- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

EGYPT

Mubarak: Abducted Israeli soldier ‘fine’

CAIRO | Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Tuesday that he thought an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants three years ago was well and hoped the issue would not take a long time to resolve.

Militants of the Hamas Islamist group and other gunmen launched a raid into Israel in June 2006 from the Gaza Strip, killing two soldiers and capturing Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit. Egypt has sought to mediate a deal for his freedom between Hamas and Israel.

“I believe there were contacts [with Sgt. Shalit] and that soldier Shalit is fine,” Mr. Mubarak told a joint news conference with visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres in Cairo.

“I hope that in the coming period, maybe, not in the long term, the issue of soldier Shalit will end,” he added.

IRAQ

Dutchman named U.N. envoy

UNITED NATIONS | U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has chosen Ad Melkert, a Dutch politician who later worked for the World Bank and United Nations, as his new special envoy in Iraq, a U.N. spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Mr. Melkert, 53, replaces Staffan de Mistura, who is joining the U.N. World Food Program.

Mr. Melkert rose to prominence in the Dutch Labor Party, becoming minister of social affairs and employment in the 1990s under Prime Minister Wim Kok, whom he succeeded as party leader in 2001.

He resigned after the party fared badly in elections the next year and a few months later joined the World Bank, where he served for more than three years on the board of directors.

In 2006, he became deputy head of the U.N. Development Program, a position he has held until now.

U.N. officials live and work under heavy security in Baghdad after a truck bomb at the former U.N. headquarters there killed 22 people in 2003, including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

SAUDI ARABIA

Envoy to Syria named after year

RIYADH | Saudi Arabia has named a new ambassador to Syria after leaving the post vacant for a year, in a sign of warming relations between the two Middle East countries, Saudi media said Tuesday.

Abdullah al-Ayfan, previously Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in South Korea, has been appointed Riyadh’s envoy in Damascus, Saudi newspapers reported.

The move is a new sign of rapprochement between the two capitals after relations soured after the purportedly Syrian-linked 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was close to the Saudi monarchy. Damascus has denied any link.

Riyadh was also unhappy about Damascus’ warm relations with Saudi archrival Iran and their support for the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

Diplomats in Riyadh say the Saudis have viewed approvingly Damascus’ apparent noninterference in Lebanon’s recent elections, which saw Mr. Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, become prime minister.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Sheik faces torture probe

DUBAI | Prosecutors in the United Arab Emirates gave a rare progress report into their ongoing investigation into the highly sensitive torture allegations against a member of the country’s ruling family that has shocked this Gulf nation.

The state-run WAM news agency said this week that prosecutors have been investigating “events depicted on video,” purportedly showing a half brother of the Emirates’ president sodomizing and beating another man and firing an automatic weapon into the sand around him.

The disgrace over allegations against Sheik Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been without precedent for the ruling family, considered untouchable in this Arab federation of seven semi-independent sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf.

Torture allegations against the sheik surfaced a year ago as part of a U.S. lawsuit, filed by Texas businessman Bassam Nabulsi, his former business associate.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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