- - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SANAA — The death toll from an al Qaeda assault on a military base in southern Yemen has risen to 185 government soldiers, military and medical officials said Tuesday.

Many soldiers’ bodies were found mutilated, and some were headless.

The scale of the army’s defeat in Sunday’s battle, which appears to be the worst-ever suffered by Yemen’s military in its 10-month campaign against al Qaeda in the southern province of Abyan, deals a major blow to efforts by newly inaugurated Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to uproot the militant movement from the region.

The surprise attack and the mutilations have left government troops “fearful” and with “low morale,” according to a senior military official who was part of the defeated force.

Another 55 soldiers were captured and paraded through a nearby town by the militants, who lost 32 of their fighters in the assault.

Medical officials in the area confirmed the latest death toll and said some of the bodies of soldiers recovered were missing their heads and bore multiple stab wounds.

They said that bodies packed the military hospital morgue to which they were taken, with some taken to vegetable freezers in a military compound for lack of space.

A senior military official said that the attack left his soldiers “fearful of al Qaeda because of the barbarism and brutality of their attack.”

LIBYA

Eastern Libya declares semiautonomous region

BENGHAZI — Tribal leaders and militia commanders declared the creation of a semiautonomous region in oil-rich eastern Libya on Tuesday, a unilateral move that opponents fear will be the first step toward outright division of the country six months after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

The thousands of representatives of major tribal leaders, militia commanders and politicians who made the declaration at a conference in Benghazi said the move is not intended to divide the country and that they want their state to be part of a united Libya.

The conference said the eastern state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force, courts and capital - Benghazi, the country’s second largest city - to run its own affairs.

Under their plan, foreign policy, the national army and oil resources would be left to a central, federal government in Tripoli. Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.

Libya’s National Transitional Council, the interim central government based in the capital Tripoli, repeatedly has voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region, warning it could eventually lead to the breakup of the North African nation of 6 million.

ISRAEL

Aide: Ex-premier Sharon would oppose life support

JERUSALEM — A close associate of comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the leader would not have chosen to remain on life support.

Mr. Sharon, 84, led the government from 2001 until a stroke left him incapacitated in 2006. He lies in a coma, connected to a respirator at a hospital in central Israel.

Raanan Gissin, Mr. Sharon’s longtime spokesman and confidante, said Wednesday that he believes Mr. Sharon “would have asked to terminate.” He said “knowing the man, he would not want to live this way.”

Mr. Sharon was a storied military officer who fought in three wars before entering politics. A longtime hard-liner, Mr. Sharon shocked Israelis in 2005, when he unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip after a 38-year military occupation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports