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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Former Syrian PM Says Assad’s Regime Is ‘Collapsing’

Riad Farid Hijab, the Syrian Prime Minister who defected last week, said today President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is “falling apart morally, materially, economically,” adding that “its military is rusting, and it only controls 30 percent of Syria’s territory.” He spoke at a press conference in Jordan’s capital, Amman. Hijab explained that many other Syrian leaders were also waiting to defect. His departure prompted the U.S. to remove his name from a blacklist and unfreeze his assets. Syria is facing increased diplomatic isolation after the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation recommended the suspension of the country’s membership at a meeting in Saudi Arabia yesterday. Meanwhile, France, the U.K., and the U.S. are rethinking their support to Syrian rebels, trying to focus their efforts on specific groups to avoid dealing with extremist Islamic factions that have infiltrated the opposition’s ranks.

Israel and Iran: Tensions Mount

Debate in Israel over whether to go to war with Iran is intensifying. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that threats to the country were “dwarfed” by the perspective of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Even still, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he didn’t think Israel has decided to take action without U.S. support. Netanyahu is eager for U.S. President Barack Obama to commit to a timeline and may press him on it at a meeting that could take place between the end of September and the beginning of October. Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said he didn’t see any need to strike Iran immediately, joining other defense experts in the country. Should Israel attack, the U.S. may not join in, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported yesterday, citing a source in the Obama administration.

Egypt: 14 Islamist Militants Sentenced to Death over Sinai Attack

Fourteen Islamist militants were sentenced to death today for carrying out an attack that resulted in the killing of 16 agents at the border between Egypt and Israel last week. All of them are alleged members of Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad, a group initially known as the Iraqi division of Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the military said they will not contest President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to retire generals yesterday, a move that aimed at weakening the army’s grip over the country. President Morsi also voided a constitutional decree issued by the military before his election that essentially gutted his office of its powers. These actions drew popular support as Egyptians viewed them as the realization of the democratic aspirations that caused the uprising against former ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Standard Chartered Settles with NY Regulator for $340 Million

U.K. bank Standard Chartered, investigated by New York regulators for transactions with Iran that broke U.S. money-laundering laws, settled today for $340 million. This comes a day before it was scheduled to defend itself against the suspension of its business license in the state. The bank is still being investigated by federal authorities, who are also looking into its financial dealings with Sudan. As part of the settlement, the bank agreed to be closely monitored for the next two years. New York regulators initially accused the bank of laundering as much as $250 billion.

European Double-Dip Recession Looking More Likely

The Eurozone is facing a double-dip recession as Italy’s and Spain’s economies shrank in the second quarter. The monetary union’s economy contracted by 0.2 percent (17 countries), as did the European Union’s as a whole (27 countries). Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Cyprus, countries who have benefited from bailout money, are all in a recession. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. With Spanish housing prices plummeting another 11.2 percent in July, the picture is grim. The numbers add pressure on EU leaders and the European Central Bank to take action.

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