Syrian forces gathered near a restive border town, now nearly deserted of residents, in a continued crackdown on the three-month old uprising against the leadership of President Bashar Assad.
Assad’s government alleges 120 of its security forces were killed this week in the rebellious town of Jisr al-Shughour. Despite the military show of force near the town, Syrians in other parts of the country were reported to be ready to take to the streets for renewed protests.
According to the Associated Press, about 2,800 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey since the nationwide uprising against Assad began. The NewsHour looked at the situation in Jisr al-Shughour and diplomatic reaction to Syria’s crackdown on Thursday’s program:
Gates Calls NATO’s Future ‘Dim’
Outgoing defense chief Robert Gates offered a blunt assessment of the future of U.S. commitment to NATO in a speech in Brussels, saying that without more military and political will, the alliance faces a “dim, if not dismal” future.
One day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment for injuries suffered in an attack on his compound, six people died in Sanaa, the capital. Three were reportedly fighters loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, a powerful tribal leader, and three were government troops.
Saleh’s departure has created confusion over who will lead the country, with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi acting as his stand-in per Yemen’s constitution. Whether Saleh will remain in Saudi Arabia or return is unknown; his government claims his absence is temporary. His sons remain in charge of the national military, which has continued its battle with tribal groups.
In recent weeks, Saleh has refused to sign a deal supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia that would allow for a peaceful transition of power and new elections in two months.
The turmoil in Yemen poses serious challenges for U.S. officials. Saleh has been an ally in counter-terrorism efforts and his government given aid to combat the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. According to the Washington Post:
The flight of Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia deprives the United States of a fitful ally in the fight against al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate and injects new uncertainty into counterterrorism operations that were already hampered by the country’s bloody internal strife, according to Yemen and security experts.
U.S. officials are alarmed that the political instability in Yemen will create an opening for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its reach.
German Farm Identified as Likely Source of E. Coli Outbreak
The World Health Organization is warning that a new strain of the E. Coli bacteria is responsible for sickening more than 1,500 people and killing at least 18. The outbreak appears to be centered primarily in Germany, where some of those who have fallen ill visited, but the original source of the bacteria has not been confirmed. Two people who traveled from Germany to the United States are also ill.
According to the Associated Press:
Preliminary genetic sequencing suggests the strain is a mutant form of two different E. coli bacteria, with aggressive genes that could explain why the Europe-wide outbreak appears to be so massive and dangerous, the agency said.
Russia has moved to ban produce imports from the European Union. Early in the outbreak, there were reports that Spanish cucumbers could be to blame, although that has not been confirmed. Experts have advised those in Germany to avoid cucumber, lettuce or tomatoes until the source is identified.
The spread of the disease is likely to slow if the original contaminant is contained, but experts warn of secondary spread if those who are ill don’t take precautions like handwashing.
In other news Monday, government forces in Yemen went on the offensive, trying to recapture a town seized by Islamic militants. At least 30 militants, civilians and soldiers have been killed in fighting there since Friday. In Syria, protesters have begun to fight back with guns and grenades after government troops attacked two towns Sunday.
KWAME HOLMAN: Government forces in Yemen went on the attack today trying to recapture a town seized by Islamic militants. Warplanes attacked Zinjibar in the south. At least 30 militants, civilians and soldiers have been killed there since Friday.
Meanwhile, amateur video from another city, Taiz, showed masked men with rifles shooting from rooftops at protesters. One doctor reported at least 20 people were killed there today. The protesters have demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. Instead, Saleh increasingly has used force to crush the three-month-old uprising.
Protesters in Syria have begun fighting back with guns and grenades. Activists reported armed resistance today in two towns in the central part of the country. Government troops had attacked the towns on Sunday. The reports today said at least 14 people have been killed in the fighting and hundreds have been arrested.
Northern Sudan warned Southern Sudan today to withdraw from a disputed border region, but the South refused. The standoff raised new fears of a wider conflict, with thousands of people already displaced.
I spoke earlier with Rebecca Hamilton of the Pulitzer Center, who’s in the southern city of Juba.
Rebecca Hamilton, thank you for joining us.
Where are you now and what’s happening there on the ground?
REBECCA HAMILTON, Pulitzer Center: Just got back to Juba from several days further north up toward the north-south border in Sudan.
Yesterday, I flew over Abyei, which was the place that the Sudanese government attacked last weekend. And I also have been traveling in the areas around Abyei, where upwards of 80,000 people fled to after the attack on Abyei.
KWAME HOLMAN: What’s going on with the fighting Abyei and the talks in Khartoum to try to reach a settlement?
REBECCA HAMILTON: Well, the fighting at the moment has stopped because the Sudanese government has actually seized control of the town. And the critical issue right now is the humanitarian one, with over 80,000 people and the rainy season coming.
I met displaced this week who were taking shelter under the cover of trees in the pouring rain. And these are mostly women and children. Health workers are extremely concerned about disease. I spoke to a woman just this morning whose little two-year-old son had died on the walk from Abyei to Wau, where she was, it took three days, and he died of dehydration on the way.
So, the humanitarian consequences are severe. And if we see any deaths, it will be as a result of those. But in Abyei town itself now, the fighting has stopped. Politically, this is going to be very difficult to resolve, because the position of the South is that the northern government must withdraw from Abyei. And, right now the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, is continuing to say that Abyei is northern land, and he won’t withdraw.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rebecca, how is the humanitarian aid effort going?
REBECCA HAMILTON: It’s a very difficult humanitarian aid operation, because there is a huge fuel shortage in South Sudan right now. That makes transportation of relief goods very, very difficult.
And it’s something that the South Sudanese government is struggling with. And it’s something that the United Nations is struggling with as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Southern Sudan is due to become an independent state on July 9, after years of civil war.
There was more international pressure today for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to leave office. In Bulgaria, the NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said, “Gadhafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end. Even those closest to him are departing, defecting or deserting.”
South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Tripoli, hoping to broker a peace deal and to persuade Gadhafi to step down. The Libyan leader wasn’t among the dignitaries who greeted Zuma at the airport. Later, Libyan state TV showed Gadhafi meeting with Zuma and his delegation.
Germany has announced it will close all 17 of the country’s nuclear power plants by the year 2022. The decision today came on the heels of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March. It marked an abrupt about-face for the center-right government.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel said it’s also an opportunity.
ANGELA MERKEL, German chancellor (through translator): As a country, we think that we can become pioneers on the way to create an age of renewable energies. And we can, as the first industrial nation, a big industrial nation, accomplish such a turnaround to high-efficient and renewable energies, with all the chances for exports, for development, for technology and for jobs.
KWAME HOLMAN: Before the Japan accident, Germany had produced about one-quarter of its energy from nuclear power. It has since shut down seven of its oldest reactors.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia today released a woman who has defied the kingdom’s ban on women driving. Manal Al-Sharif was detained May 21 after she posted video of herself behind the wheel. It was part of a campaign for a mass protest next month against the driving ban. There had been mounting international pressure to free Al-Sharif, but officials gave no reason for the decision today to let her go. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bars women from driving.
Hackers struck PBS overnight, posting a fake story on the NewsHour website. The posting claimed rapper Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, actually was alive and in New Zealand. The story was taken down this morning.
The hackers said that it was in retaliation for a documentary about WikiLeaks that aired on the PBS program Frontline last week. And, late today, the Frontline website was attacked. The executive producer of Frontline called it a disappointing and irresponsible act.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.