-BATTLE FOR ALEPPO: UNESCO HERITAGE SITE THREATENED…Syrian rebels fought government troops and intelligence agents at the gates of Aleppo’s ancient Old City on Tuesday in a battle for control of Syria’s commercial hub, residents and opposition activists said. The ancient quarter is a UNESCO heritage site. A local businessman said fighting was raging around Bab al-Hadeed and Bab al-Nasr, two of several gates to the walled old quarter, a United Nations World Heritage site. A housewife said she heard heavy exchanges of gunfire from the area. “The rebels have moved to try and liberate downtown after taking over the neighborhoods of al-Sakhour, Masaken Hanano, Tariq al-Bab, al-Sheikh Najajr and al-Ard al-Hamra in the east and Saladin in the West,” opposition activist in Majed al-Nour told Reuters by phone from Aleppo. Rebel commander Mustapha Abdullah, who heads a unit called the Martyrs of Aleppo, said a lack of ammunition was becoming a problem for rebels joining the battle. “Rebels are coming from the countryside but they are running out of ammunition and arms,” he said. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were shelling the countryside north of Aleppo to disrupt rebel advances, he said.
-ASSAD’S NEW NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM…Syria has named General Ali Mamluk as the new head of its national security office in a shakeup of the security services after a bombing killed four top regime figures last week, a security source told AFP Tuesday. “General Ali Mamluk, who was head of state security, is becoming the head of the bureau of national security, with the rank of minister, overseeing the entire security apparatus,” the source said. “He will report directly to President Bashar al-Assad,” the source added. General Rustom Ghazali, the former director of military security in Damascus, has been named chief of political security, the source said, replacing Deeb Zaytun, who will take over Mamluk’s former post as head of state security.
-THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS THREAT…After the Syrian government confirmed suspicions that they do, in fact, have chemical weapons, Reuters flags comments by an Israeli official who believes the Syrian government is currently in full control of those weapons stockpiles. “The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize,” the official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio. But he added: “At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime.” Rebel fighters have said they have formed teams to take hold of and safeguard those stockpiles – and the U.S. has said it would work with allies to safeguard the weapons in the event of a chaotic dissolution of the Syrian regime.
-FUND FOR SYRIAN CIVILIANS…Saudi Arabia is holding a telethon to support the Syrian people. $32.5 million have been raised so far. Dubbed the ‘Saudi National Campaign for the Support of Brothers in Syria,’ the campaign was kicked off Monday night by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz – who made a sizeable donation of his own.
-1,200 MORE TROOPS…With three days to go, Rich ESPOSITO and Nick SCHIFRIN report this morning that while the private firm, G4S is increasing the number of guards for the Olympic Games, the British Government has added another 1,200 troops that were previously put on standby. To put this in context, Schifrin breaks down the numbers: the British army will now send almost double the number of troops to protect the Games as it does to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. A total of 17,700 troops will now help safeguard the Olympics, most of them working to guarantee venue security. Police were worried about whether G4S guards would turn up – and have enough training to spot terrorists and bombs, Schifrin adds.
-ROYALS AT THE OLYMPICS…The Times of London reports that Prince Harry will attend beach volleyball games, as well as six other events; Prince William will be cheering at eight events including equestrian and tennis, accompanied by Kate. And the Times adds that the Duchess will attend three events solo.
-WHERE TO STAY?…Still looking for a London room? The Daily Mail provides a few budget-friendly lodging options. One woman is offering up her garden shed for a bargain deal of £40 a night. (And it looks rather cozy.)
-THE BIG PICTURE…We’ve seen this movie before. Bailout funds aren’t enough; bond yields soar, and once-steady Eurozone economies start to look fragile. Now we’re hearing comments like this one: Italy will be new Spain – and Germany the new Italy. Fasten your seat belts.
-NOT-SO-MIGHTY GERMANY?…The ratings firm Moody’s Investors Service late Monday dimmed its outlook on Germany, the euro zone’s dominant economic power and political force, further exposing the currency bloc’s fragility on a day that also saw markets drop around the world on fears about Europe. Moody’s cited the huge potential cost of a euro breakup and, alternatively, the steep bill that would be paid to hold it together.
-THE PAIN IN SPAIN…Today Spain’s Treasury has successfully sold more than $3.6 billion in a short-term debt auction that saw investors demanding higher interest rates as concern continued over whether the country can manage its debt and evade a full-blown bailout.
HACKERGATE: CRIMINAL CHARGES
Prosecutors in London announced that criminal charges will be brought against eight people including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson in the newspaper phone hacking probe.
INTERNATIONAL AIDS CONFERENCE
-AT THE CONFERENCE…At the International AIDS Conference in Washington today, actress Debra Messing will be among the participants, while demonstrators plan to take to the streets of Washington demanding “rights and resources to cure AIDS.” Also this morning, the CDC releases a new report on HIV-related risk behavior among US high school students.
-ONLY PATIENT EVER CURED OF AIDS SPEAKS OUT…From the ABC News Medical Unit: Timothy Brown, the so called “Berlin Patient” who has been cured of AIDS will hold his first US news conference. In 2006, Brown was battling a new diagnosis of leukemia in Berlin, after living for years with HIV and six years later, doctors can’t find a trace of HIV in his body. His case has sparked optimism that a cure for others is possible.
-U.S. ADDS TO GLOBAL FUND…The U.S. is adding an extra $150 million to the global AIDS fight, taking a first step toward reaching some stigmatized populations. Despite tough fiscal times, “I am here today to make it absolutely clear the U.S. is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the AIDS Conference Monday. As the AP writes, That’s a big goal: Some 34.2 million people worldwide are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 2.5 million were infected last year. But the world’s largest AIDS meeting this week is debating how to spread scientific advances in ways to stem spread of the virus to get there. Key is targeting those tools where they can have the greatest effect. “We need to go where the virus is,” Clinton told the meeting. That means a focus on populations at especially high risk: gay and bisexual men, sex workers and injecting drug users. In many countries, stigma and laws that make their activities illegal drive those populations away from AIDS programs that could teach them to reduce their risk of infection, Clinton said.
POPE’S BUTLER ASKS FOR PONTIFF’S FORGIVENESS
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: The Corriere della Sera today has an article quoting the lawyer for Papal butler Paolo Gabriele, saying that the butler has written a confidential letter to the Pope asking for forgiveness. The letter was reportedly handed to the commission of cardinals which was set up to investigate the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal. The lawyer is quoted as saying that there was no conspiracy, that Gabriele acted alone and no other person is under investigation. The judge is expected to decide whether to indict the butler in the coming weeks.
GLOBAL FOOD NEWS…
-IRANIANS OUTRAGED AT RISING CHICKEN PRICES…The Wall Street Journal reports several thousand Iranians protested rising prices of food—and chicken in particular—in the northeastern city of Neishabour, in what appeared to be the first incident in which the country’s beleaguered economy sparked street unrest.
-WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR BEEF RED OR WHITE?…Vin bovin or bon vivant? The New York Daily News reports that French cows are outdoing their Japanese Kobe counterparts. In the southern region of Herault, cows drink two to three bottles of wine a day. The cattle’s owner claims it keeps them “happy,” and makes the meat a better-tasting product. Chefs refer to this meat as “VinBovin.”
BASE JUMPING IN ICELAND
A stunning video of a BASE jumper in Iceland.
CRAZY WEATHER IN HONG KONG; CHINESE OFFICIALS TAKE OFF THEIR PANTS
Typhoon Vicente battered Hong Kong overnight. Maximum sustained winds have reached almost 140 mph, the equivalent of a category 4 hurricane. Meanwhile, this video is getting a lot of buzz online - Chinese officials take off their pants before wading into the mud to begin a rescue operation.
DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO
France’s National Assembly is set to pass a law on sexual harassment – a week after male legislators in the chamber greeted a Cabinet minister wearing a blue-and-white flowered dress with hoots and catcalls.
The AP files this odd story from Rovaniemi, Finland: How do you observe dawn-to-dusk fasting when there is neither dawn nor dusk? It’s a question facing a small but growing number of Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan on the Arctic Circle, where the sun barely dips below the horizon at this time of year.