RSSMiddle-east

Activists: Government airstrikes on vegetable market in northern Syria kill at least 18 people

BEIRUT (AP) — Activists: Government airstrikes on vegetable market in northern Syria kill at least 18 people.

6 hours ago

Israeli FM lashes out at Palestinian unity deal

Israeli FM lashes out at Palestinian unity deal

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's foreign minister says a peace deal with the Palestinians is impossible after rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government.

Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Thursday that Israel should resist pressure to resume talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lieberman says Abbas is involved in "political terror" and reached the deal Hamas in order to thwart peace talks.

Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist group.

The Palestinian factions have been split since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas' forces in 2007. It remains unclear how the unity plan would succeed since past attempts have repeatedly failed.

The U.S. condemned the agreement announced on Wednesday, and Israel canceled a planned meeting between Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators.

6 hours ago

Militant group in Egypt says it killed officer

Militant group in Egypt says it killed officer

CAIRO (AP) — An Islamic militant group in Egypt has claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed a senior police officer the day before.

It says the attack was in retaliation for the killings and arrests by government forces of supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president.

Thursday's statement by Ajnad Misr, or "Egypt's Soldiers," a group which first appeared in January, was posted on its Facebook page.

It carried photographs of the slain officer, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Zaki, a commander in the riot police, showing him riding in a blue pick-up truck. The group claimed Zaki used a truck with no police insignia as a "disguise" for fear of being targeted.

Attacks against Egyptian forces have escalated since the military last summer removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

8 hours ago Photos

Photos

Iraq: Suicide attack kills at least 10 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a suicide attack on a police checkpoint south of the capital, Baghdad, has killed at least 10 people and wounded 18.

A police officer says the bomber drove his explosives-laden car into the checkpoint at the entrance of the southern city of Hillah, about 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad. He says six civilians and four policemen were killed in that attack.

A medical official confirmed the causality figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Last month, a suicide car bomber hit a nearby checkpoint in same area and killed 36 people.

Iraq is going through an uptick in violence in the run-up to the parliamentary elections next Wednesday.

8 hours ago

Iraq officials: Suicide attack on a checkpoint south of Baghdad kills at least 10 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq officials: Suicide attack on a checkpoint south of Baghdad kills at least 10 people.

8 hours ago

Arab-Israeli women break ground on pro soccer team

Arab-Israeli women break ground on pro soccer team

PETAH TIKVA, Israel (AP) — When the Israeli women's soccer team Hapoel Petah Tikva lost a number of its players to Israel's national team ahead of World Cup qualifiers, founder Rafi Subra made a decision that sets the team apart from many of its rivals — he recruited from the Arab villages of northern Israel.

Arab Israelis, who complain of decades of discrimination in day-to-day life, are rare in the Israeli Women's Premier League. Though one other team has a full Arab-Israeli roster, other men and women's teams hardly field Arab-Israelis onto their squads.

For Hapoel Petah Tikva, the addition of five Arab-Israeli women has made waves in the league despite not being in the top rankings.

"The fact is, they integrated well," Subra said. "They're happy. We're happy. The mix has been very successful."

The Arab minority make up about 20 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens. Many have relatives among the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, empathizing with Palestinians as they negotiate with Israel over making a future state. The strains especially become hard during times of violence between the two sides.

Though having full rights under Israeli law, Arab Israelis experience discrimination in the country. The soccer field is no exception.

Noura Abu-Shanab, one of the Arab-Israeli players on Hapoel Petah Tikva, said she faced taunts like "dirty Arab" and "go back to where you came from" during games. However, she and other Arab-Israelis continued to play.

"The atmosphere of the team is positive," she said.

Abu-Shanab said her Muslim family was supportive of her playing in a mostly-Jewish women's league after she turned pro at 16.

Shiran Schlechter, an Israeli player on the team and its team manager, said both the Jewish and Arab players got along well during the season, which saw Hapoel Petah Tikva have a 5-2-7 record.

"It's funny because within the team we don't have" that hate, Schlechter said. "I think to our credit we all fought together against that. None of us liked it. It bothered us all."

Abu-Shanab, who is now a team captain, agreed that despite the racism she had faced from other teams, there was no conflict within the team itself.

"There is no difference between Arab or Israeli players. We are united; like one hand," she said.

The team's final match of the season will be played Tuesday against the Arab team Bnei Sakhnin.

9 hours ago Photos

Photos

UN: 3.5 million Syrians desperately need aid

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says almost 3.5 million civilians in Syria have virtually no access to desperately needed humanitarian aid and people are dying needlessly every day as violence and extremism escalate.

In a report to the Security Council circulated late Wednesday, Ban said neither side has implemented a U.N. resolution adopted two months ago demanding that the opposition, and especially the Syrian government, promptly allow access for humanitarian aid across conflict lines and borders.

He said the council's call on both sides to lift the sieges of populated areas also "has not been heard," calling it "shameful" that nearly 250,000 people are forced to live under such conditions.

Ban urged the deeply divided council to "take action to deal with these flagrant violations ... of international law."

16 hours ago

As peace deadline nears, Abbas says he has options

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to show that he has alternatives if U.S.-mediated talks with Israel break off Tuesday, the deadline for agreeing on a possible extension.

In recent days, Abbas has revived attempts to reconcile with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized Gaza from him in 2007. He has also hinted he might dismantle his self-rule government and saddle Israel — formally responsible as the occupying power — with the huge financial and logistical burden of taking care of more than 4 million Palestinians.

It's not clear if Abbas is building leverage for last-minute pressure on Israel to agree to his terms for extending the negotiations, or if he is genuinely changing political strategy. However, the coming days are crucial in deciding which path he will take — political confrontation with the U.S. and Israel, an extension of peace talks or a return to a period of no negotiations.

WHAT'S THE TIMELINE?

Wednesday — Officials from Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement announced a new deal to overcome the Palestinian political split. An interim unity government is to be formed within five weeks, followed by general elections in December at the earliest. The rivals failed to implement such agreements in the past, and obstacles to reconciliation remain in place.

Saturday and Sunday — Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, a body of 100-plus members who convene every few years to sign off on important decisions. The council could be asked to approve general elections and Abbas' next moves in relation to Israel.

Tuesday — The target date for an agreement on the outlines of a peace deal or on extending the talks. The current negotiations began July 29, under U.S. pressure, with both sides promising at the time they would stick with the talks for at least nine months.

WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED?

Very little. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought a deal on core issues, including a border between Israel and a state of Palestine and security arrangements. Palestinian officials say no progress has been made and that Israel never presented a border proposal.

Earlier this month, the talks were on the verge of collapse, after Israel failed to keep a promise to release the final of four groups of long-held Palestinian prisoners. Abbas responded by signing letters to join 15 international conventions, despite a promise that he would refrain from seeking further recognition for Palestine for the duration of the negotiations. Palestine was accepted by the U.N. General Assembly as a non-member observer state in 2012.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF EXTENDING THE TALKS?

Slim, but still possible. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continue to meet.

Abbas says he will only agree to an extension if Israel releases the fourth group of prisoners, freezes construction in Jewish settlements in the war-won West Bank and east Jerusalem and pledges to focus on border talks in the next three months. Israel reportedly is considering releasing the prisoners, but wants to deport some of them and is offering only a limited slowdown in settlement construction.

IS A MAJOR CRISIS LOOMING AFTER TUESDAY?

Not necessarily. Abbas said this week that even if negotiations are halted, it "doesn't prevent contacts between us" and that Israeli-Palestinian security coordination in the West Bank will continue. That suggests he wants to avoid a crisis with Israel and the U.S., provided Israel keeps transferring the monthly $100 million in taxes and customs it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The funds, withheld temporarily by Israel in the past as a punitive measure, help keep Abbas' self-rule government afloat.

WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO NEGOTIATIONS?

Abbas' preferred strategy is to negotiate Palestinian statehood with Israel and maintain close ties with the U.S., but most Palestinians are disillusioned with negotiations in their current format, following two decades of failure. In recent days, Abbas has hinted at possible course corrections — reconciling with Hamas, seeking further international recognition of a state of Palestine or "handing back the keys" to Israel by dismantling his Palestinian Authority. All three would have serious repercussions not just for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also for Abbas.

ABBAS-HAMAS RECONCILIATION

The rivals reached reconciliation agreements in the past, but lacked the political will to implement them. It seems unlikely the deal announced Wednesday will fare any better. Both sides are entrenched in their respective territories — Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in 38 percent of the West Bank — with their own governments and security forces. Hamas was badly weakened by the ouster of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt last year. Yet there's no sign Hamas would give Abbas a say in running Gaza as a way out of its predicament.

Any real progress toward reconciliation would strain Abbas' ties with the West, which considers Hamas a terror organization. He could lose millions of dollars in foreign aid and make a resumption of negotiations with Israel even more unlikely. And Netanyahu could use an Abbas-Hamas alliance to discredit Abbas: On Wednesday, he alleged Abbas prefers peace with Hamas to a deal with Israel.

DISMANTLING THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY?

Abbas told Israeli journalists this week that "if the talks fail completely," he will ask Israel to take over the Palestinian Authority, which was established in the mid-1990s, as part of interim peace deals. It was meant to oversee five years of transition to a final agreement, which Palestinians assumed would mean statehood. But a deal was not reached, and the international community has supported the self-rule government financially ever since. Critics say this arrangement allowed Israel to perpetuate its military occupation without bearing the costs.

Palestinians also benefited, including senior Fatah officials enjoying perks of power. The salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants feed about 1 in 4 Palestinians in the West Bank. A dismantling of the government would sharply drive up unemployment and poverty.

SEEKING FURTHER INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION

Officials say a state of Palestine can seek membership in 63 international agencies, treaties and conventions as a result of the U.N. recognition vote in 2012. Abbas aides say membership applications would be made in four stages, leaving the most provocative from Israel's perspective — accession to the International Criminal Court — to last. Palestine could potentially seek war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC for continued settlement building.

Palestinian officials have said they are not rushing down that road, but that each step depends on Israeli policies.

___

Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank.

20 hours ago

Tunisia divided over Jews' use of Israel passports

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian lawmakers say they plan to question the country's tourism chief over his decision to permit Jewish religious pilgrims to visit the country using Israeli passports.

While Israelis and Jews long have traveled to Tunisia for an annual pilgrimage to the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, this is the first year that Israelis have been allowed to use their passports rather than a special document issued by Tunisian embassies. Tunisia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Some 85 of the 217 members of the assembly signed the petition summoning Tourism Minister Amel Karboul to explain his actions to the parliament, spokeswoman Karima Souid said Wednesday.

The protesting lawmakers argue that recognizing Israeli passports amounts to recognition of the Jewish state.

22 hours ago

Syrian activists accused regime of new gas attacks

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition activists and other witnesses tell The Associated Press that Syrian government forces have attacked rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas in recent months.

They say the attacks left scores of men, women and children coughing, choking and gasping for breath.

The reports have been denied by the Syrian government and have yet to be confirmed by any foreign country or international organization. But if true, they highlight the limitations of the global effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

The witnesses say yellowish fumes that smelled like chlorine cleanser came from grenades and from barrel bombs dropped by helicopter.

23 hours ago

Car bomb kills 6 people in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi authorities say a car bomb has killed six people belonging to an ethnic minority in the country's north.

Police officials said the explosion Wednesday night was in Bay Boukh, a village inhabited by families from the Shabak ethnic group. The village is near the city of Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

The Shabak have their own distinct language and belief system. Police said 11 people were wounded also in the attack.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to journalists.

According to the United Nations, 8,868 people were killed in Iraq last year — the country's highest death toll since a peak of sectarian bloodletting in 2007.

23 hours ago

Bahrain moves to deport Shiite cleric

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's Interior Ministry says the Gulf state has decided to deport a leading Shiite cleric in a move that could exacerbate tensions between the government and the Shiite-led opposition.

The ministry announced its decision to deport Hussein al-Najati on Wednesday, saying that he "was not transparent and did not communicate" with Bahraini officials about his situation in the country.

Al-Najati is the Bahrain representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite figure.

The ministry says he was born in Bahrain in 1960 to Bahraini residents of Iranian nationality, left for a brief time in the 1970s, and then departed again for Iran in 1980. He returned to Bahrain in 2001. It says his citizenship was ordered to be withdrawn in 2012.

Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

April 23, 2014 10:39 am

Yemen examines DNA of slain al-Qaida militants

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A high ranking security official says this week's Yemeni government campaign against al-Qaida aimed at targeting its top leaders and that authorities are examining DNA samples of those killed to determine their identities.

The official told The Associated Press on Wednesday, "let's wait and see" for the results of the DNA test, declining to give names of leaders who were targeted. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The remarks came two days after the military, reportedly backed by U.S. drone strikes, hit a major al-Qaida base in the remote southern mountains, killing 55 militants. The bombed sites included a training ground, a storehouse for weapons and food as well as vehicles.

April 23, 2014 8:47 am

Abbas, rival Hamas give reconciliation another try

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian officials say Hamas and the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas are making a new attempt to overcome the Palestinians' political split by holding general elections in seven months.

Similar agreements were reached in principle in the past but never implemented.

The Islamic militant Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, leaving him with only parts of the West Bank. Both sides have become entrenched in their territories.

Abbas sent a delegation to Gaza this week for reconciliation talks.

Bassam Salhi, one of those sent by Abbas, said Wednesday that under an emerging agreement, a joint interim government would be formed within five weeks, followed six months later by elections. A Hamas official confirmed the outlines of the deal. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

April 23, 2014 8:37 am

Iran removes official in charge of prisons

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's official news agency says the official in charge of the country's prisons has been removed from the post. The development follows reports of alleged abuse of inmates at a Tehran penitentiary.

IRNA said on Wednesday that Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli, a cleric and the head of the government's judiciary branch, replaced chief of prisons Gholamhossein Esmaili with Asghar Jahangir.

Jahangir has for years been the cleric's close adviser. Esmaili was named head of the justice department of Tehran province.

Families of the prisoners purportedly beaten during a snap inspection at Evin prison held a rally this week in front of the parliament and outside President Hassan Rouhani's office, demanding an explanation.

Several lawmakers on Tuesday demanded a probe into the case.

Esmaili has denied any beatings took place.

April 23, 2014 7:31 am

Emirates says another family targeted in London

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — State media in the United Arab Emirates say a family from the Gulf federation has been targeted by armed men who forced their way into the family's London apartment, weeks after a similar attack in the British capital.

The official WAM news agency on Wednesday quoted Emirati ambassador to Britain, Abdulrahman Ghanem al-Mutaiwee, as saying that seven masked robbers forced their way in wielding hammers, knives and guns.

He says they stole money, jewelry and credit cards from the Emirati man and his wife.

On April 6, a man entered an upscale London hotel room and battered three sisters from the Emirates. Police said theft was the apparent motive.

The oil-rich UAE, a former British protectorate, has longstanding ties with the U.K. London is a popular destination for Emirati tourists.

April 23, 2014 5:50 am

Lebanese lawmakers vote, fail to elect president

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's Parliament has held a round of voting but failed to elect a new head of state in its first try before President Michel Suleiman's six-year term expires on May 25.

According to Lebanon's sectarian-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.

A candidate must secure at least a two thirds majority in the 128-member parliament to become president.

Wednesday's round kicked off what is expected to be a lengthy and fierce election. Samir Geagea, a former Christian warlord who is staunchly anti-Hezbollah, garnered only 48 votes. Many among the rival Hezbollah-led camp cast blank ballots.

A compromise candidate who is not affiliated with either camps has yet to emerge.

April 23, 2014 5:34 am

Syrian lawmaker first to field run for presidency

Syrian lawmaker first to field run for presidency

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's parliament speaker says a lawmaker has announced his candidacy for the June 3 presidential election — the first to field his bid for the top post in a vote called despite the country's relentless civil war.

President Bashar Assad has suggested he would seek another term in office but has not announced his candidacy yet.

Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham says lawmaker Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar on Thursday announced his candidacy. Syrian state TV says the 43-year-old Hajjar is from the northern city of Aleppo.

No other details were immediately available.

According to a new election law, the balloting must be contested by more than one candidate. So, at least one candidate was expected to run against Assad to give the election a veneer of legitimacy.

April 23, 2014 5:32 am

UN heads say Syria aid needs 'largely unanswered'

UN heads say Syria aid needs 'largely unanswered'

GENEVA (AP) — The directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria say their appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored.

With only $1.2 billion pledged, the agency heads are renewing their December appeal and emphasizing that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day as the 3-year-old civil war escalates in many areas.

The December appeal "has gone largely unanswered" for a crisis affecting 9.3 million people, said a joint statement Wednesday by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, UNICEF director Anthony Lake, U.N. refugee commissioner António Guterres, World Food Program director Ertharin Cousin and World Health Organization director Dr. Margaret Chan.

They say "the worst days seem yet to come" for civilians remaining in Aleppo, Homs, and other areas with heavy fighting.

April 23, 2014 3:58 am Photos

Photos

Bombing in Cairo kills senior Egypt police officer

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security officials say a senior police officer has died after an explosive device placed under his car went off in a western Cairo suburb.

The officials say Brig. Gen. Ahmed Zaki was heading to work from his home in 6th of October suburb when the bomb detonated on Wednesday morning.

The officials say the explosion critically wounded Zaki and he later died in the hospital. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Attacks against Egyptian police and military have stepped up as militant groups wage an increasingly violent campaign following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Since Morsi was removed by the military last July, more than 1,300 protesters, mostly pro-Morsi supporters, and over 450 troops have been killed.

April 23, 2014 3:28 am

AP PHOTOS: Syrians on treacherous trek to safety

AP PHOTOS: Syrians on treacherous trek to safety

MOUNT HERMON, Lebanon (AP) — As the late-day sun slipped behind the mountains in front of them, a ragtag group of around a dozen Syrians desperate to flee their country's bloody civil war set off on their treacherous nighttime trek across the rugged frontier into neighboring Lebanon.

Ahead of them: at least a nine-hour climb in darkness up — and down — the 2,814-meter (9,232-foot) Mount Hermon. Once in Lebanon, they will join the more than 2.5 million other Syrians across the region who have escaped the civil war in their homeland to begin the life of a refugee.

On a recent night, those making the journey included a young couple with a newborn baby; a sick, elderly woman accompanied by her daughter and son; and a young man, both legs wrapped in bandages from heel to hip, who was secured with a rope face down to a horse for the hike.

At the foot of the mountain on the Lebanese side of the border, 32-year-old Syrian laborer Ibrahim Abdulghani saddled two horses. A flash of light from up the mountain signaled the Syrians were starting to descend. He rode up to meet them and guide them down through the wind and rain lashing the rocky slope.

Among them was 74-year-old Farizeh Kabalan, who could not walk. Abdulgahni put her and her meager belongings, all of which fit into a plastic bag, on a horse and slowly picked their way down the mountain to a Lebanese army checkpoint at the base. Once there, Kabalan collapsed into the hands of four Red Cross workers, who loaded her into an ambulance.

The Lebanese troops carefully searched the Syrians and their belongings to try to prevent rebels from sneaking into the country with weapons.

The soldiers are particularly suspicious of young men, like 28-year-old Saleh Zawaraa, who was wrapped in bandages. He told the soldiers he was not a fighter, but was hit by a tank shell outside of Beit Jinn while trying to bring bread into the village. The soldiers let him through.

Like those who fled before them, these Syrians spoke of immense suffering back home.

Most of them come from the village of Beit Jinn. They said the village has been under siege by Syrian troops for months, and no food or medicine has been allowed to reach thousands of trapped civilians inside.

Still, only the most desperate risk the perilous journey, Abdulghani said. The list of dangers, he said, runs long: crossfire from clashes; snipers; airstrikes; snow in winter and pouring rain in spring. For fear of being spotted by snipers while climbing up the mountain on the Syrian side, smoking is prohibited.

"They can light up a cigarette when they descend into Lebanon," he said.

___

Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo and Hussein Malla at www.twitter.com/hmalla72

April 23, 2014 2:34 am Photos

Photos

Amnesty: Qatar fails to protect domestic workers

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An international human rights group has slammed Qatar for failing to protect foreign maids and other domestic workers from exploitation, adding pressure on the Gulf state over its labor practices as it gears up to host the 2022 World Cup.

Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday that the migrant workers in the natural gas-rich country face abuse including forced labor, excessively long working hours, verbal harassment and physical and sexual violence.

Its researchers spoke to women who reported working as many as 100 hours per week with no days off, and others who were banned from leaving the house altogether.

Like millions of other migrant workers in the region, their residency in the country is tied to their employers through a sponsorship system that stops workers from easily changing jobs.

"Women who find themselves in abusive households face utterly miserable conditions," Audrey Gaughran, the group's global issues director, said in a statement. "They have few options — if they choose to simply to get out of the house, they will be branded 'runaways' and are likely to end up being detained and deported."

OPEC member Qatar has come under increasing fire over its treatment of foreign workers, particularly those working in a booming construction industry raising plush villas and cutting-edge skyscrapers from the sand. It has tried to allay those concerns by outlining how employers must protect workers' rights.

Domestic workers are not covered under Qatar's standard labor law. There are no legal limits to how long they can work or mandates that they be given a day off, according to Amnesty.

The group published a report in November cataloging alleged human rights abuses. Researcher James Lynch said it decided to issue a separate one focused on domestic workers because "it is important they are not a footnote to the issues that construction workers face."

At least 84,000 foreign female domestic workers are employed in Qatar, most of them from the countries of South and Southeast Asia, according to Amnesty.

A report last year by the International Labor Organization found that domestic workers in Qatar work an average of 60 hours a week — more than in all but four other countries.

Qatari government officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Amnesty's latest report. The chairman of the country's National Human Rights Committee declined to comment and referred questions to government ministries.

A statement from the ministry of foreign affairs sent to Amnesty did, however, seek to make clear that legal safeguards exist.

"The exclusion of this group of workers from the scope of the Labor Law does not mean a lack of legal protection for their rights or that there is no law to protect these rights," the statement said.

Qatari laws spell out steps that must be followed during recruitment, ensure that domestic workers are not misled during the process, and provide for the resolution of disputes between workers and their sponsors, according to the government statement.

It said a draft law related to household workers is being studied. No decision has been taken to implement that legislation yet.

Other countries in the oil-rich Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have also faced criticism over their treatment of migrant workers.

While there are concerns about domestic workers in other Gulf states too, Lynch said it is important that Qatar address its labor shortcomings given the credit it is getting as a regional leader in the wake of its successful World Cup bid.

"We think that Qatar should be leading the way because it's in the spotlight and it is going to remain in the spotlight," he said.

___

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck

April 22, 2014 6:44 pm

Palestinians' Abbas warns against failure of talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president is warning that if peace talks with Israel fail he may dismantle the Palestinian Authority and hand over responsibility for 2.5 million of his people to Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas told a group of visiting Israeli reporters Tuesday that Israeli policies have left his West Bank government powerless. He said if Israel continues its path "let it come and run this authority."

The nine-month period outlined by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to reach the outlines of a peace accord ends in a week. The sides remain locked in dispute over the terms of extending talks and have made no apparent progress on major issues.

Abbas said contacts could continue even after the April 29 deadline. For talks to resume, he said Israel must freeze settlement construction.

April 22, 2014 1:16 pm

Israeli army "invites" Arab Christians to enlist

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military says it is inviting young Arab-Israeli Christians to enlist.

The minority historically views itself as part of the Palestinian people and considers service in the army as taboo. But a recent push by a Greek Orthodox priest to persuade more Christians to enlist has set off an emotional debate. Father Gabriel Nadaf said Christians must serve in the army if they want to integrate into Israeli society and win access to jobs.

The officer in charge of the army's campaign, Col. Gal Ben-Shaul, says Tuesday the army will now send out invitations to Arab Christians interested in joining. Military service is mandatory for Jews.

Israeli Arabs make up just over one-fifth of Israel's 8 million people. Of those about 128,000, or less than 10 percent, are Christians.

April 22, 2014 12:06 pm

Lebanon sends aid to cut-off village near Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese army official says the military is delivering aid to an isolated village along Syria's border that was bombed by President Bashar Assad's forces.

The Lebanese village of Tfail lies on a promontory surrounded on three sides by Syrian territory.

Lebanese media said Syrian government forces bombed Tfail last week. It wasn't clear if there were casualties among the 3,000 Lebanese residents and 5,000 Syrian refugees in Tfail.

The army official says the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant Hezbollah group was occasionally blocking the only access road to Tfail, severing it from the rest of Lebanon. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media.

He says the convoy with food parcels and gasoline negotiated its passage to Tfail with Hezbollah officials and clerics on Tuesday.

April 22, 2014 6:10 am

Iranian lawmakers seek probe into prison beatings

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's official news agency says seven lawmakers have demanded a probe into alleged beatings of several political prisoners held at Tehran's Evin prison.

IRNA reported on Tuesday that the families of the inmates met with the lawmakers on Monday, seeking clarification on what happened to their kin.

Foreign-based Farsi language media have reported that the prisoners were beaten during a snap inspection by prison authorities last Thursday.

Prison officials have denied any beatings, saying several prisoners cut their hands on glass as they were breaking windows to protest the inspection.

Iran convicted hundreds in the wake of protests following the 2009 re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which the opposition called fraudulent. Many were pardoned and released over the past years.

April 22, 2014 5:12 am

Militants attack balloting center in Iraq, kill 10

BAGHDAD (AP) — A senior Iraqi police officer says militants attacked a balloting center in a remote area in the country's north and killed 10 guards.

It was the latest in a surge in militant attacks in the run-up to Iraq's crucial parliament elections on April 30.

Deputy police chief in the northern city of Kirkuk says the attack occurred late on Monday night in Daqouq village.

Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef says the gunmen were disguised in military uniforms and told the guards at the polling center that they were there to do a search.

Youssef says the militants later shot to death the 10 guards.

Daqouq is located about 260 kilometers (162 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad.

April 22, 2014 4:45 am

Gunmen kill 4 senior security officials in Yemen

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni officials say gunmen have killed four senior security officers in the past 24 hours in a string of attacks.

The assassinations come as the Yemeni government pursues what officials say is a major campaign — reportedly backed by U.S. drone strike — in southern Yemen against al-Qaida. The government says 55 suspected militants have been killed so far.

The officials say assailants riding motorcycles gunned down three colonels — two of them in the intelligence agency and one from military police — in Sanaa on Monday and early Tuesday.

They say gunmen also shot dead a deputy security chief Tuesday in the central city of Harib.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

April 22, 2014 4:32 am

Syrian rebels make last stand for Homs

Syrian rebels make last stand for Homs

BEIRUT (AP) — Weakened Syrian rebels are making their last desperate stand in Homs, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launch their harshest assault yet to expel them from the central city, once known as the capital of the revolution.

Some among the hundreds of rebels remaining in the city talk of surrender, according to opposition activists there. Others have lashed back against the siege with suicide car bombings in districts under government control. Some fighters are turning on comrades they suspect want to desert, pushing them into battle.

"We expect Homs to fall," said an activist who uses the name Thaer Khalidiya in an online interview with The Associated Press. "In the next few days, it could be under the regime's control."

The fight for Homs underscores Assad's determination to rout rebels ahead of presidential elections now set for June 3, aiming to scatter fighters back further north toward their supply lines on the Turkish borders. Assad's forces are building on gains elsewhere — they have been able to almost clear rebels from a broad swath of territory south of Homs between the capital, Damascus, and the Lebanese border, breaking important rebel supply lines there. Rebels have also capitulated in several towns around Damascus after blockades that caused widespread hunger and suffering.

Homs, Syria's third largest city, is a crucial target. Located in the country's center, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Damascus, it links the capital with Aleppo in the north — the country's largest city and another key battleground. But rebels still control large areas of the countryside in the north and south and have consolidated around the Turkish and Jordanian borders.

"A total loss of Homs would represent a serious loss to the opposition," said Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

"The military has maintained a steadily significant focus on Homs precisely due to this importance," said Lister. "This has been all been part of a very conscious strategy of encircling, besieging and capturing areas of strategic importance," particularly urban areas.

For well over a year, government forces have been besieging rebels in the string of districts they hold in the city center, around its ancient bazaars.

Just over a week ago, troops loyal to Assad escalated their assaults on rebel districts, barraging them with tank and mortar fire and bombs dropped from military aircraft. Syrian forces have so far advanced into two areas, Wadi al-Sayih and Bab Houd.

Online video footage showed explosions as projectiles smashed into buildings, sending up columns of white smoke. Angry rebels are heard shouting that they have been abandoned and singing that only God could help them. The footage corresponded to other AP reporting on the events.

Activists said it was the fiercest assault since last summer, when Syrian forces retook the rebel-held Homs neighborhood of Khalidiya.

The death toll from fighting isn't known, because neither side reports losses.

If Assad's forces take Homs, it would be a major boost as he prepares for the upcoming election, fueling the image his government has sought to promote that he is capable of eventually winning the relentless conflict. The war is now in its fourth year, with more than 150,000 people killed and a third of Syria's population driven from their homes. Assad is expected to easily win another seven-year term in the June 3 election, which the opposition and the United States have already declared a farce aimed at giving Assad a veneer of popular support.

Inside Homs, rebels have been deeply weakened by months of blockade around their strongholds and the loss of their supply lines from Lebanon in March, after Syrian forces seized the border town of Zara.

Hundreds of fighters surrendered during a series of U.N. mediated truces that began in November. An estimated 800 to 1,000 fighters left alongside hundreds of civilians who were evacuated from rebel-held parts of the city, according to activists and an official in the Homs province. The rebels remaining in the city are predominantly from the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate, and other Islamist factions.

One rebel fighter in the city, who uses the nickname Abu Bilal, estimated there are 1,000 rebels who remain in Homs, but the number could not be confirmed. Like Khalidiya and other activists and rebels, he spoke on condition he be identified only by his nickname for fear of retribution.

An activist in Homs, Abu Rami, said rebels wanting to leave had weakened the spirits of others struggling to bear the blockade.

"They tempted them with food and drink, and saying, 'Don't you want to see your families?'" he said over Skype from the city. "(It) really did weaken hundreds of them, and it affected the morale of the rest of the rebels."

Dozens more fighters are now trying to surrender, according to Abu Rami and Khalidiya. The fighters reached out to contact the governor of Homs, Talal Barazi, and Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar, who handles such cases.

"We asked the regime if we could surrender and leave for the countryside," said Khalidiya.

"So far we don't have a clear answer," said Abu Rami, who is opposed to leaving but is helping mediate for the others.

Barazi's office said there was "absolutely no contact" with gunmen. It wasn't immediately possible to contact Haidar.

Some rebels have escalated suicide car bombings in government-controlled areas dominated by Alawites, the minority Shiite offshoot sect that Assad belongs to. At least five such bombings in April killed more than 60 people, one of the bloodiest months for residents in government-controlled areas, a local reporter there estimated. The most recent, on Friday, killed 14.

"We are killing them, those rotting carcasses," said Abu Bilal, the fighter.

The bombings have another aim, sparking fighting that prevents any truce that would allow rebels to desert, Abu Bilal said.

"Some of us are against those deserting. We are fighting so they can die in it," said Abu Bilal.

Homs' saga traces the arc of Syria's uprising.

It quickly embraced the uprising against Assad's rule after it began in southern Daraa province in March 2011. Tens of thousands joined anti-Assad protests in Homs, winning it the nickname of "the revolution's capital."

"We carried the spark of the revolution and made it a flame," Abu Rami said.

After pro-Assad forces violently cracked down on demonstrations, some protesters took up arms, transforming the uprising into an armed rebellion.

Homs has also seen the ever-increasing religious dimension of the conflict, with tit-for-tat sectarian killings in the city where majority Sunni Muslims live alongside Christians and Alawites.

Most recently, on April 7, a masked gunman killed a beloved, elderly Dutch priest, Jesuit Father Francis Van Der Lugt, who lived in a monastery in a rebel-held district, staying alongside civilians who were unable to leave.

Khalidiya, the activists, said Homs is lost, now they have to save the fighters.

"We are more scared that the regime (forces) will kill everybody than we are worried about the fall of Homs."

But Abu Rami said he'd rather die.

"If they come, then we are all going to be martyrs. We can lose an area, and we can regain it. But the most important thing is not to kneel."

____

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.

April 22, 2014 1:26 am Photos

Photos

Yemen says 55 militants killed in strikes on al-Qaida base in southern mountains

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen says 55 militants killed in strikes on al-Qaida base in southern mountains.

April 21, 2014 10:58 am

Yemen says 55 militants killed in strikes on al-Qaida base in southern mountains

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen says 55 militants killed in strikes on al-Qaida base in southern mountains.

April 21, 2014 10:57 am

Saudi sentences 5 to death for 2003 Riyadh attack

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — A Saudi court has sentenced five people to death and 37 others to prison on charges related to attacks against expatriate residential compounds in the country's capital more than a decade ago.

In the May 2003 attacks, militants shot and bombed their way into the three compounds in Riyadh. The assault left 35 people dead, including eight Americans and nine attackers.

The Riyadh bombings prompted the kingdom to launch a sweeping crackdown on al-Qaida militants, who officials say were behind the synchronized attack.

State media reported Sunday that Riyadh's Specialized Criminal Court issued the five death sentences. The court sentenced the 37 others to prison terms ranging from three to 35 years on charges of abetting the attacks. The defendants have 30 days to appeal. Their nationalities were not disclosed.

April 21, 2014 9:59 am

Egypt detains well-known belly dancer

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities have detained a belly dancer who rose to fame for her videos spoofing Islamists and other politicians over allegations that she is running an unlicensed satellite station.

Prosecutors said Monday that Sama el-Masry was taken into custody late Sunday in Cairo.

Earlier this year, she launched a satellite station called "Feloul," a pejorative term used to refer to supporters of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in 2011.

El-Masry has used the station to vigorously defend the military and its overthrow last July of Mubarak's successor, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

This week, she attacked a former presidential hopeful who filed a complaint against her.

April 21, 2014 9:11 am

In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

BEIT UMAR, West Bank (AP) — The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

But there was a crucial difference that helped to shape each boy's fate: One was Israeli, and the other Palestinian.

The tale of the two teens provides a stark example of the vast disparities of Israel's justice system in the West Bank, a contested area at the heart of the elusive search for a lasting peace.

While Israeli settlers in the West Bank fall mostly under civilian rule, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Israeli and Palestinian youths face inequities at every stage in the path of justice, from arrests to convictions and sentencing, according to police statistics obtained by The Associated Press through multiple requests under Israel's freedom of information law.

The results can ripple for years.

"Jail destroyed his life," said the Palestinian boy's father.

Only 53 Israeli settler youths were arrested for stone-throwing over the past six years, the data shows, and 89 percent were released without charge. Six were indicted. Four of those were found "guilty without conviction," a common sentence for Israeli juveniles that aims not to stain their record. One was cleared. The sixth case was still in court as of October, the most recent information available.

By contrast, 1,142 Palestinian youths were arrested by police over the same period for throwing stones, and 528 were indicted. All were convicted. Lawyers say the penalty is typically three to eight months in military prison.

Israel's Justice Ministry said more than five Israeli stone-throwers were indicted in the past six years, but declined to provide examples. Itzik Bam, a lawyer who represents Israeli settler youths, said he knew of 20 Israeli minors in the West Bank indicted for stone-throwing in recent years, including six who pleaded guilty and six who were cleared. He said the other cases are still in court.

The police numbers are not comprehensive, because the Israeli army also arrests Palestinian youths, and because the state prosecutor also issues indictments against settlers in more serious cases. However, the gap between the numbers for Israelis and Palestinians is clear and wide.

Israel's Justice Ministry said the numbers reflect the fact that Palestinians threw more stones than Israelis, rather than unequal treatment.

"Though the legal systems are different — military court versus civil court — the relevant law is implied impartially," said Yehuda Shefer, a deputy state prosecutor who is head of a Justice Ministry committee for West Bank law enforcement.

The Israeli Justice Ministry says it would like to rehabilitate Palestinian youth, but ends up jailing many offenders because their parents and leaders support their crimes. However, critics accuse Israel of dismissing Israeli crimes as youthful indiscretions, while treating Palestinian youths like hardened criminals.

"Everyone knows there is a problem with the treatment of minors in the West Bank, a systematic discrimination between Israeli minors and Palestinian minors," said Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney and Palestinian human rights defender. "Now you have the figures to prove that."

_____

Stones have become an iconic weapon in the West Bank, an arid land where they are plentiful. In the past six years, more than half of all arrests of Palestinian youth have been over stone-throwing, which Israel claims can be the first step toward militancy. Extremist Israeli settlers have also adopted the tactic.

On Feb. 20, 2012, the Israeli boy joined a group of youths pelting a bus with rocks at the entrance to Bat Ayin, according to police reports. The settlement, located in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and the biblical city of Hebron, is known for its hardline population.

Police said they targeted the bus because the driver was Arab. The rocks damaged the bus but did not harm the driver.

The boy, whose name cannot be published under local law because he is a minor, was brought to the Hebron region police station at 9 p.m., with his father by his side. In his interrogation, the boy invoked his right to remain silent. He spent a night in the station and four days under house arrest. Then he was freed without charge.

The following day, according to police reports, the Palestinian boy lobbed rocks at Israeli cars zipping past his hometown of Beit Umar, a farming town of 14,000 people perched near an Israeli military tower. Police said he and others wanted to show solidarity with a high-profile Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.

The rocks shattered the front windshield of a white Mazda and damaged three other vehicles on a busy highway. There were no injuries. The incident was caught on tape and broadcast on Israeli evening news.

Two weeks later, at 3:30 a.m., Israeli soldiers kicked down the door to the Palestinian boy's bedroom, carried him to a jeep, blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he said. He was slapped by soldiers, kept awake all night and placed in a military jail cell with 10 other Palestinian youths, he said.

It would be more than nine months before he could go free.

An Israeli psychological exam conducted in prison found the boy showed signs of anxiety and depression. He told the prison's clinical psychologist and social worker that he looked at a photo of his family to help him sleep, and had nightmares about soldiers killing his relatives. The exam also found he was short-breathed and had a cough, which he said was from soldiers hitting him in the chest during his arrest.

___

The West Bank, an expanse of rocky hilltops blanketed in olive trees, is central to the current round of U.S.-brokered peace talks. For Palestinians, the West Bank is the heart of a future state, along with adjacent east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. For Israel, the land known by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria is significant to Jewish heritage and to security.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, it has built more than 100 settlements, creating "facts on the ground" that complicate any future withdrawal. Some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control.

Today, more than 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. The two sides have little interaction, and for the most part live under separate — and often unequal — systems of law.

While the Palestinian Authority governs day-to-day affairs, the Israeli military wields overall control. Palestinians need Israeli permission to enter Israel or to travel abroad through the Jordanian border. Palestinians frequently suffer from poor roads, creaky infrastructure and water shortages.

Israeli settlers, by contrast, are Israeli citizens. They are subject to Israeli law, vote in Israeli elections, move freely in and out of Israel and have access to Israel's modern infrastructure. They serve in and are protected by the Israeli army.

Israel says that extending its laws to Palestinians would be tantamount to annexation, and that many of the restrictions, such as military checkpoints, are needed for security. Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel tries to help the Palestinians but acknowledged the setup as problematic.

"We're stuck in this interim status and it's not good," he said. "This is precisely the reason we need to resolve this thing through negotiations."

Israel's Ministry of Justice says it attaches "great importance" to narrowing the differences in the law regarding juvenile detainees. In 2009, Israel created a juvenile military court. In 2011, it raised the age of minority for Palestinian youth from 16 to 18. And in 2013, it shortened the amount of time a West Bank Palestinian minor can be held under detention, from eight days to, in most cases, one or two days — still double the time allowed for an Israeli minor.

"In our perspective, a minor is a minor," the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

_______

The Israeli boy's journey through the justice system was one of repeated second chances. The middle child of a psychologist mother and a psychiatrist father, he lived and studied at a religious school in Bat Ayin, a rural community of about 200 families.

After his release from jail, the case remained closed until he was arrested again. This time, he was accused of attacking two Palestinians with pepper spray while in possession of a knife and a slingshot decorated with the words "Revenge on Arabs."

During a court hearing on the pepper spray charge, prosecutors brought up his previous rock-throwing arrest. Only then was he indicted for both offenses.

The Israeli minor pleaded guilty to pepper-spraying but denied throwing rocks. He was put under house arrest for nine months.

While at home, he prepared for Israeli national matriculation exams. During the final three months, he was permitted to attend school. Then he was freed. It was nearly two years after the alleged stone-throwing incident that he finally stood trial, which is ongoing.

There was no such leniency for the Palestinian boy. The youngest of four brothers, he grew up in a modest cement home surrounded by bougainvillea plants and verdant farm lands. He liked to play basketball. His lawyer would only permit the AP to identify him by his first name, Zein.

Zein's father, a short man with a cigarette perched under his mustache and a forehead carved with lines, described the boy as a B-plus student who could have gone on to a professional career.

That all changed after his arrest. While many Palestinian prisoners accept plea bargains in exchange for reduced imprisonment, the boy pleaded innocent and went to trial. After nine and a half months in prison, he was put under house arrest. Seven months later, he was convicted and sentenced to time already served.

In the ruling, the judge criticized the police interrogator for not asking the boy if he understood his rights, and not giving him the opportunity to consult with his lawyer or parents.

"It appears from the interrogation in this case that the Israeli police do not understand the sensitivity obligated in interrogating juvenile suspects," military judge Shahar Greenberg wrote.

Requests for response from the Israeli police were not answered.

_____

In the end, the Israeli and the Palestinian teens had one thing in common: Despite Israel's stated goals, neither was rehabilitated. Instead, both were embraced by communities that condone stone-throwing.

After his release from house arrest, the Israeli boy joined an extremist group known as the "Hilltop Youth" and moved to an unauthorized settlement outpost called Hill 904. These defiant, ideological Jewish teens squat on West Bank hilltops, and attack Palestinians and their property. There was a big celebration when he arrived, the boy said.

He built makeshift homes on the hill for six months and studied Jewish law with his comrades. Then he moved to another outpost. And another. And another.

He still denies throwing rocks, but said it was an acceptable tactic to fight Palestinians, citing a teaching by an extremist rabbi. He described himself as a warrior in an ideological battle for Jewish control of the West Bank.

"Wherever soldiers are needed, I go," he mumbled outside the courtroom after a recent hearing. He wore the settler youth uniform of long side locks and tattered cargo pants, with a few chin hairs of adolescence. "We are commanded to inherit the land, and to expel (Palestinians)."

When the Palestinian boy got out of jail, he rejoined his 10th-grade class at the end of the school year, but couldn't catch up and dropped out. For a while he tried to sell knock-off shoes hoarded in his bedroom. Now he mopes around his parents' house, not doing much of anything.

"My school wanted me to go back to classes, but I quit," he said with a shrug, sitting in his parents' living room in sandals, with greased hair.

His lawyer, Neri Ramati, is appealing the conviction, while prosecutors are seeking a tougher sentence of six more months in jail.

His father, Hisham, said Palestinians have every right to throw stones to achieve independence. He said he and two other sons were all arrested by Israel when they threw stones, unlike his youngest son, who claims innocence.

His father's conclusion? "He's a coward."

___

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Daniel Estrin on Twitter at www.twitter.com/danielestrin . Follow Josef Federman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joseffederman .

April 21, 2014 6:55 am Photos

Photos

Palestinians meet in Gaza for reconciliation talks

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A senior Hamas leader based in Egypt is in Gaza for talks aimed at reaching a reconciliation agreement between the two rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah.

Moussa Abu Marzouk is meeting Hamas leaders in Gaza on Monday ahead of a visit by Fatah officials on Tuesday. Hamas freed 10 Fatah prisoners before the meetings as a good-will gesture.

Palestinians have been divided since 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. Since then, Hamas has ruled Gaza while Abbas governs some areas in the West Bank.

Past reconciliation attempts have failed.

It was unusual for Cairo to allow the visit since Egypt is cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood group, of which Hamas is an offshoot.

April 21, 2014 6:19 am

New drone strike in Yemen kills al-Qaida militants

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni security officials and tribal chiefs say that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed several al-Qaida militants in the country's south, including a local militant commander.

The Monday morning attack targeted the rugged mountainous area of Mahfad between the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa. Tribal leaders identified the killed commander as Munnaser al-Anbouri. It was unclear how many militants died.

Both the officials and the elders spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

It was the third day of a campaign of airstrikes against the al-Qaida branch in Yemen, considered one of the terror network's most dangerous.

There was no immediate U.S. comment on the strike.

A Yemeni security official says 10 suspected al-Qaida militants were arrested in Shabwa province late Sunday.

April 21, 2014 5:58 am

Gaza militants fire missile, rockets at Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's military says Gaza militants have fired a missile at troops patrolling the border as well as several rockets into the south of the country.

The military didn't immediately retaliate for Monday's attacks, which came on the last day of the Passover holiday. No casualties were reported.

The military says the latest bout of attacks started late Sunday when an explosive device went off targeting troops along the border. A missile was fired at the soldiers on Monday and at least seven rockets into southern Israel after that.

Fire from Gaza, ruled by the militant Islamic group Hamas, has declined since an Israeli campaign aimed at ending what were then almost daily attacks in 2012, but it still persists.

Last month, Gaza militants fired the heaviest barrages since that offensive.

April 21, 2014 5:55 am

Suicide attack in Iraq kills at least 9 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say a suicide attack targeting a police checkpoint outside the capital, Baghdad, has killed at least nine people.

A police officer says the bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the checkpoint in the town of Suwayrah, killing four policemen and five civilians on Monday.

The officer says the explosion also wounded 22 people. The town of Suwayrah is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Baghdad.

A medical official confirmed the causality figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Iraq is undergoing a surge in attacks since last year, with violence reaching levels unseen since 2008. It has become the Shiite-led government's most serious challenge as the nation prepares to hold parliamentary elections.

April 21, 2014 5:31 am

Syrian parliament speaker says the country will hold presidential elections on June 3

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian parliament speaker says the country will hold presidential elections on June 3.

April 21, 2014 4:29 am

Syrian parliament speaker says the country will hold presidential elections on June 3

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian parliament speaker says the country will hold presidential elections on June 3.

April 21, 2014 4:31 am

Mortar shells hit near Syrian parliament, kill 5

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's state-run media say a pair of mortar shells hit near the parliament building in central Damascus, killing five people.

SANA news agency says the mortars struck some 320 feet (100 meters) from the parliament in the Salihiya area of the Syrian capital on Monday morning.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Syrian rebels often fire mortar shells into government-controlled areas of Damascus. They say they are punishing pro-government forces for besieging areas controlled by the opposition, denying residents food, clean water and medical aid, and for dropping crude bombs on residential areas.

Mortar shells cannot be precisely targeted and often kill civilians.

Syria's conflict is now in its fourth year. It has killed over 150,000 people and forced one-third of the country's population from their homes.

April 21, 2014 2:58 am

Yemen: Airstrike targets al-Qaida training camps

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A high-level government security committee in Yemen says an airstrike against training camps operated by suspected al-Qaida militants in a rugged southern mountain region has killed a number of fighters.

The Supreme Security Committee, which includes the defense and interior ministers, as well as the country's intelligence chief, did not say who carried out the attack Sunday in between Abyan and Shabwa provinces. The U.S. regularly carries out drone strikes in Yemen against its local al-Qaida branch, which Washington considers the most active in the world.

The statement was carried by the state news agency SABA. Quoting an unnamed official from the committee, the agency said those killed included foreigners and suspected leading figures in al-Qaida. It offered no casualty figures. This is the second strike targeting al-Qaida since Saturday.

April 20, 2014 12:05 pm

Kuwait orders 2 newspapers shut over coup articles

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait's state news agency says the government has temporarily suspended the publication of two independent newspapers over articles about a secret probe into allegations of a coup plot to overthrow the Gulf monarchy's government.

KUNA carried a statement Sunday by the Information Ministry saying Al Watan and Alam Al Yawm newspapers had violated a prosecutor-ordered media blackout of the investigation.

The ministry says a judge ordered the newspapers to stop printing for two weeks after they published information about the investigation he said could harm the public's interest.

Deputy editor-in-chief at Al Watan, Waleed Al-Jassim, said his newspaper regrets the government's decision, but plans to contest the ruling. He says the newspaper's website will stay online because it falls under a different jurisdiction.

April 20, 2014 11:20 am

In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

BEIT UMAR, West Bank (AP) — The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

But there was a crucial difference that helped to shape each boy's fate: One was Israeli, and the other Palestinian.

The tale of the two teens provides a stark example of the vast disparities of Israel's justice system in the West Bank, a contested area at the heart of the elusive search for a lasting peace.

While Israeli settlers in the West Bank fall mostly under civilian rule, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Israeli and Palestinian youths face inequities at every stage in the path of justice, from arrests to convictions and sentencing, according to police statistics obtained by The Associated Press through multiple requests under Israel's freedom of information law.

The results can ripple for years.

"Jail destroyed his life," said the Palestinian boy's father.

Only 53 Israeli settler youths were arrested for stone-throwing over the past six years, the data shows, and 90 percent were released without charge. Five were indicted. Four of those were found "guilty without conviction," a common sentence for Israeli juveniles that aims not to stain their record. The fifth case was still in court as of October, the most recent information available.

By contrast, 1,142 Palestinian youths were arrested by police over the same period for throwing stones, and 528 were indicted. All were convicted. Lawyers say the penalty is typically three to eight months in military prison.

Israel's Justice Ministry said more than five Israeli stone-throwers were indicted in the past six years, but declined to provide examples. Itzik Bam, a lawyer who represents Israeli settler youths, said he knew of 20 Israeli minors in the West Bank indicted for stone-throwing in recent years, including six who pleaded guilty and six who were cleared. He said the other cases are still in court.

The police numbers are not comprehensive, because the Israeli army also arrests Palestinian youths, and because the state prosecutor also issues indictments against settlers in more serious cases. However, the gap between the numbers for Israelis and Palestinians is clear and wide.

Israel's Justice Ministry said the numbers reflect the fact that Palestinians threw more stones than Israelis, rather than unequal treatment.

"Though the legal systems are different — military court versus civil court — the relevant law is implied impartially," said Yehuda Shefer, a deputy state prosecutor who is head of a Justice Ministry committee for West Bank law enforcement.

The Israeli Justice Ministry says it would like to rehabilitate Palestinian youth, but ends up jailing many offenders because their parents and leaders support their crimes. However, critics accuse Israel of dismissing Israeli crimes as youthful indiscretions, while treating Palestinian youths like hardened criminals.

"Everyone knows there is a problem with the treatment of minors in the West Bank, a systematic discrimination between Israeli minors and Palestinian minors," said Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney and Palestinian human rights defender. "Now you have the figures to prove that."

_____

Stones have become an iconic weapon in the West Bank, an arid land where they are plentiful. In the past six years, more than half of all arrests of Palestinian youth have been over stone-throwing, which Israel claims can be the first step toward militancy. Extremist Israeli settlers have also adopted the tactic.

On Feb. 20, 2012, the Israeli boy joined a group of youths pelting a bus with rocks at the entrance to Bat Ayin, according to police reports. The settlement, located in the southern West Bank between Jerusalem and the biblical city of Hebron, is known for its hardline population.

Police said they targeted the bus because the driver was Arab. The rocks damaged the bus but did not harm the driver.

The boy, whose name cannot be published under local law because he is a minor, was brought to the Hebron region police station at 9 p.m., with his father by his side. In his interrogation, the boy invoked his right to remain silent. He spent a night in the station and four days under house arrest. Then he was freed without charge.

The following day, according to police reports, the Palestinian boy lobbed rocks at Israeli cars zipping past his hometown of Beit Umar, a farming town of 14,000 people perched near an Israeli military tower. Police said he and others wanted to show solidarity with a high-profile Palestinian prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.

The rocks shattered the front windshield of a white Mazda and damaged three other vehicles on a busy highway. There were no injuries. The incident was caught on tape and broadcast on Israeli evening news.

Two weeks later, at 3:30 a.m., Israeli soldiers kicked down the door to the Palestinian boy's bedroom, carried him to a jeep, blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he said. He was slapped by soldiers, kept awake all night and placed in a military jail cell with 10 other Palestinian youths, he said.

It would be more than nine months before he could go free.

An Israeli psychological exam conducted in prison found the boy showed signs of anxiety and depression. He told the prison's clinical psychologist and social worker that he looked at a photo of his family to help him sleep, and had nightmares about soldiers killing his relatives. The exam also found he was short-breathed and had a cough, which he said was from soldiers hitting him in the chest during his arrest.

___

The West Bank, an expanse of rocky hilltops blanketed in olive trees, is central to the current round of U.S.-brokered peace talks. For Palestinians, the West Bank is the heart of a future state, along with adjacent east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. For Israel, the land known by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria is significant to Jewish heritage and to security.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, it has built more than 100 settlements, creating "facts on the ground" that complicate any future withdrawal. Some 60 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control.

Today, more than 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. The two sides have little interaction, and for the most part live under separate — and often unequal — systems of law.

While the Palestinian Authority governs day-to-day affairs, the Israeli military wields overall control. Palestinians need Israeli permission to enter Israel or to travel abroad through the Jordanian border. Palestinians frequently suffer from poor roads, creaky infrastructure and water shortages.

Israeli settlers, by contrast, are Israeli citizens. They are subject to Israeli law, vote in Israeli elections, move freely in and out of Israel and have access to Israel's modern infrastructure. They serve in and are protected by the Israeli army.

Israel says that extending its laws to Palestinians would be tantamount to annexation, and that many of the restrictions, such as military checkpoints, are needed for security. Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel tries to help the Palestinians but acknowledged the setup as problematic.

"We're stuck in this interim status and it's not good," he said. "This is precisely the reason we need to resolve this thing through negotiations."

Israel's Ministry of Justice says it attaches "great importance" to narrowing the differences in the law regarding juvenile detainees. In 2009, Israel created a juvenile military court. In 2011, it raised the age of minority for Palestinian youth from 16 to 18. And in 2013, it shortened the amount of time a West Bank Palestinian minor can be held under detention, from eight days to, in most cases, one or two days — still double the time allowed for an Israeli minor.

"In our perspective, a minor is a minor," the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

_______

The Israeli boy's journey through the justice system was one of repeated second chances. The middle child of a psychologist mother and a psychiatrist father, he lived and studied at a religious school in Bat Ayin, a rural community of about 200 families.

After his release from jail, the case remained closed until he was arrested again. This time, he was accused of attacking two Palestinians with pepper spray while in possession of a knife and a slingshot decorated with the words "Revenge on Arabs."

During a court hearing on the pepper spray charge, prosecutors brought up his previous rock-throwing arrest. Only then was he indicted for both offenses.

The Israeli minor pleaded guilty to pepper-spraying but denied throwing rocks. He was put under house arrest for nine months.

While at home, he prepared for Israeli national matriculation exams. During the final three months, he was permitted to attend school. Then he was freed. It was nearly two years after the alleged stone-throwing incident that he finally stood trial, which is ongoing.

There was no such leniency for the Palestinian boy. The youngest of four brothers, he grew up in a modest cement home surrounded by bougainvillea plants and verdant farm lands. He liked to play basketball. His lawyer would only permit the AP to identify him by his first name, Zein.

Zein's father, a short man with a cigarette perched under his mustache and a forehead carved with lines, described the boy as a B-plus student who could have gone on to a professional career.

That all changed after his arrest. While many Palestinian prisoners accept plea bargains in exchange for reduced imprisonment, the boy pleaded innocent and went to trial. After nine and a half months in prison, he was put under house arrest. Seven months later, he was convicted and sentenced to time already served.

In the ruling, the judge criticized the police interrogator for not asking the boy if he understood his rights, and not giving him the opportunity to consult with his lawyer or parents.

"It appears from the interrogation in this case that the Israeli police do not understand the sensitivity obligated in interrogating juvenile suspects," military judge Shahar Greenberg wrote.

Requests for response from the Israeli police were not answered.

_____

In the end, the Israeli and the Palestinian teens had one thing in common: Despite Israel's stated goals, neither was rehabilitated. Instead, both were embraced by communities that condone stone-throwing.

After his release from house arrest, the Israeli boy joined an extremist group known as the "Hilltop Youth" and moved to an unauthorized settlement outpost called Hill 904. These defiant, ideological Jewish teens squat on West Bank hilltops, and attack Palestinians and their property. There was a big celebration when he arrived, the boy said.

He built makeshift homes on the hill for six months and studied Jewish law with his comrades. Then he moved to another outpost. And another. And another.

He still denies throwing rocks, but said it was an acceptable tactic to fight Palestinians, citing a teaching by an extremist rabbi. He described himself as a warrior in an ideological battle for Jewish control of the West Bank.

"Wherever soldiers are needed, I go," he mumbled outside the courtroom after a recent hearing. He wore the settler youth uniform of long side locks and tattered cargo pants, with a few chin hairs of adolescence. "We are commanded to inherit the land, and to expel (Palestinians)."

When the Palestinian boy got out of jail, he rejoined his 10th-grade class at the end of the school year, but couldn't catch up and dropped out. For a while he tried to sell knock-off shoes hoarded in his bedroom. Now he mopes around his parents' house, not doing much of anything.

"My school wanted me to go back to classes, but I quit," he said with a shrug, sitting in his parents' living room in sandals, with greased hair.

His lawyer, Neri Ramati, is appealing the conviction, while prosecutors are seeking a tougher sentence of six more months in jail.

His father, Hisham, said Palestinians have every right to throw stones to achieve independence. He said he and two other sons were all arrested by Israel when they threw stones, unlike his youngest son, who claims innocence.

His father's conclusion? "He's a coward."

___

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Daniel Estrin on Twitter at www.twitter.com/danielestrin . Follow Josef Federman on Twitter at www.twitter.com/joseffederman .

April 20, 2014 10:16 am Photos

Photos

Construction frenzy in Beirut alters city skyline

Construction frenzy in Beirut alters city skyline

BEIRUT (AP) — One by one, the old traditional houses of Beirut are vanishing as luxury towers sprout up on every corner, altering the city's skyline almost beyond recognition amid an ongoing construction frenzy seemingly immune to tensions from the civil war raging next door.

Lebanon's enchanting Ottoman and colonial French-style buildings once represented Beirut's rich history, withstanding years of civil war and invasions only to be demolished in peace time by wealthy Gulf Arab investors.

In that, Beirut is no different than Dubai, Doha or other major world cities overtaken by a global trend for modern, tall buildings. But in a country that prides itself on its rich history, many complain that Lebanon is losing its charm and character, often said to be the only thing going for it.

A famously scenic Mediterranean city surrounded by once lush mountains, Beirut may soon be overrun with buildings — all at the expense of green parks and pedestrian areas.

Robert Saliba, professor of architecture and urban planning at the American University of Beirut, said Beirut always has been attractive for investors because of its cultural diversity and free spirit.

"Beirut is a reflection of a hybrid city where the market takes over the future development. ... My own observation is that Beirut was never interested in its history. It's a city that was always taken by modernity," he said.

Still, he said Beirut is fast becoming saturated, a city often said to provide the smallest ratio of open spaces for its inhabitants in the world.

It is a transformation that those familiar with the city can barely keep up with.

When Salim Baalbaki arrived to Lebanon last year for the first time after more than 15 years spent working in Canada, he struggled to recognize where he grew up, a few steps from Beirut's seaside promenade and central district.

The tree-lined corniche where he took long walks during lulls in fighting during the 1975-90 civil war is now dotted with luxury apartment buildings that sell units for as much as $10,000 per square meter (square yard). The once bustling downtown area, razed to the ground and spectacularly rebuilt after the civil war, is seen as a beautiful yet sterile lot of polished boutiques and high-priced restaurants.

Tall buildings stick out at odd lengths and angles, wedged almost wall to wall between older buildings and sprouting out of alleys.

Worst of all for Baalbaki, the parking lot where he used to play soccer with friends next to his parent's apartment building has been replaced with a high rise that blocks the light from the apartment.

"Actually my depression started when I looked down from the airplane during landing and saw the jungle of cement below," Baalbaki said. "It is a disaster and it makes me sad for Lebanon."

Not everyone shares Baalbaki's gloom. Beirut's post-war reconstruction is seen by many as a model to be looked upon by countries in the region. Despite the chaos in neighboring Syria, and bouts of deadly spillover, construction barely has slowed down. The city is buzzing with the sounds of jackhammers and active cranes dot the skyline — a healthy sign amid turbulent times, some say.

The construction boom has been fueled in the past decade by rich expatriates and Gulf Arab investors who have driven prices up, encouraging Beirut property owners to sell.

Analysts say despite slowing local demand because of the war in Syria, high real estate prices in Lebanon have been sustained partly because of the scarcity of land. The increase in real estate demand by displaced Syrians somewhat compensated for reduced local demand, helping maintain real estate prices.

But while Lebanon's real estate sector has developed to become one of the country's success stories, many say it is coming at the expense of Lebanon's identity and heritage.

It has led to the destruction of hundreds of traditional Lebanese houses known for their stoned, arched headways, elaborate balconies and colorful windows and gardens. The houses, dating back French and Ottoman era, are mainly in Beirut and its peripheries, areas that were heavily damaged during Lebanon's civil war.

An initial census in the early 1990s counted 1600 traditional homes and buildings in the greater Beirut area. Today, an estimated 250 standing structures remain, said Naji Raji, an activist and spokesman for Save Beirut Heritage.

He blames the demolitions on politicians' corruption, greed and non-existent construction regulations or any sort of urban planning outside the Beirut Central District. There are virtually no laws that specifically protect old buildings, except for a ministerial decree issued a few years ago which states that every demolition permit must be co-signed by the Culture Ministry, giving it power to stop the demolition of traditional homes.

Save Beirut Heritage has a hotline through which it receives tips about old buildings threatened with demolitions, which it conveys to the Culture Ministry. This has allowed the group to halt the demolition of up to 60 buildings in Beirut and its suburbs since 2010.

Raji's latest pet project is lobbying against the Fouad Boutros highway, a 1.3-kilometer (0.81-mile) road expected to cut through historic quarters of Beirut.

Like many others, Raji worries that Beirut is losing its identity to become more like Dubai, famous for its splashy megaprojects but often criticized as being artificial and lacking character.

"Modernization should not be at the expense of history," Raji said.

However, Saliba said that modernizing mess is seen by some as Lebanon's charm.

"Strangely enough this visual chaos is appreciated more by ... foreigners, by Westerners who come to Beirut, who fall in love with this chaos," Saliba said.

The professor added: "But we don't."

___

Follow Zeina Karam on Twitter at www.twitter.com/zkaram .

April 20, 2014 10:07 am Photos

Photos

Report: Next Iran nuclear talks to be in New York

Report: Next Iran nuclear talks to be in New York

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's state news agency is reporting that the next round of expert-level talks over its contested nuclear program will be held in New York.

The report Sunday by the official ISNA news agency quotes Iran's senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi as saying the talks will be held along the sidelines of a meeting about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in May.

This would be the first time in years that Iran and the West would hold talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program in New York.

Iran and world powers continue to negotiate a final deal over its nuclear program. Under an interim deal reached in November, Iran agreed to cap its nuclear program for the easing of some financial sanctions.

April 20, 2014 8:59 am Photos

Photos

Emirati firm promises to send citizen into space

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One lucky citizen of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates could soon get the chance to be rocketed into space.

Government-backed Aabar Investments on Sunday announced the start of a competition to award an Emirati a free spot aboard Virgin Galactic's spaceship when it begins ferrying space tourists briefly into space.

The UAE is a seven-state federation that includes Dubai and the federal capital Abu Dhabi.

Contest details have yet to be worked out. But it appears the large numbers of expatriates who far outnumber the local Emirati population aren't eligible.

Virgin Galactic hasn't set a firm start date to begin taking paying passengers on its suborbital flights. Aabar is a partial owner of the company along with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

April 20, 2014 6:07 am

Militants kill at least 10 Algerian soldiers

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerian police and military officials said Islamist insurgents ambushed a military bus, killing at least 10 soldiers in the central Kabylie mountains.

A military official in Algiers put the toll at 10 dead with eight wounded, but a police officer in the region put the death toll at least 14.

The police officer said the soldiers were returning from an operation when they were ambushed early Sunday morning.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Algeria fought a 10-year civil war against Islamic insurgents in the 1990s after invalidating a national election. Now the militants are largely confined to isolated regions, such as the Kabylie mountains, 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Algiers, the capital.

April 20, 2014 5:07 am

Iraq: Separate attacks kill at least 12 people

BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials say attacks in Iraq have killed at least 12 people and wounded 35 others.

Police say the deadliest was outside the southern city of Samawah when two car bombs exploded simultaneously in a commercial area, killing seven civilians and wounding 17. The Shiite city is located 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

They added that a suicide bomber with an explosives belt attacked the main gate of a Shiite private college in Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of Ur, while three militants attacked the back gate. Four policemen and one teacher were killed while 18 people were wounded. The three militants were killed.

Medical officials confirmed causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

April 20, 2014 4:43 am
Follow The Times

Featured Businesses

Poll

Loading…

Who should win the Democratic nomination for Lake County assessor?

View Results

National Video