This week on War News Radio: diplomacy and sectarian violence in Syria, a 250-mile human chain in Catalonia, Spain – and more.
WILL SULLIVAN: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Will Sullivan. After inching closer to a strike on Syria, President Obama reversed course this week in favor of diplomacy. War News Radio’s Henry Zhang reports.
HENRY ZHANG: In a speech many thought would be a call to arms, President Obama instead postponed a vote on military action against Syria and endorsed Russia’s plan for Syria to relinquish chemical weapons to international authorities through negotiation. Recent public opinion polls show most Americans oppose airstrikes on Syria, but President Obama has still advocated military action if the Assad government does not uphold its end of a possible diplomatic bargain. Syria has, for the moment, embraced Russia’s plan and agreed to sign onto the Chemical Weapons Convention. Henry Zhang, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: Violence continues to spread in Syria itself, as the Syrian army tries to retake a rebel-occupied and predominantly Christian town northeast of Damascus. War News Radio’s Jasmin Rodriguez-Schroeder reports.
JASMIN RODRIGUEZ-SCHROEDER: Syrian activists have said that hundreds of people were forced to flee the village of Maaloula after rebels from the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front gained control over the historic area. The attack on Maaloula has highlighted underlying tension between non-Muslim religious minorities in Syria and the Islamic militants among Syrian rebel forces. Residents reported civilian casualties as rebels specifically targeted Christian homes and churches, even as state-run news announced that all Christian places of worship in Maaloula remain safe. While the rebels announced earlier this week that they would withdraw from Maaloula on the condition that government forces do not occupy the village, violence has not diminished in the region. Jasmin Rodriguez-Schroeder, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: Memorials were held across the country this week to honor victims and commemorate the twelfth anniversary of the September Eleventh attacks. War News Radio’s Jerry Qin reports.
JERRY QIN: Ceremonies Wednesday morning in New York City paid tribute to the 2,983 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, as well as the 1993 bombing of the North Tower. Memorial services paused six times to signify the moments when each plane hit the towers, when each tower fell, when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, and when a plane hit the Pentagon. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cwo-mo and others attended a ceremony held at Ground Zero. In Washington D.C., President Obama joined Vice President Biden and staffers on the White House lawn for a moment of silence. Jerry Qin, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: A suicide bombing in Baghdad this week is the latest in a spike of sectarian violence in Iraq that many link to spillover from the conflict in Syria. War News Radio’s Rachel Sasella reports.
RACHEL SASELLA: Over thirty people were killed and more than fifty injured when a suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque as evening prayers were ending. Minutes later, the blast was followed by a second explosion from a car bomb down the street. No group has yet taken responsibility for the attack. Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have escalated over the course of the summer as conflict in neighboring Syria intensified. Over 800 people in Iraq were killed in sectarian clashes last month alone. Rachel Sassella, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: On September 11, 2012, a group of Islamist militants attacked the American embassy at Benghazi in Libya. One year later, instability still plagues the region. War News Radio’s Maggie Christ reports.
MAGGIE CHRIST: This past week marked the one year anniversary of the attack on the United States embassy in Libya in which four Americans were killed. The anniversary coincided with a car bomb that went off in Benghazi on Wednesday. Due to the early hour of the explosion, no one was seriously injured, but it nevertheless carried a reminder of the ongoing tensions in Libya even a year after the consulate attack. The investigation of last year’s Benghazi attack has yet to reach a resolution, as essential suspects remain at large and investigators still seek crucial intelligence. Maggie Christ, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: A former U.S. Marine currently held by authorities in Iran now says he was forced to confess to espionage on state television – and that he is not a spy. War News Radio’s Sabrina Merold reports.
SABRINA MEROLD: In a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, former Marine Amir Hekmati said that he is being held hostage as part of Iranian hopes for a prisoner exchange with the United States. Hekmati was sentenced to death in 2012 after confessing to espionage charges on state TV. The verdict was later overturned by a higher court, and now Hekmati is awaiting retrial. In the letter smuggled out of jail, Hekmati appealed to Iranians to consider his legal rights as both an American and Iranian citizen and to support his release. Sabrina Merold, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: Internal strife continues to plague Egypt this week. As the government attempts to crack down on militants occupying the Sinai Peninsula, locals worry about the effects of the counter-terrorism campaign on their region. War News Radio’s Luke Arnone reports
LUKE ARNONE: Violence has become especially prevalent in the Sinai Peninsula after Interim president Adly Mansour’s government moved forces into the area two weeks ago. The government framed the intervention in northeast Egypt as an attempt to weed out Islamic extremists whose suicide bombings have terrorized the region.
The military also closed dozens of smuggling tunnels used to transport supplies into the Gaza Strip. While some in Israel and Egypt have viewed these measures as a means of ensuring national security interests, many locals were distraught by the loss of property, supply shortages, and many civilian casualties. This week, the military moved tanks past the border leading to Gaza in what was seen by Sinai residents as further escalation. The government’s intentions, however, remain unclear. Luke Arnone, War News Radio.
SULLIVAN: In April, North Korea announced that it would rebuild its nuclear program after closing the Yongbyon nuclear facility in 2007. This week, satellite images show that these preparations have already begun. War News radio’s Collin Smith reports.
COLLIN SMITH: Satellite photographs taken at the end of August revealed that North Korea has restarted a reactor stationed at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Analysts have predicted that the reactor will be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium once it becomes fully operational in a week. Scientists have noted, however, that the process of converting plutonium into a nuclear device is slow. North Korea announced plans to revitalize its nuclear program in April, and the reopening of the Yongbyon facility marks their first step toward expanding their nuclear arsenal. Collin Smith, War News Radio.
This week also saw the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Park, located six miles north of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. On Wednesday, the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee announced the decision to reopen the factory, which many see as an uncommon symbol of Korean coalition. Officials from the north closed the park in April of this year, withdrawing 53,000 North Korean workers from the factory and citing frequent military exercises by the South Korean and the United States armies as a reason for discontinuing the relationship. Other signs of easing tensions this month include the joint decision to resume negotiations about arranged family reunions, which have not taken place since 2010.
SULLIVAN: Finally, earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of people joined together to form a 250 mile human chain across Catalonia to demonstrate local support for independence in the northeastern region of Spain. Though it shares many characteristics with the rest of the country, Catalonia has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government for its unique culture and language.
Tensions have only increased in recent years, as Spain’s intense recession has strained resources in the relatively wealthy, industrialized region. Local political leaders have pledged to hold a referendum within the next year, despite claims from the central government that the vote would be unconstitutional.
If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Caroline Batten, Amy DiPierro, Lily Frankel, Patrick Han, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Afsana Oreen, Chloe Wittenberg, and Emily Zhang. I’m Will Sullivan. Until next time, thanks for listening.
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