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04.21.10 Poor weather linked to prostrate cancer

April 21 - Grim weather up North may be making men more prone to prostate cancer, new research suggests. Scientists believe a combination of cold temperatures and lack of sun could help explain higher rates of the disease in northerly parts of the world. Poor exposure to the sun's rays can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may increase prostate cancer risk, it is claimed. At the same time, cold weather might help to slow the degradation of cancer-triggering industrial pollutants, say US researchers.

Cold temperatures were also believed to help the chemicals precipitate out of the atmosphere and fall to the ground. Dr. Sophie St-Hilaire, who led the scientists from Idaho State University, said: "We found that colder weather, and low rainfall, were strongly correlated with prostate cancer. Although we can't say exactly why this correlation exists, the trends are consistent with what we would expect given the effects of climate on the deposition, absorption, and degradation of persistent organic pollutants including pesticides." Around one in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime.

04.21.10 IMF: Global recovery stronger than anticipated

April 21 - The world economy is rebounding from recession "better than we thought likely" and will expand by more than 4 percent this year, the International Monetary Fund's top economist said Wednesday. Growth is uneven. China is projected to grow by a world-leading 10 percent in 2010, while major European nations are expected to grow by a combined 1 percent. The United States is projected to grow by 3.1 percent better than the 2.3 percent average growth projected by the IMF for the advanced economies. The IMF's forecast of 4.2 percent growth in world output in 2010 represents a marked increase from its projection in January of 0.3 percent growth for the year. For 2011, the IMF now forecasts growth of 4.3 percent. By contrast, the global economy shrank by 0.6 percent in 2009 as world trade slumped and credit froze, the IMF said. [More>>washingtonpost.com]

04.21.10 GM pays back government loans from US, Canada

DETROIT, April 21 - GM CEO says repayment of loan portion of its government aid packages shows carmaker recovering. General Motors Co. has repaid $8.1 billion in loans it got from the US and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign the automaker is on the road to recovery. CEO Ed Whitacre announced the repayments Wednesday at GM's Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., where he said GM is investing $257 million in that factory and the Detroit-Hamtramck plant. He was to meet with top lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday afternoon.

The White House pointed to GM's repayment of the loan and Chrysler LLC's posting of an operating profit in the first quarter of 2010 as concrete signs that the bailout of the U.S. automakers was working. In a report, the Obama administration noted the American auto industry lost more than 400,000 jobs in 2008 and analysts estimated another 1 million would have been lost had GM and Chrysler been liquidated. In the past nine months, the White House said automakers have added 45,000 jobs, the industry's strongest job growth in nearly a decade.

04.21.10 Palestinians losing faith in Obama administration, poll finds

April 21 - Palestinian hopes that US President Barack Obama will bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory have significantly declined in recent months, a public opinion poll published Wednesday has found. Only 9.9 percent of Palestinians now believe that Obama's policies will increase chances of achieving a "just peace," down from 23.7 percent in October last year and 35.4 percent in June. The poll also found that over 78 percent of Palestinians interviewed believe the US-Israel dispute over the issue of West Bank settlements is "not serious." [More>>haaretz.com]

04.21.10 Iran occupation of UAE islands like Israel's: FM

ABU DHABI, April 21 - UAE likens Iran's control of islands to Israeli occupation. The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday likened Iran's control of three disputed Gulf islands to Israel's occupation of Arab territories. "The occupation of any Arab land is an occupation," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said in a question-and-answer session of the consultative Federal National Council, according to WAM state news agency. "There is no difference between Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, southern Lebanon, the West Bank or Gaza, as occupation remains occupation... No Arab land is more precious than another," he said, referring to the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Mousa. "As an Emirati, it is normal that I should be... more sensitive about an occupied part of the UAE than other Arab territories. Otherwise, one would be fooling himself," the minister said.

Iran, under the rule of the Western-backed shah, gained control of the islands in 1971, as Britain granted independence to its Gulf protectorates and withdrew its forces. The Islamic republic took possession of the Tunbs, while Abu Mousa — the only inhabited island — was placed under joint administration in a deal with Sharjah, now part of the UAE. But the UAE says the Iranians have since taken control of all access to the strategic island and installed an airport and military base there.

04.21.10 'Revolutionary Guards - terrorists'

BERLIN, April 21 - Top European intellectuals and politicians to call for blacklisting. A broad swath of prominent European intellectuals and politicians, crisscrossing Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, are slated to announce on Wednesday that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) should be put on the European Union terror list, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The European "Stop the Bomb" coalition, which advocates aggressive European-based sanctions against the Iranian government, organized the petition.

The petition, signed by the likes of Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004, reads: "As Iran's most important trading partner, the EU is in a unique position to effect change. Therefore, the EU has the responsibility to impose severe sanctions to thwart Teheran's drive towards nuclear weapons, and to firmly act towards the protection of human rights in Iran."

..."By targeting the Revolutionary Guards, Europe can lead the way with 'smart' sanctions that cripple the Iranian energy sector the lifeblood of the men who rule Iran and, in doing so, support the Iranian reformers against a brutal and illegitimate regime," according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a leading expert on the Revolutionary Guards and energy sanctions, who spoke to the Post on Tuesday. "Banning trade with the Guards’ leaders and front companies, which are such dominant players in Iran's energy sector, would weaken the Guard and undermine its primary source of wealth and influence," he added. "It also would send a shot across the bow to Iran's European energy partners, which are literally fueling the armored vehicles and motorcycles used to brutally repress those standing for freedom on the streets of Teheran."
[Full story>>jpost.com]

04.21.10 Sahara states move against al-Qaeda

April 21 - Four Sahara desert countries are set to open a joint command headquarters in the south of Algeria to counter a growing al-Qaeda threat, the Algerian defence ministry says. The command headquarters for Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will be based in Tamanrasset, about 2,000km south of Algiers, the Algerian capital, it said. The announcement on Wednesday followed a meeting last month of senior officials from regional governments that the US hailed as a step towards confronting al-Qaeda. Western countries say that unless the region's fractious governments join forces to combat al-Qaeda, the Sahara could become a safe haven for "terrorists" like Yemen and Somalia. [More>>aljazeera.net]

04.21.10 Legislation under way to ban full face veil from public places

PARIS (AFP) April 21 - The Elysée presidential palace said Wednesday that the government will present to ministers in May a bill to ban face-covering veils — such as niqab veils and burqas, which cover the body from head to toe — from public places. The French government is drawing up a law to ban the full-face Islamic veil from all public spaces, despite a warning from experts that it could face a legal challenge, a spokesman said Wednesday. The spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, Luc Chatel, said the bill would be presented to ministers in May and would go beyond a mere ban on women wearing the niqab and the burqa while dealing with French officials. "We're legislating for the future. Wearing a full veil is a sign of a community closing in on itself and a rejection of our values," he said. [More>>france24.com]

04.20.10 UK flights grounded again by new ash cloud

April 20 - Britain will in effect remain a flight-free zone until at least 1am tomorrow, with just a handful of flights operating in the north of the country. Skeleton services operated from Scotland and Newcastle this evening but aviation officials said the rest of Britain's airspace would remain closed until tomorrow morning at the earliest. Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh will remain open today, and Glasgow and Teesside will reopen at 7pm. Airports in the south of the UK will stay closed until at least 1am tomorrow. Flights will be allowed through closed airspace at above 20,000ft. [More>>timesonline.co.uk; See details of European flight schedules, france24.com, April 20, "European airspace at 18:00GMT: the France 24 survival guide."]

04.20.10 Supreme Court overturns law banning depictions of animal cruelty

April 20 - Justices vote 8 to 1 in dogfighting video case, call law 'substantially overbroad.' The Supreme Court today invalidated a federal law that had criminalized the sale of certain depictions of animal cruelty, including violent dogfighting videos. An 8-1 majority on the Court said that the law was "substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment," affirming the right of free speech in the face of some government-imposed restrictions. The government had argued that showing animals being mutilated, tortured or killed was so explicit that it should be banned. But today Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said "We disagree." [More>>abcnews.go.com]

04.20.10 Sherpas to clean up Mt. Everest death zone

KATMANDU, April 20 - A team of Nepalese Sherpa climbers will attempt to bring down thousands of kilograms of garbage from the Mt. Everest death zone in May, the team's leader said Monday. This is the first time the death zone, a term denoting the part of the world's tallest peak from 8,000 meters to the top, will be cleaned. "We plan to bring down between 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms of garbage and the body of a Swiss climber who died in the zone in 2008," team leader Namgyal Sherpa, who has climbed the 8,848 meter peak seven times, said. The 20-member team of seasoned Nepalese climbers led by Namgyal Sherpa plans to reach the top May 15 and start the cleaning campaign. [>japantoday.com; See more details,

guardian.co.uk, April 20, "Team sets out to clear bodies from Everest's death zone"
: ...Though many foreign and Nepali expeditions have set out to clear parts of the mountain in the past, Namgyal Sherpa, leader of the Extreme Everest Expedition 2010, said no one had tried to clear at that height. "This is the first time we are cleaning the death zone. It is very difficult and dangerous," said Namgyal, who has climbed Everest seven times...The climbers will use special bags to collect the bodies which lie between the South Col and the 8,850m (29,035ft) summit before lowering them down the snow and icefields of the mountain and then carrying them across the glaciers to base camp. The expedition hopes to retrieve five bodies, including that of a climber killed two years ago. Scores of corpses preserved by the freezing temperatures remain on the mountain, some for decades. "I have seen three corpses lying there for years," Namgyal said. "We'll bring down the body of a Swiss climber who died in the mountain in 2008 and cremate it below the base camp, for which we have got the family's consent."...

04.20.10 Tuna sushi in US busts recommended levels of mercury

(AFP) April 20 - Tuna sushi bought at a range of US restaurants and supermarkets had mercury that breached levels set by health watchdogs, a study published said. The offending samples included bluefin tuna, the hugely-prized species that has been plunged into a fierce conservation battle, the researchers reported in the British journal Biology Letters. One hundred sushi samples were collected from 54 restaurants and 15 supermarkets in New York, New Jersey and Colorado, comprising "akami" (lean red tuna) as well as "toro" (fatty tuna). The species were identified using a DNA fingerprint test and the samples were then tested for mercury levels. [More>>news.com.au]

04.20.10 Iran missile could reach US by 2015: Pentagon

WASHINGTON, April 20 - A US Defense Department report has warned that Iran could fire a missile at the United States by 2015, and adds that the Iranians have gone to great lengths to protect their nuclear infrastructure from physical destruction. "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015," Fox News quoted the new 12 page unclassified report, as saying. The report further claims that Iran's military strategy is designed to defend against external or “hard” threats from the United States and Israel. "Iran continues being a disruptive force inside Iraq. Iran also offers strategic and operational guidance to militias and terrorist groups to target US Forces in Iraq and undermine US interests," the report said.

Regarding the effectiveness of Iranian Conventional Forces, the report says: “Iran maintains very sizeable military forces, but they would be relatively ineffective against a direct assault by well trained, sophisticated military such as that of the United States or its allies.” The report outlines Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities and developments saying it is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," which is consistent with what we've heard from a wide range of US officials.
[>indianexpress.com; See related story,

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) April 20, "Iran upgrades US-built fighter jets"
: MOSCOW - Iran has overhauled and modernized its warplanes, including the "sophisticated" F-14 Tomcat fighter jets, an Iranian military official said on Tuesday. Air Force Deputy Commander General Aziz Nasirzadeh said in an interview with the FNA news agency that indigenous radars and new engines were installed on F-14 Tomcat jets, developed in the 1970s. He said that although most airplanes had "old designs," all of their components, "including systems and parts, are being optimized and upgraded on a regular basis." He also said Iranian bombers were armed with "indigenous 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) smart bombs," Qassed (Messenger)...

04.20.10 Lieberman: Jerusalem is our eternal capital, it will never be divided

April 20 - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel and that it will never be divided "neither directly nor indirectly." Addressing a group of foreign diplomats at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, the foreign minister quoted a speech made by former prime minister Menachem Begin, explaining that Begin's remarks reflected the connection that Jews around the world feel toward Jerusalem a connection that still exists today. "Today," he said, "I stand before you in Jerusalem, and confirm Begin's words: the city will remain our capital and will never be divided." Lieberman stressed that the government of which he is a member seeks peace as long as there is a genuine partner. "The State of Israel has proven time and again that it is prepared to pay a high price for peace with its neighbors and has already evacuated territory three times its size," he said. "We must now create a new reality in the region based on security for Israelis, economic prosperity for Palestinians, and stability for both. Only then will it be possible to negotiate a final agreement between the parties." [More>>haaretz.com]

04.20.10 Syria warned on 'missile transfer'

April 20 - The US has summoned a senior Syrian diplomat in Washington over the potential transfer of Scud missiles to Lebanon's Hezbollah. US officials branded the move "provocative behavior," and said the transfer of the missiles to Hezbollah, which the US calls a terror outfit, could be a threat to both Lebanon and Israel. "The United States condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hezbollah," said a statement issued by Gordon Duguid, a state department spokesman, on Monday. "The transfer of these arms can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon." The Syrian diplomat was not named, but Damascus denied the transfer, saying Israel might be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike against it. [More>>aljazeera.net]

04.20.10 Al-Qaeda's two top Iraq leaders killed in raid

BAGHDAD, April 19 - "Devastating blow" to al-Qaeda in Iraq: Joe Biden. Iraqi security forces backed by US troops killed al-Qaeda's top two leaders in Iraq in what the US military described on Monday as a "potentially devastating blow" to the militant group. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said al-Qaeda's Iraq leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported head of its local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, were found dead in a hole in the ground inside a house after it was surrounded and stormed by troops. In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden called the killing of the two a "potentially devastating blow" to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Biden also said the joint US-Iraqi military operation had demonstrated the improved "strength" and "capacity" of Iraq's security forces...Maliki said Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and thought to be an Egyptian, and Baghdadi were killed in Thar-Thar, a rural area 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Baghdad that is regarded as a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. The US military said the operation took place on Sunday 10 km (six miles) southwest of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.
[Full story>>alarabiya.net ; See related story,

bbc.co.uk, April 20, "Third Iraqi al-Qaeda leader killed: Iraqi military"
: US and Iraqi forces have killed another al-Qaeda in Iraq leader in northern Iraq, officials say. Ahmed al-Obeidi died in an operation in the northern province of Nineveh, Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said. The news comes the day after the government announced two leading insurgents had been killed. Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who led an affiliate group, died on Sunday. Gen. Moussawi said Mr. Obeidi, known by the name Abu Suhaib, was in charge of al-Qaeda in Iraq's operations in the provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Nineveh...

04.17.10 Airport crisis spreads as ash moves east

PARIS, April 17 - Travelers endured spreading chaos on Saturday, as an Icelandic volcano continued to spew ash that winds pushed south and east over an increasing portion of the European continent, causing more airports to shut and thousands of flights to be canceled. Volcanologists had no reliable prediction of how long the eruption would continue, as travelers scrambled for train reservations, rental cars and hotel rooms. Others simply searched for comfortable benches in airports, which were considerably calmer and emptier than on Friday as passengers realized that no flights would be going in or out. Europe's three largest airports — London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris-Charles de Gaulle — were all shut on Saturday, with officials hoping that flights could resume sometime Sunday or, more likely, Monday.

More than just commercial flights were affected by the ash cloud. According to a Pentagon spokeswoman, injured troops from Iraq and Afghanistan are being flown directly to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington rather than being first taken to Germany. Britain, France, Germany and Ireland banned most commercial air traffic for another day. Britain extended its ban until at least 7am on Sunday, while France said its main airports would be closed until at least 8am on Monday. European airlines said that up to 70 percent of flights scheduled for Saturday were canceled as backlogs increased. Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic in more than 35 countries, said that about 16,000 flights were canceled Saturday out of a normal load of 22,000.

04.17.10 New tech sees dead people

April 17 - Technology can detect chemicals released by decomposing bodies. A spooky sounding technology is finding old, unmarked graves. Using hyperspectral imaging, scientists from McGill University have found unmarked animal graves with special cameras that measure changes in the light coming from soil and plants. Hyperspectral imaging collects and processes light from across the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible light as well as ultraviolet and infrared light. The research could help police solve missing persons cases or reveal new mass graves from hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

"As soon as there is some decay you can see a difference," said Andre Costopoulos, a professor at McGill University developing new techniques to find old graves. "We suspect that some of these graves are over 40 years old, and are excited to try to find much older grave sites," some of which could be hundreds of years old, said Costopoulos. The McGill project began in an unlikely place: an African animal safari park in Quebec called Parc Safari. Parc Safari officials wanted to exhume a buried elephant and reassemble the bones for an park exhibit. But the park official didn't know where the dead elephant was buried. Costopoulos was enlisted to find the missing elephant. Over three seasons Costopoulos' team found seven animal graves at depths of two to three feet deep (including the elephant). They knew more animal graves existed at the site.

Meanwhile, Margaret Kalacska, another professor at McGill University, was studying the effects of soil on plant growth by measuring the amount of chlorophyll in plant leaves using hyperspectral imaging. Kalacska and Costopoulos decided to combine their expertise to find the remaining animals at the pet cemetery. The McGill scientists borrowed a plane from the Canadian National Research Council and equipped it with two cameras. One camera recorded light in the visible spectrum and into the infrared range. The other camera recorded light in the infrared and longer light ranges. When the hyperspectral camera-equipped aircraft flew over the animal graveyard, the scientists found all seven known graves, plus 25 new graves, some of which were buried up up to eight feet deep.

04.17.10 Mueller: Home-grown extremists as threatening as al-Qaeda

April 17 - The warning, from the FBI Director, Robert Mueller, came as the former President Clinton drew parallels between the Oklahoma City tragedy and a recent upsurge in anti-government rhetoric. Fifteen years after the Oklahoma City bombing, the specter of domestic terrorism has returned to haunt the Obama administration, with a warning from the FBI that "home-grown and lone-wolf extremists" now represent as serious a threat as al-Qaeda and its affiliates, The Times reported on Saturday. The warning, from the FBI Director, Robert Mueller, came as the former President Clinton drew parallels between the Oklahoma City tragedy and a recent upsurge in anti-government rhetoric, while American television audiences heard Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, describe the "absolute rage" that drove him to plan an attack that killed 168 men, women and children.

An FBI spokesman said Friday that Mueller was referring to right-wing extremist groups and anti-government militias, as well as American Islamists, in his testimony to the Senate committee that must approve the FBI's $8.3 billion budget. Last month federal agents arrested nine members of a Christian militia based in Michigan, calling itself the Hutaree. They have been charged with plotting to murder local police with a stash of guns, knives and grenades. Since the passage of President Obama's health reforms, the FBI has also made arrests in Seattle and San Francisco after death threats were sent to Democratic senators. “It's one thing to express dissatisfaction with the Government but once you cross the line with a violent threat, that's a violation that we take extremely seriously,” Bill Carter, the bureau's spokesman, said.

4.17.10 Burqa bombers kill 41 at Kacha Pukha refugee camp

(AFP) April 18 - Two suicide bombers dressed in burqas have struck a crowd of displaced people collecting aid handouts at a camp in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 41 and wounding more than 60. The bombers struck minutes apart yesterday in the Kacha Pukha camp on the outskirts of the garrison city of Kohat, a registration centre for people fleeing Taliban violence and Pakistani army operations close to the Afghan border. The attacks underscored the grave threat posed by extremists despite stepped-up Pakistani offensives and a significant increase in US drone attacks targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked commanders in the nearby tribal belt. "We have 41 dead in the twin suicide bombing. There are 64 injured," local police chief Dilawar Khan Bangash told AFP by telephone. He said the bombers walked into the crowd wearing burqas, the loose-fitting head-to-toe outfit that obscures the face, worn by conservative Muslim women in parts of northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan. [More>>news.com.au]

04.17.10 Top leaders urge all-out efforts to save lives

BEIJING (Xinhua) April 17 - The death toll has climbed to 1,339 from a devastating earthquake in northwest China's Qinghai Province, with another 332 still missing, rescuers said Saturday. The 7.1-magnitude quake, which struck the Yushu County in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu at 7:49am Wednesday, has also left 11,849 injured, 1,297 severely, Xia Xueping, a spokesman for the rescue headquarters, told a press conference. China's central leadership on Saturday urged all-out efforts to rescue trapped people in the quake zone in northwestern Qinghai Province. It is at a critical time for the relief work that requires "enhanced strength and efforts to search every village and household" to search for and save survivors and make sure that no blind spot is left in the quake zone, it was agreed at a meeting attended by members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China(CPC) Central Committee. [More>>chinadaily.com.cn; See also chinadaily.com.cn, April 17, "Hundreds of quake victims cremated."]

04.17.10 Use of nukes prohibited by religion: Khamenei

April 17 - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on Saturday that the use of nuclear arms is "haram," an Islamic term meaning "prohibited by religion." "We consider the use of nuclear arms as haram," Khamenei said in a message read out by an aide at the start of a two-day nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Only the US government has committed an atomic crime. The world's only atomic criminal lies and presents itself as being against nuclear weapons proliferation, while it has not taken any serious measures in this regard," Khamenei said.

Iran hosts nuclear disarmament meet

Iran is hosting a two-day nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran starting on Saturday that will be attended by several foreign ministers and representatives from the United Nations. At the Tehran conference, we will discuss nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which are the bases of the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on Friday. Salehi has also said in recent days that the conference would serve as preparation for the next NPT review meeting in New York early next month, which Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki plans to attend. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency Iran has refused to abandon its controversial nuclear programme despite three sets of UN sanctions, will deliver the opening address. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

04.17.10 Extramarital sex causes earthquakes: Iran cleric

April 17 - A senior Iranian cleric has claimed that dolled-up women incite extramarital sex, causing more earthquakes in Iran, a country that straddles several fault lines, newspapers reported on Saturday. "Many women who dress inappropriately ... cause youths to go astray, taint their chastity and incite extramarital sex in society, which increases earthquakes," Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi told worshippers at Tehran Friday prayer. "Calamities are the result of people's deeds," he was quoted as saying by reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper. "We have no way but conform to Islam to ward off dangers." The Islamic dress code is mandatory in Iran, which has been under clerical rule for more than three decades. Every post-pubescent woman regardless of her religion or nationality must cover her hair and bodily contours in public. Offenders face punishment and fine. But this has not stopped urban women from appearing in the streets wearing tight coats and flimsy headscarves and layers of skillfully applied makeup. Iran is prone to frequent quakes, many of which have been devastating. [>alarabiya.net]

04.17.10 Report: Egypt blows up Gaza smuggling tunnel

April 17 - Palestinian sources said on Saturday that Egyptian forces had blown up a smuggling tunnel beneath the border with the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. There were no casualties, said the sources, who also reported the discovery by Egypt of a second tunnel, used to smuggle vehicles. Egypt has now shut down six vehicle-smuggling tunnels, which cost an estimated half a million dollars each to dig, Israel Radio said. Last week Hamas ordered the temporary closure of hundreds of smuggling tunnels around the town of Rafah, which straddles the border between the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip. [More>>haaretz.com]

04.16.10 Barack Obama ends NASA space race with slow road to Mars

April 16 - President Obama tries to quell dispute over his cuts to manned space exploration with promise of 'leap into the future.' President Obama promised a "leap into the future" for NASA yesterday in a speech designed to quell a growing dispute over his cuts to manned space exploration, and to persuade critics that America will eventually put astronauts on Mars. Despite cancelling Constellation, the $108 billion (more than £69 bn) programme that aimed to get astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and the Red Planet by 2030, he outlined a series of "stepping stone" destinations where NASA will first seek a foothold in deep space using humans and robots. A landing on Mars will come sometime after the mid-2030s — at least five years after the date Constellation aimed for — but NASA will spend more time before then "looking at not just where we can go, but what we’re going to do when we get there."

..."Step by step, we will push the boundaries," he said, starting with a manned mission to land on an asteroid sometime beyond 2025 before venturing further into the cosmos to scout potential sites to establish fuel depots for future missions. "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth," he continued, echoing words chosen by President Kennedy in his 1961 challenge to NASA to put a man on the Moon. "A landing on Mars itself will follow, and I expect to be around to see it." The decision on how to get humans to such destinations will not be made for another five years. Instead,

$3.1 billion will be spent researching new rocket technologies before a specific blueprint is selected for 2015. Orion, the spacecraft that was to have carried crews to the Moon by the end of the decade, will be salvaged from the Constellation plan — and sent to the International Space Station to be used in the event of an emergency, reducing America's reliance on Russia's Soyuz capsule. Critics of Mr. Obama's plan, who include Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, dislike it for its lack of detail and definite timeline and its failure to maintain human launch capabilities in the interim. "The President has replaced one visionless plan with another," said Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.
[Full story>>timesonline.co.uk]

04.16.10 US accuses Goldman Sachs of fraud in mortgage deals

April 16 - Goldman Sachs, which emerged relatively unscathed from the financial crisis, was accused of securities fraud in a civil suit filed Friday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which claims the bank created and sold a mortgage investment that was secretly devised to fail. The move marks the first time that regulators have taken action against a Wall Street deal that helped investors capitalize on the collapse of the housing market. Goldman itself profited by betting against the very mortgage investments that it sold to its customers. The suit also named Fabrice Tourre, a vice president at Goldman who helped create and sell the investment. In a statement, Goldman called the S.E.C. accusations "completely unfounded in law and fact" and said the firm would "vigorously contest them and defend the firm and its reputation."

The instrument in the S.E.C. case, called Abacus 2007-AC1, was one of 25 deals that Goldman created so the bank and select clients could bet against the housing market. Those deals, which were the subject of an article in The New York Times in December, initially protected Goldman from losses when the mortgage market disintegrated and later yielded profits for the bank. As the Abacus deals plunged in value, Goldman and certain hedge funds made money on their negative bets, while the Goldman clients who bought the $10.9 billion in investments lost billions of dollars.

04.16.10 How volcanoes can change the world

PALISADES, New York, April 16 - The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland is stranding hundreds of thousands of air travelers at Heathrow Airport in the UK and other airports across northern Europe, due to its voluminous clouds of volcanic ash that can clog airplane engines and limit visibility. However, this is by no means the first such volcanic eruption in Iceland to affect human activities. Long before the advent of air travel, the eruption of Iceland's Laki volcano in 1783-84 had profound effects on climate, not just in Iceland but around the globe. Volcanologists Thorvaldur Thordarson and Stephen Self estimated that a comparable event in the modern era would release enough ash and other eruptive materials into the atmosphere that the resulting ash cloud and sulfuric haze would probably disrupt air travel over much of the Northern Hemisphere for about five months. But there were impacts well afield of Iceland and Europe at the time of Laki. Besides releasing clouds of ash into the atmosphere that can disrupt visibility and damage airplane engines, eruptions can cool the climate with the reflection of incoming solar radiation from the troposphere by volcanic sulfur-rich ash, which can decrease temperatures significantly for months or years in some cases. [More>>cnn.com; See related stories,

bbc.co.uk, April 16, "Volcanic ash: Flight chaos to continue into weekend"
: Flights across much of Europe will be severely disrupted well into Saturday because of drifting ash ejected from a volcano in Iceland, officials say. Much of the airspace across northern and western Europe is closed, with fewer than half the usual number of flights expected to operate on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of passengers have been affected by the restrictions amid the worst travel chaos since 9/11. Scientists say the volcano is still erupting but producing less ash. More countries imposed either full or partial airspace closures on Friday, while some northern regions began to relax restrictions as the ash cloud slowly drifted south...

foxnews.com, April 16, "Iceland volcano's big sister poses bigger threat, scientists say"
: Iceland's erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano might be causing its fair share of havoc across Europe but scientists said we haven't seen anything yet. All eyes in the volcanology community are focused on Eyjafjallajokull's much larger sister, called Katla, which could cause disruption on a far larger scale, reports The London Times. Katla is about eight miles to the west, under the Myrdalsjokull ice cap. An eruption could cause widespread flooding and disrupt air traffic between Europe and North America. While Katla is not part of the same underground network of magma channels, it is close enough to be affected by power shifts in Eyjafjallajokull's system. There is also a chance that a horizontal sheet of magma under Eyjafjallajokull could shoot out and enter a magma chamber beneath Katla. Hitting the roots of its neighbor would almost certainly trigger an eruption. The three eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull on record were each associated with a subsequent eruption of Katla. There are no signs of turbulence beneath Katla but, since it last erupted in 1918, a new blast is overdue. Katla tends to erupt every 40 to 80 years...

04.16.10 A 2nd garbage patch: Plastic soup seen in Atlantic

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, April 15 - A 2nd garbage patch: Plastic soup resembling Pacific blight found floating in North Atlantic. Researchers are warning of a new blight at sea: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The floating garbage — hard to spot from the surface and spun together by a vortex of currents — was documented by two groups of scientists who trawled the sea between scenic Bermuda and Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores islands. The studies describe a soup of micro-particles similar to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a phenomenon discovered a decade ago between Hawaii and California that researchers say is likely to exist in other places around the globe.

"We found the great Atlantic garbage patch," said Anna Cummins, who collected plastic samples on a sailing voyage in February. The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible. Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products.

04.16.10 Hospital suicide bombing kills 10 in southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta

April 16 - A suicide bomber blew himself up in the main hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta today, killing 10 people and triggering chaos and panic on the wards. Police said it appeared to be a sectarian attack linked to the nearby shooting of a Shi'ite banker whose body had been brought to the hospital shortly before the bomb blast. Quetta, capital of insurgency-hit southwestern Baluchistan province, has seen frequent violence pitting militants from the majority Sunni and minority Shi'ite communities. City police chief Ghulam Shabbir Sheikh put the death toll at 10, including four policemen and a cameraman with a private television station. More than 30 people were wounded, including at least four journalists and a local MP. "It appears to be sectarian violence," provincial police chief Qazi Abdul Wahid said. The victim of the shooting was Arshad Zaidi, the son of a local Shi'ite community leader, who was sprayed with bullets by gunmen on a motorbike as he left the bank. [More>>news.com.au]

04.16.10 4 dead, 3 hurt in NWA missile attack

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, April 16 - Four people [were] killed and three others injured in a missile attack in Tal Khel area in North Waziristan on Friday. According to sources, [a] drone fired seven missiles at a house and two cars. [>thenews.com.pk]

04.15.10 Foreclosure rates jump 35 percent

LOS ANGELES, California, April 15 - Record number of homes lost in first three months of 2010, new report shows. A record number of US homes were lost to foreclosure in the first three months of this year, a sign banks are starting to wade through the backlog of troubled home loans at a faster pace, according to a new report. RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday that the number of US homes taken over by banks jumped 35 percent in the first quarter from a year ago. In addition, households facing foreclosure grew 16 percent in the same period and 7 percent from the last three months of 2009. More homes were taken over by banks and scheduled for a foreclosure sale than in any quarter going back to at least January 2005, when RealtyTrac began reporting the data, the firm said.

"We're right now on pace to see more than 1 million bank repossessions this year," said Rick Sharga, a RealtyTrac senior vice president. Foreclosures began to ease last year as banks came under pressure from the Obama administration to modify home loans for troubled borrowers. In addition, some states enacted foreclosure moratoriums in hopes of giving homeowners behind in payments time to catch up. And in many cases, banks have had trouble coping with how to handle the glut of problem loans. These factors have helped slow the pace of foreclosures, but now that trend appears to be reversing.

04.15.10 Jobless claims in another surprise surge

NEW YORK, April 15 - The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance for the first time jumped for the second week in a row, according to government data released Thursday. There were 484,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended April 10, up 24,000 from an unrevised 460,000 the previous week, according to the Labor Department's weekly report. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected new claims to fall to 440,000 in the latest week. The number of new claims was the highest since the week ended Feb. 20, when initial claims totaled 486,000. [More>>cnn.com]

04.15.10 Volcano ash spreads Europe flight chaos

April 15 - All flights in and out of the UK and several other European countries have been suspended as ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland moves south. Up to 4,000 flights are being cancelled with airspace closed in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark among others. The UK's air traffic control service (Nats) said no flights would be allowed in UK airspace until at least 0700 BST on Friday amid fears of engine damage. Safety group Eurocontrol said the problem could persist for 48 hours. The volcano is still spewing ash and the wind direction is expected to continue bringing clouds into UK and European airspace for some time to come. The UK's airspace restriction was the worst in living memory, a Nats spokesman said. Some 600,000 people are thought to have been affected. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

04.15.10 Sun's magnetic field may have caused freezing winter

April 15 - It was the coldest winter in England since 1963 the coldest in Scotland since 1914 and weeks of ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures from last December to March defied predictions by climate -change scientists of milder, wetter winters. So what happened? One theory suggests that last winter's cold temperatures were part of a pattern that is set to continue because of a complex interaction between the Sun's magnetic field and the high-altitude jet stream which dominates Britain's weather system. The jet stream normally brings mild, damp westerly winds over Britain during winter but this year it went into "blocking" mode, sweeping back on itself and allowing a bitterly cold north-east wind to blow over the country, bringing ice and snow with it.

Scientists have found a link between blocking changes to the jet stream that result in colder winters and variations in the "activity" of the Sun, as measured by alterations in its magnetic field. This could mean that the UK can expect more cold winters than usual in the coming decade, despite global warming...The Sun has a roughly 11-year cycle and at its height the solar magnetic field is active and sunspots appear on the Sun's surface. But over recent years the Sun has entered an unusually dormant phase, with few sunspots and very low magnetic activity. Professor Lockwood said one effect of this low activity was that the normally high ultraviolet light from the Sun was lower than usual. This means there is less heating of the upper stratosphere over the equator, where ultraviolet light causes the creation of ozone. This has a knock-on effect on the jet stream.
[Full story>>independent.co.uk; For background on decline of solar activity, see Maravot News 4.30.09 article 4.28.09 The missing sunspots: Is this the big chill? and editorial note,"Wet and dry periods recorded by myth, historians and science," with PNAS Solar Output Model chart and article]

04.15.10 Hamas executes two suspected informants

GAZA CITY, April 15 - Executions first since Hamas seized Gaza Strip. The Hamas rulers of Gaza have executed two Palestinians convicted of collaborating with Israel despite objections from human rights groups, hospital and other sources said on Thursday. The two were executed by a firing squad overnight, said Samir Zakut of the Palestinian Al-Misan human rights group...The Palestinian rights group al-Mizan identified the executed men as Mohammed Ismail and Nasser Abu Freh. London-based Amnesty International had urged Hamas not to carry out several death sentences against Palestinians convicted of murder and of collaborating with Israel. Amnesty said proceedings in Hamas military courts do not meet international legal standards...Under Palestinian law, execution orders can be carried out only with presidential approval. But Hamas does not recognize Abbas's presidency, and the executions represented a further challenge by the group to his authority. [Full story>>alarabiya.net]

04.15.10 Syria denies it gave Hezbollah Scud missiles

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) April 15 - Syria warned Thursday that Israel was paving the way for new military action in the region with its allegation that Damascus is providing Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Israeli defense officials have said they believe Hezbollah has Scud missiles capable of hitting all of Israel and earlier this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Damascus of providing the weapons. Syria strongly denied the charge, saying it "believes that Israel aims through these claims to further strain the atmosphere in the region," according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry. It added that Israel could be setting the stage for a possible "Israeli aggression in order to run away from the requirements of a just and comprehensive peace."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak insisted earlier this week that Israel does not have aggressive intentions in the area. "We expect and recommend that everyone keep the current calm but as we’ve said, the introduction of systems that disturb the balance endanger the stability and the calm," he said. The allegation comes at a sensitive time in US-Syrian relations. Washington has reached out to Syria in recent months by nominating the first US ambassador to Damascus since 2005.
[>khaleejtimes.com; See related story,

jpost.com, April 15, "Hezbullah admits receiving Syrian scuds" :
Group accuses Israel of blowing incident out of proportion. Hezbullah sources confirmed Thursday that the terror group received a shipment of Scud missiles from Syria, the Kuwaiti paper Al-Rai reported. According to the report, the missiles were claimed to be old and unusable. Hezbullah also accused Israel of blowing the incident out of proportion in order to provoke a media ruckus. The sources added, "Our organization has many surface-to-surface missiles spread across all of Lebanon, in case Israel attacks the country again." In spite of this confirmation, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied the reports, saying Israel was trying to stoke tensions in the Middle East and could be setting the stage for a possible Israeli "aggression" to avoid Middle East peace requirements...

04.15.10 Report: Blast kills 3 foreigners, 3 Afghans

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) April 15 - Attack aimed at compound for workers in Kandahar. Three foreigners and three Afghan soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in the southern city of Kandahar on Thursday night, the president's half-brother, Ahmed Walid Karzai, said. But Reuters, quoting a police official, said the victims were seven foreign workers, believed to be British. The explosion at a compound shared by foreign companies blew out windows across the city. The blast came hours after a car bomb exploded outside a Kandahar hotel and injured at least eight people. Kandahar is the main city of Afghanistan's volatile south. NATO forces are expected to launch a major operation in and around the city this summer in a bid to root out insurgents. [>msnbc.msn.com; See details,

bbc.co.uk, April 15, "Kandahar suicide bombing kills foreign workers"
: At least six people have been killed in a suicide bombing in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, three of them foreigners. Initial reports said the explosion happened at a compound shared by foreign companies. "It was a suicide car bomb that targeted a foreign security company," Fazil Mohammad Sherzad, deputy provincial police chief, told AFP. It came hours after a car bomb in the city injured at least eight people. And on Monday, three suicide bombers tried to attack an intelligence compound in the city, leaving 10 people injured...

04.15.10 Ousted leader leaves Kyrgyzstan

April 15 - Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the ousted president of Kyrgystan, has left the country for neighboring Kazakhstan,  following a week-long political standoff with opponents, while the interim government has said that he has submitted a request to resign. Bakiyev arrived in the southern Kazakh city of Taraz on Thursday from where he will continue settlement talks with opponents who have seized power from him, his aide said. "The president of Kyrgyzstan has flown to Kazakhstan, where he will conduct negotiations on the settlement of the crisis," Ravshan Dzhamgyrchiyevm, one of Bakiyev's aides, told the Reuters news agency. Local media sources said that the deposed president departed on a cargo aircraft at 1320 GMT from the airport in the southern Jalal'abad region. His brother, Zhanybek, accompanied him, according to Russia's ITAR-TASS state news agency...The interim government called his departure a "deportation" in a statement. It said that Bakiyev had submitted a request to resign and reports added that Baktybek Kaliyev, a former defence minister and a key Bakiyev ally, had been arrested. These claims were not confirmed by Bakiyev's side. The interim government also said it would later seek Bakiyev's transfer to a Kyrgyz or international court for trial. [Full story>>aljazeera.net]

04.14.10 Star Wars: Neil Armstrong, Obama spar over NASA's future

April 14 - The first man to walk on the moon has blasted off at the Obama administration's stripped-down space plans, describing the president's proposals as "devastating." But supporters of the president's latest plan, which will be unveiled on Thursday, insist all systems are go for an accelerated rocket program that sets new goals for the American effort in outer space. Moonwalk icon Neil Armstrong, in an open letter co-signed by Apollo Commanders James Lovell and Eugene Cernan, wrote on Tuesday that "The … decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.

America's only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President's proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty...."It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation," the former astronauts wrote. In another letter, released on Monday, more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans called the plan a "misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future."

...While Armstrong and others derided the elimination of Constellation, the planned replacement for the aging space shuttle, Obama will announce plans to salvage a portion of it: the Orion space capsule, which was intended to house astronauts during their travel to the International Space Station and on later missions to the Moon. It also was to be capable of docking at the Space Station for six months and returning crews to Earth. "We wanted to take the best of what was available from Constellation," a NASA official told The Associated Press as part of a White House briefing. Orion will serve temporarily to provide standby emergency escape capabilities for astronauts on the Space Station, addressing fears from some experts that US astronauts on the space station would be held "hostage" to Russian interests.
[Full story>>foxnews.com]

04.14.10 Obama frustrated over stalled Mideast peace

WASHINGTON, April 14 - Washington cannot force Mideast peace deal: Obama. President Barack Obama voiced frustration early Wednesday over stalled Middle East peace efforts, saying Israelis and Palestinians may not be ready to resolve their conflict no matter how much pressure Washington exerts. Obama, speaking to reporters after hosting a nuclear security summit, made clear he harbored little hope for swift progress toward Middle East peace, more than a year after taking office and declaring it a high priority for his administration. US-led peace moves have been stymied by a dispute over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land that has strained ties between Washington and its close ally Israel, and by divisions among the Palestinians.

"The truth is in some of these conflicts the United States can't impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism," Obama told a news conference. The Obama administration has tried to get Israel and the Palestinians to launch indirect peace talks but has made scant headway. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave little ground in White House talks with Obama last month. Obama recently acknowledged he had underestimated the obstacles to a renewed peace process that bedeviled many of his predecessors, and some critics have called his approach naive.
[More>>alarabiya.net; for a report on the many barriers to bringing peace to Jerusalem see Maravot News "The Allah Controversy."]

04.14.10 McCain: US should pull the trigger' on Iran

April 14 - Arizona Senator says US has been backing away from Iran conflict; warns Tehran will get Nukes without bolder action. Senator John McCain said the United States has been backing away from a brewing fight with Iran, while that country moves ever closer to having nuclear weapons. McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the United States acts more boldly. Speaking figuratively, the Arizona Republican says the US keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran but failing to "pull the trigger."

Military and intelligence officials testifying before Congress said Iran's accelerated nuclear program could produce one weapon in roughly a year, if the country decided to go that route. But Gen. James Cartwright predicts it would still take longer than that to make the bomb usable. Cartwright said that, historically, it takes a country three to five years to make such a leap. Cartwright is the second highest-ranking US military officer. The timeline he cited Wednesday could be shortened if Iran pursued ways to deliver a weapon at the same time as it worked to build a bomb.
[More>>cbsnews.com; See also foxnews.com, April 14, "Republicans push Obama to 'pull the trigger' on Iran."]

04.14.10 Kasakhstan: World Bank cash gives new hope for Aral Sea

MOSCOW, April 14 - One of the world's worst environmental disasters is being successfully reversed thanks to millions of pounds from the World Bank. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan has shrunk by 90% since the rivers that feed it were diverted. But ecologists say the water is coming back giving hope to those who still try to survive in the area. Crunching through the salty desert, it is hard to believe it was once a fertile sea. Rusty hulks of metal sit barren in the salt and dust the Aral Sea is now a graveyard for ships. The fish that gave livelihoods have been replaced by camels. The problem started in the 1970s when the Soviet government diverted two rivers feeding the Aral Sea to cotton fields. The sea began to shrink until, starved of water, it became a parched desert...But, thanks to a loan of £42m to build dams, the entire area should be filled with water once again within five years...The dam is already working the shoreline was 90km away now it's 50. But it is still some distance from civilization so fishermen have to camp here for weeks at a time. [Full story>>news.sky.com; For background on the Aral Sea disaster see Maravot News 4.11.10 article 04.04.10 UN chief shocked by shrinking lake.

04.14.10 Hamas orders Gaza smuggling tunnels shut under Egyptian pressure

April 14 - Hamas on Wednesday ordered Gaza residents to shut smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt indefinitely, residents and tunnel operators said Wednesday. Gaza sources told Haaretz that the decision to close the tunnels was a response to an urgent request from Egyptian security services following warnings of planned terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. Closure of the tunnels was temporary, the sources said, adding that Hamas feared Israel would bomb the tunnels if they were not shut down. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, normally open on Wednesdays and Thursdays to Gazans traveling abroad for medical treatment, was also closed.

Israel on Tuesday issued a warning to all citizens in Sinai to leave immediately, citing concrete evidence that militants were trying to kidnap Israelis. By midday Wednesday, most of the estimated 650 Israelis in Sinai had returned home. Forces of the Islamic militant Hamas moved into the border area late Tuesday and ordered tunnel operators to cease operations until further notice. The operators were allowed to retrieve food and other perishable goods, but otherwise barred from the area on Wednesday.
[More>>haaretz.com; See other details,

jpost.com, April 14, "Hamas orders tunnels shut" : ...On Tuesday, the National Security Council's Counter Terrorism Bureau (CTB) warned that a Palestinian terror cell was en-route to the Sinai to abduct Israelis vacationing along the coast. CTB officials said that the intelligence was concrete and that the cell, was working for Hamas and planned to transfer the kidnapped Israeli to the Gaza Strip. They said that due to the large number of Israelis believed to be in Sinai until Tuesday it was possible that a kidnapping had occurred and they had yet to learn of it. Hamas's decision to close to the tunnels and Egypt's subsequent closure of the Rafah Crossing is likely a sign that the two are taking the Israeli warning seriously and do not want to be affiliated with the cell, nor allow it to cross into the Gaza Strip with a kidnapped Israeli in tow...

04.14.10 Missile strike kills 4 in North Waziristan

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, April 14 - A missile fired by pilotless US drone Wednesday killed four suspected militants in North Waziristan tribal region. According to reports, two missiles were fired on a vehicle, killing four people. [>thenews.com.pk]

04.14.10 Sunni cleric, 4 others killed in Baghdad attacks

BAGHDAD (AP) April 14 - Gunmen killed a Sunni cleric outside a Baghdad mosque where he had just finished leading morning prayers in the latest wave of attacks in the Iraqi capital that left five people dead on Wednesday. Violence has picked up in the political vacuum following March 7 national election that produced no clear winner and set off extended political wrangling. Iraqi and US officials have blamed the spate of attacks on al-Qaeda in Iraq or other extremists seizing on gaping security lapses created by the political deadlock. The 48-year-old Sheik Ghazi Jabouri was gunned down in a hail of automatic-weapons fire outside the Al Rahman mosque in the primarily Sunni-neighborhood of Azamiyah in north Baghdad at about 5am, a police officer said. An army officer confirmed the report. Both officers said witnesses reported seeing a group of gunmen on foot, but could not say exactly how many were involved. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

04.14.10 DNA analysis traces whale meat from Japan to US, S. Korea

TOKYO, April 14 - Meat from whales killed as part of Japan's "scientific" hunt was served last year in upscale sushi restaurants in Los Angeles and Seoul, according to a DNA analysis published Wednesday. A global ban on whaling was imposed 14 years ago, but Japan has courted controversy for years by invoking an exception in the ban for scientific research and by dispatching a whaling fleet that harpoons several hundred whales a year. The fleet brings home thousands of tons of whale meat that are sold across Japan, but which cannot legally be sold to buyers in the United States or South Korea.

In what may prove to be a major embarrassment to the Japanese government, the peer-reviewed DNA analysis suggests that distribution of whale meat may be haphazardly managed and could be flowing into an international smuggling network. The analysis showed that two pieces of whale meat sold last October in a Los Angeles area restaurant called The Hump were "identical" to whale products purchased in Japan in 2007 and 2008, according to a paper written by an 11-member group of scientists and conservationists from the United States, South Korea and Japan.

04.13.10 Arabs urge Palestinians to resist Israeli expulsion threat

CAIRO (AFP) April 13 - The 22-member Arab League called on the Palestinians on Tuesday to refuse to heed amended orders from the Israeli military that could trigger deportations from the occupied West Bank. The pan-Arab organization pledged its "full support for Palestinian steps in the occupied territories to resist this decision." Its statement called on Palestinians “to reject and not cooperate and acquiesce in it.” An Israeli newspaper said amendments to an existing order on preventing infiltration could apply to Palestinians living in the West Bank without official ID cards issued by Israel, as well as to Israelis and foreigners working in areas under limited Palestinian control. The Israeli military insisted that the new orders merely formalise existing procedures and said there would be no new wave of deportations from the territory. [>khaleejtimes.com]

04.13.10 Israelis warned to leave Egypt's Sinai region

April 13 - Israel has issued an "urgent" warning to its citizens to leave Egypt's Sinai Peninsula immediately over kidnap fears. The Israeli prime minister's anti-terror office said there was "concrete evidence" of an expected terror attempt to seize Israelis in the region. In an unusually strong statement, it said "all Israelis residing in Sinai" should leave now and return home. It also called on families of Israelis touring Sinai to contact them and tell them about the travel warning. [More>>news.sky.com]

04.13.10 Top Saudi religious authority defines terrorism

DUBAI, April 13 - New fatwa criminalizes terrorist acts all over the world. Saudi Arabia's supreme religious body, the Senior Clerics Council, issued a Fatwa on Monday defining the term "terrorism." While defining terrorism as a whole the Senior Ulema Council decided that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in the United States were indeed terrorist attacks. The reason it has taken years to define terrorism was because of the difficulty to separate from liberation or independence movements. Included in the definition of terrorist acts in the new fatwa are, "targeting of public resources, hijacking of airplanes, blowing up buildings and also al-Mofsdon fe al-Ard (to do mischief on earth)," according to the London-based newspaper Asharq Alawsat.

All 20 members of the council met under the chairmanship of the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh and all signed the final version of the fatwa. The council members based the fatwa on religious texts from [the] Quran and the Sunnah, that all criminalize financial support for terrorism as well as any theoretical or intellectual material that attempts to legitimize it. The council's fatwa does not only cover Saudi Arabia or the Islamic countries but defines terrorism in the whole world.

04.13.10 IDF kills at least 3 Gazan attackers

April 13 - Islamic Jihad operatives spotted planting bombs along border. IDF soldiers shot and killed at least three Islamic Jihad operatives Tuesday morning who were spotted planting explosive devices along the border with the Gaza Strip and near the Kissufim Crossing. A military force later crossed into Gaza and located the bodies of the terrorists who were carrying grenades, rifles and explosive devices, said the army. After noticing three suspicious-looking people approaching the fence, a Givati force fired at the group using light arms and mortar shells. Military helicopters also fired at the suspects. According to a report from Gaza, the IDF troops advanced 200 meters into the Palestinian territory near Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad reported that the group was attempting to plant explosive device in order to "stop the Israelis' advancement." [More.>jpost.com]

04.13.10 Syria is shipping Scud missiles to Hezbollah

April 13 - Two reports from recent days in a Kuwaiti daily shed new light on the recent tension between Israel and Syria and Lebanon. According to the newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam, Syria has recently shipped ballistic missiles of the Scud type to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. The newspaper further reported that the United States administration has postponed "until further notice" the appointment of a new ambassador to Damascus. The US has not posted an ambassador in Syria since 2005, and the appointment of Ambassador Robert Ford was supposed to get Senate approval on Monday, but did not. According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, the decision to postpone the appointment was made following the transfer of truckloads of scud missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in a shipment sanctioned by the Syrian government.

The report is based on quotes from American sources who spoke with Al-Rai Al-Aam's Washington reporter. The report added that Syria trained Hezbollah fighters in the use of Scud missiles and advanced anti-aircraft missiles last summer, on its soil. The exact type of Scud missile was not specified. Scud B missiles have a range of up to 300 kilometers, which means they can reach most of Israel. Scud C and D missiles can reach as far south as Eilat. The report says that Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, passed the Syrian leadership a message from the US administration when he visited Damascus earlier this month. Kerry asked for explanations about the relationship between Syria and Hezbollah, and voiced reservations over Syrian support for the Shi'ite organization.
[More>>haaretz.com; See other details, alarabiya.net, April 13, "Syria arms hezbollah with Scud missiles."]

04.13.10 Iran still ready to discuss nuclear fuel swap

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) April 13 - Tehran is still open to discussion on a nuclear fuel swap with any supplier, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday. According to Fars news agency, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the country's "priority is to obtain fuel" for a Tehran medical research reactor. Under a UN-backed proposal, the fuel for the research reactor was to be provided by an international consortium in exchange for Iran's low-enriched uranium. However, Tehran says the West has failed to provide guarantees that the fuel will actually be delivered. Mehmanparast indicated that Iran was still open to a swap. [More>>en.rian.ru]

04.13.10 15 dead in Basilan blasts

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines, April 14 - Abu Sayyaf bandits took their campaign of terror to the heart of Basilan on Tuesday, setting off bombs at a Roman Catholic cathedral, school grandstand and three other places, and clashing with government forces in Isabela City. At least 15 people, including the brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Purudji Indama, were killed in the attacks staged by armed men wearing police and military uniforms, reports said Monday night. Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad appealed to local residents to stay calm and pray as he called on military and police officials to run after those responsible for the attacks, which happened for the first time in the city after more than 20 years.

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad appealed to local residents to stay calm and pray as he called on military and police officials to run after those responsible for the attacks, which happened for the first time in the city after more than 20 years. "This is definitely the handiwork of terrorists out to sow fear among the people of the province," Senior Supt. Antonio Mendoza, Basilan police chief, told reporters in Manila.

"These attacks were nothing but a desperate move of the Abu Sayyaf after experiencing setbacks in our previous offensives," said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos. A bomb explosion tore apart a Hyundai Starex van parked beside the grandstand of Basilan National High School in Barangay Eastside at around 10:30am Killed were two civilians and a man in police uniform, who later turned out to be Indama's brother Benzar.

Prematurely triggered

Citing reports of bomb experts, Mendoza said in a phone interview that an improvised explosives device (IED) inside the van "was prematurely triggered." Three Abu Sayyaf members on board the vehicle, including Benzar who was seated at the rear portion, were killed in the blast, he said. He said responding Marine soldiers were fired upon by the armed men. "Two of the Marines were initially wounded and later died," he said. "Our troops were being fired at by snipers. Some residents told us they saw at least eight armed men leaving the campus," Mendoza told reporters in Manila. The attackers also fired at houses as they fled, he said. Two more men wearing police uniforms were captured by the soldiers near the grandstand, he told local journalists. Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command chief, said the armed men belonged to the Abu Sayyaf.

Cathedral explosion

While the fighting was going on, another bomb placed under a motorcycle went off at the rear portion of Santa Isabel Cathedral on J.S. Alano Street at around 11am Mendoza said. Five people were wounded, he said...Jumoad said three other explosions rocked the city plaza, the house of Judge Leo Principe and the vicinity of City Hall. [Full story>>newsinfo.inquirer.net]

04.13.10 Pakistan strike kills 71 civilians, official says

PESHAWAR (AP) April 13 - Up to 71 civilians were killed in a weekend strike by Pakistani jets near the Afghan border, survivors and a government official said Tuesday — a rare confirmation of civilian casualties that risks undercutting public support for the fight against militants. The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said authorities had already handed out the equivalent of $125,000 in compensation to families of the victims in a remote village in the Khyber tribal area. Also Tuesday, a village elder claimed 13 civilians had been killed in US missile strike on Monday night elsewhere in the northwest, contesting accounts by Pakistani security officials that four militants were killed...Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas on Monday denied that any of the dead in the Pakistani air force attack were civilians, saying the army had intelligence that militants were gathering at the site of the strike. The victims were initially reported to be suspected militants. [Full story>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

04.13.10 Headscarf row re-opens old wounds for Algerians

ALGIERS (Reuters) April 13 - A decision by Algeria's government that women should pose for passport photographs without their Islamic headscarves has re-opened wounds still raw after nearly two decades of Islamist militant violence. Algeria's secular-minded government says that as part of the introduction of new biometric passports, all women should be photographed without the veil, a requirement that has angered the country's influential religious traditionalists. "We are in an Islamic country and the state should not be issuing laws that contradict our religion," said Abderahmane Chibane, the head of the Muslim Ulema Association which groups leading Islamic scholars.

The issue has even caused disagreement inside the ruling coalition that backs President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with the moderate Islamist MSP party, a junior coalition member, saying women should be able to wear the veil in passport photos. Algeria is emerging from a conflict that broke out after the military backed government in 1992 scrapped legislative elections that a radical Islamist party was poised to win. About 200,000 people were killed in the violence.

04.12.10 Obama appeals to world powers to keep nukes out of terrorist hands

April 12 - President Obama arrived at the nuclear security summit in Washington Monday to begin enlisting the help of dozens of countries in keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. He met with King Abdullah II of Jordan and then Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia, with several more one-on-ones scheduled for the rest of the afternoon. But the design of the summit, one of the largest international gatherings ever held on US soil, leaves Obama's hands tied in some big areas. Iran and North Korea the two countries whose rogue nuclear programs have been front-and-center in the global debate were not invited, though their nuclear programs are expected to be part of the discussion. And India and Pakistan countries whose competition for nuclear material could develop into a Cold War-style weapons buildup are not expected to get heavy scrutiny.

Pakistan is of particular concern, given its volatile location and the thriving presence of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban within its borders...On the eve of the summit Obama warned that world powers must find ways to secure nuclear stockpiles. "The single biggest threat to US security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon," the president said. 
[Full story>>foxnews.com; See related stories,

thestar.com.my (Reuters) April 12, "Ahmadinejad says nuclear summit 'humiliating' ":
TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned a nuclear security summit which opens in Washington on Monday as humiliating to humanity. US President Barack Obama is hosting the summit, which is focused on preventing nuclear terrorism but where world leaders are also set to discuss his push for new sanctions against Iran's atomic programme. "World summits being organized these days are intended to humiliate human beings," Ahmadinejad told delegates at a domestic tourism industry event, according to IRNA news agency. Iran was not invited to the summit, which is being attended by leaders of China and Russia whose consent will be required to impose new sanctions which Obama wants agreed in the coming weeks. Ahmadinejad had harsh words for politicians who claimed to represent the international community: "These foolish people who are in charge are like stupid, retarded people who brandish their swords whenever they face shortcomings, without realizing that the time for this type of thing is over."...

bbc.co.uk, April 12, "Ukraine 'in uranium pledge' at US nuclear summit" : Ukraine has agreed to eliminate its entire stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material, US officials said ahead of a key nuclear security summit. The White House said Ukraine would by 2012 get rid of enough highly enriched uranium to build "several weapons." Leaders from 47 countries have gathered in the US for the summit, called by President Barack Obama. Before the two-day meeting, he said a clear message needed to be sent to Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

04.12.10 NY bomb suspect held in Pakistan

WASHINGTON (AP) April 12 - A fourth suspect in a disrupted plot to bomb New York City subways has been arrested in Pakistan, law enforcement officials said Monday. The principal suspect in the case, Najibullah Zazi, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators, key developments that prosecutors hope will help them trace the plot back to its roots in Pakistan, where Zazi and former friends from high school allegedly traveled in 2008 to seek terror training. After returning to the United States, the plotters allegedly hoped to detonate bombs on trains at two of the city's biggest subway stations: Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, according to the two officials...Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver, admitted that he tested bomb-making materials in a Denver suburb before traveling by car to New York intending to attack the subway system to avenge US military involvement in Afghanistan. [Full story>>msnbc.msn.com]

04.12.10 UN warns Pakistan aid projects in jeopardy

ISLAMABAD (AFP) April 12 - The United Nations on Monday warned it may have to shut down aid projects in Pakistan, after receiving only a fifth of the funds requested in an appeal for more than half a billion dollars. The United Nations launched the 537-million-dollar appeal in February to feed and assist more than one million people displaced by conflict in Pakistan's northwest and in border areas with Afghanistan. "The response by the international community to this appeal is inadequate," UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja, told a news conference in Islamabad.

...Mogwanja said that the United Nations had so far received only 106 million dollars from the donors, which was just 20 percent of the total appeal. He said the United Nations urgently needed the funding, with 1.3 million people still displaced in the northwest and the rugged tribal regions. Mogwanja stressed that displacement had not ended and there were more people on the move in the tribal regions of Orakzai and Kurram. The UN refugee agency said Friday that more than 35,000 families or around 210,000 individuals from Orakzai and Kurram fled the military operation and Taliban-linked violence since November. These people have been registered as internally displaced persons, mostly in the northwestern towns of Hangu and Kohat.
[Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

04.12.10 15 militants including foreign commander killed in Jandola

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, April 12 - Fifteen militants including a commander were killed in a clash with security forces in Jandola area adjacent to South Waziristan while a security man also embraced shahadat. According to Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), militants launched an assault on a check post of security forces in FR Jandola area located near South Waziristan, killing a security man. Security forces repulsed forcefully and killed 15 militants including a commander identified as Usmanullah. Those killed included nationals from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Uzbekistan. [>thenews.com.pk; See other details,

japantoday.com, April 12, "35 militants, 2 soliders die in Pakistan clashes" :
...Intelligence officials say authorities found the bodies of 15 dead militants near the checkpoints in the villages of Shireen Dara and Sangrana. They say the insurgents removed the bodies of at least 20 others who were killed...

04.12.10 Civilians killed as US troops fire on Afghan bus

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 12 - American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18 and sparking anger in a city where winning over Afghan support is considered pivotal to the war effort. The American-led military command in Kabul called the killings a "tragic loss of life" and said troops fired not knowing the vehicle was a bus and believing that it posed a threat to a military convoy clearing roadside bombs from a highway. The killings triggered a vitriolic anti-American demonstration, infuriated officials and appeared likely to harm public opinion on the eve of the most important offensive of the war, in which tens of thousands of American and NATO troops will try to take control of the Kandahar region, the spiritual home of the Taliban, this summer. Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the area around a station where the damaged bus was taken on the western outskirts of Kandahar. They blocked the road with burning tires for an hour and shouted "Death to America" and "Death to infidels" while also condemning the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to people in the area. [More>>nytimes.com; For a commentary on Islamic perceptions of "infidels" and barriers to peace between Moslems and other faiths, see Maravot News "The Allah Controversy."]

04.12.10 Arab League chief: Israel making it harder to establish peace

(DPA) April 12 - Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on Monday condemned an Israeli move which could see thousands of Palestinians expelled from the West Bank. On Sunday Haaretz revealed that a new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years. Moussa told reporters in Damascus that "it is hard to establish real peace in the region due to the Israeli measure." His comments followed a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "We reject such measures and we call on the international community to bear responsibility," Moussa said, adding that an Arab League meeting will be held to discuss the situation. During his earlier meeting with al-Assad, the Arab League chief had discussed the developments in the Palestinian territories as well as the results of last month's Arab League summit. During the summit, Moussa had urged the 22-nation bloc to talk to Iran to address differences and engage it directly over concerns about its growing influence in the region and its disputed nuclear energy program. [More>>haaretz.com]

04.12.10 Yemen tries rebel supporters for spying for Iran

SANAA, April 12 - Four men face death penalty if convicted. Yemen put four Shiite rebel supporters on trial on Monday on charges of spying for Iran in a move that could strain a truce to end a northern war that drew in neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia last year. Muamar al-Abdali, 35, Walid Sharafeddin, 33, Abdullah al-Duleimi, 43, and Sadeq al-Sharafi, 26, were charged with "providing the Iranian side with photographs of security installations, military camps, ports, islands and maritime installations harming" Yemen, according to the charge sheet. Sanaa has repeatedly accused elements in Iran of backing the rebels, a charge Tehran has strongly denied. [More>>alarabiya.net]

04.12.10 Not such a short hop: the tiny bird that soared into the record books

April 12 - British scientists' lightweight tags reveal the incredible journey of the world's smallest globetrotting high-flyer. At first glance, the ruddy turnstone looks barely strong enough to live up to its name let alone to migrate from one end of the world to the other. It is little bigger than a song thrush and weighs in at somewhat less than a 250g stick of butter but the wading bird has a hard-won reputation as one of nature's greatest migrating animals. Now a technological breakthrough by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey has at last allowed researchers to track the routes taken by the birds and to see exactly how far and fast they fly.

Tiny light-sensitive tracking devices have shown ruddy turnstones can travel more than 16,700 miles (27,000 kilometers) as they migrate from Australia to the Arctic and back again. It took four birds fitted with the devices just over six days, with several breaks for feeding, to fly the 4,700 miles from Flinders in South East Australia to Taiwan. One of them later managed a 3,850 mile leg in just four days and a further 3,100 mile leg in another four. Analysis of the data provided by the tracking devices revealed that during the flight from Flinders to Taiwan and later from the Gilbert Islands to Australia the birds flew at an average speed of 31-34mph (50-55km/h). "A higher speed of 65 km/h was achieved during the flight from Alaska to Kiribati, indicating possible assistance by tail winds," added Ken Gosbell, of the Australasian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) which led the research.


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