons to proxy forces, and they took a terrible toll in American lives. Suleimani himself once famously bragged via text message to General David Petraeus, then the allied commander in Iraq, that “you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who’s going to replace him is a Quds Force member.”

Suleimani’s influence and power had only grown in the years since my deployment. In 2013, the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins wrote perhaps the definitive profile of the Iranian general. Suleimani, he said, “has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.”

In other words, he was no ordinary foreign general. He was an active enemy combatant commander working closely with other American enemies, and when the Shiite militias under his influence (and probable outright control) again in December attacked Americans in Iraq and besieged the American embassy in Baghdad, it was clear that he was still a threat.

So there was ample military cause for striking Suleimani. There was also sufficient legal justification. It is a basic aspect of the law of armed conflict that opposing commanders are a legitimate target. Suleimani had entered a theater of armed conflict not as a diplomatic guest of the Iraqi government, but rather as a co-belligerent with Shiite militias — the very militias that had attacked an American base and killed an American contractor and had days before attacked and burned part of the American embassy.

But to say that the strike was militarily and legally justifiable does not necessarily make it wise. Both the Trump administration and the Iranian regime are approaching the crisis from a position of relative strategic weakness. While the U.S. military is unquestionably the dominant military force in the world, it has deployed a fraction of the combat power to the Middle East than was present during the height of the Iraq War, and the American people have little appetite for a new war with an adversary far more deadly and capable than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Moreover, Trump himself is rightfully deeply-distrusted by a majority of the American people (constant lying has consequences) and justifiably seen as erratic and impulsive.

At the same time, however, the Iranians face their own substantial challenges. The regime is in economic distress as a result of crippling American sanctions, it has faced serious internal protests, and there are signs that Iraqis have grown weary of Iranian influence. Iraq has been convulsed by anti-Iran protests that have left hundreds dead. In short, neither party is in any condition to ignite a new conflict.

Yet history is replete with examples of unwilling nations stumbling into open war. Much depends on what Iran chooses to do next. There is a chance that Iran will see that it has pushed the United States too far, that it provoked and taunted the American president into delivering a blow that actually hurt the Islamic Republic.

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Under this scenario, Iran doesn’t end its enmity and opposition to the U.S., but it does at least temporarily de-escalate. There is some historical precedent for this hope. After the Reagan administration’s sank several ships in the Iranian navy in Operation Praying Mantis in 1988, Iran reduced attacks on neutral shipping in the gulf, providing the United States with a temporary victory. If Iran does stand down its escalations, even if only for a time, Trump’s gamble will have paid off. The strike on Suleimani will have deterred Iran more than it provoked Iran.

But don’t think a pause – or even a de-escalation – means peace. After Praying Mantis, Iran continued to aid anti-American terrorists, and in 1996 it struck America again, bombing the Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia and killing 19 American service members.

A pause is possible, but it’s optimistic to call it likely. Iran could well respond to Trump’s gamble with a gamble of its own – hitting back, hard, at America or its allies to take advantage of relative American military weakness and profound American division in the hopes of consolidating support at home and pushing the American people past the point of tolerating yet another Middle East conflict.

There’s also the potential of a renewed Shiite insurgent campaign against American forces, an insurgency that’s not entirely under Iranian control. In fact, that’s the scenario that may well present the Trump administration with its worst challenge – a shadowy enemy, a slow increase in casualties, and a renewal of America’s least-popular recent war.

It’s clear that Trump is concerned about Iranian reprisals. On Saturday evening, he tweeted a threat to strike 52 Iranian sites, including sites important to “Iranian culture,” if Iran retaliates against Americans or American assets. Attacks on culturally-significant sites (absent military necessity, such as their use by opposing military forces) would represent a war crime under international law.

Trump’s tweet thus highlights a central concern going forward – at a time of great risk, the United States needs a steady hand at the helm. It needs a president who possesses strategic vision and exhibits tactical agility. Americans have no reason to believe that Donald Trump is such a man.

The future is uncertain, and we may not know the ultimate wisdom of Trump’s action for months (or perhaps years), but one thing is clear – as he fills Twitter with bluster and reinforces vulnerable American troops in the Persian Gulf region – yet another American president has learned that a promise to end American entanglement in the Middle East is far more easily made than kept.

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Warrant Issued for Woman Accused of Trying to Choke a Muslim Student With Her Hijab

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — Authorities issued an arrest warrant Friday for a woman accused of trying to choke a Muslim student with her headscarf and then harassing her by stripping down at a train station in Portland, Oregon.

Jasmine Renee Campbell, 23, has been indicted on hate crime, attempted strangulation, harassment and criminal mischief charges for the Nov. 12 attack at a downtown MAX station.

The warrant was issued after she failed to appear in court on Friday.

The Multnomah County district attorney’s office described the attack, saying Campbell grabbed the religious head cover worn by the Portland State University student to try to choke the student with it.

Prosecutors said Campbell then stripped down and rubbed the student’s hijab over Campbell’s naked breasts and genitals while disparaging Muslims.

Reached by phone, Campbell told KPTV that she wasn’t trying to hurt the student, had been drinking too much and is being treated for a mental health condition.

Authorities said the two women didn’t know each other.

The 24-year-old Muslim woman, who is a foreign exchange student from Saudi Arabia, said she now wears a hat to cover her head because she doesn’t feel safe wearing a hijab in public.

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2019-2020 Flu Season on Track to Be Especially Severe, New CDC Data Suggests

The current flu season is on track be one of the worst in years, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.

CNN reports that Fauci says the 2019-2020 flu season is on track to be as severe as the 2018-2017 season, which was the deadliest in at least a decade.

New data from the CDC released on Friday estimates that so far this season, at least 6.4 million people have caught the flu, 55,000 people have been hospitalized and 2,900 people have died — 800 more people then were estimated the week before.

Twenty-seven of those deaths were children.

Flu seasons the past few years have been particularly brutal. The 2017-2018 season was unusually severe and the deadliest in years, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The 2018-2019 season was the longest in a decade, lasting more than 21 weeks, per the CDC.

An updated graph from the CDC, released at the end of last month, also shows the number of reported flu cases growing at a similar rate to the deadly 2017-2018 season.

The CDC also said on Friday that 34 states and Washington D.C., New York City and Puerto Rico are all experiencing “high flu activity.”

On Saturday, the CDC tweeted that flu activity throughout the U.S. looks like it will remain strong through mid-January.

“The initial indicators indicate this is not going to be a good season — this is going to be a bad season,” Fauci told CNN.

According to the CDC, adults over 65 or children under 2 are at the most risk of developing flu-related complications that could result in death.

The CDC also stresses that it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. According to forecasting, the CDC estimates there’s a 30% flu season will peak in January and a 25% chance it will peak in February.

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More U.S. Troops Deploy to Mideast Amid Tensions With Iran

(FORT BRAGG, N.C.) — Hundreds of U.S. soldiers deployed Saturday from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to serve as reinforcements in the Middle East amid rising tensions following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general.

Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, told The Associated Press 3,500 members of the division’s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, will have deployed within a few days. The most recent group of service members to deploy will join about 700 who left earlier in the week, Burns said.

A loading ramp at Fort Bragg was filled Saturday morning with combat gear and restless soldiers. Some tried to grab a last-minute nap on wooden benches. Reporters saw others filing onto buses.

The additional troop deployments reflect concerns about potential Iranian retaliatory action in the volatile aftermath of Friday’s drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport. Iran has vowed retribution, raising fears of an all-out war, but it’s unclear how or when a response might come.

Reporters weren’t able to interview the soldiers leaving Fort Bragg on Saturday, but an airman loading one of the cargo planes told an Army cameraman he was making New Year’s plans when he got a call to help load up the soldiers, according to video footage released by the military.

“We’re responsible for loading the cargo. Almost our whole squadron got alerted. Like a bunch of planes are coming over here,” the unnamed airman said. “I was getting ready to go out for New Year’s when they called me.”

In the gray early morning light Saturday, Army video showed soldiers dressed in camouflage fatigues filing into planes, carrying rucksacks and rifles. Humvees were rolled onto another cargo plane and chained in place for the flight to the Middle East.

Burns said the soldiers within the Immediate Response Force train constantly to be ready to respond quickly to crises abroad. When called by their superiors, they have two hours to get to base with their gear and must maintain a state of readiness so that they can be in the air headed to their next location within 18 hours.

“So whether they were on leave, whether they were home drinking a beer, whether they were, you know, hanging out, throwing the kids up in the yard, you get the call and it’s time to go,” he said.

He said that soldiers typically keep individual “go-bags” of their personal gear with them at their living quarters.

The wife of a member of the 82nd Airborne who deployed earlier this week said his departure was so abrupt she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in person or by phone.

April Shumard said she was at work on New Year’s Eve and he was watching their five children when he texted her that he had to rush to base. He wasn’t sure if it was a drill or a deployment. She said her husband has been in the military since 2010 and has already deployed twice to Afghanistan. But with those prior deployments, the family had much more time to prepare and say goodbye. This time, she got a second message confirming he was leaving, and he departed in a plane on the afternoon of New Year’s Day.

“The kids kept going, ‘When’s Dad going to be home?’” said Shumard, 42. “It’s literally thrown me for a loop. And him as well. He’s still in disbelief of where he’s gone. Our heads are spun.”

She said that Fayetteville is a tight-knit community, and she expects people to work together to support families who are suddenly missing a parent.

“This was so last-minute,” she said, urging people to reach out to 82nd Airborne families. “Just try to help out whoever you know who might need some babysitting or help or just get some groceries and bring it to their house.”

___

Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina.

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Jersey Woman Sues TripAdvisor After Being Injured Riding a Camel

(DEDHAM, Mass.) — A woman is suing TripAdvisor after a runaway camel tossed her to the ground during a tour in Morocco.

Breanne Ayala, 24, is accusing Massachusetts-based TripAdvisor and its subsidiary Viator of negligence and breach of contract for failing to ensure the camel tour company was operating safely, The Boston Globe reported on Friday, citing the lawsuit. The suit was filed in Norfolk Superior Court on Monday.

Ayala, who is from New Jersey, and her family booked a sunset camel tour in Marrakech, Morocco, through Viator. Ayala claims she and her family did not receive a safety briefing before the tour in January 2018.

A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor declined to comment on the pending litigation.

During the tour, one of the handlers told Ayala that the camel she was riding was pregnant and was about a month away from giving birth, according to the lawsuit.

The camel ran off from the caravan, causing Ayala to fall and break her arm. The handlers waited to call an ambulance until the tour company owner arrived an hour later, according to the suit.

Ayala underwent surgery in Morocco and was hospitalized for two days.

“What was supposed to happen didn’t happen, and I don’t think you can say, ‘It’s at your own risk, too bad,’” Ayala’s attorney Andrew Abrahamsaid.

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Russia Resumes Oil Supplies to Belarus Amid Talks on Strengthening Economic Ties

(MINSK, Belarus) — Belarus has reached an agreement with Russia for limited oil supplies after Moscow earlier this week stopped supplying crude amid stalled talks on strengthening economic ties between the neighboring countries.

Belarusian state-run oil company Belneftekhim said Saturday that the country’s refineries started receiving the first batch of crude oil, sufficient to ensure “non-stop operation of the country’s refineries in January 2020.”

Russian pipeline operator Transneft confirmed earlier on Saturday it would transfer 133,000 tons of oil to Belarus.

According to a statement from Belneftekhim, the oil would come at a discounted price while negotiations for resuming regular imports continue.

Russia stopped supplying oil to its post-Soviet neighbor after Dec. 31, as the two countries failed to renegotiate oil prices for this year amid stalled talks on further strengthening economic ties.

The suspension did not affect oil transit to Europe or the supply of natural gas but had consequences for Belarus. which relies on Russia for more than 80% of its overall energy needs.

The country’s two refineries were operating at low capacity, running on reserves. On Friday, Minsk announced it was suspending its own oil exports, which contribute up to 20% of annual GDP.

The Kremlin has recently increased pressure on Belarus, raising energy prices and cutting subsidies. It argues that Belarus should accept greater economic integration if it wants to continue receiving energy resources at Russia’s domestic prices.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held two rounds of talks in December but failed to reach an agreement on the closer ties and on oil and gas prices.

Putin said Russia was not ready to “subsidize” energy supplies without more economic integration with ally Belarus. Lukashenko insisted he would not sign off on the integration until the issues with oil and gas supplies were resolved.

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Rod Stewart and Son Accused of Battery in New Year’s Eve Fight

(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) — Rock icon Rod Stewart and his son are facing simple battery charges after an altercation with a security guard during a private event in a children’s area at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach on New Year’s Eve, according to court records.

Security guard Jessie Dixon told Palm Beach police officers that Stewart’s group was at the check-in table for a private party that they weren’t authorized to attend, a police report said.

Dixon said the group became loud and began causing a scene. Dixon, 33, told investigators he put his hand on the younger Stewart’s chest and told him to back up and make space, the report said.

That’s when Sean Stewart, the rock star’s 39-year-old son, got “nose to nose” with Dixon.

Sean Stewart then shoved Dixon backwards. Rod Stewart, 74, punched Dixon in his “left rib cage area” with a closed fist, the report said.

The police report said Sean Stewart told investigators he became agitated when they were not able to attend the event “due to Dixon’s interaction with him and his family.”

Two Breakers employees who were working the private event told police police they saw Sean Stewart push Dixon and Rod Stewart punch the guard.

The officer said he viewed security footage at the hotel and determined that the Stewarts were the “primary aggressors.”

Dixon signed an affidavit saying that he wanted to press charges against the Stewarts.

An email seeking comment has not been answered by Stewart’s representative.

Rod and Sean Stewart were issued notices to appear in court on Feb. 5.

Both Sean and Rod Stewart are facing simple battery charges and were issued notices to appear in court on Feb. 5.

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P!nk Joins Celebrities in Donating to Help Fight Australia’s Catastrophic Wildfires, Pledging to Give $500,000

American musician P!nk has pledged to donate $500,000 to local fires services fighting Australia’s devastating wildfires, and other celebrities have announced plans to donate as well.

For months, Australia has been fighting the worst wildfires it’s experienced in decades, which scientists say have been intensified by climate change. At least 19 people have died, dozens are missing, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and, according to Bloomberg, nearly half a billion animals may have been killed. As TIME’s Amy Gunia reports, “The fire season in Australia is far from over, and already it is shaping up to be one of the most intense in the country’s history.”

On Saturday, P!nk posted on Twitter and Instagram: “I am totally devastated watching what is happening in Australia right now with the horrific bushfires.” She pledged to donate $500,000 to local fire services battling the bushfires, and asked others to consider donating as well.

Australian comedian Celeste Barber has also repeatedly posted on social media about the fires. On Thursday, Barber posted a fundraising campaign on Facebook, writing, “Want to join me in supporting a good cause? I’m raising money for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund and your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate a lot or a little. Anything helps. Thank you for your support.”

Barber posted that her family on the South Coast has been told to evacuate.

In two days, donations from over 300,000 people raised more than $10 million.

American musician Selena Gomez also tweeted that she donated to help Australian fire services, writing, “Absolutely devastated by the fires in Australia. Praying for everyone affected and all of the first responders. I’m making a donation and would love if you would consider doing the same if you can.”

Australian model Miranda Kerr also asked her followers to “join her” in donating to fight the fires. Kerr posted on Instagram Friday, “Sending love and prayers to those affected by the Australia Wild Fires… Please join me in supporting those affected and visit the link in my bio to donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund. All donations will support affected families and the community during this disaster.”

As of Friday, the fires had burned more than 12 million acres and the smoke was so substantial it was visible from space.

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