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Battle Rages in Historic Aleppo

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Iran: Update. The voting time for presidential elections was extended up to five hours because the turnout was so large. One report claimed 75% of the 50 million registered voters voted.

A so-called moderate conservative cleric led the early returns, according to the Interior Ministry, but only a million votes had been counted. The so-called moderate won.

Turkey: After extended talks with protest leaders on the 13th and 14th, a government spokesman said there would be no attempt to start the redevelopment project at Taksim Square until a court decided on its legality. The government said it would allow a court case to challenge the legality of the government redevelopment plan. The spokesman said even if the court backed the government, the project also would be put to a popular vote in Istanbul.

During this Watch, news outlets reported that Taksim Square is back to normal - cabs are running; tear gas is gone and cafes have reopened. Some protestors rejected the Prime Minister's initiatives and remain in Gezi Park, a corner of the Square. They probably will be arrested in another police crackdown.

Comment: Some news analysts have described the new initiatives as concessions. A better interpretation is to consider them changes in tactics. Prime Minister Erdogan has gotten smart,not soft.

Erdogan's responses for the first time meet the narrow substance of the protestors grievances. They remove himself and the authority and direction of the government as targets. Plus, they substitute the judicial system and the will of the people of Istanbul as the eventual and ultimate arbiters of the fate of the Square and Gezi Park. He also sets up any future protests as unreasonable and undemocratic and justifiably subject to crackdown.

As an astute politician, he would not offer the two initiatives unless he expected the court and the majority of the townspeople would vote his way.

Syria: Update: According to several news services, the battle to retake Aleppo began today, 14 June. Syrian and Hizballah forces. News sources reported the fighting began east of central Aleppo in a neighborhood called Sakhour which rebel groups hold. Few other details are available other than statements from rebels and outside observers that the fight has begun.

Comment: The start of fighting in an eastern neighborhood is interesting. The earliest reports of the Syrian buildup two week ago indicated a concentration was forming near the Aleppo airport which is southeast of Sakhour and remained in government control. In the past week, the largest force buildups were west and north of Aleppo. No sources have reported fighting in the other sectors of Aleppo.

The buildup of government and Hizballah forces is only about two weeks old and might not be complete. The start of these operations is only a week after the Qusayr victory. The timing suggests that the US announcement that it will send arms to some Sunni rebel groups might have accelerated the start date of the offensive by a few days.

What is clear is that the government and its allies intend to inflict another strategic loss on the rebels before the US can effectively intervene.

There is no prospects of peace talks under any circumstances except a defeat of one side.

Rebel reaction to US decision to send arms. Syrian rebels called the US decision to provide them with arms a "late step." The so-called moderate Free Syrian Army said the expected delivery of small arms and ammunition would be largely meaningless. The rebels instead called for assistance to include shipments of heavy weaponry, training and a no-fly zone.

Comment: small arms and ammunition will not improve the prospects of the opposition. They might give the Free Syrian Army fighters a better chance to survive attacks by the pro-al Qaida fighters of the al-Nusrah Front. Any significant US weapons given to the Free Syrian Army almost certainly will be seized by the Front.

Ripple effects. Already the US announcement has started to generate confusion and resentment among the Hazara clans in Afghanistan, according to NightWatch Feedback from Afghanistan. Most Hazaras live in central Afghanistan, west of Kabul and most are Shiites. They strongly resisted the intolerance and brutality of the Taliban and have been strong supporters of the US and NATO intervention forces. Improvements in their safety and living conditions are among the few clear success stories in Afghanistan.

Now literate Hazaras say they can't believe the US is getting involved in Syria. Feedback predicted that the US decision to arm Sunnis will anger the Hazaras.

Anti-US demonstrations by Shiites should be expected in Afghanistan and in Karachi and Quetta, Pakistan. They might also occur in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia.

The US decision prompted Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah in Lebanon to restate Hizballah's commitment to the survival of the Asad regime for as long as it takes to achieve victory.

End of NightWatch for 14 June.

NightWatch is brought to you by Kforce Government Solutions, Inc. (KGS), a leader in government problem-solving, Data Confidence® and intelligence. Views and opinions expressed in NightWatch are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of KGS, its management, or affiliates.

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