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Jan. 22, 2013 at 8:02 AM
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Fierce fighting reported near Damascus

DAMASCUS, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Syrian warplanes and tanks targeted rebel strongholds around Damascus as the first batch of Russian nationals was evacuated from Syria, officials said.

Fighter jets struck Douma, northeast of Damascus, and tanks shelled Darya and Moadamiyat al-Sham, southwest of the capital, as well as Yalda and Beit Sahem, south of Damascus, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.

Fighting continued in the predominantly Kurdish city of Ras al-Ein near the Turkish border, the human rights group said, noting so far some 56 people have been killed in six days of fighting in the border town.

Some 178 people were reported killed across Syria Monday in fierce fighting that has claimed more than 60,000 lives since March 2011. Thirty people said to be loyal to President Bashar Assad were among those killed in a suicide car bombing near a carpet factory in eastern Hama, CNN said.

In Beirut, the first batch of Russians who fled Syria prepared to board planes home. Irina Rossius of the Russian Emergencies Ministry said the country would send two planes to evacuate its nationals. Reports from Russia said some 50 people traveling in three buses, accompanied by Russian diplomats crossed the border into Lebanon.

Hostage: Abductors tied up foreigners

ALGIERS, Algeria, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- An Algerian hostage who escaped from his Islamic militant captors at a gas plant in his country said some of the foreign captives had been kept tied up.

Speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun by phone, Abdul Kader said the militants, who attacked the gas complex in In Amenas in southern Algeria last week and made dozens at the plant hostages, had tied up the hands and feet of about 20 of their foreign captives, including six Japanese nationals, preventing them from escaping. Explosive materials also were placed on the captive foreigners, he told the Japanese newspaper.

Mainichi quoted Kader, 45, who worked for a company that got contracts from British oil and gas giant BP and other firms, as saying he was in a BP dormitory when the militants attacked the complex early last Wednesday. The crisis ended last Saturday after Algerian military forces launched their subsequent operation.

Millions of Israelis cast votes

JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Millions of Israelis cast ballots Tuesday in the Jewish state's parliamentary elections with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu poised to recapture office.

Some 5.6 million Israelis were expected to vote.

"It is very important that every one of you, once every four years, shows the world that this is a democratic country, with citizens who love their country and democracy," Israeli President Shimon Peres said after casting his vote early Tuesday in Jerusalem. "You can hesitate over who to vote for, but don't hesitate to vote."

Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara and sons Yair and Avner, also voted in the capital in the morning.

Netanyahu's joint list with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Likud-Beitenu is projected to be the largest vote-getter, The Times of Israel said, adding a relatively tight race is expected among the Labor, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid, Hatnua and Shas parties.

A right-wing bloc is expected to give Netanyahu support of about 63 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the BBC said.

Nation marks 40th anniversary of Roe

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The nation marks the 40th anniversary Tuesday of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Roe vs. Wade, which recognized a woman's right to an abortion.

The decision in a case out of Texas still evokes strong emotions from opponents and supporters. The annual March for Life, in which tens of thousands of abortion opponents march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court, is scheduled for Friday.

Written by the late Justice Harry Blackmun and handed down on Jan. 22, 1973, the 7-2 opinion in Roe said in part, "State criminal abortion laws, like those involved here, that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother's behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy."

Blackmun conceded a state "has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman's health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a 'compelling' point at various stages of the woman's approach to term." But an abortion, until the onset of a third trimester, "must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician."

Keys, Soundgarden play inaugural balls

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Fun., Stevie Wonder and Soundgarden were among the recording artists who performed at the inaugural balls in Washington.

President Barack Obama and wife Michelle attended two celebrations Monday night, marking the start of his second term.

First up was the Commander-in-Chief's ball for military families, followed by a second party, which was open to the public and attended by thousands.

The first couple danced to Jennifer Hudson's rendition of "Let's Stay Together," then enjoyed the musical performances along with their guests.

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