White House: Irrefutable Assad link to gas attack lacking, but passes 'common-sense test'
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House asserted Sunday that a "common-sense test" dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that President Barack Obama says demands a U.S. military response. But Obama's top aide says the administration lacks "irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence" that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking.
"This is not a court of law. And intelligence does not work that way," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said during his five-network public relations blitz Sunday to build support for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"The common-sense test says he is responsible for this. He should be held to account," McDonough said of the Syrian leader who for two years has resisted calls from inside and outside his country to step down.
Asked in another interview about doubt, McDonough was direct: "No question in my mind."
The U.S., citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
Syrian rebels seize control of ancient Christian village outside Damascus
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- Syrian rebels led by al-Qaida-linked fighters seized control of a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus, sweeping into the mountainside sanctuary in heavy fighting overnight and forcing hundreds of residents to flee, activists and locals said Sunday.
The battle over Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria's religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in the civil war against President Bashar Assad's regime.
The prominence of al-Qaida-linked fighters has factored into the reluctance of Western powers to provide direct military support to the rebels. It has also figured in the debate underway in the U.S. Congress over whether to launch military strikes against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
After days of clashes in and around Maaloula, rebels captured the village following fierce fighting late Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was led by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-affiliated group, as well as by the Qalamon Liberation Front.
He said around 1,500 rebels were inside Maaloula, while the army had the village surrounded.
10 Things to Know for Monday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday:
1. WHAT'S MISSING FROM OBAMA'S SYRIA PUSH
A top aide says the White House lacks 'irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence' that the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack.
Tokyo's triumphant bid for 2020 games a chance for Japan to revive sagging economy, spirits
TOKYO (AP) -- A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo games heralded Japan's reemergence from destruction and defeat in World War II, the city's triumphant bid to host the 2020 games is giving this aging nation a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.
"In most competitions, if you don't win a gold medal, you can also win maybe a bronze one," Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose told reporters in Buenos Aires after the International Olympic Committee chose his city to host the 2020 summer games. "In this battle, there was only the gold."
Japan is counting on the games to boost both the economy and morale.
Already, Olympics hopes have lifted share prices in construction, real estate and tourism-related companies. The news from over the weekend helped boost Tokyo's Nikkei 225 share benchmark by 2.2 percent by midmorning Monday.
Hundreds of Japanese athletes and officials gathered downtown for the early morning announcement shouted "Banzai!" jumping up and down and hugging in unusually demonstrative reactions to the announcement the International Olympic Committee had opted for Tokyo's guarantees of safety and stability, despite the festering nuclear crisis in its northeast.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous plans to step down after 5 years at civil rights organization
WASHINGTON (AP) -- NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, who is credited with boosting finances at the nation's largest civil rights organization and helping to stabilize it, said Sunday that he plans to step down at the end of the year.
The Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that its rosters of online activists and donors have grown tremendously during his five-year tenure. Jealous was the group's youngest-ever leader when he was hired as its president at age 35 in 2008.
In a written statement Sunday, Jealous, now 40, said he plans to pursue teaching at a university and wants to spend time with his young family.
"The NAACP has always been the largest civil rights organization in the streets, and today it is also the largest civil rights organization online, on mobile and at the ballot box too," Jealous said. "I am proud to leave the association financially sound, sustainable, focused, and more powerful than ever."
Jealous plans to step down on Dec. 31. His departure plans were first reported by USA Today, which said he was in the first year of a three-year contract.
After lull, Williams recovers to edge Azarenka in 3 sets for 5th US Open, 17th major title
NEW YORK (AP) -- Fussing with her skirt and flubbing her shots, Serena Williams was troubled in the U.S. Open final by the swirling breeze and the strong play of Victoria Azarenka.
After one early miss, Williams declared, "I can't play in this wind." After blowing a big lead and dropping the second set, Williams chucked her racket toward the sideline, and it bounced back onto the court.
In the end, Williams pulled herself together, as she usually does when it matters the most. Facing her only test of the past two weeks, the No. 1-seeded Williams overcame No. 2 Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 on Sunday for a fifth championship at Flushing Meadows and second in a row.
Williams raised her Grand Slam singles title count to 17, the sixth-most in history and one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Williams collected a $3.6 million prize, including a $1 million bonus for producing the best results during the North American summer hard-court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open.
"She's a champion, and she knows how to repeat that. She knows what it takes to get there. I know that feeling, too. And when two people who want that feeling so bad meet, it's like a clash," Azarenka said, pounding her fists together.
12 children hurt when amusement ride loses power at Conn. fair, no life-threatening injuries
NORWALK, Conn. (AP) -- A dozen children were injured when an amusement ride at a Connecticut fair broke down on Sunday, sending the swinging riders careening into each when the ride came to a sudden halt, authorities said.
One adult was also among the 13 people transported to hospitals after the mishap at Norwalk's Oyster Festival.
Norwalk police Lt. Paul Resnick said an 8-year-old boy was admitted to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The rest were treated and released.
Five other people refused treatment at the scene, police said.
The rotating, swing-type "Zumur" ride lifts riders up and away as it spins, authorities said. State police said a mechanical failure caused the ride to suddenly stop and those on board collided with each other.
Fan falls on Candlestick Park walkway, dies during San Francisco 49ers-Green Bay Packers game
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A football fan fell from an elevated pedestrian walkway and died at San Francisco's Candlestick Park during the 49ers-Green Bay Packers game.
San Francisco police spokesman Gordon Shyy (SHY) says multiple people witnessed the man's fall onto a sidewalk from the Jamestown walkway, which goes around Candlestick.
According to police, witnesses say the man appeared intoxicated when he fell just after kickoff at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the 49ers' 34-28 win over the Packers. Off-duty medics and police officers gave him first aid until an ambulance arrived, but the man was declared dead from his injuries.
Shyy says the man who appeared to be in his 30s suffered serious injuries. It was not immediately clear how many feet he had fallen.
His identity is being withheld until the medical examiner notifies his family.
107-year-old man killed in standoff when Arkansas SWAT officers say he shot at them in home
PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) -- A 107-year-old man was killed after SWAT officers shot back at him during a standoff at a home, police in the southeastern Arkansas city of Pine Bluff said Sunday.
Police were called to the home Saturday afternoon about a disturbance and say officers arrived to find Monroe Isadore had threatened two people by pointing a weapon at them.
Officers had the pair leave the home for their own safety and approached a bedroom looking for Isadore. When the officers announced who they were, Isadore shot through the door at them but missed hitting them, said Pine Bluff Lt. David Price in a news release.
The officers retreated to a safer area, and supervisors and additional help were called, Price said. Supervisors started negotiating with Isadore and continued after SWAT officers arrived at the home about 45 miles southeast of Little Rock.
The SWAT team inserted a camera into the room and confirmed Isadore was armed with a handgun, Price said.
Diana Nyad's swim from Cuba to Florida meets some skepticism from marathon open-water swimmers
MIAMI (AP) -- Diana Nyad's 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida has generated positive publicity and adoration for the 64-year-old endurance athlete -- along with skepticism from some members of the small community of marathon swimmers who are questioning whether she accomplished the feat honestly.
On social media and the online Marathon Swimmers Forum, long-distance swimmers have been debating whether Nyad got a boost from the boat that was accompanying her -- either by getting in it or holding onto it -- during a particularly speedy stretch of her swim. They also question whether she violated the traditions of her sport -- many follow strict guidelines known as the English Channel rules -- by using a specialized mask and body suit to protect herself from jellyfish.
"When you know how hard it is, you kind of want those details," said Andrew Malinak, a Seattle long-distance swimmer who crunched the data available from the GPS positions tracked on Nyad's website and concluded that he didn't trust what he saw.
Nyad's navigator and one of the swim's official observers told The Associated Press this weekend that Nyad didn't cheat and that she was aided during the rapid part of her swim by a swift current. And neither Nyad nor her team ever said she would follow English Channel rules, developed for swimming the waters between England and France. Those rules outlaw neoprene wetsuits and contact with a support boat. Nyad wore a full non-neoprene bodysuit, gloves, booties and a silicone mask at night, when jellyfish are a particular problem, and removed the suit once she got over the reef on her approach to Key West.
According to Nyad's team, she finished the swim Monday afternoon after roughly 53 hours in the water, becoming the first to do so without a shark cage. It was her fifth try, an endeavor apparently free from the boat troubles, bad weather, illnesses and jellyfish encounters that have bedeviled Nyad and other swimmers in recent years.