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March 2, 2013 at 12:01 PM   |   Comments

Syrian rebels clash at Damascus doorstep

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 2 (UPI) -- Rebel forces inched closer to entering the Syrian capital Saturday, trading fire with government troops in a Damascus suburb, an opposition spokesman said.

Free Syrian Army rebels are fighting along three fronts in the suburb of Jawbar, CNN reported.

"If we capture the area it means we have reached the heart of the capital," said Baraa, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Military Council who gave only his first name.

"It means we can cross into Damascus," he said.

"We expect very intense fighting over the next several days," Baraa added, noting snipers were positioned on many buildings and tanks were in the area.

The FSA is now in control of a majority of Jawbar, the opposition Damascus Media Office said. The Assad regime is shelling the suburb with fighter jets and missiles.

Syrian state media said government forces had inflicted heavy losses in the Damascus suburbs and were pursuing armed terrorist groups in the area.

Fighting began Saturday morning in al-Raqa province near the Syrian border with Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Some 125 people had been killed across Syria on Friday, the Local Coordination Committees for Syria reported.


15 Britons injured in Kenyan bus crash

MOMBASA, Kenya, March 2 (UPI) -- As many as 15 British tourists were injured when a bus they were traveling in crashed in Kenya's port city of Mombasa early Saturday, officials said.

The driver of the bus lost control of the vehicle and it rolled off the road, down a 16-foot drop and ended in the way of oncoming traffic, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"The driver lost control on the Makupa Causeway and veered off the road," said Joshua Wamukata, Traffic Commandant in Coast Province. The causeway links Mombasa island to the Kenyan mainland.

"The bus fell down a five meter [about 16 feet] drop and rolled over onto another road," he added. "It was very fortunate that there were no vehicles on the other road."

The bus was traveling from an Indian Ocean resort hotel to the city's Moi International Airport.

Mark Bizley, who was driving behind the bus at the time of the crash, said the bus lost control when a tanker in front of it began leaking water.

"We were behind the local coach company coach, which in turn was behind a truck carrying water that was leaking quite heavily onto the road. With all the water, the coach's wheels lost grip and started to snake. I could see the driver was really struggling to keep the vehicle straight and it just rolled down the embankment onto the other carriageway," Bizley said.

Police said one passenger was in a serious but stable condition. Several other passengers suffered minor injuries.

Police reports from the incident suggested that all the passengers were British.


Obama issues pardons for 17 felons

WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- President Obama has pardoned 17 felons who committed offenses ranging from embezzlement to drug dealing to carrying an unregistered firearm, officials said.

Those pardoned had been sentenced to a range of punishments from 18 months probation to five years in prison, The Hill reported Saturday.

It was Obama's first use of his clemency powers in his second term, The New York Times reported.

He did not issue any commutations, which shorten a prisoner's sentence but do not erase the crime.

Obama has exercised his pardon powers much less than most presidents, data from the Justice Department website revealed.

During his first term he issued 22 pardons and one commutation, while denying 1,019 applications for a pardon and 3,793 applications for commutation.


Stomach bug cancels Queen's trip to Wales

LONDON, March 2 (UPI) -- Queen Elizabeth II canceled a visit to Wales Saturday after she came down with gastroenteritis, Buckingham Palace says.

The 86-year-old British monarch was due to present leeks to members of the 3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh to mark St. David's Day, the BBC reported.

Instead, she will spend the weekend at Windsor Castle, where she will be "assessed in the coming days," a palace spokesman said.

It would have been her first time to present leeks, a symbol of Wales' patron saint, to the reserve force of the regiment at a parade in Swansea, CNN reported.

Byron Lewis, the Lord Lieutenant of West Glamorgan, made the presentation instead.

The queen's illness could affect a planned two-day trip with Prince Philip to Rome next weekend where she is scheduled to meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.


Rescuers looking for man in sinkhole

SEFFNER, Fla., March 2 (UPI) -- The effort to recover a Florida man's body from a sinkhole that opened up beneath his bedroom resumed Saturday morning, officials said.

Jeff Bush, 37, was in his bedroom Thursday night when the sinkhole opened up and trapped him underneath his house, CNN reported.

Rescue workers left the site Friday night, saying the hole is still expanding and the house could collapse at any time.

"Until we know where it's safe to bring the equipment, we really are just handicapped and paralyzed, and can't really do a whole lot more than sit and wait," Hillsborough County Fire Chief Ron Rogers said Friday. "It's a tough situation. It's even tougher for the family."

Bush's brother and roommate Jeremy said when the sinkhole first opened, he tried to rescue his brother, by standing in the hole and digging through the debris with a shovel.

"I couldn't get him out. I tried so hard. I tried everything I could," Jeremy Bush said. "I could swear I heard him calling out."

"Everything was gone. My brother's bed, my brother's dresser, my brother's TV. My brother was gone," he said.

The sinkhole is about 20 feet to 30 feet across and may be 30 feet deep, said Bill Bracken, president of an engineering company assisting emergency workers

"It started in the bedroom, and it has been expanding outward and it's taking the house with it as it opens up," Bracken said.

Although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said sinkholes are very common in Florida and especially in Hillsborough County, which accounts for about two-thirds of the state's sinkhole-related insurance claims, Mike Merrill, county administrator for Hillsborough County, said the sinkhole that opened up under the Bush home was not "your typical sinkhole."

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