Slain soldier called martyr for country
NAHR AL-BARED — A Lebanese soldier was killed yesterday in a clash with Islamist fighters as the army closed in on the extremists' positions in a bombed-out refugee camp, a military spokesman said.
"We have a martyr today. He was killed in the confrontations" with militiamen of the Islamist group Fatah al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon, the spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
The battle that broke out on May 20 has now cost the lives of 101 soldiers, out of a total death toll of about 200. Dozens of militants have been killed, but the exact number is unknown as the group cannot be contacted.
Arrest about reform, says Saudi's family
JIDDA — A Saudi reformer arrested on suspicion of "funding terror" conducted charity work for Iraqis and Palestinians with the Saudi government's knowledge, his family said yesterday.
Saud Mukhtar al-Hashimi, a well-known Islamist critic of Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy, was detained in February with nine others.
His family told Reuters they believed his calls for a constitutional monarchy and elected parliament were behind the arrests, not his championing of Iraqi and Palestinian causes.
Blair satisfied with mandate
JERUSALEM — Tony Blair is satisfied with the mandate he has been given as Middle East envoy, his spokesman said yesterday, seeking to put to rest debate over whether he should take on a more direct peacemaking role.
Mr. Blair plans to make his first visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank on Monday in his new role, diplomatic sources said.
Senior Western diplomats who have met with Mr. Blair said he was seeking to play a broader political role that would give him more direct involvement in peacemaking.
Assad makes peace plea
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called on Israel to respond to peace overtures from Damascus after he was sworn in for a second seven-year term yesterday.
The 41-year-old leader, who secured 97 percent of the vote in a May referendum in which he was the only candidate, also vowed to pursue economic reform and to crack down on corruption he said had spread to the highest levels.
Mr. Assad was seen as a reformer when he took office on the death of his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000, but he is now under U.S. pressure about Syria's purported role in the Lebanon and Iraq crises and a crackdown on political opponents.
Torture kit found at police station
CAIRO — Egyptian officials have found implements of torture including a whip, clubs and a barbed wire-studded stick at a police station in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, a security source said yesterday.
An investigating team found that 40 persons had been kept in custody "illegally" at the Montaza police station, after receiving complaints from the families of those detained, the source told Agence France-Presse.
The prosecutor promptly ordered the release of the detainees, confiscated the torture equipment and began an inquiry into the matter, calling the police officers in charge in for questioning, the source said.
In a statement, nine Egyptian rights organizations condemned the detentions and called on authorities to announce the results of the probe at Montaza and begin inquiries into all violations in other Egyptian police stations.
In January, the London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International called on the Egyptian government to investigate all torture claims, after a series of videos of purported torture in police stations were leaked on the Internet.
From wire dispatches and staff reports