- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 12

Here comes Terror International. Hamas has clambered into bed alongside al Qaida. Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, in an open letter to all Muslims, has echoed Osama bin Laden's appeal that true sons of Islam should attack Americans and all Western interests as soon as any attack is launched on Iraq. "Muslims should threaten Western interests and strike them everywhere," said Yassin, after leading rallies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The rallies, which featured the ritual burning of U.S., British and Israeli flags, were given discreet encouragement by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

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Hamas, seen by several pro-American Arab states as the acceptable face of terrorism, is backed financially by Kuwait and Qatar. They may now be rethinking their support since the Association of Wise Men of Palestine, a group of leading Islamic clerics closely linked to Hamas, issued a fatwa this week condemning any Arab leader who helps the U.S. war effort as an outlaw who "betrays God and His prophet, violates Muslim law and will pay a heavy price." The "Wise Men" are led by Sheikh Hamad Bitawi, who used to give sermons at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque, and was one of 415 Hamas militants expelled to Lebanon in 1994. His fatwa calls on Muslims to "boycott American products and withdraw their money from American banks," and to end their commercial links with Arab leaders who support the Americans. "Muslims must prepare for a jihad against the American, Zionist and British aggression toward Iraq," the fatwa says.

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The warning of an al Qaida attack on Britain, conveyed to London by the FBI, was taken so seriously that Tony Blair's Cabinet solemnly considered closing Heathrow airport at a meeting Monday. They decided instead on sending troops, tanks and armed police to Heathrow. The FBI warning said that shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles had been smuggled into Britain.

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Tony Blair has another problem, which may be resolved by a takeover. His main tormentor, the traditionally pro-Labor Daily Mirror, which first dubbed him Bush's poodle and which ran a front page splash last week showing Blair's hand dripping with blood, is losing 120,000 readers. Circulation, which in the Mirror's glory days was more than 4 million, is now just a hair above 2 million. Its owners, the Trinity Mirror Group (which also owns 240 profitable local papers) has received a $2 billion buyout offer from a venture capital group. The very pro-Blair Richard Desmond (who owns the Daily and Sunday Express, and made his money with soft-porn mags) is also making inquiries. Few changes in ownership could help Blair more. Organizers of this weekend's anti-war march in London claim they expect as many as a million demonstrators in Hyde Park, which would be the biggest demo in British history. If so, then the Daily Mirror will take much of the credit. As well as printing hundreds of thousands of "Stop The War" leaflets, the Mirror also paid the $15,000 to hire the big screen that will carry giant images of the anti-war speakers — and their attacks on the Bush-Blair war — across Hyde Park.

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Problems of Turkey are not only tearing the NATO alliance apart, they are also causing new rows in the European Union. The EU has in principle accepted Turkey as a candidate for membership, but only after a review next year of Turkey's progress on human rights. The Brussels-based Commission, the EU's executive arm, is interpreting Turkey's status generously and wants to grant it pre-accession aid before formal negotiations begin. This is because pre-accession aid comes from a separate budget, known as Category 7, rather than from the External Relations budget. Members of the European Parliament, who want to block Turkey as an Islamic Trojan Horse from joining Europe's Christian club, are objecting that the commission is pre-empting the formal decision on Turkish membership.

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The EU, that stellar exemplar of democracy, openness and human rights, is now arguing that openness in government is so important that it must be kept secret. The EU's ombudsman, Jakob Soderman, has told the EU Council that it has a duty to publish its own legal opinion on "openness." The council refused to give a French researcher access to the legal opinion on just what the Amsterdam and Nice treaties mean when they require EU member state governments to practice "openness," claiming it was "secret." The council has now told the ombudsman that any publication of legal opinions could stop it getting independent legal advice in the future.

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