- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ISRAEL

Olmert replaces Gaza negotiator

JERUSALEM | Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed Israel’s top negotiator in Gaza truce talks for publicly criticizing his demand that Palestinian militants hand over a captured Israeli soldier before any deal is clinched, officials said Monday.

A truce deal has implications beyond cementing the informal Jan. 18 cease-fire that ended Israel’s war on Hamas.

Mr. Olmert abruptly announced last week that Israel would not reopen Gaza’s long-blockaded borders - the main Israeli concession sought by Hamas - unless Hamas-affiliated militants first freed Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was seized in a June 2006 cross-border raid.

Amos Gilad, the fired negotiator, opposed linking the truce deal with Sgt. Shalit and criticized Mr. Olmert’s strategy in an interview last week with the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. After Mr. Gilad refused to apologize, Mr. Olmert gave him the boot, aides said Monday.

Aides said the talks would not be affected. A longtime adviser to Mr. Olmert, Shalom Turgeman, will replace Mr. Gilad in the truce talks, while veteran negotiator Ofer Dekel will handle efforts to free Sgt. Shalit.

SRI LANKA

Government rejects rebels’ truce call

COLOMBO | Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebels, facing likely defeat on the battlefield, appealed for a cease-fire Monday - a call immediately rejected by the government as a final effort by the separatists to “save their miserable skins.”

The Tamil Tiger rebels have lost most of their strongholds to government forces and are trapped on a sliver of land in the northeast along with tens of thousands of civilians. The government says it will soon take the remaining rebel territory.

Tamil Tigers’ political chief Balasingham Nadesan, in the letter to the United Nations, which also was sent to Britain, Japan, Norway and the United States, however, rejected international calls for the rebels to lay down their arms. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said his government will accept only an unconditional surrender.

SUDAN

Court sets date to rule on Bashir

AMSTERDAM | The International Criminal Court in The Hague will announce on March 4 whether it will issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Lt. Gen. Bashir, the most senior figure pursued by the court since it was set up in 2002, dismisses the allegations and refuses to deal with the ICC, calling it part of a Western conspiracy.

The court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, requested the warrant for Gen. Bashir in July, making him the first sitting head of state to be charged by an international court since Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic.

EGYPT

3 suspects held in bombing

CAIRO | Egyptian police said Monday that they had arrested three suspects over a bomb attack at a famed Cairo bazaar that killed a French teenager and wounded 25 people, most of them tourists.

Sunday’s attack was the first deadly violence since 2006 against Westerners in Egypt, where the tourism industry is a vital foreign currency earner.

No one claimed responsibility, but analysts said the attack could have been the work of an isolated Islamist cell. The 17-year-old girl was part of a tour group of 54 teenagers from the Paris region who were on a trip to buy souvenirs in the market before heading home Monday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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