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Jan. 6, 2013 at 9:12 AM
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Assad calls rebels 'enemies of God'

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Standing defiantly against pressure to step down, Syrian President Bashar Assad called on the Syrian public to fight rebels he deemed "enemies of God."

In his first public speech before the nation in months, broadcast live on state television, Assad said "this is a conflict of those who wanted to take revenge against the people, to fragment Syria, Those are the enemies of the people and the enemies of God. And the enemies of God will go to hell," CNN quoted him saying. "We are in a state of real war, in every aspect of the words. And when we're in a state of war, all of our politics has to be concentrated on winning this war," he said.

He denied his country's armed forces are behind attacks that have claimed some 60,000 lives according to United Nations estimates, since the uprising against the regime began in March 2011.

"Many have fallen on the trap that the conflict is between the government and the opposition. ... The conflict, ladies and gentlemen, is between the homeland and its enemies -- between the people and the killers and the criminals," he said in Sunday's speech.

"We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land," the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News quoted him saying. "There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country. The nation is for all, and we all must protect it," he said.

Assad said he rejects all dialogue with "puppets made by the West," in order to resolve the situation, but said plans to restore peace would require regional powers to stop funding the opposition. He said the army would then halt all military operations but would reserve the right to defend state interests, the BBC said.

Assad said a conference of national dialogue between "Syrian individuals and political parties" would be created to form a national charter to be put to a referendum which would result in the establishment of a new government, the BBC said.

12 killed in U.S. drone attack in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- At least 12 suspected militants died in three separate U.S. drone attacks in Peshawar, Pakistan, military sources told NBC News.

The attacks took place Saturday night in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, NBC News reported Sunday.

Pakistani military officials said the drones fired 10 missiles into three different compounds in the Babar district, killing 12 people and injuring six others. The death toll could rise because dozens of suspected militants were in the compounds at the time of the attacks, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Fire empties New Orleans hotel

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A four-alarm fire at the InterContinental Hotel in New Orleans Saturday night sent all 600 guests scurrying to safety, fire officials said.

The fire, which started about 6:20 p.m. CST in a fourth-floor laundry room, caused no injuries, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

Between the hotel's sprinkler system and the suppression efforts of 90 firefighters, the blaze was contained to the one floor and brought under control by 8:30 p.m. The third floor, lobby and meeting spaces sustained water damage.

No guest rooms were damaged, but the smell of smoke was too strong to let people back into their rooms for more than a few minutes to retrieve their belongings, hotel spokesman Andrew Done said. The hotel was to be aired out Sunday.

Guests were moved to accommodations at four nearby hotels, Done said.

"It's too early to tell when people might be able to stay in the rooms again," he said.

White House eyes gun violence package

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The Obama administration is formulating a broader strategy for gun control as it looks to reduce U.S. gun violence, those privy to the discussions say.

Rather than just pursuing the reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a White House working group led by Vice President Joe Biden is looking at a multi-prong approach that would include universal background checks for gun purchasers, creation of a national database to track guns, strengthening of mental health checks, and tougher penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, sources told The Washington Post.

The newspaper reported Saturday the administration also is coming up with a battle plan to defuse the National Rifle Association's expected counter-attack. One source told the Post that could include recruiting Walmart and other gun retailers to support measures that would benefit their businesses.

"They are very clearly committed to looking at this issue comprehensively," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who has been in on discussions where there has been "a deeper exploration than just the assault-weapons ban."

President Obama created the working group last month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, mostly young children.

The Post said leaders of various interest groups have discussed options for a wider approach with Biden and other top administration officials.

"Simply coming up with one or two aspects of it really falls short of the magnitude of the gun issue in the country," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum who was among the law enforcement leaders who met with the White House group.

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