-HELL IN HOMS…Day 6. And it looks like hell. The deadly shelling of Bab Amr, Homs resumed before dawn this morning. According to activists - today is shaping up to be the most intense day yet. Some reports put the death toll today at 105 - higher than at this time yesterday.
-THE VOICES…The eyewitness reports continue to come in. "The situation is dire. We are short of food, water and medical aid. Doctors have collapsed after treating the wounded without rest for five days," one Homs resident, Omar Shaker told BBC. Another dispatch from local activist Danny Abdul Dayem showed piles of bodies as explosions rang out overhead. Dayem asks: "Where is the UN?" Molly HUNTER flags one of the most compelling videos yet - a Dr. Mohammad stands above five young girls, bloodied in a makeshift field clinic, outraged that the world is watching the massacre. The uploader has provided us with consistent, similar footage in recent days, purporting to be from Bab Amr. One of the most compelling videos yet - Dr. Mohammad stands above five young girls, bloodied in a makeshift field clinic, outraged that the world is watching the massacre. The uploader has provided us with consistent, similar footage in recent days, purporting to be from Bab Amr. We have seen multiple videos from Dr. Mohammad - here's another. "This man is dying, we are treating him in a mosque… Where is the world?" he asks. A freelance photographer in Bab Amr has published powerful photos from inside. And the BBC's Paul WOOD has managed to get out - he's in Beirut.
-DOCTORS TARGETED… Doctors Without Borders says the Assad regime is pursing the wounded and the doctors who treat them. Many of the wounded won't even go to the hospital for fear of being arrested or tortured. If they do, they often check in under a false name to hide their identity. Doctors are providing false diagnoses to help patients elude security forces, which search for patients with wounds consistent with those sustained in protests and demonstrations.
-FROM THE U.N….Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the head of the Arab League plans to send observers back into Syria, raising the possibility of a joint mission with the United Nations. Ki-moon called the violence in Syria "disastrous." He criticized the world for failing to stop the Syrian government from attacking its people, asking: "How many deaths will it take to stop the slide into civil war and civilian strife?" And he claimed that last week's failed UN Resolution had emboldened the regime and encouraged its deadly attacks in Homs.
-CALLS TO BOYCOTT RUSSIAN & CHINA GOODS…Dada JOVANOVIC reports a Facebook campaign is underway urging people living in Arab countries to boycott goods from China and Russia - to protest those countries' veto votes at the UN.
IRAN THREAT ASSESSMENT: U.S. + ISRAEL DIVIDED
Amid mounting tensions over whether Israel will carry out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, The NYTimes reports the U.S. and Israel remain at odds over a fundamental question: whether Iran's nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable. Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, coined the phrase "zone of immunity" to define the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran's effort to produce a bomb would be invulnerable to any strike. But judging when that moment will arrive has set off an intense debate with the Obama administration, whose officials counter that there are other ways to make Iran vulnerable.
LIBYA: "FREEDOM IS A PROBLEM"
That may be the quote of the day. It's from Anthony Shadid's take on the post-revolutionary mess in Libya. "The country that witnessed the Arab world's most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that 'freedom is a problem.'"
EGYPT "WON'T BACK DOWN" ON NGO WORKERS
Alex MARQUARDT reports: Egypt "won't back down or take a different route because of some aid or other," a defiant Egyptian PM Kamal el-Ganzouri says, Wednesday regarding the prosecution of the NGO workers. The two investigating judges presented their evidence in a press conference Wednesday, saying it was clear the groups were politically motivated. "Cash in millions was seized along with bank drafts, cheques, counterfoils and ATM cards. Their activities include training of political parties, rallying for certain candidates, and soliciting votes", said Judge Sameh Abu-Zeid. Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey is due in Cairo this week to meet with top Egyptian military officials, the recipients of $1.3 billion annually in military aid. No doubt this issue will come up.
DAMNING RIGHTS REPORT ON IRAQ
Human Rights Watch says Iraqi authorities have executed at least 65 people in the first 40 days of 2012 for various offenses, including 14 in a single day. An HRW report said Thursday that a justice official informed them 14 people were executed the day before, and that more executions should be expected.
APPLE PROTESTS WORLDWIDE
In response to a spate of suicides at Chinese plants that assemble Apple's products and other reported abuses, Apple customers plan to deliver more than a quarter million petition signatures today to Apple stores in Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore.
CHINESE OFFICIAL PLACED ON LEAVE AMID RUMORS HE TRIED TO DEFECT TO THE U.S.
Karson YIU and The Washington Post report that the deputy mayor of Chongqing, a major city in China's southwest, has taken a leave from his job amid rumors he tried to seek asylum at a U.S. consulate. Chongqing officials posted a short, cryptic message on a microblog Wednesday saying that Wang Lijun was "receiving a vacation-style treatment" for overwork and mental stress. Several other Chinese microblogs speculated that Wang, a former city police chief, had sought to defect and posted pictures purportedly showing police surrounding the U.S. consulate in nearby Chengdu on Tuesday night.
-ITALIAN PM AT THE WHITE HOUSE…Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti meets with President Obama at the White House today at 2:45pm ET. The White House says the two leaders will discuss the steps the Italian government is taking to restore market confidence in its fiscal viability and Italy's role in Afghanistan.
-EMERGENCY MEETING OF EUROPE'S FINANCE MINISTERS…The Eurozone's finance ministers are converging on Brussels to discuss the ongoing wrangling over Greece's latest bailout. Observers of this sort of thing say the fact that the finance ministers are meeting at 12p ET is an indication a deal may be close at hand in Greece.
From Dada JOVANOVIC in Belgrade: The worst winter conditions in decades continue to torment the Balkans, causing deaths, cutting power and blocking roads. Due to heavy snow and freezing temperatures all over the Balkans, most hydro-power plants are short of water, since many rivers are frozen. Apart from the snow and extreme cold, the hydro-power plants have had problems with power in the last few months since water stocks were already low. Electricity production is now relying mostly on thermo-power plants. Although these plants are still functioning, they are running short of coal, which is hard to deliver because deep snow has blocked many roads. Temperatures plunged this morning to a new low of minus 28C (minus 18F) in the central town of Smederevska Palanka and minus 27 Celsius in the Serbia's second city Novi Sad.
SOUTH AFRICA CONSIDERS BAN ON SALE OF ALCOHOL TO PREGNANT WOMEN
From Bazi KANANI: In a country with some of the highest rates in the world for alcohol consumption and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, lawmakers are considering banning retailers from selling alcohol to pregnant women. The Gauteng Liquor Bill would also apply to anyone wearing a school uniform or who is visibly drunk. Opponents say the law would be difficult to enforce - they ask how retailers are supposed to identify a pregnant woman in her first trimester without risking insult.
ROYAL WATCH: PRINCE HARRY TO RETURN TO THE FRONT LINES
Nick WATT reports from London that Prince Harry is set to return to military service - perhaps to Afghanistan, having qualified - top of his class - as an Apache attack helicopter co-pilot.
WHERE DO ZEBRA STRIPES COME FROM?
Excellent question, and as Molly HUNTER notes, we have an answer. Researchers in Hungary and Sweden have found that the stripes evolved to keep away blood-sucking flies. Apparently, flies find stripes "unattractive."
MONKEYS HOT TUBBING
It's freezing in Japan, but these Japanese snow monkeys stay toasty in the local hot springs.
VIDEO OF THE DAY (OR MONTH?)
Candace SMITH found this one. War games of sorts, at a zoo in Tokyo. Really weird.