On Oct. 15 Syria and Lebanon signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations between the Middle East neighbors for the first time in their history. Now they must come to agreement on their shared border. During the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli forces seized the Shebaa Farms area from Syria. However, Lebanese and Syrian officials said Syria had officially given the territory to Lebanon in 1951. Now all three countries say they will negotiate the contested border area. But before that Syria will have to stop massing troops near Lebanon's northern Bekaa Valley. Syria reportedly has more than 10,000 troops there and claims they are needed to combat al-Qaeda elements in Lebanon. Syria had four times as many troops in Lebanon until a 2005 UN arrangement mandated their removal.
After critics accused Baylor University of offering a "straightforward bribe," the school said it would likely end a program that offers students financial incentives to retake their SAT exams. Under the plan, students already enrolled at the Waco, Texas, school can earn a $300 bookstore credit just for retaking the test, and $1,000 in "merit" aid if they boost their scores by 50 points or more. "Did it have the appearance of impropriety, and was it going to raise unnecessary questions?" said university spokesman John Barry. "Yeah, I think we goofed on that."
Baylor said 861 students retook their SATs and received the bookstore credit; 150 received the merit aid money. The program sparked national criticism that the university was trying to buy its way higher in the annual college ranking published by U.S. News & World Report. Baylor ranks 76th in the report's 2009 edition, but according to a published school-improvement plan, school officials aim to be ranked 50th.
Tell that to the girls
When Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, were murdered New Year's Day in the back of a taxi, their great-aunt Gail Gartrell alleged that their Egyptian-born father, Yaser Abdel Said, killed the Texas teenagers because they disgraced him by dating non-Muslims. With no word on Said's whereabouts months and months after the girls were shot and killed, the FBI acknowledged the possibility in a wanted poster for the 51-year-old Said: "The 17- and 18-year-old girls were dating American boys, which was contrary to their father's rules of not dating non-Muslim boys. Reportedly, the girls were murdered due to an 'Honor Killing.'" That drew protest from the Council on American-Islamic Relations-of the FBI, not of a father killing his daughters. Shortly after the poster's publication, the FBI issued new posters in October without the sentence. In Dallas FBI special agent Mark White told blogger Pamela Geller it was "a mixup" and said, "We are not labeling it an honor killing. It's a double murder."
President Bush signed into law Oct. 9 a bill aimed at reducing the number of babies aborted due to diagnoses of Down syndrome or other prenatal genetic conditions. The bill would require doctors giving such news to provide families with the latest information about the condition as well as resources that offer support. The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act, which received high-profile bipartisan backing from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also calls for a national registry of families willing to adopt special-needs children. Brownback said he hoped the "bill is the start of something new: real help for families, deepened respect for the value of every life-especially those with disabilities-and one step closer to the kind of America we all know is possible."
Field trip follies
A San Francisco first-grade class went on a field trip to city hall Oct. 10-but they weren't there for a civics tour. The 18 students from Creative Arts Charter School gathered on the steps outside to throw rose petals as their teacher Erin Carder and her partner Kerri McCoy emerged from the building after Mayor Gavin Newsom had pronounced them "spouses for life." Although a parent initiated the 90-minute excursion, the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow told The San Francisco Chronicle she justified it academically because it was "a teachable moment. I think I'm well within the parameters." Two families opted not to have their children attend the event.
Taliban targets Christian worker
Taliban militia shot and killed a Christian aid worker in Kabul as she walked to work on Oct. 20, heightening concern over the safety of aid workers in the war-torn country. Gayle Williams worked with disabled Afghans through the British charity group SERVE Afghanistan and held dual citizenship in Great Britain and South Africa. Witnesses say two men on a motorbike shot the 34-year-old woman just before 8 a.m. "The team is holding up remarkably well but is grieving. They have lost a good friend, and of course this killing makes them all feel vulnerable since it is not an isolated incident but part of a developing pattern," SERVE Afghanistan board chairman Mike Lyth told WORLD. "As for the future, we need to step back from it all and see what it is all about from God's perspective."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Williams' death and said she was spreading Christianity. "Our [leaders] issued a decree to kill this woman," spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press. "This morning our people killed her in Kabul." Williams worked in Afghanistan for two years, directing projects to integrate the disabled into mainstream education.
With the hijacking of another ship off the Horn of Africa Oct. 21, Somali pirates are holding at least 11 ships for ransom. They include a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 Soviet-era tanks seized late last month and reportedly bound for the government of South Sudan. Pirates are demanding a ransom of at least $8 million for release of that ship.
In the past year piracy off the coast of Somalia has soared, with at least 30 ships hijacked and an estimated $18 million to $30 million in ransom paid. More than 20,000 ships use the straits off the Horn of Africa each year, accounting for around a third of global container trade, much of it oil- and gas-related.
Prop 8 and Ake
In the weeks winding down to Election Day, a religious dissident is touring California. His message to Christians: What happened to him could happen to them. Tall and spectacled with a wreath of silver hair, Pastor Ake Green, 67, doesn't look like a dissident but in 2004 a Swedish court sentenced him to a month in prison for missakt-ing, or "disrespecting," homosexuals by preaching from the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. A Swedish appeals court overturned the conviction, but a determined prosecutor took the case to the nation's Supreme Court. Justices there declined to convict Green, largely because the pastor had vowed to appeal to the European Union, where the law still protects freedom of speech and religion.
Now Green is speaking at California churches, urging Christians to support Proposition 8, an initiative that would amend the state constitution to recognize only traditional marriage. "People still need to wake up," Green told WORLD, saying that he detects complacency on the issue, a sense that Americans believe they will always have freedom of speech and religion: "We in Sweden thought the same thing."
The oil bubble
Consumers may celebrate as the price of oil has plummeted to about half of where it stood in July, but if a drop in demand caused by economic trouble is the only cause of the price decline, then their parties will be short-lived. A number of analysts say something else is bringing down prices: Oil prices were inflated by a speculative bubble-and that bubble is bursting. "This is a market that is basically returning to the price level of a year ago which it arguably should never have left," Tim Evans, energy analyst at Citigroup, told The Wall Street Journal. "We pumped up a big bubble, expanded it to an impressive dimension, and now it is popped and we have bubble gum in our hair."
Reversal of fortunes
An Italian minister is calling the current EU plan for reductions in greenhouse gases an "act of madness." Germany's environment minister is lobbying for less severe standards on automakers and contends that steel and other industries deserve protection from tough carbon controls. What's going on? Turns out there could be no green in going green. Climate policy-particularly a December deadline to make dramatic greenhouse-gas cuts in accord with an EU/UN agreement-is colliding with the financial crisis. Now Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and others are calling for a review of European climate policy and its severe carbon-cutting standards in light of the economic crisis.