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March 19, 2013 at 5:14 PM
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Chemical weapons allegedly used in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 19 (UPI) -- Syrian government and rebel forces traded allegations the other side used chemical weapons in an attack in Aleppo Tuesday, killing at least 25 people.

Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said at least 25 died and 86 others were injured in the attack, which he blamed on the rebels, Russia Today reported.

Syrian rebel commander Qassim Saadeddine denied the government's accusations and claimed the Syrian military had fired Scud missiles containing chemical agents on Khan al-Assal.

The opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 26 people died in the attack, including 16 who died at the scene and 10 at hospitals.

RT reported the watchdog group Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had not independently confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Washington Post reported the U.S. government said it had no immediate evidence a chemical weapons attack had occurred but was looking into the allegations.

7 Marines killed, 8 hurt in Nev. blast

RENO, Nev., March 19 (UPI) -- A mortar exploded during a live-fire training exercise at an Army munitions depot in Nevada, killing seven Marines , the military said.

At least eight of those injured were in the Renown Medical Center in Reno, Nev., the Los Angeles Times reported. They were listed in various conditions, from serious to fair, a spokeswoman told the newspaper. USA Today also confirmed eight injured.

The Marines were part of the 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Army spokesman George Wright told the Times the explosion was caused by "a 60mm mortar round that was "lodged in the tube" during the exercise.

The identities of those killed was withheld pending notification of kin.

The 60mm mortar exploded in a tube at Hawthorne Army Depot in the Nevada desert as Marines were preparing to fire it late Monday, rocking the facility near the California state line, NBC News reported Tuesday.

Assault weapons ban at dead end in Senate

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate said Tuesday a decision has been made to drop the assault weapons ban from the gun control bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the gun control legislation would not get the 60 votes it would need to pass on the Senate floor with the ban included, the Washington publication Politico reported.

Reid said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored the ban language and marshaled it through the Judiciary Committee on a 10-8 vote last week, "worked so hard on this" since she found San Francisco Mayor George Moscone assassinated in his office in 1978, but it lacks wide enough support.

"I know that, but right now her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That's not 60," Reid said. "I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues."

He said he was aiming for a vote next month after the Senate returns from its Easter break.

Cyprus seeks aid from Russia

NICOSIA, Cyprus, March 19 (UPI) -- Cyprus's finance minister was in Moscow Tuesday asking for aid after his country's Parliament rejected a European Union-led bailout.

The 10 billion euro ($12.88 billion) EU bailout required that 5.8 billion euros ($7.47 billion) be seized from Cypriot bank accounts.

The Financial Times said a last-minute attempt to get funds from the Kremlin instead of the account seizures stunned EU leaders in Brussels. The seizures would have taxed deposits of more than 100,000 euros ($128,800) in Cypriot banks -- accounts mainly held by Russians.

"It became clear that there are these business interests in Parliament who are telling us that we need to protect the non-resident depositors," an unnamed eurozone official told The Financial Times.

Cyprus faces the prospect of a full banking meltdown and possible exit from the eurozone without a bailout, the newspaper said.

Woman jumps from window to avoid rape

AGRA, India, March 19 (UPI) -- A British woman broke a leg Tuesday jumping from a hotel room window to escape a would-be rapist, police said.

The attempted assault occurred in a hotel in the Igdah neighborhood of Agra, a major tourist center as the home of the Taj Mahal, Press Trust of India reported. The woman said a man came to her room, claiming he was there to give her a massage.

Sachin Chauhan, the owner of the hotel, was arrested and charged with molesting the woman, police said. The victim was hospitalized.

The attack occurred a few days after a Swiss woman traveling with her husband was raped by a gang of men as they camped in a forest. The couple were physically assaulted and robbed by men who then held the woman down while at least four raped her, police said.

Statue of Liberty to reopen by July 4

NEW YORK, March 19 (UPI) -- The Statue of Liberty, closed since Hurricane Sandy struck last fall, will reopen by the Fourth of July, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday.

Salazar said despite the extensive damage the superstorm inflicted on the docks, power infrastructure and security screening system on Liberty Island in New York's harbor, "we are fully committed to reopening this crown jewel as soon as it's safe for visitors and not a second later."

"Based on the tremendous progress we have made, Lady Liberty will be open to the public in time for the July 4 celebration," Salazar, who made the announcement during a teleconference with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in an Interior Department release.

Schumer called Independence Day "the perfect day to reopen a symbol of our nation's freedom," adding it "speaks volumes about New York's resilience."

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