Iran claims majority of Syrians still support Assad

Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi told Hezbollah-affiliate Al Manar TV on Monday that Teheran will continue to support the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad because the "majority of Syrians still support the regime" despite Western and Arab media attempts to distort the reality on the ground. He also denied the numerous eye-witness accounts of Iranian troops murdering unarmed protesters in Syria and dismissed the small mountain of evidence that Iranian weapons were being sent to Assad’s troops. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described China's and Russia's veto of a UN resolution on Syria as a "fiasco for the civilized world " on Tuesday and declared his intention to work towards a new initiative with other governments who are opposed to the current regime in Damascus. The announcement follows a statement the day before by Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby that Russia and China had lost significant support in the Arab world because of their actions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Damascus for talks with Assad on Tuesday even as Assad loyalist troops continued their heavy bombardment of residential neighborhoods in the city of Homs, which has already killed close to 300 people and wounded many more, according to various accounts. "The bombardment is again concentrating on Baba Amro (district of Homs)," Mohammad al-Hassan, an activist in Homs, told Reuters by satellite phone. "There is no electricity and all communication with the neighborhood has been cut."

Russia's foreign ministry said Lavrov and Fradkov went to Damascus because Moscow sought "the swiftest stabilization of the situation in Syria on the basis of the swiftest implementation of democratic reforms whose time has come."

"Now the main task for Lavrov is to tell Assad that if there is no visible change in Syria, then regardless of the Russian position he should be bracing for external military measures," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

Meanwhile, the US, UK and a handful of other countries have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus and closed their embassies there, although most governments are still ruling out the use of military force to remove Assad from power.

Palestinians choose Abbas for unity government

Talks in Qatar between officials of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Palestinian terror militia Hamas have produced an agreement that in a planned unity government for the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, current PA president Mahmoud Abbas would be retained as overall leader. The agreement calls for Abbas to become Prime Minister, replacing Western-backed Salam Fayyad, against whom Hamas is fiercely opposed. "We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation." Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal told reporters after the meetings. He added that the Palestinians wanted to accomplish unity and move forward "to resist the enemy (Israel) and achieve our national goals" and that "this effort will be implemented in the shortest time possible."

Israel and Germany sign submarine deal
Reports surfaced over the weekend that the long anticipated deal for Germany to supply the Israeli navu with a sixth Dolphin class submarine has been finalized. Berlin will pay part of the cost of the submarine, as it did with previous subs. “The security of the State of Israel is a German concern and this will not change,” said Christian Schmidt, German secretary of state for defense, during a recent visit to the Jewish State, which he called a “preferred customer” for Germany’s defense industry. In related news, US defense officials are scheduled to be in Israel later this month to finalize plans for the Austere Challenge 12 air defense exercise, which was delayed earlier this year. According to statements by the Pentagon and the IDF, the drill will definitely take place before the end of the year.

Farsi translation of ‘Protocols’ rebuttal published
As part of a larger effort to reach ordinary Iranians with a message of non-belligerency, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli think tank, has translated into Farsi a key book which debunks the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’ The book, ‘The Lie that Wouldn’t Die’ was written by former Tel Aviv District Court judge Hadassa Ben-Itto, and the Farsi translation will soon be available on the Center’s website. The ‘Protocols’ is one of the most successful frauds in history, full of anti-Semitic canards and claiming to disclose a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. It is one of the best-selling books ever, having been translated into dozens of languages and widely popular in the Moslem world.

Iranian terrorist threat to US and Israel growing
ABC News reported last Friday that the threat of Iranian terrorist attacks against Jewish and/or Israeli targets in North America is increasing, as Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic continue to tighten. A letter circulated by the Israeli consul-general for Mid-Atlantic States declared that “we predict that the threat on our sites around the world will increase,” adding that Jewish private schools, synagogues and community centers were in special danger, along with more heavily guarded Israeli government consulates. In related news, the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, which is a proxy of Iran and has an operational presence in dozens of countries around the world, has plans to attack Israel if Western countries act against the regime of president Bashar Assad in Syria, according to a statement made by a Hezbollah official to the Palestinian News Network on Sunday.

Violence raging in Egypt
The weekend saw widespread violence across Egypt, including yet another explosion along the along the pipeline carrying natural gas from Egypt to Israel, the 11th such attack since former president Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in February 2011. In Cairo, police fought running street battles with protesters who laid siege to security headquarters. Over a dozen people have been killed and many more wounded in the violence which erupted after a deadly soccer riot in Port Said last Thursday which many Egyptians blamed on the police.

Israel gets exciting economic news
The Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday to approve the construction of a railway linking Tel Aviv to the Red Sea resort city of Eilat. The line, which is expected to become operational five years from the start of construction, will turn the 350 kilometer trip which presently can take all day by car, into a two hour trip. The line will also carry freight, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing hope that it will provide traders with an alternative to the Suez Canal, greatly boosting Israel’s importance to the trade routes between Europe and the emerging economies of the Far East as well as government income from transit fees. Meanwhile, the Delek Group Ltd. and Noble Energy Inc. announced the discovery of a large supply of natural gas at a field 120 kilometers northwest of Haifa on Sunday, greatly increasing the amount of gas in Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

Obama pledges close cooperation with Israel on Iran

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a live pre-Superbowl interview with NBC on Sunday, declaring that his administration will continue to work closely with Israel to confront the threat posed by Iran’s renegade nuclear program. “I’ve been very clear — we’re going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating a nuclear arms race in a volatile region,” Obama said. “We have mobilized the international community, in a way that is unprecedented. They are feeling the pressure. My No. 1 priority continues to be the security of the United States. But also, the security of Israel. And we’re going to make sure that we work in lockstep, as we proceed to try to solve this — hopefully diplomatically.”

Also on Sunday Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) gave an interview with the semiofficial Fars news agency in which he declared "any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces," in an apparent warning to neighboring states not to cooperate with the US and/or Israel. The statement came a day after the Iranian military kicked off a large scale exercise in the south of the country.

Elsewhere, Iran’s oil minister declared on Saturday that the Islamic Republic has suffered from recent sanctions, but it will not give up its atomic activities under any circumstances.

"If there is strong political will and mutual confidence being established, this issue could be resolved in a few days," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the annual Munich Security Conference over the weekend. "The technical disputes are not so big. The problem is mutual confidence and strong political will. A military option will create a disaster in our region. So before that disaster, everybody must be serious in negotiations. We hope soon both sides will meet again but this time there will be a complete result."

"I believe that with our allies and friends in the West we should open a serious dialogue with the Iranians to get out of this dilemma. This is what we feel in our region,” agreed Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Mohammed Al Attiyah."

To read the latest intelligence report on Iran, click HERE (PDF)

Bloodbath in Syria as Russia and China veto UNSC resolution

Forces loyal to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad used artillery, rockets, helicopter gunships and tanks to fire point blank into residential neighborhoods in the restive city of Homs over the weekend, killing hundreds of civilians along with pockets of army deserters who had controlled parts of the city for months. A handful of loyalist soldiers were also reportedly killed in clashes with deserters and gunman, whose ranks have been steadily growing as the violence against civilians has intensified. The bloody weekend came even as Russia and China used their veto on the UN Security Council to kill a resolution sponsored by the US, UK and France to remove Assad from power in favor of an interim government. The Western backed resolution was submitted by the Arab League and had support from several other countries.

The UNSC veto by Russia and China led to widespread outrage against those countries, including in Tripoli, Libya, where the Russian embassy was ransacked by an angry mob. Boycotts against Russian and Chinese products were declared in several Arab countries, and Western diplomats led by the US State Department expressed disgust at the Russian and Chinese move. Meanwhile, the US and France proposed efforts to support the Syrian opposition outside the framework of the UN.

"Unfortunately, yesterday [Saturday] in the UN, the Cold War logic continues," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. "Russia and China did not vote based on the existing realities but more a reflexive attitude against the West."

 “We consider that Syria is occupied by a criminal gang and we must liberate the country from this gang,” said Col. Riad Al Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian Army, composed mostly of deserters from Assad’s forces. “This regime does not understand the language of politics. It only understands the language of force.”

Elsewhere, Radwan Ziadeh of the Syrian National Council opposition group issued a statement that friendly countries should form an “international coalition ... whose aim will be to lead international moves to support the revolution through political and economic aid.” The FSA, he said, “is a national Syrian army and as the regime has the right to get help from its Russian and Iranian allies, it is the right of the opposition to ask for help from its friends in enabling the Syrian people to achieve change.”

Finally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday morning that “In the last few days we have received a reminder of the kind of neighborhood we live in. We heard the comments by Iran’s ruler about destroying Israel, we saw the Syrian army massacre its own people, and we saw other similar bloody incidents in our region.

“In this region the only thing ensuring [Israel’s] survival, security and prosperity is our strength,” Netanyahu continued. “We are obligated to continue to develop Israel’s military, economic and social strength. That is also the only guarantor of peace, and Israel’s only defense if that peace unravels.”

Tensions high in Syria as Russia blocks UN action

Tension was high on the streets of Syrian cities Friday after the city of Hama, which has seen hundreds of violent incidents during the last 11 months of protests against the regime of president Bashar Assad, was virtually locked down by security forces to prevent residents from commemorating the 30th anniversary of an even bigger massacre carried out there by Assad’s father in 1982. Despite the security lockdown in the city there were scattered incidents of protests and memorials in various cities and in front of Syrian embassies in many countries around the world. Meanwhile, Russia continued to block action against Assad at the UN in New York despite passionate appeals by Syrian opposition groups and diplomats from several Arab and Western countries. Russia has warned that unless the text of a resolution on resolving the crisis in Syria explicitly rule out a Libya-style military intervention, or it will use its Security Council veto. Russia also opposes a weapons embargo on Syria and/or a tightening of economic sanctions on the country.

West Bank Palestinians refuse Israeli assistance
Environmental Protection Ministry and Shomron Regional Council officials led reporters on a tour of the West Bank on Thursday, explaining that part of the problems Palestinian villages suffer from comes from their own refusal to accept Israeli development assistance. As an example, they showed reporters raw sewage running in a stream in Samaria which comes from some of the 21 Palestinian villages who have refused an offer to be connected to a pipe which carries the sewage from Jewish communities to a treatment plant in Eliyahu. “That’s a testament to the fact that we are doing everything we can to prevent pollution in Judea and Samaria, but nevertheless, the Palestinians refuse to cooperate,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jerusalem Post.

Iran launches spy satellite into orbit
Hamid Fazeili, chief of Iran’s Space Organization announced on Friday morning that the Islamic Republic had successfully launched the Navid observation satellite which "will be placed into orbit between 250 and 270 kilometers." It is the third such satellite launched by Iran since early 2009 in what Israeli officials fear is a growing constellation of satellites with the ability to spy on the Jewish State. Officials have also expressed worries that the program to build rockets for launching satellites into orbit could also be a cover for developing skills and industries necessary for Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Indictments issued in murder of Christian leader
The Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office served an indictment charging three members of Jaffa’s Arab Christian community with the murder of the city’s Orthodox Church Association. Attorney Gabriel “Gabi” Cadis was stabbed to death on January 6, the day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, during a parade to mark the holiday. According to the indictment, 55-year-old Talal Abu Maneh recruited his two nephews, 24-year-old Tawfik Dalo, 26- year-old Fuad Abu Maneh, to murder Cadis as a way to settle a legal dispute between the family and the Association over an apartment on Ahiluf Street in Jaffa’s increasingly expensive Ajami neighborhood.

Rare Israeli victory at the UN
Israel saw a rare moral and political victory at the UN Thursday when one of her diplomats was seated on the executive board of the United Nations Development Program, a top UN agency which supports projects in 177 countries promoting health and other human development issues. “This is a milestone in Israel’s integration to the global agenda of the UN,” Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative Haim Waxman said. “Furthermore, this is the expression of a journey that we have taken from being a developing nation born in adversity to becoming a developed nation, a member of the OECD and now a full member of the UNDP as a representative of the West.”

Israeli leaders warn about Iran in Herzliya Conference

The Herzliya Conference on international security held this week at the Interdisciplinary Center mainly focused on the threat posed by Iran, with several Israeli leaders stressing the danger the Islamic Republic poses to the entire world and the need to act while there is still time to confront the threat. Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an address on Thursday which included an implicit warning that “If sanctions don’t achieve the desired goal of stopping [Iran’s] military nuclear program, there will be a need to consider taking (military) action,” adding the caveat that he was afraid Iran is nearing a stage “which may render any physical strike as impractical. A nuclear Iran will be more complicated to deal with, more dangerous and more costly in blood than if it were stopped today. In other words, he who says in English ‘later’ may find that ‘later is too late.’”

For a report on “Key Official US and IAEA Statements About Iran’s Nuclear Programs” click HERE (PDF)

Barak’s words echoed remarks earlier in the day by Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who declared that Iran needed to be stopped “one way or another” and that “from my military experience, human beings will know how to penetrate any installation protected by other human beings. Ultimately all the facilities can be hit.”

“A combination of tools are available to the West,” Yaalon said. “That combination must include diplomatic isolation of the regime; the second tool is economic sanctions ... and the last thing is a credible military option.”

“We need a credible military option. The Iranians understand the West has capabilities, but as long as the Iranians don’t think that the West has the political stomach and determination to use it they will not stop,” Ya’alon said. “Currently they don’t think that the world is determined.”

Earlier in the day, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi gave an address outlining Israel’s assessment of the timeline Israel was facing, including information indicating Iran already posseses sufficient fissile material to produce four nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s motivations are: to create hegemony in the region; deterrence; and to become an international player,” Kochavi said. “They claim that they are developing the program for peaceful purposes but our intelligence shows without a doubt that Iran is continuing its work on developing a nuclear weapon.”

To read more of Maj. General Aviv Kochavi’s remarks, click HERE

In related news, the central banks of UAE and Qatar have informed private banks under their jurisdiction to discontinue financing of trade with Iran, tightening the financial noose around Teheran which is already tight following several rounds of economic sanctions by the UN and Western countries.

"Banks in Dubai were asked by the UAE central bank to stop issuing letters of credit to finance trade with Iran. Before the sanctions, the central bank regularly checked on trading with Iran and wanted to know of all dealings between the two countries," said a Dubai-based banker active in trade financing. "Banks can't do this anymore."

Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Beijing on Thursday, where she urged Chinese lawmakers to persuade Iran to be more "open and transparent" about its renegade nuclear program.

"I will advocate that if Europe imposes sanctions [on Iran], China should still use its influence to tell Iran that we do not need and cannot allow another power to have nuclear weapons," Merkel said.

Protests again turn violent in Egypt

Egyptians protesting police inaction during a soccer riot in the city of Port Said which led to 74 deaths on Thursday surrounded the Interior Ministry in Cairo on Friday, while police in the city of Suez resorted to live fire to hold back crowds trying to break into a police station, killing at least two civilians. Protesters are holding up the violence as proof that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is incompetent and should immediately hand over power to a civilian government. Hundreds of people, both riot police and civilians, have been wounded in street clashes in the last 48 hours, and tensions remained high ahead of Friday prayers in mosques, the traditional start of demonstrations in many Moslem majority countries.

"We are not going to leave this time," said Sami Adel, a 23-year-old member of the "Ultras," group which often clashes with police. A pamphlet printed by the group and widely distributed in Cairo declared that “the crimes committed against the revolutionary forces will not stop the revolution or scare the revolutionaries."

In related news, Adel Imam, an Egyptian comic regarded as the most famous actor in the Arab world and appointed as a goodwill ambassador by the UN, has been sentenced to three months in jail with hard labor for "defaming Islam" in several roles he’s played on stage and in movies.

"I will appeal the ruling," Imam told AFP. "Some people seeking fame filed a suit against me over works I have done which they consider insulting to Islam, and this is of course not true. All the works in which I have starred went through the censors. Had they been found to be defamatory, the censors would have banned them."

"In the course of his rich career, he has mixed humour with sadness to portray ordinary people who are victims of injustice and poverty," the UN Refugee Agency says in a biography on its website. "For all these reasons, Imam became a symbol for people promoting tolerance and human rights in the Arab world."

Ban pelted with rocks during Gaza visit

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon visited the Gaza Strip on Thursday where he was greeted as he passed through the Erez crossing by an angry mob which pelted his motorcade with shoes, sticks and rocks. The mob was composed mostly of Palestinians who have relatives in Israeli prisons, and some carried signs accusing Ban of double standards. No one was injured in the incident, and Ban proceeded with his schedule, which included a press conference in Khan Younis and a visit to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters. He is not scheduled to meet with any Hamas representatives during his visit to the Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the PA to continue talks with Israel during his joint press conference with Ban on Wednesday. Ban responded by thanking Netanyahu for his words but urging him to halt construction in West Bank settlements.

PA arrests journalist for Facebook criticism
In what many Western observers described as a “disappointing” sign that the Palestinian Authority retains the authoritarian tendencies it insists it has outgrown, US trained and financed PA police on Tuesday arrested a Palestinian journalist in Ramallah posting a remark on his Facebook page that was critical of the PA leadership. The journalist, Rami Samara, works for the PA’s official news agency Wafa, and the privately owned Ajyal radio station. A colleage, Yousef Shayeb, protested against the arrest and was promptly arrested himself. Both men were released a few hours later following withering criticism from human rights organizations.

8 rockets from Gaza land in Israel
Terrorists based in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip launched a salvo of 8 rockets into southern Israel on Wednesday, the first day of relative visibility after several days of cloudy weather and rain. There were no injuries or damages reported, but the attacks prompted authorities to remind residents that the Iron Dome system was unable to protect the area situated between 4.5 kilometers and 7 km. from the Gaza border and to reiterate requests for the government to provide funds for bomb shelters.

For the latest intelligence report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, click HERE (PDF)

Israel ranks high in education
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently published its 2011 edition of "Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators," which gave Israel high marks for the levels of education among its citizenry. According to the report, 45% of Israelis have completed a university degree, outranking Japan (44%), the US (41%) and the UK (37%), but trailing Canada (50%). The report also showed Israel as having one of the fastest rates of population growth in the industrialized world and many other indications of positive change in the Jewish State.

Heavy precipitation helps, but winter almost over
Israel’s Water Authority confirmed on Thursday that January was one of the wettest months in decades for Northern Israel, but cautioned that it barely makes up for years of drought, adding that the rainy season is more than two thirds over and the Sea of Galilee is still 11 centimeters below the bottom red line at 213.105 meters below sea level. “It was quite a rainy January, especially in the North – we got more rain in the North than in the average year,” said Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor. “After the seven drought years we’ve had, the lack of water is so huge that we need much, much, much more to cover even part of that. We are happy with January, but we can’t be satisfied from it. It’s not a good situation.” With 4.31 meters is still missing from the Kinneret’s basin, the Authority offered some hope that the heavier than average snowfall in the country’s mountainous regions would, when they thaw in a few months, also make a healthy contribution to the water supply.

Ahmadinejad proposes massive increase in military budget

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad sent a proposal to parliament for a $416 billion budget on Wednesday. According to Iranian media, the budget included a doubling of military expenditures and lavish funding for various other pet projects but little relief for working class Iranians. Critics of the budget said it was based on an expectation of 8% economic growth, which had little basis in reality, completely ignoring the high unemployment rate and the likely effects of inflation and international sanctions on Iranian oil sales meant to dissuade the Islamic Republic from pursuing its renegade nuclear program. In related news, a team of inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Wednesday that they would be returning to Iran later this month after a recent three day visit which it described as “good” despite achieving no positive results.

For a closer look at options for dealing with Iran, click HERE (PDF)

“We are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues and the Iranians said they are committed too," Herman Nackaerts, IAEA deputy director general, told reporters after returning from Tehran. "But of course there is still a lot of work to be done and so we have planned another trip in the very near future." Asked if he was satisfied with the talks, Nackaerts replied: "Yeah, we had a good trip."

The IAEA subsequently issued a statement that the next meetings would occur from February 21-22 in Tehran, adding that during the recent meetings it had explained to the Iranians its "concerns and identified its priorities, which focus on the clarification of possible military dimensions" to Iran's atomic work. "The IAEA also discussed with Iran the topics and initial steps to be taken, as well as associated modalities."

"This visit will be judged by whether the Iranians provided the visiting IAEA team with cooperation on substantive issues. Anything short of that type of cooperation is not acceptable," one Vienna based diplomat said.

“The IAEA would not be scheduling another trip unless they had an expectation of progress in clearing away at least some of the questions about suspicious past nuclear activity," said proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick, a director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"We had very good meetings and we planned to continue these negotiations. The team had some questions about the claimed studies. One step has been taken forward," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the semi-official Fars news agency in Tehran. "We were ready to show them our nuclear facilities, but they didn't ask for it."

“To believe anything other than that Iran is working to get a nuclear weapon is hopelessly naive,” former CIA director James Woolsey said in an interview on the sidelines of the Herzliya Conference in Israel on Wednesday.  “At some point someone is going to have to decide to use force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I’d argue that those who say we can deal adequately with Iran through deterrence are quite naive. National survival is at issue. In the near term that’s the case for Israel, but in the somewhat longer term it is [the case] for the US, which from Iran’s point of view, is the ‘Great Satan. This is a world-class problem, not an eastern Mediterranean or Persian Gulf problem. The politics of the world will change if this regime gets the bomb.”

Deadly riot points to a breakdown in order in Egypt

The situation on Israel’s southern border continues to deteriorate as a riot which broke out following a soccer game in the Egyptian city of Port Said left 73 people dead and over 1,000 injured on Wednesday in yet another sign of the country’s destabilization. “This is unfortunate and deeply saddening. It is the biggest disaster in Egypt’s football history,” Deputy Health Minister Hesham Sheiha told state television. According to medical reports, several of the dead and injured suffered stab wounds, while many more had simply been bludgeoned with rocks, bottles, blunt instruments and fists. Another soccer match in Cairo was interrupted by a fire during the first half, leading to the match being cancelled.

On Israel’s northern border, The UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which issued indictments for four members of the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah last June in the case of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri, finally announced on Wednesday that it would try the fugitives in absentia. Hezbollah has threatened to initiate hostilities against the Lebanese government if they attempt to arrest the four men in compliance with the UNSTL’s mandate, and government security forces have indeed made little apparent effort to seriously search for them, much less take them into custody. Nevertheless, the Netherlands-based UNSTL declared that "all reasonable steps have been taken to secure the appearance of the accused and to notify them of the charges" and the trial could proceed.

To Israel’s Northeast, in Syria, violence continued to rage between forces loyal to the regime of president Bashar Assad and protesters, claiming nearly 60 new victims on Wednesday as the Arab League demanded action by the UN Security Council to end Assad’s “killing machine” while Russia declared its intention to veto any “unacceptable” proposal.

Heavy fighting was reported in and around the capital of Damascus, a development many analysts have identified as a possible tipping point in a revolt which has lasted 11 months and claimed close to 8,000 lives, according to various estimates. Elsewhere, the UN announced last week it had stopped trying to count the dead because it is too difficult to get information.

Despite the high death toll, the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Turkey-based commander Colonel Riyadh Al Asaad told AFP that half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces.

 “It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “We are heading toward real chaos. The Syrian public in general is beginning to [realize] that there isn’t a magic ending to this, there isn’t a regime collapse.”


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