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Friday, November 30, 2012

After U.N. Vote, Israel Pushes Settlements in East Jerusalem

The Israeli government approved late last night construction of housing units in the E1 quarter of East Jerusalem, a controversial part of the city. According to an Israel official, a decision was made to go ahead with “preliminary zoning and planning preparations for buildings that would connect the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin to Jerusalem, blocking access to Palestinian neighborhoods of the city from the Palestinian towns of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Plans for another 3,000 homes in the West Bank and other parts of East Jerusalem were also approved. The decision came after a vote by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to upgrade the status of Palestine from “permanent observer entity” to “non-member state.” While Israel hasn’t commented on the construction plans, they are widely seen as retribution for the implied recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state by the international community. Jewish settlements in E1 are a major obstacle to negotiating a two-state solution, and have been strongly opposed by the U.S. government. President Barack Obama called in 2009 for a freeze in the expansion of settlements. The White House condemned the decision today.

Obama’s Fiscal Cliff Road Show Leaves Republicans Seething

U.S. President Barack Obama went on a tour of the country to present his proposals for a fiscal plan that would prevent $607 billion in tax increases and spending cuts from being triggered on January 1st, 2013, the so-called fiscal cliff. The tour, which began as Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner said the negotiations on the fiscal cliff were “almost nowhere,” infuriated the Republicans, who accused Obama of trying to instill fear among U.S. citizens and put the blame on the GOP. Obama, speaking at a toy factory in Pennsylvania, said that should Republicans let tax cuts expire for incomes of under $250,000, they would be delivering a “lump of coal” for the middle class. The White House plan includes both spending cuts and tax increases, though the GOP’s opposition to the latter has been steadfast. Cracks are beginning to form, however, as some Republicans, led by polls to believe the public would blame their party should the nation hit the fiscal cliff, voiced desire to show some flexibility and agree to tax increases for the wealthiest Americans. Economists believe the fiscal cliff could sink the nation into another recession.

German Parliament Approves Greek Bailout

The Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, voted today to approve a bailout package for Greece. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble quelled criticism by warning lawmakers a collapse of Greece could spark an explosion of the euro area. “The potential effects of a Greek default on other euro states would be grave — in truth the consequences would be unpredictable,” Schäuble said. “It could trigger a process at the end of which the entire euro area could break apart.” German leaders have resisted calls to rescue Greece by forgiving part of its debt. The accord struck in Brussels on Monday was received with relief as finance ministers of the Eurozone extended the deadline for Greece to reach its deficit target by two years and excluded a debt write-off, which some experts believe is unfeasible if Greece is to reach its goal.

Syrian Rebel Films Himself Shooting at 10 Unarmed Prisoners

A video posted on YouTube yesterday may have been filmed by a Syrian rebel with a camera attached to the barrel of his gun as he shoots at 10 prisoners. The footage shows 10 men in t-shirts and camouflage trousers lying face down. One of them speaks, saying “I swear to God that we are peaceful,” before the shooting begins. The rebel then says “God is great. Jabhat al-Nusra,” in reference to the Al Nusra group, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda and has claimed several suicide bombings around Syria. Media companies and Human Rights organizations are trying to confirm the veracity of the video, but comments accompanying it say it was filmed in a town near the Turkish border, Ras al-Ain. The 20-month uprising has already claimed the lives of 40,000 people.

Giant Tortoises Back in the Galápagos

It may not all be lost for giant turtles in the Galápagos. While Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Tortoises, died last June, some of his close cousins from Española Island have been rescued from extinction. Endangered by pirates and whalers who ate their meat (often treated as a delicacy) and the introduction of animals, like goats, that destroyed their habitat, 14 of them were taken away in 1971 and allowed to breed in captivity. Babies were hand-reared until age four. About 1,700 animals were reintroduced on Española Island, after goats were removed. Concerns remained that they would be able to breed in the wild and survive. Since all of them were born of the same 15 animals, consanguinity was a problem. In 2007, however, researchers found about a quarter of the tortoises inhabiting the island were natives. “The habitat is restored, the species is thriving and the animals are breeding happily,” said Michel Milinkovitch, of the University of Geneva. ”We can now safely say that the species is saved.”

Weekend Read: Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?

A minuscule jellyfish from the Italian Riviera ages in reverse and refuses to die. What could this mean for us? In the New York Times Magazine.

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