TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hard-liners in Iran have protested in front of Austrian Embassy over European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meeting activists on a recent trip to the Islamic Republic.
Associated Press journalists saw the hard-liners protesting Wednesday over Ashton speaking with a female activist and the mother of a blogger who died while in police custody.
The agency says demonstrators chanted: "Oh undeserving Ashton, shame on you, shame on you!"
On Monday, a senior military official strongly criticized Ashton for meeting the activists during her visit to Iran. On Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham also said a protest note had been forwarded to the Austrian Embassy for arranging the meeting.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister has warned Syria has become the world's main arena for terrorism, which could spread to the West if its civil war continues.
Speaking at a counter-terrorism conference Wednesday in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki called on regional states to share intelligence, chase down fugitives and stop clerics who issue religious edicts promoting violence.
"Terrorism has become a global issue that is geographically expanding and its aftershocks will reach European and international capitals in a short period of time."
Now entering its fourth year, the war has killed more than 140,000 people. U.N. figures show it has forced about 2.3 million Syrians to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. Within the country, the U.N. estimated in July that 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli lawmakers have passed a contentious law meant to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army.
The issue lies at the heart of a cultural war on the place of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society.
The matter featured prominently in elections last year that led to the establishment of a center-right government, which has pushed for the draft reforms.
Wednesday's vote passed 67-1 in the Knesset. The opposition boycotted the vote to protest what it says are strong-arm tactics by the ruling coalition.
For years exempt from military service, the ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage. They say conscription threatens their community.
The exemptions have enraged secular Israelis who say the ultra-Orthodox are not doing their fair share.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is visiting nearby Oman on his first trip to an Arab country since taking office last year.
Iran's state TV says Rouhani, who has vowed to improve Tehran's relations with neighbors, landed in Muscat on Wednesday. A high-ranking economic delegation is accompanying him on the two-day visit aimed at boosting bilateral relations between the two countries.
Iran and Oman lie on opposite sides of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf that is the route for one fifth of the world's oil.
Saudi Arabia and other Western-allied Gulf Arab nations are wary of Iran's influence. Oman has traditionally had warm relations with Iran and has at times acted as a mediator between Tehran and the West.
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's ousted prime minister has left the country despite a ban on travel, hours after parliament removed him from office in a no-confidence vote.
Officials in Tripoli on Wednesday could not confirm the departure of Ali Zidan, Libya's first democratically chosen leader who had struggled for 15 months to stem the country's spiraling descent into chaos.
But in nearby Malta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told state-owned television that Zidan had made a brief stop-over on the Mediterranean island late on Tuesday, before traveling on.
The Western-backed Zidan was ousted in a parliament vote on Tuesday as Libya faces a series of crises, including an escalation over oil ports seized by an eastern militia.
Soon after parliament voted, Libya's general prosecutor banned Zidan from travel pending an investigation into corruption allegations.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's state TV is reporting that President Bashar Assad has made a rare public appearance, visiting people displaced by the war in a Damascus suburb.
The TV says the visit took place on Wednesday in the suburb of Adra but gave no further details.
Syrian troops have been on the offensive in Adra, just northeast of Damascus, after rebels captured parts of it in December, which displaced thousands from the area.
Syria's civil war, now entering its fourth year, has killed more than 140,000 people.
According to U.N. figures, the conflict has also forced about 2.3 million Syrians to seek shelter in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.
Also, a July U.N. estimate said 6.5 million have been uprooted from their homes and displaced within Syria.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Voters in a deeply divided Israeli city have returned an ultra-Orthodox mayor to his post after he narrowly defeated a secular challenger in a repeat vote held following fraud allegations.
Beit Shemesh's incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul won 51 percent of Tuesday's vote. His opponent, Eli Cohen, won 49 percent.
Cohen conceded defeat on Wednesday, telling Israel Radio that the majority decided "it wants a city with an ultra-Orthodox character."
The city's 100,000 residents are almost equally split between ultra-Orthodox and other Jewish groups. Results from initial elections in October showed voters lined up almost entirely along religious affiliation.
After the October vote in which Abutbul narrowly defeated Cohen, dozens of witnesses alleged fraud. The vote was challenged in court, which later ordered new polls.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The official news agency of the United Arab Emirates says Egypt's military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is in the country attending the closing ceremony of joint military exercises.
It is el-Sissi's second official trip abroad since he ousted President Mohammed Morsi from power after massive protests last summer. El-Sissi, who is defense minister, visited Moscow last month.
The WAM news agency reported Tuesday that el-Sissi met Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the richest emirate in the UAE federation.
The UAE has supported Cairo's new leadership against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters, pledging at least $5 billion to support the transitional government.
This week the UAE joined Saudi Arabia and Egypt in labeling the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood denies it practices violence.
El-Sissi is widely expected to declare his candidacy in the first presidential elections since Morsi's ouster, and if he runs, is expected to win.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials in Iraq say bombings and a shooting around the country's capital, Baghdad have killed at least five people.
Police officials say an adhesive "sticky bomb" attached to a minibus exploded in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, killing two passengers and wounding five others.
Shortly after sunset, police said another bomb in a commercial street in Baghdad's western district of Shurta killed two people and wounded eight others. Also, in western Baghdad, an employee in the capital's municipality was killed by gunmen in a drive-by shooting.
Medical officials confirmed Tuesday's casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to release the information to journalists.
JERUSALEM (AP) — The oldest known masks in the world went on display in Jerusalem on Tuesday in the largest-ever exhibit of the ghoulish faces, believed to have been created in the Holy Land thousands of years before the time of the Bible.
The 11 stone masks, said to have been discovered in the Judean desert and hills near Jerusalem, date back 9,000 years and offer a rare glimpse at some of civilization's first communal rituals.
"It's quite exciting," said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, which is hosting the seven-month exhibit. "When you go back to objects that are this old, that are so much before the theology that becomes Judaism, Christianity and then Islam, to feel that there is a kind of a connection, that this is all part of a continuous story, is something that is pretty thrilling."
The masks are thought to have been fashioned to look like skulls, and each one has its own personality. Some have round cartoon-like holes for eyes, others flash a grin of tiny teeth. One elongated mask bears a resemblance to that of Hollywood villain Hannibal Lecter of "Silence of the Lambs."
The masks have long been an enigma. Most of the artifacts had made their way into the hands of private collectors over the past several decades, so it took 10 years of carbon-14 testing and comparison to similar masks discovered in documented Israeli excavations for experts to determine their authenticity and origin.
Iain Morley, a professor of paleoanthropology at Oxford University, said the items are believed to be the oldest of their kind. "I don't think there's anything that early from other parts of the world that you can say is a mask," said Morley, who is not involved in the exhibit.
In the past few weeks, researchers say they have resolved one of the masks' mysteries. Computer simulation tests conducted at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have led experts to conclude that many of the masks may have been worn on people's faces, not tied to structures at ritual sites as was previously thought.
The masks date to the Neolithic period, before the invention of writing. But the tradition of mask wearing is apparently even older.
Cave drawings dating back 25,000 years depict people wearing animal masks, said exhibit curator Debby Hershman. But actual masks from this time have not been found, possibly because they were made of biodegradable materials that disintegrated over time.
The stone masks were fashioned at a critical turning point in the history of civilization, when humans in the Fertile Crescent abandoned the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and became farmers, Hershman said. The Jerusalem region was one of the main centers of the agricultural revolution.
"It's the most important revolution that ever happened," Hershman said. The people who fashioned the masks, she said, "are actually the founders of civilization."
Agricultural communities needed to reinforce their societal bonds to maintain their connection to the land and each other, so they began performing ritualistic rites, researchers believe. The stone masks are thought to have been made to look like the skulls of dead ancestors, used in civilization's first public ceremonies.
How these 11 stone masks were brought together for this exhibit is something of a detective story.
The Israel Museum owns two of them — one discovered in an Israeli excavation, and another from the personal collection of the iconic general and politician Moshe Dayan, an antiquities enthusiast who autographed his name on the back of the mask. Dayan died in 1981.
Hershman, the museum's prehistory curator, said she was rummaging through the Israel Museum archives when she stumbled upon three photos of other Neolithic stone masks she had not recognized, labeled as belonging to an anonymous private collection. Hershman said Snyder, the museum's director, began to inquire with collectors around the world to try to track down the masks.
That search led to Judy and Michael Steinhardt, prominent New York collectors of Judaica and antiquities, who said they owned a hoard of similar masks and agreed to loan them to the museum for research and display.
"The masks represent a near eternal visage, their stone substance both powerful and quiet," said Judy Steinhardt in comments that appear in the exhibition catalogue. "Michael and I have lived with these masks for the past 25 years and we love spending quiet hours in our library together surrounded by these evocative works."
According to Hershman, there is one other mask of this age on display in the world, at the Bible et Terre Sainte museum in Paris. Hershman said that mask features color pigment that is too brittle for the mask to have been shipped for display in Jerusalem.
In the Israel Museum exhibit, the masks are mounted in slender glass cases and at eye level for visitors to peer through the masks, as if they were wearing them.
The museum is encouraging visitors to photograph "selfie" snapshots with the masks.
Follow Daniel Estrin at twitter.com/danielestrin
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel prime minister has expressed sorrow over the shooting death of a Jordanian judge and launched a joint investigation with Jordan.
Israel's military says that guards killed the judge on Monday after he tried to grab a rifle from a soldier at the border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. Israel and Jordan have been at peace for 20 years, and violence at the border crossing is rare. The shooting sparked anti-Israel demonstrations in Jordan.
In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said, "Israel regrets the death of Judge Raed Zueter... and expresses its sympathies to the people and government of Jordan."
It said Israel has shared the results of a preliminary investigation with Jordan, and agreed to a Jordanian request to establish a joint investigation.
CAIRO (AP) — The deputy head of Egypt's dwindling Jewish community has been buried.
Nadia Haroun, lawyer and architect, was 59.
Haroun's sister Magda, leader of the community, led the ceremony in Cairo's downtown Gates of Heaven Synagogue Tuesday. It was attended by a handful of the remaining members of the aging community along with several Egyptian public figures.
Longtime friend Nevin Amin said Haroun died Thursday of a heart attack. She is survived by a son and daughter.
Most of Egypt's once-thriving Jewish community left more than 60 years ago. Today, less than 40 remain.
Haroun was a daughter of prominent politician Chehata Haroun, known for his anti-Zionist politics. He defended Egyptian Jews against accusations that they had more loyalty to Israel than Egypt, at the peak of the Mideast wars.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament passed a contentious bill Tuesday that will raise the threshold needed for parties to enter parliament, a move boycotted by the opposition who derided it as undemocratic and aimed at sidelining representatives of Israel's Arab minority.
The bill passed unanimously 67-0 after the opposition sat out the vote, calling it one of several strong-arm tactics by the ruling coalition. Backers of the bill say it is necessary for government stability. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the new law will increase governability by doing away with the current multitude of tiny parties.
Under Israel's system of proportional representation, voters cast ballots for parties, not individuals, and parties receive seats in parliament based on the percentage of votes they win. Currently 12 factions serve in the 120-seat parliament. The bill raises the threshold from 2 percent of the vote to 3.25 percent, meaning parties will have to win at least four seats to enter.
The bill could particularly harm Arab parties unless they band together. There are currently three separate small Arab parties in parliament. But the move may also kill off fringe nationalistic right-wing parties and ultimately play into the hands of the left-wing.
The bill is one of three being promoted this week that could have far-reaching consequences. The opposition charges that clumping the bills together is a ploy to swiftly pass contentious legislation that deserves more room for reservations.
Aside from the governance bill, parliament is slated to vote on a bill that will require a referendum on any territorial withdrawal that comes as a result of a peace deal. The third bill deals with the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military.
Such controversial laws are usually debated individually and slowly and then voted on independently. But the three coalition parties promoting the three separate laws have apparently agreed to vote for each other in order for them all to pass in bulk.
The opposition boycotted the first vote in a rare move in protest, and held an alternative meeting instead.
Isaac Herzog, the head of the opposition, called the move "a step of dictatorship."
"This is how our democracy is shattering in front of our eyes," he said.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian state media: 3 suicide bombers strike in hotel in northern city; casualties feared.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — In a story March 9 about the U.S. secretary of commerce's trade mission to the Middle East, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Penny Pritzker is on her first trip outside of North America since being named commerce secretary. It is her first trade mission outside of North America since being named to the post.
A corrected version of the story is below:
US commerce secretary in Gulf ahead of Obama visit
US commerce secretary in Gulf to woo investors and boost trade ahead of Obama visit to Saudi
By AYA BATRAWY
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Secretary of Commerce is in the Middle East where she said Sunday she will tell officials from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that closer economic cooperation with Washington is a way to build deeper security ties with the United States.
Penny Pritzker's visit comes just weeks before President Barack Obama is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia to meet King Abdullah in an effort to patch over strained relations due to U.S. policy on Iran and Syria. It will be Obama's first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2009.
For Pritzker, it is her first trade mission outside of North America as Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and business executive, was sworn in as Secretary in June of last year. She is the first U.S. Secretary of Commerce to visit the Gulf region with a trade mission in 15 years.
Pritzker said her message to the Saudis is that "our American companies want to be here."
"I believe businesses can be a bridge for prosperity and security and so that's basically our message," Pritzker said in an interview with The Associated Press during her first leg of the Mideast tour in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has expressed a desire to build new alliances after outrage over Washington's rapprochement with its regional rival Iran, which Saudi officials said threatens the kingdom's security.
Pritzker said her department prioritized this region because the Obama Administration puts a high value on America's relationship with the Gulf.
In remarks to business leaders and officials at a luncheon in Abu Dhabi, Pritzker said the U.S. is committed to the Gulf's security and stability, and is working with allies like the UAE through the sales of billions of dollars' worth of defense equipment and fighter jets.
"That commitment will not change even as the United States becomes more energy independent. In fact, America has a growing interest in making sure that oil markets throughout the world remain stable and well-supplied," she said.
As a result of new exploration technologies, the U.S. will become the world's largest oil producer by around 2020, temporarily overtaking Saudi Arabia, which relies heavily on oil exports to support its economy.
The U.S. is also eyeing the spending power of its oil-rich Gulf Arab allies and wants them to boost investments in America as part of the Obama Administration's "Open for Business Agenda."
In 2006, UAE-backed port operator DP World abandoned plans to operate in the U.S. after several American lawmakers expressed concerns about Mideast ownership and port security.
Pritzker told the AP perceptions in the U.S. have changed since then.
"We value these relationships and we value not just our long-standing security relationships, but we also value our economic relationship and that's one of the reasons that I'm here," she said.
She is traveling with 21 U.S. companies, including General Electric and Dow Chemical, with a focus on environmental technologies, clean energy and project management.
She says that of around 11.3 million jobs supported by U.S. exports around the world, 200,000 U.S. jobs depend on exports to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
U.S. exports to the Middle East topped $70 billion in 2013, an increase of 7.5 percent from the previous year.
The UAE was the top regional importer of U.S. goods in the Middle East with $24.6 billion. Second was Saudi Arabia at almost $19 billion. Despite an almost five percent decline in imports last year from 2012, Egypt remains the third largest Arab import market of U.S. goods at $5.22 billion, according to The National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce.
Executive Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce David Chavern said that the Gulf is a place where U.S. companies can find growth and stability that is lacking in other parts of the region.
In late 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce organized its largest trade mission ever to the Middle East when it took more than 100 companies to Egypt. Chavern said there is still a great deal of interest in Egypt because of its size, with a population of around 90 million people. The chamber said it is planning another trip June 3 with about 50 companies after presidential elections and a new government is in place.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military says one of its unmanned surveillance aircraft has crashed in the Gaza Strip after experiencing a technical malfunction.
The military says it's investigating what caused the Skylark drone to go down on Tuesday.
Israel uses drones to gather intelligence on militant activity in Gaza. The territory is governed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and several other armed groups also operate there.
Hamas militants say they have recovered the aircraft and handed it over to security forces. No further details were immediately available.
The Israeli army would not say whether the drone's fall into Hamas' hands could provide secrets or technology to the militants.
The Skylark, however, is known to have safeguards to prevent disclosure of information to unauthorized personnel.
BEIRUT (AP) — The United Nations' agency for child protection says 5.5 million Syrian children have been affected by the civil war, losing lives, limbs, parents, teachers, schools, homes and virtually every aspect of their childhood.
UNICEF says Syrian children are paying the highest price in the conflict, which is now entering its fourth year.
It says more than 10,000 children have been killed in the fighting between President Bashar Assad's forces and rebels trying to oust him.
According to a UNICEF report released on Tuesday, more than half of the 2 million Syrian refugees — about 1.2 million — are children. Nearly a half of those are under the age of five.
The report says another 3 million children have been displaced inside Syria because of the fighting.
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — A Libyan commander whose militia seized vital oil terminals in the country's east says he is seeking help from the United States amid a standoff with the government.
Ibrahim Jedran said in a statement Tuesday that U.S. help would be "welcome" in monitoring militia's management of oil exports and revenues from their eastern region.
Jeddran's militia sparked a three-day crisis over a North Korean-flagged oil tanker that docked without government permission in the key port of al-Sidra, where it had attempted to load oil for the first time. The militia seized the port last summer.
The government claimed Monday its forces had taken control of the tanker, but the militia denied this.
U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones has said the militia's action was "counter to law and amounts to theft."
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek, young women and men sit next to each other while a thick film of cigarette smoke fills the dimly lit cafe in central Tehran. Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" blares from the speakers.
Young Iranians with slick smart phones and packs of American-made cigarettes who frequent the cafe come for the chance to hang out, away from the eyes of moralizing elders. They also form a bloc of strong support for moderate President Hassan Rouhani as he works to allow greater social freedom in the Islamic Republic.
It is a reflection of a boom in cafe culture that has led to a mushrooming of similar coffee shops over the past two years, providing an outlet for young middle-class Iranians who suffer from a lack of public places to meet.
With a box of black Marlboros on his table, Mahnaz Ghassemi, 20, who voted for Rouhani in June, said she comes to the cafe for the freedom it offers.
"Here, I can smoke freely. At home, both my mom and dad regularly complain about it," she said.
Majid Rouhian, 24, sips his double espresso while chatting with his girlfriend Maryam. Both voted for Rouhani.
"In the past we had fewer chances to meet," he said. "In recent years we have more chances simply because of increasing number of public places, like this."
For years, Iranian authorities kept the number of cafes limited since they were seen as a symbol of Western influence and places to spread non-Islamic beliefs. But reports of cafes being shut because they violate "Islamic dignities" have dropped markedly in recent months, suggesting a growing tolerance by the authorities.
During his campaign, Rouhani vowed that young people would have more social freedom.
"We should not intervene in private life. ... We should know that young people are energetic so we should not be tough on them. It will not lead to positive results," he said.
Tehran-based economic and political analyst Saeed Leilaz believes cafes symbolize the network of young people who played an essential role in bringing Rouhani to power.
"The role of the young people, those who sit in cafes, was a significant ... part of Rouhani's success," he said.
Leilaz said authorities learned they had to give youth more freedom and a bigger role in society as the economic failures of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration grew more acute in recent years. The allowance of more and more cafes symbolizes that opening.
"If getting government permits for cafes gets easier, then their number would match the number of mosques in Tehran," said Leilaz. There are some 2,000 mosques in Tehran, according to official statistics.
Cafe association head Eskandar Azmoudeh said the number of cafés has roughly quadruped over the past two years, from around 20 or 30 up to around 80.
Fashid Aslani, sitting in one of the branches of his Raees chain of coffee shops in northern Tehran, said the number of cafes is growing rapidly, reflecting a change in a society where tea was for centuries the main hot drink.
More than half of Iran's 76 million citizens are under age 30. Many juice shop owners who have watched those young customers flock to cafes have converted their businesses to coffee shops to keep up with the changing times.
Authorities tolerate loud Western music in the cafes — a pleasure once outlawed as un-Islamic after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought Islamists to power. Many of the new shops are decorated with replica paintings and pictures of local and foreign celebrities. They typically offer free high-speed Wi-Fi — a major draw for many customers.
The loosening of the reins started even before Rouhani's election.
The number of Western-type cafes — which first appeared in Iran in 1920s — began to increase in 2011, two years after Ahmadinejad's controversial re-election that led to a massive crackdown on opposition activists.
In another cafe on Tehran's Gandhi Street, Anahita Kazemi, a 21-year-old painting student, said the place is a refuge for her and friends to enjoy each other's company.
"We freely sit together here for talks about galleries, movies and celebrities, like we did in parks or private places in the past," she said.
Azemoudeh's deputy, Mohammad Khoshniat, added that the cafes provide a place for young couples who have few options.
"Those who want to meet ... or get engaged choose cafes for the first steps," he said.
Mehrdad Khadir, a social columnist for the moderate Asr-e Iran news website, said cafes provide "fewer restrictions on relations between the genders," compared to other places in the Iranian society.
"Girls and boys feel secure there," he said, adding that cafe goers "supported Rouhani in the 2013 elections simply because Rouhani promised more social freedom."
Pejman Mousavi, another Tehran-based social columnist working for pro-reform Etemad daily, said young middle class people seek nontraditional lifestyles.
"A new generation of middle class young people is after a new version of life, different from their parents," Mousavi said.
In another corner of the city in a different café, 30-year-old Farzin, who would not give his family name because he was there with his girlfriend, said the cafés offer a feeling of luxury, which is another attraction to the culture.
"They look antique — it's about the ornaments and good decoration and lighting," said Farzin. "People come here, chat, laugh and enjoy themselves."
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyan officials say government forces have taken over a North Korean-flagged oil tanker docked at a terminal held by a regional militia, where it had been attempting to load oil. The militia denied the claim.
Adel al-Tarhouni of the Libyan Revolution Operations Room, a pro-government militia, said the ship's captain surrendered Monday evening. It had been surrounded by a pro-government flotilla, including fishing boats armed with mortars operated by militias, for two days.
Al-Sidra is one of Libya's main oil export terminals. It has been held for months by eastern fighters demanding more regional autonomy from Tripoli.
Essam al-Jahani, affiliated to the eastern militia, denied the government's claims. He said his group arrested some pro-government fighters.
Libya's central government has been weak since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
ASSUIT, Egypt (AP) — Officials say a truck collided with a bus on a highway in southern Egypt that was flooded after heavy rains, killing 16 people.
A security official in the city of Assiut said the bus driver lost control of the wheel on an inundated stretch of road, striking the truck and then overturning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.
Health official Ahmed Abdel-Hamid said 16 were killed and five injured in the Monday accident.
Unusually heavy seasonal rain and floods hit Egypt on Sunday, inundating homes in rural areas. Another eight died when a bus overturned on a flooded road near the Red Sea coastal resort of Hurghada. Separately, the ceiling of its airport collapsed.
GAZA CITY, Gaza City (AP) — The Gaza Strip has endured back-to-back wars and uprisings in recent years, but criminal violence has been relatively rare.
That changed Monday. Police Col. Ayoub Abu Shaar says masked robbers broke into a post office in Gaza City, shot and wounded a guard and made off with $500,000.
The Islamic militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, distributes the salaries of 40,000 government employees through post offices. Salary payments for March are to begin Wednesday, meaning post offices currently hold large sums of cash.
Hamas says it made streets safe after seizing Gaza in 2007. But it is also struggling with a cash crisis because of a tightened border blockade by Egypt.
Since December, Hamas only paid partial government salaries and the ripple effect of growing personal debt is felt across Gaza.
CAIRO (AP) — A lawyer for three of Egypt's most prominent youth activist says his clients were beaten in the courthouse by their guards before a hearing in the appeal of their prison sentence.
Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohammed Adel, leading figures in Egypt's 2011 uprising, have been imprisoned since December and sentenced to 3 years for violating a controversial protest law.
On Monday, lawyer Mahmoud Belal said the three claimed their guards beat them because they complained their handcuffs were too tight.
The three have complained of mistreatment before.
Belal said the defense team threatened to withdraw until the judge examined their injuries and registered their complaint. He says Douma showed signs of having been beaten in the stomach and Adel in the knee. A verdict on their appeal is expected April 7.
BEIRUT (AP) — An international charity organization says Syria's health care system is on the brink of collapse, with newborns dying in hospital incubators during power cuts and children having their limbs amputated for lack of other ways to treat their injuries.
The independent charity Save the Children says health workers are forced to engage in "brutal medical practices" to treat people and save lives — like knocking out patients with metal bars because of lack of anesthesia.
During the 3-year-old conflict, millions of children have been exposed to deadly diseases, some of which are preventable with vaccinations and proper, basic medical equipment, the charity said in its report released Monday.
BEIRUT (AP) — With the release of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns held hostage by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria for over three months, here's a list of some other prominent people, including clerics, journalists and activists still missing in Syria and believed in the captivity of rebels. Many are thought to have taken by radical factions, in particular the al-Qaida breakaway group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Two bishops and a priest have been missing since last April, according to Syrian opposition activists and church officials. Gunmen pulled Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church from their car and killed their driver on April 22 while they were traveling outside the northern city of Aleppo. It is not clear who abducted the priests and no group has publicly claimed it is holding them.
An Italian Jesuit, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, went missing in July after traveling to meet Islamic militants in the eastern city of Raqqa. The city fell into rebel hands in March and was subsequently taken over by radicals, including the Islamic State.
Syria's leading human rights lawyer, Razan Zaytouni, was abducted along with her husband and two other prominent activists from a rebel-held Damascus suburb Dec. 10. Zaytouni is an icon of Syria's secular revolutionaries. Nobody claimed responsibility for her abduction, but it came after she wrote an article denouncing the Islamic State.
Abdullah Khalil, also a human rights lawyer, has been missing since last May. Khalil became the head of the local council in Raqqa. Khalil was last seen on May 18, when was taken away by unidentified armed men as he was leaving his office.
According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, some 60 Syrian opposition activists have been abducted since last spring in from northern areas controlled by Islamic State. Most have been released but as of December, 22 were still being held.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates about 30 international and local reporters are currently in captivity. Most of the kidnappings over the past six months have occurred in opposition-held parts of northern and eastern Syria. They include among others two Spanish journalists, El Mundo reporter Javier Espinosa and freelance photo journalist Ricardo Garcia Vilanova; French journalists Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres; and a Lebanese, a Mauritanian and a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin.
The spike in abductions of journalists while on assignment in the opposition-held areas in northern Syria prompted major news organizations, including The Associated Press, to call for urgent action. It called on rebel leaders to assist in identifying groups currently holding journalists and take the steps necessary to bring about their release.
EILAT, Israel (AP) — Israel's prime minister is inspecting dozens of rockets on a ship that navy commandos intercepted in the Red Sea last week, allegedly on their way from Iran to the Gaza Strip.
Benjamin Netanyahu's tour of the seized weapons on Monday is part of a PR blitz aimed at persuading the international community to toughen its position in nuclear talks. Netanyahu says the shipment shows that Iran's new leadership cannot be trusted.
World leaders have shown little reaction to last week's raid, signaling that Netanyahu faces a tough sell.
Iran has denied being behind the shipment, and militant groups in Gaza say they were not connected to the weapons.
Israel believes Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and fears the negotiations will leave much of Iran's nuclear program intact.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian military official has criticized the European Union's foreign policy chief for meeting women activists during her visit to Iran.
The semi-official Fars news agency on Monday quoted Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the armed forces' deputy chief of staff, as saying Catherine Ashton's meeting with activists convicted over 2009 post-election unrest was "an interference" in Iran's internal affairs.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, says Iran sent a protest note to the Austrian Embassy for arranging the meeting between Ashton and the activists, including Narges Mohammadi.
Ashton has been in the country since Saturday on a landmark, first visit. She is talking with senior government officials about Tehran's nuclear program after Iran and the six world powers reached an interim deal last year.
Negotiations for a final deal are ongoing.
BEIRUT (AP) — The international rights group Amnesty International is accusing the Syrian government of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity by blockading and starving civilians in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk.
Amnesty says it estimates 200 people in Yarmouk have died of hunger-related illnesses since a yearlong blockade on the area was tightened in July by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In a report released Monday, Amnesty said its research showed that 128 people starved to death.
Assad-loyal forces began blocking the Palestinian-dominated area to flush out rebels and to punish civilians for harboring them, in a policy the government has used across Syria since the uprising began three years ago.
Efforts to reach a truce in Yarmouk allowing food deliveries to starving residents have repeatedly collapsed.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say a guard has shot a Palestinian who tried to grab a rifle from an Israeli soldier at the border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. Israel Radio says the man has died of his wounds.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the shooting took place at the Allenby crossing.
The Israeli police and the military could not immediately confirm the reports of the Palestinian man's death.
Rosenfeld says it was unclear who exactly carried out the shooting, the soldier whose rifle the Palestinian tried to take away or another guard.
Shooting incidents such as Monday's at the Allenby crossing are rare on the West-Bank-Jordan border.
The military had no immediate comment.
BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's official news agency says Syrian rebels have released a group of about a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns who have been held since December.
The NNA agency reported early Monday that a convoy transporting the freed nuns was heading to the town of Jdeidet Yabous on the Syrian-Lebanon border.
Syrian rebels, including members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, seized the nuns from the Mar Takla convent when fighters overran the Christian village of Maaloula, north of Damascus, in December.
The nuns, who are believed to be mostly Syrian and Lebanese, worked in the convent's orphanage. Syrian officials said at least 12 nuns were captured.
Their seizure raised fears in the minority Christian community that they were being targeted by extremists among the fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A leader of one of Gaza's secretive jihadist groups says the al-Qaida-inspired movement has gained strength and boasts several thousand armed fighters in the seaside strip.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Abu Bakir al-Ansari described a movement that is larger and better organized than is generally believed.
Abu Bakir says Gaza's Salafis have agreed with Hamas to observe a truce with Israel for now. But he says the fighters are ready to fight at any time "without any consultation with Hamas."
Salaris are radical and ultraconservative Islamic groups that dream of turning Gaza into an Islamic caliphate. The groups have created problems for Hamas, carrying out a string of attacks while accusing the Islamic militant group of being too soft on Israel and failing to impose religious law.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's transportation minister is speaking out after a flight that his son missed out of Beirut was stopped from landing in Baghdad.
Minister Hadi al-Amiri told a news conference Sunday that he'd pay for the losses out of his own pocket and would hand his son over to authorities if the investigation proved he was behind the Middle East Airline flight being stopped from landing on Thursday.
The airline says the flight left six minutes late because it waited for al-Amiri's son.
Twenty minutes after the plane's departure, the head of MEA in Baghdad contacted the pilot, saying that Iraqi authorities would not allow the plane to land at Baghdad International Airport without al-Amiri's son on board. The plane, carrying 71 passengers, returned to Beirut.
CAIRO (AP) — Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby has urged Arab countries to take a "firm stand" against Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state, calling it a deviation from an agreed-upon framework for peace talks.
Elaraby delivered his remarks Sunday at an Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo. Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said publicly he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The Palestinians fear the demand is an attempt to restrict possible return options for Palestinian refugees and the rights of Israel's large Arab minority.
Israel says the recognition would signal the Palestinians are serious about peace.
Elaraby described the demand an Israeli attempt to foil the talks, calling for a reevaluation of the negotiation track.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Activists say a group of some 50 Israeli youths have sent Israel's prime minister a petition refusing to enlist for compulsory military service to protest Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, the largest such group of objectors since 2001.
Dafna Rothstein Landman, a petitioner, says the objectors are draft age or beginning the conscription process. She said the group was not affiliated with any organization.
Shimri Zameret of Yesh Gvul, a group that supports conscientious objectors, said about three objectors are currently in jail and some seven more are set to serve jail time this year.
The military had no immediate comment.
Military service is required for Jewish Israelis, but thousands get exemptions for religious and health reasons. Some are exempted for pacifism, but ideological objectors often face jail time.
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya's Defense Ministry has ordered its naval and air forces for a second time to use force against a North Korean-flagged tanker loading oil from terminals seized by militias.
The Sunday announcement came a day after Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that the military didn't execute earlier orders to stop the tanker docked at al-Sidra port.
Ali al-Shekhli, spokesman for the chief of staff, said Zidan's Saturday orders weren't executed because of weather.
Illegal exports of oil by eastern militiamen are Libya's latest crisis. Zidan's government, parliament and militias compete for authority in the security vacuum that followed the 2011 fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Zidan said his government has been in touch with North Korea, and that the tanker is believed to be owned by a Gulf businessman.
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's powerful military chief is launching a housing initiative to build a million homes for the poor, in the first campaign-style move by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is widely expected to run for president.
El-Sissi hasn't made an official announcement yet, but has strongly indicated he would run. The elections expected in April are the first since the military ousted elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July following mass protests against him.
The housing initiative was announced Sunday on the official Facebook page of Egypt's military spokesman. It only said the million homes are dedicated to "Egypt's youth" and are a first step to solve the country's housing problem.
Senior generals close to el-Sissi have told The Associated Press he is focusing on the country's myriad of economic problems.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister is calling on the European Union's foreign policy chief, currently visiting Tehran, to confront Iranian officials about the weapons Israel says it caught last week en route from Iran to militants in Gaza.
Catherine Ashton is in Tehran to further negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program.
At the beginning of a weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's capture last week of a ship carrying the weapons serves to "expose Iran's real face."
Israel is preparing a public display of the cargo, said to include advanced rockets, hoping to pressure world powers as they negotiate with Tehran.
Officials in Iran and Gaza have denied any connection to the shipment.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The European Union's foreign policy chief says there is "no guarantee" world powers will reach a final deal with Iran.
Catherine Ashton was in Tehran on Sunday for meetings with Iranian officials on negotiations over the country's nuclear program.
Under an interim deal in November, Iran agreed to limit a key nuclear activity, uranium enrichment, in return for easing sanctions by the West.
Negotiations for a final deal are ongoing. Ashton leads the six-nation group — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — in talks with Iran.
"There is no guarantee we'll succeed," she told reporters in a joint briefing with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif said Iran will only accept a deal that respects its "rights," a reference to uranium enrichment on its soil.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Fatah activists say troops from the rival Palestinian movement Hamas broke up a Fatah gathering in the Gaza Strip, beating participants.
It was the most violent clash in months between Fatah and the Islamic militant Hamas, which seized Gaza from Fatah's leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007.
The incident signaled continued hostility between Hamas and Fatah despite reconciliation attempts. It also suggested Hamas is on edge as it struggles to survive an Egyptian border closure.
Iyad al-Bozoum of the Gaza Interior Ministry said Sunday that troops broke up an indoor gathering of dozens of Fatah activists in the town of Khan Younis Saturday evening because they didn't have a permit. He says officers were attacked.
Fatah spokesman Hassan Ahmed says Hamas security beat and briefly detained participants.
BEIRUT (AP) — Nearly 130 organizations have called for immediate and permanent humanitarian access to civilians throughout Syria to help relieve the immense suffering caused by the country's civil war.
The 128 groups making the appeal include United Nations agencies and relief organizations from around the world.
In a statement released Sunday, the groups urge all sides in Syria's conflict "to listen to the voice of the international community as expressed unanimously through the Security Council."
A U.N. Security Council resolution last month called on Syria's warring sides to facilitate aid deliveries. The U.N. says more than 9 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Many of those most in need live in areas under government-imposed blockades, while others are in territory under the nominal control of rebel groups.
JERUSALEM (AP) — An iconic Israeli newspaper has not printed its Sunday edition as its publisher is seeking to keep the paper from collapse.
Avi Lerner, a spokesman for Maariv, says the paper would renew its print edition only if a court Sunday agrees to a stay of proceedings in litigation against the newspaper's publisher. The paper published its online edition.
Creditors and employees say the publisher owes them money, but the newspaper is in debt.
Publisher Shlomo Ben-Tzvi is proposing large cuts to newspaper staff and becoming a mass circulation evening paper.
Maariv was first published in 1948 with the establishment of Israel, and was once the country's largest paper. But it has been the brink of closure in recent years, struggling to compete with the free tabloid Israel Today.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates has thrown its support behind neighboring Saudi Arabia's decision to label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, deepening Gulf Arab pressure on the group.
The Western-allied Gulf federation's foreign ministry says it will cooperate with Saudi Arabia to tackle "those terrorist groups through liquidating all forms of material and moral support."
Saudi Arabia also designated al-Qaida-linked groups and an al-Qaida breakaway as terrorist.
Egypt was the first Arab country to label the Brotherhood terrorist. The move comes amid a crackdown on the group following its July ouster of the country's first elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
The Brotherhood has protested Morsi's removal but denies using violence.
The UAE foreign ministry's comments were carried in a statement carried by official news agency WAM late Saturday.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials say a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a security checkpoint in southern Iraq, killing nine.
Two police officers say the blast at the entrance of Hillah city killed six security personnel and three civilians, and wounded another 25 people. The Shiite-dominated city is located about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
Two medical officials confirmed the figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
Iraq has seen a spike in violence since last April, with the death toll climbing to its highest levels since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting in 2006-2008. The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and more than 1,400 people were killed in January and February of this year.
BEIRUT (AP) — Nada Sabbagh received a brief, chilling telephone call from her son-in-law last month telling her: "Come to your daughter. I am going to kill her."
Sabbagh said by the time she arrived to her daughter's home in Beirut, her husband had kicked, punched and beaten her with a pressure cooker, leaving her mortally wounded and bleeding on the floor.
"I walked in and started jumping in shock then begged him to let me take her out," Sabbagh later recounted. She said he responded by saying: "I will not let her out. I want her to die in front of you."
Manal Assi's husband, Mohammed Nuheili, was detained shortly afterward and is still being questioned by authorities. It remains unclear if he has a lawyer and he could not be reached for comment.
The killing of Sabbagh's daughter is one of three domestic violence slayings in Lebanon in recent months, drawing new attention to women's rights in this country of 4 million people. Although Lebanon appears very progressive on women rights compared to other countries in the Middle East, domestic violence remains an unspoken problem and the nation's parliament has yet to vote on a bill protecting women's rights nearly three years after it was approved by the Cabinet.
"If a woman does not have authority in her house, how can she take an authoritative post (in government)? It starts here," said Maya al-Ammar, an official with a Lebanese women's rights group Kafa, Arabic for "Enough." ''If you don't remove (domestic) violence and the woman can't become the ruler of herself, she will not be able to be able to take a decision-making post."
Civil rights activists say that a woman is killed every month by their husbands on average in Lebanon, while thousands are subjected to physical or verbal abuse every year.
In the past, it used to be taboo to openly speak about such family issues. Some used to claim that their daughters died after they fell in order to avoid what could be seen as "shameful." Today, however, the death of a woman at the hands of her husband gets extensive coverage by local media and has sparked widespread awareness campaigns online.
"We are not doing anything shameful. We are not harming anyone," said a Lebanese domestic violence survivor who only gave her first name as Bahiya out of fear of reprisals. "We probably reached this point because of the word shame."
Bahiya described how her husband of nearly 20 years regularly beat her with his hands and a stick. She once went to the hospital after he grazed her with a gunshot. With the help of Kafa, she was able to get a divorce recently and won custody of her four daughters.
The woman recounted how once after fleeing to a police station, an officer there told her that she faced merely "a family affair."
Many Lebanese women also see the laws in this Arab country as discriminating against them. Lebanese women married to foreigners cannot pass their citizenship to their children and husbands. The country's personal status law, which deals with cases involving divorce or inheritance, is implemented according to the person's religion and their faith dictates their fate. Some young women under 18 get kidnapped by their future husbands and get married with the help of religious clerics against the will of their parents.
The same goes for politics. There is no quota for women in parliament or government ministries. Women now hold just four seats in the country's 128-delegate. Lebanon's newly formed government has only one female Cabinet minister.
Activists are urging Lebanon's parliament to approve a new law regarding domestic violence at its first meeting after a legislative subcommittee approved it last year.
Ghassan Moukheiber, the general rapporteur of the parliamentary Human Rights committee, said the reason the law has not been approved is because parliament has not met since a previous Cabinet resigned in March last year. Lebanon was run by a caretaker Cabinet until last month.
Moukheiber said he expects the draft to be unanimously approved once parliament meets.
"I look forward for the voting of this bill because it is going to be a very important and meaningful step toward stopping all sorts of violence against women," Moukheiber told The Associated Press.
Some Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics have criticized the proposed law, however, saying it dismantles families.
On Saturday, about 5,000 people marched in Beirut to demand protection for women and urged the parliament to vote on the domestic violence law.
"We came down to the street because we want a law to protect us. We tell the state we want a law quickly," hundreds of women chanted.
But for Sabbagh, the damage of domestic violence has already been inflicted on her family. She said she could only be happy that her daughter's two children were at school at the time of the killing and did not see their mother's bloody, beaten corpse.
"My heart is boiling like fire," Sabbagh said. "My daughter was not an insect. She was the light of my heart."
Follow Bassem Mroue on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bmroue .
CAIRO (AP) — As he nears announcing a run for Egypt's presidency, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been focusing on preparing an economic program, senior generals and government officials say, demonstrating the wariness within the military over the scale of problems facing the country.
The military, Egypt's most powerful institution, has put its reputation on the line with an el-Sissi presidency, after its top generals publicly backed his candidacy in January. That means, it too could face a public backlash if his administration fails in a country that since 2011 has already risen up in massive protests against two presidents.
Two generals close to el-Sissi said the military was well aware of the difficulty in repairing an economy in need of reform even before the 2011 fall of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubark and further wrecked by turmoil since. The two and other government officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the candidacy in line with regulations.
"We love him where he is, but he has decided to jump into a fireball," said one army general of el-Sissi, who currently holds the posts of defense minister, deputy prime minister and commander of the armed forces. "Where he is now is the best place for him and where we in the army want him to be, but if the people want him to be president, then he must go."
The second general noted that public expectations are "very high, and the problems are too many and that is a dangerous situation."
El-Sissi last week gave the strongest indication to date that he intends to seek the nation's highest office, telling army cadets that he cannot "turn his back on" popular demand.
He is seen as virtually certain to win, given the wave of public fervor for the military chief since he ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, after massive protests against him.
Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who finished a strong third in Egypt's 2012 presidential election, and a retired chief of staff of the armed forces, Sami Anan, have already announced their intention to run.
Though he would have to leave the military to run, el-Sissi would become Egypt's fifth president to come from the military since the ouster of the monarchy in the 1950s. The only exception is Morsi, who held office only a year.
On Saturday, interim President Adly Mansour issued a law regulating the upcoming election, which is expected to be held by the end of April. In his comments to the cadets, el-Sissi hinted that he was waiting for the law to be passed before officially announcing his candidacy.
Several government officials said el-Sissi has secured a large aid package from wealthy Gulf Arab nations and allies — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait — that would help keep the nation's troubled economy afloat, thus maintaining his popularity while pushing on with painful economic reform, like lifting or restructuring the massive fuel and bread subsidies that account for nearly half of all government spending.
They could not reveal the size of the package. Those three nations have already poured $12 billion into Egypt in an emergency package after Morsi's ouster.
The officials also said el-Sissi plans to create jobs and give the nation something to rally behind with a series of mega-projects, like building homes, improving education and vocational training for the hundreds of thousands of homeless children and construction of a nuclear reactor that would reduce Egypt's reliance on oil.
El-Sissi has already served notice that he has a free economy mentality.
In leaked comments made in closed meetings, he made clear that state subsidies on basic food stuffs and energy — an enduring legacy from the socialist 1960s days of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser that are a massive drain on the budget — must entirely go or be restructured.
Fuel subsidies are the biggest drain on the economy, swallowing up nearly $2 billion a year. Economists say that they mostly benefit rich industrialists with energy-dependent businesses.
With tourists and investors staying away because of the country's turmoil, millions are now unemployed. Seemingly endless strikes, sit-ins and street protests have reduced productivity and produced traffic congestion in Cairo that economists say have cost the nation millions of work hours.
"This problem (of energy subsidies) has been left over from one president to another till it reached a point where it could not be ignored anymore because it's not on a sustainable path," said Samer Atallah, an economist who lectures at the American University in Cairo. "He'll also have to face a new wave of labor strikes. ... The demands of the workers have never been achieved, all what they get is promises that are not kept."
The economic woes are intertwined with Egypt's political instability.
A major crackdown by the military-backed government against Morsi's supporters and allied Islamists has led to the death of at least 2,000 people and the imprisonment of thousands more, giving the country the image of a nation torn by strife and divisions. On Friday, a group of 27 countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council expressed concerns over what it said was Egypt's wide-scale use of violence against opposition protesters, the first reprimand from the international body since the crackdown on dissent in the country began.
Protests by Morsi supporters and their Islamist allies have waned in the face of the crackdown, but el-Sissi's presidency only may enflame them.
El-Sissi is already lowering expectations and saying Egyptians are ultimately responsible for solving the nation's woes.
"Don't ever think that any one person can solve the problems of Egypt, no matter who you elect to be president," he said in his address Tuesday. "No, they will be solved by all of us. God helps those who work as a team."
El-Sissi became blunter about the nation's woes in televised comments aired Thursday. Egypt, he said, spends $23 billion on development, when it needs $430 billion to meet its basic requirements.
"We have very serious problems in Egypt that have not been addressed in 30 years. Patriotism is not just talk," he said. "Nations are never built with words, but with work and persistence. Maybe a generation or two will not reap the benefits, but that may be necessary so others can live." He also implicitly appealed on Egyptians working abroad to donate to their country and on Egyptians at home to walk to work when they can.
His "tightening the belt" talk has not gone down well with some, not surprisingly given that nearly half of Egypt's 94 million people live in poverty.
"Tightening the belt strategy can work but not for the poor who struggle to meet their basic needs," said Heba el-Laithy, an economist who lectures at Cairo University. "You cannot tell that to workers who do not have a channel to voice their demands except through strikes."
Associated Press writer Mariam Rizk contributed to this report.
EILAT, Israel (AP) — A captured ship that Israel says carried advanced rockets bound for Gaza militants has arrived to port.
The KLOS C sailed into the southern Eilat port Saturday, accompanied by Israeli naval vessels and forces that seized it days earlier in the Red Sea.
Israel says the ship was packed with dozens of Syrian-made M-302 rockets that would have put Israel's biggest cities well within reach of Gaza militants. Israel accuses Iran of orchestrating the delivery.
Officials in Iran and Gaza have denied being involved with the shipment.
The raid comes as Israel is stepping up pressure on world powers as they negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. Israeli leaders say the capture proves Iran is dangerous and shouldn't have the ability to produce a nuclear bomb.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The European Union's foreign policy chief has arrived in Iran, her first visit to the Islamic Republic as nuclear talks with world powers continue.
The official IRNA news agency said Catherine Ashton arrived in Tehran on Saturday night for talks with Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani.
Ashton leads the six-nation group — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — in talks with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program. Iranian media say the visit signals the normalization of Iran's relations with Europe after eight years of tension under Rouhani's predecessor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran struck an initial deal with world powers Nov. 24 to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. Negotiations for a final deal are ongoing.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Authorities in Iraq say a suicide bomber has used a stolen police Humvee to pass through a military checkpoint and set off his explosives, wounding 14 people.
The attack happened Saturday in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, where Iraqi security forces have been battling militants who took control of parts of the town in late December.
Police say militants stole the Humvee and painted it with military colors to trick soldiers into letting it by.
Elsewhere on Saturday, police say a roadside bomb targeting a military vehicle in Baqouba, 35 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, killed a captain and wounded four soldiers.
Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures for the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to release the information.
CAIRO (AP) — A homemade bomb placed near a women's college has wounded one person in an upscale district of eastern Cairo, security officials say.
Police say the Saturday morning blast, which was also near a tram line, wounded a laborer. Security officials say they defused a second explosive device nearby and were searching the area for others.
Security officials also said late Friday that 17 police officers were injured in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and police earlier that day. Three protesters had been reported killed and 28 injured.
Violence has escalated in Egypt since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July. Dozens of police have been killed as well as hundreds of supporters of the toppled president.
Officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to speak to journalists.
BEIRUT (AP) — A militant group has issued an unusual apology for a twin suicide bombing in Beirut that killed four people and wounded dozens, including children from a nearby orphanage.
The al-Qaida-linked Abdallah Azzam Brigades issued a statement published Saturday apologizing for civilian deaths. It said a "technical fault" affected the second of two Feb. 19 suicide bombings targeting an Iranian cultural center in Beirut.
The group said the bombs were meant to be detonated in a way that their shrapnel wouldn't reach a main road nearby, but didn't specify the technical fault.
The Brigades said their target was the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Iranian interests in Lebanon, not Shiites in general.
The group has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Lebanon.
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