-BIG PICTURE…The rebellion – in its myriad forms – keeps chipping away at the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Today – a bomb rips through State Television headquarters, the Prime Minister (and other cabinet members?) defect, and both sides gear up for battle in Aleppo. On the good side for Assad – he gets a new oil deal from Russia; but on balance another rough day for the dictator.
-HIGH-LEVEL DEFECTIONS…From Alex MARQUARDT: Al Jazeera reports – and others confirm – that Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab has defected with his family to Jordan. This after state media reported that he’d been fired. A statement read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel that was attributed to Hijab said he had resigned to protest his government’s harsh tactics against the country’s rebellion. “I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,” the statement said. “I join the ranks of this dignified revolution.” In the government hierarchy, this is the highest-level defection to date – though it can be argued that the defection of Gen. Manaf Tlass – who was much closer to Assad – was more significant. Hijab was elevated to the post just two months ago. There are unconfirmed reports of several other ministers defecting as well.
-BOMB BLAST AT STATE TV…A bomb tore through the third floor of the Syrian state TV building in Damascus this morning, wounding at least three people and causing significant damage – though not enough to stop state TV from broadcasting the pictures of that damage. The Syrian capital has seen a string of suicide attacks and other bombings in recent months.
-BATTLE FOR ALEPPO…The BBC reports more than 20,000 Syrian troops are said to be massing around Syria’s largest city, bolstering their forces for another assault on Aleppo. The threat of an impending assault hasn’t stopped the rebels from continuing their push towards the historic castle in the old city. Rebels still hold pockets of Aleppo, but appear to have been driven from their strongholds in Damascus by President Assad’s soldiers.
-RUSSIA’S OIL DEAL…From Tanya STUKALOVA in Moscow: Syria has reached an agreement with Russia to secure much-needed fuel, as a delegation sent by President Bashar Assad asked Moscow to help alleviate the effects of sanctions on the war-torn country. Under the deal, Syria will export its crude oil to Russia in exchange for refined oil products, which Damascus sorely needs to keep its economy and military running.
-ABOUT THOSE IRANIANS…The New York Times reports a group of Syrian rebels have taken responsibility for the kidnapping of 48 Iranians in Damascus over the weekend, but the rebels insist their captives are members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, not religious pilgrims as Iran has suggested. The identities and motives have the captives have remained impossible to independently verify.
INSIDE THE EBOLA WARD
Dr. Richard Besser has journeyed inside an Ebola clinic in Uganda, and the details of his tour are fascinating – and harrowing. To enter the ward, Besser had to suit up in full protective gear that left not even an inch of skin exposed. Inside, he saw a 15-year old boy who is suspected to have Ebola. The disease is so deadly that Besser left the camera behind so as to not bring the disease outside the clinic. To get out of the protective gear, he had to be sprayed down with bleach as each layer was removed.
HISTORIC MEETING: CLINTON & MANDELA
Bazi KANANI reports from Johannesburg: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with former South African President Nelson Mandela today, at his home in the town of Qunu. All indications are that 94-year-old Mandela remains in good health and enjoys receiving visitors. Just last month, Clinton’s husband and daughter met with him. We expect still photos later today.
TROPICAL STORMS ERNESTO – AND FLORENCE
Tropical storm warnings have been issued for Honduras’ northern coasts as Ernesto continues its march. It’s expected to gain strength and possibly become a weak hurricane before moving ashore near the Belize-Mexico border Tuesday night and passing into the Gulf of Mexico. Over the weekend, the storm passed south of Jamaica, dropping heavy rain, but it did not cause serious problems on the island. Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Florence, which formed far out in the Atlantic, has stopped strengthening and is no longer expected to gain strength, the hurricane center said.
AFRICA + TERROR: ONE NATION FIGHTS BACK
The New York Times reports from Mali: “Hundreds of young men are stuffed into makeshift training camps near this provincial capital, arising at 4 a.m. for physical exercises and simulated hand-to-hand combat in preparation for the day when they can free their north Mali homeland from the radical Islamists whose harsh rule has driven tens of thousands of frightened, desperate civilians to flee the country. The eager recruits have almost no weapons, little military instruction, and not much more than the hard ground to sleep on. They are definitely not in the army. A trainer in a scavenged uniform yells out, “Present, arms!” but there are no arms to present. Yet the young men (and a few women) in these haphazard citizen militias, poised at the edge of the de facto front line with the Islamists, have something the regular Malian Army here appears to lack: a fierce will to undo the jihadist conquest of northern Mali that has alarmed governments across the world, spurred threats of a regional intervention force and imposed a repressive regimen of public beatings, whippings and even stonings on the local people…”
-DAY 10…On the schedule today: All-around individual gold medalist in women’s gymnastics Gabby Douglas competes in the uneven bars final. She’s trying to become the first female gymnast to win four gold medals at one Games since 1968. The U.S. men’s basketball team takes on Argentina in the last group game before the quarterfinals, in what’s being billed as their toughest match-up to date (and this “Dream Team” had its hands full with Lithuania).
-WHICH STATES PRODUCE THE MOST WINNERS?…The Wall Street Journal crunches the numbers and finds California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are the most productive at producing Olympians.
-BRITISH GOLD, BRITISH PRIDE…Our U.K. staffers were justifiably excited this weekend – and The Washington Post is among many writing about the reasons. A remarkable weekend for British athletes at their home games – Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford the long jump and Mo Farah the 10,000-meters, and Andy Murray took the gold on Centre Court at Wimbledon. The U.K. Now stands in third place in the medal count with 16 golds and 37 medals overall. As the Post writes, “After an initial drought in Olympic medals, the last couple of days may just be the greatest in the history of British sports. This host nation of 62 million had claimed 16 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze medals after a wildly gilded weekend, including a victory by runner Mo Farah, the first British man to win the 10,000-meter race, that sent a panel of normally calm BBC commentators into fits of raucous screams…And as Farah took the gold, even Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, caught up in the moment at an Olympic Stadium awash in Union Jacks, broke with British reserve in a somewhat awkward man-hug. How much better could it get? A lot. On Sunday, Briton Ben Ainslie became the most decorated sailor in Olympics history by claiming his fourth gold medal. But the moment of the day came when Andy Murray, a Scot, dispatched No. 1-ranked Roger Federer with shocking ease, claiming the gold on the very tennis court where he suffered a deeply personal loss against Federer in the finals of Wimbledon last month…”
-THE FASTEST HUMAN…From the New York Times: “Four years later, still no one can catch Usain Bolt. He is still No. 1, still the Olympic champion at 100 meters, still the fastest man alive, still history’s greatest sprinter, still unmatched in his stirring ability to rise to the moment. Having completed his work Sunday night in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record, the second-fastest time ever run, Bolt put on a celebratory show for the 80,000 people in the stadium and the millions more watching from afar. His performance, after all, had happened just hours before Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, a combination of events that gave rise to celebrations from Brixton to Kingston. ‘My boy!’ Ingrid Burton shouted as she watched Bolt run Sunday night on television at the Perfection Ventures hair salon in Brixton, the Jamaican enclave in south London, about nine miles from Olympic Stadium…”