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Monday, December 3, 2012

Obama Warns Syria Against Using Chemical Weapons

Concern “has increased” that Syria’s regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, will turn to chemical weapons to put down its opposition, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today. He added such an event would be a “red line,” suggesting it may trigger military action on the part of the U.S. “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” said President Barack Obama, echoing Carney’s comments. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” The United Nations (U.N.) said today it will remove non-essential staff from the war-torn nation over security concerns. The news came as Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi, who had become one of the most visible figures of Assad’s government, reportedly fled the country. “He defected. All I can say is that he is out of Syria,” an unnamed diplomat in the region told Reuters. Government sources said he was fired for making comments that did not reflect the position of the state.

Five European Countries Protest Israel’s Settlement Plans

Today, France, the U.K., Denmark, Spain, and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their nations to protest the authorization of new Jewish settlements in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem. Plans for zoning and construction were approved last week in retaliation to a United Nations (U.N.) vote that implicitly recognized Palestine a as sovereign state. The sharp reaction today sheds light on the international community’s growing impatience with the policies of Israel on the Palestinian question. Experts believe the move may be politically motivated as national elections are scheduled for January. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is locked in a competition with parties to his right, was accused of putting electioneering before the interests of his nation on the international stage. The new construction in East Jerusalem would essentially cut off the north of the West Bank from the south. Israel said it will stick to its plan despite criticism from Europe and the U.S.

Republicans Unveil Budget Counteroffer

Republicans in Congress unveiled today a $2.2 trillion plan to save money over the next 10 years. The budget would increase revenue by $800 billion and cut spending by $1.2 trillion, with an extra $200 billion saved from benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, whose yearly increases would be based on a new way to calculate inflation. New revenue would come from closing loopholes and tax breaks. Speaker of the House John Boehner said this “credible plan” was in response to the White House’s “la-la-land offer.” The GOP plan is in sharp contrast with the proposal presented by President Barack Obama last week: $1.6 trillion in new revenues, of which $960 billion would come from letting Bush-era tax cuts expire, would be coupled with between $400 billion and $600 billion in spending cuts, largely from Medicare. Senior officials in Washington, D.C. told magazine Mother Jones that while Obama is not eager to go over the so-called fiscal cliff, he would be willing to let it happen.

Egypt’s Judiciary Clears Way for Constitution Referendum

Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council said today it will help supervise a December 15 referendum on a new Constitution. A Constituent Assembly dominated by Islamists and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi approved the final draft in a rush last week. The news came as some judges asked their colleagues to boycott the vote after Islamists interrupted the Supreme Constitutional Court while it examined the legality of the assembly. The court said it would not convene until judges can work without “psychological and material pressure.” This is the last blow in a crisis sparked on November 22, when Morsi signed a decree that temporarily gave him sweeping powers. The new Constitution is riddled with contradictions, does not guarantee women’s rights, and uses Sharia law as a source for legislation.

Curiosity Rover Finds Carbon on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has found traces of carbon, an essential building block for life. An instrument on the rover called Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) heated a small amount of soil to 800 degrees Celsius (1500 degrees Farenheit) and analyzed the gases that were released. The two most common gases were water vapor and carbon dioxide. “Just finding carbon somewhere doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with life, or the finding of a habitable environment,” said lead researcher John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology. While water and carbon are the two essential elements of life, more elements are required. The scientists are uncertain whether the carbon originates from Earth or instead from geological or biological activity on Mars.

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