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Top Syrian Warns Congress 'Moderate' Rebels May Sell Weapons


iStock/Thinkstock(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- In letters addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, the Syrian speaker of parliament calls on the United States to refrain from arming and training so-called moderate Syrian rebels and from entering into a coalition with countries whose religious ideologies, the speaker says, has fueled the growth of ISIS.

Speaker Jihad al-Lahham also writes that one of the two American journalists beheaded by ISIS was sold to the militant group by the moderate forces.

"What is called moderate opposition sold to ISIL the innocent, beheaded U.S. journalist," Lahham writes to House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, using an alternative acronym for ISIS. "There is nothing to prevent those groups from selling the U.S. weapons to ISIL as it is their proven common practice."

Lahham doesn't name the journalist, but it's the same accusation made by a spokesman for the family of Steven Sotloff, whose execution video was posted online by ISIS earlier this month.

In his letters to the U.S. Congress,  Lahham argues that there is no such thing as moderate rebels and arming and training those selected groups "is a nonreversible action that will trigger a global negative chain reaction."

Lahham also singles out Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition the administration is building. He says the "core engine generating jihadi terrorist[s]" stems from the puritanical interpretation of Islam practiced and enforced in Saudi Arabia. He points out that the beheadings that ISIS has become infamous for "is a government legal practice in Saudi Arabia."

The White House is lobbying Congress to authorize $500 million to arm and train "vetted" moderate Syrian rebel groups to fight ISIS. The CIA has already been covertly training certain rebel groups fighting the Assad regime in countries bordering Syria, but this would be an expanded program. Saudi Arabia has already agreed to allow rebels to train in the country, according to U.S. officials.

The Obama administration has long resisted arming the moderates on a large scale with small and heavy weapons out of fear that arms given to the relatively weak and very fractured forces would fall into the hands of extremists. Moderate Syrian forces say the West's reluctance to arm them over the past three years of Syria's civil war has given rise to the radical Islamist elements in Syria whose wealthy patrons from the Gulf have funded more sophisticated weaponry.

The U.S. has carried out over 160 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and has warned that it will begin to target the group inside Syria where it has its base in the northern city of Raqqa. The Obama administration has said it is not coordinating with either the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor Iran, Syria's main backer.

Syria has warned that an American assault against ISIS inside Syria without coordination would violate their sovereignty.

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US Military Airstrikes Hit Multiple ISIS Targets in Iraq


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military conducted five more airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in Iraq, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said Tuesday.

Two of the strikes were northwest of Irbil. Those "destroyed an ISIL armed truck and an ISIL fighting position," CENTCOM said in a statement, using one of several acronyms for the militant Islamic group.

The remaining strikes were southwest of Baghdad and "damaged an ISIL truck and destroyed an ISIL anti-aircraft artillery piece, a small ISIL ground unit and two small boats on the Euphrates River that were re-supplying ISIL forces in the area," according to CENTCOM.

The fighter aircraft used in the strikes all managed to exit the area safely.

Since Aug. 8, CENTCOM says it has conducted 167 airstrikes across Iraq.

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How US Military Will Combat Ebola in Africa


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon is sending 3,000 people to West Africa -- more than twice the number currently stationed in Iraq -- to help expand U.S. efforts to help fight the deadly Ebola virus, President Obama plans to announce Tuesday.

Military personnel will not directly provide health care to the thousands of patients, but they will help coordinate efforts of the U.S. government and various international relief organizations to contain the epidemic, according to a statement from the White House.

“It is so important that the U.S. is taking a leadership role in responding in West Africa,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

Besser said that with so few healthcare workers in the region, it’s unclear who is going to care for the sick if the U.S. doesn’t help. The president's plan only outlines care for ill health care workers, so there will be a big gap left unfilled, he said.

The U.S. military personnel will also help build additional Ebola treatment units in affected areas and recruit and organize medical personnel to staff them. Some of the facilities they help build will be used to train up to 500 healthcare providers a week who will directly deliver care to infected patients.

The United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will also deploy 65 officers to Liberia -- including administrators, clinicians and support staff -- to manage and staff a previously announced Department of Defense hospital to care for stricken health care workers, the statement said.

The president has called the Ebola outbreak a national security priority. He will outline the new steps to address the crisis during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

As of Tuesday, there were 4,985 probable, confirmed and suspected cases in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with 2,461 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The countries affected are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. It has been called the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

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WATCH: Mob Turn Ukrainian Lawmaker into Piece of Trash


iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- An angry mob tossed a Ukrainian lawmaker into a dumpster outside the parliament building in Kiev Tuesday, taunting him and shouting obscenities.

As police looked on, the protesters flipped pro-Russian Vitaly Zhuravsky into the trash bin, then held him down and threw a car tire and water onto him before he was finally able to escape.

Zhuravsky is a prominent former member of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.

The incident took place before a set of controversial votes Tuesday. The first granted greater autonomy to two breakaway regions in east Ukraine that have been home to intense fighting by Russian-backed rebels.

Fighters who have not committed war crimes were also granted amnesty. The move was a concession to Russia, but also intended to reinforce a fragile cease-fire.

Another vote ratified a trade association agreement with the European Union. That deal had been shelved by Yanukovich last year after pressure from the Kremlin.

The move backfired, however, leading to street protests that ultimately forced Yanukovich to flee the country in February.

 

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Eight Scottish Things Britain May Be Sad to Lose


iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Scotland might soon be an independent country.

Scots are voting Thursday on whether to secede from the United Kingdom, a decision that would grant Scotland independence but separate it from the rest of Great Britain, which also includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If that happens, Britain will no longer be able to claim great Scottish actors, foods and landmarks as its own.

Here's what the British may miss the most if it loses Scotland:

1. Scotch

Scotch, by definition, only comes from one place: Scotland.

2. Sean Connery

Perhaps Scotland's most well-known Hollywood star, Sean Connery is also the original James Bond. He played Agent 007 in the first five Bond films and also in two later movies. Connery has also made it clear he's pro-Scottish independence and supports "the core democratic value that the people of Scotland are the best guardians of their own future."

However, the U.K. does have its own James Bond connection -- Roger Moore and Daniel Craig are both from England.

3. Susan Boyle

The Scottish singing sensation doesn't want to part ways with the U.K., telling the Scottish Sun newspaper that "we have still been able to retain our proud identity whilst being a part of Britain."

No word on whether they'll revoke her title as Britain's Got Talent winner if Scotland secedes.

4. Edinburgh Castle

Brits will no longer be able to point out the Edinburgh Castle as one of its most impressive sights if Scotland becomes independent. The historic castle is a famous tourist attraction in Edinburgh.

5. Haggis

Haggis is a traditional Scottish meal made of minced sheep's liver, lungs and heart mixed with oatmeal and encased in the animal's stomach lining.

6. Gerard Butler

Another famous Scottish actor, Gerard Butler isn't so sure about Scottish independence.

"I used to be totally pro-independence, I was massively in favor of it, but no my feeling is that we should be about coming together rather than separating ourselves," Butler told a Scottish publication in May.

7. Braveheart

This isn't the first time Scotland has fought for independence, as anyone who has seen Mel Gibson's 1995 blockbuster knows.

8. Loch Ness Monster

The mysterious lake creature comes from the Scottish Highlands, and some people are even questioning whether the monster has been making an appearance to voice its opinion on the independence vote.

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Pope Rejects Extra Security on Trip Despite Potential ISIS Threat


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis will have no additional security when he travels to the predominantly Muslim country of Albania this week, despite reports that the pontiff is a target for ISIS terrorists.

The pope will use the same open-topped Jeep he uses at the Vatican during his single-day trip Sunday, a spokesman confirmed Monday.

“There is no reason to change the pope’s itinerary,” the Rev. Frederico Lombardi said in a briefing Monday, explaining that there were no specific threats or concerns. “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”

The pope, 77, will use the open-topped vehicle because he prefers to be unhindered, Lombardi said.

Recent unsourced Italian media reports claim the pope is a target for ISIS terrorists.

Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See has also publicly expressed concerns.

"The Pope is indeed a target,” Habeeb Al Sadr told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero late last week. "We know very well how these terrorists think…I would not exclude that ISIS would arrive to strike him.”

Pope Francis told reporters last month the world would be justified in using force to stop ISIS aggression.

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Scotland Independence Vote Raises Specter of Ununited Kingdom


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Of all the many crises this summer -- from ISIS, to Ukraine, Ebola to Libya -- who'd have thought jolly old England would be on that list?

Technically, it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But for how much longer? On Thursday, after 307 years, Scotland may vote for independence and with it, potentially change the world order that has lasted since the end of the Second World War. Decisions taken across the highlands and lowlands of Scotland will echo far beyond the shores of a disunited kingdom.

Fifty years ago, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared that Britain had "lost an empire but not yet found a role." He may have been premature. During two decades of war -- in Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and elsewhere, Britain chose the role as America's "ally-in-chief." British and U.S. troops fought and died together, from Basra to Helmand and beyond. Half a century after he dismissed “Great” Britain, on Sept. 18, the Britain Acheson spoke of, may cease to exist.

A Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would continue. But Britain would be partitioned -- not for the first time. In 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall, stretching 75 miles to keep “barbarians” of Scotland out of England. Two millennia on, a vote for independence would consign Great Britain to the same history books as Hadrian. The implications would be profound -- not just for the rump of the United Kingdom, but for the United States and the Western Alliance.

While Scotland makes up just 8 percent of the U.K. population -- its GDP of $235 million puts it just behind Connecticut ($240 million) -- it is also home to the 58 Trident nuclear missiles leased by Britain from the United States and the four nuclear submarines that carry them.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond -- the man who has led the march to independence -- has promised to remove the missiles and the submarines from their current base on the west coast of Scotland during the first term of parliament following independence. The consequences for Britain and NATO would be grave. No other port in the U.K. is equipped to house the missiles, raising the potential prospect of Britain’s “independent” nuclear deterrent being based in France, or at the U.S. naval base at King’s Bay in Georgia, home to America’s own Trident submarines.

And then there’s the flag. The Union Jack is made up of the flags of the U.K.’s constituent parts -- the red St. George’s Cross for England, the red diagonal Irish cross of St Patrick, and Scotland’s blue white and blue Saltire. Officially, it’s even called the Union Flag -- so without a Union, what to do? It’s not just the UK that will need a rethink. Four other countries also have the Union Jack in their flag (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tuvalu) as well as Britain’s overseas territories like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Even the state of Hawaii has the Union Jack in its design, as do the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.

Next year the United Nations marks its 70th birthday. Across seven decades -- for all of Acheson’s doubts -- the U.K. has been one of just five “great powers” to be permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, alongside the United States, Russia, China and France. But there are many who covet Britain’s UN chair. India and Brazil have been pushing for Security Council reform. This week, even the former British Prime Minister, Sir John Major, warned that should Scotland vote for independence, the U.K.’s place as a member of the permanent five of the United Nations “would no longer be viable.” Others warn that it could lose its place in the G7 group of Nations. The IMF ranks the U.K. as the world’s sixth biggest economy. Without Scotland, the U.K. would be overtaken by Brazil.

Many of Britain’s nearest neighbors are also watching closely. The European Union says an independent Scotland would leave the E.U. and need to reapply for membership. Each of the E.U.’s 28 member nations has a veto on new members. Many have their own separatist movements. Spain would be unlikely to encourage Scottish independence for fear that Catalonia might be next.

While warning of the risks to the U.K.’s place in the UN, former Prime Minister Major also warns independence would enhance the risk of Britain’s exit from the E.U. As if one in/out referendum isn’t enough, David Cameron has promised another -- in 2017 -- on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. But that would follow Scotland’s exit. And with more voters in Scotland pro-E.U. than in the rest of the U.K., those fighting to keep Britain in Europe fear it could tip the balance towards the rump of the U.K. leaving the E.U. -- the United States’ largest trading partner.

Five million Americans can claim Scottish ancestry, almost as many people as live in Scotland today. This time next year -- on Sept. 11, 2015 -- Queen Elizabeth will become Britain’s longest reigning monarch, passing Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days, an anniversary she will spend at Balmoral, the Scottish Castle where she is said to feel most at home. Through her mother, the Queen is a direct descendant of the legendary Scottish warrior Robert the Bruce. It would be a bitter irony if it was Britain’s most Scottish monarch ever who presided over the break-up of her United Kingdom.

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Three Foreign Troops Killed in Suicide Attack in Afghanistan


File photo. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images(Kabul, Afghanistan) -- Three foreign troops were killed Tuesday in a suicide attack near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, authorities said, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack.

The Afghan interior ministry said 16 civilians were also injured in the morning rush-hour attack.

The attacker targeted a foreign forces convoy.

The blast shook Kabul's busy airport road, bringing chaos to a beautiful morning and leaving the roadway covered in leaves, shrapnel and debris. Thick smoke rose from the site of the attack.

International Security Assistance Force members were among the victims, the ISAF confirmed. The identities of the victims have not been released, though a U.S. official confirms that two of the three were Americans and the third was Polish.

American forces stood guard following the attack, cordoning off the area and inspecting the damage.

Afghan and ISAF officials are reviewing the incident.

Three ISAF personnel were killed in a bomb attack in Kabul today.  A US official confirms that two of the three were Americans and that the third was Polish.  They died in a suicide bomber attack near a passing coalition convoy.

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Nobel Peace Laureates Urge South Africa to Give Dalai Lama a Visa


Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fourteen Nobel Peace Laureates sent a letter to South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday, urging him to guarantee an unconditional visa to allow the Dalai Lama into the country next month.

The letter notes that the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates will be held in Cape Town, South Africa on October 13 to 15. According to the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, Pope Francis was rejected a visa, and the Dalai Lama withdrew his application for a visa for the same event after being told it would not be approved.

The letter cited an understanding of "the sensitivities involved," but noted that the upcoming summit will be dedicated to the memory of former South African President Nelson Mandela and that the Dalai Lama holds no political office. The summit will be held on the African continent for the first time, and the laureates argue that the Dalai Lama's attendance would, "provide a platform to showcase Africa's continuing efforts to promote peace and stability throughout the continent."

The letter is signed by Nobel Peace Laureates from years between 1976 and 2011, including Amnesty International, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and former member of the United Kingdom's parliament John Hume.

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NASA Asteroid Detection Program Not Meeting Goals


ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) -- According to NASA's Inspector General Paul Martin, the space agency is failing to adequately detect meteors heading towards Earth.

While most of the objects that approach the planet burn up before reaching the surface, detection of near-Earth objects is important to prevent incidents such as that in Chelyabinsk, Russia last year, where an 18-meter meteor exploded, damaging buildings and injuring over 1,000 people.

In 2005, Congress gave NASA the task of building a program that could track upwards of 90 percent of near-Earth objects over 140 meters in diameter by 2020. A review conducted by the Office of the Inspector General found that NASA has currently identified only 10 percent of all asteroids that size or larger.

Martin's review also stated that the agency will likely fail to meet the 2020 deadline.

The review points a finger at limited personnel and resources, insufficient NASA oversight on grants and task orders, and a lack of formal agreements with partners to help accomplish the NEO program goals.

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US Airstrike Targets ISIS Fighters Near Baghdad


Hope Milam/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD, Iraq) --  There was a U.S. airstrike southwest of Baghdad Monday, a new area of operations for U.S. fighter aircraft, ABC News has learned.

But this isn't an indicator of expanded airstrikes in Iraq, a U.S. official told ABC News.

A request was received from the Iraqis to provide air support for an Iraqi unit that was engaged in a firefight with fighters with the Islamic militant group ISIS, the official said. Six ISIS-owned vehicles were destroyed in the strike.

An aircraft was redirected and conducted a strike to support the Iraqi ground troops, the official said.

The total number of U.S. strikes conducted in Iraq has now reached 162.

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'Everyday Taxi Driver' Is Latest Threatened with ISIS Death


iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Alan Henning, the latest hostage threatened with death by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is neither a journalist nor a professional aid worker. The 47-year-old is a taxi driver from northwest England whom friends describe as a “big man with a big heart,” according to The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

"He is the nicest of nice guys who has done so much to help other people,” fellow taxi driver Kasim Jameel told the newspaper. “He is just a normal bloke, an everyday taxi driver who wanted to do good. We are thinking about him all the time and praying that he will be allowed home to his family."

Henning reportedly left his wife of 23 years, Barbara, 45, and two teenage children at home in Salford, Greater Manchester, last Christmastime to join Jameel and a group of Muslim friends in making what British newspaper The Bolton News described as a 20-vehicle, 4,000-mile journey to Syria to deliver medical supplies to refugees caught up in the country’s civil war. Masked gunmen reportedly stopped the convoy after it crossed the Turkish border on Dec. 26 and targeted Henning, separating him from the group.

"He was taking over old ambulances, just helping out as much as he could,” a close friend told the Telegraph newspaper. "There were a few of them that went out with him. They were just a group of mates that started it all off. They were supposed to be over there for about six months, but he was kidnapped just a few days after he left."

Henning was identified as the next ISIS victim at the end of the beheading video of British aid worker David Haines released Saturday.

He had reportedly previously traveled to Syria as part of two similar humanitarian aid convoys organized by the small, informal volunteer group Aid 4 Syria and the UK Arab Society. BBC journalist Catrin Nye met Henning while making a documentary about such convoys to Syria and told the Guardian how the first trip to Syria moved Henning to do more.

"It had been a life-changing experience," Nye said. "He had handed out the goods. He described holding the children ... and how that really affected him. He told me he had to go back."

Henning even permanently inked his commitment to the cause, as convoy organizer Jameel told The Bolton News: “He loved the cause so much that when he went on holiday with his family, he had a big tattoo across his arm, saying, ‘aid for Syria.’ He was that dedicated.”

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Iran Claims It Rejected US Offer on ISIS


leader.ir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran's supreme leader says his country would never help the U.S. take on ISIS.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted on Monday that the U.S. asked Iran for its cooperation in the fight against the militant group.

"I rejected US offer to #Iran abt #ISIS because US has corrupted its hands in this issue," he tweeted.

The State Department admitted the U.S. did approach Iran about taking on ISIS "on the margins" of talks over Iran's nuclear program. While officials maintain military coordination is off the table, they hope to restart talks with Iran soon.

The Ayatollah told reporters the U.S. has "dirty intentions" in Iraq and Syria, and Iran would never take part. 

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Oscar Pistorius Can Still Be an Olympian Despite Homicide Conviction


Jemal Countess/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of culpable homicide after a marathon trial, is still eligible to represent South Africa in the Olympics and the paralympics, officials from both sports bodies have ruled.

The only catch may be whether Pistorius is in prison at the time of the competitions, they said.

Pistorius, 27, has won six gold medals in three Paralympic Games. The next games would be held in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pistorius was such a powerful runner on his prosthetics that he was dubbed the Blade Runner and won the right to compete in the regular Olympics as well.

He was convicted earlier this month for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2012 and a sentencing hearing will begin on Oct. 13. His sentence possibilities range from a maximum of 15 years to a fine and a suspended sentence.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said the conviction will not prevent Pistorius from competing.

"Dependent on the verdict delivered by the judge in South Africa, if Pistorius is found guilty of cuplable homicide, once he has served that sentence he would be free to compete at IPC events," IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said Friday prior to the verdict.

Pistorius is not looking ahead to racing yet, his spokeswoman told ABC News.

"There is absolutely no talk about competing at this stage. It would be premature and inappropriate to talk about, or even think about, returning to the track, until the sentencing is behind us," spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said.

An aide said Pistorius is only training at a gym at the moment and has not spent any time on the track since his trial started in March.

In another blow for the man dubbed the Blade Runner, the world's largest athletic shoe and apparel maker, Nike, terminated its endorsement contract with Pistorius after suspending it in February last year.

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Hurricane Turns Mexico Honeymoon into Nightmare for Family


Courtesy Hess family(SEATTLE) -- A Seattle-area couple expecting their first child had just arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to celebrate their honeymoon when Hurricane Odile struck, wreaking havoc on the resort area and their vacation, their family said.

Siegfried Hess told ABC News that his son, Stephen Hess, and his newlywed wife, Julie, landed Saturday night at Los Cabos International Airport and arrived at the Cabo Villas Beach resort, where they planned to stay for a week. But only a day into their romantic trip, the storm walloped the coast, and Siegfried Hess hadn't been able to reach his son until Monday.

"I feel very relieved, and my wife, of course, is so emotional," Hess said. "Having heard his voice and talked to him. ...Of course, you can only talk for ten seconds and the line shuts off."

The hurricane damaged phone lines and cellphone service is spotty. Odile, a Category 3 hurricane, slammed the southern Baja California peninsula overnight, flipping cars, downing trees and breaking windows.

Stephen and Julie Hess married last weekend and this trip is Stephen's first time out of the country, his sister said. Their daughter is due in November.

"They sustained damage, of course, but they have plenty of food and water," Siegfried Hess said.

He's glad the couple is safe, but furious that they were put in danger in the first place.

The airlines shouldn't have let people land in Mexico if they knew a storm was coming, Hess said.

"I'm not a storm-tracker. I depend on airlines or the resorts or somebody to contact us and let us know that something of this magnitude is on its way to Cabo," he said. "They put my family in the eye of the storm."

Alaska Airlines did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Many vacations were ruined when Odile struck the Mexican coast, forcing travelers to hunker down on air mattresses or cots in shelters and designated safe areas of hotels.

Sarah McKinney of Bentonville, Arkansas, live-tweeted the storm, posting updates about the deafening noise from the wind, and water seeping into her hotel room, forcing her and her 4-month-old daughter to seek shelter in the bathtub.

Other vacations were ruined before they started. Valerie Cos of Maryland was supposed to leave for Cabo Tuesday morning, but her flight was canceled. On the flip side, some travelers escaped the storm just in time -- like Alexander Harris of Atlanta, who said he was on the last flight out of Los Cabos International Airport.

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