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Briefly: President picks U.S.-educated prime minister

- - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

CAIRO — President Mohammed Morsi on Tuesday designated a young, independent U.S.-educated irrigation minister as the new prime minister to form a government that will be tasked with turning the country's economy and security around after 17 months of instability and protests.

The designation of Hesham Kandil comes nearly a month after Mr. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sworn in as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president -- a reflection of the difficulties he has had in putting together an administration.

The military, which took power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year, still holds overriding control over much of Egypt's politics, leaving it unclear what the new prime minister's powers will be.

In question is whether Mr. Kandil and Mr. Morsi will be able to name the heads of key ministries overseeing foreign relations, state budgets and security forces, where there is deep resistance to the Brotherhood president. Already, the military has said the government will not be able to appoint a defense minister.

SAUDI ARABIA

Spy chief brings diplomatic touch

RIYADH — The appointment of Saudi Arabia's longtime envoy to the United States as intelligence chief marks an attempt to give the service a diplomatic edge at a time of turmoil in the region, analysts say.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served in Washington from 1983 to 2005 and was named intelligence chief last week, has the ability "to think outside the box, overcome obstacles, make decisions and work in an innovative way," said international relations analyst Abdullah al-Shummari.

The prince could play a key role in helping the kingdom "re-evaluate its strategies in foreign policy... [because] major geostrategic changes across the Arab world will rearrange the roles of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran in the Middle East," Mr. Shummari said.

Saudi Arabia has "an opportunity to regain its leading role" in the region after it "subsided in favor of Iran and Turkey following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq" in 2003, he said.

Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, believes that "the current situation requires greater coordination, not only on a regional level but also internationally."

The kingdom, which had traditionally focused on maintaining strong ties with Western powers, had in recent years tried to "establish good relations with Russia and exchanged visits on the highest levels," said Sager.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Israel accused of West Bank land grab

RAMALLAH — Israeli court documents show that Israel's defense minister wants to remove hundreds of Palestinians from eight hamlets in a West Bank area the military has designated a firing zone, prompting new allegations of an Israeli land grab.

The firing zone spans several thousand acres near Israel.

Israel says most of the people being ordered to leave have permanent homes elsewhere.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak's position was presented this week to Israel's Supreme Court, which is weighing the Palestinians' fate.

Shlomo Lecker, a lawyer representing some of the Palestinians, said Tuesday that his clients own much of the land in the firing zone. Mr. Lecker said the attempt to move them is part of a campaign to solidify Israel's control over parts of the occupied lands it wants to retain.

YEMEN

Air raid kills suspected al Qaeda terrorists

SANAA — Yemeni warplanes killed at least five al-Qaeda-linked militants in overnight airstrikes against hideouts in the southern Abyan province, a security official said Tuesday.

The official said the attacks late on Monday concentrated on the al-Mahfad area, where terrorists took refuge after they were driven out from strongholds in the city of Zinjibar and the nearby town of Jaar, both of which the army recaptured from militants two months ago.

Yemeni media said earlier that the militants were consolidating their positions in al-Mahfad, quoting witnesses who said they saw military hardware headed to the area in trucks. Local residents, cited in the reports, are appealing to the government to concentrate airstrikes against militants in the area.

In Sanaa, also Monday night, gunmen fired at the car of Yahya al-Arasy, press secretary to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the official added. Mr. Al-Arasy escaped unharmed.

IRAQ

Court blocks president's testimony

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi appeals court Tuesday refused to allow President Jalal Talabani to testify in a terror trial against the nation's Sunni vice president, a case that has deepened the rift between the country's largely sectarian-based political factions.

The latest session in the case against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi follows the bloodiest day in Iraq in two years. Monday's attacks killed 115 people and came on the heels of a declaration by al-Qaeda's new leader that the movement hopes to re-establish itself in Sunni areas and re-create alliances with Sunni tribes.

Mr. al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politicians, is accused of running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and pilgrims. Mr. al-Hashemi, who is in Turkey avoiding trial, has denied the wrongdoing and has said he is the victim of a political vendetta by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

From wire dispatches and staff reports