KASU

Camila Domonoske

Three besieged towns in Syria will soon be receiving humanitarian assistance: The Syrian government said Thursday it will allow aid to enter the villages, after multiple organizations reported deaths from starvation.

Bashar Assad's government is permitting aid to Madaya, which has been under siege by the regime since July, as well as Foua and Kfraya, two villages adjacent to each other that have been besieged by anti-government forces for more than a year, the Associated Press reports.

More than two months after a natural gas storage well in Southern California began uncontrollably spewing methane gas, the governor of California has declared a state of emergency.

The legal saga of the monkey selfie continues: On Wednesday, a federal judge said the macaque who famously snapped a picture of himself cannot be declared the owner of the image's copyright.

At least, until Congress says otherwise.

There's "no indication" that the Copyright Act extends to animals, U.S. District Judge William Orrick wrote in a tentative opinion issued Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco.

The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court has ordered the state's probate judges not to issue marriage license to same-sex couples — despite a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year that legalized same-sex marriage in America.

Roy S. Moore, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, issued an administrative order Wednesday. He noted that the Supreme Court of Alabama had, in March of 2015, upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens revolves around the story of staff-wielding scavenger Rey.

(That's hardly a spoiler; she's front-and-center in the movie poster, after all.)

But in the world of Star Wars toys, Rey's been hard to find — and fans took to social media, under the hashtags #WheresRey and #WhereisRey, to complain about all the movie merchandise that left her out.

A hotel in downtown Dubai erupted in flames on Thursday evening, just two hours before the city was due to celebrate New Year's Eve with a massive fireworks display.

At midnight local time, the celebration proceeded as planned — resulting in a jarring double display of light and smoke, as firefighters continued to battle the blaze at one skyscraper while fireworks were sent off from the nearby Burj Khalifa.

Time zone by time zone, the planet is saying goodbye to 2015.

The end of the year is still hours away in the U.S., but Australia has already hailed the new year with fireworks like those (see above) in Sydney Harbour.

In Japan's capital, balloons were released from Tokyo Tower.

A few highlights from other celebrations planned around the globe:

Ethan Couch — the "affluenza teen" who killed four people while driving drunk two years ago and recently fled to Mexico with his mother — has been granted a temporary stay against his extradition to the U.S. His mother was deported to Los Angeles on Wednesday evening.

Couch and his mother were detained in Mexico on Monday. They originally had been scheduled to return to the U.S. on Wednesday, where Ethan Couch would face a hearing before a juvenile court judge.

In 1957, humans launched a satellite into orbit, Sputnik-1.

The same mission also created our first piece of space junk: the rocket body that took Sputnik into space.

By the year 2000, there were hundreds of satellites in orbit — and thousands of pieces of space junk, including leftover rockets and pieces of debris.

Demonstrators in Chicago are gathering in a high-end shopping district to disrupt last-minute Christmas purchases and raise attention to a 2014 police shooting.

"Protests have been continuing almost daily since the release last month of dashcam video showing a white Chicago police officer firing 16 shots into 17-year old Laquan McDonald as he tried to walk away from officers" in October 2014, NPR's David Schaper reports for our Newscast unit.

Earlier this month, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was purchased under mysterious circumstances. When the buyer's name wasn't revealed, the paper's reporters did some digging and revealed that the Adelson family was behind the deal.

Jeremy Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, has died at 28.

Jimmy Carter broke the news at his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. At the same church, just two weeks ago, Carter announced he was cancer-free after treatments for brain cancer.

This week he had more tragic news to share, as John Lorinc, from member station WABE, reports:

"An official with the church said Jeremy Carter felt unwell Saturday and took a nap.

President Obama wrapped up 2015 by taking another round of questions from the press.

At the traditional end-of-year news conference Friday afternoon, Obama began with a list of achievements, including the legalization of same-sex marriage across America and progress made toward addressing global climate change.

Enrique Marquez, the man who purchased the guns used in the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting this month, is facing criminal charges, the Department of Justice has announced.

Marquez has been charged with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism — for aborted plans authorities say he hatched with Syed Farook, the San Bernardino shooter, in 2011 and 2012 — as well as with unlawfully purchasing the firearms used in the San Bernardino attack.

Commercial airline flights are due to resume between the United States and Cuba — a step in the ongoing thaw in relations between the two countries.

State Department officials announced the aviation deal Thursday, a year after President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro began the process of restoring diplomatic ties.

Tourism to Cuba is booming, and reconciliation is visible in other ways, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports for our Newscast unit:

Forget the debate over participation trophies. The starkest divides in American parenting have less to do with warring philosophies and more to do with money, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

The poll of more than 1,807 parents finds that income and family structure powerfully shape parents' concerns and children's opportunities.

But first, some bright spots:

A massive tax and spending bill, designed to keep the U.S. government running for months, doesn't include any direct debt relief for struggling Puerto Rico.

After striking gains in the first round of elections, France's far-right National Front, or FN, has fallen short in the second round.

The anti-immigration party failed to win any regions, according to exit polls..

The FN had taken the lead in six of France's 13 regions during the first round of voting earlier this month, as NPR's Alexandra Starr reported then:

Representatives from 196 nations made a historic pact Saturday, agreeing to adopt green energy sources, cut down on climate change emissions and limit the rise of global temperatures — while also cooperating to cope with the impact of unavoidable climate change.

The deal still needs to be adopted by individual governments — but the acceptance by the diplomats gathered in Paris has been hailed as "transformative."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that his forces are helping factions of the Free Syrian Army, a statement that could signal a shift in Russia's policy in Syria.

In a speech to his top military commanders, Putin said the Russian military has provided weapons, supplies and air support to the Western-backed opposition group.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports that during the speech:

"Putin said Russia has received targeting information from the Free Syrian Army, and used it to hit what he called 'terrorist' positions.

With a historic, planetwide pact on the line, hundreds of diplomats in Paris are preparing to extend the U.N. climate change conference into Saturday.

The deadline to reach consensus on a climate deal was supposed to be midnight Friday. But conference leader Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said there wouldn't be a finished text — let alone full approval — until Saturday morning.

Wal-Mart is launching a new mobile pay system, allowing customers to use their smartphones to pay for purchases with credit, debit, prepaid or gift cards.

The service will be available in select stores this month, and across the country next year, the retail giant says.

Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal was the result of a "chain of errors," Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch said Thursday, admitting that the fault extends to the company as a whole, rather than a handful of rogue engineers.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has apologized for the death of Laquan McDonald, the black 17-year-old shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014.

"That happened on my watch," Emanuel said in an emotional address to a special meeting of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, NPR's David Schaper reports.

"I'm sorry," the mayor said, promising "complete and total reform of the system."

In 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan turned a double album into lost treasure.

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin was heard, in its 31-track entirety, only by Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA and producer Cilvaringz.

They vowed to sell just a single copy — with a seven-digit price tag. They destroyed all duplicates and placed the only extant version in a hand-carved silver and nickel box, along with a 174-page leather-bound book of lyrics, anecdotes and credits.

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