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Showing posts from March 7, 2013

Syrian rebels seize 20 peacekeepers in Golan Heights, demand UN take tougher stand on Assad

JERUSALEM — Syrian rebels on Wednesday took 20 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights, demanding that the U.N. and the United States do more to force Syrian President Bashar Assad to withdraw his troops from a village in the area in return for the hostages’ release.
“If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners,” a video posted online by a group that identified itself as the Martyrs of Yarmouk said. The video showed U.N vehicles and an armored patrol car. At least two U.N. officials wearing blue helmets and flak jackets could be seen in the background.
It was the second incident this week in which rebel forces deliberately sought to internationalize their fight to topple Assad. On Monday, gunmen believed to be either members of the rebel Nusra Front or the related group al Qaida in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military convoy deep inside Iraq as it was escorting a group of unarmed Syrian civilians and soldiers.
As many as 50 Syrians and a dozen I…

Iraqis call for U.S. military aid after Nusra-linked assault on ‘innocent Syrians’

BAGHDAD — Top Iraqi officials called Tuesday for the United States to step up its promised delivery of major arms after an ambush well inside Iraq by suspected Islamist militants that left more than 50 Syrians and a dozen Iraqi troops dead.
The Iraqi government was clearly rattled by Monday’s incident, which seemed to bear out its worst fears that Syria’s civil war would spill into the country.
Two top Iraqi officials said the attackers were almost certainly members of al Qaida in Iraq or the Nusra Front, one of the most effective groups fighting to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. In December, the State Department added the front, known in Arabic as Jabhat al Nusra, to its list of international terrorist organizations, saying it was merely an alias for al Qaida in Iraq. Nusra has been at the forefront of recent rebel gains in Syria.
Iraqi officials said it was still unknown whether the attackers had crossed from Syria into Iraq to launch the attack or were already i…

Russian soldier found after 33 years

SHINAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan, March 6 (UPI) -- A Russian soldier who was deemed missing in action during the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been found, a Moscow-based search organization said.

The former Red Army soldier, Bakhredtin Khakimov, whose new name is Sheikh Abdullah, now works in Afghanistan's Shinand District as a traditional healer, CNN reported Wednesday.

"He received a heavy wound to the head in the course of a battle in Shanind district in September 1980 when he was picked up by local residents. He now leads a semi-nomadic life with the people who sheltered him," said the Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a nonprofit group that searches in Afghanistan for the former Soviet Union's MIAs.

"He could understand Russian a little bit, but spoke it poorly, although he remembers his Uzbek language. The effects of his wounds were clearly manifested: His hand trembles and there is a visible tic in his shoulder," the group said.


Officials says 17 Afghan soldiers killed

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 7 (UPI) -- Afghan officials say bodies of 16 of their 17 soldiers killed by the Taliban in northeastern Badakshan province in an ambush were returned to them.

The ambush of the soldiers of the Afghan National Army reportedly occurred last Sunday in the province's Warduj district.

The New York Times said the province had been mostly quiet until recently as it is away from insurgent-held areas.

The Times quoted Abdul Marouf Rasikh, a spokesman for the provincial governor, as saying Wednesday a soldiers' convoy was ambushed and one soldier died and another 22 were captured.

He said tribal elders then went into negotiations and the insurgents released six of the soldiers, while the other 16 were executed by the insurgents and that the elders were given the bodies to be handed over the Afghan authorities.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a provincial police official that the released soldiers were exchanged for 10 Taliban prisoners.

The Journal quoted Rasikh as sa…

Violence, bombings kill dozens in Iraq

BAGHDAD, March 6 (UPI) -- At least 17 people, including five police officers, died and 43 were wounded in bombing and other attacks across Iraq, security officials said.

In Kirkuk, two car bombs detonated, killing five police officers and wounding 17 civilians and police, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

A car bomb detonated near a sports complex in Bani Saad, a town west of the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, killing three people and wounding 20 others, a provincial police official said.

Police also reported nine people died and six others were wounded in several attacks in central and northern areas of the country Tuesday, Xinhua said.

Tariq Harrosh, a leader of a government-backed Awakening Council group, was killed by gunmen riding a motorcycle in front of his house in a western suburb of Baghdad, police said.

Officials also said gunmen broke into the house of an Awakenings leader in al-Siniyah, killing his mother and father. The leader was critically injured.


US Commander Wants 20,000 Troops in Afghanistan Post-2014

The top US military commander in the Middle East told senators for the first time Tuesday that he had envisioned keeping about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat operations end in 2014.

Gen. James Mattis, head of US Central Command, said he personally recommended the US leave 13,600 troops in Afghanistan and that he assumed the Nato allies would probably contribute "around 50 percent" of the US total, which would be roughly 6,500.

"We have to send a message of commitment," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The US and Nato leaders said last month that they may keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat troops leave in 2014.

At the Nato meeting in Brussels in February, the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the range being considered, but noted that no final decision has been made.

Panetta said that most allied defense ministers assured him they were committed to remaining part of a US-led coalition after combat …

Foreigners Behind Afghanistan's Instability: Karzai

Addressing Parliament as its reconvened after the winter break, Karzai said there are some foreign hands that are trying to ensure Afghanistan shouldn't have a proper government and that it is a country divided between the people.

He told the MPs that Afghanistan is not a lab for others to experiment with political systems and suggested the country would be fine without foreign financial assistance.

"We have $6 billion in our reserves and enough for us to enjoy for 18 months even if we don't get a penny from the world," he said.

In the same vein, Karzai suggested that the prospect of foreign forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 is not a done deal.

"The Nato secretary general told me that some countries are willing to stay post 2014. I told him that they should individually sign agreements with us," he said.

He spoke of his disappointment over the reports of abuse of Afghans at the hands of Afghan security forces and pointed out it was harder for him …

Venezuelans Mourn Late President Hugo Chavez

March 06, 2013  - Al-Jazeera" -Venezuelans have begun seven days of national mourning after the announcement that their president, Hugo Chavez, died aged 58 after a long battle against cancer.

The country's vice-president, Nicolas Maduro - tipped as a likely successor - broke the news on Tuesday night, prompting a wave of grief in the nation's streets.

Chavez's body will be escorted from the Caracas military hospital where he died from cancer to a military academy he considered his second home.

His body will lie in state until a funeral on Friday to honour the leftist leader who ruled the oil-rich nation for 14 years.

Armed forces across the country have fired a 21-gun salute in his honour.

They will fire another cannon shot "every hour until his burial", the armed forces said.

All schools and universities have been shut for the week.

Hundreds of people spent the night in front of his hospital, waving Venezuelan flags and chanting "we are all Chavez!"

A b…