- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

WEST BANK

Israeli checkpoints to stay in place

JERUSALEM — Israel’s network of roadblocks will remain in place across the West Bank, the defense minister said yesterday, sparking an outcry from Palestinians who say they cannot rebuild their economy until people and goods move freely.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comments soured an already tense atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians just days before President Bush’s first visit to the region as U.S. president.

Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and violence between Israelis and Palestinians — and among Palestinians themselves — threaten to overwhelm Mr. Bush’s peace efforts.

Jan. 1 is the day Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement celebrates its anniversary, but in Gaza, Hamas rulers banned fireworks and marches — setting off clashes that killed eight persons and wounded more than 60.

It was the worst outbreak of infighting since Nov. 11, when Hamas forces opened fire at a huge Fatah rally, killing eight and wounding more than 80.

IRAN

Anti-Putin rumor leads to arrest

TEHRAN — A person working for a telecommunications firm has been arrested for being behind a rumor that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be assassinated in Tehran in October, a news agency said yesterday.

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, citing an informed official, said the arrest was made last week but did not give details.

“The person behind the Putin assassination rumor … was identified,” Fars quoted its source as saying. “That person was a contractual worker of a telecommunications company and was arrested last week.”

Brushing off a Russian news agency report that there was a plot afoot to try to kill him in Tehran, Mr. Putin attended the Oct. 16 summit of the five Caspian Sea states. It was the first visit by a Kremlin leader to Tehran since Josef Stalin in 1943.

EGYPT

Iran diplomat makes rare visit

CAIRO — A senior Iranian envoy on a rare visit to Egypt said yesterday that relations that have been frozen since 1980 are improving gradually.

The relationship between the two countries has evolved “to become a constructive one that is moving gradually forward one step at a time,” Ali Larijani told reporters after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

The former nuclear negotiator has been on a private visit to Egypt with his family since last week, but has also met senior officials including intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries were broken a year after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in protest at Cairo’s recognition of Israel and its hosting of the deposed shah.

IRAQ

Prime minister says he’s OK

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday he was fit and healthy after being flown to Britain for a medical checkup suffering from exhaustion.

In a New Year television address recorded in London, Mr. al-Maliki said: “I would like to reassure everyone that I am in good health.”

Mr. al-Maliki, 57, underwent medical tests on Sunday and Monday after his office said he was suffering from fatigue caused by his heavy workload.

In his short address, Mr. al-Maliki said 2007 had been a difficult year for Iraq but signs of improvement were evident.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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