- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

AFGHANISTAN

30 killed in bus explosion

KANDAHAR | A bus packed with Afghan civilians hit a roadside bomb near the southern city of Kandahar on Tuesday, killing 30 people and wounding 39, underscoring the dangers civilians face as the eight-year-old war turns increasingly violent.

Nine women and seven children were among the dead, said provincial police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai.

The bus was traveling along a main road when it encountered a NATO team clearing roadside bombs. Fearing more bombs ahead, the driver steered onto a parallel dirt road but struck an explosive device planted there, according to local official Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi.

GAZA STRIP

U.N. defends rights report

GENEVA | A U.N. investigator defended a report Tuesday that accuses Israelis and Palestinian militants of war crimes during their conflict in Gaza, an allegation Israel condemns and claims is the result of bias against the Jewish state.

U.S. officials criticized the report that came down heavily on their longtime ally and indicated they would block moves to refer the findings to the powerful U.N. Security Council.

The report’s lead author, former South African judge Richard Goldstone, said he and his team were disappointed by the criticism and rejected any suggestion the findings in 575-page document were politically motivated.

Investigators were driven by a desire to hold accountable those on both sides who harmed civilians and failure to do so would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Mr. Goldstone said.

WEST BANK

Palestinians lower expectations on talks

JERUSALEM | The chief Palestinian negotiator on Tuesday played down expectations for President Obama’s latest attempt to restart peace talks, saying key differences with Israel make it difficult for negotiations to resume.

The negotiator, Saeb Erekat, spoke ahead of talks in Washington this week with Mr. Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. The former U.S. senator is holding separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian teams in hopes of reviving the long-stalled peace talks.

Mr. Erekat reiterated the Palestinians’ insistence that Israel stop all settlement construction in the West Bank, and stressed there would be no direct talks with the Israelis during this week’s trip to Washington.

The talks in Washington are meant to follow up on Mr. Obama’s summit last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York.

IRAN

U.S. hikers may get visit

U.S. officials said Tuesday that Iran has notified the Swiss government that the Swiss can have access to three Americans who have been detained in Iran since being arrested for illegal entry in late July.

The move could be seen as a conciliatory gesture on Iran’s part, coming two days before a high-profile meeting between Iran and five world powers seeking to persuade Iran to abandon any effort to build nuclear weapons.

The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Tehran, since the United States has no formal diplomatic relations with the Islamic republic. Two U.S. officials said Iran had notified the Swiss that their consular services are required, meaning they can meet with the Americans to verify their condition. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the matter.

Adrian Sollberger, spokesman of the Swiss Foreign Ministry, declined to comment.

The three Americans are Joshua Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. Since the Americans’ arrest, their families have had no contact with them and no information other than the fact of their detention.

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