- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GAZA STRIP

Hamas burns drugs, taxes cigarettes

GAZA CITY | Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Tuesday burned nearly 2 million pills of a painkiller many Gazans take recreationally because they say it relaxes them and provides temporary relief from the territory’s hardships.

The disposal of the drugs comes days after the Islamic militant group confiscated cigarettes from Gaza shops to collect taxes on them. Both moves are part of Hamas’ efforts to strengthen its grip on Gaza and impose its strict interpretation of Islam on the impoverished seaside territory’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents.

Hamas Health Minister Basim Naim said authorities burned some 1.7 million pills of a drug called Tramadol that had been seized from smugglers who sneak it through tunnels under the Egyptian border.

Tramadol is a powerful painkiller, related to morphine and heroin, though most countries don’t treat it as a controlled substance. Experts have said that those who stop taking the drug after regular use often develop flulike withdrawal symptoms, though long-term effects are rare.

Gaza’s Health Ministry recognizes the drug as a painkiller, Mr. Naim said, but allows its sale only by prescription.

YEMEN

Pentagon to boost Yemen’s special forces

The Pentagon will boost U.S. military assistance to Yemen’s special operations forces to lead an offensive targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February authorized $150 million in security assistance for Yemen for fiscal 2010, up from $67 million last year, but the Pentagon has offered few details about the highly sensitive program.

Officials briefed on the matter said the Pentagon informed Congress that it would provide $34 million in “tactical assistance” to Yemen’s special operations forces and $38 million to provide Yemen with a military transport aircraft.

Additional funding to boost Yemen’s air-transport capabilities will be announced later, the officials said.

EGYPT

Police kill Eritrean on Israel border

ISMAILIA | Egyptian police fatally shot a 31-year-old Eritrean migrant on Tuesday as he tried to sneak across the border into Israel, security sources said.

Two more migrants — one Eritrean and one Sudanese — were injured and were taken to a hospital in Arish, in north Sinai for treatment, a medical source said.

The Sinai border is a major transit route for African migrants and refugees seeking work or asylum in Israel. Egypt has come under pressure from Israel to staunch the flow. Rights groups complain about the methods of the border police.

Egyptian police have killed at least 14 migrants this year, compared to 19 for the whole of 2009.

The United Nations and Amnesty International have called on Egypt to check its border guards’ use of excessive force against unarmed migrants.

Security forces say they fire at migrants only after repeated orders to stop are ignored, and say that in some cases smugglers who ferry migrants to the border have opened fire on security forces.

IRAQ

Group urges leader to probe ‘secret prisons’

BAGHDAD | Amnesty International has urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to probe charges that his Shi’ite-dominant security forces tortured hundreds of Sunni detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad.

Referring to a report in the Los Angeles Times, quoting Iraqi officials who said more than 100 prisoners were tortured by electric shocks, suffocated with plastic bags or beaten, the London-based human rights group called for an inquiry.

“The existence of secret jails indicates that military units in Iraq are allowed to commit human rights abuses unchecked,” Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said in a statement received late Monday.

“Prime Minister Maliki’s claim that he was unaware of abuses cannot exonerate the authorities from their responsibilities and their duty to ensure the safety of detainees,” she added.

The prisoners were detained by Iraqi forces in Nineveh province, an insurgent stronghold in the north of the country, in October as part of an operation targeting alleged Sunni fighters, according to the newspaper.

Iraqi security forces reportedly obtained a warrant to transfer them to Baghdad, where they were held in isolation in a secret detention facility at the former Al-Muthanna airport in west Baghdad, it said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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