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Associated Press

Posted on August 27, 2013 at 5:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 27 at 5:00 PM

WHITE HOUSE-SYRIA

White House: Chemical attack requires response

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is making a legal argument for undertaking a military response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, but says any action taken against the Syrian regime is not intended to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States and 188 other nations are signatories to a chemical weapons convention opposing the use of such weapons. He says those countries have a stake in ensuring that international norms must be respected. Carney says that there must be a response to a clear violation of those norms.

But Carney says, quote, "The options we are considering are not about regime change."

He says a change in Syria's leadership must occur through political negotiations.

SYRIA

Arab League accuses Syria of chemical attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — International support is growing for action aimed at punishing Syria's government for allegedly using chemical weapons against rebel strongholds last week.

The 22-member Arab League says President Bashar Assad's government is to blame for the attacks. Assad calls such claims "preposterous."

Meanwhile, France says it's "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says U.S. forces "are ready to go," should the president order military action.

UN-SYRIA-REFUGEES

NEW: UN refugee head: Syria on 'verge of the abyss'

BAGHDAD (AP) — The head of the United Nations refugee agency is warning that Syria could be on the "verge of the abyss" as aid workers brace for a likely increase in the nearly 2 million refugees who have already fled the country's civil war.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Antonio Guterres called on Syria's neighbors to keep their borders open to accommodate additional Syrians seeking to escape the war.

Gutteres' visit to Iraq highlighted how even that violence-ravaged country has emerged as a haven for Syrian refugees.

He says 44,000 refugees have flooded into Iraq's northern Kurdish region just since August 15. Aid workers have described that influx as one of the biggest waves of refugees since the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad began.

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY

NEW: Napolitano praises US response in farewell speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says her agency's flexibility and agility have prepared it to respond to disasters and terror attacks alike.

In her farewell speech before taking over the University of California system next month, Napolitano says the department's strengths allowed it to respond quickly and effectively to hundreds of disasters and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Napolitano also laments the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform during her tenure. She says despite the failure of the DREAM Act for young immigrants in the country illegally, her tenure did usher in an administrative program to halt deportations for many immigrants brought to the United States as children.

WESTERN WILDFIRES

UPDATE: Main Yosemite attractions still open despite wildfire

TUOLUMNE CITY, Calif. (AP) — The main attractions in the nearly 1,200-square-mile Yosemite National Park in California are still open as Labor Day weekend approaches.

An eleven-day-old fire burning in and near the park has expanded in size to about 280 square miles -- and the portion of the fire in Yosemite has doubled to about 64 square miles. But it's still only burning in backcountry areas.

The blaze is now the seventh-largest California wildfire in records dating back more than 80 years.

Forecasters say an increase in humidity this afternoon could help suppress the flames.

GAY MARRIAGE-NEW MEXICO

2 more NM counties give same-sex licenses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Two more New Mexico counties say they'll begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The clerks in San Miguel and Valencia counties say they've ordered gender-neutral forms so they can follow the state's three population centers in recognizing gay and lesbian marriages.

The decisions come a day after a state district judge in Albuquerque declared gay marriage legal, and ordered the Bernalillo County clerk to join Santa Fe and Dona Ana counties in issuing the licenses.

BABY IN STROLLER SLAIN

UPDATE: Ga. mother testifies against accused baby shooter

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia woman has taken the stand to testify against the man accused of killing her baby while she pushed the boy in his stroller.

Sherry West took the stand Tuesday. De'Marquise (deh-mahr-KEES') Elkins is charged with murder in the March 21 killing of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in Brunswick.

Prosecutors say Antonio was killed in an attempted robbery. West was shot in the leg. Elkins and 15-year-old Dominique Lang face murder charges in the case.

The trial is being held in suburban Atlanta because of pretrial publicity.

If convicted, 18-year-old Elkins faces up to life in prison. His mother is on trial alongside him on charges of evidence tampering and lying to police. Lang is set to be tried separately.

CONNECTICUT SCHOOL SHOOTING

UPDATE: Sandy Hook students return to school for new year

MONROE, Conn. (AP) — The mother of a 9-year-old girl from Newtown, Conn., says her daughter was "very happy to be back at school today."

For children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary, this is the first day of the first full school year without the 20 children and six educations who were killed by a gunman last December.

Brenda Lebinski says her daughter's transition into the fourth grade was made easier because she was able to have the same teacher as last year. Lebinski says everything "went well" this morning -- with a lot of teachers and therapy dogs greeting children when they arrived.

The students from Newtown are being bused to the neighboring town of Monroe. A former middle school there was renovated for them after the shootings.

Town voters will be asked in October to approve plans to demolish the school where the massacre occurred, and build a new one on the same property.

BACK TO SCHOOL-LUNCH DROPOUTS

Some school districts quit healthier lunch program

UNDATED (AP) — After just one year, some schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program. They say so many students refused the meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that their cafeterias were losing money.

Federal officials say they don't have exact numbers but have seen isolated reports of schools cutting ties.

Dr. Janey Thornton is deputy undersecretary for USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which oversees the program. She says she is still optimistic about its long-term prospects as students get used to smaller portions and unfamiliar foods.

Districts with high numbers of students who get free and discounted lunches can't afford to quit because they would lose the program's cash reimbursements.

AIRLINES-EMPLOYMENT

NEW: Fewer airline jobs: US carriers trim ranks by 2.4%

UNDATED (AP) — Airline employment has dropped from last summer because of job cuts at American Airlines and regional carriers that use smaller planes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says that airlines employed the equivalent of 381,441 workers in June, down 2.4 percent from the same month last year. It's the 10th straight month of declines.

The DOT says American is cutting jobs by 8.4 percent compared with a year ago as it goes through bankruptcy. It's trying to merge with US Airways.

Regional airlines have cut jobs by 4.4 percent from last year. The department says that's because the big airlines have responded to higher fuel costs by cutting regional flights that use less-efficient small planes.

To calculate airline employment, the Transportation Department counts two part-time jobs as one full-time position.

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