- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. forces leave Korengal Valley

KABUL | U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan’s perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said Wednesday, ending a mission that saw some of the most intense fighting of the nearly nine-year American presence in the country.

The isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has been the scene of near daily exchanges of fire between NATO and insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.

While militants likely will portray the withdrawal as a defeat for foreign forces in Afghanistan, NATO termed the move a “realignment” resulting from changing strategies to deal with a Taliban-led insurgency that has strengthened and gripped once stable parts of the country.

The shift reflects new thinking among commanders that forces are best used to protect the civilian population rather than placed in scattered outposts highly exposed to militant activity and difficult to resupply and reinforce.

ISRAEL

Officials say Syria gives Hezbollah Scuds

JERUSALEM | Israeli defense officials said Wednesday they believe Hezbollah has Scud missiles that could hit all of Israel, a day after Israel’s president accused Syria of supplying the Lebanese guerrillas with the weapons for the first time.

Israeli officials say the introduction of Scuds could alter the strategic balance with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia that battled Israel to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006.

President Shimon Peres, speaking in Paris, charged that Syria is playing a double game, talking about peace while “it is delivering Scuds to Hezbollah to threaten Israel,” according to a statement from his office.

In Washington, the Syrian Embassy dismissed the allegations and accused Israel of trying to divert attention from questions about Israel’s nuclear program.

CHINA

China to send Iran gasoline

SINGAPORE | A state-owned Chinese refiner plans to ship 30,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran after European traders halted shipments ahead of possible new U.N. sanctions, according to Singapore ship brokers.

Beijing has growing commercial and political ties with Iran and has resisted U.S. pressure for sanctions to press Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. Chinese officials say the country is entitled to energy trade.

Unipec, the trading arm of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, plans to load the oil tanker Hongbo with the gasoline Thursday in Singapore, said the brokers, who asked not to be identified further to avoid jeopardizing customer relations. The tanker likely will go directly to Iran.

INDONESIA

Tomb protest turns bloody

JAKARTA | Protesters wielding machetes, sticks and petrol bombs clashed with riot police in a series of running battles Wednesday over a Muslim cleric’s tomb near the Indonesian capital’s main seaport, wounding some 130 people.

Some of the injuries were severe, including an officer who had his stomach slashed and another whose hand was chopped off. It was Jakarta’s worst civil unrest in years.

About 2,000 city security officers and 600 police used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and batons to beat back the protesters near the seaport of Tanjung Priok in northern Jakarta, city spokesman Cucu Kurnia said. Police estimated the number of protesters at 500.

IRAQ

Officials: Probe foils 9/11-style plot

BAGHDAD | Iraqi and U.S. security officials say Iraqi forces have foiled an al Qaeda in Iraq plot for a 9/11-style attack to hijack airlines and fly them into Shi’ite holy shrines.

Two senior Iraqi officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday they have arrested two men allegedly linked to the plan, which shut down the airport in Najaf for days and Baghdad airport for hours last week.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot but said it’s doubtful the alleged plotters were very far along in their planning — or even had the ability to carry it out.

AUSTRALIA

2 arrested from ship that smashed reef

SYDNEY | Australian police arrested a Chinese ship captain and senior officer Wednesday and charged them with damaging the Great Barrier Reef, more than a week after their coal carrier ran aground and tore a two-mile gash in the protected area.

The Shen Neng 1 veered out of a shipping lane and slammed into the reef on April 3, possibly smearing the coral with toxic paint that could prevent marine life from growing back. Even in the best case scenario, experts said the damage could take 20 years to heal.

Coral shredded the ship’s hull, causing it to leak two to three tons of fuel oil. Most of the oil was dispersed by a chemical spray and did little or no damage to the reef itself, but officials said Wednesday they believe some of it has begun to wash up on the beaches of a wildlife sanctuary.

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage site because of its gleaming waters and environmental value as home to thousands of marine species. The accident occurred in the southern tip of the reef, which is not the main tourism hub.

VATICAN CITY

Vatican distances itself from prelate’s remarks

The Vatican on Wednesday distanced itself from remarks by a top prelate linking pedophilia to homosexuality, saying “psychological or medical” assertions are not in the remit of Church officials.

“Church authorities do not deem it part of their responsibility to make general assertions of a specifically psychological or medical nature,” the Vatican said in a statement.

The Vatican’s No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Monday: “Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated there exists no relationship between celibacy and pedophilia, but many others have demonstrated … that there is a link between homosexuality and pedophilia.”

INDIA

Cyclone kills 31 people

CALCUTTA | A cyclone demolished thousands of mud huts and uprooted trees in several villages in eastern India, killing at least 31 people, an official said Wednesday.

Srikumar Mukherjee, the civil defense minister, said the cyclone struck Tuesday night in North Dinajpur district of West Bengal state, snapping telephone and electricity lines in the area.

Mr. Mukherjee also said hundreds of people suffered injuries in the region, nearly 315 miles northeast of Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal state. The worst-hit villages were Hematabad, Raiganj and Kiran Dighi, where police and rescue have recovered 31 bodies.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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