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Associated Press

Posted on August 26, 2013 at 2:00 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 26 at 2:00 AM

SYRIA

Syria agrees to UN chemical weapons investigation

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria will allow U.N. experts already in that country to begin an investigation Monday into last week's suspected chemical attack on rebel-held areas in the capital's eastern suburbs.

A senior White House official is dismissing the agreement announced Sunday as "too late to be credible," saying the United States has "very little doubt" President Bashar Assad's forces used such weapons.

The hardening of the U.S. position comes as calls for military action grow. In a sign the U.S. may be a step closer to an armed response, naval forces have already been dispatched toward Syria's coastal waters.

France, Britain, Israel and some members of Congress are urging swift military action against Assad's regime if the use of chemical agents is confirmed.

Russia has welcomed Syria's decision and says the U.S. should await the findings and realize that a unilateral use of force would be a mistake.

Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed just outside Damascus in an artillery barrage by regime forces Wednesday that included the use of toxic gas. The government calls the allegations "absolutely baseless."

IRAQ

Insurgent attacks in Iraq kill at least 46

BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgents bent on destabilizing Iraq are carrying out numerous attacks across the country, striking targets as varied as a coffee shop, a wedding party convoy and a carload of off-duty soldiers.

At least 46 people were killed on Sunday.

The attacks are part of a months-long wave of killing that is the country's worst spate of bloodshed since 2008.

One of the day's boldest attacks happened near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where a police officer says militants set up a fake security checkpoint, captured five soldiers and shot them dead. The soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and returning to base in a taxi.

Inside Mosul, the officer says other gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a grocer.

Mosul, a former insurgent stronghold, is about 220 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Another police officer says a car bomb exploded as a judge drove past in the northern town of Balad, killing three nurses and a man who had been walking nearby. The officer says 13 other people were wounded, including the judge, his brother and a driver.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence during the past few months.

WESTERN WILDFIRES-YOSEMITE

Yosemite fire 'poses every challenge there can be'

GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) — An inferno raging on the northern border of Yosemite National Park is slowing its advance toward mountain communities as firefighters scramble to bulldoze fire breaks.

The fire is now nearly 210 square miles and only 7 percent contained.

State and federal fire officials are focusing fire break containment efforts in the communities of Ponderosa Hills, Twain Hart and Tuolumne City.

Local resident Ike Bunney said he has evacuated horses from his dude ranch as bulldozers work near his property.

The fire is edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, where on Sunday ash was falling like snowflakes on the source of San Francisco's famously pure drinking water. City utility officials say that so far the water is safe, but they continue to monitor it.

The fire started Aug. 17. The cause is unknown.

TROPICAL WEATHER

Tropical Storm Fernand forms off Mexico's coast

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Heavy rains and strong winds from a newly former tropical storm off Mexico's Gulf coast are causing power failures and street flooding in the colonial city of Veracruz.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Tropical Storm Fernand (fair-nahn) is about 25 miles east of the Mexican state of Veracruz and is expected to move ashore early Monday. The storm is packing winds of at least 45 mph.

A tropical storm warning is in effect on Mexico's coast from Veracruz north to Tampico.

Officials in Veracruz are advising the area's 7.7 million residents to stay home.

Blackouts hit parts of Veracruz city on Sunday as skies turned gray and rain flooded major roads, causing cars to stall in the middle of the streets. Several trees were reported to have fallen.

Forecasters say the storm could bring 4 to 8 inches of rain over parts of several Mexican states as it moves inland.

TENNESSEE RAFTING DEATHS

2 rafting deaths in 2 days on Ocoee River in Tenn.

BENTON, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities say two women have died in two days while rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that an Atlanta woman who was rafting with family and friends was thrown overboard in rapids. She reportedly grabbed a rescue rope but then lost consciousness.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told WRCB-TV that a woman from Smyrna, Tenn., fell out of a raft on Sunday morning when it got stuck in rapids.

Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Brooks says the river flow was higher than normal Saturday. The TVA controls the amount of water in the river with three dams.

The authority says it is looking into the river's flow and height.

GAS PRICES

US gas prices decline 4 cents a gallon

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average price of gasoline has fallen 4 cents a gallon over the past two weeks and 20 cents since this time last year.

The Lundberg Survey of gas prices reports that nationwide a gallon of regular costs $3.56. Midgrade costs an average of $3.74 and premium is $3.88.

According to analyst Trilby Lundberg, the lower pump prices are largely a result of good domestic supplies reducing the impact of higher foreign oil prices.

Of the cities surveyed in the Lower 48 states, Charleston, S.C., has the nation's lowest average price for regular at $3.22. The Long Island, N.Y., region has the highest at $3.82.

INSTAGRAM-VINE-OUTAGES

Instagram, other sites go down

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon's unit that runs Web servers for other companies had problems Sunday that coincided with outages or slowdowns on several popular websites.

AirBnB says its site was one of those affected. Other services that were slow or unavailable included Instagram and Twitter's Vine video-sharing application.

Online home rental service AirBnB tweeted at 4:32 p.m. ET that it was one of several websites and apps that were temporarily down because Amazon server problems.

Instagram sent a tweet saying it was aware some users were having trouble loading Instagram and that was working on the problem. Vine later sent a similar tweet.

Amazon Web Services provides companies with online storage and computing power. Its website showed several problems resolved on Sunday evening, with a few remaining.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MTV VIDEO AWARDS

UPDATE: Timberlake, 'N Sync take over Video Music Awards

NEW YORK (AP) — The video of the year trophy was the final memorable moment of a night full of them for Justin Timberlake at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Timberlake won the top honor for "Mirrors" on the same night he reunited briefly with 'N Sync and received the Michael Jackson Vanguard Video Award on Sunday as the awards debuted in Brooklyn.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were the night's top winners, taking home best hip-hop video for "Can't Hold Us" and best video with a social message for "Same Love," a marriage equality anthem. Other winners included Taylor Swift, One Direction, Bruno Mars, Selena Gomez and Thirty Seconds to Mars.

NATIONAL ZOO-PANDA

Panda cub described as healthy and vibrant

WASHINGTON (AP) — The giant panda cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo appears to be in excellent health after a quick physical exam.

Zookeepers got their hands on the panda Sunday morning for the first time since it was born Friday afternoon. A second cub was stillborn Saturday night.

Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson says the live cub is healthy and vibrant. It weighs 4.8 ounces, is pink with white fur and squealed when it was taken away from its mother. The cub had a full stomach, and veterinarians reported that it has been digesting its food. Its heartbeat is steady and its lungs appear to be functioning properly.

The cub's mother, Mei Xiang, gave birth to her only surviving cub in 2005. A cub born last year died after six days.

OBIT-SIEBERT

First woman member of the NYSE Siebert dies at 80

NEW YORK (AP) — The first woman to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange, Muriel "Mickie" Siebert has died at age 80.

Siebert died Saturday of complications from cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Her death was confirmed by Jane Macon, a director of Siebert Financial and a partner at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

Siebert, founder and president of the brokerage firm that bears her name, Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., became the first woman member of the New York Stock Exchange in 1967. She also was the first woman superintendent of banking for the state of New York from 1977 to 1982.

Her company went public in 1996 as Siebert Financial Corp.

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