2 accidents raise US storm, blackout toll to 26

Posted July 04, 2012, at 9 p.m.

BALTIMORE — The Mid-Atlantic region is struggling to get back to normal after deadly, power-cutting storms and sweltering heat.

And the death toll blamed on storms and the ensuing blackout across the eastern U.S. is now at 26 after two accidents in Virginia.

Utility and municipal crews worked through the July 4 holiday to restore power and remove downed tree limbs.

Pepco said it had restored power to 90 percent of those affected by last week’s storms in D.C. and two Maryland suburbs, beating its own estimate for getting the lights and more importantly, the air conditioning back on. BGE said about 78,000 customers in central Maryland remained without power.

More than 146,000 Virginia homes and businesses remained without power after, down from a peak of about 1.2 million after the storms.

In New Jersey, Atlantic City Electric said nearly 30,000 homes and businesses were still without service. That’s down from about 206,000.

Maryland issued a heat advisory for the entire state for Thursday, after issuing one for parts of the state for Wednesday. Sweaty patrons were enjoying the Capitol Fourth Concert in D.C. Wednesday evening.

Episcopal Church leaders set to consider blessing rite for same-sex couples

PHILADELPHIA — Sixteen fractious years after it allowed the ordination of homosexuals, the Episcopal Church appears poised to adopt a blessing rite for same-sex couples wishing to wed.

If approved, as expected, at the church’s General Convention starting Thursday in Indianapolis, the liturgy would be the first such rite endorsed by a major denomination in the United States.

Advocates of the blessing — already written, down to the “We have gathered here today” and “I do” and the exchange of rings — stress that it is not a sacrament and would not confer “marriage” on the couple.

Episcopal Church law defines marriage as the union of man and woman, and there are no plans to change that this year.

But the 2009 convention had encouraged bishops in states allowing same-sex marriage — currently six, and the District of Columbia — to “provide generous pastoral response” to gay and lesbian members. It also authorized creation of the rite now under consideration.

Its passage would be a major advance for gay people within the 2 million-member denomination, said Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Former Israeli prime minister Shamir laid to rest

JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was buried Monday at Israel’s national cemetery.

Shamir was Israel’s seventh prime minister, serving for seven years, from 1983-84 and 1986-92. He died Saturday at age 96.

His terms were marked by his refusal to consider giving up land for deals with the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s restraint in the face of missile attacks from Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war.

He was buried Monday at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. He was eulogized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and his son Yair.

Born in Poland, Shamir was an underground militia leader before Israel was created, fighting Arabs and British forces.

Later he served in the Mossad as an intelligence agent who hunted Nazis, before entering politics.

Jihadists claim Syria attacks

BEIRUT — An al-Qaida-inspired group claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across Syria, the latest evidence that extremists are exploiting the chaos to make inroads in another Middle Eastern country.

The Syrian regime has long blamed terrorists for the 16-month-old revolt, and the presence of al-Qaida groups creates new difficulties for Arab and Western countries trying to help force President Bashar Assad from power.

The opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army deny having any links to terrorism, and say they do not have the desire or the capabilities to carry out massive suicide bombings and other al-Qaida-style attacks.

On Tuesday, the SITE monitoring group, which tracks jihadist chatter on the Internet, said the Al-Nusra Front released statements on extremist websites in late June claiming the attacks were to avenge the killings of Syrians by the government.

One of the attacks targeted a pro-regime television station in the town of Drousha, south of the capital, Damascus, on June 27. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV.

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