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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 18, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Syrian Conflict Draws in Palestinians

Syrian rebels took full control (al-Jazeera) of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on Monday after fighting raged for days on the southern edge of President Bashar al-Assad's Damascus power base and air raids killed at least eight people sheltering in a mosque there. The battle came after heavy fighting broke out two weeks ago between pro-Assad Palestinians (WSJ) and rebels supported by other Palestinian fighters. Meanwhile, Syria's prime minister--a top target of rebels--made a rare visit (ABC) to the war-torn Aleppo in an attempt to shore up support for president Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has faced a 21-month-old uprising in which 40,000 people have been killed.


"The latest violence, which has left at least a dozen Palestinians dead in Damascus, has drawn Syria's Palestinian population more deeply into the country's conflict. It also poses a new challenge to the government in Lebanon, whose stability has long been tested by Palestinian refugees on its territory," write Nour Malas and Joshua Mitnick for the Wall Street Journal.

"The upsurge in violence prompted a rare intervention by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who warned the Syrian administration not to drag the 500,000-strong Palestinian population in Syria into the now 21-month old civil war," writes Alistair Dawber for the Independent.

"UNRWA has repeatedly warned that if all parties to the Syrian armed conflict fail to fulfill their obligations to protect Palestine refugees and respect their neutrality, the consequences would be devastating and long lasting. The Agency has advocated to maintain the neutrality of the 525,000 Palestine refugees in Syria and not implicate them in the conflict," writes the Palestine News Network.



China to Veto North Korea Sanctions

U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said Monday that the United States and China are deeply divided (AFP) over how to tackle North Korea's violation of UN Security Council resolutions, saying that China is resisting U.S.-led efforts at new sanctions against North Korea over its rocket launch.

This CFR Crisis Guide delves into the issues in the Korean Peninsula.

PHILIPPINES: Philippine legislators passed a landmark bill (ManilaBulletin) Monday that provides government funding for contraceptives and sex education in schools, despite strong opposition by the Roman Catholic Church.



Pakistani Polio Workers Shot

Five health workers on a UN-backed anti-polio drive were killed by gunmen on Tuesday (Dawn), with four deaths in three different incidents in Karachi and a fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar during a nationwide drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.

INDIA: Russian President Vladimir Putin may seal roughly $7 billion worth of weapons contracts when he visits India, Russia's top arms customer, next week (Bloomberg).



Egypt Judges to Boycott Referendum's Second Round

A group of top Egyptian judges announced on Monday it would boycott the second round (Alarabiya) of the country's constitutional referendum scheduled for December 22 after initially accepting to oversee the first round of votes, which took place on December 15, with conditions.

This CFR video highlights three things to know about Egypt's power struggle.



Jacob Zuma Wins Second Term at ANC

Jacob Zuma was reelected as leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress (SAPA), defeating his top contender and deputy Kgalema Motlanthe. The ANC has governed South Africa since 1994 and is widely expected to win nationwide elections in 2014.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Former Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was acquitted (BBC) by the International Criminal Court for a case related to the 2003 killings of 200 residents in the mineral-rich Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.



David Cameron Says EU Withdrawal 'Imaginable'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that British withdrawal from the EU is "imaginable" (Guardian), despite stressing his support for membership in a reformed EU. Cameron, who has suffered in the polls over the issue, is expected to plan a referendum on British membership of the EU next month.

SWEDEN: Sweden's central bank lowered its main interest rate by .25 percentage points on increasing signs of weakness in the country's economy (FT), hinting there could be more rate cuts to come.



Mexico Announces New Security Force

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Monday a new 10,000-member security force (LAT) that will be deployed to the most violent regions of the country, although he did not say when the group would be created.

ARGENTINA: The International Monetary Fund will meet at the end of January to discuss Argentina's improvement in country's debated official economic index (MercoPress) after IMF chief Christine Lagarde sent a report on Argentina's case to the board on Monday.

CFR's Shannon O'Neil discusses Latin America in the global economy in this blog post.



Obama Makes New Proposal on the Fiscal Cliff

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met Monday at the White House (USAToday) for continued negotiations, during which Obama made another proposal to avert the fiscal cliff. The new offer calls for raising taxes on incomes over $400,000 instead of $250,000 and increasing revenue by $1.2 trillion instead of $1.4 trillion. It also includes a "GOP proposal to slow Social Security growth by using a different inflation formula to calculate cost-of-living increases," reports the Wall Street Journal.

President Obama is planning to announce his national security cabinet nominations on Friday (WaPo), but the date may change depending on the status of fiscal cliff negotiations, according to administration officials.



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