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Russian plane headed to Syria crashes ... Paralyzing snow hits parts of Plains, West ... Assad makes Christmas Day appearance

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's Transport minister says that pilot error or a technical fault was likely to blame for Sunday's crash of a Russian Tu-154 carrying 92 passengers and crew. The military plane crashed into the Black Sea on its way from the southern Russian city of Sochi to Syria. Among its passengers were members of the world-famous Russian army choir who planned to perform at a New Year's concert at the Russian military base in Syria. Russian emergency crews are still searching for victims and plane debris.

CHICAGO (AP) — "There will be nothing moving" until late Monday afternoon. That's what National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust is saying from a stormy Grand Forks, North Dakota. Christmas Day brought snow, freezing rain, ice and howling winds to the northern Plains and some Western states. A blizzard warning is in effect through Monday for North Dakota, western South Dakota and a small section of eastern Montana, with expected snow totals of up to 15 inches.

BATANGAS, Philippines (AP) — A powerful typhoon in the Philippines left four people dead and destroyed homes on Christmas Day. Typhoon Nock-Ten cut power to five provinces at the height of Christmas celebrations and displaced tens of thousands of villagers and travelers. One person died while being pinned by a fallen tree. Two people were swept by a flash flood.

BEIRUT (AP) — Christians in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo celebrated Christmas for the first time in four years with the country's largest city now under full control of government forces. And Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife visited a Christian orphanage near the capital Damascus on Sunday. Before the war, Christians represented about 10 percent of the Syrian population.

LONDON (AP) — The music world is reacting to the death of pop star George Michael. Andrew Ridgeley, who teamed up with Michael in the group Wham! tweeted, "Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend." Elton John says, "I have lost a beloved friend — the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist." Michael died Sunday from heart failure. He was 53.

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