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AL ARABIYA (UAE), REUTERS (UK), BBC (UK)

- The Free Syrian Army told Al Arabiya on Thursday that Bashar al-Assad's chief of protocol had defected, amid an escalation of violence across the country.

Muhui al-Din Maslamani is reportedly safe in an undisclosed location in Syria. The rebels are also claiming that more defections in the Syrian regime are imminent.

- Syria's largest city Aleppo has come under fierce attacks from Syrian troops in an attempt to retake various districts of the city through the use of air strikes and shelling, the BBC reports.

A house hundred meters away from us got hit by plane. Huge explosion. Earth trembling. #Aleppo@akhbar

— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) August 9, 2012

We are trying to get out of #aleppo. Very difficult. Planes in sky. @akhbar

— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) August 9, 2012

- Iran is hosting a summit for foreign ministers in an attempt to resolve the escalating violence. However, a senior Iranian diplomat said earlier in the week that no nation that supports the opposition would be present, Reuters reported.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the summit would welcome countries that have "a correct and realistic position" on the Syrian conflict.

Russia announced Wednesday that it would be sending a delegate to Tehran. The statement read: "Naturally, we intend to firmly pursue our line calling for an immediate end to bloodshed and the suffering of the civilian population, as well as for achieving a peaceful resolution in the interest of all Syrians through a broad political dialogue."

Russia"s strategic maneuvering in the UN, along with China, has shielded the Syrian regime from sanctions and full-scale international intervention.

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Ideas

How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil

American and Southwest Airlines have been refusing to allow Cubans on board flights if they've been blacklisted by the government in Havana.

How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil

Boarding a plane in Camaguey, Cuba

Santiago Villa

On Sunday, American Airlines refused to let Cuban writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez board a Miami flight bound for Havana. It was at least the third time this year that a U.S. airline refused to let Cubans on board to return to their homeland after Havana circulated a government "blacklist" of critics of the regime. Clearly undemocratic and possibly illegal under U.S. law, the airlines want to make sure to cash in on a lucrative travel route, writes Colombian journalist Santiago Villa:

-OpEd-

Imagine for a moment that you left your home country years ago because you couldn't properly pursue your chosen career there. It wasn't easy, of course: Your profession is not just singularly demanding, but even at the top of the game you might not be assured a stable or sufficient income, and you've had to take on second jobs, working in bars and restaurants.

This chosen vocation is that of a writer or journalist, or perhaps an artist, which has kept you tied to your homeland, often the subject of your work, even if you don't live there anymore.

Since leaving, you've been back home several times, though not so much for work. Because if you did, you would be followed in cars and receive phone calls to let you know you are being watched.

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