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  • Five Canadians on board Air Algerie plane that disappears from radar, minister says

    Five Canadians on board Air Algerie plane that disappears from radar, minister says

    ALGIERS, ALGERIA—Five Canadians are reported to be on board a flight operated by Air Algerie carrying 110 passengers and a crew of six that has disappeared from the radar on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers.

    The official Algerian news agency said air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair plane 50 minutes after takeoff — at 0155 GMT. Flight AH5017 had been missing for hours before news was made public.

    Swiftair, the private Spanish airline which leased the aircraft to Air Algerie, released a statement that 116 people were aboard after having no contact with the aircraft for five hours. The plane is a McDonnell-Douglas 83

    “In keeping with procedures, Air Algerie has launched its emergency plan,” the news agency quoted the airline as saying.

    Burkina Faso's transport minister said 50 French nationals were among those onboard, along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian.

    Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo also said the plane sent its last message around 0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT), asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area.

    French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the plane vanished over northern Mali. He spoke Thursday from a crisis centre set up in the French Foreign Ministry.

    Reuters news agency quoted an Algerian official as saying the contact was lost when the aircraft was over Gao, Mali.

    Agence France Press, the French news agency, quoted an airline source as saying communication ceased after the plane was asked to change course to avoid another aircraft.

    Flight AH 5017 is a regularly scheduled route from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers four times a week, AFP said.

    Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.

    However, a senior French official said it was unlikely that fighters in Mali had weaponry that could shoot down a plane. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak for attribution, said the fights have shoulder-fired weapons which could not hit an aircraft at cruising altitude.

    MORE ON THESTAR.COM:

    Airline safety still high despite high-profile crashes

    What can be learned from MH17’s ‘black boxes’?

  • Transit?s no trauma where I come from: James

    Transit?s no trauma where I come from: James

    Was back in the ’hood on Wednesday — drawn to the old haunts of Flemmo and Thorncliffe Park by two news conferences. The first spoke to the city’s efforts to “manage congestion”; the second was another of Olivia Chow’s incremental plans to improve the city by increasing community access to parks.

    I took the TTC from Bathurst Manor, home for the past decade, to Flemingdon Park, home for most of the first decade in Canada. How would you travel from Sheppard and Bathurst to Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton, especially on a day the city is about to show off how it’s managing congestion?

    I took the bus to the Sheppard subway station; the Sheppard subway four stops to Don Mills station (Bessarion station is a hoot, with two passengers on the platform at 8:07 a.m.); and the Don Mills 25 bus down to Overlea Blvd., below the Science Centre. Made it in just under one hour (terrific time) — with enough time to look around the old neighbourhood before the mayor started taking credit for things he doesn’t even know about.

    There is Valley Park Middle School, where, in the summer of 1970, I learned to catch a football and perfected the killer pass patterns that have terrorized defensive backs across the city (a little bit of Ford-ism here). The goalposts are gone, replaced by an emerging cricket pitch for all the Sachin Tendulkars and Imran Khans in the Park.

    Today, traffic across the Overlea bridge doesn’t seem any worse than it was back then. Flemmo and Thorncliffe are still among the most dense city neighbourhoods, but getting in and out has never been a nightmare — not with the frequent service of the 25, the 81 and the 100 buses.

    I’m a bus boy at heart. And today the Don Mills 25 makes me from the Don Mills station to Overlea in 23 minutes — thanks to the diamond lanes. Gridlock? What congestion?

    When the subject is Toronto traffic, truth is an early casualty; perception is influenced by current reality; reputation endures.

    Several surveys and reports rank Toronto’s commute among the worst in North America. Turns out, it depends on what you are measuring.

    Showing a chart that measures the hours lost per year due to congestion, transportation general manager Stephen Buckley points out that Toronto ranks ninth, better than San Francisco, L.A., New York, Washington and Seattle; and slightly worse than Montreal, Boston, San Jose and Chicago. Not sure if you feel any better now, but there you have it.

    This news conference at the city’s emergency control centre, where officials can monitor numerous intersections via video feed, is intended to tell Torontonians that the city is on it. City officials know where the traffic choke points are, can monitor them and even warn drivers, via message boards. And more cameras and monitor stations and messages and traffic signal synchronization are on the way.

    But nobody was talking about reducing your commuting times or solving traffic congestion or guaranteeing a daily zip into town on any of the 5.2 million trips into the city each day — not when demand for road space is growing and no new roads are planned.

    Increased traffic is a sign of progress, said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works and infrastructure committee. “You can ease congestion; you can’t solve it,” he said.

    And so the city has done a $3-million makeover of the traffic control centre, tossing 1990s technology and software and designs for modern equivalent — akin to getting rid of the Tandy or the Commodore 64.

    Those who complain that traffic signals are not properly synchronized should know 186 signals have been retimed in eight corridors, with another 650 signals in 18 corridors to come in the next two years.

    Another 120 cameras are going up along arterial roads by 2016, adding to the seven recently installed on downtown streets. Monitors at the centre can identify trouble spots and dispatch crews and alert drivers, suggest alternate routes, and change the signalling on the roads now accepting the diverted traffic.

    Sufferers along the King St. streetcar route can anticipate recommended changes before this fall. A study will examine whether the delays are really caused by inconsiderate motorists parked during rush hour and cars turning across the streetcar’s path.

    As well, they are looking at extending rush-hour tow blitzes and other restrictions designed to move traffic along arterial roads.

    “The story is, we are actually taking action,” said Buckley, citing more than 30 projects addressing congestion. “This is incredibly complex with a lot of moving parts.”

    Simply retiming (they don’t like to say synchronize) the traffic signals has reduced wait times each year by one million hours across the system and saved five million litres of fuel.

    It felt that way zipping by bus to Flemingdon Park Wednesday. Elsewhere, everybody’s got a traffic tale.

    Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: rjames@thestar.ca

  • KFC to offer beer at two Toronto locations

    KFC to offer beer at two Toronto locations

    So you feel like an ice cold bottle of Heineken on a patio. The Colonel can hook that up.

    For the first time in its 58-year history in Canada, KFC will offer domestic and international beers this fall, selling those at its two “fast-casual” concept outlets in Toronto.

    “It’s a natural fit as we continue to contemporize the brand in Canada,” explained David Vivenes, KFC’s chief marketing officer, in an interview Wednesday.

    The chicken chain will offer Molson Canadian, Coors Lite, Coors Banquet and Heineken at its Mexican-inspired KFC Fresh locations, which also sell burritos, rice bowls and spicy wraps.

    The first outlet opened last December on Yonge St. just south of Bloor St., while a new store launches Thursday in the popular Stockyards area at St. Clair Ave. W. and Weston Rd., complete with outdoor patio.

    “It’s a great atmosphere for people to socialize and hang out. We want people to linger longer,” said Vivenes.

    “Beer pairs up really well with our food,” he said of the expanded menu that now includes loaded waffle fries topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and jalapenos, and grilled chicken Wrapmasters.

    Analysts say offering suds could give KFC a leg up in the ongoing fast food wars, where traditional outlets have seen market share eroded by the success of the slightly up-market “fast-casual” chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, which offers burritos and bowls with fresh ingredients in an open kitchen at a slightly higher price.

    “Offering alcohol in fast food establishments is fairly new to Canada — and it’s not as common as one might think in the U.S.,” said Will McKitterick of IBISWorld Inc. in New York.

    In recent years, Burger King tested a Whopper Bar offering beer in Miami’s South Beach area, and White Castle tried offering wine at a location in Indiana. The concept hasn’t taken off across the U.S., though, he said.

    “I don’t think the Colonel will be rolling over in his grave over it. It’s more symptomatic of the larger trend of trying to compete” in a struggling industry where traffic growth is flat, McKitterick said.

    A lot has changed since Colonel Harland Sanders offered his classic southern fried chicken and neon green coleslaw at outlets with the signature revolving bucket. KFC now offers new items including the Double Down sandwich, burritos and the Big Boss sandwich, which is similar to the Big Mac.

    Earlier this month, regular KFC outlets in Canada rolled out a so-called Happy Hour menu that is offered from 2 to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, featuring $1.49 snack items including BBQ bacon and pulled pork Roller wraps, mini bowls and a 7Up-based, non-alcoholic mojito with fresh lime and mint.

    The moves are indicative of the pressure to evolve and keep customers interested in the fast food business, said Robert Carter, executive director of food service at the NPD Group.

    “It’s interesting. I think they’ll be successful with it (offering beer) and that we’ll continue to see this trend in the industry,” noted Carter.

    And no, you can’t get the beer in a KFC bucket — particularly since traditional chicken pieces are not served at these stores. The brew will be served by the bottle with a cup to go along with it.

    Nicolas Burquier, general manager of KFC Canada, will toast the new Stockyards outlet at its lunchtime opening Thursday with a temporary liquor license for the day, while the chain awaits the official permanent license for both locations in the coming weeks, the company said.

  • Israel hits UN school, killing at least 15; Hamas sticks to blockade demands

    Israel hits UN school, killing at least 15; Hamas sticks to blockade demands

    GAZA, PALESTINE—Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a UN school in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside.

    Pools of blood soiled the school courtyard, amid scattered books and belongings. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the place where one of the tank shells hit.

    More on thestar.com

    U.S. lifts ban on Tel Aviv flights

    Strong possibility of war crimes: UN

    The strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

    Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area.

    It was the fourth time a UN facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the Israeli operation began July 8.

    UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

    The strike came on a day of heavy fighting throughout the Gaza Strip as Hamas militants stuck to their demand for the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade amid international efforts to broker a cease-fire.

    Six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp in the early morning hours, according to Gaza police and health officials. Twenty others were injured in the strike, they said, and rescuers were digging through the rubble of flattened homes, looking for survivors.

    An airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, said Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Abassan is near Khan Younis, in an area that saw intense fighting on Wednesday.

    The 16-day conflict has claimed the lives of more than 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, Palestinian health officials say. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation it says is aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza and destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

    Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

    More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered more than 30 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to carry out attacks.

    “We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel... And we shall return it,” Netanyahu said at a joint appearance with visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

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    Enav reported from Jerusalem

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