- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

IRAQ

Police claim arrest of al Qaeda leader

BAGHDAD — Police arrested a man yesterday suspected of being a top figure of al Qaeda in Iraq in the northern city of Mosul, where security forces have been carrying out a crackdown to root out the terrorist organization.

The U.S. military said it was looking into the police report. Reports of high-level al Qaeda arrests in the past have sometimes proved incorrect.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed Taha of the Interior Ministry identified the detainee as al Qaeda’s “wali,” — or “governor” — in Mosul, which would make him the organization’s top figure in the city and surrounding region.

But a security official involved in the detention said officials were still interrogating the detainee, Abdul-Khaliq al-Sabawi, to confirm his link to al Qaeda. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.

Mr. al-Sabawi was captured in a morning raid in Salahuddin province, which neighbors Mosul’s Ninevah province to the south, Gen. Taha said.

FRANCE

Paris admits talks with militant Hamas

BRUSSELS — France has broken an EU taboo by admitting contacts with Hamas amid concern that the ban on talks with the Palestinian militants could hinder Middle East peace efforts, officials said yesterday.

The decision to acknowledge the meetings was also based on a new reality on the ground, as Egypt struggles to mediate between Hamas and Israel to secure a truce in the strife-torn Gaza Strip, they said.

“These are not relations; they are contacts,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Europe 1 radio. “We are not the only ones to have them. We are not charged with any kind of negotiation.”

Officially, contacts with Hamas — which is considered a terrorist group by the European Union, United States and Israel — are banned.

Mr. Kouchner defended the talks as essential to ensuring that French envoys can enter Gaza, which is laboring under an Israeli blockade imposed almost a year ago.

“All that Bernard Kouchner has done is admit in public what everybody is thinking in private,” said Graham Watson, leader of the liberal bloc in the European Parliament. “There can be no solution to the Middle East conflict without dialogue with Hamas.”

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