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News Wrap: Syrian Government Accuses Rebels of Chemical Attack in the North

March 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: There were dueling claims today over whether Syrian rebels executed a chemical weapons attack in the northern part of the country. Footage from state-run television showed victims arriving at a hospital in Aleppo province. Government officials put the number of dead at 31, with more than 80 others wounded. But rebels denied they fired any chemical weapons.

And in Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney questioned the Syrian government claims.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We have no evidence to substantiate — substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons. We are deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility. And we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Bashar Assad is widely believed to have a chemical weapons arsenal, including nerve agents, as well as mustard gas.

The parliament of Cyprus voted to reject a bill that would tax bank deposits in order to qualify for an international bailout package. To receive $13 billion dollars from the E.U. and the International Monetary Fund, Cyprus has to raise $7.5 billion dollars on its own. But taxing people’s bank accounts proved unpopular, even when the provision was added to shield small savers. Banks across Cyprus will remain closed until Thursday to avoid a run on cash.

Uncertainty about the Cyprus situation set markets around the world and on Wall Street on edge. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than three points to close above 14,455. The Nasdaq fell eight points to close at 3,229.

Seven U.S. Marines were killed after a mortar unexpectedly exploded during a training exercise in western Nevada. Military officials said that prompted the Pentagon to halt the use of the mortar worldwide until an investigation can be completed. The accident happened last night at the Hawthorne Army Depot. The Marines who were killed were based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Seven other Marines and sailors were injured in the explosion.

A proposed ban on assault weapons will not be part of a gun control bill slated for debate next month. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said it will instead be offered as an amendment. But that amendment is unlikely to survive because of solid Republican opposition. Three other gun control measures have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a measure to decrease gun trafficking, a proposal to increase school safety money, and a background checks bill.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul put his support behind comprehensive immigration reform today. During a speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Republican said the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants should have a legal way to stay in the U.S.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you. In order to bring conservatives to this cause, however, those who work for reform must understand that a real solution must ensure that our borders are secure. We must also treat those who are here already with understanding and compassion, without also unduly rewarding them for coming illegally.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Bipartisan efforts are under way in both the House and Senate to overhaul U.S. immigration laws. Today, Speaker of the House John Boehner called the House version — quote — “a pretty reasonable solution.”

The number of Americans dying from Alzheimer’s disease has increased by 68 percent in the last decade. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors have some form of dementia when they die, and the disease accelerates the progression of other life-threatening conditions.

Because Alzheimer’s has no cure or treatment to slow symptoms, a growing elderly population means dementia mortality rates will only continue to rise.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Gwen.