BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's news agency says 20 people have been killed and 95 wounded in two explosions that struck near the Iranian Embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
The National News Agency says the dead include two Iranian nationals.
The mid-morning blasts hit Beirut's upscale neighborhood of Janah, a stronghold of the Shiite militant Hezbollah group. One explosion blew out the large black main gate of the Iranian mission, damaging the three-story facility.
Debris was scattered on the street and cars were on fire as people ran away from the chaotic scene.
A Lebanese security official confirmed that the casualty figures. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Attacks have targeted Lebanon's Shiite strongholds recently in what many see as retaliation by extremists for Hezbollah's role in Syria.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The 16 year old Pakistani teen targeted for a Taliban assassination because she championed education for girls has inspired the development of a school curriculum encouraging advocacy.
George Washington University announced Monday that faculty members are creating multimedia curriculum tools to accompany a book recently released by the teen, Malala Yousafzai. Several faculty members will pilot the curriculum early next year for both college and high school instruction. Free of charge, it will focus on themes such as the importance of a woman's voice and political extremism, the university said.
The tools won't just look at the teen's story, but also how the same issues get reflected elsewhere, such as when girls face child marriage and pressures to leave school, said Mary Ellsberg, the director of the university's Global Women's Institute.
"It's going to be really interactive and really encourage students to do ... activities outside of school, it will encourage them to get engaged in the communities and as well to help the Malala Fund directly," Ellsberg said.
The university's Global Women's Institute is partnered with the Malala Fund, a nonprofit that seeks to ensure girls around the world have access to education.
In 2012 when a Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking Malala and other children home from school in Pakistan's volatile northern Swat Valley and shot Malala in the head and neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded. Malala now resides in Britain, where she was flown for medical care. Her memoir is "I am Malala."
BANGKOK (AP) — Oil prices, which have shot up in recent days over the threat of a U.S. strike against Syria, fell below $109 a barrel Tuesday after Damascus reacted favorably to a proposal to turn over its chemical weapons.
Benchmark oil for October delivery fell $1.16 per barrel to $108.36 at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.01 to close at $109.52 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.
Oil prices have risen sharply in recent days following President Barack Obama's call for military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in retaliation for what the White House says was a chemical weapons attack against civilians.
But on Monday, there was reason to hope for a diplomatic solution when Syria's foreign minister welcomed a suggestion to move all the country's chemical weapons under international control. Analysts said it could also hurt Obama's attempts at gaining congressional support for military intervention.
"Backed by the U.N., Russia is arranging for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to avert a confrontation," said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. "By deflecting the approaching strike, Russia has also created greater uncertainty in the U.S. Congress on the vote over Syria though the U.S. is still leaning towards a strike." Obama plans to address the nation from the White House on Tuesday about Syria.
Brent, the benchmark for international crudes, dropped $1.03 to $112.69 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.8 cents to $2.774 per gallon.
— Natural gas rose 1 cent to $3.614 per 1,000 cubic feet.
— Heating oil retreated 1.8 cents to $3.0999 per gallon.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian news website reports that the country's foreign minister says he sent a message on Twitter saying "Happy Rosh Hashana."
Mohammad Javad Zarif told tasnimnews.com that he sent the message because Iran has a small Jewish community. But the message comes as Israel and Iran view each other with suspicion and contempt over Iran's nuclear program and former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denials that the Holocaust took place.
Zarif also wrote on Twitter that Iran did not deny the Holocaust.
The "Happy Rosh Hashana" message, celebrating the Jewish New Year, likely won't change international relations. But Zarif's tweet comes after officials in Iran's presidency denied that President Hasan Rouhani had a Twitter account following a tweet that appeared to be the leader offering his own Rosh Hashana message.
United Nations experts are investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria as the United States and allies prepare for the possibility of a punitive strike against President Bashar Assad's regime, blamed by the Syrian opposition for the attack. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 355 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack.
Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Thursday and Friday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Assad said his country "will defend itself against any aggression," signaling defiance to mounting Western warnings of a possible punitive strike. U.N. chemical weapons inspectors toured stricken rebel-held areas near the Syrian capital of Damascus for a third day.
The British Parliament voted down endorsing military action against Syria, despite a strong push by Prime Minister David Cameron to support potential U.S. strikes against Assad. British Defense Minister Philip Hammond confirmed that the country's forces would not be involved in any strike.
The French military is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria if President Francois Hollande approves it, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. Hollande, who met with the head of the Syrian opposition, stopped short of announcing a military intervention.
A meeting of the U.N. Security Council's permanent members ended quickly with no sign of progress on an agreement over Syria's crisis. U.N. experts in Syria are expected to leave the country Saturday.
Thousands of Israelis crowded gas-mask distribution facilities to get free masks, fearing Israel could be targeted in retaliation by Syria if it is attacked. A mob forcibly took gas masks from a distribution center in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Officers were deployed to maintain order Thursday in Haifa, where more than 5,000 people waited for protective kits.
Officials placed Turkey on alert against possible chemical attacks from Syria and stocked food and gas masks along their shared border. Bunkers were designated in seven border areas to protect people in the area.
President Hassan Rouhani said his country will press forward with efforts to ward off military action by the U.S. and its allies against the Tehran-backed Syrian regime.
White House officials said President Barack Obama was preparing for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days, after the British Parliament rejected sending that country's forces to support a military strike. Obama also spoke by phone with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has asked the president to make a sharper case on the legal justification for any military strike in Syria and its objective. The administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them Syria's government used chemical weapons in last week's attack.
Russia's foreign ministry asked the U.N. to continue its inspection of places where chemical weapons might have been used in Syria. A foreign minister spokesman said the team should inspect three other locations, including a suburb of Aleppo, where the government in Damascus alleges the rebels have used poisoned gas.
A poll by ZDF television found that a majority of Germans oppose Western military intervention in Syria and don't want their country to provide backing for any U.S.-led strike.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said any international military action against Syria would pose a "serious threat" to the security and stability of the region, particularly Lebanon.
Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said his country strongly opposes military action against Syria and would not support possible punitive strikes by the U.S. and its allies.
Romania's foreign ministry told its citizens in Syria to leave the country "as soon as possible." They were told to get out via Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for potential military action in Syria in the coming days, with intelligence agencies readying additional evidence about last week's alleged chemical weapons attack and high-ranking U.S. officials declaring there was "no doubt" that Bashar Assad's government was to blame.
Administration officials also said Assad's actions posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing President Barack Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress. However, officials did not detail how the U.S. was directly threatened by an attack contained within Syria's borders. Nor did they present concrete proof that Assad was responsible.
"Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The U.S. and international partners were unlikely to undertake military action before Thursday. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of Parliament, where lawmakers were expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response.
Obama and Cameron spoke Tuesday, their second known conversation since the weekend. A Cameron spokesman said the two leaders agreed that a chemical attack had taken place, and that the Assad regime was responsible. Cameron "confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack," the spokesman said.
Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking U.S. official to charge that Assad's government fired chemical weapons last week near Damascus. Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations "preposterous."
"There's no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime," Biden said.
Obama is weighing a response focused narrowly on punishing Assad for violating international agreements that ban the use of chemical weapons, an act the president repeatedly has said would cross a "red line." Officials said the goal was not to drive the Syrian leader from power nor affect the broader trajectory of Syria's bloody civil war, which is now in its third year.
"The options we are considering are not about regime change," Carney told reporters.
According to U.S. officials, the most likely military operation would be largely sea-based, with the strikes coming primarily from Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Fighter jets often are deployed to monitor the area and protect the ships, but Syria's robust air defense system makes airstrikes more difficult and risky.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said military forces stood ready to strike Syria immediately if the commander in chief gave the order. The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean within range of targets inside Syria and also has warplanes in the region.
"We are ready to go," Hagel said in a BBC television interview Tuesday while traveling in Asia.
Ahead of any strike, the U.S. also planned to release additional intelligence it said would directly link Assad to the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs. Syrian activists said hundreds of people were killed in the attack. A U.S. official said the intelligence report was expected to include "signals intelligence" — information gathered from intercepted communications.
All of the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
Even before releasing that information, U.S. officials said they had very little doubt that Assad was culpable in the attack, based on witness reports, information on the number of victims and the symptoms of those killed or injured, and intelligence showing the Syrian government has not lost control of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
Other administration officials echoed Biden's comments, which marked a subtle shift in the administration's rhetoric on who bears responsibility for the attack. Earlier in the week officials would say only that there was "very little doubt" Assad was responsible.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a wave of bombings in Shiite Muslim areas in and around the capital Baghdad has left at least 51 people dead and wounded dozens.
Four police officers say Wednesday's attacks by explosives-laden cars, bombs and suicide bombers targeted parking lots, outdoor markets and restaurants in six of Baghdad's predominantly Shiite neighborhoods.
The areas hit included the neighborhoods of Kazimiyah, Sadr City, Shaab, Shula, Jamila and Mahmoudiyah.
Four medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The attacks are part of a wave of killing that is the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008. More than 3,000 people have died in recent months.
QUAD CITIES, Ill. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is advocating for the U.S. to launch a missile strike at the Syrian regime which is believed to have used chemical weapons on civilians.
The Quad City Times reports that Kirk made the comments Monday while visiting the Rock Island Arsenal.
Kirk opposes extending "boots on the ground" U.S. military involvement in Syria. He likened an air strike to the 1998 attack on Iraq aimed at curbing weapons of mass destruction. Kirk is a Highland Park Republican and a recently retired Naval intelligence officer.
Secretary of State John Kerry has decried what he called Syria's "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians," but hasn't indicated whether the U.S. will take action. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied launching a chemical attack.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry says there is "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria, with intelligence strongly pointing to Bashar Assad's government, and "this international norm cannot be violated without consequences."
Kerry's tough language marked the clearest justification yet for U.S. military action in Syria, which, if President Barack Obama decides to approve, most likely would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Monday, Kerry was harshly critical of chemical warfare.
"By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable," said Kerry, the highest-ranking U.S. official to confirm the attack in the Damascus suburbs that activists say killed hundreds of people.
Obama has not decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, officials said. The White House said last year that type of warfare would cross a "red line." The U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria's civil war began more than two years ago.
Two administration officials said the U.S. was expected to make public a more formal determination of chemical weapons use on Tuesday, with an announcement of Obama's response likely to follow quickly. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
The international community appeared to be considering action that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping measures aimed at ousting the Syrian leader or strengthening rebel forces. The focus of the internal debate underscores the scant international appetite for a large-scale deployment of forces in Syria and the limited number of other options that could significantly change the trajectory of the conflict.
"We continue to believe that there's no military solution here that's good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "This is about the violation of an international norm against the use of chemical weapons and how we should respond to that."
The Obama administration was moving ahead even as a United Nations team already on the ground in Syria collected evidence from last week's attack. The U.S. said Syria's delay in giving the inspectors access rendered their investigation meaningless and officials said the administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use. U.N. officials disagreed that it was too late.
"What is before us today is real and it is compelling," Kerry said. "Our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts."
The U.S. assessment is based in part on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts. Administration officials said the U.S. had additional intelligence confirming chemical weapons use and planned to make it public in the coming days.
Officials stopped short of unequivocally stating that Assad's government was behind the attack. But they said there was "very little doubt" that it originated with the regime, noting that Syria's rebel forces do not appear to have access to the country's chemical weapons stockpile.
Assad has denied launching a chemical attack. The U.N. team came under sniper fire Monday as it traveled to the site of the Aug. 21 attack.
It's unclear whether Obama would seek authority from the U.N. or Congress before using force. The president has spoken frequently about his preference for taking military action only with international backing, but it is likely Russia and China would block U.S. efforts to authorize action through the U.N. Security Council.
More than 100,000 people have died in clashes between forces loyal to Assad and rebels trying to oust him from power over the past two and a half years. While Obama has repeatedly called for Assad to leave power, he has resisted calls for a robust U.S. intervention, and has largely limited American assistance to humanitarian aid. The president said last year that chemical weapons use would cross a "red line" and would likely change his calculus in deciding on a U.S. response.
Last week's attack in the Damascus suburbs is a challenge to Obama's credibility. He took little action after Assad used chemical weapons on a small scale earlier this year and risks signaling to countries like Iran that his administration does not follow through on its warnings.
Syrian activists say the Aug. 21 attack killed hundreds; the group Doctors Without Borders put the death toll at 355 people.
The U.S. Navy last week moved a fourth destroyer into the eastern Mediterranean. Each ship can launch ballistic missiles.
Officials said it was likely the targets of any cruise-missile attacks would be tied to the regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks. Possible targets would include weapons arsenals, command and control centers, radar and communications facilities, and other military headquarters. Less likely was a strike on a chemical weapons site because of the risk of releasing toxic gases.
Military experts and U.S. officials said Monday that the precision strikes would probably come during the night and target key military sites.
The president has ruled out putting American troops on the ground in Syria and officials say they are not considering setting up a unilateral no-fly zone.
On Capitol Hill, bipartisan support for a military response appeared to be building, with some key lawmakers calling for targeted strikes. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the Ohio Republican had "preliminary communication" with White House officials about the situation in Syria and a potential American response.
It's unlikely that the U.S. would launch a strike against Syria while the United Nations team is still in the country. The administration may also try to time any strike around Obama's travel schedule — he's due to hold meetings in Sweden and Russia next week — in order to avoid having the commander in chief abroad when the U.S. launches military action.
MOSCOW (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said his troops did not use chemical weapons in an attack on a rebel-held suburb in a Damascus last week where hundreds of people died.
The United States have said that there is little doubt that Assad's regime was responsible for the attack on Aug. 21 in the capital's eastern suburbs. Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in an artillery barrage by regime forces Wednesday that included the use of toxic gas.
Assad told Russia's Izvestia daily that the accusations that his troops were responsible were "politically motivated."
"This is nonsense," Assad was quoted as saying in an interview published Monday. "First they level the accusations, and only then they start collecting evidence."
Assad said that attacking such an area with chemical weapons would not make sense for the government as there was no clear front line between regime and rebel forces.
"How can the government use chemical weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its troops are situated?" he said. "This is not logical. That's why these accusations are politically motivated, and a recent string of victories of the government forces is the reason for it."
Syria said Sunday that a U.N. team could investigate the site but a senior White House official dismissed the deal as "too late to be credible."
With France, Britain, Israel and some U.S. congressmen urging swift military action against Assad's regime if the use of chemical agents is confirmed, the U.N. team's conclusions could have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of the country's civil war.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said no decision had been made on a military intervention but that any response would be "proportionate."
"It will be negotiated in coming days," Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Monday. He said that the lack of a U.N. blessing was problematic, but that all options remain on the table.
"The only option that I can't imagine would be to do nothing," Fabius said.
Russia, who has been a staunch ally of Syria, said last week that the accusations against Assad could be a bid to get the Security Council to stand by the opposition, and to undermine efforts to resolve the conflict by convening a peace conference in Geneva.