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News Wrap: Al-Qaida rebels capture key Syrian air base

In our news wrap Wednesday, al-Qaida rebels and other captured a key air base in Syria. The victory means that virtually all of a major province is free of government control. Meanwhile, there are growing signs of a Russian military buildup backing the Assad regime. Also, the California State Assembly voted to let the terminally ill end their lives with a doctor's assistance.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The United States is moving to take more of the many thousands leaving Africa and the Middle East. The Associated Press reported today the Obama administration will accept at least 5,000 additional refugees next year. Meanwhile, Europe faced a fight over a proposal to relocate 160,000. We will have much more after the news summary.

    In Syria, al-Qaida rebels and others have captured a key air base in a new blow to the Assad government. Their victory means virtually all of a major province is now free of government control. Militants besieged the air base for two years and posed today for victory pictures. State TV confirmed the military abandoned the site.

    As Damascus faces new battlefield losses, there are growing signs of a Russian military buildup backing the regime. Moscow confirmed today its military advisers are on the ground in Syria.

  • MARIA ZAKHAROVA, Spokeswoman, Russian Foreign Ministry (through interpreter):

    Our country has long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria, in accordance with bilateral contracts. There are also Russian military experts in Syria who are instructing the Syrians on the use of the military systems being delivered. The weapons are aimed at combating the terrorist threat that has risen to an unprecedented scale in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Russians still deny their forces are actually taking part in combat, and they accused the West of creating hysteria.

    In Washington, a spokesman said Secretary of State Kerry spoke by phone with the Russian foreign minister.

  • JOHN KIRBY, State Department Spokesperson:

    He reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities or buildup, if you will, in Syria, and made very clear our view that, if true and if borne out, those reports would be — could lead to greater violence and more — even more instability in Syria.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There was also word that Iran is letting Russian planes fly over its territory to Syria, but Iran's supreme leader rejected discussing the issue with the U.S. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a group in Tehran: "We approved talks about the nuclear issue specifically. We have not allied with the U.S. in other fields, and we will not."

    Just yesterday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was open to talks on Syria.

    Al-Qaida's leader today dismissed the rival Islamic State group as illegitimate. In an audio statement, Ayman al-Zawahri declared, "We don't recognize this caliphate," but he also said his followers should join ISIS in attacking U.S. coalition forces and Shiites in Iraq and Syria.

    Back in this country, the California State Assembly voted to let the terminally ill end their lives with a doctor's assistance. The bill now goes to the state Senate, which is expected to endorse it. Four states, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont, have already legalized assisted suicide.

    Thousands of teachers in Seattle went on strike today after failing to get a new contract. The walkout came on what was supposed to be the first day of school and kept 53,000 students home. Seattle teachers have gone six years without a cost-of-living raise.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    President Obama made a pitch today, a fresh appeal to make two years of community college tuition-free for all who want it. The plan has gone nowhere in Congress, but at a community college in Warren, Michigan, the president charged his opponents are badly out of step. At a time when we should be growing our investments in job training and apprenticeships, we have got Republicans in Congress who are going in the opposite direction. Some are even talking about shutting down the government at the end of the month. That's what would happen if Congress fails to pass a budget. It would be wildly irresponsible.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Despite the impact in Washington, the president pointed to half-a-dozen states that are moving to make community college free.

    New York City will be the first in the nation to make chain restaurants add salt warnings to their menus. The city's board of health voted today for the mandate. It affects dishes with more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium, about a teaspoon's worth. The average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams a day.

    On Wall Street, an early rally collapsed as oil prices fell sharply on the day. In the end, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 240 points to close back near 16250. The Nasdaq fell 55 points and the S&P dropped 27.

    And the National Geographic Society is selling its storied magazine and related TV ventures to the FOX media conglomerate. Today's announcement said FOX will buy a majority stake for $725 million. Nat Geo said the deal will increase its endowment to nearly $1 billion, and will also help fund science and research.

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