Syria Rebels Attack Assad Strongholds in Damascus (BBC News)
Syrian rebels have carried out fresh attacks on government facilities and strongholds in Damascus.
Mortar shells landed in Mezzeh 86, an Alawite district near the presidential palace, and hit the prime minister's offices and Mezzeh military airfield.
See also Syrian Forces Raid Hamas Offices in Damascus - Elhanan Miller (Times of Israel)
Hamas' official website Wednesday reported that Syrian forces raided the office and apartment of Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal on Monday.
On Tuesday, Syrian forces repeated that activity at the office of Hamas official Imad Al-Alami.
Hamas leaders abandoned their Damascus headquarters in January but maintained some presence, with the offices guarded by Hamas members.
Ghana: Mall Collapses, Israel Sends Aid - Yoav Zitun (Ynet News)
Three people were killed and over 50 were hurt Wednesday, when a four-storey shopping mall in Accra, Ghana, collapsed.
An Israel Air Force plane carrying a Home Front Command team consisting of medical personnel, engineers, and communication experts left for Ghana on Wednesday afternoon.
A Magen David Adom team will fly to Ghana on Thursday to set up a field hospital.
See also Israel Emergency Assistance to Ghana on Its Way (Ghana Web)
Libya Helps Bankroll Syrian Opposition (Financial Times-UK-Washington Post)
The top financer of the Syrian opposition is Libya.
According to a budget released by the Syrian National Council on Sunday, the Libyan government contributed $20.3 million of the $40.4 million that the opposition group has amassed since October 2011.
Qatar gave $15 million, and the UAE contributed $5 million.
Harassers of Women in Cairo Now Face Wrath of Vigilantes - Kareem Fahim (New York Times)
Egypt's streets have long been a perilous place for women, who are frequently heckled, grabbed, threatened and violated while the police look the other way.
Now, more and more groups are emerging to make protecting women a cause. At least three citizens groups patrolled busy sections of central Cairo during the recent Id al-Adha holiday.
One group avoided any violence, forming human chains between women and their tormentors. Another forcefully confronted men and boys it suspected of harassment, smacking around suspects before hauling them off to a police station.
95 Terrorist Arrests and Plots Stopped in the U.S.: 2009-2012 (Sen. Dianne Feinstein)
List compiled by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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- Iran Cool to Talk of Talks
The head of Iran's judiciary on Wednesday condemned the "crimes" of U.S. sanctions and indicated that the U.S. should not expect rapid new negotiations with Tehran.
"After all this pressure and crimes against the people of Iran, relations with America cannot be possible overnight and Americans should not think they can hold our nation to ransom by coming to the negotiating table," Sadeq Larijani was quoted as saying by IRNA news agency.
"Four years ago, Obama...announced he would extend the hand of cooperation to Iran," he said. "But he pursued a different path and imposed unprecedented sanctions and it is natural the Iranian people will never forget such crimes." (Reuters)
See also Iranian Ministry Suggests Openness to Nuclear Talks - Jason Rezaian
A sober analysis assessing the possible threat of a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program and highlighting the benefits of negotiations to avert a deeper crisis was published by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence on its Web site Tuesday.
The Intelligence Ministry is viewed as a hawkish power center within Iran's system but not a channel for expressing the Islamic republic's foreign policy views.
Hard-liner Mohammed Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran's High Council for Human Rights and brother of both the country's parliament speaker and its judiciary head, said Wednesday: "To protect the interests of our system, we would negotiate with the U.S. or anyone else even in the abyss of hell." (Washington Post)
- After the Election, Obama Faces Iran - Arshad Mohammed
Martin Indyk, vice president of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said 2013 could be a decisive year on Iran.
"It's going to be very high on the agenda," Indyk said. "Preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons is a critical imperative for bolstering the nonproliferation regime." "My read of Obama is that he, essentially, wants to turn away from the Middle East and focus on Asia," said Indyk, saying Obama was unlikely to make a fresh run at Israeli-Palestinian peace, nor to make great efforts to shape the outcome in Syria or to deeply engage Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
- Obama Re-election Signals New Phase in Syria War - Dale Gavlak and David Stringer
Western efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad shifted dramatically Wednesday, with Britain announcing it will deal directly with rebel military leaders and Turkey saying NATO members have discussed using Patriot missiles to protect a safe zone inside Syria. With Barack Obama's re-election, U.S. allies are anticipating a new, bolder approach from the American president to end the civil war.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting a camp Wednesday for Syrian refugees in Jordan, said the U.S., Britain and other allies should do more to "shape the opposition" into a coherent force. Cameron said he would press Obama at the first opportunity to drive forward efforts to end the Syrian conflict. (AP)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Obama Faces a Transformed Middle East - Herb Keinon
A lot has changed in the four years since Obama, soon after his inauguration in 2009, appointed George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy and set Palestinian-Israeli peace as his administration's top Middle East priority. First of all, today's Middle East looks nothing like it did then.
With Syria imploding, Egypt going through a deep change, Iran continuing its relentless march toward nuclear arms and political Islam on the rise throughout the region, reaching a Palestinian-Israeli agreement does not hold the same urgency. A host of other issues in the region are more pressing.
In his victory speech, Obama made almost no mention of foreign affairs, concentrating instead on domestic issues.
For him to successfully push his domestic agenda, he is still going to need political allies, even during a second term.
Even if he wanted to do so, and few think he actually does, he would not be able to ignore the massive support for Israel that remains in Congress.
Doing so could make it difficult for him to push forward his domestic priorities.
- Israel Builds Homes in Jerusalem
Building tenders were issued by the Israel Land Authority on Tuesday for two Jerusalem neighborhoods: 606 are slated for Ramot and 607 for Pisgat Ze'ev, both inside Jerusalem city limits. An additional 72 units are slated for the city of Ariel (pop. 18,000).
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein noted that Israel has always insisted that it has a right to build in Jerusalem, which it considers to be the country's united eternal capital. Edelstein said that in any scenario that resolves the conflict with the Palestinians, these two neighborhoods will remain part of Israel.
A senior Israeli official said that the tenders were simply the execution of a government decision from November and December of last year. Spokesmen for the Construction and Housing Ministry confirmed that information about these projects had previously been published and condemned by the international community. They added that the housing was necessary to relieve a shortage in the city and bring down prices.
(Jerusalem Post-Times of Israel)
See also Europeans Line Up to Condemn Israeli Housing Construction in Jerusalem (Ha'aretz)
- The Saudis Are Bulldozing Islam's Heritage. Why the Silence from the Muslim World? - Damian Thompson
The long-cherished ambition of Saudi Arabia's ruling Wahhabi sect to smash up the ancient buildings of Mecca and Medina is nearing fruition.
In Mecca, the house of one of Mohammed's wives has been demolished to make space for public lavatories. As for Medina, a recent article by Jerome Taylor in the Independent revealed a megalomaniac plan to pull down three 7th-century mosques. Taylor added: "Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet's grandson was dynamited."
But what sticks in the craw is the hypocrisy of Muslims who throw a fit if Israeli archaeologists carry out non-intrusive work near the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, "Islam's third holiest place," as we're constantly reminded. Such anger would be more convincing if the first and second holy sites weren't being ploughed up by a police state.
See also Medina: Saudis Take a Bulldozer to Islam's History - Jerome Taylor (Independent-UK)
- Arab Spring? An Intensifying Storm - Editorial
In Tunisia, authorities are now presiding over a steady deterioration of a country where stability and an openness to the outside world are key to economic viability. In Libya, the executive and legislative authorities are under siege by non-state militias. Egypt's new leaders have also been forced to deal with non-state, extremist elements in Sinai. Yemen faces various challenges from al-Qaeda fighters and its own separatist movement in the south.
Bahrain is in lockdown due to a popular protest movement. Sudan is headed toward a Somalia-like situation, with a political system that remains characterized by poverty, corruption, violence and dictatorship. In Iraq, regional and sectarian divisions and corruption still hold sway. Syria's horrific tragedies are well known to all, and Lebanon has seen instability elsewhere having repercussions on an already-dysfunctional political system.
- Saudi Resignation Prompts Fresh Succession Debate - Simon Henderson
The surprise announcement that Saudi Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz has been relieved of his duties and replaced by his nephew, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, introduces fresh elements of competition into the kingdom's ruling structure. At 72, Prince Ahmed is the youngest of the so-called "Sudairi Seven," the largest group of full brothers among the many sons of Ibn Saud, the modern kingdom's founder.
The current monarch, King Abdullah, will turn 90 next year and is in failing health, while Crown Prince Salman (76) is widely reported to be in a poor mental state. The appointment of Prince Muhammad (53) will likely prompt jealously from some of his older and (until today) more senior cousins.
The writer is director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.
(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Where Would Hizbullah Be Without the EU? - Douglas Murray (Gatestone Institute)
Speaking in Dublin last Saturday, the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama, John Brennan, criticized the European Union for its complete failure to stand up to the terrorist group Hizbullah.
- It will be amazing to many Americans - and indeed to many Europeans - that the group remains able to operate, recruit and raise funds within the EU. In America, the organization has long been banned in any and all of its guises.
- The EU claims that there is a difference between the "political"' and the "military" wings of Hizbullah, though nobody outside the EU believes there is any such internal distinction. The American government does not see it; the Canadian government does not see it. The governments of Iran and Syria do not see it. The people of Lebanon do not see it. And of course Hizbullah itself does not see it.
- Where would Hizbullah be without the EU? The Secretary General of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, has already made it very clear. A few years back he said that if the EU designated Hizbullah as a terrorist group in its entirety, it would "destroy" the organization. "The sources of our funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed."
- That the EU should continue to permit such terrorists to recruit and fundraise on EU soil is an utterly unsustainable position.
The writer is associate director of the Henry Jackson Society in the UK.
See also Hizbullah: Profile of a Terrorist Organization
- Jacques Neriah and Shimon Shapira (Friends of Israel Initiative)
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