U.S. warning: NKorea, Iran will be emboldened unless there is retaliation against Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the first time in more than two years of a bloody civil war, President Barack Obama has declared Syria a national security threat that must be answered with a military strike -- and in doing so he is warning Americans as much about the leaders of Iran and North Korea as about Bashar Assad.
America’s credibility with those countries will be an immediate casualty if it stands down now on Syria, administration officials say in making their case for U.S. missile strikes.
Following an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, the White House declared Syria’s 2-year civil war a top risk to American interests. If the U.S. fails to respond, officials said this week, it could encourage other hostile governments to use or develop weapons of mass destruction without fear of being punished.
It’s a connection that’s not immediately clear to many Americans -- especially after the White House refused to send military support earlier in the Syrian war. The recent chemical weapons attack killed 1,429 people, U.S. intelligence officials say. Other estimates are somewhat lower. The wider war has killed more than 100,000.
In House and Senate hearings this week designed to seek congressional approval to strike Assad ‘s government -- probably with cruise missiles but not with ground troops -- top administration officials pleaded with skeptical lawmakers to consider the risks of doing nothing.
Al-Qaida-linked rebels stage hit-and-run attacks in ancient Syrian Christian village
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The sound of artillery reverberated Thursday through a predominantly Christian village north of Damascus as government troops and al-Qaida-linked rebels battled for control of the mountainside sanctuary.
The hit-and-run attacks on the ancient village of Maaloula, one of the few places in the world where residents still speak Aramaic, highlighted fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of extremists among those fighting in the civil war to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The fighting came as President Barack Obama’s administration pressed the U.S. Congress for its authorization of a military strike against the Assad regime, while the president arrived at a G-20 summit in Russia expected to be overshadowed by Syria.
The fighting in Maaloula, a scenic village of about 3,300 perched high in the mountains, began early Wednesday when militants from Jabhat al-Nusra stormed in after a suicide bomber struck an army checkpoint guarding the entrance.
The group -- listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department -- is one of the most effective fighting forces among Syrian rebels. The suicide attack triggered battles that terrorized residents in the village, famous for two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria -- Mar Sarkis and Mar Takla.
Low-cost ‘bronze’ plans under health law could leave some
with big medical bills
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s health care law appears to mirror a trend in job-based insurance, where employees are being nudged into cost-saving plans that require them to pay a bigger share of their medical expenses.
Two independent studies out this week highlighted attractive prices for less-generous "bronze" plans that will offer low monthly premiums but require patients to pick up more of the cost if they get sick.
Consumers might avoid "rate shock" over premiums, but some could end up struggling with bigger bills for the care they receive.
The Obama plans will be available starting Oct. 1 for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job.
Studies by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and Avalere Health provided the first look at rates filed by insurers around the country, ahead of the Oct. 1 opening of new state insurance markets under the law.
Sandy took some things that can’t be replaced -- mementos of those killed on 9/11
NEW YORK (AP) -- The letters and photos were beyond value -- some of the mementos Joe Quinn still had to remember his older brother Jimmy, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Now they are gone, sullied by floodwaters and charred by fires that tore through the Queens community of Breezy Point last October during Superstorm Sandy.
From photos and letters to coffin liners and actual memorials, scores of families from Breezy Point and Rockaway -- two Queens beachside neighborhoods hit particularly hard by both events -- lost cherished reminders of loved ones taken by one tragedy that were then swept away by another.
"Stuff is just stuff, but the mementos, they hurt you a bit more," said Quinn, a 33-year-old Army veteran who remembers one photo in particular that is now gone, taken of the two brothers arm in arm in a bar, smiling, just two weeks before the 2001 attacks.
"Six months later, it sort of sunk in," Quinn said. "Once a week my wife and I would say, ‘Hey, this picture or that letter is gone."’
Home to firefighters, police officers and other first responders, everyone in Breezy and Rockaway, it seemed, knew someone killed on 9/11. Of the more than 2,700 who died that day in New York, about 80 were residents of the two neighborhoods, including almost 30 firefighters.
Afghan war veterans reunited in N.Y. with dog and her 7 puppies born on the battlefield
PORT JEFFERSON STATION, N.Y. (AP) -- Army reunions have been held as long as soldiers have been going off to war, yet a reunion this week was perhaps like no other in history.
National Guard soldiers from New York who befriended a stray dog while on patrol in Afghanistan were reunited with the 65-pound mixed breed and her seven rambunctious puppies after the animals arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday.
The reunion was made possible by the efforts of a Long Island pet rescue organization whose motto is: "Paws of War -- No Buddy Left Behind."
"They really became part of the family to us," 1st Lt. Joseph LaPenta of Staten Island said. The soldiers befriended the dog they called Sheba after arriving in Afghanistan in January. She sometimes joined them on patrol, chasing away other stray dogs that may have threatened the soldiers, they said.
In March, Sheba had a litter of seven puppies. Because Sheba was weakened from the births, they nursed her and the puppies back to health, feeding her their allotment of beef jerky and MREs -- Army issued "meals ready to eat." Later, relatives sent bags of dog food from home.
Lawyer: Zimmerman’s wife filing for divorce a week after pleading guilty to perjury
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- George Zimmerman’s wife filed for divorce Thursday, less than two months after her husband was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin and a week after she pleaded guilty to perjury in his case.
Shellie Zimmerman made the decision because of "disappointment," her attorney, Kelly Sims, wrote Thursday in a short email to The Associated Press. The 26-year-old Zimmerman told ABC’s "Good Morning America" last week that she was having serious doubts about remaining married.
She pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor perjury charge for lying during a bail hearing following her husband’s arrest for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Her husband, who was acquitted on second-degree murder and other charges in July, wasn’t in the Sanford, Fla., courtroom as she was sentenced to a year’s probation and 100 hours of community service -- even though she supported him and lied about their finances.
ABC first reported the divorce filing. Email messages and phone calls to Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, were not immediately returned.
Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman, wrote on Twitter: "Pray 4 them."
Gut bacteria may be a hidden ally in fighting fat, says study of mice given human germs
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Call it a hidden ally: The right germs just might be able to help fight fat.
Different kinds of bacteria that live inside the gut can help spur obesity or protect against it, say scientists at Washington University in St. Louis who transplanted intestinal germs from fat or lean people into mice and watched the rodents change.
And what they ate determined whether the good germs could move in and do their job.
Thursday’s report raises the possibility of one day turning gut bacteria into personalized fat-fighting therapies, and it may help explain why some people have a harder time losing weight than others do.
"It’s an important player," said Dr. David Relman of Stanford University, who also studies how gut bacteria influence health but wasn’t involved in the new research. "This paper says that diet and microbes are necessary companions in all of this. They literally and figuratively feed each other."