WASHINGTON

Obama’s pick to command forces in Europe bows out

President Obama is looking for a new candidate to lead American and allied forces in Europe after his first choice, Marine Gen. John Allen, bowed out Tuesday and announced his intention to retire for what he called personal reasons.

The move further clouds the picture for Obama as he repositions key figures on his national security team and in key military leadership roles. The White House is fighting for Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary; a confirmation vote was stalled last week by Republicans but is expected to happen next week.

Obama also is switching commanders at Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the Greater Middle East, and Africa Command.

After meeting with Allen at the White House, the president issued a brief statement praising Allen’s service. He called the 57-year-old “one of America’s finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly.”

Allen appeared to be a shoo-in as the next top commander of allied forces in Europe. Obama nominated him last Oct. 10, but in November, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stunned many by announcing that Allen was being investigated for potentially inappropriate email exchanges with a Florida socialite, Jill Kelley. Panetta put Allen’s nomination on hold.

BEIRUT

Syrian regime missile kills at least 33 people in Aleppo

A Syrian missile strike leveled a block of buildings in an impoverished district of Aleppo on Tuesday, killing at least 33 people, almost half of them children, anti-regime activists said.

Many were trapped under the rubble of destroyed houses and piles of concrete and the death toll could still rise further if more bodies are uncovered.

The apparent ground-to-ground missile attack struck a quiet area that has been held by anti-regime fighters for many months, a reminder of how difficult it is for the opposition to defend territory in the face of the regime’s far superior weaponry.

In the capital Damascus, state-run news agency SANA said two mortars exploded near one of President Bashar Assad’s palaces. It dealt a symbolic blow to the embattled leader, who has tried to maintain an image as the head of a functioning state even as rebels edge closer to the heart of his seat of power.

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

Car crashes into gas main; blaze engulfs entire block

A car crashed into a gas main Tuesday evening in an upscale Kansas City shopping district, sparking a massive blaze that engulfed an entire block and caused multiple injuries, police said.

Seven or eight people were injured and taken to area hospitals, police Sgt. Tony Sanders said Tuesday. He said the manager of JJ’s restaurant, which was destroyed in the blaze, was unable to account for three people, but it was unclear whether they were caught in the blaze or had left earlier.

Earlier, police spokeswoman Rhonda Flores said it appeared that a car crashed into a gas main near JJ’s just after 6 p.m. Flores said an initial call for three ambulances had been increased to 10. She said the car crash appeared to have been accidental.