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News Wrap: Syrian War Planes Bomb Refugee Camp to Fend Off Rebel Offensives

December 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: Optimism about a deficit deal in Washington fueled a rally on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones Industrial average gained 115 points to close just short of 13,351. The Nasdaq rose almost 44 points to close at 3,054.

In Egypt, another mass protest swarmed through Cairo today. Thousands demonstrated in the streets around Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace. They charged, a draft constitution would curb basic rights and cement Islamist control of the country. The draft won 56 percent of the vote in last week’s first-round voting. The final round is slated for Saturday.

There were new clashes at a Palestinian refugee camp in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Syrian warplanes bombed the camp for the second time this week, trying to push back a rebel offensive. Amateur video purported to show rebel fighters in the streets of the Yarmouk camp. The rebel action began Friday in an effort to drive out a pro-government Palestinian faction.

The chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, Richard Engel, has escaped from kidnappers in Northern Syria. He and his crew said they were dragged from their car on Thursday by gunmen supporting the Assad regime. They escaped last night when their captors became engaged in a firefight with rebel forces.

Engel spoke in Turkey today, flanked by two of his crew.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC: We’re very happy to be out. We’re very happy to be back in Turkey. We love being here. We love this country. We appreciate all the help. The last five days are some days that we would rather forget. If you can understand, we just came out now. We haven’t even left yet. And we’re very tired.

KWAME HOLMAN: Engel said he and his colleagues were kept bound and blindfolded, and subjected to mock executions. It was unclear whether all of the crew members escaped.

Five people working with a U.N. polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan were shot to death today, possibly as part of a Taliban campaign. A sixth worker was killed a day earlier.

We have a report narrated by Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: They were trying to prevent Pakistani children from being crippled by polio. Their reward was death.

RUKHSANA BIBI, mother of murdered health worker (through translator): The Taliban say this polio campaign was planned by the Americans trying to finish off our nation. They say they’re in charge here. This is a no-go area. The health workers were warned by the police not to talk with anyone, just quietly to do their job. But they shot my daughter in the head.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Four health workers were killed in Karachi today in three separate incidents. Coordinated attacks on the polio eradication campaign also took the life of a 17-year-old volunteer in Peshawar. The Taliban say polio vaccination is an infidel plot.

As part of their surveillance of the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was hiding, last year, the CIA staged a fake vaccination campaign. They employed a local doctor, Shakil Afridi, as a ploy to reach bin Laden’s children, get his DNA, and verify it was really him.

The Pakistani government has halted this week’s polio campaign. Children who will now go unprotected will be the victims, alongside the health workers murdered today.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Toyota will pay a record U.S. fine of $17.4 million for failing to report auto defects quickly and delaying a recall. It’s the company’s fourth safety-related fine in the past two years. This one involved floor mats that could hold down the gas pedal in some 2010 Lexus models. Toyota didn’t admit to any legal violations.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.