Opposition activists are claiming more than 500 people have died in weeks of Syrian government air strikes on the city of Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the dead includes 151 children. Syrian government helicopters have been hitting Aleppo with highly destructive barrel bombs –- oil drums filled with explosives and sometimes with nails or scrap metal. At least 25 people were reportedly killed on Saturday when government forces bombed a vegetable market. Meanwhile, the Assad regime has evacuated thousands of residents from the town of Adra amidst heavy clashes with rebel fighters.
At least 31 people have died in two consecutive days of bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd. Seventeen people were killed and 34 were wounded on Sunday when a female suicide bomber hit a train station. Another 14 people were killed earlier today when a bomber hit a packed bus. No group has claimed responsibility, but Russia has faced repeated attacks from Islamist militants in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Russia is set to host the Winter Olympics in just over a month.
Aid workers are warning of a humanitarian crisis amidst sectarian violence in the Central African Republic. The local coordinator of Doctors Without Borders says that more than 100,000 people have now sought shelter at one camp for the displaced in the capital Bangui.
Lindis Hurum: “For three weeks now, these people haven’t received any other assistance but health assistance from Doctors Without Borders and water from the Red Cross. There are no toilets. Water is not sufficient. There’s no food distribution, no distribution of shelter. So there’s so much to do. And first of all, we have to improve the situation with the hygiene as soon as possible, before the situation becomes catastrophic, with 100,000 people in such a small place. It’s an emergency. We must do something quickly.”
African leaders have set a deadline of Tuesday for talks between the South Sudanese government and rebel fighters. More than 1,000 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced in over two weeks of fighting between government forces and rebels loyal to the country’s ousted former vice president. At a summit in Kenya, Ethiopia’s foreign minister read a statement on behalf of regional countries supporting South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom: “Welcomed the commitment by the government of the Republic of South Sudan to an immediate cessation of hostilities and called upon Dr. Riek Machar and other parties to make similar commitments. Determined that if hostilities do not cease within four days of this communiqué, the summit will consider taking further measures. Condemns all unconstitutional actions to challenge the constitutional order, democracy and the rule of law, and in particularly condemns changing the democratic government of the Republic of South Sudan through the use of force.”
A federal judge has upheld the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. telephone data just days after a separate court reached an opposite opinion. On Friday, District Judge William Pauley dismissed a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the NSA’s mass collection of U.S. phone records. Pauley said telephone metadata could have potentially prevented the 9/11 attacks by alerting the government to hijackers who made phone calls from the United States. The issue will likely head to the Supreme Court. Pauley’s ruling comes less than two weeks after another federal judge questioned the program’s constitutionality and described the bulk collection as “almost Orwellian.”
The German publication Der Spiegel has revealed new details about a secretive hacking unit inside the National Security Agency called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. The unit was created in 1997 to hack into global communications traffic. Hackers inside the TAO have developed a way to break into computers running Microsoft Windows by gaining passive access to machines when users report program crashes to Microsoft. With help from the CIA and FBI, the NSA has the ability to intercept computers and other electronic accessories purchased online in order to secretly insert spyware and components that can provide backdoor access for spies.
Jobless benefits have expired for over 1.3 million Americans after Congress failed to renew them under the recent budget deal. The program provided up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Just a quarter of unemployed Americans will now receive jobless benefits — the smallest proportion in half a century.
The White House says nearly two million people have signed up for health insurance plans through the federal and state exchanges in the first three months of enrollment. Over 1.1 million signed up through the federal website HealthCare.gov, including some 975,000 in December.
Egypt is facing continued violence and unrest amidst the latest escalation of the military government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. On Sunday, four soldiers were wounded when a bomb struck a military building north of Cairo. A bombing last week prompted the Egyptian government to deem the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, even though a separate militant group claimed responsibility. One person was killed and more than 100 were detained over the weekend in student protests against the anti-Brotherhood crackdown. Buildings on the Al-Azhar University campus were set on fire during the unrest. Egypt is set to hold a referendum on a new constitution next month.
Egyptian forces have arrested four journalists with the news network Al Jazeera in Cairo. Correspondent Peter Greste, producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, and cameraman Mohamed Fawzy were detained at their hotel on Sunday. Al Jazeera is calling for their immediate release. Egypt’s military government has repeatedly targeted Al Jazeera, raiding offices, ordering an affiliate’s closure and deporting several staffers.
Lebanon is receiving $3 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia. The Lebanese government says the money will go to its military, the largest-ever grant for Lebanon’s armed forces. The announcement follows Friday’s bombing in Beirut that killed five people, including former minister Mohamad Chatah, a critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Thousands of people have rallied on the Japanese island of Okinawa in protest of plans to relocate a U.S. military base. Local officials signed on to a deal last week that will move the base from a densely populated urban area to a more remote location. But a movement of Okinawa residents has opposed the base altogether and pushed for ousting U.S. forces off the island, citing environmental concerns and sexual assaults by U.S. soldiers on local residents. On Friday, thousands of people surrounded a government building and staged a sit-in inside.
A new U.S. intelligence estimate warns Afghanistan will likely descend into chaos unless the two sides can sign a long-term agreement to maintain American troops. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has delayed ratification of a security pact that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014. The National Intelligence Estimate says U.S. gains will be eroded within three years without a large military presence to fight the Taliban.
A health worker overseeing a polio vaccination effort in Pakistan has been shot dead. The victim was the latest medical official to be killed in the fallout from the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden. The Taliban began attacking health workers after it was revealed the CIA used a fake vaccination program to help locate bin Laden.
A new investigation challenges right-wing claims around the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year. The New York Times reports there is no evidence al-Qaeda or other international militants played a role in the assault that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The attack was coordinated by local militia who in fact benefited from the U.S.-backed NATO intervention against Col. Muammar Gaddafi. It also appears that anger over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States, “The Innocence of Muslims,” helped fuel the attack, as the Obama administration initially claimed.
Protests are continuing in New York City over incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointment of William Bratton as the next police commissioner. Bratton returns to the job after leading the New York City Police Department in the mid-1990s, when he embraced a controversial strategy of cracking down on low-level offenses. De Blasio campaigned on a promise to curb the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, but Bratton actually expanded the program while heading the Los Angeles police. On Friday, the parents of victims shot dead by police under Bratton’s watch led a protest march from Harlem to the Bronx. Nicholas Heyward Sr. lost his 13-year-old son after police mistook the boy’s toy rifle for a real gun.
Nicholas Heyward Sr.: “I’m angry today. I’ve been angry since hearing that Bill de Blasio has chosen Bill Bratton to be the next police commissioner again. You see, back in 1994, my son was murdered, and he was gunned down by a New York City police officer. Whether it was housing or just a city officer, you should have addressed that issue. But he failed to do that. This protest is, you have parents and family out here who had their innocent loved ones that were killed. That’s what we’re talking about. We do not wish for William Bratton to be the police commissioner of New York City again.”
Organizers say they plan to continue protests at de Blasio’s inauguration on Wednesday.