- Syrian opposition attacks Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite forces in Damascus
- Iran disappears seventeen after raid on "network of homosexuals and Satanists"
- Murder of Israeli retired colonel is third murder, fourth terror attack by Palestinians in recent days
- Israeli military conducts long-range flight exercises as Iran brushes off U.S. "no enrichment" condition
What we’re watching today:
- Opposition forces battling to overthrow Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime launched an attack Thursday on regime-allied forces - drawn from Iraq and Syria, and fortified near a Shiite shrine in Damascus - underscoring the regional and sectarian dimensions of what Reuters described as "an increasingly internationalized conflict." Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite forces stationed in the Saida Zainab suburb of Damascus were attacked with mortar and gunfire, as rebel leaders struggled to launch a counter-attack in response to the loss of several Damascus suburbs over recent days. Hezbollah's role in the Syrian conflict has also come under heightened scrutiny in recent days. A video posted online appeared to show Hezbollah soldiers pulling severely wounded Syrian rebels out of vans and executing them, possibly during the Iran-backed terror group's fighting in Qusayr, where Hezbollah support was critical in the regime's successful efforts to seize control. Blowback from Hezbollah's entanglement - which has included both opposition strikes on Hezbollah positions and jihadist attacks on Hezbollah-dominated Shiite neighborhoods - has shattered Hezbollah's image as an indigenous Lebanese party promoting Lebanese interests. The group is rumored to be partially withdrawing from Lebanon, though sources who spoke to Lebanon's Daily Star yesterday were explicit and adamant that the group is remaining inside Syria.
- A Tuesday night raid at a birthday celebration in Iran resulted in the arrest of what regime officials described as "a network of homosexuals and Satanists," according to an announcement issued Thursday by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The arrested Iranians - among whom were people "who had tattoos, make-up, or were wearing rainbow bracelets," - were blindfolded and taken to an unknown location. LGBT outlet Queerty covered the story and noted that "in Iran, anyone suspected or confirmed of being gay, or being associated with homosexuality in any way, can be punished," including by death, and that the "arrests have prompted more alarm over the treatment of LGBT people in the Islamic republic." The arrests underscore systematic human rights abuses routinely conducted by the regime. Anti-regime activists have blasted Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a wave of executions that have occurred since his election, and Green movement figures have called attention to the ongoing imprisonment of political prisoners. Observers are unsure whether Rouhani is able or willing to moderate Iran's human rights abuses. The revolutionary-era cleric has in the past called for the mass incarceration and execution of political dissidents.
- A retired Israeli colonel was bludgeoned to death overnight by two Palestinians wielding iron bars and axes, the latest in a string of deadly terror attacks that have generated fears that a spike in violence against Israelis is being deliberately driven both by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its rival Hamas. Recent weeks have also seen two other Israelis killed by Palestinians, and a nine-year-old girl was shot last week by attackers who approached her family's home. Top-ranking PA officials, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have among other things paid tribute to convicted terrorists, praised them on social media, and called on terrorists to launch attacks on Israelis. Meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday, senior Hamas leader Husam Badran also called for renewed violence against Israelis. Analysts have linked what Jerusalem Post National Security reporter Yaakov Lappin describes as an "unmistakable increase" in attacks to Hamas's efforts to rebuild its terror infrastructure in the West Bank. Those efforts, according to U.S.-based counterterrorism specialists and Hamas's own material, are being orchestrated out of Turkey.
- The Israeli military on Thursday made a point of highlighting a "special long-range flight exercise," posting footage of the drill online and allowing journalists to draw their own conclusions as Iran prepares to offer a basket of concessions that fall far short of what analysts have said would be required to put nuclear weapons out of the regime's reach. Jerusalem has consistently said that it will act alone if necessary to prevent nuclear weapons acquisition by Iran, a country whose top leaders have repeatedly called for the Jewish state's annihilation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave interviews yesterday and today to a series of European outlets, warning of the dangers of offering a "bad deal," which the prime minister described as "a partial agreement which lifts sanctions off Iran and leaves them with the ability to enrich uranium or to continue work on their heavy water plutonium." Meeting with Netanyahu last month, President Barack Obama reaffirmed that that the U.S. was keeping all options on the table in order to force Iran to meet its international obligations, while National Security Advisor Susan Rice clarified that the U.S. would not accept any deal that allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. Iranian officials have repeatedly brushed off the U.S. condition, emphasizing what they describe as an "absolute right" to enrich uranium.
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