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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels have scored one of their biggest strategic victories since the country’s crisis began two years ago, capturing the nation’s largest dam and iconic industrial symbol of the Assad family’s four-decade rule.
Rebels led by the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jabhat al-Nusra now control much of the water flow in the country’s north and east, eliciting warnings from experts that any mistake in managing the dam may drown wide areas in Syria and Iraq.
A Syrian government official denied that the rebels on Monday captured the dam, saying that “heavy clashes are taking place around it.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. But amateur video released by activists showed gunmen walking around the facility’s operations rooms and employees apparently carrying on with their work as usual.
In the capital, Damascus, the rebels kept the battle going mostly in northeastern and southern neighborhoods as the fighting gets closer to the heart of President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
Monday’s capture of the al-Furat dam came after rebels seized two smaller dams on the Euphrates River, which flows from Turkey through Syria and into Iraq. Behind al-Furat dam lies Lake Assad, which at 640 square kilometers (247 square miles) is the country’s largest water reservoir.
The dam produces 880 megawatts of electricity, a small amount of the country’s production. Syria’s electricity production relies on plants powered by natural gas and fuel oil.
Still, the capture handed the rebels control over water and electricity supplies for both government-held areas and large swaths of land the opposition has captured over the past 22 months of fighting.
“This is the most important dam in Syria. It is a strategic dam, and Lake Assad is one of the largest artificial lakes in the region,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“It supplies many areas around Syria with electricity,” Abdul-Rahman said, citing the provinces of Raqqa, Hassaka and Aleppo in the north as well as Deir el-Zour in the east near the Iraqi border.
The dam, constructed in the late 1960s in cooperation with the Soviet Union, is located in a northeastern town once called Tabqa. After the dam was built, the town’s name changed to Thawra, Arabic for revolution, to mark the March 8, 1963 coup that brought Assad’s ruling Baath party to power.
Early Monday, when the rebels stormed the dam and the town, one of the first things they did was set ablaze a giant statue of the late President Hafez Assad, the current president’s father.
“This is one of the biggest projects that have a moral value in Syria’s history,” said Dubai-based Syrian economist Samir Seifan. “It was the Syrian government’s biggest project in the 20th century.”
Seifan said that the dam is “a very sensitive plant” and it is very important that technicians and experts keep it running as usual because any mistake could have dangerous consequences.
He added that any mistake could “release massive amounts of water that will drown wide areas including the city of Deir el-Zour as well as cities in Iraq.” Seifan added that “any damage will have dangerous consequences on civilians. It supplies hundreds of thousands of hectares with water.”
An amateur video released by activists showed rebels walking through large operations rooms as employees went on with their work as usual.
“The al-Furat dam is now in the hands of the Free Syrian Army heroes,” says the narrator. “And these are the workers, continuing their work as usual.”
The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting on the events depicted.
Abdul-Rahman, of the Observatory, said the rebels have told their fighters not to interfere with the work of the dam. He added that the gunmen will leave the dam for employees to run but will keep their checkpoints around the dam.
The rebels now control three dams on the Euphrates. In November, they captured the Tishrin Dam, near the northern town of Manbij. And last week, they took the Baath dam, close to al-Furat.
In Damascus, activists reported clashes and shelling mostly in the northeastern neighborhoods of Jobar and Qaboun as well as the southern parts of the city.
Over the past four days, the rebels brought their fight to within a mile of the heart of the capital, seizing army checkpoints and cutting a key highway.
Syrian TV showed footage from Abbasid Square, a landmark plaza in central Damascus, after sunset Monday to counter activists’ claims of fighting only hundreds of meters (yards) away. The footage showed little traffic in the square, and it was dark.
Meanwhile, the Observatory said members of Jabhat al-Nusra blew themselves up in two car bombs outside an intelligence office in the northeastern city of Shadadah, killing at least 14 security agents and wounding many people.
The Observatory said Shadadah has been witnessing heavy clashes between troops and rebels.
The al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which led the fighting at the dam, has been named by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. It has proved to be the most effective group among rebels fighting in Syria.
Also in northern Syria, a car bomb exploded at a border crossing with Turkey in Idlib province. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said 13 people died in the blast. He didn’t specifically say the explosion was caused by a bomb, possibly in deference to an ongoing investigation, but he left little doubt that authorities believed it was the work of assailants.
“The incident is very important in showing to what extent our stance on terror and our sensibility toward Syrian incidents is well-directed,” Erdogan said.
The border area between the two countries has seen fierce fighting in the civil war. Tensions have also flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey in the past months after shells fired from Syria landed on the Turkish side.
As a result, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States decided to send two batteries of Patriot air defense missiles each to protect Turkey, their NATO ally.
Associated Press writers Chris Torchia in Istanbul and Ezgi Akin in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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