The Global Note: Syria’s Rebels & the U.S….Manila’s Nightmare…At Olympics, “United Blingdom”…Russian Tanks Hit the Beach

By Tom Nagorski

Aug 8, 2012 11:14am

SYRIA’S WAR

-BATTLE FOR ALEPPO…Syrian rebels have pulled back from the Salaheddine district of the embattled city of Aleppo this morning as government forces continue to bombard it. Elsewhere in the city,  dramatic videos have emerged of residents trying to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble of a destroyed house. The house is said to have collapsed following an aerial bomb attack by Assad’s forces.

-REBELS GROWING ANGRY AT U.S….The Washington Post reports from northern Syria: Anti-American sentiments are hardening among those struggling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, in ways that could have profound consequences for the country and the region in a post-Assad era. America, once regarded by the Syrian opposition as a natural friend in its struggle for greater freedoms against a regime long at odds with the West, increasingly is being viewed with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries…”All we get is words,” said Yasser Abu Ali, a spokesman for one of the Free Syrian Army battalions in the town of al-Bab, which lies 30 miles northeast of Aleppo. The rebels say they don’t want direct military intervention in the form of troops on the ground. But they have repeatedly appealed for a no-fly zone similar to the effort that helped Libyan rebels topple Moammar Gaddafi last year and for supplies of heavy weapons to counter the regime’s vastly superior firepower, say rebels and opposition figures. When the regime falls, as the rebel battalion spokesman assumes it eventually will, Syrians will not forget that their pleas for help went unanswered, he said.

-IRAN + SYRIA…A Wall Street Journal story that has more detail on the 48 Iranians that Syrian rebels supposedly took hostage over the weekend. The Journal’s sources say the Iranians are members of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and were on a mission to train Syrian forces in counterinsurgency methods. If confirmed, it would represent the strongest suggestion of Iran’s involvement in Syria’s uprising. Just yesterday, Syrian President Assad appeared on Syrian state television yesterday for the first time in two weeks – with an Iranian aide to spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

-U.S. LOOKING (HOPING) FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION…The Obama administration’s principles for a post-Assad Syria are clear: security, sectarian harmony, no tolerance for extremists. Good luck. As the AP writes: The U.S. faces a hard sell with Syria’s fighters after refusing to back them militarily and watching them squabble for months over how to reshape their country the day after President Bashar Assad’s regime crumbles, as expected. With government defections on the rise and the rebels gaining advantage in Aleppo and Damascus, Secretary of State Clinton outlined her vision Tuesday of how Syria should move forward in the event of a sudden regime change. “We have to make sure that the state institutions stay intact,” Clinton told reporters in South Africa. “We have to think about what we can do to support a Syrian-led democratic transition that protects the rights of all Syrians.” Washington is urging a gradual approach to transition that would keep water, electricity and other public services running – and ensure that women, minorities, independents and government officials without blood on their hands get a say in Syria’s future. But after four decades of the Assad family dictatorship and 17 months of brutal repression, opposition anger runs so deep that Syrian factions dispute even the most basic elements of a post-Assad plan. No single credible leader has emerged for the splintered anti-Assad movement to rally around.

-RUSSIAN ADVISER KILLED?…A group of rebels says it has killed a Russian general working as an adviser to the country’s defense ministry – and called it proof of Russia’s role in helping the Assad regime. But Russian officials called the claim a lie – and said the general was alive and living outside Moscow.

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP

-DAY 12…Some highlights: The U.S. women take on the other U.S. women in beach volleyball today, ensuring gold and silver for the Americans. Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross are looking good for the 200m final (4p E). Look out for Jason Richardson and Aries Merrit in the Men’s 110m hurdles (4.15p E). Meanwhile, it’s elimination phase in the men’s basketball, with the U.S. facing Australia in the quarterfinals (5.15p E). Marlen Esparza and Claressa Shields box in the semis of their respective divisions (8.30a E and 9.30a E).

-BRITISH GOLD, BRITISH PRIDE…The U.S. and China continue to lead the overall medal count by a wide margin; but the big surprise is the performance of the London 2012 hosts. As Jeffrey KOFMAN writes, “Clearly a big story of the Games is the incredible performance of the British athletes. They are in third place in the medal count. The word ‘unbelievable’ is sounding old here. This is a country that doesn’t expect such results and – combined with the flawless Games – the sense of pride is overflowing. Remember, this is a country of just 60 million…” Adds Jean FIEVET: “Yorkshire alone has won more medals than nearly all countries.”

-WHO CRIES?…The Wall Street Journal reviewed tape of 129 gold medal winners from the London Games and found about 16 percent of them cried at some point during the podium ceremony. Another 16 percent kissed their medal, while 44 percent sang along with their anthem. And – they found women cry more often than men.

-NO GOOD PARTIES?…More from the Journal’s fine and quirky Olympic coverage: what the paper says is a very lame party scene. In this recession Olympics, clubs and bars are spending less money to get celebrities to appear. Corporate bashes are smaller and many people have fled the city to other vacation hotspots, leaving the athletes hunting for a party offering free booze, at least!

-ODDEST SPORT OF ALL?…Nice look in the New York Times at synchronized swimming: “One team wore bathing suits decorated with a picture of what appeared to be an owl dressed in a tuxedo. Another began its routine with the athletes lying, inert, by the side of the pool. And in an homage to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, a third team, the synchronized swimming duet from Italy, tried to imagine how it might look to descend into madness while performing intricate leg maneuvers upside down in an Olympic swimming pool. ‘We imagine there is a mirror, and she is getting ready, and then she goes crazy,’ said Giulia Lapi, one of the Italian twosome, said of the artist. ‘She had a serious accident and she was covered in plaster and had to paint using a mirror.’  Kahlo was not the only one going crazy in the Aquatics Centre this week during the duet part of one of the more peculiar sports on the Olympic menu, the synchronized swimming competition. (The more familiar team competition, which involves eight swimmers at a time, comes Thursday.)

-UNOFFICIAL SPONOR OF THE OLYMPIC HIGH…TMZ claims California weed shops are now selling a new strain of marijuana named “Usain Bolt OG” - so named because it’s so “fast-hitting.” Next up: pot-filled baked goods inspired by booted US Judo team member Nick Delpopolo.

ILL AMERICAN TO BE EVACUATED FROM ANTARCTICA

An Australian medical team is en route to Antarctica to rescue an American explorer who has taken ill while at the South pole. The team’s first stop will be Christchurch, New Zealand where they will wait for the weather conditions on the frozen continent to allow them to land safely. It is, of course, winter in Antarctica, making this a particularly perilous rescue attempt. A similar one was made last October to rescue a New Hampshire researcher who had a stroke while working at the South Pole.

DANGEROUS WEATHER IN ASIA

-TYPHOON HITS SHANGHAI…More than 2 million people have been  evacuated as powerful Typhoon Haikui came ashore with 90 mile per hour winds and drenching rains…flooding roads and knocking out power. The China’s weather office issued a red alert – the highest alert for a typhoon.

MANILA FLOODS – TWITTER SAVING LIVES…Sixteen people have died in severe floods in the Philippine capital, Manila - nine of them in a landslide which buried their home. Most of the city is flooded, and almost 800,000 people have taken refuge in emergency shelters. More than half the amount of rain normally seen in August has fallen in Manila within a 24-hour period. People who are stranded have adopted the Twitter hashtag #rescueph , and others trying to find them.

AFGHAN WAR

-THREE SOLDIERS KILLED BY SUICIDE BOMBER…Three soldiers – likely Americans – were killed by suicide attackers in Afghanistan’s Kunar province today. Aleem AGHA reports that according to local residents, a U.S. military team was getting in their vehicles when the two suicide attackers targeted them. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

-REPORT: US SWEETENS TALIBAN PROPOSAL…Reuters reports that the Obama administration, in a move aimed at reviving Afghan peace talks, has sweetened a proposed deal under which it would transfer Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for a U.S. soldier held by Taliban allies in Pakistan. U.S. officials have hoped the prisoner exchange, proposed as a good-faith move in initial discussions between U.S. negotiators and Taliban officials, would open the door to peace talks between militants and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  The revised proposal would send five senior-level Taliban prisoners to Qatar first; only then would the Taliban be required to release Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war.

BIN LADEN BODYGUARD IN GERMANY

As the New York Times notes, German officials are coming under fire for allowing a Tunisian man they believe may have served as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden to live in Germany for years. They say the man, identified only as Sami A., is restricted to the city of Bochum, where he lives with his wife and kids and must check in daily with police.

U.S. JOINS WITH VIETNAM TO CLEAN UP AFTER AGENT ORANGE

The U.S. and Vietnam on Thursday kick off a joint effort to clean up dioxin left from the Vietnam War, marking the first time the U.S. is getting directly involved in a remediation project on one of the war’s lasting legacies. But they still disagree on whether dioxin, a main ingredient in the wartime defoliant Agent Orange, causes health problems.

JUICY COURTROOM DRAMA IN CHINA

A dramatic trial begins tomorrow in China in which the wife of a disgraced Chinese politician, Gu Kailai, is charged with the murder of a British man Neil Heywood, with whom she had close business ties. Gu is widely expected to be found guilty, but as the Wall Street Journal writes, the trial could have far-reaching effects for the Communist Party which has been beset with charges of criminality, corruption and betrayal since Haywood’s death. As the AP notes, few Chinese citizens are even aware the trial is about to start, underscoring how far removed such high stakes political maneuvering is from their lives.  

SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON DANCES IN AFRICA

After  getting jiggy with it in Malawi, Mrs. Clinton showed off some new moves in Pretoria, then got down to business in South Africa today with a speech on the US-South African partnership and will meet with former South African President F.W. De Klerk. Here are the dancing clips: from Malawi …and South Africa.

DIPLOMATIC WRANGLING OVER THOSE TEDDY BEARS

Belarus has now thrown out all Swedish diplomats, just days after they kicked out Sweden’s ambassador after a Swedish organization dropped teddy bears over Belarus in a pro-democracy PR stunt.

ERNESTO A TROPICAL STORM ONCE AGAIN

Hurricane Ernesto is no more. The storm has weakened to a tropical storm as it moves across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula after hitting it as a hurricane. It could regain hurricane strength after its center emerges over the Bay of Campeche.

ISRAELI AIRLINE TICKET MIX-UP

The New York Post says El Al Airlines blames a contractor for a pricing glitch that accidentally sold round-trip airline tickets between NYC and Israel that usually cost $1,600 each for less than $400 a seat. They sold 5,000 tickets in three hours. An El Al spokesperson tells The Jewish Week the tickets will be honored, but the Post says a decision has not yet been made.

EVERYONE LIKES BEER

A report out today from a Japanese brewery finds the world’s appetite for beer hit a new high last year, with China leading the way. About 50.9 billion gallons of beer were produced last year, with China producing 25 percent of it.

DAY AT THE BEACH INTERRUPTED BY TANKS

It’s all fun and games – until Russian tanks roll in. Watch here. 

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