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Briefly: Israelis skeptical of U.N.-Iran nuke deal

- - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

JERUSALEM — Israel's defense minister voiced skepticism Tuesday over an agreement by Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to U.N. inspectors, saying the Iranians are trying to create a "deception of progress" to stave off international pressure.

The cool reception from Defense Minister Ehud Barak signaled that Israel will not ease up pressure on the international community to curb Iran's nuclear program.

Israel repeatedly has hinted it is ready to use force if it concludes international diplomacy has failed to stop the Iranians.

Mr. Barak spoke shortly after the U.N.'s nuclear chief announced he had reached a preliminary deal to allow his inspectors to restart a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear arms.

The announcement came a day before Iran and six world powers were to meet in Baghdad for another round of negotiations.

"It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions," Mr. Barak said during a discussion at the Defense Ministry, according to a statement from his office.

"Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won't leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability," Mr. Barak said. "It's forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers demands must be clear and unequivocal."

Mr. Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a "symbolic amount" of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under "strict" international supervision.

BAHRAIN

Hunger striker appears in wheelchair at hearing

MANAMA — A jailed Bahraini activist who has been on a hunger strike since February has made his first public appearance in months, attending a court hearing in a wheelchair.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja appeared frail but spoke in a clear voice as he and others claimed Tuesday that they suffered abuses and torture in custody and demanded their release.

Mr. al-Khawaja and seven other activists were sentenced to life in prison last year by a military-run court. It was part of crackdowns by Bahrain's Sunni rulers against a Shiite-led uprising calling for a greater political voice in the Gulf kingdom.

A civilian court retrial was ordered in April for a total of 21 people convicted of anti-state crimes.

The court adjourned the case until May 29.

LIBYA

Red Cross office hit by rocket in Benghazi

TRIPOLI — A rocket-propelled-grenade struck the local offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi overnight, the organization's spokeswoman said Tuesday.

"The premises of our delegation were hit by an RPG rocket but there were no casualties," Soaad Messudi, the ICRC spokeswoman in Libya, told Agence France-Presse.

She said the organization was in contact with Libyan authorities for details on the incident.

Ms. Messudi said the ICRC has been present in Libya since an uprising against Moammar Gadhafi erupted in February 2011 and has since carried out humanitarian operations without taking sides in the North African country.

EGYPT

Police officers sentenced for killing protesters

CAIRO — An Egyptian court sentenced five police officers to 10 years in prison in absentia Tuesday for killing protesters, in a rare conviction of security officials accused of using deadly force against the demonstrations that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Typically defendants who do not appear in court automatically are convicted but also receive a new trial once apprehended.

Families of slain protesters attending the court session, however, counted the convictions as a victory. They broke down in tears and chanted "God is great!" in a show of relief.

Until now, of the nearly 200 police officers and security officials who face charges related to the killing of protesters in 2011, one was convicted in absentia. When he had a retrial, he received a one-year suspended sentence.

Others are still standing trial, including Mr. Mubarak himself. A verdict in his case is expected next month.

Of the 17 defendants who appeared Tuesday before the Giza Criminal Court, two others received one-year suspended sentences while 10 others were acquitted.

The 17 were charged in the killing of five protesters and the injury of 17 others in front of three police stations during Egypt's 2011 uprising in Giza, Cairo's twin city.

More than 800 protesters were killed during the upheaval that forced Mr. Mubarak to step down. Many died from gunshot wounds sustained in clashes outside police stations.

From wire dispatches and staff reports