News Wrap: In Syria, fragile cease-fire appears to hold

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A man rides a bicycle near damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh - RTX2WY9J

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin today slammed U.S. sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats over election hacking attacks. But he said Moscow will not toss out U.S. diplomats. Instead, he invited the children of American diplomats to holiday parties at the Kremlin.

And in a statement, he said Russia will plan further steps to restore relations, based on the policies of the Trump administration.

Later, the president-elect tweeted to say: “Great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart.”

We will return to the Putin response after the news summary.

And in the day’s other news: A fragile cease-fire appeared to hold across Syria, despite sporadic shooting.

Diana Magnay of Independent Television News reports.

DIANA MAGNAY: It’s not as though there’s no fighting today. This is a regime airstrike earlier on near the city of Hama, but nothing so severe that the deal’s off yet.

WALID AL-MOUALEM, Foreign Minister, Syria (through translator): There is a real opportunity to reach a political solution for the crisis in Syria that ends the bloodshed and establishes the roots for the future of the country.

DIANA MAGNAY: With the front lines quiet, people in opposition areas went back onto the streets, just as they had done in the early days of the revolution, not that everyone here remembers those days, but the refrain’s familiar: a Syria without Assad, even if the outcome’s as unclear as ever.

ABDULFAKI ALHMADO, Former Aleppo Resident: If you say that if we are happy with being Assad in power, of course we will not be happy. And I can make sure for you that all those people who are refugees now either inside Syria or outside Syria will not be back to Syria unless Assad goes away from his position as president of Syria.

DIANA MAGNAY: That will be up to the Russians. Aleppo was part of this deal, struck between Turkey and Russia in two months of back-and-forth talks. With Aleppo now chalked up for the regime, it’s now up to Putin to see what pressure he can bring to bear on Syria’s president before talks next month in Kazakstan, if this cease-fire holds, and that’s a big if.

Along its border, Turkey is expanding its facilities for refugees, to house the tens of thousands freshly displaced from Aleppo through this bitter winter and beyond. Russia and Turkey pitching themselves as regional power-brokers, guardians against terror, bringers of peace, high stakes if they fail, but the initiative now is with them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, a North Carolina judge blocked a Republican bid to strip the incoming Democratic governor of some of his powers. Republicans passed the statute after Roy Cooper was elected. It takes away his control of election boards. Cooper sued today, saying the law is unconstitutional. The judge stopped it from taking effect on Sunday, pending a review.

New numbers confirm that fatal shootings of police rose sharply in 2016. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund reports 64 were shot and killed in the line of duty, up 56 percent from last year. The total includes 21 officers killed in ambush-style attacks in Dallas, Baton Rouge and elsewhere.

A winter storm socked New England overnight and, today, the region’s first strong nor’easter of the season. Some areas got as much as two feet of snow. Near-white-out conditions hit Maine, where snow fell at the rate of three inches an hour in some places. The storm knocked out power to more than 100,000 homes and businesses.

And Wall Street closed out a winning year on a losing note. The Dow Jones industrial average gave up 57 points to finish at 19762. The Nasdaq fell nearly 49 points, and the S&P 500 slipped 10. But for the year, the Dow gained more than 13 percent; the Nasdaq rose 7.5 percent; and the S&P was up 9.5 percent.

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