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Syrian forces have launched a ground attack on the embattled city of Homs today after a nearly month-long siege. The neighborhood of Baba Amr reportedly came under heavy shelling overnight before Syrian troops swept in. The latest violence comes as the United Nations now says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the Assad regime’s crackdown on the nearly year-long uprising. U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe announced the new death toll figure in comments before the U.N. Security Council.
Lynn Pascoe: “The disproportionate use of force and military aggression against civilian population by authorities has driven the largely peaceful opposition forces to resort to armed resistance. While we cannot give exact casualty figures, there are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children. The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people.”
A number of foreign journalists are said to be trapped in areas of Homs that are coming under heavy fire. On Tuesday, British photographer Paul Conroy was safely escorted to neighboring Lebanon by a group of Syrian activists. Thirteen of Conroy’s rescuers were reportedly killed in the escape. There were reports another journalist, Edith Bouvier of France, also escaped to Lebanon, but her status remains unconfirmed.
The United States has reportedly drafted an outline for a new U.N. Security Council measure that would focus on delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke about the effort on Tuesday.
Jay Carney: “I think that we need to focus on those actions which have the greatest chance of success. And that includes efforts to organize humanitarian aid. It includes efforts to further isolate and pressure Assad. It includes efforts to assist the Syrian opposition to organize itself and unify and then continue to work with our allies at the highest levels to examine additional steps that might be taken.”
At the United Nations, Syrian diplomats walked out of a U.N. Human Rights Council session on the crisis in Syria in protest of widespread criticism. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said she would back the investigation of Syrian officials by the International Criminal Court.
Navi Pillay: “In the face of the unspeakable violations that take place every moment, I remain convinced that referring the situation of Syria to the International Criminal Court will be a step in the right direction. The international community must unite in sending a clear message to the Syrian authorities, and the Security Council must assume its responsibility to protect the population of Syria.”
Mitt Romney has claimed victory in Tuesday’s Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Romney won Arizona by a wide margin, but only narrowly edged Rick Santorum to win his native state of Michigan.
President Obama has issued a series of waivers that would exempt him from strict adherence to the National Defense Authorization Act, the controversial measure he signed into law that radically expands indefinite detention. The law mandates the military detention of foreigners deemed to be terrorist suspects. But on Tuesday, Obama narrowed the requirements for military detention by excluding any foreigner whose detention would hinder counterterrorism abroad or limit the prisoner’s cooperation. The waivers would also cover lawful permanent residents arrested in the United States, as well as anyone arrested by state police instead of federal officers. But despite the waivers, the U.S. government would still be able to transfer foreign suspects to military custody, provided it receives clearance from a six-member national security team.
New evidence has emerged of civilian casualties in the ongoing CIA drone strikes inside Pakistan. The Associated Press has confirmed a report by Bureau of Investigative Journalism that six civilians were killed in one CIA strike inside Waziristan last year. And the British charity, Reprieve, has filed a new case to the U.N. Human Rights Council based on the sworn testimony of 18 relatives of civilians killed in CIA strikes under President Obama. The Reprieve filing calls on the council to condemn the drone attacks as “illegal human rights violations.”
The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has published an internal email from the private intelligence firm Stratfor that suggests the U.S. Justice Department has obtained a sealed indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The email is one of around five million obtained from Stratfor’s servers by the hacker group Anonymous. The Justice Department has not confirmed the existence of the secret indictment but has been known to have convened a secret grand jury in Virginia to bring charges against Assange.
Twenty-five people have been arrested in Europe and South America on allegations of belonging to Anonymous, the online hacker group. Interpol says the alleged hackers are accused of plotting attacks against Colombian government websites and other targets.
Egypt’s military government says it has arrested a top al-Qaeda operative at the Cairo airport. Saif al-Adel is alleged to have briefly taken the helm of al-Qaeda following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Egyptian officials say al-Adel was detained on a layover flight from Pakistan. Al-Adel is on the FBI’s most wanted list in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
In other news from Egypt, three judges overseeing the trial of 43 NGO workers have pulled out of the case. The workers, including 16 U.S. citizens, are accused of illegally using foreign funds to stir up opposition to Egypt’s military government. The U.S. has threatened to withhold billions in aid in response. The judges’ withdrawal from the case comes amidst news U.S. and Egyptian officials are nearing an undisclosed agreement to resolve the dispute.
Hundreds of people gathered in New York’s Union Square Wednesday night for what organizers dubbed a “reboot” of the Occupy Wall Street movement for social and economic change. Occupy protests have lagged over the past two months amid the cold winter weather and a series of raids targeting encampments nationwide. Protesters said they hoped for a rejuvenated movement with the approaching spring.
Marvin Knight: “I’m almost sure that every movement in the history of the world started off, you know, big, then it went down, which don’t mean that it’s over. It only means that it has to be reorganized. That’s what we are in the process of doing now, reorganizing.”
Margaret Ratner Kunstler: “I feel that there’s this tremendous injustices in society, especially in the criminal justice system, and we all have to make our voices heard, because that’s the only way we’re going to make change.”
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether corporations can be sued in U.S. courts for human rights abuses committed overseas. The case involves nine Nigerian activists executed for protesting Royal Dutch Shell. A majority of the court appeared to side against the plaintiffs, with Justice Samuel Alito saying the case has “no connection to the United States whatsoever.” The Obama administration filed a brief siding with the plaintiffs, saying it disagrees with a lower court ruling that international law does not recognize corporate liability for foreign abuses.
The Pentagon has acknowledged it dumped portions of human remains recovered from the site of the 9/11 attacks in Washington and Pennsylvania in a landfill after cremation. It is the first time the military has admitted to the practice for the dead from 9/11 following the disclosure last year that the remains of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq were also discarded in a landfill.
Virginia’s senate has approved an altered version of a measure requiring women to obtain an ultrasound before an abortion. The new measure maintains the requirement of an ultrasound but removes a provision that would have mandated the insertion of a vaginal probe. The probe requirement set off a national uproar from critics who dubbed it a form of “state rape.”
The Iowa State Senate has approved a bill that would punish animal rights activists who go undercover to expose farm animal abuse. Backed by Iowa’s agriculture industry, the “Ag-Gag” bill would impose fines and prison sentences on anyone who seeks agricultural employment to document the conditions of farm animals. In recent years, undercover videos have revealed shocking conditions at a number of locations and have led to plant closures and meat recalls. In a statement, the group Mercy for Animals said: “Lawmakers should be focusing on strengthening [Iowa’s] pathetic [animal cruelty] laws, not silencing whistleblowers who expose animal abuse or other serious issues involving the safety and security of the American food supply.”