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News Wrap: Huge underground bomb in Syria destroys hotel used as base by regime troops

May 8, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A huge underground bomb in Syria blasted a hotel into ruins today, killing up to 100 people. It happened in the key northern city of Aleppo, where Syrian government troops had been using the hotel as their base.

John Sparks of Independent Television News has this report.

JOHN SPARKS: Some say they’re fighting a losing battle. Today, however, rebel fighters in Syria showed they are still a force to be reckoned with.

In the heart of historic Aleppo, a prestigious hotel was destroyed in a massive explosion. The opposition group, Islamic Front, took the credit for the blast and these pictures. The attack, like so many other moments in this conflict, has been well-documented. In February, rebel combatants showed off a new construction, a 250-foot-long tunnel leading to the Carlton Hotel.

“We’re putting the last touches on it,” he says, “and we’re 100 percent sure of the target.”

Here’s what left of the Carlton. They used 23 tons of explosive, and local sources told this program that 100 soldiers were killed. The government hasn’t commented on casualty figures.

The fight for Aleppo has been called the mother of battles. It’s Syria’s biggest city, and both sides are determined to take it. The government targets rebel areas from the air with crude shrapnel-filled bombs, while their opponents resist down below. In a video posted yesterday from Aleppo, one fighter promised revenge.

MAN (through interpreter): There will be big surprises soon. We will liberate this city in days.

JOHN SPARKS: Still, the front line in Aleppo has barely shifted in two years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Yemen, U.S. and other Western embassies stepped up security today, amid fears of new strikes by al-Qaida. Yemeni forces increased patrols and stationed armored vehicles near the U.S. mission. It came as the Yemeni army said it captured the militants’ stronghold in the south after an offensive that began 10 days ago.

Amnesty International and the United Nations are accusing both sides in South Sudan of crimes against humanity. Separate reports today said government troops and rebels are guilty of mass killings, sexual slavery, and gang-rapes. Meanwhile, there was word the rebel leader has arrived in Ethiopia for talks with the South Sudanese president.

Separatist leaders in Ukraine pushed ahead today with plans for an independence vote. The referendum in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk is set for Sunday, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed yesterday for a delay. Today, separatist councils rejected that call. The leader in Donetsk said the time to vote is now.

DENIS PUSHILIN, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpreter): Against the backdrop of today’s events, military actions that are happening in the towns of the region, against the backdrop of the genocide that happened in Odessa, the mood for holding the referendum is only rising in the people and to not postpone for any reason.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, Moscow said it added more U.S. and Canadian officials to a list banned from visiting Russia. It didn’t name any names.

The newly ousted prime minister of Thailand has suffered a new blow. An anti-graft commission found Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of negligence in a widely criticized rice subsidy program. Just yesterday, Shinawatra and nine other cabinet ministers were forced out of office when the Thai constitutional court ruled they abused their power.

Security forces in Venezuela arrested 243 young activists in a predawn crackdown on protesters. Soldiers staged raids on four tent camps in Caracas in an effort to quell demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro. The protesters are demanding his resignation.

Back in this country, Wall Street mostly struggled for direction today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 32 points to close just short of 16,551; but the Nasdaq fell 16 points to close at 4,051; and the S&P 500 lost two to finish at 1,875.