Egypt has lifted the travel ban on 43 NGO workers -- including seven U.S. citizens who work for the pro-democracy organizations the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute -- accused of using illegal international funding and inciting unrest. The decision comes amid growing tensions between Egypt and the United States, who threatened to withhold $1.3 billion in military funding. A U.S. military plane has been "secured" for the Americans who sought refuge in the U.S. embassy. They will be required to post up to $300,000 each in bail and commit to return for their ensuing trial. While the charges were not dropped, the gesture, which came after weeks of negotiations, may signal the end to what has been deemed the worst crisis in U.S. and Egyptian relations in 30 years. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected the debate over the NGO activities will be resolved "in the very near future." The lifting of the ban has spurred a rift in Egypt, with those opposed criticizing the prime minister who had vowed that "Egypt will not kneel" to pressure from the United States.
After 26 days of fierce violence in the Syrian city of Homs, opposition fighters are reported to be withdrawing. Homs is Syria's third largest city and is of tactical importance to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. According to a Lebanese official connected to Damascus, if the opposition is defeated in Homs, they will no longer maintain any significant stronghold. However, other reports say that clashes have proceeded in the Baba Amr neighborhood which is surrounded by Syrian troops and the Free Syrian Army is continuing to resist despite being drastically outnumbered. Meanwhile, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, has established a military bureau aimed at unifying armed resistance groups under a central command. The United Nations Human Rights Council has also voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution condemning the Syrian government for "widespread and systemic violations" against civilians. The resolution demands an immediate end to regime attacks against civilians and calls for access for humanitarian aid groups. Elsewhere, deteriorating security conditions have caused the British to evacuate their diplomatic staff and close their embassy in Damascus. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the withdrawal "in no way reduces the UK's commitment to active diplomacy to maintain pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence."
- Gaza has been hit by a severe power crisis, affecting hospitals and water and sewage services, in part due to a recent crackdown on fuel smuggling from Egypt.
- A bomb hit a police minibus injuring 15 police officers and one civilian in an attack near the Istanbul headquarters of Turkey's ruling AK party.
- Sultan Qaboos replaced Oman's information and justices ministers, accused by protesters of corruption, in the second major cabinet reshuffle since mass demonstrations in 2011.
- At least six people were killed and several injured in two car bombings in Baghdad, and in an Iraqi province north of the capital.
Arguments & Analysis
'Yemen's peaceful transition' (David Ignatius, The Washington Post)
"The challenge in Yemen is getting closure on transition. As we've seen in Egypt, protest can become a way of life -- to the point that it threatens the gains the opposition fought to achieve. The United States wants to play its hand slowly - gradually easing Saleh's relatives from their leadership of the security forces and moving to a more professional military. "This revolution has been stabbed in the back," Khaled al-Anesi, one of the protest leaders, complained to The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan. One hopes that Hadi will deliver enough on reform to ease this sense of betrayal. The very fact that Yemen is so poor and remote is an unlikely source of leverage for the United States and its allies. Curbing corruption and spreading the wealth in this faraway country is the best strategy for getting "buy-in" for the Arab Spring's quiet revolution."
'Why Netanyahu's visit to discuss Iran puts Obama in a political minefield' (Tony Karon, Time)
"While U.S. and Israeli intelligence concur that Iran had not taken a decision to build a nuclear weapon, Tehran has already mustered the capability to do so, with Israeli intelligence concluding that the Islamic Republic has already stockpiled sufficient low-enriched uranium that, if reprocessed into bomb-grade materiel, could provide four atomic bombs. But that material remains under scrutiny by IAEA inspectors, who have certified that none is being diverted for any weapons program. Still, if "capability" rather than "weaponization" is the red line, it has arguably already been crossed and in this schema Iran would have to be walked back to avoid a military response."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey