U.S. officials have confirmed that the Syrian government has fired at least six scud missiles this week at opposition held targets in northern Syria, in a possible escalation of the 21-month long conflict. There have been no confirmed casualties from the strikes, and U.S. officials are unclear as to President Bashar al-Assad's intentions for using scuds, which are not known for their precision. Chemical weapons could be loaded onto scud missiles, but there is no evidence they were used for that purpose. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "As the regime becomes more and more desperate, we see it resorting to increased lethality and more vicious weapons." Additionally, Human Rights Watch accused Syrian forces of dropping incendiary bombs on opposition held residential areas. For the first time, a Russian official admitted Assad may be losing control, signaling a change of course from a major Syrian ally. Russia's special envoy for Middle East affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, said, "Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out." Opposition forces now control significant territory to the east and southeast of Damascus. Meanwhile, a car bomb in the town of Qatana, about 15 miles southwest of Damascus killed at least 16 people, including women and children. The blast hit near a school in a residential area for Syrian soldiers near several army bases. On Wednesday evening, three bombs hit the interior ministry killing five people, according to Syria's state news agency, SANA. Syrian parliament member Abdullah Qairouz was among those reported killed.
- I.A.E.A. inspectors are meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran to hold talks over Iran's disputed nuclear program but are unlikely to gain access to Parchin or other suspected military complexes.
- After debating a boycott, Egypt's opposition National Salvation Front has called for supporters to vote "no" on the constitutional referendum, but may still boycott if certain conditions aren't met by Saturday.
- Egyptian blogger Alber Saber, a Coptic Christian but proclaimed atheist, was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of blasphemy after sharing an anti-Islam video in September that sparked mass protest.
Arguments and Analysis
Can the Muslim Brotherhood be trusted? (Steve Coll, The New Yorker)
"In the eighty-four-year history of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, there have been few weeks more remarkable than the past four. A movement born in resistance to British colonialism, and which later thrived protesting against secular dictatorships, is grappling now with the dilemmas of seizing and holding national power, as the whole world looks on in a state of tightening anxiety.
The spectacle is riveting because the political future of Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, hangs in the balance. It is fascinating, too, because it is a kind of proving ground for long-running debates about whether an Islamist revolutionary movement such as the Brotherhood can ever adapt itself to Western-style constitutional democracy, preserving the rights of minorities and space for individual conscience."
Can Lebanon Survive the Syrian Crisis? (Paul Salem, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
"Of all the countries neighboring Syria, Lebanon is the most vulnerable to spillover from the Syrian conflict. The state is weak, sectarian tensions are high, and the main political coalitions have chosen sides, either explicitly backing or opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon has already been affected by sectarian skirmishes, border clashes, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and large refugee flows. Though the country has avoided collapse thus far, long-term dangers exist and urgent steps are needed to reinforce stability. "
The cowardice at the heart of our relationship with Israel (Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph)
"It is impossible to understand the modern Conservative Party without a grasp of the scale and profundity of its links to the state of Israel. The connection dates back at least as far the historic meeting between the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Conservative prime minister A J Balfour in 1905, during which Weizmann convinced Balfour of the case for a Jewish national state.
The warmth forged 107 years ago is today sustained by the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). Some 80 per cent of all Tory MPs are members, including most Cabinet ministers. No other lobbying organisation - and certainly not one that acts in the interests of a foreign country - carries as much weight at Westminster. Every year, it takes a significant number of parliamentarians to Israel. Meanwhile, its sponsors play an important role in financing both the Tories nationally, and MPs at the local level."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey