Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Rebels take over key border crossings

BEIRUT — Rebel fighters in Syria, building on the momentum gained by their assassination of three top security officials a day earlier, seized all four border crossings with Iraq and one into Turkey on Thursday, while also claiming for the first time to have captured a pocket of Damascus after intense fighting.

The government fought back hard, with no indication that its far superior military machine had lost its edge against an opposition still working predominately with small-caliber weapons. Helicopters blasted the northern Damascus suburb of Qaboun with rockets, while the armed forces warned residents of a wide area of the southern part of the capital to evacuate. Thousands of people fled to neighboring Lebanon.

"They threatened them and gave them 24 hours to leave their homes or they will be shelled," said Ali Salem, an activist reached via Skype. Even residents in the western Damascus neighborhoods of Mezze and Kafr Souseh, who were not warned, fled in droves as shells thudded into their neighborhood from military positions on Qassioun mountain above Damascus.

But the government tried to project an aura of calm, even as it unleashed its forces in a manner similar to the devastating assaults on restive cities like Homs, where neighborhoods were effectively flattened and all the residents driven out.

President Bashar Assad appeared for the first time since the bombing attack Wednesday that killed three senior security officials. The Syrian leader showed up on state television to swear in the new defense minister to replace the one assassinated in a bomb attack.

The ceremony for Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij — the broadcast showed the two men interacting without any sound — appeared to take place in one of the presidential palace's reception rooms.

Wire service reports said Assad had fled to Latakia, the coastal city where he has a home, just one of the many rumors swirling around the capital. One opposition activist said that only the women and children of the Assad family had flown to the coast — not unusual for a hot July weekend.

Russia, China veto third U.N. resolution

UNITED NATIONS — Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution Thursday aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad's government to end the escalating civil war in Syria, sparking dire warnings of even greater bloodshed and spillover to the wider region.

The 11-2 vote, with abstentions from South Africa and Pakistan, was the third double veto of a resolution addressing the crisis.

The key stumbling block was the West's insistence that a new resolution be drafted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict, and threaten non-military sanctions against the Syrian regime if it didn't withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution should never have been put to a vote because the sponsors knew it had no chance of adoption.

The defeat leaves in limbo the future of the 300-strong U.N. observer mission in Syria, which was forced to suspend operations because of the intensified fighting. Its mandate, to monitor implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan, expires today.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters history will judge the Russians and Chinese "harshly," saying their vetoes at a time when the conflict is deteriorating rapidly "threatens to engulf the region in a wider war."

Comments
Murphy-Jolly idea comes amid a push for a new approach to politics

Murphy-Jolly idea comes amid a push for a new approach to politics

For those who complain that politics is too political, two former Florida congressmen are floating an unprecedented antidote: A bipartisan ticket for governor.Patrick Murphy would enter the Democratic primary and if he won the nomination, would name ...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Rays-Orioles postponed, doubleheader planned for May 12

Rays-Orioles postponed, doubleheader planned for May 12

Acknowledging the forecast for heavy rain much of the night, the Orioles postponed tonight's game against the Rays.The teams will play a doubleheader – single admission – on Saturday, May 12, when the Rays next visit.The Orioles are expec...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
How the Lightning did its best work on the Devils shorthanded

How the Lightning did its best work on the Devils shorthanded

TAMPA — The Lightning rolled past the Devils in five games of the Stanley Cup playoffs quarterfinal series largely because the penalty kill became a beast, killing off 16 of 19, including the final 15 when down a man.Two of those three goals al...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

ST. PETERSBURG — Three days.That’s how long residents of two unlicensed assisted living facilities went without running water before the authorities shut the facilities down last week.The Public Works Department said it turned off the water at 3418 a...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — A Lakewood High School student was killed and two others were injured when their car struck a tree just outside the campus on Tuesday afternoon, according to police.All three boys involved in the crash were 18 and seniors, officials ...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
‘Freak gust’ gives Ruskin park residents a fright

‘Freak gust’ gives Ruskin park residents a fright

TAMPA — For a few moments late Monday night, Jeff Hinton’s new home in Ruskin’s Paradise Mobile Home and RV Park felt less like paradise and more like his native Iowa’s "Tornado Alley."In an instant, the rain that had come in waves through the day hi...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Here’s a clue that Tom Lee is about to announce a run for Congress

Here’s a clue that Tom Lee is about to announce a run for Congress

While political figures around the Tampa Bay area hang in suspense over state Sen. Tom Lee's decision about his political future, he came a step closer Tuesday to a run for Congress.Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa, announced last week that he won...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Marriott CEO: Our three-hotel bet at Water Street Tampa reflects how Tampa is evolving

Marriott CEO: Our three-hotel bet at Water Street Tampa reflects how Tampa is evolving

TAMPA — The world’s biggest hotel company already has 29 properties in the Tampa Bay area, but its CEO says a plan to put more than 1,400 rooms in three Marriott-branded hotels within a few blocks of each other says something about how Tampa is evolv...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Study ranks Florida No. 8 for most aggressive drivers

Study ranks Florida No. 8 for most aggressive drivers

If you’ve ever complained about other motorists on the road, you may have been justified. The Sunshine State ranked No. 8 on GasBuddy.com’s list of states with the most aggressive drivers."Our findings indicate that states with densely populated citi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Auditor's handling of whistleblower's claims is criticized

Auditor's handling of whistleblower's claims is criticized

Democratic Ohio attorney general candidate Steven Dettelbach says his GOP opponent, Auditor Dave Yost, should have referred to authorities a whistleblower's allegations of intentional attendance inflation at the state's then-largest online charter school
Updated: 1 hour ago