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Syrian troops press offensive near capital

BEIRUT – Syrian government forces pressed an ongoing offensive Monday aimed at dislodging rebels from the vicinity of the capital, Damascus, amid reports of large numbers of civilian casualties.

Meantime, a new study by an international aid group labeled the almost two-year-old Syrian conflict “a regional humanitarian disaster” that is worsening, even as more than 2.5 million people have already been forced from their homes in the face of bombings, targeted attacks, sexual violence, food shortages and a general collapse in services.

“Inside Syria, the human and physical destruction is immense, the country’s civic and social fabric is in shreds, and its economic foundation and infrastructure are devastated,” said the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

On Monday, the government and opposition provided greatly divergent details of what happened in the latest clashes and attacks in outlying districts of the capital. Opposition activists said as many as 20 civilians, including women and children, were killed in a government airstrike on the suburb of Moadamiyeh. Opposition video posted on the Internet showed buildings with their facades sheared off and people pulling bodies from mounds of debris.

The government news service said “terrorists” – the official term for the armed opposition – had shelled Moadamiyeh, “hitting a civilian building in the city” and causing casualties, among them women and children.


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Police: Man killed deputy, stole his car and robbed store

new  NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine – A gunman in Maine killed a sheriff’s deputy, stole his cruiser and robbed a convenience store early Wednesday, triggering an intensive manhunt in a heavily wooded rural town, officials said. Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole was killed around 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Bangor, state police said. His cruiser was driven to a Cumberland Farms store, which was robbed.