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Nov. 12, 2012 at 12:03 PM
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Israel fires back after Syrian mortar fire

HAIFA, Israel, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Israel's army fired tank shells that struck a Syrian armored unit after a mortar shell exploded near an army post in the Golan Heights Monday, officials said.

It was the second time in 24 hours Israel fired back after stray mortar shells came from Syria, an army statement said.

The mortar shell hit an open area in the central Golan Heights and no one was injured, the army said.

On Sunday, a mortar shell fired from across the Syrian border exploded near an Israeli army post, the army said.

In response, the army said, warning shots and a precision guided missile were fired toward the source of the mortar fire. There were no reports of injuries.

It was the first time Israel retaliated to Syrian fire since a cease-fire agreement was signed between the two countries following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, officials said.

The army said the shelling was reported to the United Nations forces deployed in the region and warned it would respond to any mortar fire or shooting that emanates from Syrian territory.

Sandy's death toll 113; no power for 160K

NEW YORK, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- At least 113 people in several states, including 43 in New York, have died since superstorm Sandy made landfall more than two weeks ago, officials said.

The U.S. Energy Department said more than 160,000 customers in 10 states were still without power, but transit operations were resuming in New Jersey and New York was powering up, CNN reported.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to ask the federal government for at least $30 billion in disaster aid to help New York City and other areas of the state recover from the storm, officials said.

Sandy left more than $50 billion in damage in the New York region, making it the country's costliest storm after Hurricane Katrina, which savaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, causing damages of $145 billion, The New York Times said.

Congressional delegations from other storm-ravaged states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, also are likely to seek federal assistance, the Times said.

New York authorities added two to Sandy's death count -- a 66-year-old man who appeared to have drowned in his home on Staten Island, and a 77-year-old man from Far Rockaway, in Queens, who died of injuries he suffered when he fell down a flight of stairs.

More rain expected for flooded Italy

ROME, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Floodwaters that had covered 70 percent of Venice, Italy, receded to 5 percent Monday, but much of the country braced for more rain, officials said.

Floods and landslides struck Saturday and Sunday as rain pounded the country and some areas were preparing for more rain Monday, ANSA reported.

There had been no reports of deaths or injuries.

Grosseto, Siena and Arezzo were on a high state of alert after nearly 8 inches of rain fell during the weekend and more than 3 inches were expected. Authorities feared landslides and more flooding in the area.

Schools were closed and freeway entrances were shut off Monday in Orvieto, where hospitals were inaccessible, officials said.

Authorities ordered evacuations and road closures in Perugia, and access to the Tiber River banks in Rome were closed off.

Police officer doubts suspect acted alone

TACOMA, Wash., Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Afghan police investigator said he does not believe the U.S. soldier charged with massacring 16 people in two villages could have done so by himself.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Panjwai, Kandahar, Afghanistan March 11 within a span of three hours.

Speaking at a preliminary hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington Sunday, Maj. Khudai Dad, chief of criminal techniques for the Afghan police in the province of Kandahar, said he doubts a single person could have killed so many people in such a wide area in the space of three hours, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I was thinking, and I am thinking, that this is not the thing that one person can do," Dad said.

Dad said he walked the area separating the three housing compounds hit by a gunman on the night of March 11 and estimated the compounds were about four miles apart.

"If it's only one person, one person cannot go to three different places," Dad said.

And, "One person [would] not have the courage to go to two villages in dark night," Dad testified.

During cross-examination, military prosecutors raised questions about whether he had accurately assessed the distance separating the housing compounds.

Elmo puppeteer denies allegations

NEW YORK, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- The puppeteer who performs the character of Elmo is on leave from New York's "Sesame Street" after a young man alleged they began a relationship when he was 16.

Kevin Clash, 53, has lent his voice to the furry red monster Elmo on the pre-school program for more than 20 years. He also voiced the character of Baby Sinclair on Jim Henson's prehistoric puppet show "Dinosaurs."

Sesame Workshop said Monday a 23-year-old man contacted the show's producers in June and alleged he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 with Clash, who has denied he did anything improper.

"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action," Sesame Workshop said in a statement.

"We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated," the statement said.

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