Briefly: Israelis move forward on Jerusalem building plans

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JERUSALEM | Israel is moving forward with plans for two major settlement projects in East Jerusalem, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, even as a senior Palestinian official warned that his government could pursue war crimes charges if Israel doesn’t halt such construction.

International anger over Israeli settlement construction has snowballed in recent days, following last week’s U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine — in lands Israel has occupied since 1967 — as a nonmember observer in the General Assembly.

Israel retaliated for U.N. recognition of Palestine in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem by announcing plans to build 3,000 homes for Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E-1.

A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, said late Monday that “by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the [International Criminal Court].”

IRAN

U.S. Navy: No drones missing after Iran claim

TEHRAN — Iran claimed Tuesday it had captured a U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf — even showing an image of a purportedly downed craft on state TV — but the U.S. Navy said all of its unmanned aircraft in the region were “fully accounted for.”

The conflicting accounts still leave the possibility that the drone claimed by Iran, a Boeing-designed ScanEagle, could have been plucked from the sea in the past and unveiled for maximum effect following escalating tensions over U.S. surveillance missions in the Gulf.

Other countries in the region — such as the United Arab Emirates — also have ScanEagle drones in their fleets.

Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said ScanEagles operated by the Navy “have been lost into the water” over the years, but there is no “record of that occurring most recently.”

The Iranian announcement did not give details on the time or location of the claimed drone capture.

TUNISIA

Suspect in Benghazi attack ‘refuses to speak to FBI’

TUNIS — A Tunisian suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is refusing to be interrogated by FBI agents, his lawyer said.

“They wanted to interrogate him as a witness, but he has refused,” Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek said late Monday, referring to his client, Ali Hamzi, and denouncing what he called “interference” in the Tunisian judicial system.

He explained that the attempt to question his client, who was arrested in Turkey and deported to Tunisia in October, took place “in secret” 10 days ago, without his defense team being informed.

The Justice Ministry said it had no information on the subject. But ministerial adviser Fadhel Saihi said the Tunisian police are cooperating with U.S investigators.

WEST BANK

Jordanian king to visit Ramallah on Thursday

RAMALLAH — Jordanian King Abdullah II will visit Ramallah on Thursday, the first Arab leader to travel to the Israeli-occupied territory since the Palestinians won U.N. nonmember state status, a Palestinian official said.

“King Abdullah will visit the state of Palestine the day after tomorrow, on Thursday,” Nimr Hammad, political adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Tuesday. “The visit will confirm Jordanian efforts and support for the Palestinian people and their leadership.”

Jordanian officials refused to confirm that the visit would take place Thursday. “No date has been set,” a top government official in Amman said after the Ramallah announcement.

Earlier, another senior Jordanian official confirmed that the monarch is planning a trip to the West Bank, without specifying the date.

“The king will go to Ramallah soon and meet with Abbas there,” he told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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