March 29, 2013

Nation & World Dispatches

BEIRUT

Mortar shells kill 10 students at Damascus outdoor cafe

Mortar shells crashed into an outdoor cafe at Damascus University on Thursday, killing at least 10 students in the deadliest of a rising number of mortar attacks in the heart of the Syrian capital.

The strikes have escalated as rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad try to enter Damascus, terrifying civilians whose support the opposition needs to advance its cause.

It was unclear who fired the rounds. The government blamed "terrorists," its blanket term for those fighting Assad's regime. Anti-regime activists accused the regime of staging the attack to turn civilians against the rebels.

Mortar strikes on Damascus are relatively new in Syria's crisis, which began in March 2011 with protests calling for Assad's ouster, then evolved into a civil war. The U.N. says more than 70,000 have been killed in the conflict.

Since last month, mortar shells have hit previously safe parts of the capital with increasing frequency. The near-daily strikes have frightened residents, and many have begun to avoid open areas and put plastic on their windows to help block flying glass from an explosion or shrapnel.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.

U.S. vet accused of firing grenades in attack in Syria

A U.S. Army veteran, who boasted on Facebook of his military adventures with Syrian rebels, was charged Thursday with firing rocket-propelled grenades as part of an attack led by an al-Qaida group against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Eric Harroun, 30, of Phoenix, was charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction -- specifically, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher -- outside the U.S.

According to an FBI affidavit, Harroun, who served three years in the Army and then medically discharged, was engaged in military action in Syria, siding with rebels against the government, from January to March of this year.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.

Solar-powered airplane to start tour of U.S. in May

A solar-powered plane that has wowed aviation fans in Europe is set to travel across the United States with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York, organizers of the trip announced Thursday.

The plane, Solar Impulse, is expected to be ready to leave from NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., on May 1, although the actual departure will depend on the weather, the plane's Swiss creators said at the NASA center.

Solar Impulse, considered the world's most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York's Kennedy Airport in early July -- without using a drop of fuel, its creators said.

The plane has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

-- From news service reports

 

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