News Wrap: Christmas Eve celebrated around the world; Airstrikes in Syria

December 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Christmas Eve was marked by festivities and preparations around the world today. The faithful prepared for midnight services in places both traditional and unusual.

Central African Republic. Some of 2013′s first Christmas Eve celebrations occurred in China, where guards and volunteers held back hundreds crowding into a Beijing cathedral for holiday services.

MAN (through interpreter): I say, Christmas will be merry. Why is it merry? Because our savior, Jesus Christ, has come. When he comes close to our hearts, we will be happy.

GWEN IFILL: In the Philippines, survivors of last month’s catastrophic typhoon erected giant Christmas lanterns across the devastation in Tacloban. People in other towns sang and danced to holiday songs as they remembered lost loved ones.

MAN (through interpreter): We will still celebrate Christmas, despite this tragedy that came to us. Christmas will go on.

GWEN IFILL: And in Bethlehem, parades filled the streets, as Christian pilgrims and tourists from around the world poured into Manger Square, considered the birthplace of Jesus.

Decorations and holiday lights adorned the West Bank for the evening’s celebrations.

(SINGING)

GWEN IFILL: And at the Vatican, worshipers filled Saint Peter’s Basilica for Pope Francis’s first Christmas midnight mass as pontiff. Thousands more gathered outside in St. Peter’s Square.

U.S. troops in Kabul marked the 13th Christmas Eve for American forces in Afghanistan with candles and hymns.

(SINGING)

GWEN IFILL: But, as always, they were missing loved ones.

MAN: It is difficult, but they — they love me, and they understand that I’m here serving our country. And so it’s — it’s really not very easy, but — you know, it is not easy being away from my family.

GWEN IFILL: And far above the planet, astronauts on the International Space Station performed a rare Christmas Eve space walk, only the second in NASA’s history, the goal, to replace a faulty cooling system that failed December 11, all this as American shoppers raced against time to find last- minute gifts.

MAN: This is ideal. I mean, you’re in. You’re out, get great deals, get the wife’s last minute Christmas gift, and you’re good.

GWEN IFILL: But even a surge of buyers in the closing hours may not be enough for merchants. The industry data firm ShopperTrak reports sales at U.S. stores have fallen each of the last three weeks, compared to a year ago.

The housing market is ending the year on a down note. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported today that mortgage applications have fallen 60 percent since May, as interest rates rose. And new home sales fell in November. On Wall Street, the market had a shortened trading day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 63 points to close at 16357. The Nasdaq rose six points to close at 4155.

The U.N. Security Council moved today to beef up its peacekeeping force in South Sudan to more than 12,000 troops. It’s a bid to quell growing violence between rival ethnic factions. We will ask Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., about South Sudan and the neighboring Central African Republic right after the news summary.

In Syria, a new round of air raids killed at least 15 people in the northern city of Aleppo. The opposition said government planes and helicopters blasted apartment buildings, homes and cars. The aerial assault began on December 15. Activists say more than 360 people have been killed since then.

At least 13 people were killed in Egypt today when a powerful bomb ripped through a police headquarters. More than 100 others were hurt. The blast brought down an entire section of the five-story building in the city of Mansoura. It was the deadliest attack since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in July.

The interim prime minister vowed to respond.

INTERIM PRIME MINISTER HAZEM EL-BEBLAWI, Egypt (through interpreter): We’re at the forefront of a confrontation with one of the worst faces of terrorism, and we will not stay silent. We will confront it. And whoever committed this attack, whether an individual or a group, is a terrorist.

GWEN IFILL: Mohammed Morsi’s organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, denied any role in today’s bombing.

Back in this country, the U.S. Postal Service won a temporary rate increase today, after losing $5 billion in the last fiscal year. The Postal Regulatory Commission raised the price of a first-class stamp by 3 cents to 49 cents as of January 26. Rates for bulk mail, magazines and packages will rise 6 percent. The increases will last for two years.

Grammy-winning musician and composer Yusef Lateef died last night at his home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. The renowned tenor saxophonist and flutist was one of the first to incorporate world music into jazz. And, in 2010, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the nation’s highest jazz honor. Yusef Lateef was 93 years old.