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Insight: Syria rebels bolstered by new arms but divisions remain

(Reuters) - Syrian rebels have received advanced weapons aimed at narrowing the arms gap with President Bashar al-Assad's forces and reinforcing a new rebel military command which Western countries hope can dilute the strength of Islamist fighters.

Several rebel commanders and fighters told Reuters that a shipment which reached Syria via Turkey last month comprised shoulder-held and other mobile equipment including anti-aircraft and armor-piercing weapons, mortars and rocket launchers.

Rebels told Reuters the weapons, along with money for cash payments for fighters, were being distributed through a new command structure, part of a plan by foreign backers to centralize control over rebel units and check Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. However, in a sign of the difficulty in uniting disparate fighting groups, some rebels said they had turned down the arms and refused to submit to the new command.

While not nearly enough to tip the military balance against Assad, who is able to deploy ai…

Ecuador extradites wanted Russian to Russia

The Ecuadorian authorities have extradited Russian citizen Maxim Myasnikov, who was wanted by Interpol, to his homeland. He is charged with murder, illegal weapons possession and belonging to an organized criminal group. Myasnikov, 36, settled in the South American country in November of 2006. He was arrested in July of 2011 when he was living in a suburb of Quito called Cumbayá and where he had a business trading in building materials. In October 2011, an Ecuadorian court ruled Myasnikov could be released from custody and that he could await the results of his extradition hearings to Russia while he was free.

5 high-end Su-34 bombers join Russian air fleet

Another five cutting-edge Su-34 bomber jets have entered the Russian Air Force. They will be deployed with the air fleet of Russia’s Western Military District. During the week of test flights experts tested all their systems and deemed the aircraft operational. On Friday, the five brand-new bombers, produced by the Novosibirks Chkalov factory, will be taken to the Airport Baltimor in Voronezh, where they will enter the second squadron of a dozen Su-34 jets

40,000 killed by terrorists in Pakistan

Pakistan’s losses from terrorism include more than 40,000 deaths and almost $60 billion in economic damage. Such figures were released by the Speaker of the Pakistani Senate (the upper house of parliament) Syed Bokhari. "Our losses total more than 35,000 civilians casualties and 5,000 military personnel and our economic losses exceed $ 58 billion," said Bokhari. The high level of terrorist threat is bad for the economy, is an obstacle to foreign investment, and has a major impact on social and political harmony and stability in Pakistan.

Syrian rebels claim to kill Hezbollah deputy chief

Hezbollah's deputy chief was killed Tuesday when Syrian rebels bombed a convoy consisting of high-ranking Syrian government officers near the Lebanon border, news portal Now Lebanon quoted the Free Syria Army as saying on Wednesday. “It has been confirmed... that Hezbollah’s number two man died after [receiving] a serious injury,” the Free Syria Army posted on its Twitter account. Naim Qassem, reportedly killed in the attack, has served as the deputy to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal quoted the Syrian rebels as saying mines placed on the Beirut-Damascus highway had detonated as the convoy returned from a high-level security meeting in Lebanon. The explosion reportedly took place near the town of Jdeidet Yabous near the Lebanon-Syria border. The al-Mustaqbal report made no mention of Qassem being killed in the attack, saying that he had merely been injured. Nasarallah was scheduled to make a televised address on Wednesday evening after it had be…

Suicide Bomber Targets Afghan Army Bus

A suicide bomber in Kabul has detonated his explosives near a bus carrying Afghan army personnel.

Kabul police say the attack wounded at least six soldiers and four civilians.

Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the bomber attempted to get on the bus and when he was stopped, he detonated his explosives outside the bus.

A witness told the AP news agency that he saw man in a black coat slide himself under the bus before setting off a huge blast.

AP received a text message from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claiming responsibility for the attack.

Taliban Attack On Afghan Police Checkpoint Kills 17

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Afghan officials say a Taliban attack on a police checkpoint in the country's east has left 17 people dead.

The details of the predawn attack are unclear, and officials said they were investigating how the militants breached security at the post in Ghazni Province.

Provincial Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said the attackers killed 10 police officers and seven civilians inside a police checkpoint in Andar district.

Two other provincial officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said all victims were policemen and had been poisoned before being shot dead.

"The New York Times" meanwhile quoted unnamed officials as saying the victims had been drugged by militants posing as policemen.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the attack for the militants in a phone call to French news agency AFP.

Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber in the Afghan capital, Kabul, detonated his explosives near a bus carrying Afghan army personnel, wounding a…

Brazil to make 20 aircraft for Afghan air force

WASHINGTON (PAN): The United States on Wednesday announced a Brazilian
firm would supply 20 aircraft to the fledging Afghan air force months
before the scheduled 2014 completion of security transition.
The US Air Force has decided to award Sierra Nevada/Embraer a $427
million contract to provide light air support aircraft and associated
maintenance and training for the Afghan Air Force, a Pentagon official
said.
Press Secretary George Little told journalists Deputy US Defense
Secretary Ash Carter called Brazilian Minister of Defence Celso Amorim
to inform him about the decision.
“Under this contract, 20 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to
operational air bases in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014
to conduct advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support
and air interdiction missions,” Little said.
The platform was critical to providing enabling support to the Afghan
National Security Forces as part of America’s enduring support to the
country following the completion of the…

Syrian troops kill dozens of gunmen on outskirts of Damascus

Syrian Army soldiers have killed dozens of foreign-sponsored militants during mop-up operations on the outskirts of Damascus, Press TV reports.

A number of gunmen were killed during intense clashes with Syrian troops in the town of Daraya, located 8 kilometers (5 miles) southwest of Damascus, on Tuesday, the state-run SANA news agency reported.

In addition, a unit of the Syrian Army killed several snipers in the town. Government troops also destroyed a car loaded with weapons and munitions in a separate operation.

Elsewhere, Syrian troops attacked gunmen and killed a large number of them in the town of al-Nabek, located some 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) northeast of Damascus, on Tuesday.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of soldiers and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.

The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of t…

US to bolster support for Syrian rebels

The US will increase aid to the Syrian opposition in an effort to speed a political transition in Syria, according to the White House spokesman.

The remarks by Jay Carney came after the Washington Post newspaper reported on Wednesday that the White House was considering a shift in policy towards the nearly two-year-long conflict in Syria, such as sending the rebels body armour and armed vehicles and, possibly, providing military training.

"We are constantly reviewing the nature of the assistance we provide to both the Syrian people, in form of humanitarian assistance, and to the Syrian opposition in the form of non-lethal assistance," Carney said.

The US has sided with the Syrian opposition in seeking the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.

"We will continue to provide assistance to the Syrian people, to the Syrian opposition, we will continue to increase our assistance in the effort to bring about a post-Assad Syria," Carney said.

Call for dialogue

John Kerry defends Americans’ ‘right to be stupid’ a day after inventing country named Kyrzakhstan

Secretary of State John Kerry — who recently made international headlines for inventing a country — has again drawn attention for questionable remarks, this time to a group of German students.

Mr. Kerry, while speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, asserted that in the United States “you have a right to be stupid if you want to be.”

He didn’t stop there.

“People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another,” he said, according to Reuters. “The reason is, that’s freedom. In America … you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be.

America just sloughs through it all, he said.



Enlarge PhotoU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a statement after meeting with ... more >

“And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that,” he said.

This is Mr. Kerry’s first official overseas jaunt since becoming sec…

Police now armed with video: Recording can protect officer, citizen through visual proof

Police officers nationwide, engaging a smartphone-happy public eager to catalog every potential misstep and post it on YouTube, are donning new accessories — body-mounted video cameras.

The lightweight devices that attach to an officer’s sunglasses, hat or uniform seem to be defusing some sticky situations before they arise.

“People tend to behave better when they are on video,” said New Carrollton Police Chief David Rice, whose 17-member department has used body-mounted cameras for about a year. He said the effect can be seen among both officers and civilians.

“We’re not getting as much combativeness from people. In that respect, it has worked very well,” he said.

The Laurel Police Department, which is testing cameras and will deploy them in coming weeks, is among three municipal agencies in Prince George’s County using the cameras both in an effort to protect their own officers from false complaints and to better document evidence for criminal cases.

“I think every agency is concerned w…

Reported drop in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan was incorrect

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S.-led military command in Afghanistan incorrectly reported a decline last year in Taliban attacks and is preparing to publish corrected numbers that could undercut its narrative of a Taliban in steep decline.

After finding what they called clerical errors, military officials in Kabul said Tuesday that a 7 percent drop in “enemy initiated attacks” for the period from January through December 2012 reported last month will be corrected to show no change in the number of attacks during that span.

The 7 percent figure was included in a report posted on the coalition’s website until it was removed recently without explanation. After The Associated Press inquired about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data and would republish the report.

“During a quality control check, ISAF recently became aware that some data was incorrectly entered into the database that is used for tracking security-related incidents across Afghanistan,” said Jam…

India deny financing problems for Pakistan in Afghanistan

India sharply rejected alleged remarks by president Barack Obama’s defense secretary nominee Check Hagel accusing New Delhi for financing problems in Afghanistan to crate trouble for Pakistan.

According to a statement released by the Indian embassy in Washington, “Senator Hagel’s remarks are in sharp contrast to the viewpoint of the Obama Administration that has always been in praise of India’s developmental role in Afghanistan and in fact has been pressing New Delhi to do more in Afghanistan.”

The Indian embassy’s statement said, “Such comments attributed to Senator Hagel, who has been a long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people.”

Chuck Hagel has alleged that India has over the years “financed problems” for Pakistan in the war-torn country, The Economic Times reported.

A video containing these remarks from an unreleased speech of Hagel at Oklahoma’s Cameron U…

Suicide blast rock capital Kabul, 8 injured

A heavy explosion rocked capital Kabul early Wednesday morning.

The incident took place in Kart-e-Seh area in west of Kabul city near Sara-e-Ghazni area.

Preliminary reports suggest the explosion took place as a result of a suicide bomb blas and the target of the bomber was a vehicle convoy of the Afghan army.

In the meantime Gen. Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry said the incident took place after a vehicle carrying Afghan army officers was targeted.

He said only 6 Afghan army officers have reportedly been injured following the blast and there no are reports if army officers were also killed following the blast. He also did not disclose further information if the explosion took place due to a suicide bomb attack.

Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi confirming the report said at least 8 people were injured following the blast.

Mr. Sediqi further added the suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the sixth district of capital Kabul city and he was looking t…

Afghans protest against US special forces in Wardak

Over 500 Afghan men on Tuesday marched through the capital of Afghanistan’s restive Wardak province in an outburst anger against US special forces who have been accused of overseeing torture and killings of the innocent people in this province.

Angry protesters called for the immediate withdrawal of the American soldiers and were shouting “Death to America”, “Death to Obama” and “Death to speical forces” Reuters reported.

They also threatened to join the Taliban if their demand was not met.

Haji Abdul Qadim, an Afghan protester told Reuters, “If the situation remains like this, this province will collapse very soon. People will join the insurgency very soon because of the abuses of these forces.”

This comes as Aimal Faizi spokseman for president Hamid Karzai on Sunday announced that all U.S. special forces must leave Wardak province within two weeks following the accusations that Afghans working for them had tortured and killed innocent people.

Karzai’s demand could further complicate talk…

US senate confirm Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

The US senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Chuck Hagel as president Barack Obama’s next secretary of defense after one of the lengthiest and most bitter confirmation fights in recent history.

Leon Panetta will now be replaced as head of the Pentagon by the Republican former senator from Nebraska and decorated Vietnam veteran.

This comes as America is seeking to draw down its ground forces in Afghanistan but ramping up its controversial drone warfare across the globe. He is also taking the reigns at the exact moment a fierce budgetary fight is raging in Washington over looming spending cuts, including to large swathes of the military. Defence chiefs have been warning that the planned cuts have already caused delayed deployments of manpower.

Just four Republicans crossed the political divide to back Hagel as he won a 58 to 41 vote in America’s upper chamber. They were Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard Shelby from Alabama and, surprisingly, Tea Party favourite Ra…

48 militants killed or injured in Herat province of Afghanistan

According to security officials in western Afghanistan, at least 48 Taliban militants were killed or injured during military operations in Herat province.

The officials further added at least three Arab militant fighters were also among those killed during the operations.

Gen. Nezamuddin Khanjar, head of the operations for 207 Zafar national army commandment said at least 28 militants have been killed and 20 others have been injured during the operations so far.

Gen. further added that six more militants were also arrested during the operations.

He said at least two Afghan national army soldiers were killed and two others were injured following clashes with the armed militants.

The operation “Naveed 5″ has been conducted in Keshk-e-Kohna and Keshk-e-Rabat districts of western Herat province and the operation is still continuing during the past one week.

Herat is among the peaceful provinces in western Afghanistan however militants have increased their activities in its remote districts duri…

UN staffer missing on Israel-Syria border

Sky Arabia says Carl Kampo, Austria-born legal advisor to force monitoring ceasefire abducted on February 7

Roi Kais, Yoav Zitun

Sky Arabia reported Monday that an advisor to the commander of the United Nations force monitoring the ceasefire in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) was kidnapped on February 7.


According to reports, Carl Kampo is a legal advisor from Austria. No further details were immediately available and the report has not been officially confirmed.

The United Nations confirmed a member of the UN peacekeeping force is missing.

"We can confirm that a staff member is not accounted for and we are in touch with the relevant parties to determine what has happened," UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said Monday. "We have no further comment at this time."

The UN would not say whether the missing person was a peacekeeper or a civilian staff member.

Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV also quoted reports saying that an advisor to the UNDOF commander was abducted. Se…

In Syria, new influx of weapons to rebels tilts the battle against Assad

ANTAKYA, Turkey — A surge of rebel advances in Syria is being fueled at least in part by an influx of heavy weaponry in a renewed effort by outside powers to arm moderates in the Free Syrian Army, according to Arab and rebel officials.

The new armaments, including anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles, have been sent across the Jordanian border into the province of Daraa in recent weeks to counter the growing influence of Islamist extremist groups in the north of Syria by boosting more moderate groups fighting in the south, the officials say.

The West Bank ceremony came amid signs leaders on both sides were trying to prevent more unrest.

The arms are the first heavy weapons known to have been supplied by outside powers to the rebels battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad and his family’s four-decade-old regime since the Syrian uprising began two years ago.

The officials declined to identify the source of the newly provided weapons, but they noted that the countries most closely i…

Five killed by Damascus car bomb

BEIRUT: Five members of Syria’s security forces were killed by a car bomb in eastern Damascus Monday, and the blast was followed by heavy clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, an activist group said.

The force of the explosion in the Qaboun neighborhood shook the Syrian capital at around 9 p.m., residents said.

State television and the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has monitored the violence in Syria since the uprising against Assad erupted nearly two years ago, said the blast was caused by a car bomb.

The Observatory said rebels were clashing with security forces and that mortar shells had been fired in the area.

Monday’s blast followed a series of car bombs in the capital Thursday, the biggest of which killed at least 60 people in the Mazraa district of Damascus, according to activists.

Earlier in the day, regime warplanes bombarded the southwestern and eastern outskirts of the capital in a protracted bid to dislodge rebels from their …

Rocket fired from Gaza Strip hits southern Israel: police

JERUSALEM: A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed early Tuesday near Ashkelon in southern Israel, police said, in the first such strike since a November truce.

"The rocket fell early in the morning near Ashkelon and did some damage to a road, without hurting anyone," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

It was the first such attack since the end of an Israeli operation late November, during which more than a thousand rockets were fired into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

The two sides finally agreed a truce on November 21 following the eight-day Israeli military operation inside Gaza.

The violence killed 177 Palestinians, about a hundred of them civilians, as well as six Israelis, four of whom were civilians, according to figures issued by the two sides.

Tuesday's rocket fire comes at a time when tensions are particularly high following the weekend death of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, who the Palest…

Geagea: Hezbollah role in Syria puts Lebanon at risk

BEIRUT: Military involvement in Syria by Hezbollah endangers Lebanon, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned in remarks published Monday, adding that Beirut needs to stamp out military interference by any local group in Lebanon’s neighbor.

“Where is Hezbollah’s commitment to the ‘Baabda Declaration?’” asked Geagea, referring to a 2012 agreement among rival Lebanese political leaders to neutralize the country from developments in the region, particularly in Syria.

“If things remain as they are, we will be facing dire consequences and Lebanese citizens will pay the price once again,” Geagea, who spoke to An-Nahar newspaper, added.

Reports emerged earlier this month suggesting Hezbollah was active at the military level in Syria.

Security sources told The Daily Star that three members of Hezbollah and 12 Syrian fighters were killed earlier in the month during battles in the Syrian town of Al-Qusair, northeast of Lebanon.

Although denying any participation in the fighting in Syria, Hezbolla…

19 dead as tourist balloon explodes at Luxor: Egypt security

CAIRO: A hot air balloon exploded as it was flying over Egypt's ancient temple city of Luxor on Tuesday, killing 19 people including tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, France and Britain, a security official said.

"Nineteen people died," the official told AFP.

The balloon which was carrying 21 people was flying at 300 metres (yards) over Qurna, in Luxor's West Bank, when it caught fire before exploding, the official said.

The two survivors, including the balloon's pilot, have been taken to hospital, he said.


Our Man in Iran: How the CIA and MI6 Installed the Shah

By Leon Hadar

February 25, 2013 "Information Clearing House" - (Reason) - Both the critics and the admirers of the Central Intelligence Agency have tended to portray it as an all-knowing, all-powerful, invulnerable entity and to exaggerate the ability of America's spies to determine the outcome of developments around the world. An American reporter interviewing an ordinary citizen—or an official—in Cairo, Buenos Aires, or Seoul may hear that “everyone knows” that the CIA was behind the latest rise in the price of vegetables or the recent outbreak of flu among high-school kids. It’s like you Americans aren't aware of what's obvious (wink, wink).

New histories of the agency, drawing on recently released classified information and memoirs by retired spies, provide a more complex picture of the CIA, its effectiveness, and its overall power, suggesting that at times Langley was manned not by James Bond clones but by a bunch of keystone cops. My favorite clandestine CIA …

How Close is Iran to Nuclear Weapons?

By Yousaf Butt



February 25, 2013 "Information Clearing House" - (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last week that new second-generation centrifuges, which Iran plans to start up at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, could cut by a third the time needed to create a nuclear bomb – underlining his deadline of this summer to take military action against Iran.

Netanyahu’s prediction, however, appears to be based on some unsubstantiated assumptions regarding Iranian intentions and capabilities. Yet it can provide ammunition to the hawks in Washington and Jerusalem, who could rush us into another needless and counterproductive war in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s assertions do not stand up to technical scrutiny.





Critically, he does not mention that Iran has been converting part of its 20-percent-enriched uranium hexafluoride gaseous stockpile into metallic form, for use as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This conversion essentially freezes the enri…

Obama deploys 100 US troops to Niger to set up drone base

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Friday that about 100 American troops have been deployed to the African nation of Niger. Two U.S. defence officials the troops would be setting up a base for unarmed drones to conduct surveillance.

Obama announced the deployment in a letter to Congress, saying that the forces "will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region."

The move marks a deepening of U.S. efforts to stem the spread of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the volatile region. It also underscores Obama's desire to fight extremism without involving large numbers of U.S. ground forces.

The drone base will allow the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants its forces have been fighting in Mali, which neighbours Niger. Over time, it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence-gathering but also U.S. special operati…

China labour camps set for abolition: legal official

BEIJING: China's hugely controversial "re-education" labour camps are set to be abolished this year, state media Monday quoted a senior legal official as saying.

It is another signal that the widely criticised system -- where people can be sentenced to up to four years' "re-education" by a police panel, without an open trial -- is coming to an end.

The comments come after the Communist Party's new leader Xi Jinping said the party recognised as a "pressing problem" that it was "out of touch with the people".

About 60,000 people are detained in the camps, officials say, most of whom serve from six months to a year.

Opponents say the camps are used to silence government critics and would-be petitioners who seek to bring their complaints against officials to higher authorities.

Earlier this month reports emerged briefly that the system -- known as laojiao -- would be abolished. But they were swiftly deleted and replaced with predictions…

Accused of torture, Israel demands Palestinians calm unrest

JERUSALEM: Israel demanded Palestinian leaders quell unrest as protests and clashes rocked the West Bank on Sunday, after the death of a prisoner who the Palestinians claim died under Israeli torture.

Over 4,000 Palestinian prisoners staged, meanwhile, a one-day hunger strike to protest the death on Saturday of Arafat Jaradat, amid widespread street clashes with Israeli security forces.

Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs Issa Qaraqaa accused Israel of torturing Jaradat to death, citing the preliminary findings of an Israeli-Palestinian autopsy.

Israeli prison authorities had initially said he appeared to have died of a heart attack.

"The evidence corroborates our suspicion that Jaradat died as a result of torture, especially since the autopsy clearly proved that the victim's heart was healthy," Qaraqaa said in a statement.

He said the autopsy carried out at Israel's national forensic institute near Tel Aviv, in the presence of a Palestinian doctor, indicated bruises…

N. Korea nuclear test a threat to Koreans' survival: Park

SEOUL: South Korea's new president Park Geun-Hye on Monday labelled North Korea's nuclear test a threat to the survival of the Korean people, but vowed a "step-by-step" policy of engagement with Pyongyang.

"North Korea's recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people," Park said in her inauguration speech after being sworn in as South Korea's first female president.

- AFP/ck

Palestinians warn on possible Obama visit to Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: Palestinian political and religious leaders on Sunday stressed that US President Barack Obama should not visit the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem in a way that might compromise its "Muslim sovereignty."

Obama will be arriving in Israel and the Palestinian territories in the spring, and Palestinian media is speculating that he will visit the contested site, referred to as the Temple Mount by Jews and Al-Haram Al-Sharif by Muslims.

It houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, and is venerated by Jews as the site where their ancient temples stood before the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Old City complex is controlled by the Islamic authority known as the Waqf, which allows non-Muslims entry to the site only through one portal, the Mughrabi Gate, where Israeli police monitor visitors.

Sheikh Akrameh Sabri, head of the higher Islamic council and former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, said that Obama must enter through a gate that was n…