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News Wrap: Court martial of Army Gen. ends in deal dropping sexual assault charges

March 17, 2014 at 6:05 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The court-martial of an Army general has ended in a deal that dropped sexual assault charges. A military judge at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, accepted a guilty plea today from Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair on lesser charges. He admitted to improper relationships with three subordinates, including a female captain, who made the most serious accusations against him.

The border between Lebanon and Syria is alive with new tensions. The Lebanon army sent commandos to stabilize the area today, as Syrian rebels poured across. They’re escaping Syrian government forces who captured the Syrian town of Yabroud on Sunday. It was the rebels’ last stronghold in the border region.

President Obama today worked to keep Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations afloat. At a White House meeting, he pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make tough decisions. Abbas, in turn, made no public concessions, but he agreed on the need for a settlement.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, Authority President, Palestine (through interpreter): We don’t have any time to waste. Time is not on our side, especially given the very difficult situation that the Middle East is experiencing and the entire region is facing. We hope that we would be able to seize this opportunity to achieve a lasting peace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president met two weeks ago with the Israeli prime minister. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to get a framework for peace talks by late April.

Wall Street vaulted ahead, due partly to relief that things remained calm in Crimea today, and partly to strong factory output last month. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 181 points to close at 16,247. The Nasdaq rose 34 points to close near 4,280. The Standard & Poor’s 500 was up 17 to finish over 1,858.

More international investigators have arrived in Malaysia to help search for a missing jetliner. The search area now stretches from Central Asia to the southernmost Indian Ocean. But confusion continues, with Malaysian officials now backtracking on when exactly the jet’s communications were disabled. We will get a full report later in the program.

General Motors has announced a major new recall over potentially defective air bags and other issues. It involves 1.5 million Buick, Chevrolet and GMC SUVs and vans, plus Cadillac XTS sedans. Model years range from 2008 to 2014. GM is already facing investigations over a recall of 1.6 million vehicles with ignition switch problems.

A partial vehicle ban took effect across Paris today to ease the worst air pollution in years. Under a thick haze, cars with even-numbered license plates were barred from driving in the French capital. Taxis and commercial vehicles were exempt, and some public transportation was free.

Many people said they support the move.

PIERRE VENOT, Paris (through interpreter): I was driving around on a Scooter last Thursday and Friday, and it was really polluted. It’s a good idea, but if we had more advanced notice, we could have organized ourselves. Now, to learn of it the day before it starts is a bit hard, but we have to adapt like everyone else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If the pollution persists, odd-numbered vehicles will be banned from driving in Paris tomorrow.

The Los Angeles area escaped without serious damage this morning after one of its strongest earthquakes in decades. The quake was centered about 15 miles northwest of the city’s downtown Civic Center, with a magnitude of 4.4. It shook buildings for 150 miles across Southern California. The tremor ranks as one of the region’s largest since the deadly Northridge quake in 1994.

The world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades went on today in New York, without the city’s new leader. Kilted Irish Americans and bagpipers were in abundance, but Mayor Bill de Blasio boycotted after organizers barred signs deemed pro-gay. On Sunday, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh stayed away from his city’s parade for the same reason.

The scientific world is abuzz this evening with a discovery from the heavens. For the first time, there’s evidence the universe exploded in growth in the first instant after the Big Bang. Researchers at Harvard used this telescope at the South Pole to scan the sky for three years. The discovery supports a longstanding theory of an initial growth spurt nearly 14 billion years ago.