- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

YEMEN

Official rejects pressure on reform

SAN’A | The U.S. and its allies helping Yemen fight al Qaeda should not pressure it to carry out reforms or resolve other internal conflicts, the foreign minister said Tuesday, as the military claimed to have killed 20 Shi’ite rebels in fighting an uprising in the country’s north.

American officials have expressed concerns that Yemen’s costly and bloody war against the Shi’ite rebels, known as the Hawthis — as well as its efforts to stamp out a secession movement in the south — could divert resources and attention away from the fight against al Qaeda’s offshoot here.

Yemeni military forces killed 20 rebels in a door-to-door sweep of the main northern city Saada and arrested 20 more in an operation dubbed “Strike on the Head” early Tuesday, the ruling party Web site reported.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that 82 Saudi soldiers had been killed and 21 are missing since the kingdom joined the fighting in November, battling the rebels along the Yemeni-Saudi border.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told reporters that an upcoming international conference on Yemen’s fight against al Qaeda, to be held in London on Jan. 27, should not address the government’s war with the Shi’ite rebels or try to push political or human rights reforms.

Washington has beefed up training and funding for Yemen’s counterterrorism forces in a bid to uproot al Qaeda’s offshoot in the impoverished, unstable nation. The U.S. says a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet was plotted in Yemen.

IRAQ

Explosives seized; 25 held in attack plot

BAGHDAD | Iraqi security forces locked down large swathes of Baghdad on Tuesday, seized hundreds of pounds of explosives and arrested 25 men suspected of plotting terror attacks possibly timed to coincide with the run-up to parliamentary elections in March.

Serious threats to Iraq’s security could hinder the drawdown of U.S. forces slated to happen after the March 7 vote.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the capital’s top military spokesman, said security forces had launched pre-emptive raids and seized 440 pounds of TNT, 440 pounds of C4 and 66 gallons of ammonia, as well as 60 explosive devices. Security forces arrested 25 men who planned to carry out attacks in Baghdad, he said.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the raids were prompted by a tip-off.

ISRAEL

Turkish ambassador snubbed in public

JERUSALEM | Israel publicly snubbed Turkey’s ambassador over his country’s persistent criticism of the Jewish state, with a government official refusing to shake the envoy’s hand and making him sit on a lower seat at a meeting.

Turkey’s ties with Israel have been strained by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fierce criticism of the Jewish state’s use of force against Palestinians.

On Monday evening, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador to criticize a Turkish television drama depicting Israeli security forces as kidnapping children and shooting old men. Another show broadcast last year also portrayed Israeli security forces as brutal.

As the meeting started, Mr. Ayalon told cameramen the ambassador was pointedly seated on a sofa lower than his own chair. He also noted there was no Turkish flag on display and that Israeli officials weren’t smiling.

Asked before the meeting whether he would shake hands with Ambassador Ahmed Oguz Celikkol, he replied, “No. That’s the point.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday calling on Israel “to abide by diplomatic courtesy and respect.”

“Turkey is expecting steps to repair the treatment of our ambassador in Tel Aviv,” the statement said.

IRAN

Seven Baha’is face trial on spy charges

TEHRAN | Seven members of Iran’s Baha’i minority went on trial Tuesday on charges of spying and acting against the country’s national security, state media reported.

According to the state TV Web site, the charges against them also include cooperating with archenemy Israel, gathering classified documents and “corruption on earth” — an Islamic term for crimes punishable with the death sentence in Iran.

Since 1979 when Islamic clerics came to power, the Iranian government has banned the Baha’i religion, founded in the 1860s by Baha’u’llah, a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by the Baha’is.

Islam considers Muhammad as the last of the prophets.

The first hearing in the trial of the seven was held at Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

The international Baha’i community argues Tehran is prosecuting the seven for their religious beliefs. The Baha’i faith is said to have up to 6 million followers worldwide.

The State Department strongly condemned the trial. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley said the seven were detained for more than 20 months without authorities making public any evidence against them and with little access to legal counsel.

ALGERIA

Church ransacked; Bibles burned

TIZI OUZOU | A crowd of men in mostly-Muslim Algeria burned Bibles and hymn books in an attack on a Protestant church, prompting the congregation to ask the government for protection from Muslim hard-liners.

The attack in the city of Tizi-Ouzou, about 60 miles east of the capital Algiers, came a few days after a spate of attacks on Christian targets in Malaysia and Egypt — though there was no evidence of a direct link.

A group of Islamists broke into the church, housed in an apartment block, late at night on Saturday, pastor Mustafa Krireche said Monday.

Protestant groups have been accused of proselytizing, which is illegal in Algeria, though their leaders deny it. Several Protestants were prosecuted last year for carrying large quantities of Bibles or converting people to Christianity.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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