AVALANCHE IN THE ALPS: “DEADLIEST IN YEARS”
-DEATH IN THE MOUNTAINS…The wall of snow – 60 feet high – came barreling down just before sunrise on Mont Maudit, hitting a team of 28 mountaineers as they attempted a dawn ascent of what’s considered one of the most dangerous climbs in the world. Now at least nine people are dead, with more than a dozen others injured or missing – making it the deadliest climbing disaster in a decade in the region. When it came down the mountain, the avalanche hit two roped groups of climbers. One of the injured sounded the alert at 5:25am – but by then it was too late for many. Teams of rescuers, including French police and mountain guides aided by helicopters and sniffer dogs and heat-seeking devices are searching for survivors. Five members of the group are now safely back down in the valley, including a guide, but others in the party are still missing. Local authorities are calling the avalanche “the deadliest in recent years” – and it’s believed to have been caused by snow shelves collapsing in the summer heat.
-”CURSED MOUNTAIN”…Mont Maudit – not far from the ski resort of Chamonix – means “cursed mountain”. It’s the third-highest peak (14,648 feet) in the Mont Blanc mountain range. Despite being popular as a tourist destination with thousands of Britons in both winter and summer, the Mont Blanc range is one of the most lethal in the world.
As Alex MARQUARDT reports, Yasser Arafat’s former doctor and the lead investigator looking at charges that Arafat was poisoned have said bluntly that they believe not only that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned – but also that Israel did it. “We are accusing Israel of killing Yasser Arafat and poisoning him and we are asking for a trial for those who assassinated and poisoned Arafat.” The investigator said he was not ruling out that Palestinian “tools” may have helped. ”We have the evidence,” they said. It’s the first official charge against Israel; Al Jazeera broadcast its investigation suggesting the deadly agent Polonium may have been used to kill Arafat.
MEXICAN DRUG WAR
-DRUG SMUGGLING TUNNEL BUSTED…Pierre THOMAS reports authorities are announcing the discovery of a major drug tunnel crossing the border into San Luis, Arizona in an afternoon press conference. The 240-yard passageway was even equipped with lighting and ventilation. The investigation included arrests and drug seizures. Jack Date reports this is the first and most sophisticated tunnel of this kind discovered in this area. There was considerable effort made to construct the tunnel which opened into a commercial building on the U.S. side and an ice and water plant on the Mexican side.
-MEXICAN NEWSPAPER TO STOP COVERING VIOLENCE AFTER ATTACK…Mexico’s El Manana newspaper has announced it will stop covering the country’s violence after a grenade attack against its offices this week. It was the second such attack in as many months. Another paper was also hit this week. As the New York Times writes, these attacks underscore the peril to journalists in what has become the most dangerous country in the western hemisphere in which to practice the craft.
IRAN, ISRAEL & U.S.
-”SECRET WARS” IN IRAN: WHO KILLED THE SCIENTISTS?…The New York Times picks up on this Press TV report about a new book “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars” by CBS correspondent Dan Raviv that suggests the Israeli agents thought to be responsible for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years have both Iranian and Israeli citizenship. The book also suggests the agents used safe houses inside Iran to carry out their attacks. Link to the Times piece:
-UNDERWATER DRONES TO PERSIAN GULF…The Los Angeles Times reports the U.S. Navy is rushing underwater drones to the Persian Gulf to help find and destroy sea mines. The drones began arriving after the latest round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appears to have stalled. They’re just 88 pounds and 4 feet long and carry a TV camera, a homing sonar and an explosive. When it detects a mine, the drone obliterates the mine and itself.
BIN LADEN’S DRIVER FREED FROM GITMO
As Luis MARTINEZ reports: A Guantanamo detainee described as Osama bin Laden’s one-time driver and bodyguard has been sent to Sudan after serving a two-year sentence. At a military commission two years ago, Ibrahim al-Qosi pleaded guilty to conspiracy and supporting terrorism. Charge sheets described him as having variously served as bin Laden’s driver, bodyguard, cook and supplier. Qosi had followed bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996 and was with him in Tora Bora in December 2001, after the U.S. invasion. Under the plea agreement Qosi was sentenced to 14 years, but most of that sentence was suspended because he cooperated with prosecutors. Factoring in the eight years already served at Guantanamo, his sentence was reduced to two years. Al Qosi’s transfer marks the first time a detainee convicted under the Obama administration’s revised military commissions has been transferred to his home country. The AP reports al-Qosi arrived in Sudan’s capital aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane. A photograph shows him stepping off the aircraft wearing a khaki-colored uniform and then bending down to kiss the ground. There are now 168 detainees still at Guantanamo.
PAKISTANI TALIBAN ATTACK POLICE HQ
Taliban gunmen killed nine policemen and wounded eight others in a brazen attack on a police training camp in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. The gunmen stormed the compound with their faces hidden behind hoods and opened fire, shooting the policemen one by one. A Pakistani Taliban spokesperson says the attack was revenge for police torturing their fighters in prison.
-KARZAI OFFERS TALIBAN A NEW OLIVE BRANCH…Muhammad LILA reports: In a press conference today, Afghan president Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban to give up the insurgency, saying Taliban leader Mullah Omar could run for the presidency instead. “Mullah Mohammad Omar can come inside Afghanistan anywhere he wants to,” Karzai said. “He can open political office for himself but he should leave the gun. He along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand.”
-SOLDIER KILLED…A coalition service member was killed on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. It raises the number of foreign troops killed so far this year to 237.
-ENVOY DEFECTS…Syria’s ambassador to Iraq has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a senior Iraqi official and Syrian opposition leaders said, the first defection of a serving ambassador in the country’s 17-month-long civil conflict. Nawaf Fares, a former provincial governor in Syria and an envoy to Baghdad since 2008, left his post in protest of his government’s crackdown on political dissent, said two members of the opposition Syrian National Council. A man who identified himself as Mr. Fares appeared on al-Jazeera late Wednesday to announce his resignation and intention to join the opposition. The Syrian government blasted Fares and said he should be punished.
-DID THAT SYRIAN GENERAL REALLY DEFECT?…There’s a growing mystery surrounding the Syrian general who allegedly defected last week. It was thought General Manaf Tlass was headed to Paris, but the French Foreign Ministry has conceded that they don’t know his whereabouts. The New York Times staked out Tlass’ sisters mansion in Paris where he was thought to be headed, but saw no sign of him. Some analysts say the longer the general goes missing, the more questions arise whether he really defected or not.
DADAAB: NEW PLEA FOR HELP
-WORLD’S LARGEST REFUGEE CAMP…Wilfred WAMBURA reports from Nairobi: Aid agencies working in the world’s largest refugee camp say they are running out of funds, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk. Eight organizations, including Oxfam and Save the Children, say they are facing a shortfall of $25million, and that the population in Dadaab, which lies near the Kenya-Somali border, has increased by a third over the past year. It is now home to almost half a million people, mostly from Somalia. The funds are required for shelters as well as food.
-AID WORKERS KIDNAPPED…Agence France-Presse reports that two Kenyan aid workers and a Somali doctor were kidnapped in northern Somalia Wednesday. Several local employees from aid agencies and non-governmental groups in Galkayo and Garowe, another town farther north, told AFP the victims work for Swedish group International Aid Services. The three are believed to have been kidnapped by pirates.
AMERICAN MURDERED IN CHINA
Beijing police say a 62-year-old American man was stabbed to death in the city’s downtown and that a suspect has been caught. The Beijing Public Security Bureau said in a statement posted on its official microblog late Wednesday that Howard Thomas Mills was attacked near the entrance to an alleyway in the city’s Xicheng district. Police say Mills arrived in China on July 3. The statement says police nabbed the suspect near the scene. He is a 35-year-old who arrived in Beijing earlier Wednesday by train from his hometown in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China. Police say the suspect is believed to suffer from a mental disorder and had attacked and robbed people in Shanghai in January before being sent back to his hometown. No other details were given.
AUSTERITY FOR CHINESE DIPLOMATS
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reports the Chinese government has told its ambassadors to stick a “frugal working style” and banned them from using government funds to purchase luxury goods. This comes just days after the government said it would stop serving controversial – and expensive – shark’s fin soup at state banquets. It seems to be part of a push to turn around the image of government officials after they were spotted clutching expensive handbags and wearing gold-plated watches at the country’s annual meetings this spring. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports demand for Cartier watches in China is slowing after record sales last year.
ECB BANK DEPOSITS PLUNGE
Overnight, the ECB cut interest rates to zero on the amount of money banks hold, giving banks more incentive to lend. Banks have been parking large amounts of money with the ECB instead of lending it to other banks because they are afraid they won’t be repaid. Meanwhile, Asian markets fell this morning amid speculation that China may announce that its gross domestic product slowed in the second quarter.
SAUDI REVERSAL: TWO WOMEN ON THE OLYMPIC SQUAD
A reversal from Saudi Arabia this morning – the country will send two women athletes to the Olympics. Just yesterday, Saudi officials said no women had qualified. Also today, Qatar announced a female athlete will carry its flag during the games’ opening ceremony. This is also the first time Qatar has allowed women on its Olympic team.
“ROCKY” ALSO FEATURED AT THAT NORTH KOREAN CONCERT
North Korea has released more footage from that odd concert for leader Kim Jong Un. The video shows North Korean performers playing the famous song from the Sylvester Stallone movie “Rocky.” This is the same concert noted earlier this week that featured unauthorized Disney characters.
BERLUSCONI TO RUN AGAIN?:
The Telegraph reports former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may run again. He’s already been Prime Minister three times and as the Telegraph puts it, the bunga-bunga man “believes he has a good chance of winning office, despite all the sex scandals, corruption trials, international gaffes and broke promises to the Italian electorate that have marred his reputation domestically and made him an international figure of fun.”
LONDON OLYMPIC FORECAST: “CLOUDY, WITH A CHANCE OF CHAOS”
From the Washington Post: Less than three weeks before the start of the 2012 Olympics, British officials and athletes around the globe are bracing for a dark threat to the London Games: English weather. In a city universally besmirched as climatically challenged and about which Jane Austen once wrote, “In London, it is always a sickly season,” early Olympics forecasts are cloudy, with a chance of chaos. As Britain copes with its wettest quarter since records began in 1910, officials have set up meteorological war rooms at the Olympic Park in East London as well as in other British host locations, including Eton and Weymouth. Suggesting scenes of mud-caked Olympians ahead, torrential downpours already have wreaked havoc at recent British sporting events. Massive disruptions turned at least 10,000 spectators away from the Formula One race at Silverstone last week. In June, areas across the nation experienced double the average rainfall, and July has brought flash floods that continue to turn roads into rivers and inundate homes and businesses in parts of the country. Extended forecasts suggest that while the bouts of heavy rain may abate, London weather could still be wetter than the already-moist average for much of the 2012 Games — testing years-in-the-making transit planning and potentially affecting the medal count.
FROM LONDON, THE UFO FILE
The Telegraph reports that documents from the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence classified archives show staff believed aliens could visit for “military reconnaissance”, “scientific” research or “tourism”. In a 1995 briefing now published by the National Archives, a desk officer said it was “essential that we start with open minds”, explaining “what is scientific ‘fact’ today may not be true tomorrow”. Clarifying he did not “talk to little green men every night”, he said: “We have a remit that we have never satisfied. That is, we do not now (sic) if UFOs exist. “If they do exist, we do not know what they are, their purpose or if they pose a threat to the UK. “If the sightings are of devices not of the earth then their purpose needs to be established as a matter of priority. There has been no apparent hostile intent and other possibilities are: 1) Military reconnaissance; 2) Scientific; 3) Tourism.” He added that “if reports are taken at face value” they showed extraterrestrial vehicles had “a very wide range of speeds and are stealthy”. Thus, he suggested, “we could use this technology, if it exists”.
50 YEARS FOR MICK + KEITH
The Rolling Stones have been together 50 years…and to mark the occasion, BBC news have interviewed Mick Jagger & Keith Richards .