- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

SAUDI ARABIA

Palestinian leaders arrive for talks

RIYADH — Palestinian factions on the brink of civil war gathered yesterday in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, in a last-ditch effort to end their bloody conflict.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Khalid Mashaal, leader of the militant Hamas movement, flew to the Saudi city of Jidda before heading to Mecca to meet their host, King Abdullah, ahead of the start of talks today.

The talks are open-ended, a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s determination to keep them going until the Palestinians reach a deal for sharing power in a new coalition government. The Saudis are convening in a Mecca guest palace overlooking the Kaaba, the cube-shaped shrine toward which all Muslims turn when they pray.

ISRAEL

Dig at holy site fuels protests

JERUSALEM — With dozens of policemen looking on, an Israeli bulldozer began work yesterday on an archaeological excavation next to the Holy Land’s most explosive religious site, drawing protests from Palestinians and condemnations from the Arab world.

Muslims are angry at Israel’s plan to build a new walkway up to the compound where Islamic tradition says the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and that Jews revere as the site of their two ancient temples.

Israel says the project is needed to replace a centuries-old earthen ramp that partially collapsed in a snowstorm three years ago. Its assurances that the work would cause no harm to Islam’s holy sites did little to soothe tensions.

BRITAIN

Officials deny cover-up after video leaked

LONDON — U.S. and British officials yesterday denied trying to bury details of a “friendly fire” incident after a cockpit video was leaked in which U.S. pilots are heard weeping after mistakenly killing a British soldier in Iraq.

A British coroner’s inquest into the death of Lance Cpl. Matty Hull has reignited questions over whether the allies did enough to shield troops from friendly fire — and whether both countries wanted to keep the details hidden.

Cpl. Hull was killed when his convoy of tanks was strafed by American A-10 attack jets during the second week of the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

FRANCE

57 states sign ban on secret detentions

PARIS — Nearly 60 countries signed a treaty yesterday that bans governments from holding people in secret detention, but the United States and some of its key European allies were not among the signatories.

The signing capped a quarter-century of efforts by families of people who have vanished at the hands of governments.

“Our American friends were naturally invited to this ceremony; unfortunately, they weren’t able to join us,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters after 57 nations signed the treaty at his ministry in Paris.

SOUTH AFRICA

Hu lauds trade ties, sees ‘win-win’ scenario

PRETORIA — Chinese President Hu Jintao said after talks yesterday in Pretoria, South Africa, that China’s deepening involvement in Africa should result in a “win-win” situation.

The Chinese leader met with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who heads the African continent’s economic powerhouse. Mr. Hu put the seal on their burgeoning relationship by signing a raft of trade agreements after the two-hour meeting, with both stressing the importance they attached to strong ties.

“Both sides vowed to deepen the political partnership and business cooperation for mutual benefit and win-win outcomes,” said Mr. Hu at a joint press conference.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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