Syria crafts deal to let food into rebel town
Residents of a blockaded rebel-held town near Damascus raised the flag used by the government of President Bashar Assad in a deal that sees them accept symbolic humiliation in exchange for food, activists said Thursday. The deal accepted by the town of Moadamiyeh is one of a number of short-lived, local truces reached between opposition-held towns and government forces in recent months, although the terms are unusual. They include the rebels handing over heavy weapons and expelling outsiders, which is likely to thin rebel ranks.
Bangui, Central African Republic
Presidential palace attack is thwarted
Assailants armed with heavy weapons attempted late Thursday to attack the presidential palace as well as the residence of the Central African Republic's embattled leader, but were pushed back, officials said. Guy Simplice, spokesman for President Michel Djotodia, said by telephone there was heavy fighting before the army was able to block the aggressors. The attackers were not immediately identified, but for weeks there were rumors that a Christian militia, thought to be backed by the president who was ousted by Djotodia in a coup nine months ago, would attempt to seize back power.
U.S. sends Hellfire missiles to Iraq
The United States has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq's air force, which is using them in an ongoing campaign against the country's branch of al-Qaida, officials in Washington and Baghdad said Thursday. Two intelligence officers and a military officer said 75 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles arrived Dec. 19 and more will be shipped in the future. They said the missiles are being used by four Iraqi King Air propeller planes during a large-scale military operation in the desert near the borders with Syria. An intelligence official said the missiles were proven "successful" and were used to destroy four militant camps.
Russia: Arafat died of natural causes
A Russian investigation into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has found that his death wasn't caused by radiation — after a French inquiry found traces of the radioactive isotope polonium and a Swiss investigation said the timeframe of his illness and death was consistent with that of polonium poisoning. Vladimir Uiba, head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said Thursday that Arafat died of natural causes and the agency planned no further tests. Teams of scientists from France, Switzerland and Russia were asked to determine whether polonium, a rare and extremely lethal substance, played a role in Arafat's death in a French military hospital in 2004. Palestinians have long suspected Israel of poisoning Arafat, which Israel denies.
Hate crime charge filed in attack
A white Houston area man was arrested Thursday on federal hate crimes charges for allegedly shooting video of himself sucker-punching a 79-year-old black man in a "knockout game"-style attack on Nov. 24. Conrad Alvin Barrett, 27, made a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy, who scheduled a detention hearing for the Katy man today.