Foreign digest

December 15, 2013
SYRIA
Government bombs kill 37 in Aleppo

Syrian government aircraft dropped barrels packed with explosives on opposition-held areas of the contested northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, leveling buildings, incinerating cars and killing at least 37 people, including 16 children, activists said.

Government helicopters pounded opposition neighborhoods with barrel bombs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Aleppo Media Center activist group said government aircraft dropped at least 25 barrel bombs on the city Sunday. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad often use barrel bombs, which contain hundreds of pounds of explosives and cause massive damage.

The Observatory, which monitors the conflict through a network of activists in Syria, said fighting continued Sunday in Adra, northeast of Damascus, after an al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction attacked the town Wednesday. The death toll there has risen to 32, the Observatory said, mostly members of Assad’s Alawite sect but also some Shiite Muslims and Druze.

The killings in Adra indicate the sectarian overtones the conflict has taken on since the uprising began in March 2011.

— Associated Press

ITALY
Syria’s toxins to be
transferred at port

Italy will provide a port for use in the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal between ships on the way to its destruction at sea, its Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

Syria is due to hand over deadly toxins that can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other lethal agents under an international agreement forged in the wake of an August attack on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

Danish and Norwegian ships will collect the toxic arsenal from the Syrian port city of Latakia. The chemicals will be destroyed at sea on board a specially adapted U.S. ship because they are too dangerous to import into a country. Until now, it was not clear how the containers of chemicals could be transferred.

An Italian Foreign Ministry official said that the use of the port is the maximum role Italy will play in the operation and that the chemicals will not touch Italian territory. The official did not say which port will be used.

— Reuters

IRAN
Nuclear talks still on, foreign minister says

Iran’s foreign minister said Sunday that his country will continue nuclear negotiations with world powers, after pulling out of expert-level talks to protest the U.S. targeting companies it says evaded sanctions.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said it was “a very wrong move” for the U.S. government to freeze assets of companies doing business with Iran while a deal aimed at keeping his country from developing nuclear weapons is being pursued.

Thursday’s action freezes the U.S. assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran’s national tanker company. Other companies involved directly in the proliferation of material useful for weapons of mass destruction also were blacklisted from the U.S. market. The U.S. move comes as Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for tougher measures to raise the pressure on Iran.

— Associated Press

French leaders to skip Sochi Olympic Games: France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said that neither he nor President François Hollande nor other top officials plan to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in February. Russia’s human rights record, including a new anti-gay law, has led to calls in the West for a boycott of the Games. German President Joachim Gauck has also said he will not attend.

First woman to oversee German military: Germany’s new government will include the country’s first female defense minister. Ursula von der Leyen was named to the post Sunday by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The 55-year-old mother of seven inherits the job of modernizing the military, which abandoned conscription in 2011, and overseeing its ­dwindling deployment in Afghanistan.

Bachelet gets another term in Chile: Voters in Chile elected Michelle Bachelet president again in a landslide victory Sunday that should hand the center-left politician the mandate she sought to push ahead with wide-reaching policy changes. With nearly 70 percent of ballots counted, Bachelet, who led the country from 2006 to 2010, had about 63 percent of the vote. Evelyn Matthei of the center-right ruling coalition had about 37 percent.

— From news services

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