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Israel Votes, Greece Gets The Finger, Cervantes' Tomb

ISRAEL VOTES
Photo: Omer Messinger/ZUMA
Millions of Israelis are voting today to elect a new parliament and potentially a new prime minister in a tightly fought election that has become a referendum on incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, who is running for a fourth term. Late polls show center-left opponent Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, with a slight advantage over “Bibi.”

  • Netanyahu, however, made several attempts to attract right-wing voters and consolidate his Likud base in the late hours of the campaign. In a last-minute speech Monday, he said there would be no Palestinian state if he were reelected, disavowing a 2009 speech in which he supported a two-state solution, Haaretz reports.
  • The Likud party admitted to forging a recording of the Kulanu party leader promising to support Netanyahu, according to a Kulanu spokesman quoted by The Jerusalem Post.
  • Late surveys showed about 15% of voters were undecided going into today’s election.
  • Voting ends at 10 p.m. local time, and the first results are expected to be published immediately afterwards.
  • Although the formation of the new parliament, the Knesset, could be set by Wednesday, it could take weeks to determine the next prime minister, as negotiations to form the required coalition governmental could be difficult.

ON THIS DAY
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On this day in 1969, Israel elected Golda Meir. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

ALLEGED SYRIAN GAS ATTACK KILLS 6
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces killed six people — a man, his wife and their three children — in an alleged poison gas attack Monday in the village of Sarmin, in the Idlib province. Medical sources said they died as a result of what was likely chlorine released from barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters, the Syrian monitor group added. Reuters quoted a Syrian military source as saying these claims were propaganda. “We confirm that we would not use this type of weapon, and we don't need to use it.”

115
At least 115 civilians, including 14 children, were killed in a series of “ruthless airstrikes” on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS, between Nov. 11 and 29 last year, a new Amnesty International report says. The human rights group added that some of these strikes gave “every indication of being war crimes.” Several non-military targets, including a busy market, a mosque and a transport hub, were also hit. Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, said that “Syrian government forces have shown flagrant disregard for the rules of war.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Clarin’s Miguel Jurado reports, buildings, tarmac and air conditioning are turning many cities into fetid, airless saunas. Experts urge more trees and grass to mitigate the heat of increasingly hot cement jungles. “Certainly there is global warming and we all suffer it, but in cities like Buenos Aires, insufficient greenery, buildings and tarmac make it much hotter than surrounding regions,” the journalist writes. “Our founder Pedro de Mendoza wasn’t wrong to plan the city facing a river, but because everything we build now blocks its pleasant breeze, we can see how Buenos Aires has become overheated and its air polluted.”
Read the full article, Scorching Cities Like Buenos Aires Are Not Just About Global Warming.

IRAN-U.S. NUCLEAR TALKS INTENSIFY
U.S. and Iranian delegations resumed talks on Iran’s nuclear program today in the Swiss city of Lausanne. Led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the talks aim to reach a political agreement by the end of the month, the Swiss daily Le Matin reports. But Western officials warn that tough issues remained unresolved. "We are trying to get there, but quite frankly we still do not know if we will be able to," a senior U.S. official told reporters. "Iran still has to make some very tough and necessary choices to address the significant concerns that remain about its nuclear program."

VERBATIM
“There is no occupation of Crimea,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a press conference today. The statement confirms Russia’s refusal to return Crimea to Ukraine, despite U.S. and European warnings that they would not drop sanctions over the peninsula’s annexation last year, Reuters reports. “Crimea is a region of the Russian Federation and of course the subject of our regions is not up for discussion,” Peskov added.

  • Meanwhile, reports of heavy fighting near the rebel-held city of Donetsk emerged this morning, according to The Moscow Times. According to pro-Russian separatists, fighting has been ongoing since the Minsk ceasefire brokered in February by France and Germany. “Not a single day has been quiet here since the deal,” a rebel fighter told the Russian daily. “One of our guys got killed here today and we have lost nine in total since the deal.”

CYCLONE DEATH TOLL LOWERED
Rescue teams are still trying to reach the many Vanuatu islands hit by Cyclone Pam over the weekend. But it appears that on the island of Tanna, which received the full force of the storm, most of the population survived by sheltering in schools, churches and other resistant buildings, Reuters reports. The official United Nations death toll was revised down from its earlier figure of 24 to 11. But the figure is expected to rise again once rescue teams reach the archipelago’s outer islands.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
[rebelmouse-image 27088757 alt="""" original_size="555x546" expand=1]


MYANMAR MEN JAILED FOR BUDDHA “INSULTS”
A court sentenced a bar manager from New Zealand and two local Myanmar colleagues to two and a half years in jail today for “insulting” religion by using a psychedelic image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote their bar in Yangon, the country’s largest city. Philip Blackwood, 32, Tun Thurein, 40, and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26, were arrested Dec. 10 after the image caused outrage on social media, The New Zealand Herald reports. Myanmar law says anyone who insults, destroys or damages any religion can be punished with two years behind bars. Blackwood’s relatives claimed the act was unintentional, and the bar managers quickly took the picture down and apologized.

EXTRA!
After two-year-old footage of Greece’s new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis sticking up his middle finger at Germany emerged and shocked the country, a Berlin-based newspaper is giving him a taste of his own medicine. Take a look at Tageszeitung’s front page in our 4 Corners blog.

TURNING A PAGE
Forensic scientists say they have found the tomb of Spain’s “Prince of Letters” and father of the modern novel Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, nearly 400 years after his death.

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And on another continent, parts of the U.S. are legislating to ensure that women can no longer have a legal abortion. In both cases, lurking patriarchal beliefs were allowed to reemerge when political leadership failed. We have an eerie feeling of travelling back through time. But how long has patriarchy dominated our societies?

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