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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
May 6, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Chemical Weapons Questioned in Syria As Israel Launches Second Strike

Syrian rebels said they shot down a government helicopter in the east of the country, killing eight (NYT) troops as new accusations emerged that the opposition seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad may have used chemical weapons in the war. Carla del Ponte, the UN's leading investigator (BBC), said Monday that there were "strong, concrete suspicions" that rebels used the nerve agent sarin, but that there was no "incontrovertible proof." Meanwhile, Israel reportedly launched a second air strike targeting a military research center in Syria after reports that the Israel Air Force had carried out a strike (Haaretz) early Friday targeting a shipment of missiles bound for Hezbollah.


"Israel's highest ranking defense officials have made it clear that Israel would also stop "game-changing" weapons from making their way to Hezbollah. And not only chemical weapons. The Israeli airstrikes, according to Western Intelligence sources, around Damascus over the weekend were proof that Israel means business," writes Ben Caspit for al-Monitor.

"Hezbollah's operations against Israel have nothing to do with protecting Lebanon and defending Palestine. Hezbollah is merely an Iranian brigade which has been founded for more than 30 years to serve the aims of the Ayatollah's regime in Tehran," writes Abdulrahman al-Rashed for al-Arabiya.

"Israel did not seek permission from the United States before launching two missile strikes this weekend hitting targets inside Syria—but the strikes were part of a policy that Washington had already signaled its acquiescence to," writes Eli Lake for the Daily Beast.



Palestinian, Israeli Leaders Meet China's Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing on Monday (AFP), and is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this week. The anticipated agenda includes Israeli-Palestinian talks and tougher sanctions against Iran.

NORTH KOREA: North Korea announced it had no intention of using Kenneth Bae (WashPost), an imprisoned American, as a bargaining chip in talks with the United States.



Malaysian Incumbent Wins Reelection

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ruling National Front coalition won national elections, extending its fifty-six-year hold on power despite losing the popular vote (Australian) . Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim refused to accept the result, claiming voter fraud.

Malaysia's thirteenth election isn't all about the outcome, writes Meredith Weiss in this CFR blog post.

BANGLADESH: At least twenty-two people were killed in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka after police clashed with Islamist protesters demanding a new blasphemy law (HindustanTimes).



Iraq Tallies Provincial Elections Results

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition won provincial elections (al-Jazeera) but failed to win a majority in any district, meaning it will need alliances to hold onto senior provincial posts. Iraq's government is mired in crisis over power-sharing among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

CFR's Bernard Gwertzman talks about Iraq's worsening situation in this interview with expert Ned Parker.



EU Pushes Liberalization of African Markets

The European Parliament set a deadline of early 2014 for countries in southern Africa to open up markets, threatening tariffs on exports to the eurozone and loss of trade benefits if states fail to comply (DeutscheWelle).

KENYA: Two Iranians were sentenced to life in prison (BBC) by a Kenyan court on terrorism-related charges after being convicted last week of possessing explosives allegedly for use in an attack.



Portugal Begins Further Austerity Talks

Portugal will begin talks with trade unions on Monday over a controversial austerity package (FT) that would cut up to 30,000 public sector jobs, raise the retirement age, and add five hours to the public sector working week in order for the country to keep its 78 billion euro bailout program.

FRANCE: Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in Paris on Sunday to demonstrate against Fran├žois Hollande's first year in power, accusing him of betraying the left (France24).



Paraguay Backs Mexican WTO Candidate

Paraguay announced its support for Mexico's candidate Herminio Blanco as the next director general of the World Trade Organization (MercoPress), snubbing Brazil's Roberto Azevedo. The next WTO chief, who will succeed the current head Pascal Lamy, will be determined on Tuesday.

UNITED STATES: Washington signaled support for increased export of natural gas (FT), as the United States posits its surging energy production as a key new element of its national security policy.

CFR's Michael Levi discusses how to harness the new sources of U.S. power in this Foreign Affairs article.



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