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Obama discusses ISIS...Syrian troops seize base near Damascus...Help wanted: astronaut

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says the United States military and allied forces are hitting the Islamic State group harder than ever. Obama met today with his National Security Council at the Pentagon, part of a week-long push to explain his strategy against the Islamic State group. Obama will get a briefing at the National Counterterrorism Center later in the week.

BEIRUT (AP) —Syrian forces have reportedly seized control of a military air base in a suburb of Damascus following intense clashes and airstrikes. That word comes from Hezbollah TV and from Syrian activists. The air base lies in an eastern suburb of the capital, in an area held mostly by rebels for the past three years. Its capture is a victory for Syrian troops and their allies from the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group who are fighting under Russian air cover in the area.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks have been lower in midday trading as the market comes off its biggest weekly decline since the summer. Natural gas companies are plunging as the price of the commodity falls sharply. Natural gas, which is used for heating, has been sinking because of unseasonably warm winter weather in the U.S.

BOSTON (AP) — Two Massachusetts transit employees whose quick action is credited with bringing a driverless train to a safe stop have been honored at a Statehouse ceremony. Gov. Charlie Baker today presented citations to Mark McNeill and Lee Saunders. Both work in the operations control center for the transit system. The train was carrying about 50 passengers when it left a suburban Boston station Thursday morning and rumbled through several stops. It was brought to a halt when power was gradually cut. The transit workers first had to make sure that other trains were safely out of the way. The operator who had left the runaway train is facing a disciplinary hearing today.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Want to be an astronaut? NASA has opened its application website, and it's accepting submissions through mid-February. Applicants need to be U.S. citizens with a bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering. The last time NASA went on an astronaut search, more than 6,000 applied. Just eight people were selected. Pay is between $66,000 and $145,000 a year, and astronauts will have to move to Houston.

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