U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday and defended how she handled the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton accepted responsibility for the security lapses in Benghazi, saying she feels "responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the State Department," but would not accept the blame. She said she did not personally see the security requests for Benghazi, which were handled by security professionals within the department. Accusations over the initial Obama administration response to the attack came into question by Republicans prior to the November 2012 presidential elections, and compelled Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to remove herself from consideration to succeed Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton asserted there was too much focus on the characterization of the attack rather than efforts to prevent a reoccurrence. Critics said Clinton's testimony failed to bring any more clarity to the attacks. Republican Senator John McCain said her answers were "not satisfactory" and Republican Senator Rand Paul said Clinton should have resigned after the attack.
Syrian warplanes hit opposition held areas around Damascus on Thursday after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the enemies' of President Bashar al-Assad insistence on overthrowing the government is an obstacle to peace. Lavrov's comments came Wednesday after suggestions that Russia might change its stance on Assad after it began evacuating some of its citizens. Lavrov maintained that no large-scale evacuation is necessary. He accused Western and Arab countries that have recognized the opposition Syrian National Coalition for undermining political efforts to attain a peaceful solution to the conflict that began in March 2011. Meanwhile, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government fighter jets hit the Damascus suburb of Daraya with eight airstrikes Thursday near a military air base. Additionally, government forces reportedly shelled the town of Aqraba in a battle over a strategic road connecting the capital with the Damascus International Airport.
Arguments and Analysis
The ethnic vote and the 'white coalition': 7 takeaways from Israel's elections (Noam Sheizaf, +972 Magazine)
"At the time of writing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's base of Orthodox and right-wing parties has 60 Knesset seats - the same as the potential opposition. Estimates are that the Jewish Home party will finish with another seat at the expense of the United Arab List once the soldiers' votes are counted, pushing the Right over the Knesset's halfway mark. This is not a major change, since it's pretty clear that Netanyahu will form the next government with Yair Lapid - the biggest winner of the night - and probably Kadima. The three parties have 52 seats combined and with Naftali Bennet's Jewish home party, they could reach 63-64 seats, which means a stable government. Other parties that might join the government, like Shas or Tzipi Livni, will do so on the terms of the senior coalition partners.
This combination makes sense because Lapid, Bennet and Netanyahu share the same ideology on social and economic issues, and have the same indifference to the Palestinian issue (with some nuances). Bennett will have the support of Likud hawks, while Lapid will take over the role of handling the Right's contacts with the world, as Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres did for the previous Netanyahu government. Lapid spoke at the last AIPAC conference and enjoys nice relations with some of Israel's allies in Washington, while for them his presence in the government will serve as proof that Netanyahu has indeed "moderated."
Iraqi Sunnistan? Why Separatism Could Rip the Country Apart-Again (Emma Sky and Harith al-Qarawee, Foreign Affairs)
"It's not easy being a prominent Sunni in Iraq these days. This past December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the arrest of several bodyguards of Rafi al-Issawi, the minister of finance and one of the most influential and respected Sunni leaders in Iraq. In response, tens of thousands of Sunnis took to the streets of Anbar, Mosul, and other predominantly Sunni cities, demanding the end of what they consider government persecution. Issawi has accused Maliki of targeting him as part of a systematic campaign against Sunni leaders, which includes the 2011 indictment of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, on terrorism charges. This is not the first time that Maliki has gone after Issawi, either. In 2010, during tense negotiations over the makeup of the government, Maliki accused Issawi of leading a terrorist group -- a claim that the U.S. military investigated and found baseless. Not coincidentally, this most recent incident occurred days after President Jalal Talabani, always a dependable moderator in Iraqi politics, was incapacitated by a stroke.
The scale of the ongoing demonstrations reveals the widespread sense of alienation that Sunnis feel in the new Iraq. Prior to 2003, Sunnis rarely identified as members of a religious sect and instead called themselves Iraqi or Arab nationalists. It was the country's Shia population that claimed to be victims, on account of their persecution by Saddam Hussein."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/MANDEL NGAN
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