- - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SYRIA

Fresh violence erupts, U.N. warns of civil war

BEIRUT — Syrian forces Tuesday renewed their assault on the city of Homs in what activists described as the heaviest shelling in days, as the U.N. human rights chief raised fears of civil war.

Troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have shelled Homs for more than a week to retake parts of the city captured by rebels. Hundreds are believed to have been killed since Saturday, and the humanitarian conditions in the city have worsened.

Homs was under “brutal shelling” Tuesday, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said, citing its network of witnesses.

Another activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it was the heaviest shelling in days.

With diplomatic efforts bogged down, the conflict in Syria is taking on the dimensions of a civil war, with army defectors clashing almost daily with soldiers.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay warned Monday that the Security Council’s failure to act has emboldened the Syrian government to launch an all-out assault.

MOROCCO

Moroccan gets 3 years for anti-king video

RABAT — A Moroccan court has convicted a student of “violating the sacred values” of the kingdom and sentenced him to three years in prison after a video posted online showed him criticizing the king, the state news agency reported Tuesday.

In the 4-minute clip, Abdelsamad Haydour, 24, from the mountain town of Taza, 187 miles east of the capital, accused King Mohammed VI of oppressing his people and also called the monarch a dog, a dictator and a murder.

Morocco’s king once was constitutionally considered sacred, but under amendments passed in 2011 in response to pro-democracy protests, his person is now described as “inviolable and respect is due him.”

EGYPT

Official: U.S. sought chaos in Egypt

CAIRO — Stoking tensions with Washington, an Egyptian Cabinet minister has accused the United States of directly funding nonprofit groups to create chaos in the country following last year’s ouster of longtime leader and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

According to comments published in state-owned newspapers on Tuesday, International Cooperation Minister Faiza Aboul Naga made the remarks in testimony she gave in October to judges investigating allegations the groups used foreign funds to foment unrest.

Ms. Aboul Naga, a leftover from the Mubarak regime who has served in three interim governments formed since his ouster, has been leading the crackdown on the foreign groups.

Authorities last week referred 43 employees of nonprofit groups, including at least 16 Americans, to trial before a criminal court. The Americans include Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

All 43 are banned from travel. No date has been set for their trial.

The crisis has soured relations between Egypt and the United States, which has threatened to cut off aid to Egypt - a total of $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance - if the issue is not resolved.

The release of Ms. Aboul Naga’s testimony four months after she gave it suggests that Egypt may not be willing, at least for now, to ease tensions with the U.S.

ISRAEL

Israel OKs tourist center in tense Arab area

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government says it has given a hard-line Jewish group permission to build a new archaeological center in a tense Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said Tuesday that a Jerusalem planning committee approved the project this week. The public has 60 days to appeal.

The center is to be built in Silwan, an impoverished neighborhood next to Jerusalem’s Old City. Arab residents often clash with Israeli police and guards who protect 80 Jewish families who settled there.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for their future capital. They say the development plan aims to cement Israel’s control over the area.

The center is planned by Elad, a pro-settler group that runs archaeological digs in Silwan.

From wire dispatches and staff reports