-CRACKDOWN NEAR DAMASCUS…Alex MARQUARDT reports that Syrian troops have stormed rebellious areas near the capital, shelling neighborhoods that have fallen under the control of army dissidents and clashing with fighters. A diplomatic source in Damascus tells Alex it’s not clear who’s winning…In Damascus they’re seeing army reinforcements crossing the city to the east. Government has decided to end everything no matter the cost. There are reports that Syrian troops have regained control of parts of eastern Damascus after a heavy bombardment and a large deployment of troops and tanks launched yesterday. At least 62 people were killed over the weekend. The larger Sunday offensive near the capital suggested the regime is worried that military defectors could close in on Damascus, which has remained relatively quiet during the ten-month-long uprising.
-SHELLING VIDEO…This video purportedly shows the shelling of a suburb of Homs today
-CIVIL WAR?…The Economist writes that the situation on the outskirts of Damascus is beginning to look a lot like civil war… and the Washington Post notes that with a wave of new defections, the government looks weaker than anytime during the past 10 months.
-THE DIPLOMACY…The expectation was that a vote would be held at the U.N. Security Council this week on a resolution adopting the Arab League’s proposal that President Assad hands power to his deputy ahead of the formation of a unity government and elections. Russia has said it will stand by its ally and veto any resolution that calls for regime change (such as the Arab League proposal). The question is whether Moscow will rethink its position as it becomes increasingly isolated. The AP reports that the British and French foreign ministers say they are heading to New York for U.N. talks scheduled for Tuesday – and Hillary Clinton is headed there as well.
HOSTAGE HEADED HOME
From Luis MARTINEZ: Defense Official confirms that former Somali hostage Jessica Buchanan is headed back to the US from Sigonella. Official says that Buchanan is flying via commercial air to Pennsylvania.
IAEA OFFICIALS BEGIN IRAN INSPECTION
Iran’s foreign minister has expressed optimism that a visit by U.N. inspectors to Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce a new understanding, despite global concerns that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. The three-day inspection tour by the International Atomic Energy Agency team comes during spiking tension.
US EMBASSY IN CAIRO SHELTERS AMERICAN NGO WORKERS
The Washington Post reports that the American Embassy in Cairo on Sunday took the highly unusual step of sheltering U.S. citizens employed by nongovernmental organizations amid fears that they could be detained as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy groups, according to U.S. officials and a former NGO official. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes that a group of senior Egyptian generals landed in Washington yesterday to try to smooth things over with Washington as tensions over raids and travel bans threaten US Aid funds.
US DRONES PROVOKE OUTRAGE IN IRAQ
The military may be gone – but the drones remain. The New York Times reports that a month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. Some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.
PAKISTANI DOCTOR WHO PROVIDED INTEL FOR BIN LADEN RAID MAY BE TRIED
After U.S Defense Secretary Panetta told CBS’ 60 Minutes about the key role played by a Pakistani doctor in tracking Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s high court announced it may put the doctor on trial for high treason. “At this stage, the decision hasn’t been taken to try the doctor,” said a senior official. Dr. Shakeel Afridi helped the CIA use a vaccination campaign to collect DNA samples from residents of the compound in the city of Abbottabad to verify the terror leader’s presence there ahead of the May raid. In October, a commission recommended treason charges be filed.
COSTA CONCORDIA: IT MAY TAKE 7-10 MONTHS TO MOVE THE SHIP
Phoebe NATANSON reports from Rome that a contained explosion was carried out on Deck 5 of the Costa Concordia wreck as rescuers considered whether to resume the search this morning. Bad weather has hampered the search and delayed the fuel transfer operation as well. The Prefect in charge of coordinating the emergency operations, Franco Gabrielli, told Italian media it will take “from 7 to 10 months” to remove the ship from the Port of Giglio. Island inhabitants are concerned about what this large hunk of metal means for the environment, for the summer holiday season and the future of their port.
-KEY SUMMIT…The eurozone crisis will dominate an EU summit today, with an emphasis on growth and “smart” budget discipline. The EU is now home to 23 million unemployed people and there are fears that wide-ranging budget cuts will harm enterprise and training.
-EUROCRISIS IN THE U.S….Do we feel it at home? Five large American banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, have more than $80 billion of exposure to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, the most economically stressed nations in the euro currency zone, according to a New York Times’ analysis of the banks’ financial disclosures. Interestingly, by using credit-default swaps, the five banks have cut their theoretical exposure to the troubled countries by $30 billion, to $50 billion.
Trains and public transport are paralyzed across Belgium during a day of nationwide strikes to protest austerity measures that have in part been imposed through European Union pressure.
NELSON MANDELA LOSES LAST SURVIVING SIBLING
From Bazi KANANI: South Africans are sending their condolences to Nelson Mandela today after the death of his youngest sister was announced. 81-year-old Nokuthamba Mandela died Saturday, the last of his 31 surviving siblings. Her death came the day before Mandela left his house in Qunu village for his home in Johannesburg. The government says the move is due to necessary renovations on the Qunu house. South Africa’s Times Live quotes a source who said the changes to the home are to help meet the 93-year-old’s health needs and are expected to be completed in about two months. No changes in his condition have been reported recently, and the government insists he is in good health.
STRONG QUAKE HITS PERU
A strong earthquake shook coastal Peru early Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. No tsunami warning was issued and no major damage was reported. Hotels in the area reported brief power outages, and nearly 70 people sustained minor injuries according to local reports. Last October, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the same region, leveling dozens of buildings and leaving many homeless.
JAPAN’S POPULATION CRISIS
Akiko FUJITA reports that Japan’s population will shrink by a staggering 30% by 2060, according to a new estimate by the country’s government. The population will shrink from the current level of 128 million to 86.74 million, as the graying nation’s aging accelerates and the birthrate continues to stay low. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s research organization released the data on Monday.
PARASITIC TWIN TO BE REMOVED
Doctors in Peru have found a “parasitic twin” in the stomach of a 3-year-old boy, and plan to surgically remove the tissue Monday. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the medical team at Las Mercedes Hospital in the northern port of Chiclayo says the condition occurs in about one of every 500,000 live births. He says the partially formed fetus weighs a pound and a half (700 grams) and is nine inches long.
Alex MARQUARDT reports that researchers found prostate cancer in a 2,200 year-old Egyptian mummy, indicating the disease is caused by genetics and not the environment, they say. “Living conditions in ancient times were very different; there were no pollutants or modified foods, which leads us to believe that the disease is not necessarily only linked to industrial factors,” American University of Cairo professor Salima Ikram told the AP.
AFGHAN IMMIGRANTS SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR HONOR KILLINGS
CTV reports that on Sunday, three Afghan immigrants, Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, were each found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the Shafias’ three daughters and the older man’s first wife. Perpetrators of honor killings do so under the mistaken belief that their actions will restore respect for their family in their community.
FORGET STOCKS – CHINESE TURN BULLISH ON BOOZE AND CATERPILLAR FUNGUS
With Chinese stocks falling, real-estate markets flat and bank deposits offering measly returns, the Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese investors have been looking for help in strange places. Besides traditional medicinal products, they are plowing money into art-based stock markets, homegrown liquors, mahogany furniture and jade, among other decidedly non-Western asset classes.
THE “FOLD-UP CAR”!
A tiny revolutionary fold-up car designed in Spain’s Basque country as the answer to urban stress and pollution has been unveiled. The “Hiriko,” the Basque word for “urban,” is an electric two-seater with no doors whose motor is located in the wheels and which folds up like a child’s collapsible buggy, or stroller, for easy parking. Dreamed up by Boston’s MIT-Media lab, the concept was developed by a consortium of seven small Basque firms under the name Hiriko Driving Mobility, with a prototype unveiled by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.