Chatter: Syrian ambassador switches sides




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Need to know:
The reports are true: the Syrian ambassador to Iraq has abandoned President Bashar al-Assad's government and joined the opposition.

Nawaf Fares confirmed in a statement to Al Jazeera that he was resigning his post and quitting the ruling Baath party.

"I urge all honest members of this party to follow my path because the regime has turned it into an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom," Fares said.

His defection is the first by a senior Syrian diplomat, and the strongest evidence yet that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she claimed that members of the Assad regime were "starting to vote with their feet."

Want to know:
At least nine climbers were killed and another nine injured in an avalanche in the French Alps early this morning. It's said to be the worst such accident in the area in many years.

The avalanche occurred without warning early this morning on the slopes of Mont-Maudit, the third-highest peak in the Mont Blanc massif range and a popular climbing destination in summer. 

It reportedly hit two groups of climbers, most of whom are said to be foreigners. Six people are still missing; a search operation is underway.

Dull but important:
Britain has put an extra 3,500 troops on standby ahead of this summer's Olympic Games.

A private contractor, G4S, is supposed to be providing the bulk of the security staff – but has admitted that it is having "some issues in relation to workforce supply." In other words, they don't have enough trained staff, so British soldiers – many of whom were supposed to be on summer leave – will have to step in to search and screen spectators, check vehicles traveling through the Olympic Park and protect its perimeters.

The news has raised serious concerns about safety, and drawn criticism from the opposition. G4S says it's processing job applications "as swiftly as possible" before the Games begin, on July 27.

Just because:
The first direct shipment from the US to Cuba in 50 years arrived this morning in Havana.

The cargo ship Ana Cecilia left Miami last night, loaded with humanitarian aid items sent by charities, religious groups and émigré relatives. The shipment is permitted under the US trade embargo on Cuba because none of its contents are destined for sale.

Other Florida companies already ship to Cuba through third countries, but this is billed as the first service direct from Miami to Havana since President John F. Kennedy declared the embargo in 1962.

Strange but true:
Now here's a job we want: UFO desk officer for the British government, responsible for duties including providing briefings on the Ministry of Defense's position on UFOs, undertaking UFO investigations, handling freedom of information requests, and dealing with "UFOlogists."

Unfortunately, the position no longer exists – which is why we're allowed to know it ever existed. It's described in newly released files that reveal just how seriously Whitehall took aliens. 

Charmingly, though, the Ministry doesn't seem to have seen the little green men as a threat – suggesting, rather, that they came to Earth for "tourism." Let's hope they were right.