First U.S. aid to Syrian rebels won’t include arms

Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Thursday announced the first direct U.S. aid to Syrian opposition fighters, but the more than $60 million package will not include the arms or high-tech gear the rebels have long coveted.

Kerry, on his first trip abroad as chief U.S. diplomat, said the United States would supply food rations and medical supplies to the military wing of the opposition and $60 million to its political arm to help provide basic government services in the areas controlled by forces opposed to President Bashar Assad.

Appearing at an international conference on Syria, Kerry called the new aid a “significant stepping up” of assistance by the United States and promised that, combined with aid from other countries, it would help change Assad’s belief that he can remain in power. As many as 70,000 people have died during the nearly two-year war, according to the United Nations.


Zoo launches interactive online citywide cat census

The London zoo is taking stock of an animal you don’t often find behind bars, launching what it says is the first interactive map of the British capital’s domestic cats.

The zoo said Friday that its interface would allow Londoners to upload scientific survey-style photos, descriptions, and locations of their cats – creating a capital-wide census of the city’s felines.

The map may not ultimately have much in the way of scientific value, but it could prove popular among Britain’s cat owners.

Even ahead of its official launch, the site was filling up with dozens of felines, along with tongue-in-cheek field notes.

Among the early entrants was Ollie, a ginger cat from north London who “likes fish and octopus toy (but) dislikes biscuits.” Another was Dorothy, a black tabby from south London who “has intimacy issues.”

Quality control doesn’t appear to be a strong suit of the site. At least one person uploaded a picture of a “Nyancat,” the name given by Internet pranksters to an animated, space-dwelling cat with the body of a Pop-Tart.

But the other listings appeared legitimate and the map was already yielding its first figures. Nearly half of Britain’s domestic cats are black or gray, according to the map, and roughly one-sixth are ginger or rust-colored.

Officials with the Zoological Society of London said they were launching the map to mark the arrival of two Sumatran tigers – Jae Jae and Melati – at the zoo.


Ex-treasurer appeals her 20-year sentence for fraud

Rita Crundwell, the disgraced former Dixon treasurer who stole tens of millions of dollars from city coffers to fund a lavish lifestyle, is appealing her recent sentence of almost 20 years in prison.

A federal judge in Rockford imposed a sentence of 19 years and 7 months in prison last month, citing the “sheer magnitude” of her fraud scheme. Crundwell siphoned almost $54 million from the northwestern Illinois city over 22 years, enabling her to finance a championship quarter horse breeding operation, buy up real estate and purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry.

Crundwell’s attorney, Paul Gaziano declined to comment Thursday on the appeal. A notice was filed Tuesday with the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. Her lawyers were given until next month to file a legal brief in support of their appeal.

Crundwell, 60, pleaded guilty in November to a single count of wire fraud. Following her arrest last April, she had cooperated with authorities, divulging the numerous assets she held. Sentencing papers show she clearly hoped to receive far less than the maximum 20-year sentence.

With Crundwell’s assistance, federal authorities have sold off some 400 horses, her sprawling ranch in Dixon, a luxury motor home and dozens of pieces of jewelry.

On Thursday, Belkis Sandoval, a senior inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service, said authorities expect some $10 million to be returned to Dixon from the sales.


Owner suspects her dog was poisoned at Kennel show

A dog owner says she thinks there’s a chance her prized pet was deliberately poisoned while competing at the Westminster Kennel Club show, causing it to die several days later.

“It is in the realm of possibility,” Lynette Blue told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Blue co-owns a 3-year-old Samoyed named Cruz, and said he probably swallowed poison at Westminster earlier this month. Four days after competing, the dog died, on Feb. 16, while at a show in Colorado.

Blue has worked since the 1970s with Samoyeds, a sturdy, medium-sized breed. She said that while there was no evidence foul play was involved, certain symptoms were consistent with dogs who ingest rat or mouse poison. That was the reason she said she decided against a necropsy – an autopsy for animals.

“The timeline adds up. There’s no other scenario we can come up with other than poison,” she said.

Asked if she thought it was intentional, she said: “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

— From news service reports