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Briefly: Middle East

- - Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Government ducks U.N. tribunal talks

BEIRUT — Lebanon's Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet failed Tuesday to adopt a position on a U.N. tribunal probing the murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which is expected to indict members of the militant group.

A committee tasked with drafting the government position held its sixth meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati's office said in a statement.

But the committee did not discuss how the Cabinet would tackle the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, rumored to be readying to issue indictments naming members of the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the 2005 Hariri assassination.

"Prime Minister Mikati has not yet launched talks on the clause in the government policy which deals with the tribunal," a source close to Mr. Mikati told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We are still in contact with all parties in an attempt to find a solution that is acceptable to all those concerned."


Palestinian leader skeptical of United Nations bid

RAMALLAH — The Palestinians' bid to seek U.N. recognition of a state will just be a symbolic victory and will not change the reality of Israeli occupation, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Tuesday.

Mr. Fayyad's skepticism, voiced in an interview with the Associated Press, set him apart from the rest of the Palestinian leadership.

Earlier this week, President Mahmoud Abbas and top Palestinian officials in his Fatah movement formally adopted the U.N. plan.

Passage of a nonbinding resolution in the U.N. General Assembly would not immediately change the situation on the ground.

But the Palestinians hope it will rally international pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians.


Saudis to pull some troops from Bahrain

DUBAI, United Aram Emirates — A Saudi military official said Tuesday that the kingdom plans to pull some units out of the 1,500-strong Gulf force sent to Bahrain to help quell a Shiite-led uprising for greater rights.

But an adviser to Bahrain's king said there are no plans for a full withdrawal.

The Saudi military official did not say how many troops would remain behind after the pullout next week, announcing the drawdown in the midst of Bahraini government efforts to open a dialogue with the opposition they crushed a few months ago.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Nabil al-Hammar, an adviser to Bahrain's king, made clear that there were no plans for a full withdrawal of the Gulf reinforcements, which include troops from the United Arab Emirates.

He said some of the Saudi-led force that came to the aid of Bahrain's rulers in March will reposition units within the tiny kingdom, but no major withdrawal plans were under way.


Military forces bomb anti-government tribal area

SANAA — A senior tribal leader on Tuesday said Yemeni military forces commanded by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's son bombed several villages of anti-government tribes north of the capital, killing at least three people.

Sheik Ali Youssef of the Naham tribe said that Republic Guard forces using warplanes and artillery pounded villages in the Naham mountain area, some 20 miles north of Sanaa.

Mr. Youssef said the assault began Monday and killed at least three people and destroyed as many as 48 houses. Hundreds were forced to flee their homes.

The Naham mountain area has seen clashes between government forces and anti-Saleh tribes since the beginning of Yemen's popular uprising in mid-February.

Tribesmen frequently have prevented military forces in the area from deploying to the capital.


Gaza-bound flotilla struggles to launch

ATHENS — Frustrated pro-Palestinian organizers wanting to bring supplies to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip pressed Greek port authorities Tuesday to overcome Israeli hurdles and let an aid flotilla sail.

Organizers said they believe the Jewish state was actively "creating obstacles" to block ships from leaving the Greek port of Piraeus, near Athens.

Israel repeatedly has said it is determined to stop the multinational activist mission from breaching its blockade — recalling a similar attempt to reach Gaza in May last year that ended in violence when Israeli troops stormed the lead vessel, leaving nine Turks dead.

"The Israelis are trying to wear us down," said Debra, an American activist who gave only her first name.

"They're doing everything they can think of to delay and demotivate us. They're using the weapon of time," she said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports