Syrian Army Attacks Hama, Other Cities

DAMASCUS, Syria, July 31 (UPI) — The Syrian army moved into Hama and other rebellious cities Sunday, and at least 75 people are dead, witnesses and activists said.

“Massacres, massacres are taking place here. History is repeating itself. It is repeating itself,” opposition activist Obada Arwany told The New York Times from Hama, where President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, carried out a notorious slaughter in 1982.

“It is a last-minute attempt by the regime to reclaim cities that it lost control of, even by force,” before the holy month of Ramadan begins, said Omar Idlibi of the Local Coordination Committee, which helps organize and document the uprising.

Opposition sources reported at least 49 killed Sunday in Hama, 13 in Deir al-Zour and more elsewhere, but some estimates ranged much higher.

Hama residents told the BBC troops began entering the city at dawn and described unarmed civilians facing tanks at barricades.

“Hama will be very harsh to them … the whole city has decided to resist with stones, not weapons. The army will either join demonstrators or leave our city,” Omar al Habbai of the Local Coordination Committee told CNN.

Sham, a pro-opposition Web site, said some soldiers had deserted and embraced protesters in Hama, where the regime ceded control in June.

Since the mass protests against Assad began in March, some 1,500 civilians and 350 members of the security forces have been killed. More than 12,600 people have been arrested and 3,000 civilians are listed as missing.

Hikers Jailed In Iran Get Day In Court

TEHRAN, July 31 (UPI) — Two American hikers held in an Iranian prison for two years after straying across its border with Iraq have had a final court appearance, their attorney said.

The pair’s attorney, Masoud Shafiei, said he expects the Tehran Revolutionary Court to sentence the two hikers within a week, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The two spent four hours in court Sunday, and Shafiei said he hopes the two years Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have spent in jail will satisfy Iranian authorities. Fattal, Bauer and Bauer’s fiancee, Sarah Shourd, crossed from Iraq into Iran while on a hike in 2009.

They are charged with espionage and trespassing. Shourd was released last year on a $500,000 bond after spending more than 400 days in solitary confinement.

“I believe that even if the court finds my clients guilty, the two years that they have already served in prison would be considered as their sentence and they would be released,” the group’s attorney, Masoud Shafiei, told CNN.

The hikers said they didn’t know they strayed across Iraq’s border into Iran.

“My clients should not be considered spies, because they lack the characteristics and backgrounds of spies,” Shafiei said.

Shafiei told Iran’s Fars News Agency he hopes the pair would be released based on “Islamic compassion,” with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starting Monday.

“The hearing officially finished, so according to law, the judge has to issue a verdict within a week,” Shafiei told the Los Angeles Times. “I do hope the verdict will be a two-year sentence, and that means immediate release.”

A rally calling for the pair’s freedom was conducted Friday in front of the Iranian Mission in New York.

“The judiciary in Iran says it will be the final hearing,” Laura Fattal, mother of Josh Fattal, said Friday. “We hope and pray that this is true.”

Serbia Irked By Kosovo Again

BELGRADE, Serbia, July 31 (UPI) — The Serbian government issued a declaration Sunday in Belgrade denouncing the breakaway province of Kosovo for unilaterally imposing customs border controls.

Debate on the wording of the resolution began Saturday afternoon and continued into the early hours of Sunday, Radio B92 reported.

The government of President Boris Tadic is upset that Kosovo Albanian authorities announced this week they were going to open customs clearing offices at the Serbian border.

Tadic repeatedly stressed the dispute should be resolved without violence, the report said.

Kosovo is predominantly inhabited by ethnic Albanians, along with a minority of Serbs. Violence between the two sides led to the United Nations and European Union sending in military and diplomatic presences.

With Serbia aspiring to eventual membership in the European Union, it has had to make concessions to Kosovo’s status while still trying to represent the Serbs who live there.

The resolution passed Sunday called for a peaceful resolution to “the crisis caused by the unilateral act” and called for international support from the likes of the United Nations and European Union, the report said.

Congress Closer To Debt Deal?

WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) — A key U.S. senator said Sunday Congress was close to finalizing a hard-fought deal that would raise the government’s debt ceiling and avert a potential default.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader of the Senate, told CNN the negotiations had made good progress the day before and the two parties were “very close” to reaching an agreement.

McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” he was “very, very close to being able … to recommend to my members that this is something that they ought to support.”

McConnell said the deal might not include any tax increases, something the majority Democrats had been insisting on as a means of chipping away at the budget deficit rather than relying solely on cuts to social programs.

The halls of Congress were busy Sunday morning as lawmakers debated a compromise bill that would avert a federal debt default Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the upper house would convene at noon and vote at 1 p.m. on a compromise bill hammered out Saturday, The Washington Post reported.

It would raise the country’s $14.3 trillion debt limit by up to $2.4 trillion in two stages — $1 trillion now, matched by cuts, and the rest in 2012 unless two-thirds of both houses disapprove, the Post said.

Without steering legislation, the United States will be unable to meet most of its financial obligations after Tuesday, The New York Times said.

Reid told a news conference the latest bid to end partisan bickering came as a result of talks between McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden.

Bloody Mayhem Shakes Chinese City

KASHGAR, China, July 31 (UPI) — Rioting shook the Chinese city of Kashgar for a second day Sunday as police reported killing four men, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The violence began Saturday afternoon in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

in what police described as “a severely violent terrorism case,” the report said.

Uygurs are predominantly Muslim and there are factions seeking an autonomous state.

The city erupted into violence Saturday night when two men fatally stabbed a truck driver and then drove the vehicle into a crowd, CriEnglish reported.

When the truck came to a stop, the hijackers got out and began slashing at people with knives, the report said.

Six people in the crowd were killed and 28 others were hurt, police said.

Sunday afternoon, violence erupted on the streets again and 10 civilians and police officers were injured, Xinhua said. There were conflicting reports on whether a small bomb exploded or if the injured were slashed with knives.

Police shot and killed four suspects and were searching for four other men Sunday night, the report said.

Reward Offered For Stolen Military Rifles

LOS ANGELES, July 31 (UPI) — Federal authorities say they arrested several people in the theft of 26 AK-74 assault rifles taken from California’s Fort Irwin Army Post.

Also taken in the July 15 theft was a Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifle, CNN reported.

The AK-74 is an improved version of the Russian-built AK-47. It was introduced by the Soviet military in the 1970s.

Investigators said some arrests followed interviews with employees at the arms storehouse at Fort Irwin, but details weren’t immediately available. Officials said they were looking for additional suspects.

Authorities were trying to determine if some of the stolen weapons had turned up in Fresno, California.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves.

“We request the public’s assistance to help us arrest and prosecute those individuals responsible for this crime,” said special agent John A. Torres of the ATF’s Los Angeles office.

“Community participation is necessary to improve the likelihood that ATF and our law enforcement partners will track down the firearms as well as the criminals who have sought to destabilize our community through illegal activity,” Torres said.

Woman Calls Off Attacker’s Punishment

TEHRAN, July 31 (UPI) — A woman blinded and scarred in an acid attack by a would-be suitor has called off a court-ordered blinding for the man who attacked her, Iranian officials said.

Majid Movahedi escaped having a doctor drop acid into his eyes Sunday when his victim, Ameneh Bahrami, decided not to seek revenge in the attack seven years ago that left her blind and disfigured, CNN reported Sunday.

Following Movahedi’s conviction in 2008, Bahrami insisted her attacker suffer the same fate he had inflicted on her.

“However, in the last minute, Ameneh changed her mind and asked the proceeding to be halted,” Fars news agency reported.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan starts this week. Pardons and commuted sentences regularly occur during Ramadan as a sign of compassion, the report said.

Movahedi’s sentence was to be carried out in May, but it was delayed after Amnesty International protested, calling it cruel.

Bahrami said she partly forgave her attacker for her country, saying, “since all other countries were looking to see what we would do.”

Bahrami told CNN in 2009 she had undergone more than a dozen surgeries on her face, but still hoped she would have a wedding day.

“I always see myself as someone who can see and sometimes see myself in a beautiful wedding gown, and why not?” Bahrami said.

Security Issues Cloud Mubarak Trial

CAIRO, July 31 (UPI) — Security issues have forced the government to move the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Cairo’s Police Academy, officials said.

Wednesday’s trial was moved from Cairo’s International Convention Center to the Police Academy to provide additional security measures, Bikya Masr reported Sunday.

Mubarak, 83, was arrested in April and he is currently hospitalized for a variety of symptoms, including depression.

He is charged with corruption and murder in the deaths of protesters during 18 days of demonstrations that resulted in his removal. Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, charged with corruption, will be tried at the same time.

Habib al-Adly, Egypt’s former Interior Minister, will be tried with Mubark and his sons. He is also charged with the killing of protesters and he previously received a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

A cage was built to hold the defendants, said appeals court president Abdel Aziz Omar. The auditorium where the relocated trial is to take place can hold about 600 people.

The trial will be shown live on large-screen television sets in Cairo and Giza. The only camera allowed in the trial will be wielded by the state-run MENA news agency.

Bomber Kills 10 Afghan Policemen And Child

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 31 (UPI) — A suicide bomber killed 10 Afghan policemen and a child Sunday in the capital of Helmand province, security officials said.

Seven police officers and two civilians were also injured by the blast at a police compound in the city of Lashkar Gah, a spokesman for the southern province told The Washington Post.

Spokesman Daoud Ahmadi told The Los Angeles Times the blast was strong enough to collapse an entire wall of the police compound.

Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack, the reports said.

The city is one of seven regions NATO forces turned over to Afghan security forces earlier this month as the United States and other countries begin drawing down their military presence, the Times said.

There has been a spike in the number of terror attacks on government and security officials in the regions where NATO troops withdrew, the Post said.

Almost all foreign troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by 2014, 13 years after the military push began to roust the Taliban from power.

John Marburger, Bush Science Adviser, Dies

PORT JEFFERSON, N.Y., July 31 (UPI) — John H. “Jack” Marburger, who served as chief science adviser to President George W. Bush, has died at his home in Port Jefferson, N.Y., officials said.

Marburger died Thursday of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the Washington Post reported. He was 70.

Marburger served as Bush’s head science adviser for eight years and was roundly criticized by the scientific community, which said he sold out his scientific credentials to satisfy Bush’s political positions, the Post said.

Marburger — a prominent physicist — served as president of Stony Brook University in New York and as the head of a national laboratory before joining the Bush administration. He held the job of science adviser longer than anyone before him.

His early work for the Bush administration focused on ways to prevent and fight terrorist attacks.

After Bush took office in 2001, the administration pulled its support for the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to fight global warming. Bush also restricted the use of embryonic stem cells, saying they were derived from the destruction of human embryos.

As a result, more than 60 top scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, published an open letter in February 2004 claiming the Bush administration “systematically” twisted or ignored key scientific findings. Four months later, 48 Nobel Prize winners sent a similar letter that singled out Marburger.

In that letter Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner called Marburger a prostitute.

“I actually feel very sorry for Marburger,” Gardner told National Public Radio, “because I think he probably is enough of a scientist to realize that he basically has become a prostitute.”

Marburger never flinched and never fought back, the Post said.

John Harmen Marburger III was born Feb. 8, 1941, in Staten Island, N.Y. He graduated from Princeton University in 1962, earned a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University in 1967 and joined the faculty at the University of Southern California as a theoretical physicist.