- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wary lawmakers grudgingly OK arms for Syria rebels fighting Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-controlled House voted grudgingly Wednesday to give the administration authority to train and arm Syrian rebels as President Barack Obama emphasized anew that American forces “do not and will not have a combat mission” in the struggle against Islamic State militants in either Iraq or Syria.

The 273-156 vote crossed party lines to an unusual degree in a Congress marked by near-ceaseless partisanship. Top Republican and Democratic leaders backed Obama’s plan seven weeks before midterm elections, while dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties opposed it.

The provision was added to spending legislation that will ensure the federal government operates normally after the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. Final approval is expected in the Senate on Thursday.

Even supporters of the military plan found little to trumpet. “This is the best of a long list of bad options,” said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

One Republican supporter noted the measure includes strict limits on Obama’s authority. “Members on both sides of the aisle are very concerned that too much of Congress’ warmaking power has gone to the president,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.


AP Interview: Iraqi prime minister rejects US ground troops, chides West for inaction in Syria

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s new prime minister ruled out stationing U.S. ground troops in his country, chiding the international community Wednesday for inaction in Syria and lamenting the “puzzling” exclusion of neighboring Iran from the coalition being assembled to fight the Islamic State group.

Haider al-Abadi has been embraced by the West as a more inclusive leader who might heal the internal rifts that have dismembered Iraq. But his forthrightness in an interview with The Associated Press - his first with international media - suggested a man capable of parting ways on vision and holding his ground.

Al-Abadi praised the U.S. aerial campaign targeting the militants who have overrun much of northern and western Iraq and carved out a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border, saying it has helped efforts to roll back the Sunni extremists.

But he stressed that he sees no need for the U.S. or other nations to send troops into Iraq to help fight the Islamic State.

“Not only is it not necessary,” he said, “We don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.”


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The 273-156 vote crosses party lines to an unusual degree in a Congress marked by near ceaseless partisanship.


With desperation mounting, hundreds of Gazans are trying to reach Europe in risky sea voyages

ABASSAN, Gaza Strip (AP) - The university student was desperate to flee Gaza after suffering through years of border closures and three wars.

In early September, a week after the latest war between Gaza’s ruling Hamas and Israel, 22-year-old Mohammed Abu Toaimeh crossed into neighboring Egypt. He handed $2,000 to traffickers and boarded a ship that was to smuggle him to Europe.

Instead, he and dozens of other Gazans are missing amid reports that smugglers sank their vessel on purpose.

Mohammed’s mother, Ahlam, is plagued by guilt because she helped him scrape together money for the trip. “I had hoped he could begin a new life, better than this life of war and destruction,” she said in between sobs.

In the past two months, more than 1,300 Gazans are believed to have gone to Egypt, some even sneaking in through a border tunnel, to embark on illicit sea voyages, said Ramy Abdu, a human rights activist tracking the trafficking.


Pennsylvania State Police: Ambush suspect belonged to military re-enactor group

Schools closed, kids stayed inside and authorities chased down several false sightings Wednesday in their hunt for the suspect in a fatal ambush outside a rural Pennsylvania State Police barracks.

Police released new details about the background of Eric Frein, a 31-year-old self-taught survivalist who authorities said recently shaved his head in a wide Mohawk, evidently as “part of the mental preparation to commit this cowardly act,” Lt. Col. George Bivens said Wednesday afternoon.

Frein belonged to a military simulation unit based in eastern Pennsylvania whose members play the role of soldiers from Cold War-era eastern Europe, Bivens told reporters.

“In his current frame of mind, Frein appears to have assumed that role in real life,” he said.

Hundreds of law enforcement officials spent a fifth full day Wednesday looking for the gunman who concealed himself outside the Blooming Grove barracks late Friday and shot two troopers with a rifle, killing one and wounding the second. Police named Frein the suspect after finding his abandoned SUV, which contained his driver’s license and spent shell casings matching those at the crime scene.


Doctor says Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has cancer in abdomen

TORONTO (AP) - Toronto’s embattled mayor has a rare and difficult cancer that will require aggressive chemotherapy, his doctor said Wednesday, days after Rob Ford’s dramatic announcement that he was pulling out of a re-election campaign.

Dr. Zane Cohen, a colorectal surgeon at Mount Sinai hospital, said Ford has a malignant liposarcoma. Ford has been hospitalized for a week with a tumor in his abdomen.

Cohen said the cancer is spreading and that they have found “a small nodule in the buttock” near the left hip. He said the mayor will be treated with fairly intensive chemotherapeutic agents within the next two days.

“We think it’s fairly an aggressive tumor,” Cohen said. He said Ford had a CT scan in 2011 and there was no sign of the tumor then. “But we’re treating this very aggressively in order to eradicate the tumor.”

The doctor said Ford’s cancer makes up only about one percent of all cancers but said he was optimistic about Ford’s treatment because they have many experts in sarcoma at the hospital. He said Ford will get two cycles of chemotherapy over the next 40 days in an effort to shrink the tumor, and then they’ll assess. He said surgery may or may not be necessary.


Stalled nuclear talks complicate prospects for a meeting between Obama and Iranian president

WASHINGTON (AP) - One year ago, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came close to ending the decades-long freeze on face-to-face meetings between their countries’ leaders.

Next week both men are scheduled to again be in New York for United Nations meetings but expectations for even a handshake are more muted than they were last fall. While lower level officials from both countries are now in regular contact, deadlocked nuclear talks - as well as the complexities of the fight against militants in the Middle East - are clouding the prospects for an elusive leaders’ meeting.

“The state of play between the United States and Iran is too fragile to endure what would be the shock of a direct meeting,” said Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the Wilson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.

An in-person meeting between the two leaders would mark a substantive shift in the way the U.S. has dealt with Iran for decades and could eventually open the door for talks on matters beyond Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. It would also mark the fulfillment of a pledge Obama made as a presidential candidate when he said he would be willing to talk to America’s adversaries without preconditions.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said a meeting with Rouhani is not on Obama’s “dance card” next week, though the White House has not ruled out the possibility that the two men could have an encounter on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Obama and Rouhani will both arrive in New York early next week for meetings with world leaders and speeches to the UN.


AP Interview: Brazil candidate Silva says time to improve US ties, push human rights

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Marina Silva, a front-running presidential candidate who grew up in the Amazon jungle and could become the first black to lead Brazil’s government, said Wednesday that if elected she’ll improve ties with the U.S. and strongly push for human rights in nations like Cuba.

She spoke exclusively to The Associated Press in her first interview with a foreign media outlet since being thrust into Brazil’s presidential campaign after her Socialist Party’s original candidate died in an Aug. 13 plane crash.

Silva, a former Amazon activist and environment minister who pushed policies that helped Brazil slash the rate at which it was destroying the jungle, has found herself in a dead-heat presidential race with President Dilma Rousseff. The incumbent represents the Workers Party, which Silva herself helped found three decades ago.

“Brazil has a great opportunity to become a global leader by leading by example,” Silva said in talking about human rights and environmental protections. “Our values cannot be modified because of ideological or political reasons, or because of pure economic interest.”

Asked whether she would continue Brazil’s strong investment in and political support of regimes like Cuba, Venezuela, China and Iran, Silva said that dialogue is essential with each - but that her personal convictions mean Brazil would be more vocal in pushing human rights.


Australian prime minister says fears of a ‘demonstration killing’ led to Sydney police raids

SYDNEY (AP) - Counterterrorism raids in Sydney on Thursday were sparked by security intelligence that the Islamic State movement was planning a public killing as a demonstration of its reach, the prime minister said Thursday.

Australian police detained 15 people Thursday in a major counterterrorism operation, saying intelligence indicated a random, violent attack was being planned on Australian soil.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had been briefed on Wednesday night about the operation which had been prompted by information that an Islamic State movement leader in the Middle East was calling on Australian supporters to kill.

“Quite direct exhortations were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in ISIL to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country,” Abbott told reporters, referring to the al-Qaida splinter group leading Sunni militants in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which now calls itself simply Islamic State.

“This is not just suspicion, this is intent and that’s why the police and security agencies decided to act in the way they have,” he added.


Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer arrested on assault charges in latest issue for NFL

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on aggravated assault charges in connection with two altercations at his home in July involving a woman and their 18-month-old child, the latest in a string of such cases involving NFL players.

The Cardinals said they became aware of the situation Wednesday and are cooperating with the investigation.

“Given the serious nature of these allegations we have taken the immediate step to deactivate Jonathan from all team activities,” the team said in a statement.

The NFL said the case will be reviewed under the league’s personal-conduct policy.

One of the counts was “aggravated assault causing a fracture” involving the 27-year-old victim, whom they did not identify. Police said they were carrying out a search warrant of Dwyer’s residence in pursuit of more evidence.

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