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News Wrap: Air Force Sex Abuse Trial Begins

July 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
In other news Monday, a Texas-based U.S. Air Force instructor went on trial, facing charges of rape and sexual assault of female recruits. Also, fighting in Syria's capital, Damascus, intensified as government tanks, troops and helicopters battled rebels in three southern districts of the city.
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KWAME HOLMAN: The day’s economic data was less than encouraging, as retail sales slumped in June for the third straight month. Wall Street responded with new losses. The Dow Jones industrial average was down nearly 50 points to close at 12,727. The Nasdaq fell 11 points to close below 2,897.

Late today, Yahoo! announced it’s hiring Google executive Marissa Mayer as its new CEO. Yahoo! has faced financial and other problems, and has had five bosses in as many years.

A U.S. Air Force instructor went on trial today in a sexual abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Staff Sgt. Luis Walker is charged with 28 counts, including rape and aggravated sexual assault of female recruits. In addition, 12 male instructors at Lackland are under investigation. Prosecutors have identified at least 31 female victims.

The fighting in Syria has reached the country’s capital in earnest. Government tanks, troops, and helicopters battled rebels today in three Southern districts of Damascus. It was said to be the heaviest fighting there since the uprising began 16 months ago.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council considered a so-called Chapter 7 resolution that could authorize the use of outside force in Syria.

We have a report narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Protesters blocked the road to Damascus International Airport today, a very public signal that, as diplomats dither, President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents are bringing the war ever nearer his seat of power.

Video released by the local Free Syrian Army shows one of their number firing at a tank stuck down an alleyway. This is the second day of fighting in Damascus. The Syrian military has brought armor on to the streets to counter the rebels and helicopter gunships are firing into the city.

ABU QAIS AL SHAMI, activist (through translator): The humanitarian situation on the ground is very, very bad. Lots of wounded people are still lying in the streets of Al-Midan. And there are no doctors to treat them. They are calling for help, but getting nothing.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But not far away, men are shouting “God bless you” to soldiers who have abandoned their tanks and given up the fight. Assad’s foot soldiers are Sunnis, like the men they’re fighting. Some will join the rebels. Others may just want to save their skins.

U.N. observers, whose mandate expires this week, set out for the suburbs today. U.N. envoy Kofi Annan is in Moscow. The Russians are resisting a Security Council resolution under the U.N. Charter’s Chapter 7, which would bring more pressure on President Assad.

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian foreign minister (through translator): To our deep regret, one can witness even the elements of blackmail. We’re being told that if you don’t agree to the adoption of the Chapter 7 resolution, we will refuse to extend the mandate of the U.N. observer mission.

LINDSEY HILSUM: In other cities, the rebels are pushing their advantage, attacking government tanks in Aleppo and in Idlib, hoping that, with no compromise in sight, the tide of war may turn their way.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Red Cross formally has declared the Syrian conflict a civil war. That means international humanitarian law applies nationwide. The finding also could bolster any future attempt to prosecute Syrian leaders for war crimes.

The ousted president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was sent back to prison today. Prosecutors said his health has improved from several weeks ago, when he was reported to be on the brink of death. He’d been transferred then to a military hospital. Mubarak is 84 years old. He’s serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of hundreds of protesters during last year’s civil uprising.

Also today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wound up a 12-day international tour that took her to Egypt and Israel over the weekend.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Good morning.

KWAME HOLMAN: The secretary’s first visit to Israel in nearly two years came at a key moment in the Middle East, from the civil warfare in neighboring Syria, to Iran’s nuclear intentions, to Egypt’s political transition.
In Jerusalem, Clinton spoke of dizzying changes over the last 18 months, of uprisings in Arab countries.

HILLARY CLINTON: It is a time of uncertainty, but also of opportunity. It is a chance to advance our shared goals of security, stability, peace and democracy, along with prosperity for the millions of people in this region who have yet to see a better future.

KWAME HOLMAN: The secretary also met separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, underscoring the stalled status of the peace process.
Indeed, in an interview yesterday, President Obama cited the lack of progress as one of the biggest failures of his term.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have not been able to move the peace process forward in the Middle East the way I wanted. It’s something we focused on very early. But the truth of the matter is, is that the parties, ultimately, they have got to want it as well.

KWAME HOLMAN: Clinton had arrived in Israel from Egypt, where the tenuous transition to democracy lurches forward.

Newly elected President Mohammed Morsi, formerly of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, promised to honor the Camp David peace accord with Israel. The more immediate concern was Egypt’s Supreme military council, or SCAF, which refuses to surrender real power.

On Sunday, alongside the Egyptian foreign minister, Clinton sought to tread between the two sides.

HILLARY CLINTON: The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule, with all that entails. And we have commended the SCAF for representing the Egyptian people in the revolution, as compared to what we are seeing in Syria, which is the military murdering their own people.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the secretary made little apparent headway with Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the overall military leader. After their meeting, he said the armed force would not allow a specific group, meaning the Muslim Brotherhood, to dominate Egypt.

It was another deadly day for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Two foreign soldiers were killed by insurgents in the South. There was no immediate word on their nationalities. So far this year, 237 troops from the international coalition have died in Afghanistan. At least 168 were Americans.

Protesters in Japan today staged one of their largest rallies yet, demanding an end to using nuclear power. Organizers said up to 200,000 people marched through Tokyo with temperatures near 100 degrees. Police put the crowd at 75,000. The rally came as Japan moves to restart its nuclear reactors. All of the country’s 50 reactors were taken offline after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

The first major female star in country music, Kitty Wells, died today at her home in Nashville. She’d suffered a stroke. Wells was the first woman to hit number one on the country charts, recording “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Polls ranked her as the top female country singer from the early 1950s into the late 1960s. Kitty Wells was 92 years old.

And the actress Celeste Holm died Sunday at her apartment in New York. She’d taken ill two weeks ago. Holm first received critical acclaim in 1943, playing Ado Annie in the Broadway musical “Oklahoma.” In 1947, she won an Oscar as best supporting actress in the film “Gentleman’s Agreement.” She was also nominated for her portrayal of Bette Davis’ best friend in “All About Eve” in 1950. In later years, she had a variety of TV and theater roles. Celeste Holm was 95 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.