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Briefly: Middle East

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YEMEN

Yemen claims 30 militants killed in south

SANAA — Government forces have killed 30 Islamic militants in Yemen's troubled southern province of Abyan, the defense ministry said Tuesday, in what appears to be an escalation of a military campaign to retake areas captured by extremists.

Elsewhere in the south, clashes erupted between rebellious tribesmen and army troops near the presidential palace in Yemen's second-largest city, Taiz.

It was not known immediately whether there were casualties from the fighting, but a shell fired by a tank near the palace landed in a nearby residential area, killing four people, including three children.

The violence underscores fears of increasing instability in the Arab world's most impoverished country days after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for neighboring Saudi Arabia to seek treatment for wounds he suffered Friday in a rocket attack on his compound in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.

BAHRAIN

Shiite clerics criticize police

MANAMA — Bahrain's Shiite clerics have criticized the Gulf kingdom's police for attacking religious processions just days after emergency rule was lifted.

Five clerics said in a statement Tuesday that the force police used Sunday against Shiite pilgrims is "a flagrant violation of freedom of religious practice."

The police say they advanced on several processions commemorating the death of a revered saint because some pilgrims chanted political slogans.

Bahrain's majority Shiites have long complained of discrimination. They staged a wave of protests against the island's Sunni rulers earlier this year.

Bahrain imposed martial law in March to quell dissent. Hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested during emergency rule that expired June 1.

LIBYA

Rare daytime strikes hit Libyan capital

TRIPOLI — Low-flying NATO military craft unleashed a ferocious series of nearly 30 daytime airstrikes on Tripoli, rattling the Libyan capital Tuesday and sending plumes of smoke billowing above leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound.

Reporters counted at least 27 strikes by midafternoon, and Libyan television said several structures in the Gadhafi compound were badly damaged.

Daylight NATO raids have been rare and signal an intensification of the alliance bid to drive Col. Gadhafi from power.

There were no immediate reports about casualties.

NATO officials have warned for days that they were increasing the scope and intensity of their two-month campaign to oust Col. Gadhafi after more than 40 years in power. The alliance is assisting a four-month-old rebel insurgency that has seized swaths of eastern Libya and pockets in the regime's stronghold in the west.

IRAN

Ahmadinejad criticizes atomic energy chief

TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency chief has discredited the world body by claiming that Iran may be working on a nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was reacting Tuesday to comments by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Yukiya Amano alleging that some aspects of Iran's nuclear activities could be linked to a weapons program.

Mr. Amano also chastised Iran on Monday for not cooperating with the IAEA.

Mr. Amano said that his agency received new information indicating a "possible military dimension" related to Iran's nuclear program but refused to say how the IAEA had acquired the information.

The U.S. and some allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies.

WEST BANK

Palestinian mosque set ablaze

RAMALLAH — Arsonists torched a West Bank mosque early Tuesday and scrawled Hebrew graffiti on one of its walls.

The Palestinian mayor of el-Mughayer village said a tire was set ablaze inside the mosque in an apparent attempt to burn down the building.

No one claimed responsibility for the act, but suspicion fell upon Jewish settlers, both because they have carried out similar acts in the past and because the graffiti read, "Price tag, Aley Ayin."

"Price tag" is a settler practice of attacking Palestinians in revenge for Israeli government operations against settlers. Aley Ayin is a small, unauthorized settler outpost that was evacuated by security forces last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the act, calling it "a heinous act of provocation."

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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