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In brief: Death toll tops 50 in China earthquake

Beijing – A powerful earthquake jolted China’s Sichuan province today near where a devastating quake struck five years ago, leaving at least 56 dead and more than 600 injured and prompting state media to warn of higher casualties.

The quake – measured by China’s seismological bureau at magnitude-7 and the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6 – struck the steep hills of Lushan county, toppling buildings, many of them older brick structures.

Lushan, where the quake struck, is home to 1.5 million people.

Xinhua reported that more than 2,000 soldiers were being sent to the disaster area, along with specialized crews to restore telecommunications.

The area lies near the same Longmenshan fault where the devastating 7.9-magnitude quake struck May 12, 2008, leaving more than 90,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead.

“It was just like May 12,” said Liu Xi, a writer in Ya’an city who was jolted awake by today’s quake. “All the home decorations fell at once, and the old house cracked.”

More U.S., EU aid may head to rebels

Washington – The United States is poised to significantly expand its non-lethal military aid to the Syrian opposition as European nations weigh easing an arms embargo to potentially supply the rebels with arms and increase pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down.

The European Union arms embargo expires at the end of May and may be allowed to expire or be modified to only block weapons that are headed to Assad’s government. If that happens, it will amount to a new threat to give weapons to the rebels and test whether the Syrian president reacts to the increased pressure – or if stronger international intervention might be tried.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected today to announce plans to give opposition forces up to $130 million in defensive military supplies.


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Syria says capital is free of militants after defeat of IS

new  Syria’s military said Monday it has retaken the last neighborhoods in southern Damascus held by the Islamic State group and declared the Syrian capital and its surroundings “completely safe” from militants for the first time in nearly seven years.