-BATTLE FOR ALEPPO: ESCALATION?…Reports from the U.N. this morning suggest the Syrian government is now using fighter jets to fire on rebel fighters in Syria's largest city and key commerce hub - Aleppo. Rebel commanders for their part say they have seized control of two police stations in the city. There are also reports of columns of Syrian Army reinforcements headed for Aleppo. As the New York Times notes, the battle for the stations appears to have been bloody, with activists saying rebels captured 50 Syrian soldiers in a battle that lasted as long as eight hours, though that remains impossible to confirm. Meantime, the BBC reports the U.N.'s refugee agency has warned that thousands of people are still trapped in Aleppo as the fighting continues. Elsewhere, Agence France-Presse reports fighting has broken out today near two Christian districts of Damascus for the first time.
-ASSAD SPEAKS TO ARMY…Syrian President Assad has spoken to the army today to mark nation's armed forces day. Assad says the army's battle with rebel forces would determine the fate of the country - and he praised soldiers for confronting what he calls "criminal terrorist gangs." "The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle." It's the first time we've heard from Assad in two weeks.
-DO REBELS HAVE SURFACE-TO-AIR MISSILES?…Haaretz reports Syrian rebels have denied an NBC News report saying that they have acquired surface-to-air missiles. NBC suggested the missiles had come through Turkey, but did not tie the weapons to the U.S.
-FOR ASSAD, NO EXIT?…The Washington Post thinks the Syrian leader will hold out to the end, no matter ugly things get. "Even with rebel armies closing in, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is showing no hint of a willingness to cede power, raising the prospect of a long, bloody and potentially calamitous final chapter to the country's civil war, U.S. officials and Middle East experts say. As his troops battle rebels in Aleppo and other key cities, Assad has rejected new entreaties to accept exile for himself and his family and has repeatedly expressed confidence that loyalist forces will prevail…His public and private comments suggest that Assad is preparing to follow the example of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, staking his life on his regime's survival. A growing consensus in Washington and in Middle East capitals now holds that Assad - a man once viewed as a moderate capable of reform - will be forced from power only by death or capture. 'There will not be any negotiations,' said Jeffrey White, a former senior Middle East analyst for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. 'He will go down fighting, and he will probably do it in Damascus.' Senior U.S. analysts who have studied Assad's recent public appearances described him as increasingly divorced from reality. While they said Assad is neither stupid nor cowardly, he appears to have bought into his own rhetoric, perceiving himself to be the savior of his ethnic clan, the Alawites, as well as the embodiment of the Syrian state. He also appears unfazed by his pariah status, they say."
-REALLY BAD MINTON…The Badminton World Federation has disqualified eight players after accusing them of "not using one's best efforts to win". Four pairs of players - two from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia - are out of the Olympics after their matches on Tuesday. Not exactly the Olympic spirit here; as Bill WEIR said this morning, imagine if you'd bought a ticket for this event? The eight players were charged with deliberately losing their matches. As Jeffrey KOFMAN noted, the Chinese players began the trend when they tried to lose so they wouldn't have to play the next round against the other Chinese pair. That way they could meet in the finals and snag the top two medals. When the South Koreas caught on, they tried to lose as well and the Indonesians followed suit. The players have already begun to appear this morning at a disciplinary hearing over the matter. The BBC reports China's Olympic delegation has begun its own investigation.
-AMERICANS TO WATCH…Some Americans to watch in day five of Olympic competition: Dannell Leyva will try to become just the second male gymnast from the U.S. to win all-around gold; Nathan Adrian competes in the final of the men's 100-meter freestyle; Kathleen Hersey and Cammile Adams will duke it out in the final of the 200-meter butterfly; Venus and Serena Williams are in third-round action at Wimbledon; Misty May Treanor and her partner Kerri Walsh take on Australia in beach volleyball; and the U.S. women's basketball team plays Turkey.
-PHELPS + OBAMA, ON TWITTER…From the President: @BarackObama: Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You've made your country proud. -bo…The 19-time medalist tweeted his thanks: Thank you Mr. President!! It's an honor representing the #USA !! The best country in the world!!
-CHINESE SWIMMER: HER COUNTRYMEN SPEAK…ABC's Beijing Bureau went to the Watercube (the 2008 Swimming venue) and got some reaction to the (wholly unsubstantiated) charges swirling around the super-performance of Chinese swimmer Ye Shewin. Karson YIU and Gloria RIVIERA report that "most defended China, brushed off the accusations, and one man told us 'why, in a country of over 1 billion people, would it be so hard to fathom that we could find talented athletes?' They say the vocal critics are just jealous of China…"
-TEAM GB…SIGH OF RELIEF…Great Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning just took gold in the final of the rowing women's pair…the home team's first gold medal in these Olympics. What a relief…
AFRICA'S FOOD CRISIS: THE PRICE NIGHTMARE
The BBC reports two charities - World Vision and Save the Children - say more than one million children are at risk of severe malnutrition in the Sahel region of West Africa - and that the prime culprit is rising global food prices, rather than drought or lack of food. This is where Bazi KANANI and Clark BENTSON reported earlier this year. The Sahel region is comprised of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Chad. The news comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins her African tour in Senegal today.
DEFENSE SECRETARY PANETTA IN ISRAEL
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Israel today, meeting with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and touring Israel's Iron Dome Radar center. The meeting comes just one day after the Obama administration announced more sanctions against Israel's archenemy Iran. The crisis in Syria is also expected to top the agenda.
NEW OUTLINE OF TERRORIST THREATS
An annual State Department report assessing terrorism trends shows the U.S. is increasingly worried about a growing terrorist threat from Iran, as well as an emerging al Qaeda presence in Syria. As the Wall Street Journal writes, the report shows a shift away from al Qaeda's core leadership in Pakistan and toward a more diffuse set of regional al Qaeda affiliates.
INDIA'S COLOSSAL BLACKOUT: QUESTIONS REMAIN
The power has been fully restored, but questions remain about what caused yesterday's largest-ever blackout, impacting more than half a billion people in India. Officials blamed states for diverting more than their share of electricity, but as the New York Times writes, other theories place blame on low monsoon rains that forced farmers to pump more water into their fields and the possibility that large solar flares had set off the failure. In any case, the grid collapse illustrated the many problems still plaguing the rising superpower.
NEEDLE IN A SANDWICH, THE SEQUEL
Air Canada confirms to ABC News that a passenger claims to have found what appears to be a sewing needle in a pre-wrapped sandwich on board a flight from Victoria to Toronto on Monday. The airline says a full investigation is underway and that they have contacted the caterers, but refused to identify them. This follows the discovery of needles in six sandwiches aboard Delta flights from Amsterdam to the U.S. last month. A spokesman for the Dutch police says it's too early to say whether there is any direct connection between the two incidents.
AUSTRALIA - CREATURES OF THE SEA
-ANOTHER SHARK ATTACK…The Australian notes yet another shark attack there, this time near Streaky Bay in south Australia. A 47-year-old man was attacked by bronze whaler shark while he was surfing yesterday afternoon. He is said to be in stable condition.
-HUMPBACK WHALE BEACHES ITSELF INSIDE A POOL… The whale, the size of a London bus was found dead inside a beachfront swimming pool along the Australian coast near Sydney. Unclear how the whale ended up in the pool (a high ocean tide is one theory). Whale beachings are common in Australia.
THE WORLD'S CITIES - A CULTURE INDEX
London Mayor Boris Johnson unveils a study today that pits a dozen of the world's biggest cities against each other - based on cultural heft. Among some of the more unusual findings: Johannesburg has the highest number of rare book stores, Istanbul has more cinemas than New York, and London has more comedy shows than the Big Apple.
PROTESTS AGAINST MADONNA IN WARSAW
The BBC reports protests are expected in Warsaw today against a Madonna concert scheduled for tonight - on the 68th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. The issue is that anniversary; Catholic and veterans' groups say the timing is in poor taste. It's just the latest controversy to strike Madonna's world tour. Last week, she was booed by fans in Paris after a short concert.