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Briefly: Clashes mar anniversary of ‘Nakba’ Day

- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

BEITUNIA CHECKPOINT — Clashes broke out Tuesday near Ramallah as about 1,000 Palestinians gathered to mark the "catastrophe" that befell them when Israel was founded in 1948.

The clashes at Beitunia Checkpoint near Ofer military prison began as people gathered for annual May 15 demonstrations to remember the "Nakba," when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the war that accompanied Israel's declaration of independence.

As the crowds grew, youths hurled stones at Israeli troops who fired a barrage of tear gas, metal pellets and rubber bullets in a bid to break up the demonstration, an AFP correspondent said.

Many could be seen with blood on their faces as they waved black flags and roared angry slogans.

Clashes also broke out at Qalandiya checkpoint south of Ramallah, where youths hurled stones at Israeli troops, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.

A source at Ramallah's government hospital said 15 people were injured at Beitunia and another two at Qalandia.

SYRIA

Group says Syrian troops target health workers

BEIRUT — Syrian forces are targeting medical workers and patients who were wounded in the 14-month-old conflict, forcing doctors to scramble to help the injured in makeshift clinics, an international aid agency warned Tuesday.

Doctors Without Borders, which is not authorized to work in Syria, sent teams into the country secretly. They reached the rebellious areas of Homs and Idlib, where they found patients and doctors at risk of attack and arrest.

"Being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon," the group quoted an orthopedic surgeon as saying in an Idlib village.

"The atmosphere in most medical facilities is extremely tense; health care workers send wounded patients home and provide only first aid so that facilities can be evacuated quickly in the event of a military operation."

Homs and Idlib have been among the hardest hit regions in President Bashar Assad's military crackdown and rebel attacks on soldiers and other regime targets.

Doctors Without Borders called on all parties in the conflict to fully respect health workers, medical facilities, and the wounded.

IRAQ

Bodyguard testifies in terror trial

BAGHDAD — A bodyguard for Iraq's fugitive vice president testified Tuesday that he was paid $3,000 to assassinate a government security official in one of hundreds of death squad killings that authorities link to one of the nation's highest-ranking Sunni leaders.

The testimony came on the first day of the Iraqi government's terror trial against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who was not in court.

He denies the charges - that for years he ordered killings of Shiite pilgrims and government officials - and says they are politically motivated.

The case against Mr. al-Hashemi threatens to paralyze Iraq's government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who critics claim is monopolizing power.

The Sunni vice president has been a longtime critic of Mr. Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for Mr. al-Hashemi's arrest the day after U.S. troops left Iraq last December.

Bodyguard Ahmed al-Jubouri testified that he gunned down the security official, identified as Ibrahim Saleh Mahdi, in November 2011 on Mr. al-Hashemi's orders.

Mr. al-Jubouri said Mahdi's wife also was killed in the drive-by shooting on a Baghdad highway.

"The next day, al-Hashemi received me [in his office] and rewarded the team with a sum of $3,000," Mr. al-Jubouri told a three-judge panel at Baghdad's criminal court. "At the end of the meeting, the vice president said to me, 'God bless you.' "

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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