- - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

IRAQ

Defense minister, Turks discuss Kurdish rebels

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s defense minister met with Turkish officials in Ankara on Tuesday, a day after Turkey said it wanted to extend a mandate for air strikes on Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, was also in the Turkish capital on Tuesday for talks with defense officials, but his spokesman could not confirm whether he would meet Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul.

Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi held talks with Mr. Gonul in a bid to continue the work of a tripartite committee made up of Baghdad, Ankara and Washington that seeks to track threats posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and implement measures to curb the militants.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said Monday that the Turkish government will ask parliament to extend a mandate for military strikes on Kurdish rebel bases in Iraq, with the current one-year mandate due to expire Oct. 17.

The motion is likely to sail through parliament, where the ruling Justice and Development Party holds a comfortable majority.

The mandate authorizes the government to order cross-border military action against hide-outs of the separatist PKK in northern Iraq, which the rebels use as a launching pad for strikes on Turkish targets across the border.

ISRAEL

Israeli navy halts Gaza-bound boat

ASHDOD | Israeli naval forces on Tuesday intercepted a catamaran carrying nine Jewish activists toward the Gaza Strip, encountering no resistance as they took control of the sailboat and escorted it to shore, the military said.

The incident occurred four months after a deadly Israeli raid on an international flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed in clashes with naval commandos.

The Irene, like the earlier flotilla, had been trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

The passengers, including a former Israeli fighter pilot and an Israeli man whose daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, plus American and European activists, said they wanted to show that not all Jews support the Israeli blockade. They acknowledged ahead of time that it was unlikely they would reach Gaza and said they would not resist.

Israel imposed the blockade three years ago after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza, a crowded seaside territory that borders the southwestern corner of Israel.

SYRIA

Rights groups: Political prisoners freed

DAMASCUS | Syrian authorities recently have released from prison several longtime political prisoners, two human rights groups announced on Tuesday.

Among those freed was Maher Ahmad Kharnabiq, who had been in jail for 27 years, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syria League for the Defense of Human Rights.

No details were given on the names or sentences of the other people or the reasons for anyone’s incarceration.

In a statement, the groups expressed their satisfaction over the releases and hope that Syria would soon “adopt measures respecting and reinforcing human rights.”

It called on Syria to free “all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and to disclose the fate of those arbitrarily detained under the emergency law in force since 1963.”

Singled out was Nizar Rastanawi, who disappeared along with several other prisoners after a 2008 revolt at Saydnaya prison.

According to Amnesty International, more than 50 inmates disappeared following the riot, during which at least 17 prisoners and five military police died.

IRAN

Blogger sentenced to 19 years in prison

TEHRAN | An Iranian news website says a court has sentenced a well-known Canadian-Iranian blogger to more than 19 years in prison.

The conservative website, Mashreghnews.ir, which is close to Iran’s presidential office, says Hossein Derakhshan was convicted on charges of cooperation with hostile countries, spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promoting counterrevolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thoughts and religious figures.

The report says Derakhshan can appeal.

Derakhshan, who made trips to Israel and blogged in English and Farsi, has been in prison since 2008. It’s unclear if he would benefit from time served.

Iranian authorities have arrested numerous bloggers in recent years in a bid to clamp down on Internet dissent.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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