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Feb. 17, 2013 at 10:00 PM   |   Comments

U.N. urges Syria on talks with rebels

CAIRO, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A U.N. diplomat Sunday urged the Syrian government to accept an offer by rebels to hold talks on ending the nearly two year-long civil war.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, told a news conference in Cairo the offer by opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib -- which has been endorsed by other members of the opposition -- "challenges the Syrian government to fulfill its often-repeated assertion that it is ready for dialogue and a peaceful settlement," The New York Times reported.

Khatib, the head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, initially drew criticism from members of the coalition, who said the offer had been made without their input. The coalition said Friday it still ruled out talks with President Bashar Assad or his top security officials, but it was open to negotiating with other Syrians, including government officials, provided "they did not participate in any crimes."

Opposition forces in Syria blame the Assad regime for nearly 70,000 deaths in the rebellion, which broke out in March 2011.

The Syrian human rights activists said 73 people were killed across Syria in violence Sunday, including 21 in and around Damascus, 14 in Hama, seven in Deir Alzour, six in Daraa, four in Idlib, three in Homs and one in Tartous.

Rebels in Aleppo Sunday carried out attacks on the international airport and two military airports, and activists said government forces had fired ballistic missiles overnight Saturday toward areas in the northern provinces where rebels are gaining ground, the Times reported.

Electrical service has been partially restored in Damascus, following a blackout that affected several other parts of the country. Syrian officials said rebel attacks on the nation's infrastructure are "growing increasingly frequent and more systematic," and only 50 percent to 60 percent of Syria's electricity demand is being met.


Boeing wants short-term 787 fix

EVERETT, Wash., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Boeing said it will propose to U.S. regulators a short-term fix to get its Dreamliner back in service while batteries are redesigned for a more permanent fix.

The Boeing plans to propose to the Federal Aviation Administration, possibly this week, a box around the 787s' battery cells that would contain fires such as those resulted din the grounding of the planes a month ago, The Seattle Times reported Saturday.

The idea is to get the planes transporting passengers while the company works on a redesign of the lithium-ion battery, which could take nine months or longer, the newspaper said.

The interim solution involves a heavy-duty steel or titanium containment box around the battery cells, and high-pressure evacuation tubes that, in the event of a battery fire, would move gases to the outside of the plane, the report said.

It was unclear whether the FAA will accept containment of an overheated battery cell rather than prevention of recurrences.

If the FAA accepts the proposal, it would take at least three months to design, test, certify and retrofit Dreamliners with containment boxes, a source knowledgeable about Boeing's proposed solutions said.

"This cannot drag out for six to nine months, from a financial standpoint. Think about nine months of airplanes just sitting there. This is a gut-wrenching issue," the source said.


Marchers: No on Keystone pipeline

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands marched past the White House Sunday demanding President Barack Obama fight climate change.

Organizers of the "Forward on Climate" rally urged Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, designed to carry tar sands from Canada through several U.S. states.

USA Today said the march was billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Organizers claimed 35,000 participants, though the newspaper said the size of the crowd could not be determined.

The group rallied at the National Mall before the march.

"This movement's been building a long time," said Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental activist group 350.org. " ... It's time for the president to stand up."

McKibben said the 1,000-plus mile pipeline was "one of the largest carbon bombs in history," the newspaper reported.

The oil industry and its supporters say the pipeline would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Obama's final decision on Keystone is expected soon. The pipeline would run from Alberta, Canada, with deliveries to several U.S. locations before reaching Texas refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.


Sandy Hook memorial dismantled

NEWTOWN, Conn., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Mementos on display in the Newtown, Conn., Town Hall in memory of the Sandy Hook shooting victims have been taken down, officials said.

Saturday was the final day for the public to view the thousands of cards, posters and other items on display before the memorial was taken down, The (Danbury, Conn.) News-Times reported.

Everything will be put into storage, except some items that will be given to the victims' families or some Newtown residents.

The Town Hall display was one of the last Sandy Hook memorials left in the city. A number of spontaneous memorials popped up after the Dec. 14 shooting, in which 20 students and educators were killed.

Most of those memorials were taken down around the end of December.

Volunteers have been working for the past few weeks cataloging the posters, cards and other mementos. Some wrote thank-you notes to the senders when return addresses were available.

Lynn Kovack, a clerk in the town's building department, said she sorted cards and letters for weeks while at her desk.

"We did our work, and also read and sorted," Kovack said. "You would be so touched at times, you'd start crying and everyone around you would cry with you."

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