Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Fighter jets have bombed eastern areas of Syria's second city Aleppo, a BBC reporter near the city says.
The attack is seen as a significant escalation in the conflict.
It is thought to be the first time that warplanes have been used in Aleppo, our correspondent says.
Rebels launched an offensive against Aleppo at the weekend in an attempt to wrest control of the city from the army. Fierce fighting has been reported close to Aleppo's historic Old City.
Helicopter gunships were reportedly involved in the clashes earlier on Tuesday, the BBC's Ian Pannell says from the outskirts of Aleppo.
Pro-government troops bombarded the city, Syria's commercial centre, with shells and rocket fire as the government attempted to take back districts seized by the rebels.
A French correspondent there has spoken of rebels besieging a police headquarters close to the walls of the Old City, which is a world heritage site.
North Korea has deployed around 20 helicopters at two bases near South Korea's Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea, according to a government source here. They include attack helicopters that are capable of engaging targets on the ground.
Baeknyeong Island is South Korea's northernmost island that lies just south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border with North Korea. The North has deployed the attack and transport helicopters at air bases since May, the source said. "They seem to have been put there independently of any military exercises," the source added.
The choppers are upgraded versions of Mi-2s as well as Mi-4 and Mi-8 troop carriers. But some are armed with heavy machine guns and rockets.
The deployment is believed to be part of a strategy targeting the South Korean islands that would also involve hydrofoils.
After Kim Jong-un took power at the end of last year, North Korea deployed rocket launchers, hydrofoils, Mi-2 helicopters and fighter jets on the western coastline and conducted military drills which appeared to prepare for an invasion of the South Korean islands. The deployment of the helicopters seems to be a response to South Korea deploying AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems on the West Sea islands.
The South Korean military is ready to strike back with Cheonma surface-to-air-missiles or deploy KF-16 fighter jets if the North mobilizes a large number of choppers.
The South Korean military also plans to bolster anti-aircraft weapons stationed on the West Sea islands if the ones already deployed there are deemed insufficient to fend off a North Korean invasion.
"There are no signs yet that North Korea is seeking to stage a provocation," said a military source. "But since the ouster of North Korean army chief Ri Yong-ho, there may be some instability in the North Korean army, so we have stepped up our preparedness."
President Shimon Peres on Monday condemned Syrian government statements that it would deploy chemical weaponsin the event of a foreign invasion, and said Israel would do whatever it takes to eliminate the threat these weapons pose to the Jewish state.
“Use of chemical weapons is internationally forbidden,” he said in a CNN interview with Elise Labott. “We shall not remain indifferent and tell them, ‘Do what you want.’”
Asked how far Israel was prepared to go to prevent Syrian chemical weapons from being used or transferred to terrorist organizations, Israel’s octogenarian leader replied, “Until it will stop being a danger.”
Peres and Labott also discussed the issue of the rising violence in Syria and the growing number of refugees fleeing the conflict. According to the Local Coordination Committees at least 130 Syrians were killed on Sunday, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that over1,200 were killed in the last week.
Regarding a potential influx of refugees to Israel, Peres said that any forceful attempts by Syrians to cross Israel’s border would be met with force. Attempt to cross the border peacefully but illegally, he said, would be stopped with civilian means, “the way any country defended [sic] her border.”
Until now, he added, no Syrians fleeing from President Bashar Assad’s forces had requested asylum, “and I don’t anticipate that anyone will.”
Asked about the Burgas attack in which five Israelis were killed and dozens more were injured, Peres reiterated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that Iran and Hezbollah stood behind the suspected suicide bombing. He asserted that there was enough hard evidence to implicate Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in the terrorist attack.
“It’s an open war of Iran against Israel” and more attacks are being planned against Israeli targets, Peres said.
The Times of Israel
Moody’s Investors Service on Monday changed its outlook for top-rated Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to negative from stable, warning that they may have to increase support for indebted euro zone states such as Spain and Italy.
Moody’s also cited an increased chance of Greece leaving the euro zone, which “would set off a chain of financial sector shocks … that policymakers could only contain at a very high cost.”
The agency affirmed Finland’s ‘Aaa’ rating and stable outlook, but it said all four countries were adversely affected by rising uncertainty about the outcome of the euro area debt crisis and the increasing likelihood that greater support would be needed by other euro area countries, most notably Spain and Italy.
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The Marine Corps has created its first law enforcement battalions — a lean, specialized force of military police officers that it hopes can quickly deploy worldwide to help investigate crimes from terrorism to drug trafficking and train fledgling security forces in allied nations.
The Corps activated three such battalions last month. Each is made up of roughly 500 military police officers and dozens of dogs. The Marine Corps has had police battalions off and on since World War II, but they were primarily focused on providing security, such as accompanying fuel convoys or guarding generals on visits to dangerous areas, said Maj. Jan Durham, commander of the 1st Law Enforcement Battalion at Camp Pendleton.
The idea behind the law enforcement battalions is to consolidate the military police and capitalize on their investigative skills and police training, he said. The new additions come as every branch in the military is trying to show its flexibility and resourcefulness amid defense cuts.
Marines have been increasingly taking on the role of a street cop along with their combat duties over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have been in charge of training both countries’ security forces. Those skills now can be used as a permanent part of the Marine Corps, Durham said.
The wars have also taught troops the importance of learning how to gather intelligence, secure evidence and assist local authorities in building cases to take down criminal networks. Troops have gotten better at combing raid sites for clues to help them track insurgents.
They also have changed their approach, realizing that marching into towns to show force alienates communities. Instead, they are being taught to fan out with interpreters to strike up conversations with truck drivers, money exchangers, cellphone sellers and others. The rapport building can net valuable information that could even alert troops about potential attacks.
But no group of Marines is better at that kind of work than the Corps’ military police, who graduate from academies just like civilian cops, Durham said. He said the image of military police patrolling base to ticket Marines for speeding or drinking has limited their use in the Corps. He hopes the creation of the battalions will change that, although analysts say only the future will tell whether the move is more than just a rebranding of what already existed within the Corps.
The battalions will be capable of helping control civil disturbances, handling detainees, carrying out forensic work, and using biometrics to identify suspects. Durham said they could assist local authorities in allied countries in securing crime scenes and building cases so criminals end up behind bars and not back out on the streets because of mistakes.
“Over the past 11 years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, some lessons learned painfully, there has been a growing appreciation and a demand for, on the part of the war fighter, the unique skills and capabilities that MPs bring to the fight,” Durham said. “We do enforce traffic laws and we do write reports and tickets, and that’s good, but we do so much more than that.”
Durham said the Marine Corps plans to show off its new battalions in Miami later this month at a conference put on by the Southern Command and that is expected to be attended by government officials from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson said the battalions make sense given the nature of today’s global threats, which include powerful drug cartels and other criminal gangs that often mix with religious and political extremists, who use the profits to buy their weaponry.
“This is a smart idea because the biggest single problem the Marines have in dealing with low-intensity types of threats is that they basically are trained to kill people,” he said. “It’s good for the Marines to have skills that allow them to contain threats without creating casualties.”
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches law of war at Georgetown University, said Marines have already been doing this kind of work for years but now that it has been made more formal by the creation of the battalions, it could raise a host of questions, especially on the use of force. The law of war allows for fighters to use deadly force as a first resort, while police officers use it as a last resort.
If Marines are sent in to do law enforcement but are attacked, will they go back to being war fighters? And if so, what are the implications? Solis asked.
“Am I a Marine or a cop? Can I be both?” he said. “Cops apply human rights law and Marines apply the law of war. Now that it’s blended, it makes it tougher for the young men and women who have to make the decision as to when deadly force is not appropriate.”
Durham said military police understand that better than any Marine since they are trained in both.
“They are very comfortable with the escalation of force,” he said. “MPs get that. It’s fundamental to what we do.”
Marine Corps Times
NBC has gotten kudos for its unprecedented decision to show nearly every Olympics event live, either online or on TV.
But when Friday’s opening ceremony kicks off London 2012 at 9 p.m. local time (that’s 4 p.m. ET), don’t scour for the torch lighting or parade of athletes on NBC, or MSNBC, or Bravo, or CNBC or NBC Sports or even NBCOlympics.com.
NBC will be waiting until prime time on both Eastern and Pacific time on Friday to show the opening ceremony. For West Coast viewers, that means no access to the festivities until 6 ½ hours after they actually began. U.S. audiences will experience a similar delay for the closing ceremony Aug. 12.
“We are live streaming every sporting event, all 32 sports and 302 medals,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. “It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony.”
Mr. Zenkel also said the opening ceremony is not a sporting event with a score or a winner that is difficult to keep secret, but rather an entertainment spectacle that should be seen by family and friends gathered around the TV in prime-time hours.
Amid the rise of DVRs, online video streaming and other technologies that allow people to make their own programming schedules, NBC took heat during the past couple of Olympics for holding back high-profile events to air them in the U.S. evenings, when viewership and ad dollars are at their highest. Predictably, then, there has been some grousing online about NBC’s decision to air the not-so-live opening ceremony.
“So, it’s tape delay of Paul’s performance for us,” wrote Twitter user Barb Potter, apparently a big fan of Paul McCartney, the headliner for Friday’s opening ceremony.
Not all of NBC’s partners are going along with the delayed opening ceremony. Twitter, which is among the digital companies teaming up with NBC for Olympics coverage, is kicking off an Olympics events page that will pull in tweets from athletes, their families, fans and others. The Twitter page will be live during the opening ceremony, no doubt giving a glimpse at athlete and fan reactions and photos from inside London’s Olympic Stadium.
NBC’s Mr. Zenkel has said he knows people are going to turn to services such as Twitter for an unvarnished look at the Games, and the Comcast Corp. unit plans to seed links to stoke excitement for TV viewing.
“They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context,” said Mr. Zenkel. “We will be providing clips and highlights of each ceremony online so viewers know what to look forward to in prime time on NBC.”
The Daily Fix
How does he know if everybody it's going to have a chip for paying in 2013?
JCPenney CEO and former Apple retail guru Ron Johnson is speaking at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, and he revealed a bit of what his strategy is for store checkout.
He wants to eliminate the employees who stand at cash registers and get rid of traditional checkout by the end of 2013.
Instead, he's pushing mobile checkout and self checkout. The stores will be 100 percent RFID (radio frequency identification) and wi-fi enabled.
JCPenney would reinvest those savings in customer service, he says.
If JCPenney can pull this off, customers won't have to wait in lines anymore, making things more convenient and reducing their time in stores.
This also suggests that there will be more job cuts, since those workers won't be needed anymore.
Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/jcpenney-ceo-ron-johnson-wants-to-eliminate-traditional-checkout-2012-7#ixzz21UhkNDyK
The yields on closely-watched two-year debt surged by 78 basis points to a modern-era high of 6.42pc, leaving it unclear how long the country can continue funding itself. Italy’s two-year yields vaulted to 4.6pc.
“We can’t keep going like this for another 15 days,” said Prof Miguel Angel Bernal from Madrid’s Institute of Market Studies. “The European Central Bank has to bring out its heavy artillery.”
Andrew Roberts, credit chief at Royal Bank of Scotland, said the dramatic spike in short-term borrowing costs marked a key inflexion point in the crisis, replicating the pattern seen in Greece, Ireland and Portugal as they lost access to market finance. “We are fast approaching the endgame,” he said.
Exchange clearer LCH Clearnet raised margin requirements on both Spanish and Italian bonds, a move that will automatically cause further selling by some funds.
Confidence has evaporated since Germany effectively blocked plans for the European Union bail-out machinery to recapitalise the Spanish banking system directly, as originally announced after the EU summit deal in June.
The EU’s €100bn (£78bn) package will be a loan to the Spanish state. This fails to sever the fatal link between banks and vulnerable states, each pulling the other down.
The mood has gone from bad to worse as Spain’s regional governments line up for internal rescues, with Catalonia preparing a €3.5bn bail-out request following moves by Valencia and Murcia in recent days. The regions must roll over €15bn of debt by the end of the year.
The Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reported sources close to premier Mariano Rajoy complaining bitterly that the crisis engulfing Spain was a “failure of the whole European Project and the incompetence of its leaders”.
There is deep shock in government circles that the €65bn austerity package passed by the Spanish parliament last week amid bitter protests across the country – and imposed by the EU – has failed to make any difference.
El Confidencial said the Rajoy team was thinking of “putting on the table” a possible withdrawal from the euro, a dramatic escalation in the game of brinkmanship between the eurozone’s Latin bloc and German-led creditor core.
“We would have our own currency again and restore competitiveness. It would have some disastrous consequences at first, but we would regain control over our own policies and we would escape from the crisis sooner,” a government source reportedly said.
Spain has enough funds to muddle through into the autumn, but it is under mounting pressure from the EU authorities to swallow its pride and accept rescue to halt contagion to Italy, where bond yields are testing danger levels.
Joaquin Almunia, the European Competition Commissioner, said the proper course of action at this stage was direct purchases of Spanish debt by the eurozone bail-out fund (EFSF). “Spain can’t do this alone,” he said.
The surge in Spain’s short-term yields adds another twist to the banking crisis, a cost that now falls on the state. Spanish banks borrowed €315bn from the ECB under the long-term refinancing operation (LTRO) and “parked” a large chunk in Spanish two-year to five-year sovereign bonds until they need the money to cover their own debt rollovers.
While this so-called “carry trade” helped to stabilise the Spanish bond market for a few months during an exodus by foreign investors, it has now backfired badly. The two-year bond has shed 9pc in face value since the second LTRO in February, leaving the banks heavily under water. “This has turned into an unmitigated disaster. They will have to crystallise these losses when they sell,” said Mr Roberts.
The latest Fiscal Monitor by the International Monetary Fund has pencilled in public debt to GDP of 96pc in Spain by next year, up from 84pc just two months ago – a sign of how quickly the situation is snowballing out of control.
Gary Jenkins from Swordfish said the EU may be able to “rustle up” just enough money to finance an EU-IMF Troika rescue for Spain – probably around €400bn – but Italy is too big to handle.
The existing EU bail-out fund (EFSF) is down to about €160bn after covering the needs of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and the Spanish banks. The new permanent fund (ESM) will have €500bn, but is facing a challenge in the German constitutional court. It is far from clear whether these funds can raise large sums on the open market at viable cost.
Mr Jenkins said the fire must be contained before it reached the next big country, either by massive ECB intervention or full fiscal union. Germany is still blocking both. “The battle for Spain is already lost. The battle for Italy has begun,” he said.
Senior Israeli military officers, referring to the Syrian foreign ministry statement Monday, July 23, that Syria would only use chemical weapons against “external aggression,” found in it a direct threat by the Assad regime to turn those weapons against Israel. It was Syria’s rejoinder to Israel’s vow to use force against those chemical weapons to prevent them from reaching Hizballah’s hands in Lebanon.
Tensions between Syria and Israel, like its other neighbors - especially Jordan and Turkey – rose to a new pitch in the wake of the new Syrian statement.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said plainly Sunday that preventing Syria’s chemical weapons from “falling into the wrong hands” was a key to Israeli security, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a possible attack on Syria’s weapons arsenal, because “Israel cannot accept the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon.”
Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, catching onto Syria’s veiled threat, called it unacceptable: “This is typical of the complete illusion of this regime that they are the victims of external aggression.”
A few hours later, the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in New York that he was “very concerned” that “Syria may be tempted to use chemical weapons.”
He was followed by Pentagon press secretary George Little who told reporters: “They should not think one iota about using chemical weapons,” he said. “We have been very strong in our statements inside the US government on the prospective use of chemical weapons and it would be entirely unacceptable.”
An Israeli officer told DEBKAfile that the Syrian foreign ministry’s statement was tantamount to a declaration that the Assad regime holds all the cards on when and against whom to use its chemical weapons. America, Israel, Jordan and Turkey have no say in the matter. Assad alone will decide if and when to wage chemical warfare against such enemies as Israel and Jordan, although he may be expected to follow Iran in refraining from going after American targets at this time.
He has, in other words, given himself carte blanche for resorting to chemical warfare at a time of his choosing by reiterating that his government is subject to external Arab and Western aggression.
Israeli sources point out that the Syrian statement omitted any mention – certainly no denial - of the possible transfer of those weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon. The Assad regime must therefore be understood to reserve to itself that option, too, thereby laying Israel wide open to a direct threat. Israel and its military were alone in expressly vowing to prevent this transfer.
“We understand the Syrian ruler to be preparing to expand the Syria war into Lebanon whence his troops can threaten northern and Mediterranean areas of Israel,” said a US military source.
Another development Monday portending the further exacerbation of the Syrian crisis was the announcement by Aeroflot that it was suspending flights to Damascus in two weeks “for economic reasons.”
It looks as though Moscow foresees a further downturn in the Syrian conflict and estimates that by early August intensified air force activity in Syrian skies will reach a dangerous level.