- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ISRAEL

No agreement on captured soldier

JERUSALEM | Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that Israel will not accept Hamas demands for releasing prisoners in exchange for a soldier held nearly three years in Gaza.

Mr. Olmert addressed his nation on TV after his Cabinet heard a report about failed indirect talks in Cairo between Israel and Hamas about a prisoner exchange. Mr. Olmert said Israel would not agree to add names to the list of prisoners it was prepared to release to win freedom for the soldier, Sgt. Gilad Shalit, 22.

Mr. Olmert said efforts would continue, but it was clear that he believed there was no chance for a deal while he is in office, and the matter would be turned over to the incoming government of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli official said Israel would maintain its blockade on Gaza until the soldier is back home.

IRAN

Candidate vows Islam-based reform

TEHRAN | Iran’s leading reformist challenger to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in upcoming elections vowed Tuesday to pursue democratic reforms but also stay true to the country’s Islamic values.

The comments by former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi were his first since another top reformist candidate, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, pulled out of the race late Monday in a bid to unify the forces seeking to oust Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Mousavi, in a letter to Mr. Khatami, pledged Tuesday to follow the same Islamic values Mr. Khatami adheres to in implementing reforms.

His remarks could reflect an effort to give reforms a more Islamic hue in an effort to bridge the gap between reformists and the hard-line clerics who rule Iran.

With Mr. Khatami out of the race for the June 12 election, Mr. Mousavi is seen by many as the candidate with the best chance of defeating Mr. Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005 but has lost popularity because of his handling of the faltering economy among other issues.

IRAQ

Arab League chief urges reconciliation

BAGHDAD | Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on Tuesday urged Iraq to broaden the national reconciliation process, in a nod to banned former Ba’athist regime officials.

Mr. Moussa did not directly mention the Ba’ath party, which ruled Iraq for 35 years under Saddam Hussein, but for Arab observers the implication was clear.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was asked at the press conference if Ba’athists could not be accommodated as security improves in Iraq. He replied that “all the dissidents” were welcome under the constitution - which outlaws the Ba’ath party.

Mr. al-Maliki, however, has in recent weeks suggested in almost daily calls for national reconciliation that an opening toward the Ba’athists was possible.

Mr. Moussa arrived in Baghdad on Monday on a three-day visit to meet Iraqi leaders ahead of an Arab summit in Qatar at the end of the month.

YEMEN

Suicide bomber trained in Somalia

SAN’A | A suicide bomber behind a deadly attack that killed four South Korean tourists in Yemen was trained in lawless Somalia, just across the busy Gulf of Aden shipping route, a Yemeni security official said Tuesday.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has for years been battling al Qaeda and similar groups, but no group has yet claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack.

The official identified the bomber as Abdel Rahman Mehdi al-Aajbari and said he had trained in Somalia.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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