Gaza hosts unity Cabinet meeting
Published — Friday 10 October 2014
GAZA CITY: The new Palestinian unity government held a Cabinet meeting in the war-battered Gaza Strip for the first time Thursday, marking the end of more than seven years of absolute Hamas control of the coastal territory.
In establishing a Gaza foothold, the Cabinet also tried to assure the international community that foreign aid for Gaza’s reconstruction will not reach Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group.
The Cabinet meeting came three days before an international pledging conference in Cairo where Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to seek $4 billion for Gaza reconstruction after a 50-day war there this summer between Israel and Hamas.
Still, it remains unclear how much authority the Cabinet will have on the ground. It is made up of independent experts, none of whom are declared members of the two main Palestinian movements, Hamas and Fatah.
Hamas has said it would allow the ministers, who report to Abbas, to operate freely in Gaza. However, Hamas has refused to disband its security forces, creating a potentially volatile situation.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and 11 ministers arrived in Gaza from the West Bank, joining five colleagues who were already present in Gaza.
After entering Gaza through an Israeli-controlled crossing, the ministers toured the town of Beit Hanoun and the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, both badly damaged during the war.
Hamas security forces formed cordons, linking arms, as curious and unruly crowds thronged the ministers. Later, as the visitors drove through Shijaiyah in a convoy, hundreds of people lined the street to watch, some waving and a few holding the yellow flags of Fatah.
The Cabinet convened in Abbas’ former residence in Gaza City.
“What we have seen today is horrible,” Hamdallah said at the start of the meeting. “I cried in Beit Hanoun when I saw how the people live and sleep. The priority is reconstruction” and political unification, he said.
Hamas said Thursday it would be supportive.
“This unity government was the result of a reconciliation agreement that Hamas worked hard for,” said Izzat Al-Rishq, a senior Hamas official in Doha, Qatar’s capital.
“Therefore, we have a real and serious interest in enabling it (the new government) to work successfully in Gaza.”
29 dead in Yemen attacks, clashes
Published — Thursday 9 October 2014
SANAA, Yemen: Suspected Al-Qaeda militants carried out simultaneous attacks Wednesday on a half-dozen Yemeni security and government offices in a province south of the capital Sanaa, setting off clashes that left at least 29 people dead, security officials said.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said 14 troops and 15 assailants died in the attacks and ensuing clashes in central Baida province. Other security officials told The Associated Press that at least three civilians also were killed.
The ministry said the attackers besieged the province’s security headquarters, a special forces camp, an intelligence agency office and other government offices using car bombs and gunfire. Troops fired back and thwarted the assailants’ attempt to take over the offices, it said.
The security officials who spoke to AP said the targets included a government communication office and an Education Ministry administrative building. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Yemeni Shiite rebels dug in their heels Wednesday after rejecting the newly named premier, stirring fears of further violence as Al-Qaeda and tribes accused security forces of favouring the insurgents.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi late Tuesday named his chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak as the new prime minister, after a UN-brokered peace deal agreed on September 21, the day the Houthi rebels overran the capital unopposed.
The accord provided for a rebel withdrawal from Sanaa once a neutral premier was named, for their disarmament and for the political transition to be revitalized
Militia chief among 17 killed in Libya fighting
Published — Friday 10 October 2014
BENGHAZI: A militia chief was among at least 17 people, mostly soldiers, killed this week in fighting over the airport in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, medical and military sources said Thursday.
The oil-rich North African nation has been in turmoil since an uprising toppled longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi three years ago, with interim authorities facing powerful militias that fought to oust him.
Salim Nabbous, a commander of the Shoura Revolutionary Council, was killed along with two of his comrades on Wednesday in clashes at the airport, a hospital source in Benghazi said.
His group, an alliance of militias, has been trying to wrest control of the airport from former general Khalifa Haftar, who launched a campaign against them in May.
And a spokesman for army special forces loyal to Haftar said 14 of them had been killed over the past three days.
Meanwhile, an AFP correspondent said several warplanes and military helicopters were flying over the city on Thursday and that anti-aircraft fire could be heard in some neighborhoods.
Since the beginning of September, the radicals have been trying to capture the airport, with its military and civilian airfields, from the special forces.
They clash almost daily clashes with Haftar’s forces, for whom the airport is a final redoubt in a city almost completely dominated by the conservatives.
On Oct., at least 36 soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded by car bombs and clashes in what was the worst day of violence since Haftar announced his campaign to eradicate the radicals.
The cradle of the uprising against Qaddafi, Benghazi is the regular scene not only of fighting but also the murders of members of the security forces, political activists and journalists.
The Shoura Revolutionary Council includes radical group Ansar Al-Sharia, which Washington has branded as a terrorist organization. Last week, the UN Security Council warned of possible sanctions against those who reject peace in Libya.
The move is apparently aimed at shoring up UN-brokered talks on ending the violence.
Meanwhile, Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni visited Cairo on Wednesday to cement an alliance with Egypt against the militias that control the Libyan capital and extremists battling his forces in the east.
2 suicide attacks in Yemen kill nearly 70 people
Published — Thursday 9 October 2014
SANAA, Yemen: Two suicide bombers struck in Yemen on Thursday — one targeting a gathering of Shiite rebels in the country’s capital and the other hitting a military outpost in the south — in attacks that killed nearly 70 people, officials said.
The bombings underscored Yemen’s highly volatile situation following last month’s takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Shiite Houthi rebels whose blitz stunned the impoverished Arab nation on the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. The Houthis’ push into Sanaa also prompted threats of retaliation from their Sunni militant foes in Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch.
The Health Ministry said at least 47 people died and 75 were wounded when a suicide attacker set off his explosives on Thursday morning in central Sanaa.
The attacker targeted a gathering of Houthis and their supporters, mingling among the protesters as they were getting ready for the rally in the city’s landmark Tahrir Street before he detonated his explosives, according to security and health officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
The second bombing took place on the outskirts of the southern port city of Mukalla in Hadarmout province when a suicide car bomber rammed his car against a security outpost, killing at least 20 soldiers and wounding 15, the officials said.
Hadarmout is one of several strongholds of Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, considered by Washington to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but both bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, which has for years staged suicide bombings against army troops, security personnel and government facilities.
In Sanaa, the dead and wounded were taken to three hospitals. At one of them, the Al-Moayed hospital, victims’ body parts were piled up on the hospital floor, and two severed heads were placed next to two headless bodies. The body of a man was placed nearby, one of his legs next to it.
There were at least six children in critical condition and some of the wounded arrived in hospital badly burnt, missing an eye or a limb.
At the scene of the blast in Tahrir Street, one of Sanaa’s busiest, blood pooled on the ground as volunteers scooped up body parts from the pavement. Sandals and other personal belongings of the victims were scattered about.
Last week, Al-Qaeda in Yemen warned it would target the Houthis and called on the country’s Sunnis to close ranks and fight the Shiite rebels.
The Houthis had called the Sanaa rally to protest President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s choice for new prime minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak. As the crisis escalated, the prime minister-designate asked Hadi early on Thursday to relieve him of the post.
But despite the suicide bombing and bin Mubarak declining the premiership, the rally went on later Thursday, with some 4,000 Houthis calling on Hadi to step down.
Rebel leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi delivered a televised statement on Wednesday night, calling on supporters to rally Thursday against the choice of bin Mubarak. He said his group was surprised by the nomination, saying it came after Hadi met with the US ambassador to Yemen. Al-Houthi called Hadi a “puppet” in the hands of foreign powers.
“Blatant foreign interference is a form of circumventing the popular revolution,” he said.
The Houthis took control of Sanaa last month but a UN-brokered deal subsequently managed to bring an end to the fighting and street battles in the capital. The Houthi takeover of Sanaa followed weeks of protests by their supporters in the capital to press demands for a larger share in power and a change in government.
The Sept. 21 deal called for the appointment of a new head of government, and for armed Houthis to pull out of the city.
Bin Mubarak, 47, was the head of Hadi’s office and had successfully led an effort by various political parties — including longtime rivals — to devise a political map for transition after the 2011 uprising. One of the youngest politicians in Yemen, he emerged on the political scene during the uprising, which eventually forced longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as part of a US and Saudi-backed accord.
Saleh handed over to Hadi but continued to wield significant power behind the scenes, setting the scene for more political instability.
The Houthi offensive has also raised the specter of more divisions along sectarian lines in impoverished Yemen, and compounded the country’s myriad of troubles with the emboldened Al-Qaeda and a growing secessionist movement in the south.
Guns do the talking as India, Pakistan trade warnings
MAKKAH: ARAB NEWS
Published — Friday 10 October 2014
ARNIA, India/MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Islamabad said on Thursday it was capable of responding “befittingly” to Indian border shelling, and warned against an escalation of the worst fighting between the nuclear-armed rivals in more than a decade.
Nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have been killed since both sides’ security forces started heavy shelling more than a week ago along a 200-km stretch of border in the disputed, mostly Muslim region of Kashmir.
More were injured on Thursday. Both countries accused each other of starting the latest hostilities that have hit heavily populated civilian areas. India says it will not talk to Pakistan or stop firing until its neighbor backs down first.
“We do not want the situation on the borders of two nuclear neighbors to escalate into confrontation,” the Pakistan Ministry of Defense said in a statement. “India must demonstrate caution and behave with responsibility.”
India earlier warned Pakistan it would pay an “unaffordable price” if it persisted with shelling and machine-gun fire across a heavily populated border area in the lowlands of Kashmir. Pakistan’s Maj. Gen. Khan Tahir Javed Khan, responsible for the section of the border where the violence has broken out, said that India had fired 20,000 shells so far this year, compared to just 200 in 2012. He also said he had been trying to meet his Indian counterpart since the exchanges of fire began, but they would not return his calls. Since late on Wednesday, 13 people including three Indian border guards were injured in firing, a senior Indian police official in Kashmir said.
India Premier Narendra Modi said: “I don’t need to speak, our guns will do it. We have responded with courage to cease-fire violations.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the escalation of violence. “The secretary-general is concerned about the recent escalation of violence along the line of control between India and Pakistan. He deplores the loss of lives and the displacement of civilians on both sides,” said United Nations spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci.
The UN chief “encourages the governments of India and Pakistan to resolve all differences through dialogue…,” the spokeswoman said.
Six Karachi cops suspended after 29 die in liquor scandal
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Friday 10 October 2014
KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan’s Karachi have suspended six senior excise officials and six policemen as it begins investigations after 29 drinkers died from consuming methanol-tainted liquor over the Eid public holidays.
A further 24 people are still being treated in hospital as fears grow the fatality figure — already the highest for such incidents in seven years — could still rise.
The death toll has jumped since the first fatalities were reported on Tuesday, with residents of the low-income Landhi and Qur’angi neighborhoods of the southern city mainly affected.
The sale of methanol has been temporarily banned as it is frequently used in the creation of home made liquor, while officials and police officers have been suspended, pending an investigation into how the illegal alcohol came to be available in areas under their jurisdiction.
Gayan Chand, the provincial minister for excise, told AFP:“We have begun an inquiry to find out who sold the spirit illegally and we would take further action against those dealers.”
He confirmed six officials from his department had been suspended, while a police spokesman said six members of the force in Karachi had been suspended for negligence — because the incidents occurred in areas they are supposed to monitor.
The police spokesman said they had a prime suspect and had filed murder charges against him, but he was still at large late Thursday.
The incidents highlight the proliferation of low-grade liquor in the Islamic country, which officially bars Muslims from drinking.
Though legal breweries exist in Pakistan, the sale of alcohol and its consumption is prohibited for Muslims and tightly regulated for minorities and foreigners.
While higher income Pakistanis buy bootlegged higher grade alcohol at heavily inflated prices, the poor often resort to home-brews that can contain methanol, commonly used in anti-freeze and fuel.
Seemi Jamali, a senior doctor at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College said that 29 people had now died as a result of poisoning because the alcohol was tainted with methanol, and 24 others were being treated.
Consumption of methanol can lead to blindness, liver damage and death. In 2007, 40 people were killed in Karachi after drinking contaminated liquor