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NEWS Distillation – Week of 29 October – 2 November 2012 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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29 October 2012

Syria – The Hindustan Times reported: The Syrian regime may be their sworn enemy, but rebels fighting to bring down President Bashar al-Assad say they pay hard cash to government agents for guns and bullets. For Syria’s plethora of armed opposition groups, obtaining weapons is a constant struggle. Furious with the West for failing to provide heavy weaponry, they say they have little choice but to line Assad’s coffers. In a country where national service is compulsory, and a conflict where brothers fight on opposing sides and rebels defect from the armed forces, they say it is not difficult to find a “middleman” or an “old friend” to help. “We buy from Assad spies and on the market,” said Major Abu Mahar, puffing on a French cigarette over coffee at a gym requisitioned by his network of fighters as a base in the northern city of Aleppo. He claims to lead 200 men who conduct “special missions” against Assad’s forces. But like other units, they are poorly armed with machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles and home-made rockets and bombs.

Ukraine – The Voice of America reported: Ukraine’s ruling party is facing criticism at home and abroad, even as it appears on course to maintain its majority after Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko announced Monday she is launching a hunger strike to protest the vote.  With about 70 percent of the votes counted, her pro-Western Fatherland Party trails President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions, 34 to 23 percent. Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, read her statement to the press.

Sudan – The Telegraph UK reported: Iran risked Israeli military retaliation Monday with the dispatch of a naval task force to Sudan just days after a widely reported airstrike by the Jewish state against a missile base run by Tehran in Khartoum. Sudanese state media said that a docking ceremony was staged in Port Sudan to receive the convoy led by an Iranian naval frigate and corvette warship. Commanders of the Iranian flotilla reportedly met Sudanese navy chiefs as a gesture of “peace and friendship”. But Israel sees the increasingly close military links between Iran and Sudan as a credible threat. It fears Iran is building missiles to supply Hizbollah and the Syrian regime. Israeli media has said that a long-range bombing run by eight F15 bombers hit a missile base staffed by Iranian engineers at the Yarmouk military plant. Sudan has complained to the United Nations that Israel bombed the factory.
China – The Star Tribune reported: Just after the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which starts in Beijing on Nov. 8, a short line of dark-suited men, and perhaps one woman, will step onto a red carpet in a room in the Great Hall of the People and meet the world’s press. At their head will be Xi Jinping, the newly anointed party chief, who in March will also take over as president of China. Behind him will file the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme body. The smiles will be wooden, the backs ramrod straight. Yet the stage-management could hardly be more different from the tempestuous uncertainties of actually governing. As ruler of the world’s new economic powerhouse, Xi will follow his recent predecessors in trying to combine economic growth with political stability. Yet this task is proving increasingly difficult. A slowing economy, corruption and myriad social problems are causing growing frustration among China’s people and worry among its officials. In coping with these tensions, Xi can continue to clamp down on discontent, or he can start to loosen the party’s control. China’s future will be determined by the answer to this question: Does Xi have the courage and vision to see that assuring his country’s prosperity and stability in the future requires him to break with the past?

IsraelReuters reported: If Israel bombed a Sudanese munitions factory, as Khartoum alleges, the raid was part of its widening proxy war against Islamist militants in neighbouring Egypt which the Jewish state is reluctant to confront directly. A huge explosion ripped through the factory near the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Tuesday, killing two people, with Sudan swiftly accusing Israel of sending four military planes to take out the complex. The poor Muslim east African state, with its ties to Iran and Sunni jihadis, has long been seen by Israel as a conduit for weapons smuggled onward to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, via the Egyptian Sinai desert. With Sinai itself becoming a seedbed of al Qaeda-inspired cadres during Cairo’s political upheaval, the Israelis now fear such arms could be used against them from within Egyptian territory. That puts Israel in a strategic bind, laid bare by the half-dozen guerrilla attacks it absorbed over the Egyptian border in recent months.

29 October 2012

Syria – The LA Times reported: Syrian government shelling of areas held by opposition forces and a car bomb in a suburb considered loyal to President Bashar Assad killed and injured dozens of people Monday, activists and state news media said. The fighting came on what was supposed to be the last day of a four-day holiday cease-fire. The truce, however, was broken within hours of its start Friday. Activists reported fierce government shelling in Damascus, the capital, and its suburbs. In the Hajar Aswad neighborhood, eight people in a minibus were killed when a shell struck a building and caused rubble to fall onto the vehicle, activists said. Four of the dead were members of the same family — two children and their parents.

Bahrain – The New York Times reported: Citing recent episodes of violence, the government of Bahrain on Tuesday banned all public rallies and demonstrations, a move that drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and opposition activists who said it was intended solely to stifle criticism of the ruling monarchy in the tiny Persian Gulf nation. In a statement, Bahrain’s interior minister said protests were banned after “repeated violations” by rally organizers, including riots, attacks on property and calls for the overthrow of “leading national figures.” Legal action would be taken against anyone attempting to organize a rally, the statement said. A government spokesman, Fahad al-Binali, said in an interview that the ban would be temporary and was intended to “calm things down” after the recent deaths of protesters and police officers.

Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: The war has finally found Bamian, a remote corner of Afghanistan that for a decade had enjoyed near immunity to Taliban violence. As the American troop surge peaked over the past two years, Taliban insurgents began contesting parts of this central province, flowing in from more embattled areas of the country. And now, a series of deadly strikes in recent months has intimidated residents and served notice that roads are unsafe and government officials are targets. That it has happened in Bamian — known for its rugged beauty, nascent skiing industry and the ancient Buddha statues that once kept vigil here — has added to the sense that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe. And that, Afghan and Western analysts say, is a crucial part of the Taliban’s strategy in coming here. “Bamian was the safest province in the country,” said Mohammed Natiqi, a Kabul-based military analyst. “The insurgents are trying to find a toehold there by destabilizing it to show their presence all over the country.”

Italy – The New York Times reported: Sicilians shunned regional elections to renew the island’s Parliament on Sunday in record numbers, in an unequivocal signal of growing disaffection with Italy’s political class, even as the center-left wrested control from center-right parties that had governed the region since 2000. A little over 47 percent of Sicily’s eligible voters turned out, a record low, down from 67 percent in the 2008 elections, according to the Electoral Office of the Sicily Region. Another pointer of widespread malaise was the surprising success of the Five Star Movement, a nascent protest group. Headed by Beppe Grillo, a sardonic comedian turned political guru, Five Star has surged in a series of local elections this year on a campaign to overthrow the existing political order. With half the ballots counted, the movement had won about 18 percent of the vote.

Burma – The BBC Asia Corps reported: More than 22,000 people have been displaced by violence in Burma’s Rakhine state, mostly from the Muslim Rohingya minority, the government says. UN officials who joined a government tour said many of the displaced, who are in squalid camps, boats, or on islands or hilltops, needed urgent aid. More than 4,600 houses have been burnt. Earlier Burma acknowledged more than 80 people had been killed and whole villages destroyed in violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas. The total number displaced since clashes broke out between the two groups in June is now 100,000.

EuropeFOX NEWS reported: President Obama’s efforts to isolate Iran’s rogue regime is drawing a cool response from some key European lawmakers, who may be putting trade over principle. A group of German members of parliament arrived on Sunday in Iran, including a representative of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, and was slated to meet with the local chamber of commerce and Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian human rights council. He is the official who justified the stoning of women as punishment and called for Israel’s destruction. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a German-Iranian expert on the Islamic Republic and EU-Iran relations, said such trips to Iran are “a failure of the sanctions of the EU and of Obama, of transatlantic cooperation and of a common European policy.” Yet another group of parliament members from European Union countries was planning a diplomatic mission to Iran over the weekend, but canceled it when Tehran refused to allow them to bestow an award on a human rights dissident. Still, the group was more than prepared to give Iran a photo op and snub two U.S. senators who had implored them not to go, not to mention Obama.

Belgium – The Associated Press reported: A group of aid organizations proposed Tuesday that products from Israeli settlements no longer be allowed to bear a “Made in Israel” label when they’re sold inside the European Union. The report — produced by 22 aid, development and church groups from nine EU countries — argues that the bloc’s policy toward Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is inconsistent: On the one hand, the EU’s position is that the settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace, while on the other hand EU trade helps sustain them. The report says the most recent estimate of EU imports from the settlements, provided this year by Israel to the World Bank, is $300 million a year — about 15 times the amount of imports from Palestinians. There are more than 4 million Palestinians, compared to about 500,000 Israeli settlers. Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, reacted with withering criticism toward the non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, involved.

LibyaAl Bawaba NEWS of Jordan reported: Protesters have intruded on Tuesday evening to the hall of the National Assembly when the Libyan Parliament was to approve the new government proposed by Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, leading to the postponement of the vote. “I wanted us to continue this session (…), but morally, I can not take this responsibility,” said Assembly Speaker Mohamed Megaryef before adjourning the vote for Wednesday. Earlier, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan proposed to the National Assembly a broad-based government of 30 ministers with Liberals and Islamists represented. The key ministries have been entrusted to independent figures, said Zeidan before the 200 members of National Executive Congress (NEC). “I have decided to appoint independent figures for the following ministries: Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Finance, Justice, Interior and Defense,” he said. Two experienced figures from the city of Benghazi have been proposed for the Interior and Defence ministries. The Ministry of the Interior was given by Zeidan to Chwayel Achour, 58, a law expert who worked in the police for 35 years.

31 October 2012

Turkey – The New York Times reported: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany met with Turkey’s prime minister here on Wednesday and pledged that the European Union would continue to pursue talks “in good faith” over Turkey’s accession to the bloc, despite disagreements that have proved challenging for both sides. “The E.U. is an honest negotiating partner,” Ms. Merkel said. “These negotiations will continue irrespective of the questions that we have to clarify.” Her pledge came after the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned that the European Union stood in danger of losing Turkey if it was not granted membership by 2023.

European UnionUSA Today reported: Disputes over the spending and lending policies of the European Union bubbled over into a revolt against the British prime minister by his own party and a massive strike announced for next week in Greece. The political unrest comes as the European Union announced that unemployment had hit the highest rate recorded since the creation of the euro currency in 1996. “Britain and Germany are looking at the same situation in the crisis and coming to opposite conclusions,” said Almut Moeller, an analyst specializing on European issues at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. Prime Minister David Cameron faced mutiny Wednesday from members of his own Conservativ Party, who demanded he reduce the country’s contribution to the EU. Cameron has said he will not support an increase in the EU budget above the rate of inflation. The European Commission, the administrative arm of the EU, has proposed a budget of $1.3 trillion from 2014 to 2020, an increase of slightly over 1%.

Israel – The Jerusalem Post reported: Defense minister signals J’lem will not rely even on “closest, most trusted allies” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel will not outsource its vital security interests to anyone, “not even to our closest and most trusted allies,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in London on Wednesday. Speaking at the British Israel Communications and Research Center, Barak addressed Iran’s uranium enrichment program: “All options are on the table to prevent Iran from crossing the point of no return. We expect all those who say it to mean it; we mean it.” The defense minister signaled that Jerusalem would not rely on US assurances to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

IndiaTIME Magazine reported: Cyclone Nilam has struck the southeastern coast of India, bringing with it severe flooding and winds almost as strong as superstorm Sandy. Nilam, which formed over the Bay of Bengal, looked to be headed straight for the Sri Lankan coast.  Fortunately, Sri Lanka, which is still re-building after a decades-long war, avoided the worst of the storm. Having only closed the massive Menik Farm displacement camp one month ago, the last thing this Southern Asian country needed was another humanitarian disaster. The force of the cyclone could be seen even before it hit Indian coastlines. Its powerful winds forced an oil tanker to run aground, writes the Times of India, leaving 22 crew members floating in a lifeboat.

China – The Houston Chronicle reported: In a small town in northern China’s Inner Mongolia where sheep and cattle easily outnumber humans, Fan Chen paid a Communist Party boss three times an average urban resident’s annual salary to become a local police chief. The scheme was exposed and fell apart, but it was hardly explosive news. It received just a one-line mention in state media. And a friend of Fan’s defended him by saying that by current standards, his misdeeds were insignificant. “What he paid was simply a drizzle,” said Xu Huaiwei, a 68-year-old retired engineer. “It’s too common in China, and people have paid far more — millions, or tens of millions of yuan — for a government job.”

AustraliaFOX NEWS reported: Taliban bullets tearing up the earth around his boots and zipping past his ears left Australian Cpl. Daniel Keighran in no doubt about the risks he was taking each time he broke cover to deliberately draw enemy fire. His actions on Aug. 24, 2010, near the village of Derapet in central Uruzgan province helped his 40-man joint Australian-Afghan army patrol escape an ambush by 100 insurgents with a single casualty and on Thursday earned him the British Commonwealth’s highest military award, the Victoria Cross. The 29-year-old gold miner from the Outback town of Kalgoorlie, who remains an army reservist, is the third Australian to earn the ultimate accolade for valor in the 11-year-old Afghan campaign. A New Zealand commando also won the Victoria Cross in 2007 and a British paratrooper was given a posthumous award the same year.

Libya – The New York Times reported: The Libyan Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve the new prime minister’s cabinet, ending months of uncertainty about who was in charge of the government. The top officials of defense and security are now expected to take responsibility for investigating the attack on the American Mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11 of this year, as well as the larger challenge of controlling the militias that have dominated Libya since the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi more than a year ago. The approval follows three weeks of confusion after the newly elected Parliament named an earlier prime minister and then removed him in less than a month. It had rejected his attempt to form a cabinet, leaving in place a lame-duck team criticized as weak from the moment it was named last fall. The political paralysis had left the government in limbo as it scrambled to respond to the Benghazi attacks. The new prime minister, Ali Zeidan, previously worked as a human rights lawyer in Geneva, where he was a leader of an exiled opposition group, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

TunisiaReuters reported: A second man died on Wednesday of wounds suffered when Tunisian police opened fire on hardline Salafi Muslim protesters in the capital Tunis, the state news agency said. A struggle over the role of religion in government and society has emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisia, for decades seen as among the most secular in the Arab world, since a popular uprising ended autocratic rule last year. “A second man, named Khaled Karoui, died today of his wounds after yesterday’s clash … in the Dawar Hicher (district of Tunis),” TAP news agency said. A security source said late on Tuesday that one person was killed in clashes that followed an assault by hundreds of Salafis on a police station to protest at the arrest of a Salafi accused of attacking a police chief with a knife. The violence was the latest sign of religious tension in the North African state where the “Arab Spring” democracy movements took off.

MyanmarReuters Africa Corps reported: U.N. human rights investigators called on Myanmar on Wednesday to halt deadly sectarian violence and warned it not to use the conflict as a pretext to remove Rohingya minority Muslims. Some 89 people have been killed in clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas in western Myanmar in the past 10 days, according to the latest official toll. “This situation must not become an opportunity to permanently remove an unwelcome community,” said a joint statement issued by Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, and independent experts on minority issues and the internally displaced. They voiced their “deep concern about the assertion of the government and others that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants and stateless persons”. “If the country is to be successful in the process of democratic transition, it must be bold in addressing the human rights challenges that exist,” Ojea Quintana said.

NigeriaYahoo NEWS via (AP) reported: Gunmen suspected to belong to a violent robbery gang raided a remote village in northern Nigeria, killing 20 people in an attack highlighting the growing insecurity in the nation, an official said Wednesday. The assault happened Tuesday morning before dawn in Kabaru, a village near other towns in Zamfara state that were recently attacked by the gang, state spokesman Nuhu Anka said. The gunmen shot dead most of those they found in the village, then later “slaughtered” the local village chief in a brutal machete attack, Anka said. Police have begun an investigation into the attack, he said. The assault appeared to be the work of a violent gang blamed for several mass casualty attacks in the region in recent months. In June, gunmen killed at least 27 people in Zamfara state in attacks on villages preparing for a local market day. Earlier in October, gunmen armed with assault rifles attacked a rural village in neighbouring Kaduna state, killing at least 24 people, including worshippers leaving a mosque after prayers before dawn. “It looks like the same people because the pattern is the same,” Anka said. Officials said the Kaduna attack likely came after a local vigilante group in the community killed some of the robbers.

ItalyCNN reported: Italy’s economy risks a “vicious circle” of weak growth and lack of confidence, the governor of the Bank of Italy has warned as unemployment rose to its highest level for 13 years while its recession deepened. More than 35 per cent of young Italians are out of work as factory closures, bankruptcies and public sector cuts fuel a nationwide backlash against the austerity policies of Mario Monti’s technocrat government ahead of general elections early next year. Speaking at a banking conference in Rome, Ignazio Visco, central bank governor, praised Mr Monti’s structural reforms for having “stopped the loss” of market confidence in Italy. With an eye to whoever forms the next government, he said budget targets must be respected and reforms implemented. Nonetheless, Mr Visco warned of difficult times ahead, with reforms only having an impact in the “medium term” and the government planning further austerity measures to finance a public debt of €2tn — or 126 per cent, second only to Greece in the eurozone as a percentage of economic output.

1 November 2012

Saudi Arabia – The Christian Science Monitor reported: At least 23 people were killed when a fuel truck crashed into a flyover in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Thursday, triggering an explosion that brought down an industrial building and set fire to nearby vehicles. State-owned Ekhbariya television news channel reported on that the death toll had risen to 23 and emergency workers were still searching the collapsed building for more victims or survivors. Health ministry spokesman Saad al-Qahtani said 135 people were injured, mostly men and including some foreigners. Although the incident took place near the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the Prince Nayef Arab University for Security Studies, officials speaking on state television said it was an accident.

SyriaNewsday reported: Syrian rebels killed 78 soldiers on Thursday, about half of them in attacks on military checkpoints in the north just hours after a wave of bombings hit the Damascus area, activists said. The unusually high toll for regime forces came after days of intense air bombardment of rebel positions around the country that killed hundreds more. Anti-regime activists say President Bashar Assad’s regime has been making even heavier use than before of airstrikes to try to win back territory rebels have captured, including the strategic northern city of Maaret al-Numan on a key supply route from the capital Damascus to the commercial hub of Aleppo. Rebels have been using the city as a base to disrupt government supplies to Aleppo, a key front in the civil war. After many rounds of failed diplomatic efforts to ease the Syrian crisis, the U.S. is making a push to unite the opposition, which is dominated by exiles widely seen as ineffective and out of touch with rebel fighters on the ground. Ahead of a crucial opposition conference in Qatar next week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Wednesday for a major leadership overhaul. She suggested Washington would handpick more representative leaders, including those fighting the regime.

Israel – The LA Times reported: More than 24 years after Palestinian military leader Khalil Ibrahim Wazir was assassinated in Tunisia, Israel acknowledged for the first time that its spy agency Mossad carried out the killing. Wazir, one of the founders of the Fatah Party and a top aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was viewed by Israel as a terrorist and by Palestinians as a freedom fighter. After refusing for years to publicly confirm Israel’s role in the April 16, 1988, assassination, the nation’s military censors on Thursday permitted the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot to publish an interview with the commander who led the secret mission. The article had reportedly been suppressed by censors for more than a decade. Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, was believed to have been behind numerous strikes against Israelis, including a 1978 bus-hijacking attack that killed 38 Israelis, and to have helped organize the 1987 Palestinian uprising known as the first Intifada from his base in Tunisia.

United KingdomThe Australian reported: BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron has suffered his first significant parliamentary defeat after rebels in his Conservative Party joined the Labour opposition to demand a cut in the EU budget. MPs passed a motion urging Mr Cameron to insist on a cut in real terms in the bloc’s trillion-euro 2014-20 budget at a Brussels summit next month, by 307 votes to 294. Although the vote is not binding, it is the most significant defeat since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010. Mr Cameron had sought to head off the rebellion by threatening to veto any above-inflation increase of the EU budget, which has become increasingly contentious as austerity measures bite across the continent. But in a stinging blow to his authority, 53 Conservative MPs defied the Prime Minister and voted for a real-terms cut.

Syria via ChinaXinhua official Chinese state run NEWS site reported: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday elaborated China’s new four-point proposal on a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, urging all parties in Syria to cease fire and violence and begin political transition at an early date. Yang made the proposal during his talks with UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is visiting China for the first time since replacing former UN chief Kofi Annan as the international mediator on Syria on Sept. 1.

To facilitate the political settlement of the Syrian issue, China proposes the following:

First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.

Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria’s governmental institutions must be maintained.

Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi’s mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers’ meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan’s six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.

Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.

Nigeria – The BBC Africa Corps reported: The site is attracting members of the congregation who want to revisit the scene after lucky escapes as well as curious people from surrounding neighbourhoods who come armed with mobile phone cameras. The authorities suspect the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, was behind Sunday’s attack. But the bombs are not the only cause of fear in northern Nigeria. In some towns and cities the military response is also causing people to suffer. “After Boko Haram attacked a mobile military patrol, soldiers came to the place and started firing on people, innocent people,” a trader who recently fled the town of Potiskum told the BBC. “When I went to the hospital the next morning I saw 30 bodies. I saw them with my naked eyes. I counted them.” Residents of towns in north-east Nigeria say that civilians are most at risk when soldiers are killed by suspected Boko Haram militants.

2 November 2012

SyriaReuters reported: The Syrian army abandoned its last base near the northern town of Saraqeb after a fierce assault by rebels, further isolating the strategically important second city Aleppo from the capital. But in a political setback to forces battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations said the rebels appeared to have committed a war crime after seizing the base. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday government troops had retreated from a post northwest of Saraqeb, leaving the town and surrounding areas “completely outside the control of regime forces”. It was not immediately possible to verify the reported army withdrawal. Authorities restrict journalists’ access in Syria and state media made no reference to Saraqeb.

Cuba – The Press Trust of India reported: The United States has said that it is “guilty” of the Cuban charges of training dissidents in internet, a day after Havana accused Washington of helping its opponents access the Internet. “We are absolutely guilty of those charges. The US Interests Section in Havana does regularly offer free courses in using the internet to Cubans who want to sign up,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

IsraelBloomberg NEWS reported: A network of Jewish Republicans, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson and veterans of President George W. Bush’s administration, is spearheading an effort to peel Jewish voters away from President Barack Obama. The Republican Jewish Coalition has reported political expenditures of $6.3 million, four times higher than the $1.4 million the group spent in 2008, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Federal Election Commission. Also, a separate group sharing the same address as a charitable foundation established by Ronald Lauder is registering U.S. voters living in Israel and has highlighted Obama’s disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lauder is the son of the founder of the Estee Lauder cosmetics company.

ChinaThe State via (AP) reported: China on Wednesday defended its increasingly assertive patrolling near disputed East China Sea islands controlled by Japan, as tensions in the area continue to run high. The actions constitute “routine patrols and law enforcement in China’s territorial waters around the Diaoyu Islands,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regularly scheduled news conference. “This was a normal official activity intended to exercise jurisdiction. This deserves no criticism,” Hong said. That followed an encounter Wednesday between ships from the Japanese Coast Guard and China Marine Surveillance near the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Each side broadcast their claim of sovereignty to the other and the brief incident ended when the ships dispersed, Japan said.

NigeriaThe Hindu of India reported: Nigerian soldiers shot dead dozens of young men during raids in a city seen as a stronghold of a radical Islamist group, residents and a morgue worker said today. The reported military operations targeted four neighbourhoods of Maiduguri, the epicentre of an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists, blamed for killing hundreds of people in northern and central Nigeria since 2009. Residents said the troops conducting the raids ordered males in their teens and 20s to separate from the others in the area. In the Kalari neighbourhood they told the young men “to lie face down on the ground,” then asked the rest to look away.

Pakistan – The International NEWS of Pakistan reported: Eighteen people, including eight women and three children, were killed and four others were injured when unknown armed men attacked a mini petrol pump in Khuzdar on Friday, some 300 kilometres from the provincial capital. Officials of the Khuzdar police said that some unidentified gunmen driving a car opened fire at the petrol pump when a passenger coach had stopped there to get fuel. Over 20 people were travelling in the passenger coach, which was going to Archino village from the Khuzdar city. The armed men opened fire with modern weapons. Some of the bullets hit the petrol drums, which caused a huge fire engulfing the fuel station, the passenger van, two motorbikes and four neighbouring shops, DPO Khuzdar Faseehud Din told the media persons. Paramilitary troops and fire-fighters later extinguished the fire. Police officials said that eight passengers were killed on the spot while a dozen others, including fuel station staff and passer-bys, were shifted to hospital for treatment, where 10 of them later succumbed to serious burn injuries.

HaitiABC NEWS reported: The Haitian capital saw a small increase in the number of people infected by cholera after last week’s destructive rains from Hurricane Sandy, an international medical group said Friday. Doctors Without Borders said the group’s five cholera treatment centers had at least 457 patients Monday. There were 500 patients Tuesday. Spokesman Mathieu Fortoul said the number of cholera patients had since dropped, with the group’s clinics having about 430 patients Friday. The increase in cases was anticipated. Cholera spreads through water, and Haiti has seen a spike in the number of cases following periods of heavy rainfall. The country is vulnerable in large part because it doesn’t have proper sanitation and sewage systems. Cholera, an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera, has sickened more than 600,000 people and killed more than 7,500 others in Haiti since it surfaced several months after the devastating 2010 earthquake, health officials say.

Palestine – The Jerusalem Post reported: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel in an interview with Channel 2 that aired in its entirety Friday night. The comments could deepen a rift between the PA and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and remains committed to terrorism as a tactic in its fight against Israel. “There is no justification for rockets from Gaza or anywhere else,” Abbas said. “Rockets attacks are in vain because they do not bring peace any closer.” In the first part of the interview, which aired Thursday on Channel 2, Abbas made a rare if symbolic concession to Israel, saying he had no permanent claim on the town from which he left as a child during the War of Independence in 1948. “Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever…. This is Palestine for me. I am (a) refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that (the) West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts (are) Israel.”

Japan – The FOX NEWS reported: The Japanese government condemned on Friday an incident in which a U.S. serviceman allegedly entered a residence in Okinawa and struck a boy of 13. The 24-year-old serviceman stationed at the Kadena base on the southern Japanese island had been drinking at a bar Thursday night before he wandered upstairs to an apartment in the same building, police said. After allegedly hitting the teenager, the intruder fell out a third-floor window and was hospitalized. All U.S. military personnel in Japan have been under a night-time curfew since two American sailors were arrested in Okinawa last month on charges they raped a Japanese woman. Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, described the latest incident as “inexcusable” and said Tokyo will request a high-level meeting with U.S. officials to discuss the case.

Iran – The New York Times reported: Sitting on one of the many crowded benches in the waiting room of the International Red Crescent’s pharmacy in central Tehran, Ali, 26, was working his phone. After nearly six weeks of chasing down batches of Herceptin, an American-made cancer medicine, Ali, an engineer, was wearing out his welcome with friends and relatives in other Iranian cities, who had done all they could to rustle up the increasingly elusive drug. At home his mother waited, bald and frail after chemotherapy for her breast cancer, but Herceptin had disappeared from pharmacies and hospitals in the capital. “So you are telling me that a pharmacy in Qazvin has 20 batches left?” Ali asked, talking about a city two hours’ drive east of Tehran. “Please buy whatever you can get your hands on.” But five minutes later bad news came: “Gone? O.K., thank you for your troubles. If you do find some please call me by the soonest.”

United Kingdom – The Telegraph UK reported: Bankrupt ex-billionaire Sean Quinn will spend Christmas in prison after being handed a nine-week jail term over an “outrageous” asset-stripping scheme, in violation of court orders. The 66-year-old property entrepreneur, once Ireland’s richest man, was sentenced at Dublin’s High Court on Friday after being found in contempt of court. The conviction centred on his defiance of a court order that had demanded Quinn, his son Sean Junior and nephew Peter Darragh Quinn,stop keeping foreign property assets beyond the reach of creditors at the state-owned Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC), the former Anglo Irish Bank. In the contempt ruling, Judge Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said the men had defied and misled the courts to shift assets as far afield as Belize, Ukraine and Russia.

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Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO
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