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03.23.10 Obama signs historic health care bill

March 23 - The $938 billion bill, facing fire from Republicans, brings significant changes to American health care. After more than a year of negotiations, debate and political drama, President Obama today signed the historic health care bill that could reshape care for millions of Americas while setting up a divisive battle with Republicans that's expected to spill into the November elections and beyond. "Today, after almost a century of trying. Today, after over a year of debate. Today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," Obama said to a standing ovation at the White House. With all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all the game playing that passes for governing in Washington, it's been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing, to wonder if there are limits to what we as a people can still achieve," the president said. "It's easy to succumb to the sense of cynicism about what's possible in this country. But today, we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself: That we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations. We are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust...." [More>>abcnews.go.com]

03.23.10 Few executives fled companies contrained by pay limits

March 23 - For months, Wall Street banks and the troubled automakers feverishly protested that their top executives would flee if they were not lavishly rewarded for their talents. New data, however, suggests the departures were more of a trickle than a flood. Of the 104 senior executives whose pay was set by the federal pay regulator in the last two years, 88 executives, or nearly 85 percent, are still with the companies even though their pay was drastically cut back, according to people briefed on the government data. The relative stability, at last within the executive suite, suggests that a soft job market, corporate loyalty and personal pride helped deter the feared management exodus at the companies hardest hit by the pay rules.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, master for executive compensation, is expected to release those findings on Tuesday when he formally approves the 2010 pay packages for last year's 25 highest earners at five companies that received multiple bailouts. By the end of next month, he is expected to complete the formula that those companies will use to set the pay of the next 75 highest paid employees. Pay for top earners at those companies, on average, is expected to fall by 11 percent from 2009, to $1.62 million, according to people briefed on the situation. Compensation is down nearly 77 percent from 2008. And this year, more than 70 percent of all approved compensation is expected to be given in the form of stock instead of cash.

03.23.10 Branson spacecraft completes test flight

March 23 - British billionaire Richard Branson's dream of space travel that thousands of people can afford took a leap toward reality with the maiden flight of the world's first commercial spacecraft over California's Mojave Desert. Branson's company Virgin Galactic announced Monday that the VSS Enterprise had successfully completed what it called a captive carry flight attached to a carrier plane. The spacecraft's developer called it a "momentous day."

"The captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely exciting and successful spaceship flight test program," said Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, which built the spacecraft. The VSS Enterprise remained attached to its carrier aircraft for the duration of the 2-hour, 54-minute flight, reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet, according to a statement from Virgin. Eventually, the 60-foot long rocket plane will be taken 60,000 feet above the Earth by its carrier and fire rockets to propel itself into space. The test-flight program is expected to continue through 2011, going first to a free glide and then to a powered flight before commercial flights begin.
[More>>cnn.com; See also virgingalactic.com]

03.23.10 Jerusalem is Israel's capital not a settlement: PM

WASHINGTON, March 23 - Israel's Netanyahu confident of "enduring" US ties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a defiant note early Tuesday declaring "Jerusalem is not a settlement," after new US criticism of Jewish home construction in disputed territory in and around the city. "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It's our capital," Netanyahu said. His speech in Washington to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby group, contrasted sharply with an address Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made at the same forum hours earlier. Nevertheless, Netanyahu said that he is confident that Israel will have the "enduring friendship" of the United States, omitting to mention the worst US-Israeli row in years. [More>>alarabiya.net]

03.23.10 Judge orders release of Gitmo detainee with ties to 9/11 attacks

WASHINGTON, March 22 - A suspected al-Qaeda organizer once called "the highest value detainee" at Guantanamo Bay was ordered released by a federal judge in an order issued Monday. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was accused in the 9/11 Commission report of helping recruit Mohammed Atta and other members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, that took part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Military prosecutors suspected Slahi of links to other al-Qaeda operations, and considered seeking the death penalty against him while preparing possible charges in 2003 and 2004. US District Judge James Robertson granted Slahi's petition for habeas corpus, effectively finding the government lacked legal grounds to hold him. The order was classified, although the court said it planned to release a redacted public version in the coming weeks.

Robertson held four days of closed hearings in the Slahi case last year. "They were considering giving him the death penalty. Now they don't even have enough evidence to pass the test for habeas," said Nancy Hollander, an Albuquerque, N.M., attorney representing Slahi. She said she could not comment further because the proceedings were classified. Slahi remains in detention at the US facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The government may appeal, and on Monday Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the Justice Department was "reviewing the ruling." Brig. Gen. John Furlow, who helped lead a Pentagon-ordered investigation into detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, has testified that Slahi was "the highest value detainee" at the offshore prison and "the key orchestrator of the al-Qaeda cell in Europe."

03.23.10 Icelandic eruptions may have global effects

BEIJING (Xinhuanet) March 23 - A continuance of volcanic eruptions in Iceland could have far reaching global consequences, some scientists have warned. Historical records have shown that when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupts, Katla follows. Katla, located under the massive Myrdalsjokull icecap, threatens disastrous flooding and explosive blasts if it erupts. Eyjafjallajokull has laid dormant for nearly 200 years but its recent activity has already forced at least 500 people to evacuate. Blasts of lava and ash shot out of the volcano in southern Iceland on Monday and small tremors rocked the ground. The surge in activity has raised fears of a larger explosion at the nearby Katla volcano, although predicting the timing of volcanic eruptions is an imprecise science.

Iceland sits on a large volcanic hot spot in the Atlantic's mid-oceanic ridge. Eruptions, common throughout Iceland's history, are often triggered by seismic activity when the Earth's plates move and when magma from deep underground pushes its way to the surface. Iceland's Laki volcano erupted in 1783, freeing gases that turned into smog. The smog floated across the Jet Stream, changing weather patterns. Many died from gas poisoning in the British Isles. Crop production fell in western Europe and famine spread. Some even linked the eruption, which helped fuel famine, to the French Revolution and painters in the 18th century illustrated fiery sunsets in their works.

03.23.10 Arab League chief pushes for closer ties with Iran

(AB) March 23 - The Arab League chief wants the 22-nation bloc to engage Iran directly over concerns about its growing influence and its nuclear activities, in a step that could undermine U.S. and Israeli efforts to isolate the country, diplomats said Tuesday. Senior US officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured the region last month to urge Arab allies to back Western efforts to increase the heat on Iran over its nuclear program, including through tougher economic sanctions. Arab diplomats said Secretary-General Amr Moussa will present his proposal in a policy document to a two-day Arab League leaders summit in Sirte, Libya, that starts Saturday. The leaders are expected to discuss a range of regional issues, including stalled Middle East peace efforts and Iran.

The engagement would take the form of a forum for regional cooperation and conflict resolution that would include non-Arab nations Iran and Turkey, two Arab League diplomats said. They agreed to discuss details of the proposal on condition of anonymity because of their sensitivity. One of the diplomats, who has seen Moussa's document, said the League's chief hopes the inclusion of Turkey
an increasingly influential Sunni Muslim nation will provide a powerful counterbalance to Shiite Iran. Moussa also wants the leaders to authorize him to initiate direct talks with Tehran on Arabs' concerns over what they view as Iranian meddling in regional affairs, including through its support of militant groups beyond its borders. [More>>haaretz.com]

03.23.10 Strikes hit French cities

March 23 - French teachers, train drivers and civil servants have gone on strike as unions mount pressure on Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, days after his party suffered a regional election defeat. Most of the country's unions joined forces on Tuesday in dozens of cities to protest against unemployment, wages, the high cost of living and government plans to change the pension system. The action led to cancellation of half of all regional trains and hit a third of high-speed services. Staff in several ministries and court buildings also joined the strike, disrupting some legal proceedings.

The action comes two days after Sarkozy's centre-right allies suffered their worst electoral defeat in more than five decades, as leftist parties swept to power in 23 out of France's 26 regions. Sarkozy responded by reshuffling his cabinet, sacking the minister who had been set to lead negotiations on a pensions reform after he fared particularly badly in the vote. But union leaders dismissed the reshuffle, saying it would do nothing to revive the economy and accusing the president of failing to understand that the mood had changed in France.

03.23.10 Lebanon jails 20 over Qaeda links

BEIRUT (AFP) March 23 - A Lebanese military court on Tuesday handed 20 people jail sentences of up to 15 years after convicting them on charges of belonging to al-Qaeda and plotting "terrorist attacks," a judicial source said. Judge Nizar Khalil found the accused guilty of "belonging to al-Qaeda and forming an armed gang with the aim of attacking civilians and undermining the state and its authority, attempting to execute terrorist attacks, forging official documents and transferring arms and wireless devices," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The court sentenced seven people, Palestinians and Syrians, to 15 years in prison in absentia. The 13 others, who had formed a separate cell, were in custody and received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. They include Saudi Arabian, Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese nationals. Members of the 13-strong cell have also been interrogated by a UN court investigating the assassination of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in a massive car bombing in Beirut in 2005. [>khaleejtimes.com]

03.23.10 Pakistan police: Plot foiled on hotels, diplomats

ISLAMABAD, March 23 - Two highly experienced Taliban militants were arrested while planning to attack top hotels and kidnap diplomats in Pakistan, and one of the men claimed to have helped plan previous strikes. The two men, both deserters from a government paramilitary force, were arrested recently in a hotel in Rawalpindi, a crowded city near Islamabad, said Islamabad Police Chief Bin Yamin. [More>>japantoday.com]

03.21.10 RI's mangrove forests shrink to 2 million ha

JAKARTA, March 21 - Indonesia's mangrove forest area has shrunk from 4.2 million hectares in 1982 to 2 million hectares, according to an NGO. People's Coalition for Justice in Fisheries (Kiara) said Sunday the expansion of brackish fishponds was the main cause of the dwindling mangroves.
Kiara's secretary general M. Riza Damanik said the deforestation had tipped the environmental balance in coastal areas, especially the declining fish production and rapid abrasions due to high waves.  

The Royal Society, a science academy in Britain, recently released a report about the rapid loss of mangroves all over the world. In Thailand, each hectare of brackish fishpond yields only US$9,600 for the owner. But the Thai government has to shoulder $1,000 in pollution cost, $12,400 in the loss of ecological functions, $8,400 in subsidies for local community and $9,300 to restore the mangrove forest. Kiara notes the recent aggressive expansion of oil palm plantations had also worsened the situation because in some areas, the project affects coasts. 

03.21.10 S. Korea: Nation hit by worst-ever dust storm

March 21 - The worst-recorded yellow dust storm hit the nation on Saturday, causing the weather agency to issue its first nationwide warning, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. The KMA lifted the yellow dust warning at 4am yesterday as the storm weakened overnight. In the afternoon, the yellow dust moved out of the country following the low-pressure system that was quickly moving eastward, the KMA said. Yellow dust in China's northern region also quickly weakened and became less likely to affect the peninsula...The sandstorm, which scientists blame on China's industrialization and deforestation, hit the nation Saturday for the fifth time this year. The level of PM10 particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter on the southeastern island of Heuksan Saturday afternoon reached 2,847 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest level since the KMA began recording the level in 2003. The KMA issues a yellow dust watch when the level of PM10 is 400 micrograms per cubic meter or more for two hours or longer. It issues a yellow dust warning when the level is 800 micrograms per cubic meter or more for two hours or longer. [Full story>>koreaherald.co.kr]

03.21.10 Gas the next fuel to fire Australia's boom

KARRATHA, Australia (AP) March 21 - First gold, then coal and iron ore. Now, a new bonanza is about to be unleashed from beneath Down Under: Australia's got gas. Projects being ramped up to tap huge undersea fields off the country's northwest could quadruple Australia's exports of liquefied natural gas in the next few years and turn it into what the country's resources minister has called an "energy superpower." Projects being ramped up to tap huge undersea fields off the country's northwest could quadruple Australia's exports of liquefied natural gas in the next few years and turn it into what the country's resources minister has called an "energy superpower." If that sounds big, the numbers stack up. The decision to proceed came on the heels of news that ExxonMobil Corp. had signed a 20-year deal worth about AU$50 billion to supply PetroChina Co. with LNG from its share of Gorgon. Similar deals for Gorgon gas worth another AU$70 billion were struck with power companies in Japan, South Korea and India. [More>>japantoday.com; See also pressrelease,chevronaustralia.com, January 27, 2010, "Gas discovery supports Chevron's long term growth plans for Gorgon."; another new gas deposit,

enrian.ru, (RIA Novosti) March 21, "Two new gas deposits discovered in Uzbekistan"
: TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - Two new natural gas deposits have been discovered in Uzbekistan whose economy largely relies on the hydrocarbon, a representative of Swiss company Zeromax GmbH told RIA Novosti. The gas fields were found in central Uzbekistan's Bukhara-Khiva area. "Commercial gas inflow was recovered from Jurassic limestone at 3,234 m interval depth... commercial gas condensate inflow gained through 14mm tubing choke was equivalent to 400 tcm/a day,"Zeromax said. It also reported the recovery of commercial gas inflow through 8mm tubing choke "from Callovian-Oxford limestone at 3,830-3,850 m interval depth," with commercial gas condensate inflow rate being 100 tcm/a day. "Well testing is still under way," the company said, adding that specialists working on both sites will drill new boreholes to make a more specific assessment of the fields' reserves. [end]

03.21.10 UN chief visits Gaza, says blockade causing suffering

KHAN YUNIS (AFP) March 21 - UN chief Ban Ki-moon slammed Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip during a tour of the war-battered coastal territory on Sunday, saying it was causing "unacceptable sufferings. I have repeatedly made it quite clear to Israel's leaders that the Israeli policy of closure is not sustainable and that it’s wrong," Ban told reporters in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis. "It causes unacceptable sufferings to... the people and population" of Gaza, he said, adding he was saddened to see that teenagers and children were the worst affected. "This policy is also counterproductive. It prevents legitimate commerce and encourages smuggling. It undercuts moderates and empowers extremists." The UN chief crossed into the Hamas-run territory earlier Sunday, expressing solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians and urging Israel to end its tight blockade...He said in Khan Yunis that ‘the United Nations will stand with you through this ordeal’ and continue to deliver humanitarian aid. But he also urged all Gazans "to choose the path of non-violence... and international legitimacy." [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com; See also

jpost.com, March 21, "Ban to Gazans: We stand with you"
: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon entered Gaza on Sunday and called for an end to the blockade, imposed after Hamas seized the Strip in 2007. In a visit to a Gaza City neighborhood badly damaged during IDF Operation Cast Lead, Ban promised residents appealing for an end to the blockade that "we stand with you." He described Israel's recent opening of Gaza's borders to allow in window frames and other supplies to complete a 151-apartment UN housing project in southern Gaza as "a drop in a bucket of water" and promised to "ask the Israeli authorities to do more." Hamas police lined the streets in areas Ban visited. They repeatedly prevented journalists from keeping up with the UN convoy, blocking roads and repeatedly raising their assault rifles in the direction of the journalists' cars...On Saturday night, Ban called for for Schalit be released on humanitarian grounds and for Palestinian terrorists to stop firing rockets from Gaza into Israel...

03.21.10 Israelis want MBC shut down over Turkish series

DUBAI, March 21 - MBC says will not stop the series under any pressure. Israelis demanded on Sunday through comments posted on Israeli newspaper websites the shutting down of MBC1 channel programming in their country, following the television’s announcement it would air a Turkish TV series that caused a diplomatic spat between Israel and Turkey. Relationships between Turkey and Israel fell to [a] serious diplomatic crisis in October 2009 after Turkey’s TRT1 state-sponsored channel aired the prime-time TV series Ayrilik (Farewell). The series depicts fictional Israeli characters killing Palestinian children and abusing elderly Arabs. Several scenes in the series depict the IDF using firearms against unarmed Palestinians whose only weapon is rocks. A soldier is seen kicking the body of a dead Palestinian boy while his mother runs towards him in tears. Another soldier shoots a Palestinian girl who is seen smiling right before she receives a bullet in her.

Israeli Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador and deliberately humiliated him
[to] sit on a lower chair, an incident which led Turkey to demand and receive an official apology from Israel. Yediot Aharonot newspaper published Saturday an article reporting that MBC would soon begin broadcasting the controversial TV channel, prompting many of its readers to call for the programming of the Arab channel be shut down in Israel.

The paper reported that Israel had condemned the broadcasting of the series in Turkey and said it incited "hatred against Israel" and was "not worthy of being broadcast even in an enemy state." Director of Marketing in MBC Group Mazen Hayek said that Arab TV network would not give in to any pressure and cancel or stop the broadcasting of the series, saying MBC group was committed to its programming coverage important to the general public in the region and around the world, according to Palestinian MAAN news agency. Ayrilik (Farewell) Series is broadcast daily on mbc1 from Saturday to Wednesday at 1pm GMT.

03.21.10 Iranians train Taliban to use roadside bombs

KABUL, March 21 - Taliban commanders have revealed that hundreds of insurgents have been trained in Iran to kill NATO forces in Afghanistan. The commanders said they had learnt to mount complex ambushes and lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been responsible for most of the deaths of British troops in Helmand province. The accounts of two commanders, in interviews with The Sunday Times, are the first descriptions of training of the Taliban in Iran. According to the commanders, Iranian officials paid them to attend three-month courses during the winter. They were smuggled across the border to the city of Zahidan, in southeast Iran, an hour's drive from training camps in the desert. Instructors in plain clothes provided daily exercises in live firing. The first month was devoted largely to teaching the Taliban how to attack convoys and how to escape before NATO forces could respond. During their second month they were shown how to plant IEDs in sequence so that the rescuers of soldiers wounded in one blast would be caught in further explosions. [More>>timesonline.co.uk; See related story,

thenews.com.pk, March 21, "US plots against Iran while talking of dialogue: Khamenei" :
TEHRAN - Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his New Year address to the nation on Sunday accused the United States of "plotting" against the Islamic republic even as it offers talks. "I once again announce that the governments who have an arrogant attitude and mentality who want to talk to the Iranian nation and its officials should know that this is not acceptable and is condemned by the Iranian nation and officials," Khamenei said in reference to the United States. "You cannot talk about peace and friendship and at the same time plot and plan sedition and think that you can hurt the regime of the Islamic republic of Iran." [end]

03.21.10 Taliban hand over 22 hostages to Lashkar in Kurram

PARACHINAR, Pakistan, march 21 - The local Taliban, as a result of a pact with Masozai national Lashkar, handed over 22 hostages to the Lashkar in Kurram Agency. The accord between the local Taliban and Masozai national Lashkar came about after an armed clash that continued during the past 10 days. Under the agreement, the local Taliban released 22 hostages of Masozai clan and four vehicles. The national Lashkar in return announced a ceasefire and all out support for an Islamic set up. [>thenews.com.pk]

03.21.10 Officials: 5 militants killed in Pakistan by drone

March 21 - Five militants were killed Sunday night by a US drone in Pakistan's tribal region, two intelligence officials and one local government official told CNN. The drone fired two missiles at a militant compound in Alwara Mandi, a village 80 kilometers (49 miles) west of Miranshah in North Waziristan, one of seven districts in the tribal region. The drone strike was the 21st this year, according to a CNN tally. All the strikes have targeted locations in North Waziristan or along the border between North and South Waziristan. The officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media. [>cnn.com]

03.21.10 US turns a blind eye to opium in Afghan town

KABUL, March 21 - The effort to win over Afghans on former Taliban turf in Marja has put American and NATO commanders in the unusual position of arguing against opium eradication, pitting them against some Afghan officials who are pushing to destroy the harvest. From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military's position is clear: "US forces no longer eradicate," as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers' fields alone. "Marja is a special case right now," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Eggers, a member of the general's Strategic Advisory Group, his top advisory body. "We don't trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over." United Nations drug officials agree with the Americans, though they acknowledge the conundrum. Pictures of NATO and other allied soldiers "walking next to the opium fields won't go well with domestic audiences, but the approach of postponing eradicating in this particular case is a sensible one," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who is in charge of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here. Afghan officials, however, are divided. Though some support the American position, others, citing a constitutional ban on opium cultivation, want to low the fields under before the harvest which has already begun in parts of Helmand Province...."The Taliban are the ones who profit from the opium..." [Full story>>nytimes.com]

03.21.10 Talbian militants behead three 'US spies'

(AFP) March 21 - Taliban militants have beheaded three men accused of spying for US forces, Pakistani police have told AFP. The bodies of three men were found near Mir Ali town in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal district, which borders Afghanistan. "Notes found with the bodies said the men were killed for spying for the US," police official Nisar Khan told AFP. Mr. Khan said the three dead men had themselves killed "several Taliban and ordinary people." [More>>news.com.au]

03.21.10 Terrifying bomb threats of Sahil's kidnappers

March 21 - Kidnappers holding Sahil Saeed threatened to strap an explosive jacket to the five-year-old and "blow him to pieces" says his dad. Raja Saeed told the Mail on Sunday of the terrifying threats made by his son's captors and his fears he might be murdered. The nightmare began when four armed and masked men ambushed their taxi as they prepared to travel to the airport on their way back from a holiday in Pakistan. The gang had guns and grenades, and stripped the terrified group of valuables before snatching Sahil. Mr. Saeed told the newspaper: "They said, 'We're going to take your son. We know you're a businessman and we know you have lots of money.' "My heart pounded. I pleaded with them, telling them I was not a rich man and had no money. I was completely helpless."

After he returned back to the UK to raise the ransom money, Mr. Saeed said he feared his son had been killed and when he demanded proof Sahil was safe, the gang threatened to send him body parts. He faced repeated horrific threats against his little boy. He said: "They said they would cut things off my son if I didn't do what they wanted
arms, fingers, ears. I was getting numerous calls a day asking if I had the money. They said 'look you know how we came to your house in jackets packed with bullets and grenades. You know what we can do to him we can put a jacket around him with grenades and explosives and blow him to pieces.  And we will deliver what's left of him to you in a bin bag on a roundabout.' " [More>>news.sky.com]

03.21.10 4 killed in suicide attack in SW Pakistan's Quetta

ISLAMABAD, March 21 - At least four was killed and about a dozen others were injured Sunday when a suicide bomber riding on a bicycle hit a police van in Quetta, capital of southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan. The bomb exploded near the residence of a senior political leader at the Quari road. Chief of Pakhtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party, Mehmood Khan Achakzau, was not at home when the bomb ripped through the busy area, his family said. The injured, including several policemen, were taken to Civil Hospital. Doctors said five injured are registered as critical. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Quetta has seen wave[s] of targeted killings in recent days, police said. On Saturday, gunmen shot dead at least four people belonging to ethnic Harzara Shiite community in Quetta. [>xinhuanet.com]

03.21.10 Civilians die in Afghan attacks

March 21 - At least 10 civilians have been killed and seven others wounded after a bomb exploded near a crowd of people celebrating the Afghan new year in Helmand province, a government official said. A suicide bomber had apparently been trying to blow up an Afghan army convoy but missed his target, Daud Ahmadi said on Sunday. "It was a suicide bomber who detonated a motorcycle as an Afghan National Army (ANA) vehicle was passing by," Ahmadi, said. The blast struck a bridge in the Bughra-pul area of Gereshk, on the main highway between the capital Kabul, and Herat, Afghanistan's second city, he said. [More>>aljazeera.net]

03.19.10 Mks to PM: Stand up to US on Jerusalem

March 19 - Top figures across the political spectrum signed a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Thursday evening, designed to present a wide consensus in support of Jewish neighborhoods beyond the 1967 boundaries of Jerusalem. The letter, written in advance of the premier's departure for the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, called on Netanyahu to stand strong regarding Israeli sovereignty in the Jewish neighborhoods.

Four dozen MKs signed on to the brief letter, stating that "we, the undersigned members of Knesset, who represent different approaches and world-views regarding the desirable permanent-status arrangement, are unified behind the policy of all Israeli governments to this day, regarding our attachment to the historical and national areas of Jerusalem and the right of the State of Israel to actualize our control in its Jewish neighborhoods in all parts of the city — neighborhoods that constitute an inseparable part of Jerusalem that will remain in our hands in any future permanent status arrangement.

We support the continuation of building and development in all of the neighborhoods without any restriction or delay," the letter affirmed. “The importance of the letter is to strengthen Israel through actualizing its authority over our capital, Jerusalem,” said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who initiated the missive. "This is not meant to oppose our greatest friend, the United States of America, but rather to present through the letter the most basic common consensus in Israeli society, which is the force behind and the key to an agreement on any peace process."

Schneller said that Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin's office would present the letter to Netanyahu before the premier left for the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington next week. Schneller said that 78 of the 120 members of Knesset had already expressed their support for the missive, and that the only parties that had not signed on to the letter or expressed support were the three Arab parties and Meretz.
[More>>jpost.com; See related stories,

jpost.com, March 19, " 'Quartet's comments distance peace' "
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived in Brussels on Friday for separate talks with officials of several European Union nations after an official meeting between the EU and Israel was called off. Upon arriving in Brussels, Lieberman criticized the Quartet's earlier statement, according to which Israel's plan to construct new housing units in Jerusalem was a hindrance to peace negotiations which, if started, would see the creation of an independent Palestinian state within 24 months. According to Israel Radio, Lieberman said that the Quartet's statement ignores the fact that the foundations of peace must be set before peace can be achieved. Peace, he was quoted as saying, is not something that can be forced upon two parties or saddled to an unrealistic timeline. Lieberman reportedly said that such statements only made real peace between Israel and the Palestinian a more remote possibility...

alarabiya.net, March 19, "Palestinians hail Quartet settlement freeze call" :
WEST BANK - Quartet 2012 target harms Mideast peace hopes: Israel FM. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must comply with the Middle East Quartet's call on Friday to halt settlement activity as a means to clear the way for peace negotiations, whereas Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Quartet's call harms the chances of peace. "The statement by the Quartet in which it urges Israel to freeze settlement activity, including natural growth, is very important but what is more important is that Israel should comply so that the peace process can restart," Abbas said in a statement. "The settlement issue is the essence of the problem," he added....

03.19.10 Israel hits Gaza after rocket death

March 19 - Israeli aircraft have launched a series of air raids on the Gaza Strip, striking multiple targets in the territory. The raids came after Israel threatened a "strong" response following the firing of a rocket from Gaza earlier on Thursday. The rocket attack killed a Thai man working on a farm near Ashkhelon. It was the first death caused by a missile launched from the strip since the end of Israel's war on Gaza in January 2009. Al Jazeera producer Ashraf Amritti, reporting from Gaza, said that at least 10 Israeli missiles stuck overnight, with Israeli F-16 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters flying above the area. "It wasn't an easy night for people in Gaza. Air strikes started just after midnight," Amritti said. An Israeli statement released after the air raid said that six sites had been targeted, including five smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip and a weapons manufacturing site...A previously unknown Gaza group, Ansar al-Sunna, as well as the al-Aqsa Martrys Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, both claimed responsibility for the rocket attack from Gaza that preceded the air raids. [Full story>>aljazeera.net; See also

haaretz.com, March 19, "Gaza rocket strikes south Israel for fifth time in 24 hours" :
A rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip struck the western Negev on Friday, for the fifth time in 24 hours. Israel Air Force air craft struck at least six targets in the Gaza Strip before Friday a day after a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave killed a Thai worker in southern Israel, Hamas security officials and witnesses said. Two civilians were injured in one of three attacks on smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt. The other targets included two open areas in Khan Younis and a metal foundry near Gaza City.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom had said on Thursday Israel would make a strong response to what was the first deadly rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza at Israel in more than a year...A previously unknown group, Ansar al-Sunna, believed to share the hardline ideology of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire at Israel, as well as the Al-Aqsa Martrys Brigades, a wing of the mainstream Fatah movement...

03.19.10 Johann Hari: The Pope, the Prophet, and the religious support for evil

March 19 - What can make tens of millions of people — who are in their daily lives peaceful and compassionate and caring — suddenly want to physically dismember a man for drawing a cartoon, or make excuses for an international criminal conspiracy to protect child-rapists? Not reason. Not evidence. No. But it can happen when people choose their polar opposite — religion. In the past week we have seen two examples of how people can begin to behave in bizarre ways when they decide it is a good thing to abandon any commitment to fact and instead act on faith. It has led some to regard people accused of the attempted murders of the Mohammed cartoonists as victims, and to demand "respect" for the Pope, when he should be in a police station being quizzed about his role in covering up and thereby enabling the rape of children.

In 2005, 12 men in a small secular European democracy decided to draw a quasi-mythical figure who has been dead for 1400 years. They were trying to make a point. They knew that in many Muslim cultures, it is considered offensive to draw Mohammed. But they have a culture too — a European culture that believes it is important to be allowed to mock and tease and ridicule religion. It is because Europeans have been doing this for centuries now that we can no longer be tyrannized into feeling bad about perfectly natural impulses, like masturbation, or pre-marital sex, or homosexuality. When priests offer those old arguments, we now laugh in their faces — a great liberating moment. It will be a shining day for Muslims when they can do the same.

Some of the cartoons were witty. Some were stupid. One seemed to suggest Muslims are inherently violent — an obnoxious and false idea. If you disagree with the drawings, you should write a letter, or draw a better cartoon, this time mocking the cartoonists. But some people did not react this way. Instead, Islamist plots to hunt the artists down and slaughter them began. Earlier this year, a man with an axe smashed into one of their houses, and very nearly killed the cartoonist in front of his small grand-daughter. This week, another plot to murder them seems to have been exposed, this time allegedly spanning Ireland and the United States, and many people who consider themselves humanitarians or liberals have rushed forward to offer condemnation — of the cartoonists. One otherwise liberal newspaper ran an article saying that since the cartoonists had engaged in an "aggressive act" and shown "prejudice... against religion per se," so it stated menacingly that no doubt "someone else is out there waiting for an opportunity to strike again"...we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should "respect" conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself — but that's exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What's the difference?

This enforced "respect" is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions — even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put pedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger — who claims to be "infallible" — was at the heart of this policy for decades.

Here's what we are sure of. By 1962, it was becoming clear to the Vatican that a significant number of its priests were raping children. Rather than root it out, they issued a secret order called "Crimen Sollicitationis" ordering bishops to swear the victims to secrecy and move the offending priest on to another parish. This of course meant they raped more children there, and on and on, in parish after parish. Yes, these were different times, but the Vatican knew then that what it was doing was terribly wrong: that's why it was done in the utmost secrecy.

It has emerged this week that when Ratzinger was Archbishop of Munich in the 1980s, one of his pedophile priests was "reassigned" in this way. He claims he didn't know. Yet a few years later he was put in charge of the Vatican's response to this kind of abuse and demanded every case had to be referred directly to him for 20 years. What happened on his watch, with every case going to his desk? Precisely this pattern, again and again. The BBC's Panorama studied one of many such cases. Father Tarcisio Spricigo was first accused of child abuse in 1991, in Brazil. He was moved by the Vatican four times, wrecking the lives of children at every stop. He was only caught in 2005 by the police, before he could be moved on once more. He had written in his diary about the kind of victims he sought: "Age: 7, 8, 9, 10. Social condition: Poor. Family condition: preferably a son without a father. How to attract them: guitar lessons, choir, altar boy." It happened all over the world, wherever the Catholic Church had outposts.
[Full story>>independent.co.uk; See related story,

bbc.co.uk, March 19, "Fresh abuse claims in Pope's former Munich diocese" :
Pope Benedict XVI's former diocese in Germany is facing daily allegations of physical and sexual abuse, the head of its new sex-abuse task force says. "It is like a tsunami," Elke Huemmeler told the Associated Press news agency. She said about 120 cases had come to light so far in Munich, about 100 of them at a boarding school run by monks. The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by scandals involving priests in Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria and the Netherlands in recent months. Pope Benedict has written a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, to be read at Sunday Mass, with guidelines on preventing and punishing sexual abuse of children by priests. It is unknown if the letter includes an apology.

The Pope has said he hopes the letter will "help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal." The BBC's David Willey in Rome says that a taboo that has endured for decades has been broken and the Vatican is now taking a much harder line than in the past. It is recommending a zero-tolerance attitude, adopted by American bishops after widespread cases of sexual abuse of children by priests in the US. As this will be the first public document published by the Vatican on this potentially explosive subject, there is worldwide interest in what the Pope is going to say, our correspondent says. The guidelines he will announce will be valid for other countries as well as Ireland...The Vatican recently denounced attempts to link the Pope to a child sex scandal in his former diocese...

03.19.10 Breakthrough for babies with cleft palates

March 19 - A new scientific development could change the lives of babies born with a cleft palate. Cleft palates are the most common birth defect in Britain and affect one in every 700 babies. Now scientists at the STFC laboratory in Oxford have made a promising breakthrough that could treat the problem without the need for complex surgery. Currently surgeons use tissue from the structure at the roof of the mouth to cover the gap in the palate. However, if the cleft defect is too wide more radical surgery may be needed which could lead to the child developing speech and facial growth problems. A team of researchers at the University of Oxford, the John Radcliffe Hospital and Georgia Institute of Technology in the US is looking at using a special material called hydrogel instead. A small plate made of the gel material (similar to that used in contact lenses) is placed under the roof of the mouth of the patient. It gradually expands as fluid is absorbed which encourages skin growth over and around the plate — a process known as "tissue expansion". When sufficient skin has been generated to repair the palatal cleft, the plate is removed and the cleft is repaired by using this additional tissue. [More>>news.sky.com]

03.18.10 Afghanistan, West accuse Iran of arming Taliban

LONDON, March 18 - Afghan and Western officials have accused Iran of delivering tones of weaponry to the Taliban, including plastic explosives, mortars, grenades and technical manuals. According to The Times, weapons and documents shown to Channel 4 News indicate that more than ten tones of weapons have been intercepted at Iran's desert border with Afghanistan in the past year, with a tonne and a half recovered in the past week. The reports come as General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iran also provided a base for al-Qaeda operatives.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency estimates that 60 percent of the weaponry it has intercepted from Iran has been supplied by the Iranian Government rather than black market dealers. Allegations of Iranian support for the Taliban, using secretive units of the Quds (Revolutionary Guard) have been made in the past.
In 2007 General Dan McNeill, then the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, claimed that a consignment of roadside bombs was intercepted by British special forces crossing into Farah province from Iran. The Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies have been on the back foot in recent months, as the US military surge and increasingly successful attacks from unmanned drones decimated their leadership. [More>>indianexpress.com]

03.18.10 Peace with current Israeli government impossible: Assad

DAMASCUS (AFP) March 18 - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that peace in the Middle East was "impossible" because of the actions of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The establishment of peace in the Middle East is impossible because of the absence of an Israeli partner," Assad told reporters after talks with visiting Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Israel's pursuit of settlement construction and its occupation of Arab territory conquered in 1967 were the "real obstacle" to peace and pushed the region toward "more wars and tension," Assad said. He said Syria "seriously wants to establish a just and comprehensive peace... through Turkish-sponsored indirect negotiations" with Israel but cannot engage in such talks because of the current climate.

Netanyahu's government "cannot be considered a partner as long as it responds to calls for peace with settlements and the Judaization of (Muslim) holy sites" in the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem, Assad said. He urged Italy and the European Union to put pressure on Israel. Turkish-brokered indirect talks between Israel and Syria were launched in May 2008 but they were suspended when Israel launched its destructive offensive against the Gaza Strip that December. Israel has angered the international community by announcing plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and to include two contested West Bank shrines as part of its national heritage.

03.18.10 Israel vows to respond to Kassam hit

March 18 - Al-Qaeda-inspired group claims attack that kills Thai worker, as EU's Ashton visits Strip. Israel warned of a harsh response on Thursday afternoon after a Thai greenhouse worker was killed when a Kassam rocket fired by Gaza terrorists exploded in the Netiv Ha'asara area. The man, in his 30s, was evacuated to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital, where doctors were forced to pronounce him dead. A small Islamist faction calling itself Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack. n a statement e-mailed to reporters in Gaza, the al-Qaeda-inspired faction said the attack was a response to Israel's "Judaization" of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

A second group, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, also later claimed responsibility. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom warned that the attack would lead to a strong reaction, and said that Hamas was ultimately responsible. "It is severe escalation," said Shalom in remarks broadcast on Army Radio. "Israel will not return to the situation of before Operation Cast Lead. The response will be particularly fierce...I hope Hamas will learn a lesson." The attack came on the same day as a visit to Gaza by Europe's top diplomat, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who had just crossed into the territory when the rocket was fired.

03.18.10 Red Cross hostage freed in Darfur

KHARTOUM, Sudan (Reuters) March 18 - Aid worker Gauthier Lefevre, kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region, was released on Thursday after 147 days in captivity, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said. Lefevre, who has dual French and British nationality, was the last foreign hostage being held in the region...He added the ICRC had not paid a ransom for the release. ‘It is the standard ICRC position. The ICRC does not pay ransoms anywhere. Kidnappings of foreign aid workers in Darfur were rare until last year's International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, accused of war crimes in Darfur.’[Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

03.18.10 Computer programmers indicted in Bernard Madoff fraud

(AP) March 18 - Two former employees accused of helping fraudulent Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff programme an old computer to generate false records have been indicted. Yesterday's indictment accuses computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez of conspiracy, falsifying records of a broker dealer and falsifying records of an investment adviser. The men originally were charged in a criminal complaint before the case was presented to a federal grand jury, which returned the indictment. O'Hara and Perez each remain free on $1 million bail. Defense lawyers say the men will plead not guilty. The 71-year-old Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence after admitting his multi-decade pyramid scheme cost thousands of investors billions of dollars. [>independent.co.uk; See related story,

cbsnews.com, March 18, "Bernie Madoff smashed in face, says paper"
: NEW YORK - There are a lot of people who would love to hit Bernie Madoff in the face. According to The Wall Street Journal, someone finally did. According to three unnamed sources who spoke to the paper, the fallen financier was physically assaulted by another inmate last December. According to one of the sources, who is an inmate familiar with the matter, Madoff was treated for a broken nose, fractured ribs and cuts to his head and face...

03.17.10 Inside the town that will test Obama to the limit

March 18 - The US President wants the expansion of Ramat Shlomo to stop immediately. But its Jewish residents tell Donald Macintyre that the land was given to them by God. Ask Rabbi Sam White what he thinks of the global political row over plans to expand the community in which he lives, prays and studies, and he answers bluntly: "I don't see the problem. God gave us the land of Israel." The notion that the location of Ramat Shlomo, on land occupied after the 1967 Six Day War and officially expropriated six years later, might belong to another people is wholly alien to the 32- year-old Salford-born rabbi. "There's no question. It's in the Torah, which says that God gave the land to the Jewish people."

We are talking in a gabled brown brick house which, incongruously set amid the rows of plain white multi-storey apartment buildings in this hilltop settlement of some 18,000 in the north of Jerusalem, looks as if it might have been transplanted from another country. Which in a sense it was. For this is the Chabad House, the community base of the famous Hasidic sect which still reveres the leadership of the late Lubavicher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, its architecture a replica of the movement's world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And Rabbi White is as opposed to territorial compromise of any part of the greater "land of Israel"
stretching, in his view, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean as his spiritual leader was throughout his long life.

"Look what happened in Gaza, when they took the people from Gush Katif [the main settlement bloc in the territory dismantled by Ariel Sharon in 1995]," he says. "An Israel in pieces is not an Israel at peace."What Rabbi White cannot change, however, is that Ramat Shlomo is now ground zero of a trial of political strength between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. A trial triggered by the untimely announcement last week of a plan unveiled during the visit of the US Vice-President Joe Biden for 1,600 new homes on a long sliver of what is now green, wooded land on the south side of the settlement. [More>>independent.co.uk; See related story,

jpost.com, March 17, "Yesha sends Clinton protest letter"
: After J'lem building row, settler council says capital will never be divided. Following US criticism over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha) sent a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, describing the over 3,000-year-old historical connection between Jews and the capital.

“The Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Arabs, the Ottomans and the British
none of them could undermine the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem," reads the letter, published Wednesday. "Therefore, the demand not to build in Jerusalem or to hand parts of the city to others is totally unacceptable for the Jewish people. We will not negotiate over Jerusalem, we will never divide it."... 

03.17.10 Lula criticizes Israeli policies

March 17 - Brazil's president has criticized Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, warning that Israel's separation barrier, its blockade of Gaza and its continued settlement building was extinguishing "the candle of hope." Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made his comments while on a visit to the West Bank where, on Wednesday, he placed a wreath on the tomb Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader. What Lula terms his "mission of peace" began in Israel on Tuesday, and is the first visit by a sitting Brazilian president to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Brazil is Israel's largest trading partner in Latin America, but it also has close ties to Iran and Lula has defended Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are peaceful but which Israel sees as a potential threat. Lula laid a yellow and green wreath on Arafat's mausoleum in Ramallah and told a crowd of Palestinian officials and several dozen people waving Brazil's flag that he had participated in pro-Palestinian protests in the past. Later Lula said that Brazil was willing to talk to Hamas, which is listed by the European Union and the US as a "terrorist" organization. "Brazil is prepared to talk to everybody," he said. "All the parties involved must be listened to."

03.17.10 Jerusalem clashes could signal more trouble ahead

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) March 17 - A surge in Palestinian-Israeli violence on the streets of Jerusalem and the West Bank is a sign of broader instability ahead unless the United States can quickly restore faith in the peace process. Clashes this month indicate the rising tension between Palestinians and a right-wing Israeli government which has incensed Palestinians with moves they believe aim to deepen the Jewish state's control of the holy city and its hinterland. The violence, the worst since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed his coalition a year ago, has mainly been restricted to stone-throwing by Palestinians and the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by Israeli security forces.

Few see a return to the kind of bloodshed seen a few years ago, not least because, for all its frustration, the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas is loath to risk the loss of the Western diplomatic and economic support that it now enjoys. But with dozens hurt, the latest trouble on the streets has cast a shadow over US efforts to revive the two-decade-old peace process, which many on both sides have grown tired of. Many expert observers say a vacuum in progress toward a solution will be filled, sooner or later, by more unpredictable confrontations, unless the United States can instill confidence that it is serious about ending more than 60 years of conflict.

03.17.10 Yemen-American Imam calls for US Muslim revolt

CAIRO, March 18 - A Yemeni-American Muslim preacher known for his ties to extremists operating in the US called on American Muslims in a new audio message to turn against their government because of its actions against Muslims around the world. Anwar al-Awlaki's latest message, excerpts of which were aired on CNN Wednesday, described his own radicalization after US operations against Muslims and called on those in the US to follow his path. "I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other Muslim," he said in his American-accented English. SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites, confirmed the existence of the audio message when contacted by The Associated Press.

...US authorities have been increasingly worried about the presence of Americans supporting jihad inside the country. Over the past week, a Pennsylvania woman, who went by the name "Jihad Jane," was accused in a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist; a New Jersey man was held by authorities in Yemen; and five young Pakistani-American men from Northern Virginia were charged by Pakistani officials with planning terrorist attacks in the South Asian country. More than a dozen Americans have been captured or identified by the US government and its allies as actively supporting jihad, or holy war, in the past two years.
[Full story>>japantoday.com]

03.17.10 US general says military still aims to catch bin Laden alive

WASHINGTON (Xinhua) March 17 - Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, said Wednesday the military still aims to catch al-Qaeda terror network leader Osama bin Laden alive. McChrystal, briefing reporters in Washington via teleconference from Afghanistan, said if bin Laden enters Afghanistan, the military would certainly try to "capture him alive." The comment contradicts Attorney General Eric Holder's Tuesday comment that bin Laden will never appear in a US courtroom because he won't be brought in alive.

"The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom," Holder said during a House appropriations subcommittee hearing. "He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people, so he's not captured by us," said Holder. McChrystal also said Wednesday that efforts to retake Taliban strong-hold Kandahar is already underway. NATO and Afghan armies have recently launched a major operation in Afghanistan's Helmand province, adjacent to Kandahar. David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command, said Tuesday the offensive is the beginning of a larger campaign which will "unfold over the next 18 months."
[>xinhuanet.com; See related stories,

thenews.com.pk, March 17, "Pakistan waging serious war against terrorism: Gen. Petraeus"
: WASHINGTON - The US continues to push Pakistan to take action against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), blamed for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, as such jihadi terror outfits are still not on Islamabad's radar, according to a top US general...While Pakistan is 'waging a serious war against terrorism in the tribal areas of the country bordering Afghanistan, in particular the Taliban and al-Qaeda, jihadi elements like LeT were not yet on the radar of Pakistan, he said. Responding to McCaskill's concern over LeT's growing strength, with reference to recent terrorist attack on Indians in Kabul, Petraeus said that Pakistan army was taking stringent action against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Petraeus' observations came close on the heels of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake asking Pakistan to rein in the LeT, given its increasing capacity to target other countries, including the US. "The LeT is a terrorist group based in Pakistan that has increasingly global ambitions and global scope-and so it's in the interests of Pakistan to rein in its activities," Blake said in an interview Saturday...

cbsnews.com, March 17, "Top al-Qaeda trainer killed in strike"
: An unmanned drone strike last week in Pakistan has apparently killed a top al Qaeda trainer who helped supervise December's suicide bombing at a Central Intelligence Agency post in Afghanistan, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has confirmed from US officials. The American-led strike on a suspected bomb-making facility in Miranshah killed as many as 15 people, including Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, also known as Ghazwan Al-Yemeni, according to people familiar with the strike. An al-Qaeda leader believed to have played a key role in bombing a CIA post in Afghanistan last December was apparently killed by an American missile strike last week, a senior US official said Wednesday...

abcnews.go.com (AP) March 17, "Pakistan court charges 5 Americans with terrorism"
: A Pakistani court charged five young Americans on Wednesday with planning terrorist attacks in the South Asian country and conspiring to wage war against nations allied with Pakistan, their defense lawyer said. he men — all Muslims from the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia — pleaded not guilty to a total of five charges, the most severe of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, defense lawyer Hasan Dastagir told The Associated Press...

03.17.10 US to strike Iran N-plants?

LONDON, March 18 - Stepping up its preparations for a possible strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, the United States is transporting hundreds of 387 "bunker-buster" bombs to its air base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a media report claimed on Wednesday. The US government signed a contract in January with Superior Maritime Services to transport 10 ammunition containers to Diego Garcia from Concord, California, the Sunday Herald reported.

The shipment includes 195 smart, guided Blu-110 bombs and 192 Blu-117 900kg bombs. The key Iranian nuclear facilities are underground and both these type of bombs are effective against reinforced or underground facilities. The US and Israel have repeatedly asserted that they do not rule out a military action to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions and that they are keeping all the options on the table.

Contract details for the shipment were posted on an international tenders' website by the US navy. "They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran," Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, said. "US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours," Plesch, who is the coauthor of a recent study on the US preparations for an attack on Iran, stressed.

03.17.10 Tehran says ready for fuel exchange on own soil

TEHRAN (AFP) March 17 - Iran ready for one-shot nuke fuel exchange inside country. Iran offered on Wednesday a one-shot nuclear fuel exchange on its own soil, edging closer to the conditions of a plan drawn up by the UN atomic watchdog last year as major powers mulled a new round of sanctions. Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi revealed the new offer in an interview with daily Jawan, signaling a major change in Tehran's long-standing position on the nuclear fuel plan first drafted last October. Salehi said Iran is ready to deliver 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in one go in return for fuel for a Tehran medical research reactor, but the exchange must be inside the country. [More>>alarabiya.net]

03.16.10 NASA discovers life hidden 600 feet below Antarctic ice

March 16 - Six hundred feet below the Antarctic ice, where no light can be found, NASA scientists made a startling discovery a swimming shrimp-like creature that could challenge the idea of where and how forms of life can survive. While the creature is small itself only about three inches long - its impact could be tremendous. A NASA team had lowered a small video camera to get the first-ever photograph of the underside of an ice shelf and that's when they saw the swimming creature, according to a NASA document. The discovery could shake the very foundation of what kind of creatures can survive in certain atmospheres. "We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler told the Associated Press. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate." "We were just gaga over it," he told the AP. The creature, a Lyssianasid amphipod, could lead the way for larger expeditions into harsher environments that scientists previously believed could not support life both on the Earth and even frozen moons in outer space. [>news.blogs.cnn.com; See also nasa.gov, March 16, video, "Surprise shrimp under Antarctic ice."]

03.16.10 Palestinians riot in Jerusalem over Israeli building plan

March 16 - Riots erupted in Jerusalem today as Palestinians marked a "day of rage" in protest at Israeli plans to build 1,600 new homes in the disputed east of the city, which the Palestinians see as the capital of a future state. The announcement of the planned construction has also triggered a diplomatic crisis between Israel and its most important ally, the United States, whose envoy George Mitchell has delayed his return to the region, officials said. Dozens of masked youths pelted Israeli police with rocks and set tires ablaze in flashpoints across East Jerusalem in the latest clashes to break out as tensions have risen in the past week. Thousands of police have been deployed across the city, and today they fired stun grenades to try to disperse the crowds. About two dozen Palestinians were arrested, officials said.

...Israeli police have restricted access to the mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israelis refer to as the Temple Mount, and set up checkpoints in the north of the country to turn back Arab Israelis who might be heading for the city, which is held sacred by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Extra police were deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem yesterday for the inauguration of a refurbished synagogue that was destroyed in the war that erupted in 1948 after the declaration of the Israeli state. The latest violence came after US and Israeli ties hit their lowest ebb in years, following a visit by Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, last week, which was overshadowed by the Israeli announcement that it was planning to build hundreds of new housing units in a West Bank settlement and 1,600 in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors.
[Full story>>timesonline.co.uk; See other details,

alarabiya.net, March 16, "Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem" : Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with police in several east Jerusalem neighborhoods and thousands marched along the Gaza Strip on Tuesday amid heightened religious and political tension in the Holy City, after Hamas called for a "day of rage" following Israel's reopening of Hurva synagogue. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protesters in the Shuafat refugee camp who hurled rocks at security forces. The Palestinians dispersed after army troops moved in. Similar clashes broke out in other parts of east Jerusalem as police said they deployed 3,000 policemen across the city. The reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem's walled Old City late on Monday further fuelled tension following several weeks of clashes.

...Rival Palestinian factions united in condemning the high-security opening of the synagogue, which had been destroyed 62 years ago in fighting with Jordan in the Holy City's walled Old City. The United States on Monday took strong exception to Palestinian criticism of Israel's reopening of Hurva synagogue, saying the remarks would worsen tensions. Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal slammed it as "a falsification of history," and warned it could cause the Middle East to "explode." Hamas also declared Tuesday a "day of rage and alarm" and called on Arabs and Muslims to "come to the aid of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa." "Israel is playing with fire and touching off the first spark to make the region explode," he said. Hatem Abdul Qader, who oversees Jerusalem affairs for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah, said that the synagogue "will be a prelude to violence, extremism and religious fanaticism" on the part of Israel...

Related story:

foxnews.com, March 16, "US criticism of Israel ignites firestorm"
: WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's fierce denunciation of Israel last week has ignited a firestorm in Congress and among powerful pro-Israel interest groups who say the criticism of America's top Mideast ally was misplaced. Since the controversy erupted, a bipartisan parade of influential lawmakers and interest groups has taken aim at the administration's decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting on Tuesday and then openly vent bitter frustration on Friday. With diplomats from both countries referring to the situation as a crisis, the outpouring of anger in the United States, particularly from Capitol Hill, comes at a difficult time for the administration, which is now trying to win support from wary lawmakers many of whom are up for re-election this year for health care reform and other domestic issues. And those criticizing the administration's unusually blunt response to Israel say they fear it may have distracted from and done damage to efforts to relaunch long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks...

03.16.10 US drone attack kills Pakistanis

March 16 - A suspected US drone attack in the restive northwest Pakistan has killed at least 11 people and wounded two others. The unmanned aircraft fired four missiles at compounds apparently used by pro-Taliban fighters in North Waziristan, destroying two of the hideouts, sources said on Tuesday. Pakistani security officials confirmed the strikes near the village of Datta Khel west of Miranshah, in the mountainous tribal region. "US drones fired three missiles on a militant compound," a Pakistani security official said. "The toll is likely to rise." The identity of the suspected opposition fighters was not immediately known. [More>>aljezeera.net; See other details,

timesofindia.indiatimes.com, March 16, "US drone strike in North Waziristan, 11 terrorists killed"
: ..."US drones fired four missiles on a militant compound. At least 11 militants, mostly foreigners, were killed," said a Pakistani intelligence official, based in North Waziristan, adding that the toll is likely to rise. North Waziristan is the home of pro-Pakistan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a powerful militant commander who is fighting against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Sources said that Arab militants were guarding the compound which was a no-go area for the locals. "They barred all access within three kilometers of the facility," sources confided...

03.16.10 Eight dead, 11 wounded in Iraq bomb attacks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) March 16 - Eight people died in two bombings five minutes apart on the main street of an Iraqi town south of Baghdad on Tuesday, nine days after an election Iraqis hoped would bring more stability and less sectarian conflict. Police said attackers attached so-called sticky bombs to two cars carrying passengers in the town of Mussayab, about 60 km (40 miles) south of the capital. Eleven others were wounded in the attacks, police said. On Monday a car bomb killed seven people and wounded 20 others in the city of Falluja in Iraq's western Anbar province, an area that has been relatively quiet since Sunni Muslim tribal leaders turned on Islamist insurgent groups like al-Qaeda. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

03.15.10 Ties between Israel and US 'worst in 35 years'

March 15 - Israel's ambassador to the US has said that relations between the two countries are at their lowest point for 35 years, Israeli media have reported. Last week Israeli officials announced the building of 1,600 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting. The move was seen as an insult to the US. Palestinian leaders say indirect talks with Israel are now "doubtful." But Israel's PM said Jewish settlements did "not hurt" Arabs in East Jerusalem. Addressing Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted peace negotiations, and hoped the Palestinians would not present "new preconditions" for talks. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See related story,

spiegel.de, March 15, "Losing faith in the Messiah: Obama unites Israelis and Arabs in disappointment"

Hopes were high in the Middle East when US President Barack Obama took office last year. But instead of progress toward peace, he has shown indecision and hesitancy. With many in the region united against Iran, he is in danger of letting a golden opportunity slip through his fingers. US President Barack Obama glided off the stage to thunderous applause. He had just given a speech that commentators around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world, would characterize within minutes as "historic," "The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable," he said, and promised to "personally pursue" the establishment of a Palestinian state. Then the president left the great hall of Cairo University and entered a smaller room, where seven journalists had gathered: five Muslims, a Christian and a Jew. Speaking to the men and women from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel and Malaysia, Obama demonstratively praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "A very intelligent man, who's easy to talk to. He has a real sense of history. I believe that Netanyahu has recognized the strategic necessity of achieving peace in the Middle East."

As the Israeli reporter, Nachum Barnea, recalls, Obama was "like a teacher, full of knowledge and persuasiveness." Eight months later, the president was forced to admit that he had not even come close to reaching the goal he had set for himself. "We overestimated our ability to persuade [both sides] to [negotiate]," he told Time reporter Joe Klein in the White House Oval Office in January. "If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high." It was an astonishing admission. Never before had a US president enjoyed such trust in the Middle East — and gambled it away in such a short time. Obama has vacillated to an extent that has confused friend and foe alike, even baffling veteran observers of the region.

At first, he called for a complete freeze on Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, an area claimed by the Palestinians. This position applied for a few months, to the delight of the Palestinians and the unease of right-wing conservatives in the Israeli government. But when Netanyahu refused to comply, Obama took a step back last September, by calling upon the Israelis to exercise "restraint" in building settlements. He forced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who, after eight years of policies under former US President George W. Bush, had just become accustomed to an Arab-friendly White House, to shake hands with Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu. Soon afterwards, Netanyahu announced a 10-month halt on settlement construction, but it did not include annexed East Jerusalem and various projects in the West Bank.

To the Palestinians' chagrin, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Netanyahu's decision as an exemplary step. Finally, last Tuesday, US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem, where he assured his hosts of Washington's "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security" -- only to discover, hours later, that the Israeli interior ministry had just approved the construction of 1,600 housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Biden was so angry that he showed up an hour-and-a-half late for a dinner with Netanyahu and his wife. "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," he said afterwards. "It is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now."

03.15.10 Cartoonist lampoons niqab, angers Muslims in Canada

TORONTO, Canada, March 15 - A controversial cartoon in a Montreal newspaper at the weekend has further fuelled the niqab controversy and angered Muslims in Canada. The controversy, which was sparked by a Muslim woman's refusal in November to remove her veil in her French language class in Montreal, has been further inflamed by the controversial cartoon in the Montreal Gazette at the weekend. In the cartoon, a Muslim woman is depicted in niqab from top to toes, with the slit space for her eyes shown in jail bars and a lock. Defending it, the cartoonist Terry Mosher said he drew it to oppose the Muslim woman's argument in favour of the veil and encourage debate over the issue. "In the (Montreal) Gazette this morning, there is actually an editorial in support of the woman, and yet my cartoon is against it. So that is part of the discussion and I think that's a very healthy thing," the cartoonist told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The controversy erupted after the Muslim woman Naima Atef Amed, a mother of three who is a new immigrant to Canada, filed a petition with the human rights commission in Quebec province for violations of her religious rights two weeks ago. But the director of the college
CEGEP de Saint-Laurent - in Montreal said they tried to accommodate the woman's demands by allowing her to wear the niqab, giving her the front seat and letting her make her presentations from the rear of the classroom with her back to the class so that boys male students didn't see her. Matters came to a head when the woman asked male students to move away from her and refused to sit with them around a U-table for conversation skill development classes.

Canadians have reacted angrily to the woman's insistence to wear the niqab, with demands for a review of immigration policies and ban on symbols of oppression even as Muslim leaders have slammed the cartoonist. This is "a distasteful way of showing the cartoon and of showing the lock
the woman is locking herself. Why is he (cartoonist) advancing those ideas again and claiming this would inspire debate?" said Montreal Muslim Council leader Salam Elmenyawi on the news network. Canada is home to more than a million Muslims in its population of over 33 million. But according to the latest figures, the Muslim population is set to triple in the next two decades, making them the fastest growing group in Canada. [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

03.15.10 Car bomb blast strikes Iraqi city

March 15 - At least eight people have been killed and 21 others wounded after a car bomb exploded in a city in Iraq's western Anbar province. Police sources told Al Jazeera that the blast, which occurred [in] the centre of Fallujah, came from a parked car and was not a suicide attack. The explosion came at rush hour as many people in the city, which lies about 50km west of Baghdad, headed to work. [More>>aljazeera.net]

03.15.10 Rocket attack kills 1 at NATO base in Afghanistan

KABUL (AP) March 15 - An early morning rocket attack on the largest U.S. military hub in Afghanistan killed one person Monday, NATO said. In the east, meanwhile, Afghan authorities thwarted three would-be homicide bombers from attacking a security post. The attack targeted the sprawling Bagram Air Field, north of the capital of Kabul. A NATO spokesman would not say whether the victim was a service member or a civilian. Abdullah Adil, the police chief in the Bagram district of Parwan province, said one rocket was fired onto the grounds of the base at about 4am. A Taliban spokesman told The Associated Press that two rockets were fired on the base. [More>>foxnews.com]

03.15.10 Qaeda local chief killed in Yemen strike

SANAA (AFP) March 15 - A suspected local chief of al-Qaeda in the south Yemen province of Abyan was killed in an overnight air raid, a security official said on Monday, as air strikes continued for a second straight day. Jamil Nasser Abdullah al-Anbari, 25, who figured on a list of wanted militants, was one of two al-Qaeda leaders killed in the attack late Sunday, the official told AFP requesting anonymity. He did not disclose the name of the other militant. The defence ministry's 26sep.net news website had earlier reported that an air raid Sunday night against a “terrorist cell” in the Moudia district of Abyan killed two senior al-Qaeda members. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

03.14.10 Two suspected of planning new Mumbai terror attack

(AFP) March 14 - Indian police say they have arrested two men for planning to attack a fuel facility and a shopping centre in Mumbai, where Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people 15 months ago. Mumbai's anti-terrorism police chief, K.P. Raghuvansh, told reporters that the two men were Indian and had taken orders from inside Pakistan. They intended to target a fuel storage complex owned by state-run energy firm Oil and Natural Gas as well as a popular shopping arcade, he said. "These two have been in constant touch with their handlers sitting across the border in Pakistan, who want to do something in India," he said. "When we thought they were planning to act, we arrested them." [More>>news.com.au]

03.14.10 Al-Qaeda says its fund raiser in Yemen killed

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) March 14 - The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said one of its leaders who was responsible for collecting money to fund the group's military operations has been killed by Yemeni security forces, Xinhua has reported, quoting AQAP's media outlet. The killed militant was identified by Al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media arm of the Yemen-based AQAP, as Ibrahim Saleh Mujahid al-Khalifa (alias Abi Jandal al-Qisaimy), Xinhua said. "Al-Qisaimy was responsible for collecting and raising money from inside Saudi Arabia and transferring them into al-Qaeda wing in Yemen," al-Malahim was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the Internet. The statement said the killed Saudi national "was also the coordinator behind smuggling groups of wanted Saudi militants to Yemen through the Saudi-Yemeni joint border." [More>>.en.rian.ru]

03.14.10 Afghan gov. wants more troops after 12 explosions

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) March 14 - The governor of Kandahar province demanded more security Sunday after 12 coordinated explosions in Afghanistan's largest southern city killed dozens of people in the Taliban heartland. The attacks around Kandahar city Saturday night included two car bombs, six suicide attackers on motorbikes and bicycles plus four homemade bombs, Gov. Tooryalai Wesa said. At least 33 people died, including 10 women and children attending a wedding celebration in a hall next to a police station that was targeted. Kandahar province is considered the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban insurgency and is widely believed to be the next target of NATO and Afghan forces following a major push to take another militant stronghold in next-door Helmand province.

Among the targets of Saturday night's explosions were a newly fortified prison and police headquarters. Wesa said at least six police officers were among the dead. Another roadside bomb Sunday morning targeted a car carrying Pakistani construction workers south of the city in the district of Dand, Wesa said. Four of the Pakistani workers and their Afghan driver were wounded. Wesa told reporters Sunday he had asked the central government in Kabul for more Afghan troops to be sent to protect the city in the run-up to the expected offensive. He also that he also wants to coordinate with NATO forces to improve security.
[More>>thejakartapost.com; See related story,

indianexpress.com, March 14, "South Afghan attacks kill 35, including 13 police: Official" :
KANDAHAR - Coordinated explosions in a key southern Afghan city killed 35 people and injured another 57, a government spokesman said on Sunday. Suicide bomb attacks and crude bomb blasts rocked Kandahar city late yesterday, causing widespread carnage and panic in an assault later claimed by the militant Taliban, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashery said. "A total of 35 people were killed - 13 police officers and 22 civilians," he told reporters, adding that the 57 injured included 40 civilians and 17 police officers. He said the city had been hit by five suicide bomb attacks and improvised bomb explosions at 8pm (1530 GMT) on Saturday. Kandahar's provincial governor Turyalai Wisa said earlier that seven explosions had hit the city, in what appears to be the biggest coordinated attack in Afghanistan since the start of a Taliban insurgency in 2001. [end]

03.14.10 Pak jets pound Taliban base, 18 militants killed

PESHAWAR, March 14 - Pakistani fighter jets on Sunday pounded several Taliban positions in the restive Aurakzai tribal region in northwest Pakistan killing 18 militants, as large army contingents moved into the area, triggering speculation about a fresh offensive against the rebels. Jet fighters pounded targets in several areas of lower and upper Aurakzai Agency, killing 18 rebels. The house of the father-in-law of Taliban commander Aslam Farooqi in Mirowak area was among the targets struck by the jets, official sources said. But it was not clear if he was among those killed. Eight militant hideouts and a girls' high school were destroyed in the bombardment. The air strikes were carried out as large contingents of the Pakistan Army moved into Aurakzai Agency. Troops set up check posts at Kulaba and surrounding areas and tightened security at entry points to the region, the sources said. The deployment triggered speculation that the army planned to launch a "decisive operation" against the Taliban in Aurakzai Agency in the next few days, sources said. [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related stories,

thenews.com.pk, March 14, "Troops kill 13 militants in Orakzai Agency"
: PESHAWAR: Security forces backed by helicopter gunships pounded Taliban hideouts in Orakzi Agency Sunday, killing at least 11 militants, officials said. The shelling destroyed three militant hideouts and two houses of Taliban commanders in the Orakzai region. According to sources, the gunships targeted hideouts in Ferozkhel, a village on the outskirts of Kalyal, the main town in Orakzai region. The demolished houses of the two Taliban commanders were also being used as militant training centres, said sources. At least 11 militants were killed in the attacks. [end]

thenews.com.pk, March 14, "Leaders' loss puts al-Qaeda under pressure: Holbrooke" : NEW YORK - US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has said that al-Qaeda is under great pressure after losing key members of its leadership. In an interview to a US TV channel, Richard Holbrooke described the arrest of Mullah Baradar, an important al-Qaeda leader, from Pakistan as a significant development. Loss of front line leadership has put al-Qaeda under a lot of pressure, he said. Acknowledging the role Pakistan Army in the ongoing battle with Taliban, the US envoy said Pakistan has carried out effective actions against Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. He said Pakistan has shifted about 100,000 of its troops from its eastern to western borders. "The United States is working in close coordination with Pakistan political leadership and its army in the war against terrorism," Richard Holbrooke asserted. He said Pakistan's political scenario is going through complications but the overall situation is now much better than the previous year. [end]

03.14.10 Shun Persian fire festival: Ayatollah Khamenei

TEHRAN (AFP) March 14 - Iran opposition supporters could use festival to stage protests. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Iranians should shun next week's Persian fire festival as it is un-Islamic and creates "a lot of harm." Chaharshanbe Soori, an ancient Pagan festival, is held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year. This year the ritual falls on the night of March 16. Khamenei, Iran's all-powerful cleric, said on his website that Chaharshanbe Soori has "no basis in sharia (Islamic law) and creates a lot of harm and corruption (which is why) it is appropriate to avoid it." The festival is a prelude to Nowrouz, the Persian New Year which starts on March 21 and marks the arrival of spring...Iranians celebrate the fire festival by lighting bonfires in public places on the night before the last Wednesday and leaping over the flames...[Full story>>alarabiya.net]

03.14.10 Obama 'outraged' by Consulate murders in Mexico

WASHINGTON (Reuters) March 14 - President Barack Obama is "outraged" by the murders in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico of three people connected with the US consulate there, a White House official said on Sunday. "In concert with Mexican authorities, we will work tirelessly to bring their killers to justice," White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement. A consulate employee and her husband, both US citizens, were killed along with the husband of another employee who is a Mexican citizen, the statement said. "The president is deeply saddened and outraged by the news," Hammer said, adding that Obama shares in the outrage of the Mexican people at the murders of thousands in Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere in Mexico. Mexico's drug war has killed some 18,600 people, mainly cartel members and police officers, since President Felipe Calderon took power and launched an army crackdown on traffickers in late 2006. [More>>abcnews.go.com; See more details, latimes.com, March 14, "2 Americans killed in drive-by shooting in Mexico" ;

Related stories,

elpasotimes.com (AP) March 14, "24 killed in western Mexico"
: ACAPULCO, Mexico - A series of shootings killed 24 people Saturday in a Pacific coast state plagued by drug gang violence. Nearly half died in one shootout between soldiers and armed men. The gunbattle erupted when attackers opened fire on soldiers patrolling the small town of Ajuchitlan del Progreso, said Valentin Diaz, director of the Guerrero state investigative police. Ten gunmen and one soldier were killed, he said. Diaz said the shootout broke out in the middle of the day in the center of the town as it was full of bystanders. He said state police were investigating and soldiers had reinforced security. President Felipe Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of troops to Guerrero and other drug-trafficking hotspots across Mexico in an effort to root out cartels. Gang violence has surged since the crackdown began three years ago, claiming more than 17,900 lives...

elpasotimes.com stories posted March 14, 2010:

6 slain, 4 wounded at house in Juárez
Juárez: Cop slain for being honest

stories posted March 14, 2010:

Targeted by Cartels, Reporters Retreat
Gang Hushes Killings with News Blackout


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