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Briefly: Middle East

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SYRIA

Dozens of bodies dumped in Syria

BEIRUT — A surge in violence in the restive city of Homs has killed up to 50 people in the past 24 hours, leaving dozens of bodies in the streets, activists said Tuesday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited witnesses as saying 34 bodies were dumped in the streets of Homs on Monday night. Homs-based activist Mohammed Saleh said there was a spate of kidnappings and killings in the city on Monday.

The activists' reports could not be confirmed independently. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevents the work of independent media.

For nearly nine months, the Syrian government has been trying to crush an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

There are growing signs of an armed insurgency and mounting sectarian tensions that could push the country toward civil war.

Homs has emerged as the epicenter of the uprising, and the government has laid siege to the city for months.

On Monday, Syria said it would agree to allow Arab League observers into the country as part of a plan to end the bloodshed, but it placed several conditions, including the cancellation of deeply embarrassing economic sanctions by the 22-member group.

KUWAIT

Kuwait dissolves parliament; elections next

KUWAIT CITY — Kuwait's ruler dissolved parliament Tuesday and set the Gulf nation toward elections, citing "deteriorating conditions" amid an increasingly bitter political showdown over alleged high-level corruption.

The decision by the emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, came less than a week after he named a new prime minister and parliament sessions were put on hold.

Elections must be held within 60 days - which could complicate plans by the Pentagon to station thousands more U.S. soldiers in Kuwait as part of troop shifts around the region after the withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the month.

Kuwait's tensions have roots years longer than the Arab Spring protests, but opposition factions could be further emboldened by the current push for reforms around the region.

Critics of Kuwait's ruling family claim it turns a blind eye to allegations of widespread corruption and uses security forces to crush dissenting voices.

Kuwait's parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf, and opposition lawmakers openly criticize the ruling family.

Last month, protest mobs stormed into parliament after debate over allegations that government officials funneled payoffs to bank accounts outside the country. Authorities quickly imposed stricter security measures.

LEBANON

Hezbollah chief makes rare public address

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement made a rare public appearance at a Beirut rally on Tuesday to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashoura, saying his militant group is acquiring more weapons and members every day.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah is "here to stay" and would never compromise on its weapons.

The group's weapons are a contentious issue in Lebanon. Hezbollah insists it needs to maintain its powerful arsenal to ward off any threat from Israel, but the weapons also make it the most potent military force in Lebanon - far stronger even than the national army.

"We are growing in numbers, our training is getting better, and our weapons are increasing," Mr. Nasrallah said. "And for those who are betting that our weapons are rusting, we say that our weapons are being renewed."

Mr. Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since his Shiite Muslim group battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006, fearing Israeli assassination. Since then, he has communicated with his followers and given news conference mostly via satellite link.

IRAQ

Pilgrims mark holy day despite deadly attacks

BAGHDAD — Iraqi police boosted security as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims converged Tuesday on the holy city of Karbala for a 10-day religious ritual that regularly draws deadly attacks by Sunni extremists.

On Monday, five bomb attacks against the Shiite pilgrims killed 21 people, revealing the troubling gaps that remain in Iraq's security just weeks before all U.S. forces must be out of the country under a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline.

The violence continued for a second day Tuesday as a mortar shell struck near a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one person and wounding four others.

In Karbala, south of the capital, rituals went peacefully because of the tight security measures taken by local authorities, said provincial council member Iftkhar Hadi.

About 33,000 Iraqi troops were protecting the 1 million worshippers in Karbala, said provincial police spokesman Maj. Alaa Abbas.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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