Briefly: Middle East

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ISRAEL

Government offers concessions to settlers

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has made two overtures to West Bank settlers in the run-up to his party’s leadership race on Tuesday: It’s offering financial incentives to encourage people to move to settlements and opening the door to legalizing rogue settler outposts.

The gestures appear to be aimed at appeasing hard-line elements in the ruling Likud Party who are sympathetic to settlers.

While Mr. Netanyahu is expected to win the leadership race, a relatively strong showing by his ultranationalist rival would suggest many Likud voters consider the prime minister too soft in peacemaking with the Palestinians.

The moves threatened to derail tentative new peace efforts with the Palestinians.

A round of low-level peace negotiations ground to a halt last week, in large part because of Palestinian objections to Israeli settlement construction.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected in the region Wednesday in an effort to restart the talks.

YEMEN

U.S. air strikes kill 15 al Qaeda militants

SANAA — U.S. airstrikes targeting leaders from Yemen’s active al Qaeda branch killed 15 suspected militants, Yemeni officials said Tuesday.

Yemeni security and military officials said missiles struck a school and a car in Abyan province in an area between Lauder and Mood where the militants were believed to be hiding.

A Western official in Washington confirmed that the U.S. carried out a strike against suspected leaders from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula but said initial indications were that five people were killed.

The official did not say where the strike occurred or specify whether it was carried out by a drone or a warplane.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

Security across Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has largely collapsed during the nearly year-old popular uprising against longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The militants have exploited the security vacuum, stepping up operations across the weakly governed provinces while authorities focused their resources on putting down the uprising, which was inspired by other Arab Spring revolts.

Also Tuesday, armed tribesmen from al-Mahweet province kidnapped six U.N. workers - an Iraqi woman, a Palestinian woman, a Colombian man, a German man and two Yemeni men. The assailants demanded that the government release fellow tribesmen from prison.

Tribes in Yemen historically have used kidnapping as a way of getting concessions from the government, and hostages ordinarily are treated well before being released.

EGYPT

25 Chinese nationals taken hostage in Sinai

EL-ARISH — An Egyptian intelligence official said Tuesday that armed militants have taken 25 Chinese factory workers hostage in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

He said a group of armed men belonging to an al Qaeda-inspired group attacked a bus taking the Chinese workers home. The armed men forced the workers off the bus, loaded them into cars and took them hostage.

The group is demanding release of militants jailed for a 2005 bombing in Sharm el-Sheikh at the tip of the Egyptian Sinai.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

IRAN

Iran launches Spanish TV in jab at U.S. ‘dominance’

TEHRAN — Iran’s president on Tuesday lauded his country’s newly launched Spanish-language satellite TV channel, saying it would deal a blow to “dominance seekers” - an apparent jab at the U.S. and the West.

The launch is Tehran’s latest effort to reach out to friendly governments in Latin America and follows Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s four-nation tour of the region earlier in January, which included stops in Cuba and visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

It also comes as Washington and Europe have imposed tougher sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

The EU last week imposed an oil embargo against Iran and froze the assets of its central bank. In December, the United States said it would bar financial institutions from the U.S. market if they do business with Iran’s central bank.

Iran’s broadcasting company said Hispan TV - the first Spanish-language channel airing from the Middle East - will broadcast news, documentaries, movies and Iranian films 24 hours a day.

Iran’s state TV said the channel, which had been on air on a trial basis since October with a 16-hour daily program, will target millions of Spanish-speaking people throughout the world.

“The new channel will limit the ground for supremacy of dominance seekers,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said during a ceremony in Tehran marking the inauguration. “It will be a means for better ties between people and governments of Iran and Spanish-speaking nations.”

ISRAEL

Israel to deport South Sudanese

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Interior Ministry said thousands of people from South Sudan must leave or face deportation.

Spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said that because the South Sudanese have an independent state, they will no longer be given protected status in Israel.

The country gained independence from Sudan in July.

About 7,000 South Sudanese are believed to be in Israel, part of a larger influx of African migrants who have poured into the country in recent years. Some are refugees, while others are seeking employment.

Israel is trying to stop the wave of arrivals, building a barrier along the border with Egypt and pledging tough punishments to people who assist them.

Speaking Tuesday, Ms. Haddad said the South Sudanese will be offered voluntary deportation and about $1,300. After March 31, Ms. Haddad said, they will be deported.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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