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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 3, 2014
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Escalating Lebanese Tensions Tied to Syria Conflict

A car bomb struck a southern suburb of Beirut where Iran-backed group Hezbollah enjoys broad support, killing four and injuring seventy-seven six days after another car bomb killed Mohamad Chatah, a leader of Hezbollah's rival, the Future Bloc. The Abdallah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda offshoot, claimed responsibility (Daily Star); its leader was arrested in December in connection with bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, and DNA tests confirmed his identity Friday (NOW). A spokesman said the group would escalate its attacks until Hezbollah withdrew its fighters from Syria (NYT). Meanwhile, Hezbollah is smuggling advanced guided-missile systems from Syria, evading Israeli strikes that previously targeted such shipments, the Wall Street Journal reports.


"Previously, the party had focused on liberating and protecting south Lebanon from Israel—a clear mission enjoying broad consensus, and one that succeeded in liberating the south in 2000. The party's Syrian engagement puts the small Lebanese Shi`i community in open conflict not only with the Sunni majority in Syria, but with the broader Arab and non-Arab Sunni majority in the Muslim world. Hezbollah has already lost possibly as many as 1,000 fighters in the war in Syria, and it is proving unable to protect its civilian population from terrorist attacks," writes the Middle East Institute's Paul Salem.

"After the crisis peaked at the end of 2013, the challenge now should be to enhance efforts to resolve, through the Geneva II conference, the Syrian crisis by bringing about what has been sadly elusive — namely, a much needed national reconciliation and speedy reconstruction. This would enable Syrian refugees to return to their home land, reduce existing and growing tensions in Lebanon and other neighboring countries and help mend the dangerous sectarian divide in Iraq that undermines its national unity and that of its neighboring states," writes Clovis Maksoud for al-Monitor.

"The cycle of violence that Lebanon is experiencing comes as no surprise to anyone, and should be fully expected because of the lack of functioning state institutions to take responsibility for the situation on the ground. Wednesday's bomb blast in Beirut's southern suburbs is merely the latest reminder that whoever wants to destabilize Lebanon can exploit the country's sectarian divide to sow terror and even more tension and polarization. The formation of a new government is the top priority during this critical stage, while all of the political bickering and armchair analyses are luxuries that the country can simply no longer afford," Beirut's Daily Star writes in an editorial.


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Myanmar's Leader Backs Constitutional Change

President Thein Sein on Thursday cautiously backed a proposed amendment to the constitution that would allow "any citizen" to run for president, in an apparent reference to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party said last weekend it would contest the 2015 elections. Protestors rallied peacefully for the change on Friday (AP).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses civil unrest in Myanmar.

CAMBODIA: Three protestors were killed in clashes with police near the capital of Phnom Penh on Friday as garment workers demanded the minimum wage be doubled (BBC).



Indian PM Won't Seek Third Term

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday that after a decade in office, he will step down after summer elections even if his embattled Congress Party's coalition is returned to power. He said likely successor Narendra Modi, of the rival BJP, would be "disastrous," alluding to his record during 2002 riots (Hindu).

CFR's Alyssa Ayres discusses recent state-level elections in India and looks ahead to national ones.

PAKISTAN: General Pervez Musharraf's treason trial was thrown into doubt after the former president was admitted to a military-run hospital for possible cardiac arrest. Officials speculate he will seek treatment abroad (FT).



Sunni Militants Take Partial Control of Western Iraqi Cities

Militants aligned with al-Qaeda seized partial control over the cities of Falluja and Ramadi on Thursday as the government rushed to deploy troops there (NYT). The offensive comes after Sunni demonstrators were dispersed by the Shiite-dominated government of President Nuri al-Maliki.

This Backgrounder explains al-Qaeda in Iraq's resurgence amid the U.S. pullout and worsening crisis in Syria.



Kagame Accused in Rwandan Spy Chief's Death

South African police said former Rwandan spy chief Patrick Karegeya was found dead, possibly strangled, in a Johannesburg hotel room on Thursday. Rwandan opposition leaders accused President Paul Kagame of ordering the assassination (Mail & Guardian), while Kagame's government said the charge was baseless.

SOUTH SUDAN: The U.S. State Department said Friday it was evacuating additional embassy personnel and urged all American citizens to leave the country as rebel forces advanced toward Juba. Cease-fire talks are underway in neighboring Ethiopia (WaPo).



Italy, Gateway for Migrants to Europe, Rescues One Thousand in a Day

The Italian navy and coast guard rescued more than one thousand migrants in a twenty-four-hour period on Wednesday and Thursday traveling by boat off the island of Lampedusa, officials said (BBC). Patrols for unseaworthy vessels were stepped up after a shipwreck in October.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Investigators looking into the death of Palestinian ambassador Jamal al-Jamal in an apparently accidental explosion found illegal weapons in a search of his compound, the Prague police chief said Thursday (WSJ).



Panama Canal Expansion Jeopardized by Cost Overruns

Expansion of the Panama Canal may be halted as a mostly European consortium of construction companies demanded the Panama Canal Authority pay for cost overruns (NYT). The project involves wider locks that would allow larger ships to navigate the waterway.

BRAZIL: Twenty-two million Brazilians have emerged from extreme poverty during the past three years, according to government figures. President Dilma Rousseff's success toward fulfilling her 2010 campaign promise to eradicate extreme poverty may offset public discontent regarding the economy as she runs for a second term in October (Bloomberg).



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