Friday, 13 July 2012

Syria’s Massacre Raises Calls for Action on Assad

The bloodiest massacre in Syria’s 17-month conflict along with the suspected movement of chemical weapons adds pressure on the United Nations Security Council to punish a regime that Russia has so far shielded.
The opposition Syrian National Council said as many as 305 people were killed in a July 12 assault on the Sunni village of Tremseh in Hama province. Separately, the Wall Street Journal cited unnamed U.S. officials as concerned about evidence that the Syrian government was moving some chemical weapons from storage sites for unknown reasons.
Both elements add urgency to a planned July 18 vote in New York on a Western-drafted Security Council resolution threatening President Bashar al-Assad with measures such as sanctions. Russia has said it will continue to use its veto to protect its Soviet-era ally, drawing attention to how ineffectual the international community has been in trying to resolve the longest of the Arab revolts.
“We have two significant developments and we cannot even get this passed?” Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a telephone interview. “There is no point in a resolution with no teeth, and even this doesn’t have much bite to it. How else can Assad be stopped?”
Time is running out for UN special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace efforts, which in five months have failed to produce any semblance of a promised cease-fire. His transition plan, which envisions Assad’s mediated exit within a year, hinges on Russia withholding its veto.

‘Grim Reminder’

“Tragically, we now have another grim reminder that the Council’s resolutions continue to be flouted,” Annan said in his letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and transmitted to the 15-member body. Action “is imperative and could not be more urgent in light of unfolding events.”
The assault on Tremseh began at dawn when Syrian troops surrounded the town of 10,000 residents, most of them Sunni Muslims, with 150 tanks and armored vehicles and started shelling, Syrian National Council member Abdulrahman Alhaj said yesterday by phone from Istanbul. Then soldiers, backed by the pro-government Shabiha militia, stormed the town for five hours, he said.
That version is challenged by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, which said the deaths were the result of a clash between security forces and “terrorist” groups -- as the government characterizes anti-regime fighters -- after local residents called for help.
There was no independent account, and late yesterday the Associated Press reported local activists were reducing their death estimates.

Mandate Expires

Major-General Robert Mood, commander of the UN observer mission in Syria, said his team verified fighting in Tremseh that involved mechanized units and helicopters. The unarmed military monitors were still trying to reach the site of the suspected massacre. Their operations have been largely suspended because of the danger posed to them.
The three-month mandate for the UN’s Syrian mission expires July 20. Russia seeks a 90-day extension with no strings attached. The U.S., France and the U.K. will agree to a rollover of 45 days and only if measures with bite are put against Assad.
The failure of the mission to help diminish the violence in Syria has made the presence of peacekeepers unpopular. The Syrian National Council, a political umbrella for anti- government activists, said yesterday it “ceases its cooperation with the Annan mission and calls on the Arab League and the United Nations to end the mission.”

Annan’s Fate

Annan is scheduled to meet with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on July 16 in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported.
If Russia can’t be convinced to abstain, Annan will probably have to resign, leaving the international community virtually out of diplomatic options, according to Richard Gowan, associate director for crisis diplomacy and peace operations at the New York University Center on International Cooperation.
Russia resists Western insistence on invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, a tool it accused the West of abusing last year to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. While Russia and China have twice blocked efforts by the U.S. and its European allies to punish Assad, the stakes in wielding a veto are now higher.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said reports of the latest massacre in Syria are “shocking and appalling” and urged the United Nations Security Council to agree on “urgent action.” Hague made the comments in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
“History will judge this Council,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “Its members must ask themselves whether continuing to allow the Assad regime to commit unspeakable violence against its own people is the legacy they want to leave.”

Chemical Weapons

The violence in Syria since the March 2011 start of the uprising against Assad has claimed more than 15,000 lives, according to aid agencies figures cited as credible by the UN. At least 66 people were killed yesterday around the nation, the Local Coordinating Committees, an activist group that tracks the daily death toll, said in an e-mail.
New concerns about Syria’s stockpile of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide also adds a further dimension to conflict. The Wall Street Journal story on July 12 said it wasn’t clear if the chemicals were being moved with the intention to use them, as a feint or to better secure them.
Syria’s cache of advanced weapons make “Libya look like an antique gun show,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “I am very concerned that as the situation in Syria deteriorates, these weapons could fall into the wrong hands,” such as al-Qaeda.

World outrage at Syria "massacre", but no action

The little girl lies on her back, arms splayed, a bloody smear across her throat. Next to her is a woman, slumped on her stomach, her back a mass of congealed blood. On the child’s other side, a bearded silver-haired man lies with his eyes wide open, as though confronting his killers. His chest is so bloodied it is impossible to tell how he died.
These are images sent from the impoverished Sunni farm village of Tremseh, in central Syria, the latest massacre site that has prompted cries of outrage — but no action — from the West, on what rebels call one of the worst single days of carnage since the uprising began nearly 17 months ago.
The head of the UN’s monitoring mission in Syria accused the Assad regime of using helicopter gunships and tanks to shell the town in violation of a UN-brokered peace plan. An opposition group claimed the agreement had been followed by a brutal attack from pro-government militias on the ground.
The Local Coordination Committees in Syria said forces of the army shelled the town, and the shabiha — pro-government death squads — then stormed the town, killing people, and burning the wounded and bodies of the dead.
In phone calls and messages to the media, local people and opposition members said between 100 and 220 people had been slaughtered in the village of 6,000. And that some of the residents who fled were chased down and butchered with knives.
The Syrian government said the killings resulted from a clash with “terrorists” who threatened residents of the town.
Differing accounts of the violence, and casualty figures, underscore the difficulty of obtaining accurate information in a country that has been under almost total lockdown by President Bashar al-Assad. He has allowed UN observers into the country, but denied them immediate access to sites of conflict.
A video of Tremseh, posted Friday, showed a mass grave, three bodies wide and about 10 bodies long, and the dead being hastily interred in blistering heat. Mohammed, a village resident, told the New York Times that he had buried 170 people from Tremseh, and sent another 60 bodies to their nearby villages.
The central province of Hama, where Tremseh is located, is home to both Sunnis and Shiite-linked Alawites, a minority to which the ruling Assad family belongs.
On Friday, UN observers close to Tremseh said the Syrian air force had attacked “populated urban areas on a large scale” and it had recorded more than 100 explosions in an “ongoing military operation.”
But it was not possible to immediately determine the numbers of combatants and civilians killed. The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that dozens of the dead were opposition fighters. Other opposition members described it as wanton “ethnic cleansing” by the Assad regime.
The uncertainty about the mounting violence in Syria — and the fragmented nature of the opposition — makes the possibility of international action against Assad more difficult. Russia, a powerful UN Security Council member, insists that Syria is battling armed groups, rather than carrying out a ruthless crackdown on protesters.
But the Middle Eastern social media Friday were sizzling with criticism of Moscow, which has blocked tougher sanctions against Syria along with any suggestion of military action. Critics also blamed the UN and peace envoy Kofi Annan for failing to broker a deal that would force Assad out of power.
Both Annan and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have condemned the attack on Tremseh, and Annan said he was “shocked and appalled” at the use of heavy weapons. The Security Council is debating a new resolution that would extend or end the observer mission after July 20.
Ban accused the government of violating UN resolutions by using heavy weapons and urged the Security Council to take “collective action” against the “outrageous” escalation of violence.
But the Western countries on the 15-member council are pushing for sanctions on Syria under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows for the use of force, and want a 10-day deadline for Assad to comply. Russia calls that “a red line,” and opts for an extension of the existing mission.
“Russia’s image in the Middle East has suffered from this, but they don’t seem to care any more,” says Mark Katz of George Mason University, who has just returned from Moscow. “Syria has become a domestic issue in Russia. If Assad falls, they would prefer to be defiant than to give in to the U.S.”
Canada, which is not on the Security Council, also backs the Western plan to be tougher on Assad. “The international community cannot stand by and allow these atrocities to continue,” said Foreign Minister John Baird on Friday.
But Russian stonewalling also gives Washington an excuse for avoiding a move toward military intervention.
“There’s no groundswell of support for it except in New York conservative policy salons,” said Jeffrey Laurenti of the Washington-based Century Foundation. “I think the general electorate’s indifference will prevail.”
However, reports of appalling civilian suffering are fuelling the debate on should be done about Syria’s spiralling conflict, in which estimates say between 9,000 and 17,000 have died since March 201l. Anxiety has also risen about the threat of a civil war that could spill over the borders to other volatile countries.
But how to stem the violence remains an open question.
“To use a set of tools for stabilization, you must have a willing and able opposition side who can engage in a meaningful political process, so you can pressure the government to go along,” says Claude Bruderlein, who heads the program on humanitarian policy and conflict research at Harvard University. “There is a lot of reservation about the fragmentation of the opposition.”
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group of exiled opposition members, has urged strong action against Assad, who met with Annan earlier this week and agreed to continue discussions that could bring about a ceasefire under Annan’s six-point peace plan.
But Assad also said that he would halt the use of heavy weapons — and in the wake of the Tremseh attack, few have any expectation that the accord is aimed at anything more than stalling.

Five facts about Brad and Angelina’s twins on their 4th birthday

Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (Splash News)
Who could have imagined, back when Angelia Jolie and Brad Pitt first started up a romance after meeting on the set of 2005 movie "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," that all things Brangelina (especially their brood of six) would continue to fascinate the world seven years later. The most recent additions to the family are their mixed-gender twins — daughter Vivienne and Knox — who turn 4 on July 12. In honor of the mini-milestone, here are five facts about the two tykes you might not have known.
Knox Jolie-Pitt (Splash News)
1. Actor Jack Black was the one who revealed to the world that Jolie was pregnant with not one, but two babies.
While in Cannes promoting their animated movie "Kung Fu Panda" in May 2008, the two sat down with Natalie Morales for a "Today" show interview. When the conversation turned to the fact that Jolie, Morales, and Black's wife, Tanya, were all expecting, Black turned to Jolie and said: "You're going to have as many as 'Brady Bunch' when you have these." Morales quickly jumped on the slip: "So is that confirmed? Is it two?" she asked. "Well Jack just confirmed it actually," Jolie laughed, as a look of terror came across Black's face. "Is that true?" he asked. "Yeah, you did!" Jolie giggled. "Oh, man," Black said putting his hand to his face. "Sorry." Well, the world was going to find out soon enough anyway, Jack.

2. Their names — Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline — have family meanings.
Knox was the middle name of Pitt's grandfather, Hal Knox Hillhouse, while Jolie's great-great grandfather was named Leon. Vivienne's middle name, Marcheline, is in honor of Jolie's mom Marcia Lynne "Marcheline" Bertrand, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer a year and a half before the twins were born.
3. The first photos of the twins fetched a record-breaking amount of money.
People magazine reportedly paid between $11 million and $14 million for the first shots of the babies, still the most ever paid for photos of celebrity kids. The cover story featured the newborns along with their parents and a "19-page family album" in the August 18, 2008, issue, which became one of the magazine's best-selling issues ever, selling more than 2.8 million copies. Brangelina donated their proceeds to charity.
4. Knox and Vivienne have been to more countries than you probably have.
Born in France, the twins have been spotted in various far-flung destinations during their short lives, including Budapest, Hungary, where their mom was working on her directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey" a few years back. Last summer, they joined the rest of their siblings for a bowling outing in Malta, then hit up Tokyo in November where Papa Brad was promoting "Moneyball," and were most recently photographed visiting a costume-wearing Angelina on the set of "Maleficent" in Buckinghamshire, England, just last month. Not a bad travel journal for kids just turning 4!
5. An '80s sitcom star is rumored to be their godmother.
Though it's never been confirmed, rumor has it Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie on the iconic '80s sitcom "Facts of Life," is the godmother of the twins. The actress has become close friends with both Brad and Angelina and reportedly often visits with the couple during their travels. Perhaps one reason they trust her as a close confidante is that she doesn't have loose lips. On a recent episode of "Watch What Happens Live," host Andy Cohen asked Cohn several questions, including when she felt "Facts of Life" jumped the shark, which castmember lost her virginity first, and if she was indeed godmother of any of the Jolie-Pitt kids. The godmother question is the only one she pled the fifth on!

Whale starved to death on beach after fishing gear caught in mouth

VANCOUVER - A Fisheries Department spokesman says a humpback whale that washed up on the beach in White Rock, B.C., had fishing gear caught in its mouth before it starved to death.
Paul Cottrell says it's tough to pin down where the longline fishing gear came from or whether it was being used or abandoned.
He says more and more young humpbacks are getting entangled in fishing gear and other items as they move into in-shore waters.
A veterinary pathologist has said ropes were buried deep in the whale's mouth and that it likely died a slow death after beaching itself on the tidal mud flats of the beach south of Vancouver on June 12.
Gouges on the whale's body revealed how it had been entangled, and also suggest it had developed infections from the injuries.
Fisheries experts are working to identify the emaciated juvenile from the patterns on its tail flukes, in hopes of determining where it came from. (CKNW, The Canadian Press)

Pregnant celebrities in Hollywood


Reese Witherspoon

Anna Paquin

Claire Danes

Tori Spelling

Megan Fox

Sarah Michelle Gellar

Anna Faris


Drew Barrymore

Vanessa Lachey

Melissa Joan Hart

Camila Alves

Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber highest paid young celebrities

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Singer Taylor Swift edged out teen heart-throb Justin Bieber as the highest-earning celebrity under 30, taking in $57 million, as women dominated the top spots on a list released by on Thursday.
Bieber, who brought in an estimated $55 million, was the only male among the top five earners, who included Rihanna at No. 3 with $53 million, followed by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
"We are seeing a convergence of these talented women who know how to work the system," said Dorothy Pomerantz, the Los Angeles bureau chief for Forbes.
"The things they have in common, obviously they write great hits, are strong personalities. That really helps them from a publicity point of view. They connect with their fans," she added.
Kristen Stewart, who was the highest paid actress last year with an estimated $34.5 million in earnings, captured the No. 7 spot and was the only actress in the top 10.
Stewart, a lead player in the "The Twilight Saga" films, also had a hit with "Snow White and the Huntsman" and is considered one of Hollywood's up-and-coming stars.
Her co-star in the "Twilight" films and real-life boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, came in at No. 10 with earnings of $26.5 million.
"'Twilight' has done wonderful things for these kids' bank accounts," said Pomerantz, adding that they are now making $12 million per film in the franchise. "What will be telling is how they do post-'Twilight.'"
To compile the list Forbes analyzed album and concert sales, movies earnings, profit participation, advertising work and endorsements between May 2011 and May 2012. Managers, lawyers, agents and other insiders were also consulted.
The full list can be found at (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Christine Kearney and Steve Orlofsky)
Singer Justin Bieber performs during the MuchMusic Video Awards in Toronto, June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Cassese/Files

Sylvester Stallone 'devastated' after son found dead in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The 36-year-old son of Sylvester Stallone was found dead Friday, leaving the actor grief-stricken, his publicist said.
Details surrounding the death of Sage Stallone were not immediately available.
"Sylvester Stallone is devastated and grief-stricken over the sudden loss of his son," publicist Michelle Bega said in a statement. "His compassion and thoughts are with Sage's mother, Sasha."
Los Angeles police said they were dispatched to investigate a death at a home on Mulholland Terrace around 2:15 p.m. but could not confirm the person's identity or offer details.
Coroner's officials also said they were in the initial investigative stages.
Sage Moonblood Stallone was the oldest of Sylvester Stallone's children and co-starred with his father in two films.
"Sage was a very talented and wonderful young man, his loss will be felt forever," Bega said.
He was the first of two sons Stallone had with first wife Sasha Czack.
Sage Stallone made his acting debut in 1990's "Rocky V" and also appeared with his father in 1996's "Daylight."
He also directed the 2006 short "Vic," which screened at the Palm Springs Film Festival.