Syrian authorities on Monday blamed Islamist militants for the massacre of 108 men, women and children in the town of Houla and denied UN and witness accounts that army tanks were in the area at the time.In a letter to the UN Security Council published by state media, the Foreign Ministry said the Syrian army had clashed with hundreds of armed men who it said committed Friday's massacre. The ministry said the killers used knives, which it called a "signature" of Islamist militant attacks."Not a single tank enteredthe region and the Syrian army was in a state of self-defense using the utmost degree of self control and appropriate response, and anything other than this is pure lies," the ministry's letter said."The terrorist armed groups ... entered with the purpose of killing and the best proof of that is the killing by knives, which is the signature of terrorist groups who massacre according to the Islamist way."Houla is mostly populated by Sunni Muslims - from Syria's majority community which has led the revolt - while many of the surrounding villages are dominated by Alawites, the offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that provides most of Assad's ruling cadre.
The escalating "atrocities" in Syria could end up triggering a military intervention, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Fox News on Monday -- following the massacre that left more than 100 dead.
The international community has scrambled to respond to the violence over the weekend, with the recognition that an international peace plan has failed to stem the fighting. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency session Sunday, with its members unanimously supporting a statement condemning the killings and blaming the Bashar al-Assad regime. Meanwhile, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan traveled to Syria for talks.It's unclear how seriously military options are being discussed. All along, administration officials have pushed more for sanctions, diplomacy and international pressure to compel Assad to leave power -- warning that a military intervention in Syria could be far harder to control than one in Libya, which was relatively isolated both diplomatically and geographically.
The United States Geological Survey said the quake on Tuesday, which struck at 9 a.m. local time (0700 GMT), was centered 25 miles northwest of the city of Bologna. It hit the area where a magnitude-6.0 temblor killed seven people earlier this month — and just as citizens had begun to resume some semblance of normality.
The news agency ANSA reported that nine people had died, while news agency LaPresse said others were buried under the rubble of collapsed homes and factories.
Monti said at the time of the quake he was meeting with emergency officials in Rome to discuss dealing with the impact of the earlier quake.
What passes for normal at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant today would have caused shudders among even the most sanguine of experts before an earthquake and tsunami set off the world's second most serious nuclear crisis after Chernobyl.The worst-case situations for reactor No. 4 would be for the pool to run dry if there is another problem with the cooling system and the rods catch fire, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material, or that fission restarts if the metal panels that separate the rods are knocked over in a quake.
Across the vast Pacific, the mighty bluefin tuna carried radioactive contamination that leaked from Japan's crippled nuclear plant to the shores of the United States 6,000 miles away - the first time a huge migrating fish has been shown to carry radioactivity such a distance.
"We were frankly kind of startled," said Nicholas Fisher, one of the researchers reporting the findings online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years.
Bluefin tuna that journeyed last year were exposed to radiation for about a month. The upcoming travelers have been swimming in radioactive waters for a longer period. How this will affect concentrations of contamination remains to be seen.