- - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

35 Taliban killed in vote preparation

KABUL | Afghan and NATO-led troops have killed about 35 Taliban insurgents in offensives in eastern Afghanistan this week as part of efforts to secure next month’s parliamentary elections, coalition forces said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, NATO said one American was killed Tuesday in fighting in southern Afghanistan where the insurgency is heavily entrenched.

“The joint force has killed more than 35 Taliban fighters and captured several key Taliban facilitators in recent days,” the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement. It earlier gave a figure of 40 dead.

ISAF said the ongoing operation, which began Saturday and involves airstrikes, had uncovered arms and vests for use in suicide attacks.

Afghanistan is set to hold a parliamentary election on Sept. 18, but officials have said that more than 900 polling centers, or about 13 percent of the total, will not open because of security concerns. At least three candidates have been killed in suspected insurgent attacks.

LEBANON

Telecom worker eyed as Israeli spy

BEIRUT | Lebanese police probing an Israeli spy ring are quizzing an employee of the Telecommunications Ministry, more than two weeks after another staff member was charged with spying for Mossad, a security source said Tuesday.

“An employee at the Ministry of Telecommunications is currently under interrogation by the police intelligence unit on suspicion of spying for Israel,” the source told Agence France-Presse.

The interrogation began “recently,” said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He declined to give further details.

Earlier this month, a military prosecutor charged the head of international communications at the ministry, Milad Eid, with spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence services.

Mr. Eid, who was arrested in mid-July, was charged on Aug. 7 with providing the Israelis with “technical information,” a judicial official said at the time.

More than 100 people have been arrested on suspicion of espionage since April 2009, including telecom employees, members of the security forces and active-duty troops.

Many of the charge sheets accuse the suspects of having helped Israel identify targets during its devastating 2006 war with Shiite militant Hezbollah.

Five Lebanese have been sentenced to death for spying for the Mossad.

Lebanon and Israel remain technically in a state of war, and convicted spies face life in prison with hard labor or the death penalty if found guilty of contributing to Lebanese loss of life.

IRAN

Import cuts urged as response to sanctions

TEHRAN | Iran’s central bank governor is calling for a cut in imports to boost domestic production as the country grapples with tougher international sanctions over its nuclear program.

Four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions and separate penalties imposed by the United States and its European allies have hit Iran’s economy as the country battles inflation and unemployment but have failed to persuade the country to halt a key part of its nuclear program.

Mahmoud Bahmani, governor of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said the nation should limit imports to “necessary goods” to help lift domestic production and reduce the amount of hard currency exiting the country, the state-run daily newspaper Iran reported Tuesday.

“Imports should be reduced,” Mr. Bahmani was quoted as saying. “In other words, we should not allow the import of every sort of product.”

ISRAEL

U.N. presses Israel on nuke transparency

JERUSALEM | The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog held talks with Israeli officials Tuesday in what was expected to be an effort to push the country to open its secretive nuclear program to international scrutiny.

Yukiya Amano made a low-profile visit to Israel ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s September board meeting and general conference. Israel likely will be a central topic at the meeting, at which Arab countries are expected to continue to push for more scrutiny of Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

Israel refuses to confirm that it possesses a nuclear arsenal under a long-standing policy it terms “nuclear ambiguity.” But it is widely considered to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power.

During the two-day visit, Mr. Amano was scheduled to hold talks with Cabinet ministers in charge of atomic energy and strategic affairs, as well as with President Shimon Peres, Israeli officials said.

The officials said talks were expected to focus on the desire by IAEA, the Vienna-based watchdog for the United Nations, to see Israel join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mr. Amano’s schedule was not officially announced.

From wire dispatches and staff reports