- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

GAZA STRIP

Hamas mulls reviving truce

GAZA CITY | Hamas would consider renewing a lapsed truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, but wants guarantees the Jewish state will halt incursions and keep border crossings open for supplies of aid and fuel, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Gaza’s Islamist leaders had initially ruled out extending the 6-month-old, Egyptian-brokered truce, which they declared dead on Friday. Palestinian militants stepped up cross-border rocket fire, ratcheting up tensions with Israel.

But spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas and other Gaza factions were now prepared to study offers to renew the accord.

Israel’s closure of the crossings has increased hardships in the coastal enclave, home to 1.5 million people, forcing the main power plant to shut down and international aid agencies to temporarily halt food distribution.

Hamas’ apparent shift came two days before scheduled talks in Cairo between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a top candidate to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister in next February’s election.

It also followed an agreement between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group to temporarily curb rocket attacks at the urging of the Egyptians. In the last 48 hours, the Israeli army said five rockets and a mortar shell were fired at Israel, a significant reduction from the dozens launched over the weekend.

EGYPT

Envoy summoned over Syria protests

CAIRO | The Egyptian Foreign Ministry called in Syrian ambassador Youssef Ahmed on Tuesday to complain about recent demonstrations outside the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus, a senior official said.

The demonstrators in Damascus have criticized the Egyptian government’s cooperation with Israel in the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas. Hamas and the Syrian government are allies and Hamas’ leadership in exile is based in the Syrian capital.

Egypt says the main motive for its policy on Gaza is to prevent the Israelis from escaping responsibility for the impoverished coastal strip.

IRAQ

Exiled professionals urged to return

BAGHDAD | Iraq has appealed to exiled doctors, university professors, scientists and other qualified Iraqis to come back now that security has improved, but few exiles said Tuesday they were ready to return.

At a two-day conference aimed at luring back tens of thousands of skilled Iraqi professionals after years of war, sanctions and sectarian violence drove them away, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked the elite diaspora to help rebuild Iraq.

Doctors, engineers, lawyers and lecturers fled Iraq in droves after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein unleashed a wave of bloodshed and chaos. Others had already left during the hard years of U.N. economic sanctions preceding it.

Although violence has fallen sharply in Iraq this year, many of the 200 professionals attending the conference Tuesday had reservations about returning to a country where civilians still die at the hands of gunmen and bombers every day.

The government says up to 350,000 Iraqis living abroad have university degrees. That is 17 percent of the 2 million Iraqi citizens who have fled overseas in recent years.

About 10,000 Iraqi doctors are living and working in Britain alone, officials said. Iraq says some 800 doctors returned to Iraq from around the world this year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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