In Brief | Nation & World, February 9, 2014


Cease-fire falters in embattled Syrian city, halts aid, evacuations

BEIRUT — Two trucks carrying food and medical supplies into rebel-held neighborhoods in the central Syrian city of Homs turned back under heavy fire Saturday, leaving four paramedics wounded as a cease-fire faltered, Syrian officials said.

Talal Barrazi, the governor of Homs province, told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that the attack occurred late in the afternoon and that the trucks were targeted by two roadside bombs and a mortar shell from the rebel side.

Homs activist Ahmad al-Qusair however denied there had been roadside bombs and said the convoy was attacked by mortar shells fired by government forces.

Barrazi later told Syrian state TV that two trucks were able to reach opposition-held neighborhoods earlier in the day. Al-Mayadeen also reported that two trucks, carrying 250 food parcels, were able to cross into rebel-held areas Saturday.

The state TV said four members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were wounded by rebel fire in the area, but gave no further details.

Afghanistan civilian casualties up 14 percent, more children killed

KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of children killed and wounded in Afghanistan’s war jumped by 34 percent last year as the Taliban stepped up attacks across the country and continued to lay thousands of roadside bombs, the United Nations said Saturday.

Overall civilian casualties were up by 14 percent, reversing 2012’s downward trend and making 2013 one of the deadliest years of the 12-year war for civilians, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Afghanistan said in a report.

The rising civilian toll underscores mounting levels of violence in Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have ramped up attacks to try to gain ground and shake the Afghan government’s confidence as international combat troops prepare to complete their withdrawal at the end of the year.

The U.N. report also noted an “alarming” new trend for 2013 — the increasing numbers of civilians being harmed in fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces.

It recorded a total of 962 battles in which civilians were harmed last year — an average rate of nearly 20 such battles every week — and said civilian casualties caused by such fighting rose by 43 percent over the previous year.

Vulnerable Dems want credit for passing health law, then trying to fix it

WASHINGTON — Hit with a multimillion-dollar barrage of televised attacks, Democrats in tough re-election races want credit for trying to fix the problematic parts of the health care law at the same time they claim bragging rights for its popular provisions and allege Republicans will reverse the crackdown on insurance company abuses.

It’s a tricky, high-stakes political straddle by lawmakers who voted to create the law, which Republicans intend to place at the center of their campaign to win control of the Senate and hold their House majority.

In one of the year’s most closely watched races, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., recently aired a commercial that shows her in numerous public settings last fall sternly telling President Barack Obama to keep his promise to let people keep their current health plans if they want to — and then taking credit after he took steps to make that happen.

“I’m fixing it and that’s what my bill does, and I’ve urged the president to fix it,” Landrieu says in the ad.

It ends with a screen that reads: “The result: People now allowed to keep health care plans.” The three-term lawmaker aired the ad after a televised attack by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch that has spent more than $25 million on similarly themed commercials in several races.

Hundreds of miles away, in Arizona, an outside group that backs Democrats stepped in after Americans for Prosperity targeted Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. Referring to healthcare.gov, which had a wretched debut last fall, a House Majority PAC ad said the Democratic lawmaker “blew the whistle on the disastrous health care website, calling it stunning ineptitude, and worked to fix it.”

By wire sources