The Global Note: Can Assad Survive?…Israelis’ Bus Bombed…97-Year-Old War Criminal – Arrested…Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela

By Tom Nagorski

Jul 18, 2012 12:20pm

SYRIA: BOMBER TARGETS LEADERSHIP

-TURNING POINT?…It’s far and away the most brazen and sophisticated attack against the Syrian regime - and an almost unheard-of strike against the inner circle: a bomber managed to infiltrate the National Security building in Damascus, and in the ensuing carnage take the life of at two top officials – maybe more. Syria’s state-run news agency confirms the large-scale suicide bombing at the National Security building in Damascus – and has reported that the country’s Defense Minister and Intelligence Chief have been killed in the attack. The latter was also President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law. This is the first time any senior leadership figure has been killed since the uprising began 18 months ago. There are also reports that the interior minister has been wounded. The Syrian army released a statement saying its forces will continue to fight. “Whoever thinks that by targeting the country’s leaders they will be able to twist Syria’s arm is disillusioned because Syria’s people, army and leadership are now more determined than ever to fight terrorism … and cleanse the nation from the armed gangs.”Republican Guard troops surrounded the nearby al-Shami Hospital, where some officials were taken for treatment, witnesses said. The attack came as opposition fighters were clashing with Syrian regime forces in and around the capital. “The Syrian regime has started to collapse,” an activist with the Syrian Observatory, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman, tells the New York Times.  ”There was fighting for three days inside Damascus, it was not just a gun battle, and now someone has killed or injured all these important people.” Also from the Times: Rumors swirled around Damascus that the bomber was the minister’s bodyguard, but there was no confirmation of those reports. “If a bodyguard blew himself up, then there was a major internal security breach,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese military officer and a military analyst knowledgeable about Syria.

-THE DEAD…The casualties were from the core team trying to enforce a security solution to the uprising in Syria – and in such a tense, suspicious climate, it was not clear who President Assad might find to replace them. Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, 65, a former army general, was the most senior Christian government official in Syria. Assad appointed him to the post last year. His death will resonate with Syria’s minority Christian population, who make up about 10% of Syria’s population and have generally stood by the regime. Gen. Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and intelligence chief  was one of the most feared figures in Assad’s inner circle. He was married to Assad’s older sister, Bushra. Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar was wounded and in stable condition, state TV said.

-MEANWHILE, AT THE U.N…Far from Damascus, the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote today on whether to extend the mission of 300 U.N. monitors who have basically been trapped in their hotel rooms by the violence since their work was suspended last month. Hard to see what a mission that small – and that compromised – can do, given the scale of the tensions.

BOMB BLAST KILLS ISRAELIS IN BULGARIA

A bus carrying young Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort exploded Wednesday, killing three people and wounding at least 20, police said. Witnesses told Israeli media that the huge blast occurred soon after someone boarded the vehicle. The incident took place in the Black Sea city of Burgas, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the capital, Sofia. The bus was full of Israeli youth. Images showed smoke willowing from the scene. Bulgaria is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.

NAZI-ERA WAR CRIME SUSPECT ARRESTED

 Hungarian police have arrested a 97-year-old man who has been wanted for his role in alleged Nazi war crimes, and had been living in Budapest for years. Laszlo Csatary was a police officer in the Slovakian city of Kosice, at the time a part of Hungary, when he allegedly deported Jews to Auschwitz. The BBC reports he’s accused of assisting in the murder of as many as 15,700 Jews. On Sunday, The Sun reported it had tracked him down in Budapest after being tipped off by the Wiesenthal Center.

NATO TRUCKS BOMBED

Aleem AGHA and Muhammad LILA report: 22 NATO supply trucks have been destroyed after an explosion ripped through a line of vehicles. Many fuel tankers caught fire after a magnetic bomb placed on a truck exploded. Two drivers are thought to be injured. The Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack.

KIM JONG UN NOW “MARSHALL” OF NORTH KOREAN MILITARY

North Korea billed it as an “important announcement,” but when it was made last night, it seemed redundant at best. Kim Jong Un was named “marshal” of the North Korean military; he’s already supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. It is a move widely seen as aimed at bolstering his authority over the military. It comes two days after the military chief was dismissed and replaced by a younger general.

NETANYAHU’S COALITION GOVERNMENT FALLS APART

Observers were stunned in May when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition government with opposition leader Shaul Mofaz. The coalition gave Netanyahu a supermajority and with it, unprecedented authority to take on complex issues like the Palestinian peace process. But now,  Haaretz reports the coalition has broken up after just 70 days because of a disagreement over the military draft. The paper contends that the two leaders have “made a mockery of Israeli democracy.”

BILLIONAIRE SUSPECT IN LONDON COURT

The BBC reports Tetra Pak heir and billionaire Hans Kristian Rausing is appearing in a London courtroom today after being charged with preventing the burial of his American wife Eva. Her body was found in the couple’s west London mansion earlier this month after police arrested her husband on suspicion of drug possession. An autopsy has failed to determine her cause of death.

A PLEA TO AMERICAN MOTHERS – DON’T WASTE FOOD

An unusual plea from Oxfam, an organization that works with the world’s underprivileged. They’ve asked American mothers to think more about the impact their families’ eating habits have on the environment and people in parts of the world where food is less abundant. Oxfam says small changes made by mothers can have a big impact. For example, buying less food saves water, energy and fertilizers that could be deployed to raise food people need.

SUGAR PRICES EXPECTED TO SOAR

The Wall Street Journal reports sugar prices are expected to soar in the coming weeks as demand surges during Ramadan. Unseasonable rains in Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar producer, have tightened supply, just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when many break the traditional fast at sunset with sugary treats. Raw sugar prices have rallied 21 percent since early June.

JIHAD IN AFRICA

The New York Times reports: The vast desert expanse of northern Mali has become a magnet for Islamic extremists who have tightened their grip on Timbuktu and other far-flung towns, imposing a strict form of justice that is prompting tens of thousands of people to flee what some are likening to an African Afghanistan. Rattled recent arrivals at a 92,000-person makeshift camp here at Mauritania’s remote eastern edge describe an influx of jihadists — some homegrown and others possibly from afar — intent on imposing an Islam of lash and gun on Malian Muslims who have long coexisted with Western tourists in the fabled town of Timbuktu. The conditions here in Mbera are grim, with many of the Malians sick, hungry and bewildered. But that is better, refugees said in interviews Tuesday, than the grueling life turned upside-down that an unexpected Islamist military triumph inflicted on their lives in a vast region in the heart of West Africa. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NELSON MANDELA

More than 12 million school children sang a happy birthday song to former South African president and iconic freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. Mandela – who turns 94 today – will be celebrating with close family in his home in Qunu, in the eastern Cape. Bill Clinton visited Mandela there  yesterday. His granddaughter Ndileka Mandela told the Sowetan newspaper that his family would celebrate with a traditional meal of tripe and samp, a corn dish popular in his region of the Eastern Cape. 

FROM THE ART WORLD… 

-STOLEN MATISSE RECOVERED AT MIAMI BEACH HOTEL…WPLG reports a $3 million Matisse painting stolen from a Venezuelan museum in 2003 has been recovered at a Miami Beach hotel in an FBI sting. The painting, “Odalisque in Red Pants” was stolen and replaced with a forgery more than a decade ago.

-MONA LISA’S BONES DISCOVERED?…Archaeologists believe they may have found the bones of the woman believed to be the subject of the Mona Lisa. A skeleton buried beneath the floor of a convent in Florence is thought to be that of Lisa Gherardini, who many think was Leonardo da Vinci’s muse.

GREENLAND: WHY THE ICE BROKE OFF

That chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan broke off of Greenland’s Petermann glacier as a direct result of warmer ocean temperatures, according to the University of Delaware and the Canadian Ice Service. The break happened earlier this week and is the second major breaking event for this glacier in three years.

CHINA’S GREAT WALL EVEN LONGER THAN THOUGHT

The Los Angeles Times reports China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that it now believes the Great Wall is even longer than thought – 13,171 miles long. That’s more than half the circumference of the globe, four times the span of the U.S. coast-to-coast and nearly 2 ½ times longer than they thought the Great Wall was.

THE BOSS BACK ON STAGE – JOKES ABOUT LONDON SHOW

Bruce Springsteen was back on stage last night in Dublin, his first concert since he and Paul McCartney had their London gig cut short by concert organizers. He milked it for all it was worth – flipping a switch on a giant prop power generator and singing the last minute of “Twist and Shout,” the song that was cut short in London. This video even shows fake cops rushing the stage to tackle The Boss.

GERMANS CHEER FOR WOMAN PARKING CAR

As Whitney LLOYD writes, “Remember the male-only parking spot controversy in Germany? Well, the men in this video (who had too much to drink after a soccer game) cheer this lady on as she attempts to parallel park…”

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