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Briefly: Middle East

- - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

YEMEN

Army shelling kills more than 20 militants

SANAA — Yemeni government forces shelled a southern town overrun by radical Islamists, killing at least 20 militants in the past two days, residents said Tuesday.

In the capital, Sanaa, meanwhile, Yemen's disparate opposition groups announced a new alliance they say will unite all forces seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr. Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds from a June attack on his palace, remains in power despite more than five months of mass protests across Yemen calling for his ouster.

The uprising against his 33-year rule has led to a collapse in security across the country, the Arab world's poorest and home to an active al Qaeda branch.

IRAQ

Iraq, Iran issue border demands

ARBIL — Iran must respect its borders with Iraq, authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan said Tuesday, after Tehran's forces clashed with Iranian Kurdish rebels, leaving several people dead.

Iran said it had taken "full control" of three camps belonging to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, a claim disputed by Baghdad.

"We demand Iran respect the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region as part of the sovereignty of Iraq," Kurdistan regional government spokesman Qawa Mahmud told Agence France-Presse.

"There was Iranian infiltration along the Iraqi border. If there is any border problem, the best way to resolve it is through negotiations and peace, not by bombing civilians."

In Tehran, a senior officer in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps demanded Tuesday that the Baghdad government and Kurdish authorities in Iraq prevent Kurdish rebels from attacking Iran from Iraqi territory.

"We are waiting for the Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities in Iraq to stick to their commitments and prevent PJAK rebels from acting against Iran from Iraqi territory," Gen. Mohammad Pakpour said during an interview with Arabic-language television channel Al-Alam.

SYRIA

Syrian forces fire on funeral procession

BEIRUT — Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession Tuesday, killing up to 10 people in a city that has been besieged for days by some of the most severe violence seen during the country's four-month-old uprising, activists said.

Dozens of people — possibly as many as 50 — have been killed in Homs since Saturday, according to activists, human rights groups and witnesses.

Syria has banned independent media coverage, making it difficult to verify accounts from witnesses or Syrian authorities.

"We haven't slept since yesterday," a Homs resident told the Associated Press by telephone, with heavy machine-gun fire crackling in the background. "I am lying down on the floor as I talk to you. Other people are hiding in bathrooms."

ISRAEL

Navy takes over Gaza-bound ship

JERUSALEM — Israeli naval commandos Tuesday seized control of a French ship attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, reporting no resistance during the takeover in international waters.

The navy boarded the Dignity al-Karama after pro-Palestinian activists on board ignored calls to change course.

The military had warned it would stop any attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.

LIBYA

Rebels to consolidate gains around Brega

AJDABIYA — Libyan rebels, who claimed to have wrested control of Brega from government loyalists, said Tuesday they were trying to push the enemy far enough west to get the key refinery town out of shelling range.

But Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime denied the town had fallen and said 500 rebels had been killed in the assault.

In the west, meanwhile, rebels said they were preparing for a new assault in their advance on the capital.

"The bulk of Gadhafi's forces have retreated to Ras Lanuf," rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told Agence France-Presse on Monday, referring to an oil hub some 32 miles west of Brega.

Rebel military sources said some Gadhafi forces were still thought to be at Bishr to the west, and were shooting rockets over Brega down onto rebel positions.

From wire dispatches and staff reports