- - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

GAZA STRIP

Ramadan begins in sweltering heat

GAZA CITY | More than a billion Muslims around the world began observing the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday, with the dawn-to-dusk fast posing a particular challenge for the devout in the sweltering Middle East summer.

A heat wave has covered much of the region, putting even the most ardent believers to the test.

In some places — such as Egypt, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip — the hardship of abstaining from food, drink and cigarettes for 15 hours was compounded by frequent power outages.

The start of Ramadan changes every year, based on the sighting of the new moon at the start of the lunar month. The calculation can be a show of regional clout, with senior clerics across the conflicted Mideast and the two main sects of Islam often disagreeing.

This year, most Sunni Muslims began fasting Wednesday, while Shiite Muslims in Iran, Iraq and Oman are to begin observances Thursday. Lebanon’s Shiites were split.

CUBA

Jury to set sentence for al Qaeda cook

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE | A military jury began deliberations Wednesday to determine a sentence for an al Qaeda cook, though its decision may be overruled by a plea bargain that will limit the time he spends in prison.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi of Sudan pleaded guilty last month to supporting terrorism, making him only the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be convicted since the prison, which has held nearly 800 men, was opened in 2002.

The jury of U.S. military officers was not told about the sentence limit in the plea agreement. If it decides on a longer term, it would only be applied if al-Qosi did something to break the deal, said Navy Capt. David Iglesias, a spokesman for military prosecutors.

Military officials say al-Qosi’s sentence will not be revealed publicly until it is reviewed by a Pentagon official known as the tribunals’ convening authority, a process that could take several weeks.

It is not yet clear where he might be held: Judge Nancy Paul, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, said Wednesday that officials would have 60 days after sentencing to determine that.

She told jurors they could sentence al-Qosi to between 12 and 15 years in prison — a term that is reportedly well above the terms of the plea bargain. She said al-Qosi would not receive credit for the eight years and seven months he already has spent in confinement.

RUSSIA

Officials admit fires hit radioactive land

MOSCOW | Russia on Wednesday admitted wildfires hit swaths of land contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster, raising fears that buried radioactive particles could be released into the air, as a new wildfire broke out near a nuclear facility.

The new wildfire, caused by lightning, flamed up near a major nuclear research center in the town of Sarov, causing the plant’s management to ask firefighters and troops to reverse their withdrawal.

Russia had begun withdrawing hundreds of firefighters and soldiers sent to douse the fires around Sarov, a town 310 miles east of Moscow that houses the country’s main nuclear research facility and is still closed to foreigners.

GERMANY

Experts fuel debate about retiring at 70

BERLIN | Germans are famous for being hard workers — but retirement at 70?

That’s the prescription of two think tanks, which say years more toil are inevitable owing to stubbornly low birthrates and the ballooning costs of the cradle-to-grave welfare system in a country that already has decided to bump up the retirement age from 65 to 67.

Germans already feel like the workhorses of Europe and fumed at the idea of footing the retirement bill for profligate Greeks. It’s not clear if they would stand for three more years on the job, but without an influx of highly skilled immigrants, they may have no choice.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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