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TOP HEADLINES: Syrian rebels push war into Damascus

Monday, July 16, 2012 | 6:18 p.m. CDT

Here are some of today's top stories from The Associated Press.

Syrian rebels push war into Damascus

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels fired grenades at tanks and troops while regime armor shelled Damascus neighborhoods on Monday, sending terrified families fleeing the most sustained and widespread fighting in the capital since the start of the uprising 16 months ago.

A ring of fierce clashes nearly encircled the heavily guarded capital as rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad pushed the civil war that has been building in Syria's impoverished provinces closer to the seat of power.

While the clashes were focused in a string of neighborhoods in the city's southwest, for many of its 4 million people the violence brought scarily close to home the strife that has deeply scarred other Syrian cities.

In high-end downtown cafes frequented by the business and government elite tightly bound to the Assad regime, customers watched as black smoke billowed on the horizon and the boom of government shells reverberated in the distance.

"Without a doubt, this is all anyone is talking about today," a Damascus activist who gave his name as Noor Bitar said via Skype. "The sounds of war are clear throughout the city. They are bouncing off the buildings."

Romney seeks to move off Bain, accuses Obama of cronyism

CINCINNATI — Using unusually vivid language, Mitt Romney tried to take the political offensive against President Barack Obama on Monday, accusing Obama of cronyism that "stinks" in steering federal contracts to supporters. He also dropped hints through a spokesman that a vice presidential pick could come any day.

Unfazed, Obama needled his Republican rival for finally having a job-creation plan — for people overseas.

Though Romney endeavored to switch the campaign focus, questions about his tenure at Bain Capital, a venture capital company, seemed destined to shape the conversation at least a while longer. On a day devoted mainly to raising money, Romney went on Fox News to complain that all Obama can do "is attack me" on Bain and other subjects rather than taking useful steps to improve the economy.

Sure enough, the Democratic incumbent showed no sign of letting up.

Rallying for support in crucial Ohio, Obama said Romney's proposal to free companies from taxes on their foreign holdings would displace American workers. The president cited a study he said concluded that "Gov. Romney's economic plan would in fact create 800,000 jobs. There's only one problem, the jobs wouldn't be in America."

Clinton calls peace with Arab neighbors key to Israeli security

JERUSALEM — Peace in the Middle East, America's defining issue for decades of dealings with Israel and its Arab neighbors, was just a postscript Monday as Hillary Rodham Clinton made perhaps her final visit to the region as secretary of state.

Three years after President Barack Obama declared the plight of the Palestinians "intolerable," his administration no longer sees the failing Arab-Israeli peace efforts with the same immediacy. U.S. interests are focused now on Iran and Syria, though the deep differences between Israel and the Palestinians are not ignored.

"Peace among Israel, the Palestinian people and all of Israel's Arab neighbors is crucial for Israel's long-term progress and prosperity," Clinton said following discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country's president, foreign minister and defense minister.

Clinton also met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but she couldn't report any progress toward an accord that might secure an independent Palestine and an Israel at peace with its neighbors.

In a departure from the usual pattern for top U.S. diplomats, she did not travel to the Palestinian Authority's West Bank seat of government in Ramallah.

First female superstar of country music, Kitty Wells, dies at age 92

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Singer Kitty Wells, whose hits such as "Making Believe" and "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" made her the first female superstar of country music, died Monday. She was 92.

The singer's family said she died peacefully at home after complications from a stroke.

Her solo recording career lasted from 1952 to the late 1970s, and she made concert tours from the late 1930s until 2000. That year, she announced she was quitting the road, although she performed occasionally in Nashville and elsewhere afterward.

Her 1952 song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" was the first No. 1 hit by a woman soloist on the country music charts and dashed the notion that women couldn't be headliners. Billboard Magazine had been charting country singles for about eight years at that time.

She recorded approximately 50 albums, had 25 top 10 country hits and went around the world several times. From 1953 to 1968, various polls listed Wells as the No. 1 female country singer. Tammy Wynette finally dethroned her.

U.S. Navy says American vessel fires on fast-approaching boat off Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — U.S. Navy gunners aboard a refueling ship opened fire on a small boat racing toward them in broad daylight Monday near Dubai, killing one person and injuring three.

The rare shooting not far from approaches to the Strait of Hormuz comes at a period of heightened tensions between the United States and nearby Iran.

A UAE official said the vessel was a fishing boat. It was unclear why it might have veered so close to an armed American vessel.

There was no immediate sign of Iranian involvement, or any indication that the incident was a reprise of al-Qaida's 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. But the incident will likely focus further attention on the risks American vessels face in the Persian Gulf even as the Navy beefs up its presence in the region.

Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said a security team aboard the USNS Rappahannock issued a series of warnings before resorting to lethal force about 10 miles (15 kilometers) off the coast of Dubai's Jebel Ali port.

U.S. retail sales dropped 0.5 percent in June

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The outlook for the U.S. economy appeared dimmer Monday after a report that Americans spent less at retail businesses for a third straight month in June.

The report led some economists to downgrade their estimates for economic growth in the April-June quarter. Many now think the economy grew even less than in the first quarter of the year, when it expanded at a sluggish 1.9 percent annual rate.

Spending in June fell in nearly every major category — from autos, furniture and appliances to building, garden supplies and department stores. Overall, retail sales slid 0.5 percent from May to June, the Commerce Department said.

Retail sales hadn't fallen for three straight months since the fall of 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.

The weak U.S. spending figures were released on the same day that the International Monetary Fund slightly lowered its outlook for global growth over the next two years.

Yahoo is hiring Google executive Marissa Mayer as its next CEO

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Yahoo is hiring longtime Google executive Marissa Mayer to be its next CEO, the fifth in five years as the company struggles to rebound from financial malaise and internal turmoil.

Mayer, who starts at Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday, was one of Google's earliest employees and was most recently responsible for its mapping, local and location services. Mayer, 37, began her career at Google in 1999 after getting her master's degree at Stanford University, the school Google's co-founders attended.

Ross Levinsohn has been running Yahoo on an interim basis and was thought to be the leading candidate after Hulu CEO Jason Kilar dropped out from consideration. Levinsohn filled in after Scott Thompson lost his job two months ago in a flap over misinformation on his official biography.

Fred Amoroso, Yahoo's chairman, says the board was drawn to Mayer's "unparalleled track record in technology, design and product execution."

Yahoo's website remains among the most popular destinations on the Internet with 700 million monthly visitors, but the company has struggled to turn those visits into ad revenue growth. Yahoo's decline has been exacerbated by the success of Internet search leader Google Inc. and social networking leader Facebook Inc.

Heathrow's Olympic moment: Record day for London airport

LONDON — The opening ceremony is still 11 days away, but for many in London, the Olympics really got started Monday.

Heathrow Airport had its busiest day ever as thousands of athletes landed with their javelins, bicycles and sails, and moved smoothly through customs.

Motorists grappled with new traffic lanes, which are painted with the Olympic rings and reserved for only official vehicles and dignitaries. At least one American athlete tweeted that his bus got lost on the way from Heathrow.

Smart-looking sailors guarded the gates to Olympic Park, looking so cheerful that visitors would never guess they had been pulled off leave only a few days ago to fill an embarrassing security gap when a private contractor failed to provide enough personnel.

And as the Olympic flame made its way beside the seaside in the resort of Brighton, organizers revealed dramatic plans for its arrival later this week in London. How's this for an entrance: A Royal Marine carrying the torch will slide down a rope from a helicopter into the Tower of London.


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