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Protestors in South draw fire from Syrian forces

DAMASCUS, Syria — The political crisis in Syria deepened Monday as the armed forces in the restive southern city of Daraa fired live ammunition in the air to disperse hundreds of pro-democracy protesters.

The marchers gathered in the city’s main square, chanting, “Not Sunnis, not Alawis, we all want freedom,” and “God, Syria, and freedom only.” By late afternoon, hundreds of protesters had staged a sit-in on the square, uncertain whether the army would try to disperse them during the night. More than 60 people have been killed in recent protests in the city, human rights groups say; it was unclear if there were any casualties Monday. “They were marching peacefully, asking for their rights, when the army opened fire at them,” said one witness who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. “But this is not the end,” he added.

The armed forces had retreated from the city’s main arteries over the past few days, giving residents an uneasy sense of being in a standoff. The Associated Press reported that security forces were surrounding the city Monday afternoon.

—The New York Times

Regulators to set new restrictions on mortgages

Banks will be forced to retain some risk when they securitize all but the most conservative mortgages under rules that regulators are expected to vote on Tuesday. But the banks are likely to be given wide leeway in determining what risks to keep.

Major banks, hoping to revive the mortgage securitization market that crumbled when many securitizations proved to be anything but safe, had asked regulators to define almost any mortgage — except for the most extreme types no longer being written — as a “qualified residential mortgage.” But a summary of the proposal, provided to some press outlets Monday night by a person briefed on the decision, showed that the regulators rejected that advice and decided that only the most conservative mortgages would qualify. Securitizations of any other mortgages would require the banks to retain “skin in the game” of at least 5 percent of the risk. Banks, however, did get regulators to agree to a broad definition of how that risk can be retained, as well as of who will have to retain it.

Under the proposed rule, mortgages to buy homes will require buyers to put down at least 20 percent if banks want to securitize the loan without retaining a stake. Loans to refinance mortgages would not qualify unless the new loan was for no more than 75 percent of the value of the property, or 70 percent if the refinancing enabled the borrower to take out cash.

—Floyd Norris, The New York Times

Lost cobra may hide for weeks, Bronx Zoo officials say

NEW YORK — The case of the missing venomous snake in the Bronx Zoo has yielded much interest and many press inquiries. What it has not yielded is the snake, a 20-inch female Egyptian cobra born a few months ago.

On Monday, otherwise known as Day 4 of the cobra hunt, zoo officials released a statement cautioning that they may not find the adolescent cobra for days, and perhaps weeks.

“We understand the interest in this story and that everyone wants us to find the missing snake,” James J. Breheny, the zoo’s director, said in the statement. “Right now, it’s the snake’s game. At this point, it’s just like fishing; you put the hook in the water and wait. Our best strategy is patience, allowing her time to come out of hiding.” Zoo officials said they were confident that the snake was somewhere inside the reptile house, which was closed immediately after the snake went missing on Friday.

Experts said cobras are generally averse to human contact and unlikely to bite unless they feel their lives are in peril.

—Karen Zraick, The New York Times