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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Syrian Helicopter Fires on Lebanese Town

Earlier today, a Syrian helicopter crossed the Lebanese border and fired two rockets at the Sunni town of Arsal. Reacting to the news of the attack, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said, “It is our right to take the necessary measures to defend our sovereignty and our people.” To that end the Lebanese army issued a statement saying, “Army units deployed in the area have taken the necessary defensive measures to respond immediately to any similar violations.” While this is the first air raid by the Syrian government forces into Lebanon since the Syrian civil war began, Syrian ground forces routinely cross the poorly demarcated border in pursuit of rebels. Scores of wounded people from last week’s battle for Qusayr streamed into Arsal seeking medical assistance, as Hezbollah and the Syrian Army routed rebels from their outpost. The poorly equipped Lebanese army was once closely married to the Syrian Army, as Syrian interests dominated Lebanese politics for at least 30 years, and as of yet has not been able to effectively limit Syrian movements inside Lebanon.

Fighting in East Syria Claims 60

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that at least 60 people were killed in an attack on the eastern Syrian village of Hatla in Deir al-Zour. The Syrian government denounced the attack saying rebels “carried out a massacre against villagers in which older people and children were killed”. According to the Observatory, anti-government fighters burned the homes of Shia civilians. A video obtained by the SOHR showed rebel fighters shouting, “Here are the Mujahidin celebrating entering the homes of the rejectionists, the Shias.” According to activist Thaer al-Deiry, the rebel attack was in retaliation for an attack earlier this week that saw Shiites from Hatla kill four rebels. Al-Deiry said around 150 Shiite villagers fled across the Euphrates River, and sought refuge in the government-held village of Jafra. Al-Diery added, “The situation in the village is quiet and the Free Syrian Army is in full control.” A recently concluded U.N. study found that such war crimes are a “daily reality” in Syria.

Honduran Police Defies Anti-Corruption Effort

A year old effort to reform the U.S.-backed Honduran police force, has proven futile. Despite the fact that at least 40 percent of police officers subjected to polygraph tests asking if they participated in organized crime failed, only seven police officers have been fired. The polygraph tests, which were funded by the U.S., revealed among other crimes, three instances of torture, seven of cocaine consumption and nine of accepting bribes. Arturo Corrales, the Honduran minister of public security blamed bureaucratic mix-ups for stemming efforts to dismiss more corrupt police officers. He also revealed that some of the seven dismissed officers have since been reinstated. Rights groups say that the Honduran government has been cowed by the well-organized police; last week dozens of officers refused a mass polygraph exam, seizing a police building until the government rescinded the order. Earlier this week, Corrales insisted anti-corruption efforts were not mired, and despite the fact that no officers have been fired for flunking their polygraphs, at least 60 police officers take the tests each week. The U.S. government froze funding for the police cleanup effort, but sends $26 million in annual aid designated for the Honduran police.

Snowden Says He Wants His Day In Court

Today, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told a Hong Kong paper that he will not “hide from justice“. Rather that he “would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.” While it is believed the U.S. government is pursuing a criminal investigation, no official extradition request has been filed as of yet. Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., although analysts say any attempts to bring Snowden to America may take months and could potentially be blocked by Beijing. Backed by documents Snowden shared with the South China Morning Post, Snowden claims the U.S. government has launched an extensive campaign to obtain information from computers in Hong Kong and mainland China. “We hack network backbones — like huge Internet routers, basically — that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one.” Snowden claimed that the US had compromised hundreds of targets in Hong Kong – including public officials, a university, businesses and students in the city – and on the mainland. These were part of more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally. Jen Psaki, U.S. State department spokesperson, rejected the idea that such efforts would represent double standards, given recent US criticism of Chinese cyber attacks. “There is a difference between going after economic data and the issues of surveillance that the president has addressed, which are about trying to stop people doing us harm,” she said. As officials in the U.S. have debated whether Snowden should be lauded or tried for his revelations, he told the Post, “I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”

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