Islamic rebel chief reported dead, alive
ALGIERS — Hassan Hattab, founder of the main Islamic fundamentalist group waging a guerrilla war against the Algerian state, is alive despite previous reports, an Arabic-language newspaper reported this week.
Hattab is “still active in the Tizi Ouzou region” in the northeastern Kabylie region, Sawt El Ahrar quoted an unidentified source in the security services as saying. Algerian troops searched the nearby Sid Ali Bounab forest for three days, seeking “Hattab’s main guerrilla group … after ascertaining that they are in this zone,” the newspaper reported.
On May 11, the daily L’Expression said Hattab had been “executed” last year on the orders of two top aides, Amari Saifi, known as Abderrazak “the Para,” and Sahraoui. But a few days later the same paper said he was still leader of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), a senior army officer said.
The GSPC is the best organized of the movements still fighting an insurgency that began in 1992.
EU trade, aid pact expected today
BRUSSELS — Countries in the European Union are close to a deal that could unlock a stalled trade and aid pact with Syria, just two weeks after President Bush imposed sanctions on Damascus, diplomats said yesterday.
EU ambassadors today are expected to endorse new, tougher wording on the fight against the spread of weapons of mass destruction to be put to the Syrians in an effort to clear the last stumbling block to an agreement, they said.
Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark had objected to the original text negotiated by the European Commission with Syria in December, saying it fell short of the European Union’s commitment to make the fight against nuclear, chemical and biological weapons a major plank in ties with third countries.
A spokesman for the European Union’s Irish presidency said the weapons clause was the only outstanding issue and he hoped envoys would back the proposed rewording after a short debate.
Hariri defeated in local elections
BEIRUT — Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was defeated in his hometown of Sidon in the third phase of Lebanon’s municipal elections.
Initial results of the elections, which took place Sunday in southern Lebanon, indicated Mr. Hariri’s rivals won all seats on the city’s 21-member municipal council dealing a fatal blow to the prime minister.
In other parts of mainly Shi’ite-inhabited southern Lebanon, Hezbollah won most municipal councils in the towns and villages, while its Shi’ite rival Amal, led by parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, maintained its grip on the main port city of Tyre.
Interior Minister Elias Murr estimated the turnout at 65 percent, the highest so far in municipal elections.
Weekly notes …
Egypt will not attend next month’s Group of Eight summit meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said. In an interview Monday with Al Arabiya satellite television, Mr. Maher said President Hosni Mubarak will not attend the G-8 summit because of a busy schedule. Observers think the real reason is Egypt’s opposition to the Bush administration’s “Greater Middle East Initiative” to be announced at the June 8-10 summit. … The United Arab Emirates is considering visa restrictions on female tourists, especially Eastern Europeans, to curb prostitution. Foreigners make up about 85 percent of the population of the oil-rich UAE — the highest percentage in the conservative Gulf region.