Main Syrian opposition group votes in favor of attending peace talks
ISTANBUL — The main, Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted Saturday in favor of attending a coming peace conference aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war, paving the way for the first direct talks between the rival sides in the nearly three-year conflict.
The vote in Istanbul came as food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s capital for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad’s government ahead of the peace conference, Palestinian and United Nations officials said.
The Syrian National Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the U.N.-sponsored talks.
The Coalition’s leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, said in a speech late Saturday that they are heading to the conference “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime.”
“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution — at the top of them removing the butcher from power,” Jarba said.
NJ mayor: Christie withheld Sandy funds for political purposes
TRENTON, N.J. — The Christie administration withheld millions of dollars in superstorm Sandy recovery grants from a New Jersey city because its mayor refused to sign off on a politically connected commercial development, the mayor said Saturday.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleged that Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow to her city if she allowed the project to move forward.
Zimmer said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno pulled her aside at an event in May and told her Sandy aid was tied to the project — a proposal from the New York City-based Rockefeller Group aimed at prime real estate in the densely populated city across the river from New York City.
The mayor said the administration officials wanted Rockefeller’s plans for the property approved, while Zimmer said she preferred to go through normal channels and hear from all stakeholders, including the public and owners of adjacent property. Rockefeller Group owns about three blocks of the 19-block area.
“I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor — she made it very clear — that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn’t be able to help me,” Zimmer told The Associated Press.
Hopes fade for families affected by Russia’s year-old adoption ban
NEW YORK — A year after Russia imposed a ban on adoptions by Americans, some affected U.S. families are reluctantly looking elsewhere to adopt. Others refuse to abandon flickering hopes of uniting with the Russian children who won their hearts.
Thirty-three of the families have filed appeals with the European Court of Human Rights, contending that the ban violates the rights of the orphans whose adoptions were thwarted. But there’s no tight time frame for the case, and even a favorable ruling might be unenforceable if Russia objects.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities have spurned requests from U.S. officials to reconsider the ban, and the two governments have other volatile issues on their mutual agenda — including terrorism and various foreign policy differences — as the international community prepares for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month
“I don’t see movement on the Russian side, and on the U.S. side we’ve heard nothing,” said Diana Gerson, a New York City rabbi who had her heart set on adopting a Russian toddler. “I feel in many ways we were abandoned.”
By the Russians’ count, the ban halted the pending adoptions of 259 children. Roughly 230 U.S. families, some seeking to adopt more than one child, were affected — including scores of Americans who had bonded face-to-face with the children during visits to their orphanages.
By wire sources