To the moon: China has launched its first moon probe. The Chang’e-3 lunar lander, which took off this week from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, is expected to deposit a vehicle in the right eye of the “man in the moon” next week. The six-wheeled, solar-powered Jade Rabbit will do geological surveys for three months using ground-penetrating radar. If all goes smoothly, China will be the third country, after the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, to land a craft on the moon softly enough to work. The last spacecraft to do so was an unmanned Soviet rover that landed in 1976.
Pyongyang, North Korea
American held: An American veteran was forced to apologize last week for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for “hostile acts” against the state during a recent trip. Californian Merrill Newman, 85, served in the White Tigers, a secret Army unit that trained Korean guerrillas. He was detained at the end of a 10-day visit to North Korea in October, and this week state media released a video of him saying, “I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.” In past trips to South Korea, Newman had visited some of the ex-guerrillas he trained, but it’s not clear why he risked going to the North. North Korea considers itself still in a state of war with the U.S.
U.S. to take chemicals: The U.S. has agreed to take control of Syria’s chemical weapons and destroy them on a specially adapted Navy ship in international waters. President Bashar al-Assad gave up his stockpile to avoid Western intervention in September, after it was proved that he had used sarin gas against civilians. But since no country will allow 500 tons of lethal chemicals onto its territory, the weapons will have to be destroyed at sea in a dangerous and costly U.S. operation. The weapons will also pose a risk while in transit, says analyst Amy Smithson of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Truckloads of sarin and mustard gas have to be moved to the port of Latakia, and “they could come under a security threat from any of the warring parties in this conflict—for starters, al Qaida and Hamas.”
Hit on Hezbollah: A top commander of Hezbollah was gunned down outside his Beirut home this week, in the latest example of the spread of the Syrian civil war. Hassan al-Laqis was a founding member of the Iranian-backed group and believed to be its chief of rocket development. A group called the Free Sunnis of Baalbek Battalion claimed responsibility, saying on Twitter that the “jihadist operation was implemented by free Sunni lions from Lebanon.” Sunni militants allied with Sunni rebels in Syria have been setting off car bombs in Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut for months, ever since Hezbollah entered the Syrian conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
Save the elephants: States where the illegal ivory trade operates agreed this week to tougher measures to try to stop the slaughter of African elephants for their tusks. The African Elephant Summit in Botswana brought together negotiators from elephant habitat countries Gabon, Kenya, Niger, and Zambia; ivory transit states Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia; and ivory destination states China and Thailand. They agreed to list poaching as a “serious crime” under a U.N. convention, allowing them to seize assets and extradite suspects. At current poaching rates, one in five African elephants will be dead within a decade. “If we do not stem the tide,” said Botswanan President Ian Khama, “future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act.”