- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ISRAEL

Mayor to delay Jerusalem plan

JERUSALEM | Jerusalem’s mayor unveiled a plan Tuesday to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes to make room for a tourist center in one of the disputed city’s most volatile neighborhoods, drawing criticism from Palestinians and the United Nations.

Mayor Nir Barkat agreed to a last-minute request from Israel’s prime minister to consult Palestinian residents before breaking ground. That could delay the plan for an unknown period of time, but the move threatened to raise tensions in the holy city just as the Obama administration makes a push to renew Middle East peace talks.

Mr. Barkat presented his plan as a much-needed upgrade of Jerusalem’s decaying al-Bustan neighborhood, which Israeli officials have begun calling Gan Hamelech, or the King’s Garden, linking it to the site where the biblical King David is said to have written his psalms.



The city wants to build shops, restaurants, art galleries and a large community center replete with day care facilities and gyms. Mr. Barkat said the area’s Palestinian residents, subject to decades of neglect, will benefit, and that most of those who would lose their homes would be eligible for alternative housing, though it was not clear who would pay for it.

IRAN

Award-winner filmmaker Panahi arrested

TEHRAN | Iranian security forces have detained film director Jafar Panahi, winner of many international awards and a supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mr. Mousavi’s Web site said Tuesday.

Tehran’s public prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi confirmed Mr. Panahi’s arrest but said it was not politically motivated, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Kaleme, Mr. Mousavi’s Web site, said Mr. Panahi was held at his home together with his wife, daughter and 15 guests on Monday evening. Mr. Panahi’s home was searched and some of his belongings seized, it added.

The director backed Mr. Mousavi in last year’s disputed presidential election, which plunged the Islamic republic into months of political turmoil.

Last month, Berlin film festival organizers said Iran had prevented him from traveling for the event.

SYRIA

Visiting Iraqi official backs better ties

DAMASCUS | Visiting Syria, Iraq’s vice president said Tuesday his country wants to improve relations, months after Iraq charged Damascus with harboring suspects from huge Baghdad bombings last summer that killed about 100 people.

Tariq al-Hashemi is the first senior Iraqi official to visit Damascus since massive truck bombs devastated the Iraqi foreign and finance ministries Aug. 19. Altogether, 101 people died in blasts that day, all but eight in or near the government buildings.

After Iraq blamed Syria, Damascus demanded proof. The two countries recalled their ambassadors, and the dispute escalated into a serious setback to efforts at repairing relationships strained for decades during Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

YEMEN

Dynamite depot blast kills 19

SANA’A | A blast in a suspected dynamite storage depot in the basement of a residential building in Yemen killed up to 19 people as they slept Tuesday, and reduced their building to rubble, an official said.

“We think it was dynamite,” a local official in the southern city of Taiz where the blast took place told Reuters news agency. Al Jazeera had earlier reported the blast took place in a fireworks warehouse.

The official said the pre-dawn explosion caused the collapse of a three-story building with six residential apartments, and partly destroyed two adjacent homes.

The official said the dynamite was believed to have belonged to a Yemeni businessman and contractor who used explosives in roadbuilding works to flatten hills, but who did not live in the building.

EGYPT

Blogger facing military court

CAIRO | An Egyptian blogger is being tried in front of a military tribunal for accusing the nation’s premier military academy of corruption on his blog.

International human rights groups have condemned the trial of 20-year-old Ahmed Mostafa saying the government is trying to silence a civilian for daring to criticize the army.

The engineering student has been in custody since Feb. 25 and is charged with publishing false news and “tarnishing the military’s image” after he wrote a blog post entitled “The Military Academy’s Scandal.”

Mr. Mostafa’s attorney said the trial opened Monday and on Tuesday was adjourned until March 7.

Another blogger, 23-year-old Abdel Kareem Nabil was sentenced in Feb. 2007 to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his blog.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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