Syrian troops press offensive near Damascus

Syria

troops press ATTACKS NEAR CAPITAL

Syrian government forces pressed an ongoing offensive Monday aimed at dislodging rebels from the vicinity of the capital, Damascus, amid reports of large numbers of civilian casualties. Opposition activists said as many as 20 civilians, including many women and children, were killed in a government airstrike on the suburb of Moadamiyeh. The government news service said "terrorists" — the official term for the armed opposition — had shelled Moadamiyeh, "hitting a civilian building in the city" and causing casualties, among them women and children. There was no way to verify either version of events in the suburb. Meantime, a new study by the New York-based International Rescue Committee, an aid group, labeled the almost two-year-old Syrian conflict "a regional humanitarian disaster" that is worsening.

Washington

Clinton to testify before House panel

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will testify Jan. 23 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the deadly Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. mission in Libya, Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said Monday. He said Clinton will answer questions about the raid that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi.

Clinton had been scheduled to testify last month, but she suffered a concussion when she fell at her home during an illness. She was later hospitalized with a blood clot in her head. She has planned to step down, and President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry to replace her.

California

Bitter cold grips West and damages crops

As an unusual cold spell gripped parts of the West for a fifth day Monday, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops, and an agriculture official said prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona.

In California's San Joaquin Valley, farmers are fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit. Sunday temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in some areas and stayed low longer than previous nights. Prolonged temperatures in the mid 20s or lower cause damage to citrus crops. Farmers said any damage would negatively impact workers and consumers.

Cuba

Many make travel plans as rules change

Cubans flocked to immigration offices and travel agencies Monday, eager to take advantage of a lifting of government travel restrictions that have been in place for decades.

As of Monday, most Cubans can head for the airport with only a passport, a plane ticket and a visa, if required, from the country they intend to visit.

WASHINGTON

White House says no to Texas secession

Bad news for thousands of people who wanted to see Texas secede: The state is still in the United States.

The White House has responded to a petition asking that Texas be allowed to break away from the country, saying the Founding Fathers who created the nation "did not provide a right to walk away from it."

More than 125,000 people signed the petition, which was created a few days after President Barack Obama won re-election. The White House has promised to respond to any petition that gets more than 25,000 signatures within 30 days.

Elsewhere

Greece: Gunmen sprayed bullets into the headquarters of the governing New Democracy Party in Athens on Monday. The attack added to a wave of violence in recent days as Greece struggles with its worst economic crisis in a decade.

Times wires

Syrian troops press offensive near Damascus 01/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 11:03pm]

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