- - Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Ahmadinejad accused of meddling

BEIRUT | Lebanese politicians and members of civil society issued an open letter to Iran’s president on Tuesday, accusing him on the eve of his official visit to Lebanon of meddling in the country’s affairs.

The letter was signed by some 250 people, among them former members of parliament close to the Western-backed parliamentary majority, doctors, teachers and journalists. It lashed out at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Iran’s support of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, by far the most powerful military and political force in Lebanon, has been locked in a standoff with Western- and Saudi-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri over a probe into the 2005 slaying of his father, former Premier Rafiq Hariri.

Tensions have been mounting between the two sides over unconfirmed reports that a U.N.-backed tribunal is set to indict Hezbollah members in connection with the slaying, a scenario the militant group has openly rejected.

Hezbollah is the only party in Lebanon that refused to surrender its weapons after the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, arguing they were needed to defend the country against Israeli aggression.


Jordan Valley joins list of peace obstacles

JERICHO | The Jordan Valley — a tranquil stretch of West Bank desert dotted with date palms, Jewish settlements and Palestinian hamlets — is joining the already formidable list of potential obstacles to Mideast peace.

The strategic strip of land abutting Jordan would be an essential part of a future Palestinian state. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — adopting a harder line than his predecessors — wants to garrison Israeli forces there permanently to keep out weapons and block any Arab invasion from the east. He recently sought U.S. support for this demand as part of the wrangling over resuming negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians say they can’t give up an inch of the fertile valley, which makes up a quarter of the West Bank and would be one of the few largely undeveloped territories of their crowded future state, a place to build new cities and settle refugees.

With an eye to the future, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad broke ground Monday on an agro-industrial park in the valley that, with funding and technical help from Japan, is to create 10,000 Palestinian jobs one day and transform the sleepy area into an economic hub.


Court jails 11 in Van Gogh theft

CAIRO | An Egyptian court convicted 11 officials from the Culture Ministry, including the deputy minister, of gross negligence and incompetence in the theft of a Vincent Van Gogh painting that embarrassed the government.

The defendants received sentences of three years in prison and will have to post a bond of $1,800 to stay out of prison until the appeal.

The “Poppy Flower,” valued at $50 million was stolen in broad daylight from Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Subsequent investigations revealed that no alarms and only seven of 43 security cameras were working.

In addition to the poor security, thieves took advantage of the moment when museum guards were praying to slice the canvas out of its frame with box cutters.

In the course of the trial, Deputy Minister Mohsen Shalaan and several museum officials said they had asked the culture minister for nearly $7 million to upgrade security systems, including at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, but that only $88,000 was approved.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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