A car bomb hit central Damascus near the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party and the Russian embassy on Thursday, killing several people. Eyewitnesses said the car exploded at a security checkpoint in the Mazraa district of the Syrian capital. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 31 people were killed, most of whom were civilians but also some Syrian security services members. Syrian state news agency, SANA, reported that 16 civilians have been killed and 208 people wounded. A Russian diplomat reported damage to the embassy compound, but said no employees were injured. Shortly after the car bombing, a security official reported a second explosion in Damascus's northeastern Barzeh neighborhood, and two other blasts were reported elsewhere in the capital. Damascus has so far largely escaped the violence seen over the past two years in much of the rest of the country. However, there has been an escalation over the past three days with mortar attacks on a soccer stadium and one of President Bashar al-Assad's palaces. Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition has begun a two-day meeting in Cairo, where it will address the proposal by its leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, to hold direct talks with the Syrian regime. The coalition said it is willing to negotiate a deal, but Assad cannot be a party to any settlement.
- Dubai police have denied allegations they tortured three British men arrested in July 2012 who were held on drug charges.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran has been installing upgraded enrichment machines at its main Natanz site ahead of international talks on its nuclear development program.
- A Lebanese military court has charged former information minister Michel Samaha and senior security official Brig. Gen. Ali Mamlouk with conspiring to kill Lebanese political and religious leaders.
Arguments and Analysis
Israelis beware: Coalition deals may turn election promises into horsemeat (Amiel Ungar, Haaretz)
"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, alarmed at the lack of movement in the coalition talks, shamelessly enlisted Hatnuah and its chairwomen, Tzipi Livni, as his first coalition partner. The first coalition partner is a party that sought to distinguish itself from the rest of the "centrist" pack in the last elections by pledging not to enter a coalition with Netanyahu.
Amram Mitzna, the number two on the Hatnuah list, called Netanyahu "dangerous" during the election campaign, and number three, Amir Peretz, bolted the Labor Party because he suspected that the party's leader Shelly Yacimovich would be an eventual recruit for a Netanyahu-led coalition. The Likud has constantly disparaged Livni as the architect of UN Security Resolution 1701 that allowed Hezbollah to re-arm with impunity and to take over Lebanon, and for her major role in the expulsion from Gaza.
In recognition of her contributions to these disasters, Netanyahu has awarded her responsibility for the negotiations with the Palestinians. Voters for both the Likud and Hatnuah can now commiserate with those consumers in Britain who thought they had bought prime beef burgers but were sold a pack of horse...meat."
U.S. needs to show Egypt some tough love (Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne, The Washington Post)
"President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to pay attention to Egypt - now. The most populous Arab country, poster child of the Arab Spring, faces a looming economic crisis and a widespread breakdown in law and order, including increasingly prevalent crime and rape. Either will cripple Egypt's faltering effort to become a stable democracy.
The Obama administration has treated Egypt primarily as an economic problem and has urged Cairo to move quickly to satisfy International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands to qualify for financing. But there is no separating Egypt's economic crisis from its political crisis - or from the failures of its current government. Egypt's economy is struggling, and disorder is rampant primarily because the country's leaders the past two years - first the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now President Mohamed Morsi - have failed to build an inclusive political process. Until they do, no amount of IMF funding will make a difference."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images