Syrian suicide bombing in mosque kills 42
BEIRUT — A suicide bomb ripped through a mosque in the heart of the Syrian capital Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and outspoken supporter of President Bashar Assad in one of the most stunning assassinations of Syria’s 2-year-old civil war. At least 41 others were killed and more than 84 wounded.
The slaying of Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support for Assad among the majority Sunni sect that has risen up against him.
It also marks a new low in the Syrian civil war: While suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists fighting with the rebels have become common, Thursday’s attack was the first time a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a mosque.
Deal close on broad immigration bill, citizenship path for illegals
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators neared agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill that would put illegal immigrants on a 13-year path to citizenship, officials with outside groups keeping up with the talks said Thursday.
The legislation also would install new criteria for border security, allow more high- and low-skilled workers to come to the U.S. and hold businesses to tougher standards on verifying their workers are in the country legally, according to outside groups and lawmakers involved. Together, the measures represent the most sweeping changes in immigration law in decades.
The senators in the so-called Gang of Eight were meeting for hours at a time daily this week trying to complete a deal. There were still big disagreements on some issues, but they hoped to resolve most of them before Congress began a two-week recess at week’s end. That would allow them to meet a self-imposed deadline to present their legislation next month.
Chicago to close 54 public schools to address deficit
CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they plan to close 54 schools in an effort to address a $1 billion budget shortfall and improve a struggling educational system — a plan that drew the ire of parents and teachers.
District CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel say the closures are necessary because too many CPS buildings are half-empty. The nation’s third-largest district, CPS has about 403,000 students but has seats for more than 500,000, officials say. But opponents say the closures will disproportionately affect minority children and endanger students who may have to cross gang boundaries to attend school.
The plan will affect about 30,000 students, CPS officials said. They say money being spent to keep underutilized schools open could be better used to educate students elsewhere.
“Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” Byrd-Bennett said. “As a former teacher and a principal, I’ve lived through school closings and I know that this will not be easy, but I also know that in the end this will benefit our children.”
Critics say the closings are unnecessary and will devastate communities, particularly poor, minority neighborhoods.
Nominee for Interior approved in committee
WASHINGTON — The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Interior Department, REI chief executive Sally Jewell, sending the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
At a time when several Obama Cabinet nominees have faced high hurdles during the confirmation process, Jewell sailed through the committee with a 19 to 3 vote. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming opposed her nomination.
By wire sources