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Briefly: Middle East

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IRAQ

Iranian exiles ready to leave Camp Ashraf

PARIS — An Iranian exile group says more than 3,000 of its members based in a camp in Iraq are ready to leave if they get U.S. and U.N. security guarantees.

Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq houses Iranians dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government. They moved into the camp decades ago during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw them as convenient allies against Tehran.

The Obama administration has urged residents of Camp Ashraf to accept a U.N.-brokered deal to move.

U.S. and U.N. officials are hoping to avoid a possible violent standoff with Iraqi authorities, who have vowed to close the facility by year's end.

The group's Paris-based leader, Maryam Rajavi, said in a statement Tuesday that camp residents are "in principle prepared to relocate."

SYRIA

Syria urged to apply Arab deal as deaths mount

DAMASCUS — At least 100 Syrian army deserters were killed or wounded in clashes Tuesday as Damascus faced demands to halt its bloody nine-month crackdown on dissent a day after signing an Arab peace plan.

The Arab League said an advance team of observers would head to Damascus on Thursday to lay the ground for monitors overseeing the plan, as Western powers and Gulf monarchs piled pressure on Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three civilians were killed Tuesday in addition to the military casualties in northwestern Idlib province in a second day of clashes between loyalist troops and deserters.

The Observatory reported Monday that up to 70 deserters were gunned down as they tried to flee their military posts in the Idlib towns of Kansafra and Kafruwed.

The organization, based in Britain, also reported that three civilians were killed by gunfire from security forces in Idlib province and the flash-point central city of Homs - a day after reporting the deaths of 40 civilians.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Palestinian factions hold key talks

CAIRO — The Palestinian factions on Tuesday discussed the implementation of a reconciliation deal in Cairo but put off any decisions on the key issues of security and an interim government until next year.

"This meeting has one aim: to put in place mechanisms for ending Palestinian division," said Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah delegation at the talks, facilitated by Egypt's intelligence service.

On the agenda were questions on key issues such as forming a caretaker Cabinet, security, parliamentary and presidential elections, and reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"Today's meeting will reach agreement over the formation of a Palestinian electoral committee, which will prepare for elections," Mr. al-Ahmed said.

Izzat al-Rishq, a senior official from the Hamas delegation, said he hoped the parties would make progress on the release of political prisoners held by both sides.

Officials from the rival Fatah and Hamas movements have been holding talks in Cairo since Sunday to discuss implementing a landmark reconciliation deal that was signed in May but has not got off the ground.

On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah will preside over a meeting of the PLO Commission, a body set up in 2005 to examine ways of reforming the organization.

All the faction leaders belong to the PLO Commission, and Thursday's meeting is to be attended by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad head Ramadan Shallah.

Neither faction belongs to the PLO, but discussions are under way to restructure the body to let them join.

Both Mr. Meshaal and Mr. Abbas were expected in Cairo on Wednesday, officials said.

SAUDI ARABIA

Council creates fund for Jordan, Morocco

RIYADH — Persian Gulf states announced Tuesday a $5 billion fund for development plans in Jordan and Morocco, without saying whether either nation would join the alliance of oil-rich monarchies.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has "decided to create a Gulf development fund which begins by providing support to development projects in the Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Morocco worth $2.5 billion for each," the GCC said in statement.

"The supreme council has assigned the finance ministers of its members to study the statute and structures needed to create the fund," said the closing statement of the six-nation bloc's two-day summit in Riyadh.

The GCC, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has remained an exclusive club since its inception in 1981.

Jordan and Morocco are the only Arab kingdoms not in the GCC.

No practical measures have yet been taken to enroll them in the group, despite a GCC proposal in May that both countries join.

Jordan is an immediate neighbor of GCC heavyweight Saudi Arabia and a major trading partner of alliance countries, but Morocco is geographically distant from the Gulf.

ISRAEL

Report says Israel not ready for war

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government's watchdog agency says the country is short on bomb shelters and is ill-prepared to protect its citizens in case of war.

The state comptroller's annual report, published in part on Tuesday, says Israel has not learned the lessons from the 2006 Lebanon war, when dozens of Israeli civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets.

The report blames official bodies, including the military and the Interior Ministry, for "serious lapses" in wartime readiness. It says some government bodies are shirking their responsibilities and not investing needed funds in preparedness plans.

The report says there are not enough bomb shelters in schools and public places, leaving hundreds of thousands of Israelis unprotected in case of attack.

YEMEN

Soldiers battle al Qaeda-linked militants

SANAA — Yemeni soldiers battled al Qaeda-linked militants outside the southern city of Zinjibar, which remains partly under the control of militants who seized it more than half a year ago.

Sixteen of the fighters and four soldiers were killed, a military official said Tuesday.

The overnight fighting included intensive artillery shelling from the government side, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with the military regulations.

Al Qaeda-linked militants have overrun swaths of territory, taking advantage of the security vacuum that has developed as a result of the political unrest that continues to roil the fragile and impoverished country on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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