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News Wrap: Syrian Defector Calls For Acceleration of Assad Regime’s Demise

August 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: It could be a good sign for the U.S. economy. Consumers spent more in July. The Commerce Department reported today that retail sales rose by the most in five months, and inflation remained under control. Wholesale prices rose just 0.5 percent in the 12 months that ended in July.

The news got Wall Street off to a good start, but the market could not hold its gains. The Dow Jones industrial average gained just two points to close at 13,172. The Nasdaq fell five points to close below 3,017.

Syria’s newly defected prime minister spoke out publicly for the first time today. He called for other top officials to quit the Syrian government and hasten its demise.

We have a report from John Ray of Independent Television News.

JOHN RAY: A boy leads a mourning at a funeral for his father. For those who suffer so much, this must seem truly like a war without end.

But, today, from a longtime loyalist, a claim that Assad’s time is almost up. Riad Hijab, the prime minister who switched sides, called the regime an enemy of God. Morally, financially, militarily, it is collapsing, he said.

Mr. Hijab believes regime forces control just 30 percent of the country, but they dominate 100 percent of the sky. Rebels say a NATO no-fly zone would end the war quickly. In Syria, diplomacy is almost at an end, though Baroness Amos of the United Nations is in Damascus to try to reach a deal to increase the flow of emergency aid.

VALERIE AMOS, United Nations: I think it’s important that all parties to the conflict recognize that it is ordinary men and women who are caught up in the middle of this, and that it’s important that the fighting stops.

JOHN RAY: The basics of life, bread, medicine, safe shelter, all are in short supply. The U.N. estimates that 2.5 million people are now in need of help. Only a fraction of them have managed to reach refugee camps in neighboring countries. For the people of Syria, the war cannot end too soon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Washington today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said again the U.S. has no immediate plans to impose a no-fly zone over parts of Syria. Instead, he said American assistance will continue in other forms.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Providing nonlethal aid to the opposition. Other Gulf countries are providing, you know, more aggressive assistance to the opposition as well.

But our goal is try to do what we can to try to assist them in a way that can make them more effective in this fight. With regards to the no-fly zone, that is not a front-burner issue for us.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, Syrian rebels released a new video today that purportedly shows a captured fighter from the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon. The man can be seen sitting in front of three masked gunmen.

In the video, he claims to be one of 1,500 Hezbollah fighters sent to Syria this month to help defend the government. Back in Lebanon, Hezbollah denied the man is one of its members.

Fast-moving wildfires threatened homes in several Western states today. Crews in central Washington State had trouble getting ahead of wind-driven flames in a blaze that’s destroyed 60 homes and forced hundreds of people to flee. It ignited yesterday, but grew to 38 square miles within hours. Wildfires also burned in Northern California, Idaho and Utah.

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter was killed in Idaho on Sunday when a tree fell on her.

An experimental U.S. military plane faced a new test today: flying at six times the speed of sound. Plans called for the Hypersonic X-51A WaveRider to hit Mach 6 — that’s 3,600 miles an hour — for five minutes off the Southern California coast. That speed would take the plane from New York to London in under an hour. Ultimately, the Boeing-made aircraft could be used to deliver airstrikes around the globe within minutes.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.