About face. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Israeli claims that Syria used chemical weapons on rebel fighters battling to overthrow the government “suspicious.” But today, he admitted U.S. intelligence officials had concluded with “some … confidence” that such an attack did in fact take place. The question now is what will the international community do about it? The Obama administration and some of America’s European allies have been reluctant to do more than threaten the Syrian government over its brutal excesses and call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. But President Barack Obama said previously the Syrian government would be crossing a “red line” if it used chemical weapons on its people. His statements then were a warning. Now that the line’s been crossed, the president must decide how to respond.
Flight delays. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began furloughing air traffic controllers this week, leading to flight delays and planeloads of furious passengers. News outlets reported some pilots took to their planes’ intercom systems to blame the sequester budget cuts for the delays. The FAA warned leading up to the cuts that it would have to reduce staff hours to meet the new budget requirements. On Wednesday, Democrats in Congress said, “We told you so,” and Republicans accused the agency of making the delays as painful as possible to score political points. Several senators are now working on a legislative fix for the problem, something the White House said the president would support. But it’s not clear whether lawmakers have time to vote on any measure before they leave for recess on Friday.
Shot down. Israeli media is reporting the country’s air force shot down a drone on the coast of Haifa today. It is not clear whether the drone was armed. This is the second time in six months the Israeli military has intercepted a drone. In October, the air force shot down an unarmed drone sent from Lebanon by Hezbollah. Reports suggested that drone likely was on an intelligence-gathering mission. If today’s drone was an attempt to test the country’s defenses, Israeli leaders assured the public the military passed with flying colors: “Israel is prepared to deal with any threat posed from Syria or Lebanon in the air, land, or sea,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Bangladesh factory collapse. The death toll from a garment factory collapse in as suburb of Savar, Bangladesh, continues to rise. Search and rescue teams now say more than 230 people were killed. But 12 of the 40 people reportedly trapped in the rubble have been rescued, offering hope that more people will be pulled out alive. Just days before the eight-story building collapsed, police officials ordered the facility closed because of large cracks visible in the walls. One of the building’s tenants, a bank, evacuated its employees. But the garment manufacturers ignored the order, and 2,000 employees showed up to work Wednesday. Several of the companies in the building claim to make clothing for retail giant Walmart.