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Monday, May 6, 2013

Israel Bombs Syrian Weapons Shipments

Early Sunday morning, Israeli jets bombed the Syrian Center of Scientific Studies and Research (CERS). This is the second time Israel has done so this year. In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush designated CERS a weapons proliferater, accusing it of developing weapons of mass destruction. In 2010, Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel, then the director of the Israeli National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, warned Bashar al-Assad’s regime that Israel believed CERS was transferring weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas. “The international community must send a signal that next time the institute supports terrorism, it will be demolished.” Sunday’s attack targeted a cache Fateh-110 of missiles at CERS that an intelligence official suggested were bound for Hezbollah. A similar attack at the Damascus International Airport on Thursday, originally thought to be the work of Syrian rebels, destroyed a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles. A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington released a statement, saying, “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.” It is not clear that Syria will respond to the Israeli incursions, but Israel and Syria have, despite various armistice agreements, been at a technical state of war since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Responding to the Syrian government’s threats of retaliation, Israel deployed two batteries of Iron Dome anti-ballistic missiles, designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles, to the north of the country.

Neo-Nazi Trial Begins in Munich

Police in Munich surrounded the courthouse today, expecting protests from the far right over the beginning of a high profile murder trial. Five German nationals are accused of being members of the hitherto unknown National Socialist Underground (NSU), a Neo-Nazi group. The main defendant, Beate Zschäpe, faces charges for complicity in the murder of 10 people, including a policewoman, between 2000 and 2007. She is also accused of assisting in at least two bombings and 15 bank robberies. Three of Zschaepe’s four male codefendants are accused of being accessories to 9 of the murders, while a fourth, Andre Eminger, is accused of being an accessory in two of the bank robberies and a nail bombing in Cologne’s old town that injured 22 people. The NSU case sparked controversy in Germany, as authorities had wrongly blamed the Turkish mafia for the spate of deaths before discovering the Neo-Nazi cadre. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service was eventually forced to resign over the scandal. In fact, the NSU was only revealed when Zschäpe volunteered the information after her capture. The case has drawn significant international interest. “The violent methods that are seen in this case are not only aimed at Turks,” said Osman Can, a leader of Turkey’s governing party who came to Munich to observe the trial. “They are against Jews or Roma, or any viewed as ‘others’ in German society.”

Political Prosecution Protest in Moscow

Thousands gathered in Moscow this morning to protest the use of courts to prosecute Russian President Valdimir Putin’s political enemies. Today’s rally was held on the anniversary of a riot in Bolotnaya Square last year that saw mass arrests and prosecutions under specious circumstances. These prosecutions are collectively referred to as the Bolotnaya Case. After the Bolotnaya riot, Putin enacted laws to restrict the right to assemble and increased fines for unsanctioned gatherings. Today’s protestors accuse Putin of using the riot to justify the elimination of discontents. In the year since the Bolotnaya riot, 27 people have faced charges that could send them to prison for up to 10 years. Among those prosecuted are three protest leaders, Sergei Udaltsov, Konstantin Lebedev, and Leonid Razvozzhayev, accused by Putin’s administration of taking Georgian money to foment unrest in Russia. Udaltsov denied the charges and was subsequently placed under house arrest in Moscow. Lebedev plead guilty earlier this year, testifying against his compatriots, and was sentenced to two years and six months in jail. Razvozzhayev fled to Kiev, Ukraine where he says he was kidnapped and tortured until he signed a false confession.

New Tool Charts Migrant Deaths in Sonora

Today Humane Borders and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner in Tucson, Arizona launched a system that will allow the public to help identify the remains of suspected border-crossers who have perished in the Sonoran desert. Almost one third of the individuals claimed by the perilous transit across the desert go unidentified. The International OpenGIS Initiative for Missing and Deceased Migrants will feature a map documenting deaths as far back to 2001. In the last 13 years, officials have found 2,037 remains that are believed to belong to migrants; 48 of those were discovered this year. The cause of death for most migrants goes undiscovered, but Dr. Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County, suggests hypothermia is the most common cause.

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