Food aid distributed in Palestinian camp

Humanitarian workers delivered more than 1,000 boxes of food to a besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside the Syrian capital Thursday, the first major aid distribution in the area since it was blockaded by government forces more than six months ago.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, described “chaotic scenes” as the food parcels were distributed in the Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, where there have been unconfirmed reports of residents dying of hunger.

The Syrian opposition has accused President Bashar al-Assad of using starvation tactics, surrounding and cutting off rebel-held areas of the Damascus suburbs and the city of Homs. Images of emaciated children and residents’ accounts of foraging for food and eating cat meat had sparked international outrage.

UNRWA distributed 138 parcels in Yarmouk earlier this month, but access had been hampered in the past week. Gunness called Thursday’s delivery of 1,026 parcels a “modest achievement.” Each feeds a family of eight for about 10 days; some 18,000 people remain in the camp. “It is important that these distributions continue in the coming days as we continue to receive reports of widespread malnutrition,” he said.

— Loveday Morris

Knox conviction is upheld on appeal

An appeals court in Florence on Thursday upheld the guilty verdict against U.S. student Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend for the 2007 murder of her British roommate. Knox was sentenced to 281 / 2 years in prison, raising the specter of a long legal battle over her extradition.

After nearly 12 hours of deliberations, the court reinstated the guilty verdict first handed down against Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in 2009. The verdict had been overturned in 2011 and the pair freed, but Italy’s high court vacated that decision and sent the case back for a third trial.

Although Sollecito was in court early Thursday, he did not return for the verdict, and Knox was half a world away awaiting the decision with, in her own words, “my heart in my throat.”

— Associated Press

Actress quits Oxfam as ad draws fire

In an ad for SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson says, “If only I could make this message go viral.” She then takes off her robe, revealing a black dress, and drinks sultrily from a straw.

But the ad, described on YouTube as “the uncensored version of SodaStream’s commercial” for Sunday’s Super Bowl, isn’t what’s drawing attention right now. On Thursday, the international aid organization Oxfam accepted the actress’s resignation as a global ambassador after criticism of her role as a spokeswoman for Soda-
Stream, which makes machines to carbonate beverages at home.

SodaStream’s main plant is in a West Bank settlement. Oxfam says it believes that firms “that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Much of the international community considers products made in the Jewish settlements, home to about 350,000 people, illegal.

— Terri Rupar

Ukrainian leader takes sick leave: In the midst of Ukraine’s political crisis, the president went on sick leave, triggering conspiracy theories among protesters who have been seeking his ouster. Was Viktor Yanukovych really sick? Or was he feigning for some reason? Yanukovych, 63, has an acute respiratory illness and a high fever, his presidential Web site said. He is not known to have serious health problems.

Opposition leader among 14 sentenced to death in Bangladesh: The head of the main Bangladeshi Islamist opposition party was among 14 people sentenced to death on charges of smuggling arms to a rebel group in India in 2004. Matiur Rahman Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was industries minister in the 2001-2006 cabinet of then-Preimier Khaleda Zia. Defense attorneys called the convictions and sentences politically motivated.

Panama to free North Koreans: Panama’s judicial authorities have ordered the release of 32 of 35 crew members of a North Korean ship detained in July for carrying hidden arms from Cuba. Prosecutors said the captain and two others will remain to face arms trafficking charges.

— From news services