-CRACKDOWN IN HOMS…There has been “constant shelling” and artillery fire today in Homs. The BBC’s Paul WOOD – traveling with the Free Syria Army – reports from the city with fighting audible in the background. There are reports a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas were targeted, killing at least 17 people in the third day of a new assault on the epicenter of the country’s uprising. “We did not sleep all night,” Majd Amer, an activist in Homs, said by telephone. Activists said Saturday’s shelling was the deadliest incident of the uprising, killing more than 200 people in a single day. The regime denied any bombardment, and there was no way to independently confirm the toll. From WOOD in Homs: After dawn mortars fell every 30 seconds, and then heavier artillery, reportedly from multiple rocket launch systems. The Free Syrian Army are responding with (futile) small arms fire. There are reports that government infantry are moving closer to one part of the city…raising fears of a ground offensive. More broadly – inside and outside Syria – there is fear that the diplomatic failure at the UN means the regime thinks it can now act without restraint.
-U.S. DIPLOMATS OUT?…Per Kirit RADIA, the United States has removed all its diplomats from Syria and will suspend operations at the U.S. embassy.
AMERICANS TO BE TRIED…Despite warnings from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, Egypt has decided to bring charges against 19 Americans as part of a crackdown on outside non-profit groups. Alex MARQUARDT reports that charges have been filed in Cairo’s criminal court, according to the semi-official Al Ahram newspaper. Overall 43 are charged with receiving “illegitimate foreign funding” and operating without a license from the Egyptian government (which they did for years under Mubarak – IRI since 2005, for example, they just made sure not to cross any lines). They come from five groups: NDI, IRI, Freedom House, Konrad Adenaur, and International Center For Journalists – 19 Americans, 13 Egyptians, 2 Germans, 2 Lebanese, 4 Serbs, 2 Norwegians and 1 Palestinian. They have not been arrested, no warrants for arrest but they are banned from leaving the country. To our knowledge, there are still three Americans at the embassy, Sam LaHood is believed to be one of them but that is not confirmed.
-U.S. AID AT RISK?…The U.S. remains Egypt’s most generous benefactor in terms of foreign aid money; that’s likely to get cut back if this issue isn’t resolved amicably. As Christiane AMANPOUR notes, the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States said he was caught by surprise by the move against the Americans. He says the government has been focused on the current unrest, but will work to “asses the options” to resolve this.
-ISRAEL + IRAN…From Alex MARQUARDT in Jerusalem: There is a new commander of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, the man who would carry out any strike against Iran. He beat out Netanyahu’s choice and is seen as a level-headed, frank and admired voice in the military staff. His views on Iran are not well-known but he considered less of a hawk than Netanyahu and his crew – but by no means dovish. Meanwhile, newspaper Maariv reports that Netanyahu issued an order to “Stop blabbering already.” This comes after numerous high-level officials last week ratcheted up the tension with Iran. “The chit chat causes huge damages, puts Israel on the front line and damages the sanctions,” Netanyahu is reported to have said.
-OIL THREAT NOT REAL?…The Financial Times reports Iran’s threat to cut oil supplies to European states may only be symbolic. Analysts believe Iran won’t cut supply to European countries – because they are the only customers who pay in US dollars and Euros without any problems.
-IRAN NAVY RESCUES TANKER FROM PIRATES…Iran’s state TV reports the country’s navy has opened fire on pirates to foil an attack on an Iranian oil tanker near the Gulf of Aden. Reports say the pirate boats fled after the Iranian forces opened fire, no casualties were reported.
-”SIMPSONS” DOLLS GET THE BOOT…Dolls based on “The Simpsons” have been added to the list of Iran’s banned toys. The report by the independent Shargh Daily did not specify why the Simpsons made the blacklist.
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Troubling developments at the Fukushima plant. TEPCO reports temperatures inside reactor 2 have risen nearly 50 degrees, in just over a week. It was 115F on January 27th; now it’s nearly 164 degrees. What’s causing the temperatures to rise? There is speculation that a nuclear fission may be occurring. Translation – the fuel may be melting again. TEPCO says they made “plumbing changes,” and there is a chance there is not a sufficient amount of water getting to the melted fuel, to keep it cooled. They have been injecting an additional 1 ton of water per hour since early Monday morning, but the temperatures have not gone down. NHK sites a nuclear expert – who says if the temperatures continue to rise, radioactive substances will once again, be released from the reactors. The government and TEPCO insists, the latest developments do not change the “cold shutdown declaration.” Fujita traveled back to the area this weekend.
AFGHAN WAR: AN OFFICER’S SCATHING CRITIQUE
Over the weekend, a new report showed the increasing cost of the Afghan war on civilians. Today, the New York Times writes about Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, an active duty officer and one-man anti-war campaign. As Nick SCHIFRIN notes, Davis’ essay in The Armed Forces Journal is an extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented indictment of the Afghan war by an active-duty officer. Davis is particularly critical about how the military is portraying the war in public.
IRAQ WAR: OBAMA’S DINNER TO MARK WAR’S END
USA Today reports the Obama administration has chosen to mark the end of the Iraq War with a state-dinner-esque event later this month. The intent is for those invited to represent the 1.5 million who fought in the war. The black-tie event is to be called “A Nation’s Gratitude”.
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S GRANDMA ASSURES FRIENDS SHE IS OKAY AFTER CAR ACCIDENT
Bazi KANANI reports from Nairobi: President Barack Obama’s grandmother, Sarah Obama, is home recovering from an accident that, judging by the condition of the vehicle, could have been much worse. “God is with me, because if you could have seen the wreckage that we came out of safe, one would wonder,” said Sarah Obama today. Police in the town of Kisumu say the 87-year-old was traveling to her home Saturday night when the driver lost control, and the vehicle rolled into a ditch. All five people in the car, including her two bodyguards, were taken to a hospital for treatment and released with minor injuries. A hospital spokesperson says Sarah Obama was bruised and in shock when she arrived at the hospital. “You can see I was not injured save for this small scar on my right hand and I am not even using a walking stick,” Obama said. She said friends from as far away as the U.S. and the Middle East have been calling to check on her, but she assures them, “Hakuna tabu!” That means ‘no problem’ in Swahili. Kenya’s Nation Television has video of the wrecked car and the road where the accident occurred.
A PALESTINIAN UNITY GOVERNMENT
The two rival Palestinian camps have agreed that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will head an interim unity government that is to lead them to elections. The announcement was made jointly Monday by the Western-backed Abbas and Khaled Mashaal, chief of the Islamic militant group Hamas. It marked a major step forward in the rivals’ attempt to reconcile, after more than four years of separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
MEXICO’S FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The National Action Party chose Josefina Vazquez Mota as its presidential candidate over the weekend, marking the first time a woman has been chosen. Reuters reported that Vazquez Mota’s victory over Cordero is an upset for party bosses who often have the final say in choosing candidates. She faces an uphill climb against former Mexico State Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, the front-runner in the polls who could return Mexico’s PRI to power after a 12-year hiatus.
6.8 EARTHQUAKE STRIKES THE PHILIPPINES
A 6.8 earthquake in the central Philippines killed at least 13 people early Monday, and destroyed buildings and triggered landslides that buried dozens of houses, trapping residents. At least 29 people were missing.
QUEEN CELEBRATES DIAMOND JUBILEE
Queen Elizabeth marks the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne today. Nick WATT reports that in a message of thanks to the public, the 85-year-old monarch says she has been “deeply moved” by messages of support she and the Duke of Edinburgh have received. The Telegraph reports the Queen will spend today visiting a school in King’s Lynn, Norfolk and watching a short play, written and performed in her honor, about the changes the country has seen during her reign. She will then spend the afternoon with Prince Philip at Sandringham.
RETRIAL IN SWEDEN AFTER JUDGE FALLS ASLEEP
A retrial has been ordered for an appeals court case in Gothenburg, Sweden, after the presiding judge fell asleep during proceedings, lawyers said. The judge, whose name was not reported, maintains he did not fall asleep during the trial but has nonetheless agreed to no longer preside over the case, Swedish news agency TT reported this weekend.