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Monday, July 30, 2012

Syrian Forces and Rebels Claim Victories in Aleppo

Contradictory reports came from Syria’s commercial capital Aleppo today, as both Syrian forces and rebels claimed to have gained ground in the city. The opposition denied that the military, armed with warplanes and helicopters, had “purged” the neighborhood of Salaheddin, and said they had captured a military checkpoint at the north of the town. Meanwhile, reports came that jihadists, more specifically groups tied to Al Qaeda, are playing a bigger role in the uprising, and could soon join rebels in Aleppo, filling a vacuum left by the international community’s reluctance to intervene. Bashar al-Assad’s regime did suffer a new blow when Syria’s chargé d’affaires in London defected, saying he was “no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people.” French foreign affairs minister Laurent Fabius said today he will request an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss Syria, as soon as France takes over the Council’s rotating presidency on Wednesday.

2012 Hottest Year on U.S. Record, July Among Hottest Months

While temperatures in the U.S. this month may not rise above those of July 1936, the first half of 2012 was the warmest since records began in the country. This has caused the worst drought in half a century, and droughts could become a normal feature of the next 100 years, a new study finds. This comes as new research, funded by Charles Koch and the Heartland Institute, confirms that human activity caused the Earth’s surface temperature to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 250 years. This study, led by UC Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller, a climate skeptic, combed through 14.4 million temperatures recorded at 44,455 points on the planet, going back as far as 1753, and used automated statistical analysis to remove all human bias. Muller, whose work has not been peer-reviewed, says he’s now a “converted skeptic.” Other climate skeptics remain unconvinced.

Romney on the Road

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, continuing his foreign tour, said today to Jewish donors in Jerusalem that “culture makes all the difference” in explaining disparities of Gross Domestic Product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis. Those disparities, which are significant, can be better explained by the blockade imposed on Palestinian territories by Israel’s government. In 2011, Israel’s G.D.P. per capita was of $29,800 in 2009, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, compared with $2,900 for the West Bank and Gaza in 2008. Says the C.I.A.’s World Factbook about Gaza: ”Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after HAMAS seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.” Romney’s remark was called “racist” by a Palestinian Authority official. The Republican candidate also said that Jerusalem, whose status is still disputed, is the “capital” of Israel, despite the fact that the international community recognizes Tel Aviv (where the U.S. has its embassy) as such. The Romney campaign said the remarks must be taken in a broader context.

Hopeful Markets as Leaders Pledge to Support Eurozone

Europe’s stocks rose to their highest since April after U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble issued a joint statement saying they trusted countries of the Eurozone to fix the issues weighing on the region. Luxembourg Prime Minister and head of the Eurogroup Jean-Claude Juncker also expressed confidence that the bloc was determined to find a solution. “No one should doubt the collective will of the 17 countries,” he said. This follows strong statements in support of the euro by German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande, and European Central president Mario Draghi, who also met with Geithner later in the day.

“Curiosity” Rover Prepares to Land on Mars

Curiosity, a new rover packed with brand new tools, is fast approaching Mars to explore the Gale Crater, south of the Martian equator. It is the last serious project for at least a while for NASA’s planetary program, which suffered substantial budget cuts. This new mission is set to cost $2.5 billion and uncover clues of the planet’s early environment. Its main goal is to find carbon molecules, a pre-requisite for life.

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