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News Wrap: Rebels Claim Responsibility for Attack on Military Base in Damascus

September 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The unrest in Europe unsettled Wall Street as well, and stocks struggled in vain to prevent another day of losses. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 44 points to close at 13,413. The Nasdaq fell 24 points to close at 3,093.

Two massive explosions rocked Syria’s army command center in Damascus today, killing four guards. It was a strike at a key symbol of the regime and demonstrated again the reach of the rebels.

We have a report from Bill Neely of Independent Television News in Damascus.

BILL NEELY: Syrian troops show their loyalty and their relief. Some don’t bother to chant. They have just survived a direct attack on army headquarters.

It’s 7:00 in the morning. Watch the white van. The driver detonated it at the side of the army compound. Around five minutes later, another bomb, this time in the army command building, which quickly catches fire, then chaos. Gunfire erupts.

The rebels say their men attacked the building. The two huge explosions and gunfire lasting for hours could be heard for miles across the city. In Damascus, there is no more important military building than this one. It is the headquarters for all the army’s top commanders. Its location is important, too, because it’s just opposite Syria’s state television headquarters, and not far away is the president’s palace. No question he would have heard these explosions.

Caught in the gunfire, this TV reporter. Maya Nasser worked for Iran’s English-language service. He moved forward to where the gun battle raged, troops crouching behind a wall. His station says he ten was shot dead by rebels, another journalist with him seriously injured.

Whoever killed him, troops here were nervous of our cameras and aggressive, many furious that a British crew were filming their army’s command headquarters. A few minutes later, we were roughed up, a mob of secret police and thugs smashing our camera and marching us away. Eventually, the army intervened.

But it is the army here that is shaken, rebels hitting their nerve center, their commanders and their president perhaps a little more nervous now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, Syrian activists reported at least 40 bodies were found in a southern Damascus suburb. Many had been killed execution-style.

At the United Nations in New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aimed new attacks at the U.S. In a speech to the General Assembly, he talked of a new world order, without what he called the hegemony of arrogance. He also denounced Israeli threats of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, Iranian President (through translator): Testing new generations of ultra-modern weaponry and the pledge to disclose these armaments in due time is now being used as a new language of threat against nations to coerce them into accepting a new era of hegemony. Continued threats by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. delegation boycotted the speech, citing Ahmadinejad’s repeated diatribes against Israel.

Later, the new, Islamist president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, also took on Israel over the plight of the Palestinians.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI, Egypt (through translator): It is shameful that the free world would accept that a party in the international community may continue to deny the rights of a nation that looks to independence over decades, no matter what justification. It is also shameful that settlements continue on the territory of this people, the Palestinian people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Morsi also said he won’t rest until the civil war in Syria comes to an end. And he condemned the violence in Muslim countries sparked by an anti-Islamic video. But he argued that freedom of speech shouldn’t include freedom to insult religions.

The U.S. Army will stage a one-day stand-down from normal duties tomorrow to focus on suicide prevention. Through July, there had been 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers. That’s up substantially from last year. The stand-down will not involve other branches of the military, and it will not apply to soldiers involved in combat operations or medical duties.

Nearly one in five U.S. households are now carrying college student debt, and that’s a record high. The Pew Research Center reported today that the figure reached 19 percent in 2010, twice what it was back in 1989. Pew said the burden is greatest among the poorest families, and the average debt for all households is more than $26,000.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.