Here are today's top stories from The Associated Press.
Palestinian leader: Vote on raising UN status is last chance to save two-state solution
UNITED NATIONS — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly before a historic vote on Thursday that it "is being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine."
The Palestinian Authority, by a General Assembly vote of 138-9 with 41 abstentions, joined the Vatican on Thursday as the only other entity with nonmember observer state status. In practice, the Palestinians gain few new powers.
Israel and the United States warned the decision could delay hopes of achieving an independent Palestinian state through peace talks with Israel.
Abbas had said the vote is the last chance to save the two-state solution.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the General Assembly that "the Palestinians are turning their backs on peace" and that the U.N. can't break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
Prosor said the only way to achieve peace is through agreements between the parties, not through the U.N.
Jubilant Palestinians crowd around outdoor screens, TVs to watch UN grant them statehood
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Jubilant Palestinians crowded around outdoor screens and television sets at home Thursday to watch the United Nations vote on granting them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for — a state of their own.
A General Assembly vote to accept "Palestine" as an observer state won't immediately change lives here, since much of what the world body is defining as the territory of that state — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — remains under Israeli control.
Yet many Palestinians savored the global recognition after decades of setbacks in the quest for Palestinian independence in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.
"For the first time, there will be a state called Palestine, with the recognition of the entire world," said Amir Hamdan, a 35-year-old dentist from the refugee camp of Kalandia. "Today the world will hear our voice."
He brought his wife, Nevine, and their two toddlers to the central square in the West Bank city of Ramallah, joining more than 2,000 Palestinians watching the vote on an outdoor screen. Some clapped, danced and waved Palestinian flags.
Internet service goes out across Syria amid intense fighting near Damascus airport
BEIRUT — Internet service went down Thursday across Syria and international flights were canceled at the Damascus airport when a road near the facility was closed by heavy fighting in the country's civil war.
Activists said President Bashar Assad's regime pulled the plug on the Internet, perhaps in preparation for a major offensive. Cellphone service also went out in Damascus and parts of central Syria, they said. The government blamed rebel fighters for the outages.
With pressure building against the regime on several fronts and government forces on their heels in the battle for the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, rebels have recently begun pushing back into Damascus after largely being driven out of the capital following a July offensive. One Damascus resident reported seeing rebel forces near a suburb of the city previously deemed to be safe from fighting.
The Internet outage, confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria's 20-month-old uprising against Assad, which activists say has killed more than 40,000 people.
Regime forces suffered a string of tactical defeats in recent weeks, losing air bases and other strategic facilities. The government may be trying to blunt additional rebel offensives by hampering communications.
Egypt's Islamists hurriedly vote on new constitution, stoking already deepening crisis
CAIRO — Islamists on Thursday rushed to approve a draft constitution for Egypt without the participation of liberal and Christian members, aiming to pre-empt a court ruling that could dissolve their panel and further inflaming the clash between the opposition and President Mohammed Morsi.
The draft of the charter, meant to determine a new political identity for Egypt after 60 years of rule by authoritarian leaders, has an Islamist bent that rights experts say could lead to a say by Muslim clerics in legislation and restrictions on freedom of speech, women's rights and other liberties.
The lack of inclusion was obvious in Thursday's session of the assembly that has been writing the document for months. Of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists. Many of the men wore beards, the hallmark of Muslim conservatives. For weeks, liberal, secular and Christian members, already a minority on the 100-member panel, have been pulling out to protest what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process.
Voting had not been expected for another two months. But the assembly, overwhelmingly made up of Morsi's allies, abruptly moved it up in order to pass the draft before Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court rules on Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel.
Morsi is expected to call for a referendum on the draft as early as mid-December.
Army private charged in WikiLeaks security breach says he felt like caged animal
FORT MEADE, Md. — An Army private charged in the biggest security breach in U.S. history testified Thursday that he felt like a doomed, caged animal after he was arrested in Baghdad on suspicion of sending classified information to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
Pfc. Bradley Manning testified on the third day of a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, outside Baltimore. His lawyers are seeking dismissal of all charges, contending his pretrial confinement in a Quantico, Va., Marine Corps brig was needlessly harsh.
Before he was sent to Quantico in July 2010, Manning spent some time in a cell in a segregation tent at Camp Arifjan, an Army installation in Kuwait.
"I remember thinking I'm going to die. I'm stuck inside this cage," Manning said under questioning by defense attorney David Coombs. "I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And that's how I saw it — an animal cage."
The compact, 24-year-old intelligence analyst looked youthful in his dark blue dress uniform, close-cropped hair and rimless eyeglasses. He was animated, often swiveling in the witness chair and gesturing with his hands.
Photo of NYPD officer giving boots to homeless man in Times Square sparks online sensation
NEW YORK — A tourist's snapshot of a New York City police officer giving new boots to a barefoot homeless man in Times Square has created an online sensation.
Jennifer Foster of Florence, Ariz., was visiting New York with her boyfriend on Nov. 14, when she came across the shoeless man asking for change in Times Square.
As she was about to approach him, she said the officer — identified as Larry DePrimo — came up to the man with a pair of all-weather boots and thermal socks on the frigid night. She recorded his generosity on her cellphone.
It was posted Tuesday night to the NYPD's official Facebook page and became an instant hit. More than 360,000 users "liked" it as of Thursday afternoon, and over 100,000 shared it.
Thousands of people commented, including one person who praised him as "An officer AND a Gentleman."
NASA spacecraft confirms ice at shadowy north pole of Mercury, closest planet to sun
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Just in time for Christmas, scientists have confirmed a vast amount of ice at the north pole — on Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
The findings are from NASA's Mercury-orbiting probe, Messenger, and the subject of three scientific papers released Thursday by the journal Science.
The frozen water is located in regions of Mercury's north pole that always are in shadows, essentially impact craters. It's believed the south pole harbors ice as well, though there are no hard data to support it. Messenger orbits much closer to the north pole than the south.
"If you add it all up, you have on the order of 100 billion to 1 trillion metric tons of ice," said David Lawrence of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. "The uncertainty on that number is just how deep it goes."
The ice is thought to be at least 1 1/2 feet deep — and possibly as much as 65 feet deep.