- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

IRAQ

Shi’ite cult denies fighting near Najaf

BAGHDAD — A Shi’ite Muslim messianic cult, whose leader was reported to have been involved in fighting with U.S. and Iraqi troops, said yesterday it played no part in the battle in which about 260 people were killed.

Followers of Imam Ahmed al-Hassan al-Yamani, who styles himself the messenger of the Mahdi, a messiahlike figure in Islam, said theirs was a peaceful movement not linked to the “Soldiers of Heaven” who fought the daylong battle Sunday near the holy city of Najaf.

Conflicting accounts from Iraqi political and security sources have made it difficult to determine exactly whom Iraqi and U.S. soldiers fought. The U.S. military has referred to them only as gunmen, but some Iraqi officials said they were members of the “Soldiers of Heaven,” a group they said had planned to massacre the top Shi’ite religious leadership at the climax of Ashura, the weeklong Shi’ite mourning ritual that ended yesterday.

GAZA

Hamas militant slain hours after a truce

GAZA CITY — A Hamas militant was killed in the Gaza Strip yesterday, jolting a truce declared hours earlier between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah after four days of bitter fighting.

Hussein al-Shubassi, 28, was fatally shot in Khan Yunis, a southern town, medics said, bringing to 35 the number of persons killed in internecine fighting since Thursday.

A spokesman for the Hamas-led government condemned the killing but refrained from blaming the rival Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Those who killed the young man were masked,” Fawzi Barhum told Agence France-Presse. “We do not want to accuse Fatah, but if it turns out this crime was committed by Fatah members, it will mark a serious violation” of the truce.

GREECE

Back taxes canceled on mosque properties

ATHENS — In a gesture of good will toward Greece’s Muslim minority, the national government said yesterday that it was forgiving all back taxes the small community owed on its religious property.

Interior Minister Procope Pavlopoulos said the government was “canceling all outstanding debts and mortgages” on property belonging to the mosques of the 100,000-member Muslim community in Thrace, northeastern Greece. The tax debt was estimated at $8.4 million.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is scheduled to visit the Islamic community in Thrace next week, which accuses the Greek government of treating its members as second-class citizens. Last week, Athens made another goodwill gesture toward Muslims in Thrace: The Education Ministry said it would hire 240 imams for the community and pay their salaries. Until now, it has paid only priests of the Orthodox Christian faith.

Weekly notes …

The British government yesterday outlined measures to secure the country’s position as a major hub of global Islamic finance. Treasury Economic Secretary Ed Balls said Britain’s 2007-08 budget, due in March, will include measures to encourage the financing of Islamic bonds. Information also will be given on how Islamic financial products are to be handled for taxation purposes.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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