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Briefs

Rebels gain city near uprising’s start

– Capitalizing on a recent influx of weapons, Syrian rebels are waging a strategic battle for the southern part of the country and seeking to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to Damascus in preparation for an eventual assault on the capital.

On Friday, the rebels celebrated their latest victory: They seized full control of Dael, a key town along a main highway, after forces of President Bashar Assad’s regime all but withdrew from the area.

“God is great! We are coming, Bashar!” armed fighters cried overnight Thursday after they captured the last of the military checkpoints in the town where Assad’s forces had been holed up, according to amateur video posted online.

Dael is one of the bigger towns in the southern Daraa province, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, when security forces arrested high school students who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.

Activists say it was in Dael that the first statue of Assad’s father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, was toppled shortly after the protests broke out.

Mandela eating, sitting at hospital

Nelson Mandela is making “steady progress” while being treated for a recurring lung infection and he had a full breakfast on Friday, South African authorities said.

The office of President Jacob Zuma released a statement in which it said the former president and anti-apartheid leader was in good spirits after being taken late Wednesday to a hospital in the capital, Pretoria.

“The doctors report that he is making steady progress. He remains under treatment and observation in hospital,” the statement said.

Scientists studying sea lion deaths

Hundreds of starving sea lion pups are washing up on beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara, overwhelming rescue centers and leaving scientists scrambling to figure out why.

At island rookeries off the Southern California coast, 45 percent of the pups born in June have died, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. Normally, less than one-third of the pups would die.

It’s gotten so bad in the past two weeks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event.” That will allow more scientists to join the search for the cause, Melin said.

Orphan filmmaker killed at his home

A documentary filmmaker known for helping rescue children from squalid Romanian orphanages in the early 1990s was fatally shot following a dispute over the trimming of shrubbery, officials said.

John Charles Upton Jr., 56, was found dead Thursday on a dirt path in the yard of his Encinitas home. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said detectives arrested Michael Vilkin, 61, on suspicion of murder. He was being held without bail, pending arraignment Tuesday.

Vilkin told KGTV in San Diego he fired gunshots in self-defense after Upton menaced him with a gun during a dispute over foliage.

Man spared prison in mercy killing

An 86-year-old man who carried out a mercy killing by shooting his ailing wife in the head was sentenced to probation after an emotional hearing where family members tearfully spoke on his behalf.

George Sanders could have faced more than 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The judge opted for probation.

The World War II veteran told authorities his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1969.

“She never wanted to outlive me and be left at the mercy of someone else.”

Virginia Sanders, 81, had been diagnosed with gangrene on her foot just a few days before the shooting.

Full court to hear Hobby Lobby case

A federal appeals court has granted Hobby Lobby’s request for the entire court to hear its challenge of a federal requirement that it provide insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and similar emergency contraceptives.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced its decision Friday. Appeals are usually decided by a three-judge panel, but a total of nine judges will hear the appeal from the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain.

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