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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Syrian Opposition Joins Arab League

Leaders of the Syrian opposition were given today the seat left empty by the regime of Bashar al-Assad at the 24th Arab League Summit in Doha. At the invitation of the Emir of Qatar and Summit Chair Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Syrian National Coalition’s (SNC) former President Moaz al-Khatib and the Syrian delegation joined the group in what is considered an important diplomatic elevation for Assad’s opponents. Syria’s membership to the Arab League was suspended in November 2011 in response to Assad’s brutal repression of the protests. The boost comes at a difficult time for the SNC. Khatib resigned as president two days ago, arguing there wasn’t enough international support to oust Assad, although the coalition rejected his resignation. Meanwhile the election of Ghassan Hitto as the prime minister of an interim government was contested by the SNC’s military arm. From Damascus, Assad’s government reacted with anger to the Arab League’s decision. “Shame on you, Arab brothers,” said the pro-government newspaper Tishreen.

North Korea’s Mounting Threats Meet U.S. Scorn

North Korea said today it was in “combat duty posture number one” as it ordered artillery and rocket units to be positioned to target U.S. military bases in Hawaii, Guam and its mainland. The announcement came after the United Nations (U.N.) agreed to stiffen economic sanctions, and after the U.S. urged the European Union (EU) to block a bank that is suspected of financing Pyongyang’s missile program. “North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric and the threats that they engage in follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today. It “will achieve nothing by these threats or provocations.” While the range of the missiles is classified information, Joints Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Admiral James Winnefeld said earlier this month one type of rocket probably had the range to reach the U.S. China, North Korea’s sole major ally, said the situation was “sensitive.” South Korea also believes Pyongyang will not risk a conflict it would lose.

Arab League Approves Qatar’s Offer for East Jerusalem Fund

The Arab League approved today a Qatari proposal to create a $1 billion fund for Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians say must be the capital of their state as a condition for any peace agreement with Israel. The decision, made at the 24th Arab Summit in Doha, is meant to protect the “Arabness of Jerusalem.” East Jerusalem is the source of contention as Israeli settlements in that area of the city have been growing, something that has been deemed illegal by the United Nations under international law. ”Palestinian, Arab and Islamic rights in Jerusalem cannot be compromised. Israel must realise this,” said Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar. “The summit… calls for setting up a fund to support Jerusalem to the value of $1 billion to finance projects and programmes that would maintain the Arab and Islamic character of the city and reinforce the steadfastness of its people,” the draft resolution reads. It will be managed by the Islamic Development Bank.

Man-Made Oklahoma Earthquake Warning for Fracking

A series of earthquakes that shook Oklahoma in 2011 linked to the disposal of wastewater from traditional oil wells is a stark warning to the development of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a technique used to release crude oil or natural gas that involves creating fractures in rock layers with pressurized water, a new study shows. Geologists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and U.S. Geological Survey published a paper in the journal Geology that says the disposal of wastewater from oil drilling is responsible for an 11-time increase in seismic activity in the central U.S. For the 30 years to 2000, that region registered about 21 earthquakes a year. The number shot up to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011, prompting the U.S. Geological Survey to say last year all of it was “almost certainly” caused by human activity.
CORRECTION: an earlier version of this item stated the quakes in Oklahoma were linked to fracking. They were in fact linked to the disposal of wastewater from traditional oil wells.

Uncertain Outcome for California Gay Marriage Ban

For one hour today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the arguments on the legality of proposition 8, a ballot initiative that overturned a California Supreme Court ruling to ban same-sex marriage and passed in 2008. Listening first to the defenders of the law, the Justices began by examining whether they had any “standing” to appeal after U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker deemed the ban unconstitutional. Then came questions on the reasoning behind the validity of treating LGBT people as a different class on the issue of marriage. Arles Cooper, who represented the defenders, said marriage was for procreation, which prompted Justice Elena Kagan to ask whether heterosexual couples who are older than 55 should be allowed to marry. Justice Anthony Kennedy, known to be the swing vote between conservatives and liberals, said that while the “sociological information” on gay marriage is still new, the 40,000 children of same-sex couples in California who want to see their parents wedded should be heard. He seemed wary of a broad ruling, arguing these are “uncharted waters.” Justices will rule on the case in June.

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