Chatter: Syrian army seeks to take back Aleppo, Damascus




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Need to know:
In Syria, Aleppo is bracing for its heaviest assault yet, as thousands of soldiers reportedly head for the city.

Activists say that troops are preparing a major counter offensive against rebels, who have been gaining ground in Aleppo since last week. Reports say an armored column is marching toward the city from the border with Turkey – where Turkish officials say they have shut all remaining crossings.

Meanwhile foreign journalists have reported seeing Syrian air force planes fire on both Aleppo and Damascus.

We'll no doubt hear more, and just as worrying, reports soon: the new head of the UN's observer mission, General Babacar Gaye of Senegal, has arrived in Damascus; he describes the situation in Syria as "very difficult."

Want to know:
A day after the world was able to watch the suspected Aurora shooter's glassy-eyed court appearance live on TV and the web, a judge ruled that James Holmes's next hearing should not be captured on camera.

The judge yesterday denied an application for audio, video and photography coverage when Holmes is formally charged on Monday, though reporters will still be allowed to attend. The judge has already issued a gag order limiting what police and attorneys can tell the public about the case.

For the victims' relatives, it might come as a relief. Some families have asked the media not to give the suspect the publicity they believe he craves, by keeping his name and picture off the front pages. 

Batman actor Christian Bale, meanwhile, visited victims' families and survivors in Aurora yesterday; cameras were not invited then, either.

Dull but important:
Aaaand they're back. After a brief pause in hostilities following the Aurora shooting, the game is once more on between presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

The battleground, ahead of Romney's first major trip abroad as Republican nominee to be, is foreign policy. In an address yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, Romney accused the Obama administration of endangering the nation's security in so many ways: failing to tackle Iran, offending Israel, underfunding defense and, most notably, allowing classified information to be leaked. Allegedly, of course. 

"If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today," Mitt said. So wait, he doesn't want to be president? Obama should stay...? Oh right, no, we see. That's the closest Romney gets to a humdinger. It'll need a little polishing if he's to convince in a policy area that's arguably his weakest. (Need we bring up the "somebody doesn't know that Burma and Myanmar are the same country" thing again? Looks like we just did.)

Just because:
 has a new president, less than 24 hours after its previous one died.

John Atta Mills passed away in an Accra hospital yesterday. He is said to have had throat cancer. The same day, his deputy, John Dramani Mahama, was sworn in to replace him.

Atta Mills, who was 68, had governed Ghana since 2009. His narrowly-won election was hailed as a triumph of democracy

He hoped to repeat it. Atta Mills had recently secured the ruling party's nomination for re-election in December; it's not clear yet who will stand in his stead.

Strange but true:
Strange bedfellows of the day are Facebook and Iran, which, after sustained efforts to block the social network, has decided that it could help keep Iranian internet users clean.

State media reports today that Iran's chief cyber policeman has suggested working with Facebook to remove pages showing pornography or advertising prostitution. Presumably, Tehran's definition of "inappropriate content" is somewhat broader than California's.

Facebook, unsurprisingly, has not yet responded to Iran's friend request.