The Global Note: In Syria, Rebel Atrocities…In Israel, Bluster – Or War?…Beating Ebola…For Saudis, A Women-Only City?

By Tom Nagorski

Aug 13, 2012 10:28am

SYRIA’S WAR

-REBEL ATROCITIES…For a long time the opposition held the unquestioned high ground: just as revolutionaries had done in Egypt and then Libya, the Syrian people were rising up against an autocratic regime – and that regime responded with a brutality that the U.N. and several human rights organizations called war crimes. Now, increasingly, the rebel fighters are being accused of the same. Video has emerged purporting to show rebels throwing the bodies of slain government soldiers from the roof of a post office; a pro-government Syrian TV station says one of its cameramen who was kidnapped has been executed; two weeks ago a rebel battalion executed captured regime forces – with cellphone cameras rolling. Beyond the horrific details the implications are stark: the rebels are having a hard enough time garnering outside support – and these actions will make it harder – while bolstering Bashar al-Assad’s long-running claim to be fighting a rebellion of thugs and terrorists. These tweets from inside Aleppo: “Well now you have two bullies. Sadly this is only going to get worse. What a mess; By behaving as bad if not worse at times than the bully they complained off and sought to change?! No difference anymore…” Some examples of the videos: Herehere…and here

-SYRIAN JET DOWN…As Muhammad LILA reports, it’s the piece of video running all day in the Middle East: a Syrian jet being shot down. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTVp9zUPWTY Difficult to verify – the BBC says its experts believe it is indeed a Syrian Mig-23 jet, but hard to say what brought it down. The Syrian government is blaming technical difficulties. As Muhammad notes, “If true, could be a game changer. Especially if it means rebels now have shoulder-mounted stingers, the same ones used by Afghanistan against the Soviets…”

-RELIEF MISSION…The United Nations announced its humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will go to Syria Tuesday to discuss ways of increasing emergency aid to civilians caught up in the conflict there. Amos will also visit Lebanon, where she will meet Syrian families who have fled the fighting, and hold talks on providing support to the growing number of refugees. The humanitarian situation in Syria has worsened in recent weeks. “Two million people are now estimated to have been affected by the crisis and over one million have been internally displaced,” the U.N. statement said. Nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees have registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey since the conflict began.

ISRAEL BLUSTER – OR ISRAEL WAR PLAN?

In Israel – leaders (and unnamed “sources”) are ramping up the rhetoric about a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear program. The common thread appears to be a frustration that Iran is proceeding apace with its nuclear plans – ignoring or doubting the resolve of the world to stop them, and looking for a clearer ultimatum. “Lord help us, would you just do it already and be done with it?” wrote Ben Caspit, a columnist for the newspaper Maariv, referring to the Israeli leadership. “When one looks around the impression received is that it isn’t only in Israel that they aren’t being taken seriously any longer, but the world refuses to get worked up over them either.” Israeli newspapers and TV over the weekend suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has all but made the decision to attack Iran unilaterally – perhaps as soon as this fall. The reports contained little new information, but the tone was significantly sharper than in recent weeks. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon took to Israel Radio to call for an international declaration that the diplomatic effort to halt Iran’s enrichment of uranium has failed.

5th GREEN-ON-BLUE ATTACK IN A WEEK

Late-breaking reports that an Afghan police officer fired on coalition forces this morning. There were no deaths – two soldiers were injured – but it is the fifth such attack in a week.

EGYPT: MORSI’S “BOLD MOVE”

The reverberations are still being felt – after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi forced out the country’s two top military chiefs Sunday, in what the Washington Post calls “a bold move to wrest power from the armed forces and marginalize key holdovers of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s reign.” Morsi used the pretext of a brazen attack last week in north Sinai that killed 16 Egyptian security forces – and  Morsi swore in a new defense minister, who will command the armed forces, among other and major personnel moves. The president also announced that he had  suspended a constitutional amendment the generals passed on the eve of Morsi’s election giving themselves vast powers and weakening the presidency. The ouster of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi — the defense minister and top military chief — and his deputy, army chief of staff Sami Anan, suggested that the Brotherhood is willing to act more quickly and assertively in taking control of key institutions than analysts had predicted. The ousted military chiefs quietly stepped aside Sunday, but analysts said the move could trigger a backlash. “This is a big moment of transformation in the history of Egypt,” said Zeinab Abul-Magd, a history professor at the American University in Cairo. “Now, officially, it is a Brotherhood state. Now it is official they are in full control of state institutions.” 

EBOLA UNDER CONTROL?

The BBC reports the deadly Ebola outbreak in Uganda now appears to be under control, at least according to the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. The last confirmed death took place 13 days ago. If there are no confirmed cases for 42 days, the outbreak would be considered contained.  

ONE YEAR SINCE AMERICAN MAN ABDUCTED IN PAKISTAN

The AP reports the wife of a Maryland man abducted in Pakistan one year ago is pleading for his safe return, saying her husband is in poor health. Warren Weinstein was kidnapped last August after gunmen tricked his guards. His wife, Elaine, observed the anniversary of his disappearance with a statement urging his release.

VATICAN: POPE’ S BUTLER MUST STAND TRIAL

From Phoebe NATANSON: The Vatican has announced its decision – ordering the Pope’s butler to stand trial in the theft and leaking of secret documents that have embarrassed the church. The butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested in May for leaking the documents, which point to corruption and power struggles in the church hierarchy.

ANOTHER BIRD FLU DEATH

The AP reports bird flu has killed a 37-year-old man in Indonesia, marking the country’s ninth fatality from the disease this year. It’s believed he came in contact with sick birds.

RADIOACTIVE BUTTERFLIES

From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Japanese researchers have discovered “abnormalities” in the countries’ butterflies and say the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown may be to blame. Shortly after the meltdown, just 12 percent of pale grass blue butterflies had abnormalities, but the number has grown to more than 50 percent among a second generation of the butterflies.

POSTSCRIPT ON THE LONDON GAMES

-WELL DONE, LONDON!…For all the hand-wringing in the days (and years) leading up to the London Games, it all went remarkably well. As Jeffrey KOFMAN reports, major security incidents, transportation meltdowns and horrible weather? They didn’t happen. And those dramatic wins by British athletes buoyed a British public that had been expecting the games to be a complete headache. London Mayor Boris Johnson went so far as to pen an op-ed  declaring London “the capital of the world” after the games.

-MASS EXODUS…The BBC reports as many as 200,000 people a day are expected to leave London this week. They avoided immigration delays on the way in and want to do the same as visitors leave, setting up a temporary terminal at Heathrow to process the departures of the athletes.

-OLYMPIC TWITTER…Twitter has revealed the most-talked-about moments of the Olympics on its blog. Usain Bolt’s 200-meter sprint gold saw more than 80,000 tweets per minute, followed by Andy Murray’s tennis win, Jamaica’s world record in the men’s 4 x 100 meter relay and the U.S. win over Spain yesterday in men’s basketball. For their part, the Spice Girls generated more than 116,00 tweets per minute in last night’s Closing Ceremony.

-REMEMBER THOSE ATHLETES FROM CAMEROON?…Five Olympic athletes from Cameroon say they are seeking to remain in Britain after leaving the Olympic village last week. The five men – all boxers – told the BBC that they had left after being threatened by senior members of the Cameroon Olympic delegation, who said their careers would be over if they lost their bouts. One of the boxers, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, explained what had happened 

-ON TO SOCHI…The Wall Street Journal examines the challenges ahead for Sochi, Russia - site of the 2014 Winter Games. They include a weakened Russian Olympic team that could embarrass the country at home – and the threat of terrorist attacks that have rocked Russia for over a decade.

WOMEN-ONLY CITY IN SAUDI ARABIA?

The Guardian reports a women-only city will be built in Saudi Arabia to allow more women to work and achieve greater financial independent, while also providing for the gender segregation that Saudi Arabia’s conservative Muslim society requires.

STRANDED IN ITALY – WHEN AIRLINE SHUTS DOWN

The BBC reports hundreds of passengers are stranded after an Italian budget airline, Wind Jet, suspended all flights. Further chaos is expected as some 300,000 passengers across Italy have tickets in coming weeks. Wind Jet was forced to shut down when takeover talks with Alitalia failed.

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