Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Around two hundred people died (BBC) in clashes between Syrian security forces and army defectors across the country over the past two days, with the majority of deaths in the northwest Idlib province, activists said. The violence came a day before Arab League monitors are set to arrive in Syria to oversee the implementation of a recently negotiated peace plan.
The opposition Syrian National Council called on the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to condemn the "horrific massacres" (al-Jazeera) committed by Syrian forces in Idlib. The province has become a stronghold for a growing number of army defectors.
The SNC said the U.N. should declare the Syrian cities and towns being attacked by President Bashar al-Assad's regime as "safe zones" (CNN), which would fall under international protection. The group also called for greater humanitarian assistance from the international community. The U.N. estimates that around five-thousand people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted nine months ago.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isn't crazy, he's just doing whatever it takes to survive, write Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith on ForeignPolicy.com.
Throughout the year, Assad relied on Iran and Russia to block international intervention, hoping to buy time to quash the protests without interference. It's not working - but he has no other options, writes Tony Badran in Foreign Affairs.
The U.N. Human Rights Council issued this report on Syria on November 23, 2011. It states that "gross violations of human rights have been committed by Syrian military and security forces since the beginning of the protests in March 2011."
This CFR Issue Guide provides expert analysis and essential background on some of the central issues facing Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, as the Arab Spring enters a critical new phase.
Cairo Women in Mass March
Several thousand Egyptian women marched through downtown Cairo to demonstrate against the abusive treatment of women protesters (NYT) by the country's interim military rulers. Historians say it is the largest women's demonstration in modern Egyptian history.
In this Foreign Policy op-ed, CFR's Steven A. Cook says Egypt is spinning out of control, and both the military junta and the protesters in the street are to blame.
North Korea to Shift to Collective Rule
Following the death of longtime North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, power will be shared among Kim's successor and son, Kim Jong-un, the younger Kim's uncle, and the military (Reuters), a source with close ties to Pyongyang reportedly said. The inexperienced Kim Jong-un will be the head of the ruling coalition.
Will Kim Jong-il's twenty-seven-year-old son assume power in a smooth transition or is a destabilizing succession struggle ahead for reclusive North Korea? In this CFR Interview, CFR's Scott Snyder says the next few weeks will provide crucial signals.
PHILIPPINES: Over a thousand people have been killed from tropical storm flooding (al-Jazeera) on the island of Mindanao. Government officials warned of the increasing threat of disease in crowded evacuation centers erected for people who have lost their homes.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Musharraf to Answer for Bhutto Assassination
The Pakistani government is set to take action against former military dictator Pervez MusharraF for his alleged connection to the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, according to Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Musharraf is set to return to Pakistan next month (ExpressTribune) from self-imposed exile.
INDIA: The government approved a new anti-corruption bill (BBC) that authorizes an independent ombudsman to prosecute politicians and civil servants. The legislation will be brought before parliament this week, but activist Anna Hazare said the measure does not go far enough.
Airstrike Hits Somali Village
A warplane bombed the Somali village of Hosungow near the Kenyan border that was being held by Islamist al-Shabaab rebels (Reuters). Several civilians were killed in the attack, which was thought to be carried out by Kenyan forces.
This CFR Backgrounder offers a profile of the al-Shabaab Islamist militant organization based in southern Somalia.
MALI: Algerian troops crossed into Mali to help the army fight al-Qaeda-linked militants (AFP), which have been increasingly active in the two countries, as well as Niger and Mauritania, following the fall of Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Mercosur Bans Ships from Falklands
Member countries of the South American Mercosur trade bloc–Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay–agreed at a summit in Montevideo to close their ports to ships flying the flag of the disputed, British-controlled Falkland/ Malvinas Islands (MercoPress).
UNITED STATES: In the government case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning (LAT), a witness testified that Manning confessed to stealing a vast trove of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets and passing them to the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks.
ECB in Bank Refinancing Operation
The European Central Bank allotted $639.96 billion in three-year loans (WSJ) to 523 European banks. The refinancing operation could see the banks move to prop up beleaguered eurozone sovereign bond markets.
Amid rising borrowing costs throughout the eurozone, EU leaders are moving forward with a new fiscal compact, but doubts persist over the agreement's legality and its ability to stem the tide of sovereign debt contagion, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.
EUROPEAN UNION: The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Portugal condemned the construction of Israeli settlements (DeutscheWelle) in Palestinian territories following a U.N. Security Council meeting on Israeli-Palestinian developments.
Payroll Tax Stalemate Grips Congress
The Republican controlled House of Representatives voted to reject a Senate compromise bill that would have extended the payroll tax cut (NYT) for two months, threatening millions of Americans with a significant tax hike on January 1. Senate Democrats are unwilling to reopen negotiations in light of the House vote, claiming that a bipartisan deal to avert heavy taxation was already reached.
HOUSING MARKET: Housing indicators such as construction, home sales, and pricing have shown signs of stabilization over the past several months, indicating gradual improvement in the housing sector (WashPost). November home construction numbers show a 9.3% increase, the highest in months.
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