-U.S.: NO PLANS FOR NO-FLY ZONE…It’s a key demand of the rebels – and one of the few concrete actions that might turn the battle’s tide. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pours cold water on the idea – saying plans to set up a no-fly zone over parts of Syria are “not on the front burner.” Rebel commanders say they need the protection from escalating regime airstrikes. In an interview with the Associated Press, Panetta says he’s confident the U.S. could enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, but doing so would require a “major, major policy decision” that has not yet been made. “We have planned for a number of contingencies that could take place and one of those possible contingencies is developing a no-fly zone. But we’ve also pointed out difficulties in being able to implement that,” Panetta said. “It’s not on the front burner as far as I know.” Rebel leaders have expressed frustration that the U.S. has limited its assistance to non-lethal aid. The U.S. and its NATO allies successfully enforced a no-fly zone over Libya last year, as rebels there made gains and eventually ousted Moammar Gadhafi. Syria, however, has relatively modern air defenses that are far more plentiful and sophisticated than those in Libya. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military has significantly stepped up aerial attacks in recent weeks, using missile strikes to push back opposition forces in key fronts such as Aleppo.
-DEFECTOR PM SAYS HE’S JOINING THE REBELS…Ex-Prime Minister Riad Hijab has spoken for the first time since fleeing Syria to say he will join the rebel cause. Hijba says he can no longer support President Assad because he has no ability to halt the fighting. Hijab is the highest-ranking Syrian official to defect.
-WAS ASSAD’S BROTHER WOUNDED?…A report in the Saudi paper al-Watan that suggests Assad’s brother Maher, the commander of the elite Republican Guards, was severely injured in last month’s Damascus blast that killed three members of the president’s inner circle.
-SYRIA WORKING AROUND SANCTIONS…The Wall Street Journal reports President Assad’s government is working on plans that will allow them to conduct business after being cut off from most Western banking institutions and trade. The Journal reviewed government documents and correspondence that show Syria plans to use Russian banks to sidestep western sanctions on oil and financial transactions.
-RELIEF MISSION…U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valier Amos has arrived in Syria for the start of a three-day trip to discuss humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians. Amos is scheduled to meet with Syrian authorities, as well as officials from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. As for that humanitarian crisis, the Los Angeles Times speaks to residents of Aleppo who say they believe the rebels miscalculated in their battle for the city, creating a humanitarian crisis that they are ill-equipped to handle and turning many citizens against the rebels.
LIBYA: WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS?
If the U.S. wants to feel better about some “Arab Spring” matters…Gary LANGER’ notes are worth reading today. He highlights interesting data out of Libya from polling Gallup did there in the spring – showing some gratitude to the U.S. and NATO for their support. “U.S. support for the Libyan revolution may have generated an almost unprecedented level of goodwill toward the U.S. In 2012, 54% of Libyans approve of U.S. leadership – among the highest approval Gallup has ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel…Libyans express little approval of the leadership of Russia and China, countries that were perceived by many as opposing rebel groups and NATO intervention.” Further, “More than six in 10 consider al-Qaeda and former Gadhafi regime members a serious threat to the country’s future.” Gallup concludes, “The U.S. and its Western allies face an almost unprecedented opportunity to forge a true partnership with an Arab country that has both a government and population well-disposed toward positive relations.” Details…
PAKISTAN TO LAUNCH OFFENSIVE
In that same interview with the AP, Defense Secretary Panetta says Pakistan may soon launch a combat offensive against Taliban militants in a tribal area near the country’s Afghan border. Panetta said he did not know when the operation would start, but that it would be in the near future and that the main target will be the Pakistani Taliban, rather than the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network.
WAR BLIMPS ON U.S.-MEXICO BORDER
The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. military is joining border-patrol agents to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan to the U.S. border with Mexico. Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if an unmanned blimp can help find drug runners and people trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
MRAPs MIGHT NOT SAVE AS MANY LIVES AS WE THOUGHT
USA Today reports that the armored trucks known as MRAPs, designed to protect troops from roadside bombs, may not save as many lives as previously thought. Last year, the military estimated that MRAPs saved as many as 40,000 soldiers, but data released to the USA Today show roughly 2,000 lives were saved by MRAPs.
FINDING NEW PYRAMIDS ON GOOGLE
While most Google Earth hobbyists are satisfied with a bit of snapping and geotagging, some have far loftier ambitions. Satellite archaeologist Angela Micol thinks she’s discovered the locations of some of Egypt’s lost pyramids, buried for centuries under the earth, including a three-in-a-line arrangement similar to those on the Giza Plateau. Egyptologists have already confirmed that the secret locations are undiscovered, so now it’s down to scientists in the field to determine if it’s worth calling the diggers in.
-SPANISH FIREWORKS BLAST…An official says 28 people were injured when a set of fireworks accidentally set off thousands of others in a Spanish church bell tower, raining streams of sparks and burning material on people gathered for a town festival below. A spokeswoman for Elche town hall in eastern Spain said the church fireworks were covered by a protective blanket and in a pack designed to shoot mini-rockets some 300 meters (328 yards) into the air before exploding. But the fireworks fired from elsewhere landed on the pack, igniting the fuses minutes before the scheduled midnight launch Monday.
-BURNING CAR EXPLODES AS ONLOOKERS FLEE…A burning car in Russia exploded while onlookers fled the scene. It’s not clear exactly why the car exploded, though a badly translated report from RIO-Novosti suggests the car was carrying gas canisters.
CHOCOLATE PRICES TO SOAR
It’s not just corn and soybean prices that have spiked, threatening to send global food prices soaring. Watch the price of chocolate. The Wall Street Journal reports cocoa futures climbed yesterday to their highest levels since February, thanks to a hot, dry summer in West Africa, the world’s top cocoa-producing region. Cocoa prices could soar another 40 percent by year-end, though the Journal doesn’t make clear just how much of a price increase that means for your favorite chocolate bar.
PEACE PRIZE WINNERS DISLIKE AMERICAN REALITY SHOW
From Bazi KANANI: South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among 9 Nobel Peace laureates who are calling on NBC to end its new “Stars Earn Strips” reality show featuring celebrities going through military-style training, including firing long-range weapons. In a letter to NBC on Monday the laureates said, “Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People – military and civilians – die in ways that are anything but entertaining.” NBC producers told Reuters the show pays homage to the men and women in the U.S. military.
HORSE DESPERATELY SEEKING PAJAMAS
ITV reports an animal rescue facility in the U.K. is appealing for a pair of extra-large pajamas for a horse that’s allergic to bug bites. The pajamas would protect Gracie May from the bugs, but they’d need to fit the 7-foot-tall horse.
MASSIVE BEACHED WHALE
A massive beached whale turned up in the U.K’s Carlyon Bay. Sadly, the BBC reports that the whale later died because it was undernourished.