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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kidnapped NBC News Team Freed in Syria After Firefight

An NBC News team was freed in Syria after a rebel group killed two of their kidnappers at a checkpoint on Monday evening. Speaking to the network’s Today programme, chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel said that he was kidnapped along with his team while travelling with Syrian rebels on December 13. Engel said a group of about 15 gunmen “jumped out of the trees and bushes” and captured the team, executing one of the rebels immediately and then staging mock executions throughout their captivity. “We weren’t physically beaten or tortured. It was a lot of psychological torture, threats of being killed. They made us choose which one of us would be shot first”, said the journalist. He added the kidnappers pretended to shoot one of his crew, NBC producer Ghazi Bakiz, several times. Engel also said his captors said they were loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Russia Sends Ships to Mediterranean Amid Talk of Evacuation from Syria

The Russian navy has sent a squadron of ships to the Mediterranean to replace its existing fleet in the region, with the move coming after the country’s Foreign Ministry admitting it could evacuate its citizens from Syria if the government of Bashar al-Assad was toppled. The frigate Yaroslav Mudri, landing ships Kaliningrad and Aleksandr Shabalin, a towboat and a tanker ship set off from the Baltiysk naval base, according to Russian Ministry of Defense. It did not specify if the ships would head to the Syrian port of Tartus, where the Russian navy maintains a base. Russian naval sources told the country’s Interfax news agency that the country’s navy command wants the ships to be stationed near Syria if an evacuation is needed. The move comes days after Russia admitted that the Assad regime was nearing collapse. “You need to look the facts in the eyes,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on December 14. “The Government regime is losing more and more control over a large part of the country’s territory.”

Judge Orders Brain Tumour Surgery for Seven-Year-Old Boy Against Mother’s Wishes

The Family Division of the U.K.’s High Court ruled on Tuesday that a seven-year-old boy with a brain tumour should undergo surgery against his mother’s wishes. Neon Roberts’ mother, New Zealand-born 37-year-old Sally Roberts, sparked a nationwide hunt after she ran away with the boy in early December to prevent him from receiving radiotherapy sessions. She said she had taken a “principled” stand because she feared the treatment would pose a long-term risk to the health of her child. She also told the court she was not a “bonkers mother” and said she only wanted the best for her son. Mr Justice Bodey ruled that a new surgery should go ahead on Wednesday because an MRI scan revealed that a residual tumour was left from the boy’s last operation and that it was “highly likely” he could die in a “relatively short period” if no action was taken.

Queen Attends Cabinet Meeting as Part of Jubilee Celebrations

Queen Elizabeth II attended her first cabinet meeting on Tuesday as part of the government’s celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. The Queen arrived shortly after 10am and stayed for the first 30 minutes of the expected 90 minutes duration of the meeting. Government ministers presented her with a set of 60 place mats, for which they all contributed an equal amount. There was some controversy whether the Queen was the first monarch since Victoria or George III to have attended a cabinet meeting. Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, historian Jane Ridley said she didn’t think Victoria was the last monarch to have done so. “I don’t think there is any evidence that Queen Victoria sat in cabinet or went near cabinet. George III went only very occasionally. If she was a party political figure, of course, it would be a political act for her to be there today, but she isn’t.”

Twin Probes Crash Into the Moon at the End of Two Year Study

Two lunar probes crashed on the surface of the Moon late on Monday to mark the end of NASA’s Grail mission. Ebb and Flow, the size of washing machines, were launched from Earth in September 2011 with the mission of mapping the interior of the moon from its top crust down to its core. They did this by measuring the moon’s gravity, as explained by MIT geophysicist Maria Zuber, lead scientist for the mission, to NPR. The two probes flew in the same orbit around the moon, keeping as close as possible to its surface. When one of them passed over something big, like a mountain, it speeded up because of the greater gravitational pull. “So the first spacecraft speeds up and changes the distance between the two spacecraft”, said Zuber, and by measuring the changes in distance between the two they were able to calculate the moon’s gravitation pull in different areas. Once they ran out of fuel they crashed, as planned, into a mountain near the moon’s north pole in order to avoid damaging any of the remains left by previous missions to the Moon, including Apollo and the Soviet Luna probes.

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