Sunday, February 28, 2010
Tsunami reaches Japanese coast
Fishing ports in north-east Japan shut ahead of possible tsunami waves
Other Pacific nations were hit by tsunamis, but the danger is now thought to have passed.
In Chile, the town of Talcahuano was badly damaged while five people were killed on the Juan Fernandez islands.
Fishing boats there were thrown out of the water in Talcahuano, and port facilities were damaged by a wave that US scientists said was 2.34m high.
The town lies about 115km (70 miles) south-west of the epicentre of Saturday's powerful earthquake.
Large waves struck Chile's Juan Fernandez island group, reaching halfway into one inhabited area and killing five people. Several more are missing.
Two aid ships are reported to be on their way.
Warning systems across the Pacific have improved since the 2004 Indonesia quake sparked a tsunami that killed nearly 250,000 people.
Nations and regions affected by the Pacific "Ring of Fire" all sounded alerts, trying to estimate the anticipated time of arrival of any tsunami following the earthquake, which struck on Saturday at 0634 GMT.
Residents of south-eastern Philippines took shelter after warnings
Officials later lifted a tsunami warning for Japan's coast, the first issued in more than 15 years.
The BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says Japan has experienced many earthquakes of its own and was well prepared.
People in areas at risk were ordered to move to higher ground, train services running along the coast were suspended and steel gates across fishing harbours were shut.
In 1960 about 140 people were killed by a tsunami in Japan after a major earthquake in Chile.
Thousands of people also left coastal areas of the Philippines after warnings of a possible tsunami were spread by text message.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had warned of "widespread damage" across the region following Saturday's quake, but later said waves were not as high as predicted.
A geophysicist at the centre, Gerard Fryer, told the BBC that the tsunami's impact was small because the earthquake occurred in shallow water.
The earthquake was "big enough to do significant damage, but not big enough to do anything large in the far field", he said.
'Ordinary stormy day'
Part of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia were hit by a 4m (13ft) wave, but no casualties were reported.
In Tahiti, the tsunami waves were smaller, causing little damage.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii was monitoring the waves
The tsunami warning has been downgraded there but the emergency management department spokesman said there could still be waves of up to 3m.
Sirens were sounded in Hawaii to alert residents to the tsunami threat several hours before waves were expected.
The first waves hit about 2200 GMT on Saturday, after water began moving away from the shore at Hilo Bay on the Big Island before returning.
But correspondents say that, although 8ft (2.5m) waves had been predicted, the islands experienced nothing noticeably different from an ordinary stormy day.
Hawaiian officials later lifted the tsunami warning.
Despite Australian warnings of "possible dangerous waves, strong ocean currents and foreshore flooding" on the east coast, swimmers and surfers flocked to Sydney's Bondi beach.
Hebron clashes over Israel's West Bank heritage list
Palestinians have been protesting all week
The move, announced on Sunday, has drawn criticism abroad and in some of the Israeli media.
Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad attended Friday prayers at the Cave of Patriarchs - one of the sites - to show his government's opposition.
Palestinian organisations had declared Friday a day of popular protest across the Palestinian territories.
Protests continued sporadically all week and on Thursday the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem began a three-day strike.
Jon Donnison, the BBC's West Bank and Gaza correspondent, said Israeli troops fired rounds of tear gas at around 100 Palestinian protestors who threw stones and set fire to tyres in the central streets of Hebron on Friday.
Hebron is home to about 160,000 Muslims, but some 500 Israelis and Jews live in a small settlement in the centre of the city, with a heavy Israeli security detail.
On Sunday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron would be included in an Israeli-funded $107m (£69m) restoration plan. Both sites are sacred to Muslims and Jews.
Rachel, the biblical matriarch holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is believed to be buried in a tomb near the entrance to Bethlehem.
Some Muslims say the tomb is also a mosque.
The shrine is on the Israeli side of the West Bank barrier. The Israelis say the barrier was built for security reasons, but Palestinians say it constitutes a land grab, and the International Court of Justice has ruled that the barrier is illegal and should be removed where it does not follow the Green Line, the internationally recognised boundary between the West Bank and Israel.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried with three of their wives. It is known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi mosque.
Palestinians said they feared their access to the sites - important to Muslims and Jews - would be limited by restoration work. This was denied by Israeli officials.
In a bid to calm tensions, Mr Netanyahu told Israeli television on Thursday that there had been a "misunderstanding".
"This is not a political decision It doesn't change anything in that sense. It is concerned with preserving heritage," he said.
But the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Unesco - the United Nations' culture and education body - and some European countries have expressed reservations at the plan. On Wednesday, US state department official Mark Toner described the move as "provocative".
Mr Netanyahu has also come under fire in the national press. Left-leaning Haaretz newspaper called the prime minister a "master pyromaniac".
The right-wing Maariv newspaper was also critical, accusing the premier of "having learnt nothing from the past".
New rainstorm threatening Madeira after lethal floods
Madeira is still clearing up after the 20 February disaster
The storm is expected to spread to the Iberian Peninsula on Saturday.
The number of people missing on Madeira has been revised upwards to 29 with 41 deaths confirmed, Portuguese media say.
Communication problems have been blamed for discrepancies in casualty figures, with 13 people reported missing on Tuesday when the death toll was being put at 42.
Last Saturday's storm caused landslides on the mountainous island, bringing down boulders and mud on to coastal communities.
With the storm expected to reach Spain's Canary Islands overnight, Madrid issued a weather alert.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa de la Vega appealed for calm and urged Spaniards to follow instructions given by the authorities and "avoid any type of risks" during the storm.
"It is true that an intense storm with strong winds is approaching but the authorities are on alert and all adequate measures have been taken," she told reporters.
France's weather forecasters issued a similar warning, saying the storm was expected to cross the country from west to east during Saturday night and Sunday.
Storm lashes Spain, Portugal and France
Madeira was still cleaning up after fatal floods last week
The weather was blamed for three deaths - one in each of the countries.
Portugal's Madeira island, which is reeling from downpours which killed dozens of people last week, was also hit by the fresh storm.
All of Portugal was placed on orange alert - the second highest - by civil protection authorities.
A falling tree killed a boy in northern Portugal, authorities said, according to AFP.
'No woodland walks'
Spain's Canary Islands, particularly La Palma, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, were hit by the storm, although there was not much damage.
Some lampposts were blown over and flights cancelled on Friday.
"This is not the weekend to go walking in the woods, watching the waves or repairing the tiles on your roof-tops," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said.
Four French departments were placed on red alert, and 66 out of 95 were on orange alert for 24 hours from Saturday evening.
A man was also killed by a falling tree in the the southern Pyrenees region, police said.
Spain's north-western region of Galicia, the Basque country, Castilla y Leon and Cantabria were also on high alert.
Forecasters expected winds of up to 160km/h (100mph) in those regions.
An elderly woman was killed when a wall collapsed on her in Galicia, AFP reported.
Spain had 20,000 officials on alert to try to prevent or repair any damage, while the airport authority warned of possible delays or cancellations.
Chile quake affects two million, says Bachelet
So far at least 300 people have been confirmed killed in the earthquake that struck in the early hours of Saturday.
The 8.8 quake - one of the biggest ever - triggered a tsunami that has been sweeping across the Pacific, although waves were not as high as predicted.
"The forces of nature have badly affected our country," Ms Bachelet said.
"And once again they've put to the test our ability to deal with adversity and get back on our feet. And we are examining every way to restore all the basic services in the country. But there's still a lot to do.
Ms Bachelet added that she had declared a state of catastrophe in six regions.
Chile is vulnerable to earthquakes, being situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where the Pacific and South American plates meet.
Widespread damage to roads and buildings has been reported in many areas, including the capital where a chemical plant caught fire.
Electricity, water and phone lines have been cut.
At least 85 people died in the region of Maule alone, journalists there reported.
Many deaths were also reported in the regions of Santiago, O'Higgins, Biobio, Araucania and Valparaiso.
TV pictures showed a major bridge at Concepcion had collapsed into the Biobio river.
Rescue teams are struggling to reach Concepcion because of damage to infrastructure, national media reported.
In Santiago, where at least 13 people were killed, several buildings collapsed - including a car park.
A fire at a chemical plant in the outskirts of the capital forced the evacuation of the neighbourhood.
Haiti, 12 Jan 2010: About 230,000 people die after shallow 7.0 magnitude quake
Sumatra, Indonesia, 26 Dec 2004: 9.2 magnitude. Triggers Asian tsunami that kills nearly 250,000 people
Alaska, US, 28 March 1964: 9.2 magnitude; 128 people killed. Anchorage badly damaged
Chile, south of Concepcion, 22 May 1960: 9.5 magnitude. About 1,655 deaths. Tsunami hits Hawaii and Japan
Kamchatka, NE Russia, 4 Nov 1952: 9.0 magnitude
A tsunami triggered by the earthquake struck the Juan Fernandez island group off the Chilean coast and local media say five people died there with several others missing.
As the tsunami radiated across the Pacific, Japan warned that a wave of 3m (10ft) or higher could hit the Pacific coast of its northernmost island of Hokkaido at about 1300 local time (0400 GMT).
In French Polynesia, waves 6ft (1.8m) high swept ashore, but there were no immediate reports of damage.
Hawaii later lifted its tsunami warning after waves measuring just under 1m (3ft) high struck but caused no damage.
The USGS also recorded at least eight aftershocks, the largest of 6.9 magnitude at 0801 GMT.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the US was ready to help if the Chilean government required it.
Chile suffered the biggest earthquake of the 20th century when a 9.5 magnitude quake struck the city of Valdivia in 1960, killing 1,655 people.
Deposed England skipper John Terry endures miserable day after drubbing follows Wayne Bridge snub
Wayne Bridge considers shaking John Terry's hand - then decides against it.
It could have been two children on a school playing field. One was happy to shake hands and be friends, the other still bore a grudge. This was John Terry and Wayne Bridge yesterday.
They lined up against each other for the first time since the revelations that Terry had had an affair with Bridge's former partner and mother of his child.
As part of the Premier League's fair play campaign, players from each team are expected to shake hands with their opponents before the kick-off, but yesterday Bridge, the Manchester City player, just could not do it.
He made his feelings known during the week, telling the England manager Fabio Capello he could not bear to share a dressing room with Chelsea's Terry and therefore did not want to be picked for the international team. Terry did hold out his hand and for a second it looked as though Bridge would do the same. But he pulled his arm away and stared the Chelsea captain straight in the eye.
If you blinked you missed it and Sky Sports, which had given the confrontation the big build-up, failed on this occasion to do an action replay... at least until half-time. YouTube had no such scruples and the video was soon posted. By the end of the 90 minutes there were hundreds of hits.
The build-up to the non-handshake was not quite on the scale of Nixon and Mao, or Rabin and Arafat, but viewers of Sky could have been forgiven for thinking it was a worldwide event.
Both managers were interviewed beforehand. Chelsea's Carlo Ancelotti said he did not expect the atmosphere to affect his captain: "John Terry is professional and doesn't have a problem in staying focused on the match. He has... a good mentality." City manager Roberto Mancini urged defender Bridge to concentrate on the match, which came only 48 hours after he withdrew from England's World Cup plans. Mancini said: "He is a strong character."
The BBC was also all over the story.On its live football website, just before kick-off, an anonymous blogger remarked: "For once my wife wants to watch a 'football' match. I wonder how long she will last in front of the screen after the handshake/non-handshake."
Ten minutes later another blogger on the same site was able to put the spat in context, writing: "My nephew is playing an under-11's match later today against his ex-best friend, who he thinks stole his Creme Egg at school last week. Do you want me to report in on the handshake (or lack of)?"
Those in the ground played their part in the pantomime. When Terry, who lost the England captaincy for playing away with Vanessa Perroncel, touched the ball for the first time there were cheers. Thirty seconds later the boos rang out as Bridge played the ball out of defence, and for the rest of the match there were catcalls and whistles.
Sky commentators joined in, saying with all seriousness when City went 3-1 up, "what a great result for Wayne Bridge on this day of all days". Seconds later Bridge was substituted as Mancini tried to put a stop to the panto.
Unfortunately for Chelsea, there was an extra scene when Michael Ballack became the second Chelsea player to be sent off, following Juliano Belletti's red card, and City scored a fourth.
Bridge was over the moon and Terry sick as a parrot as the game ended 4-2 following a late Chelsea penalty.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010
Deadly earthquakes that registered a magnitude of at least 8.5
22 May 1960: A magnitude-9.5 earthquake in southern Chile and the ensuing tsunami killed at least 1,716 people.
27 March 1964: A magnitude-9.2 quake in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the ensuing tsunami killed 128 people.
26 December 2004: A magnitude-9.0 quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggered a tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 12 countries, including 165,700 in Indonesia and 35,400 in Sri Lanka.
13 August 1868: A magnitude-9.0 quake in Arica, Peru, (now Chile) generated catastrophic tsunamis; more than 25,000 people were killed in South America.
31 January 1906: A magnitude-8.8 quake off the coast of Ecuador and Colombia generated a tsunami that killed at least 500 people.
1 November 1755: A magnitude-8.7 quake and ensuing tsunami in Lisbon, Portugal, killed an estimated 60,000 people and destroyed much of Lisbon.
8 July 1730: A magnitude-8.7 quake in Valparasio, Chile, killed at least 3,000 people.
15 August 1950: A magnitude-8.6 earthquake in Assam, Tibet, killed at least 780 people.
15 June 1896: A magnitude-8.5 quake in Sanriku, Japan, caused a tsunami that killed at least 22,000 people.
11 November 1922: A magnitude-8.5 quake on the Chile-Argentina border killed several hundred people.
7 November 1837: A magnitude-8.5 magnitude quake in Valdivia, Chile, generated a tsunami that killed at least 58 people in Hawaii.
20 October 1687: A magnitude-8.5 quake in Lima, Peru destroyed much of the city.
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President declares 'state of catastrophe' as quake of magnitude 8.8 rocks capital and triggers tsunami
A massive earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 has struck central Chile, killing at least 47 people and triggering a tsunami.
The tremor shook the capital, Santiago, for a minute and a half early this morning, bringing down telephone and power lines. Declaring a "state of catastrophe", the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, said 47 people were confirmed dead and more deaths were likely.
"We have had a huge earthquake," Bachelet said. "We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately. Without a doubt, with an earthquake of this magnitude, there will be more deaths."
Speaking to a local television station in Temuco, one witness said: "Never in my life have I experienced a quake like this, it's like the end of the world."
The Pacific tsunami warning centre said the quake generated a tsunami that could cause destruction along nearby shores "and could also be a threat to more distant coasts". It issued a tsunami warning for Chile and Peru, while Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica are also on alert.
Chile's navy said officials had lifted the tsunami warning in southern Chile, local radio reported. The Joint Australian tsunami warning centre warned of a "potential tsunami threat" to the states of New South Wales and Queensland, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.
The quake was centred 200 miles south-west of Santiago at a depth of 22 miles, according to the US Geological Survey. It warned that an earthquake of magnitude 8 or above could cause "tremendous damage". The quake that devastated Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, in January was magnitude 7.0.
The quake shook buildings as far away as Argentina. A series of strong aftershocks rocked Chile's coast, from Valdivia in the south to Valparaiso, about 500 miles to the north. The epicentre was 70 miles from Concepcion, Chile's second largest city, with a population of around 670,000.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area of Chile on 22 May 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless, and caused a tsunami that killed people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.
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West Bank strike over Israeli tomb heritage claim
Palestinians have complained they are denied access to Rachel's Tomb
Local TV stations broadcast the PA's call following Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's addition of the shrines to Israel's heritage list at the weekend.
The PA also called for a rally to be held on Friday in Bethlehem.
Israel's prime minister announced on Sunday that Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron would be included in an Israeli-funded $107m (£69m) restoration plan.
Bethlehem residents said businesses were shuttered and universities and schools empty as the strike began.
Staff at Bethlehem University were told on Monday not to report for work for three days because of the strike.
Rachel, the biblical matriarch holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is believed to be buried in a tomb near the entrance to Bethlehem.
Some Muslims say the tomb is also a mosque.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs is known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi Mosque
On Monday there were clashes between protesters and police in Hebron, near the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried with three of their wives. It is known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi mosque.
Palestinians said they feared their access to the sites - important to Muslims and Jews - would be limited. This was denied by Israeli officials.
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.
The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Hezbollah chief Nasrallah meets Ahmadinejad in Syria
He is under an Israeli death threat and makes very few appearances in public. When he addresses Hezbollah, he does so by video from a secret location.
Both Syria and Iran provide the group with financial and military support.
Hezbollah fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006 during which more than 1,200 Lebanese people, mostly civilians, were killed. Some 160 Israeli people, most of whom were soldiers, also died.
In November, Sheikh Nasrallah vowed to boost the capacity of its military wing and threatened to retaliate if Israel attacked Lebanon.
Since 2006, the Hezbollah leader has made few public appearances in Lebanon, even avoiding key religious and political occasions.
If the Zionist regime decides to repeat its past mistakes, the region will finish it off
Hezbollah blamed Israel for the attack, but it denied any involvement.
Before Thursday's dinner, Sheikh Nasrallah and President Ahmadinejad discussed "the latest developments in the region, and Zionist threats against Lebanon and Syria", Hezbollah's al-Manar television reported.
"If the Zionist regime decides to repeat its past mistakes, the region will finish it off," al-Manar quoted the Iranian leader as saying.
After bilateral talks on Thursday, President Assad said Syria and Iran were working together to confront "Israeli terrorism".
Both leaders dismissed US calls for Syria to distance itself from Iran, emphasising their "deep and brotherly" ties.
The meeting came a week after the US signalled an attempt to improve ties with Syria, sending a senior official to Damascus for talks and nominating a new ambassador after the withdrawal of his predecessor five years ago.
U.S. to launch operation in Kandahar city - official
By Ross Colvin and Sue PlemingWASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan will launch a new military operation later this year to get full control of Kandahar, the former "capital city" of the Taliban, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
"If our overall goal for 2010 in Afghanistan is to reverse the momentum (of the Taliban) ... then we think we've got to get to Kandahar this year," said the senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Militants have over the past year made startling gains in the area around Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. Reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar ruled Afghanistan from there before U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001.
McChrystal described the city in his assessment of the war last August as the "key geographic objective" of the Quetta Shura Taliban, the main faction led by Mullah Omar.
The U.S. official was offering an assessment of the offensive in Marjah, which the administration views as key preparation for the potentially bigger battle of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.
TEST CASE FOR BIG PRIZE
Marjah is one of the biggest operations in the more than eight-year-old Afghan war. It is also an early test of President Barack Obama's plan to add 30,000 more troops to win control of Taliban strongholds and eventually transfer them to Afghan authority.
"The way to look at Marjah is that it is the tactical prelude to larger more comprehensive operations later this year in Kandahar city," the administration official said.
"Bringing comprehensive population security to Kandahar city is really the centerpiece of operations this year and therefore Marjah is the prelude," he said.
The British commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan said last week that NATO forces would sweep toward Kandahar over the next six months.
On Thursday, Afghan authorities raised the Afghan flag over Marjah to signify the handover of control to the government from NATO troops led by U.S. Marines.
The official said military commanders on the ground believed it would take several weeks yet to clear the remaining pockets of resistance in and around Marjah.
"We are somewhere between clear and hold and that is pretty much on track. What is going to be more challenging than the clearing process will be the building process," he said.
He acknowledged U.S. and Afghan security forces would not initially have the trust of Marjah's residents.
"It is not so much a matter of a physical contest about who controls the weapons, it's a question of who controls the confidence of the people. That will only come after we are able to deliver," he said.
Washington hopes its latest offensive will decisively turn the momentum in a war that commanders say has been going the way of the Taliban.
Under Obama's new strategy, NATO and Afghan security forces are to secure population centers across Afghanistan so that the government can move in.
Major quake hits off Japan, tsunami warning issuedTOKYO (Reuters) - A magnitude 7.3 quake hit Japan's southern island of Okinawa early on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, and Japan's weather agency issued a tsunami warning for up to 2 metres.
The USGS said the quake struck at 5:31 a.m. on Saturday (2031 GMT on Friday) 52 miles (84 km) east of the city of Naha, about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) south of Tokyo.
The Japan Meteorological Agency put the magnitude at 6.9.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.
In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.
That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.
Friday, February 26, 2010
U.S. demurs as Israel pushes 'crippling' Iran sanctions
Israel, which sees a mortal threat in the prospect of an Iranian bomb, has backed the talks while hinting at preemptive military action should it deem diplomacy a dead end.
"Iran is the problem not just of Israel, but of the entire world. At this stage it is important to impose harsh and crippling sanctions on Iran in order to prevent its advance toward nuclear weaponry," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak's spokesman quoted him as telling his U.S. counterpart, Robert Gates, during a meeting in Washington.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday such sanctions would have to hit Iran's vital energy sector. Though it is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, Iran imports 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign refineries.
Yet in separate comments on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said: "It is not our intent to have crippling sanctions that have a significant impact on the Iranian people. Our actual intent is to find ways to pressure the government while protecting the people."
Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington worried too-sweeping sanctions might backfire by giving Iranian hardliners cover to crack down on dissidents, and by making economic conditions so hard ordinary Iranians turn on the United States rather than the Tehran government.
It also remains unclear whether energy sanctions can pass the Security Council, given past objections by Russia and China, both invested in Iran. The Iranians say their atomic ambitions are for energy, to allow them to export more oil.
Asked about his American hosts' circumspection, Barak sought to play down the extent of any disagreement.
"I don't think that the point is about discussing the definitions of the sanctions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let's wait and see," he told Reuters.
"I don't think it is important whether I am optimist or pessimist," he said, speaking in English. "It will be judged by the results, and of course I hope that the results will be good and successful."
Israel has argued that a Security Council deadlock on the issue should not prevent the United States and European countries from scaling back their dealings in Iranian energy.
Western powers hope the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members and Germany can agree on a draft resolution, which they would then submit to the full council.
Diplomats, however, say that even if the so-called P5+1 nations can agree on a resolution, it could face resistance from some nations currently occupying rotating slots on the Security Council, including Brazil.
The State Department said its point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State William Burns, will travel to Brazil on Friday ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit next week.
"We will be talking to Brazil about the way forward on Iran," Crowley said. "I am certain that Undersecretary Burns will bring them up to date on the P5+1 process and so will Secretary Clinton in her meetings with the president and foreign minister next week."
Iran's vitriol against the Jewish state has stirred concern that Israel, believed to have the region's only atomic arsenal, could attack its arch-foe's nuclear facilities.
U.S. officials Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have expressed worry at the spectre of Israel triggering a new Middle East war.
Asked if the Americans had raised this with Barak, a senior Israeli official said: "The talks focused on sanctions ... and on maintaining Israel's defensive capabilities and qualitative military edge. Israel and the United States have some points of dispute, but there is also a broad expanse of common ground."
Barak was due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden on Friday.
Israel plans more homes for East Jerusalem - reportJERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has plans to build another 600 homes in occupied land that it considers part of East Jerusalem, the Haaretz daily newspaper reported on Friday.
The plan, approved by a district planning commission, could further hamper U.S.-brokered efforts to revive stalled peace talks as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on a total settlement freeze in all territories, including Jerusalem.
Israeli officials reached by telephone had no immediate comment.
Palestinian official Ghassan al-Khatib denounced the decision as "another Israeli violation of international law".
He said it threatened to derail efforts to resume negotiations that have not convened since a war in Gaza in December 2008.
Khatib, a former cabinet minister who heads the Palestinian press office, said Palestinians would pursue what he called a "peaceful, legal, public struggle against Israeli settlement expansion and occupation".
A similar building plan proposed late last year for other parts of the Jerusalem area drew international condemnation.
Israel has also been criticised for court-approved evictions of Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem and for threatening to demolish houses that it says were built illegally.
The newspaper said more homes were intended to be built near the Pisgat Zeev neighbourhood and the Palestinian area of Shuafat. It said the original plan had been scaled back to 600 homes from an original 1,100 when it was learned some of the land was owned privately by Palestinians.
More than 200,000 Israelis already live in East Jerusalem and nearby areas of the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war and considers part of its "eternal and indivisible capital".
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu excluded the Jerusalem municipality, whose boundaries are not recognised internationally, from a 10-month moratorium in settlement building that he ordered in November.
The World Court has ruled that all the settlements Israel has built in occupied territory are illegal.
Taliban attacks in central Kabul kill 16
The attack came as NATO-led foreign troops and Afghan forces press ahead with an offensive against the Taliban in their stronghold in southern Helmand province, a key element of Washington's new strategy to put down a growing insurgency.
Some 38 people were wounded in the two-hour assault which started after at least one suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a guest house frequented by Indians.
"I heard a big blast," witness Quaree Sameh told Reuters. "The glass shattered. The attackers were throwing grenades and shooting."
The blast triggered car alarms and sent plumes of thick smoke into the damp and cold morning air at the start of the Afghan weekend.
"I was inside my room when I heard a loud explosion and then I could not see if people were killed or wounded because I locked my door," said an Indian who gave his name as Kashif, who was staying in the guest house.
Afghan security forces wearing bullet-proof vests rushed to secure the area, which is home to Kabul's biggest shopping centre, exchanging fire with the militants. Others carried out wounded Indians on their backs or stretchers.
TALIBAN CLAIMS ATTACK
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of the Islamist militants.
"Our mujahideen (holy warrior) fighters managed to attack in the heart of Kabul city once again," Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said at least five Taliban fighters launched the attack. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives-packed vests near the hotel and the City Centre shopping mall. Three fighters were in the basement of the shopping centre, he said.
The Taliban frequently attack the capital, targeting foreigners and public areas. On Jan. 18, Taliban fighters hit multiple locations in the city including another shopping mall, killing five people and wounding 38.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks, which fell on a holiday.
"Those who are involved and carried out inhumane and un-Islamic attacks on a holy day that is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad are certainly enemies of Islam and Afghanistan," Karzai said.
The United States and France also condemned the attack.
"The terrorists have once again just proved how little they value human life, by brutally targeting civilians on the Mawlid holiday," French Foreign Ministr Bernard Kouchner said.
India is one of the biggest donors in Afghanistan and is a supporter of President Hamid Karzai. The Indian Embassy in Kabul has been attacked twice since 2008.
After the first embassy bombing in July 2008, New Delhi said Pakistan's military spy agency, the ISI, was behind most attacks on Indians in Afghanistan to undermine Indian influence.
Pakistan fears being squeezed between India on its eastern border and a hostile Afghanistan, backed by India, on a western boundary Kabul does not recognise.
On Thursday, India and Pakistan resumed official level talks to reduce tensions, their first meeting since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. The meeting ended with only an agreement to keep talking.
U.S. and other NATO-led foreign forces have pushed back against the Taliban after violence across Afghanistan last year hit its worst levels since the militants were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Earlier this month, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force launched a big offensive in southern Helmand to drive the Taliban out of their last major stronghold in Afghanistan's most violent province.
The latest operation in Helmand is an early test of U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to add 30,000 troops to win control of Taliban bastions and hand them over to Afghan authorities before the start of a gradual U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The son of a jailed Hamas leader who converted to Christianity and moved to California has gone public to say that he spied for Israel.
Speaking before the release of a book about his life, Mosab Hassan Yousef made the assertion in an interview for Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
A former deputy head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service told the BBC he had been one of its agents.
But a Hamas leader dismissed the report as a slander on the Islamist group.
Mr Yousef, 32, is a son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas figure in the West Bank, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence in an Israeli prison.
If the younger Yousef's revelations are true, and he did play a role in preventing Hamas attacks on Israel, it will be an embarrassment for the group, which prides itself on its tight discipline and shuns the Palestinian Authority because of its peace negotiations with Israel.
￼He provided very important information like hundreds of others fighting against terror ￼
Fformer deputy leader of Shin Bet
While the Yousef case dates back several years, there have been suggestions the group was betrayed more recently when Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai on 20 January.
Mosab Hassan Yousef converted to Christianity and moved to the US in 2007.
The book he co-wrote, Son of Hamas, is due to be published there shortly.
"He provided very important information like hundreds of others fighting against terror," Gideon Ezra, formerly deputy leader of Shin Bet and now a member of the Knesset for the Kadima party, told BBC World Service.
Referred to officially as Shabak in Hebrew or the Israel Security Agency in English
Charged with defending against terrorism, subversion and espionage
Interrogates suspected militants at special centres across Israel
Mr Ezra said the younger Yousef had been persuaded to spy for Israel while being held in prison himself.
Has been accused of using torture against Palestinians
Earlier, senior Hamas leader Ismail Radwan condemned Haaretz's report as "baseless slander" aimed at the elder Yousef.
Shin Bet seeks speakers of Farsi
"The Palestinian people have great confidence in Hamas and its struggle and they will not be fooled by this slander and these lies of the Israeli occupation," he told AFP news agency.
Haaretz journalist Avi Issacharoff, who wrote the original article, told the BBC Mr Yousef was not prepared to give any further media interviews as of Wednesday morning.
News of his religious conversion in 2008 shocked many Muslims in the Gaza Strip and he was condemned by some for his "apostasy".
Mosab Hassan Yousef was considered Shin Bet's most reliable source in the Hamas leadership, earning himself the nickname "the Green Prince" because of the colour of the group's flag and his pedigree as the son of one of the movement's founders, Haaretz writes.
One of his Israeli "handlers" told the paper that he had saved many lives, with one of his insights "worth 1,000 hours of thought by top experts".
"The amazing thing is that none of his actions were done for money," the handler, named in the book as "Captain Loai", added.
Speaking to the newspaper by phone from California, Mr Yousef appeared to be still brimming with enthusiasm for Israel's fight against Hamas.
"I wish I were in Gaza now," he was quoted as saying. "I would put on an army uniform and join Israel's special forces in order to liberate [Israeli hostage] Gilad Shalit."
Gideon Ezra told the BBC that it was not easy for Israel to penetrate Hamas but it was "doing its best".
His country, he argued, had no choice but to recruit agents within Palestinian militant groups in order to avoid attacks, though he added that the security situation in the West Bank had improved under the Palestinian Authority from Israel's perspective.
Asked about his own experience of recruiting Palestinian agents, he said there were many motives for them to turn spy.
"It depends on each person," he added. "You can't do it through threats. If they don't do it willingly, you can't force them to be your informant."
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Transform Comfort Food into Muscle-Building Fuel
It's a battle royale, with cheese. In one corner of your mind, there's the satisfaction of that trim, hard body you've built. In the other, there's the hamburger—juicy, tasty, covered with a blanket of melted Cheddar. Or maybe your struggle is against nachos. Or crispy fish and chips. Or pizza. Hard to believe there ever was a time when mankind could be seduced by an apple, isn't it?
To avoid temptation, you could wire your refrigerator to deliver a shock every time you open the door. Or you could continue eating pizza, nachos, burgers—all of your favorite comfort foods—without guilt. It can be done. With a few easy tweaks, just about any food can be transformed into good stuff that satisfies your nutritional needs, your tastebuds, and even your nostalgic cravings. Make your comfort foods this way and you'll have our blessing to pig out.
NachosWhat's so bad?: Just 13 ordinary corn chips contains 120 calories and 6 g fat, and you haven't yet ladled on the electric-orange cheese product, the greasy spiced hamburger mixture, or the sour cream. Do that and you're hoisting 26 g saturated fat into your mouth. Add thirst-inducing pickled jalapeño-pepper slices and you're getting a day's worth of sodium in this 1,129-calorie pile.
Make it better: Start with baked corn chips (less fat), add cooked pinto beans for fiber, and use reduced-fat sharp Cheddar and lean ground round. Top with cancer-fighting diced tomatoes (for lycopene) and diced fresh jalapeño pepper—it has no added salt but still delivers plenty of kick. The whole concoction is leaner, tastier, and way better for you. Go ahead, have some more.
You lose: 677 calories, 22 g saturated fat, 2,500 mg sodium
You gain: 14 g fiber, 2,300 mcg lycopene
Fish and ChipsWhat's so bad?: There's fat everywhere—the breaded and fried fish, the greasy potatoes, and the creamy coleslaw.
Make it better: You love the crunchy crispiness, right? Try pan-seared salmon—it'll crisp up real nice—for a healthy dose of cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fats and a potential brain boost. A new UCLA study on mice suggests that DHA, one of the fats found in high levels in fish like salmon, helps repair memory damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. Roasted potato wedges sprayed with a little olive oil are infinitely better than fat-soaked fried "chips." Grab a bag of finely chopped coleslaw makings at the grocery store and use either low-fat mayonnaise or, better yet, a tangy vinegar-and-oil dressing.
You lose: 8 g saturated fat
You gain: 4 g omega-3 fats
PizzaWhat's so bad?: Oil-pooling pepperoni, to start. Then a huge calorie count that comes mainly from simple carbs and saturated fat.
Make it better: Opt for a thin crust (fewer refined-flour carbs), use half the cheese, and replace the pepperoni or sausage with chicken breast, a lean protein that has just 1 g fat per ounce. (A little barbecue sauce is okay. Great, in fact.) The chicken gives you more muscle-building protein and a ratio of protein to fat that better satisfies the appetite. Add some sliced onions and peppers to rack up a little fiber and some immune-boosting allicin.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, fiber, twice the protein
Grilled Cheese SandwichWhat's so bad?: The 18 g saturated fat you take in from the butter and slabs of oily cheese. And the white bread is pointless.
Make it better: Use whole-wheat bread with part-skim mozzarella in between. Crisp it in a skillet moistened with a little olive oil. Losing the finger-licking buttery bliss is worth it. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an olive oil-rich diet can drop your chances of dying of cancer or heart disease by 23 percent. To protect your prostate, add a couple of lycopene-packed tomato slices. Likely to work late? Throw in a slice or two of lean ham. That will jack up the protein count, keeping your appetite in check.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: 11 g protein, 5 g fiber, 1,000 mcg lycopene
Breakfast Sausage-and-Egg BiscuitWhat's so bad?: The sausage patty is fatty (about 10 g per puck), and the biscuit is nearly devoid of nutrition yet contains 8 g fat.
Make it better: Do this yourself—it takes 3 minutes, about the time you'd sit in the drive-thru lane. Beat an egg in a small bowl and nuke it for 1 to 2 minutes. Top it with warmed-up Canadian bacon—a great precooked source of lean protein with only 2 g fat—and slide it into a whole-wheat English muffin. And have it with a glass of grapefruit juice (good luck finding that at McDonald's) instead of OJ. Drinking grapefruit juice before a meal helps decrease insulin levels and promote weight loss, according to research from the Scripps Clinic in San Diego.
You lose: 4 g saturated fat
You gain: 6 g protein, 4 g fiber, 94 milligrams (mg) vitamin C
BurgerWhat's so bad?: Ground beef is shot through with fat, and that white-bread bun offers little but rapidly digested simple sugars.
Make it better: Start with extra-lean ground beef—if you don't overcook it, it'll taste great. Chop up some onions and thawed frozen spinach and mix them into the beef. The vegetables add vitamins and replace some of the moisture lost when you switched to leaner ground beef. Better yet, build those burgers with grass-fed beef or lean ground buffalo, at roughly 4 grams (g) of fat per 4 ounces. Researchers at Purdue University found that wild game and grass-fed meats have higher levels of good-for-the-brain and good-for-the-heart omega-3 fatty acids. Top it all off with a whole-wheat bun for some fiber.
You lose: 6 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, 47 micrograms (mcg) beta-carotene, 5 g fiber
Iran says any atomic fuel swap must be on its soil
That would be unacceptable to the United States and European allies, which hope to get new sanctions imposed in the coming weeks after failing to reach agreement on the fuel exchange. But China expressed reservations over sanctions again, saying greater diplomatic efforts were needed.
Western countries fear Iran wants to stockpile uranium to enrich it to levels that could be used for nuclear weapons. Iran says its sole aim is to run nuclear energy plants to generate electricity and produce isotopes for medicine or agriculture.
"In order to bring about a constructive interaction, we have declared our readiness for a fuel swap, provided it is done within the country," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, cementing remarks by other Iranian officials.
"We are prepared for a fuel swap even though we do not regard this condition of supplying fuel to the Tehran research reactor through a swap as correct."
Washington called Iran's response a "red herring" that brought nothing new to the discussion.
"The Iranian counterproposal is unacceptable, as we've made clear before, and we will continue to work within the IAEA but also we will continue to consult from the international standpoint on appropriate next steps, including prospective sanctions," said U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Earlier this month, Iran announced a start to higher-scale enrichment that would refine uranium to 20 percent purity -- the level needed for conversion into fuel plates for its Tehran research reactor, which makes isotopes for cancer patients.
Iran said it was boosting enrichment itself because the West was refusing to budge from terms drawn up by the U.N. nuclear watchdog under which Iran would ship 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium abroad and wait up to a year to get reactor fuel back in exchange.
Iran formally stated its position on the four-month-old fuel swap plan in its letter to the IAEA. The letter, obtained by Reuters, said the Tehran reactor's fuel stock, imported from Argentina in 1993, was "approaching its end."
Analysts say Iran lacks the technical means to make the reactor fuel itself and has earmarked for 20 percent enrichment a quantity of low-enriched uranium far in excess of the reactor's needs. That raised suspicions it eventually aims to enrich the material to the 90 percent purity suitable for warheads.
The IAEA said in a report last week that Iran may now be working to develop a nuclear-armed missile, providing further grist to Western countries hoping to persuade China, which has U.N. Security Council veto power, to back harsher sanctions.
China, which has faced Western sanctions itself in the past, has resisted calls for tough measures against Tehran.
"We hope relevant parties can show flexibility to create conditions for completely and properly solving the Iran nuclear problem through diplomatic efforts," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
The State Department said the United States' patience with negotiation was running out. "We have not closed the door to further engagement. But you actually have to have a willing partner to engage," said Crowley.
"The fact is Iran makes these series of statements day after day, week after week, but it refuses to come to the table and actually negotiate in good faith."
Both the United States and Iran appear to be upping the stakes in a seven-year stand-off over Tehran's nuclear activity.
Iran said it had identified potential sites for 10 new enrichment plants, two of which could start construction this year. Analysts say Iran lacks the technical capacity to launch any for at least several years.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an embargo on Iran's huge oil and gas sector, even if the United Nations did not back such a drastic move.
Tehran accuses Western powers of fomenting unprecedented protests by opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since his disputed re-election last June. The unrest plunged Iran into its worst internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran over the nuclear issue.
"No power can harm Iran," Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in the eastern province of Khorasan-e Jonubi. "The Iranian nation will chop off the hands from the arm of any attacker from any part of the world."
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure in Iran's ruling elite, rallied support around Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the government in Iran's twin conflict with domestic dissenters and foreign powers over the nuclear issue.
Ahmadinejad's followers have criticised former president Rafsanjani for failing to give Khamenei unswerving support against the protest movement.
"Our focal point is clear and that is the constitution, Islam, the principle of the office of the jurisprudent and supreme leadership," Rafsanjani told the powerful Assembly of Experts, which he heads.
ANALYSIS - Is flu pandemic waning? Not yet, experts say
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Has the swine flu pandemic peaked globally? Not quite, World Health Organization advisers decided on Tuesday.
No matter what happens, some public health officials fear that the moderate nature of the H1N1 pandemic, which emerged in April and is dying down in the Americas and Europe, may make people complacent about the next one.
And the risk remains that H1N1 could come roaring back -- something viruses have done in past pandemics.
"Our recommendation is certainly that countries don't change their policies if we were to move to post-peak," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in a telephone interview.
"We would recommend that countries continue to do what they have been doing."
So why even make an announcement?
"That certainly was a question that was debated today," Hartl said.
WHO declared in June that H1N1 swine flu was causing a pandemic -- the first flu pandemic in 40 years -- after it was first discovered in Mexico and the United States and spread around the world within six weeks.
It was the U.N. agency's first chance to use its six-phase pandemic plan, which was broadly criticized because it describes the extent and spread of a new infection but has little way to convey virulence.
Dr. Nancy Cox of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a member of WHO's emergency committee and one of the world's leading influenza experts. She said the group has been struggling to make sure it gets the point across correctly.
"It is very, very difficult to get the wording exactly right," Cox said in a telephone interview.
"We expect the 2009 H1N1 virus to be around for a long time. It is a complex kind of message."
Risk communications expert Peter Sandman says WHO and other public health agencies will be keen to make clear that influenza is unpredictable.
"Whether they declare that we are in the post-peak phase or not, it will be very important for them to say that the decision is tentative," Sandman said in a telephone interview.
"Either they will be saying that it looks like we are in a in post-peak phase but don't let down your guard because there could be another wave...or they are going to say it is a little early to declare it post-peak and we are going to wait," he added.
Adding to the difficulty, H1N1 caused at worst a moderate pandemic, in terms of numbers. Seasonal influenza kills 250,000 to 500,000 people globally and 36,000 people in the United States alone every year. WHO has no global estimates but the CDC projects that H1N1 has killed up to 17,000 people.
It also appears to have displaced seasonal influenza, at least for the time being, although that could change at any moment as well.
"People were thinking that a pandemic has to be some kind of cataclysmic event. It is is a loaded word," Cox said.
But H1N1 was worse than seasonal flu in some ways. Ninety percent of victims were children and young adults, in contrast to seasonal flu, whose toll is usually largely among the frail elderly.
And it hit during spring, summer and autumn months in the northern hemisphere, when there is usually little or no flu activity.
Nonetheless, the nature of the pandemic has created a load of skeptics, Sandman said.
"We came into the pandemic with a very high expectation of deadliness. We are going to come into the next pandemic with a very low expectation of deadliness," Sandman said.
"And the next pandemic could be next week. Whatever it is, it is going to be incredibly hard to get people to take it seriously."
Aussie charged with murder of Malaysian consulate driver
MELBOURNE: A 55-year-old Sydney man has been charged with the murder of Malaysian consulate driver Mohd Shah Saemin in the Sydney suburb of Leichardt on Sunday.
The man was arrested Tuesday night by Homicide Squad detectives and Leichhardt police at a house in Brighton Street, Croydon, police said.
Investigations into the killing are continuing, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Mohd Shah was allegedly attacked with a hammer and stabbed by two men outside his unit in Marion Street, Leichhardt, about midnight on Sunday.
A woman who witnessed the alleged attack and tried to intervene has been praised for her efforts.
Having lived in Australia for several years, Mohd Shah, formerly from Malacca, had become a citizen and worked for the past three years as a driver for the Malaysian consulate in Sydney.
Malaysian Deputy High Commissioner in Canberra Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said Shah’s body would arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday or Friday.
Detectives are continuing to appeal to anyone with information to contact their nearest police station or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Peter Kenyon's presence in Lisbon has fuelled reports that Angel di Maria is set for a £36million summer move to Chelsea.
Former Blues' chief executive Kenyon, who still represent the club on international business, is said to be leading negotiations for the much-coveted Benfica winger.
Both Manchester United and City - as well as Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid - have also been linked with Di Maria after a series of impressive performances for the Portuguese giants.
But Chelsea are said to be leading the race for the 22-year-old Argentina international.
'It is true I stayed in Lisbon in answer to your question, but I will not offer more details,' is all that Kenyon would tell Portuguese sports newspaper O Jogo.
'Is Di Maria a footballer of interest to us? I have no comment to make.'
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
QALAT, AFGHANISTAN -- A U.S. airstrike targeting a convoy of buses traveling in southern Afghanistan killed at least 27 civilians and wounded a dozen more in a bombing that could fuel a political backlash against the ongoing military offensive in Afghanistan.
New mayor delivers a plea to Marja
Afghan city now is more than a battle.U.S. airstrike kills 27 Afghan civilians
Marines continue incursion in Marja,
The Afghan cabinet condemned on Monday what it called the "unacceptable" attack and asked NATO troops to "coordinate with the Afghan security forces" before any operation. A statement issued by the cabinet said that 27 people, including four women and a child, died in the airstrike, while 12 others were injured.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, held a video conference Monday morning with task force and regional commanders across the country to remind commanders about the need for "the judicious application of fire," according to a senior military official.
"There was no danger to coalition forces" in the attack on the convoy, the official said. McChrystal, the official added, "was apoplectic."
The airstrike, along a main road near the border of the Uruzgan and Daikundi provinces, occurred Sunday when U.S. Special Forces piloting Little Bird helicopters fired on the convoy after intercepting Taliban radio conversations, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The nearest coalition forces were about seven miles away at the time.
The airstrike was not part of the large military offensive in neighboring Helmand province. But U.S. military officials view the Helmand operation as a chance to boost public support and momentum for their mission by demonstrating a decisive victory in one Taliban hot spot. That goal could be undermined by outrage over civilian casualties.
In Washington, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates declined to comment on the details of the airstrike, saying it was under investigation. But Gates said the incident had not shaken his faith in McChrystal, who has stiffened the criteria for ordering airstrikes.
"I have confidence in his judgment," Gates said. "General McChrystal is more on top of the importance of avoiding civilian casualties, and the strategic consequences of civilian casualties, than anybody."
McChrystal apologized to President Hamid Karzai after the airstrike, according to a statement from Karzai's office. It was the second time this month that McChrystal had taken such a step. The first followed a rocket strike that killed at least 12 people in a home in Marja.
"It's not the first or the last time this kind of incident has taken place. It's business as usual," said Hashim Watanwal, a parliament member from Uruzgan. "It's one of those unprovoked blind bombings."
Watanwal said the death toll in the bombing was 33, including three children. On Monday, he spoke with Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, who instructed him to "call the people you know to tell them to stay calm, to stay patient, that there should be no retaliatory violence," he said.
The governor of Uruzgan, Asadullah Hamdam, cautioned in an interview that many of the details about the airstrike remain unknown. He sent a delegation to the site of the attack, in the village of Khud, to investigate. The Afghan security forces do not have a persistent presence in the area and violence remains common there, he said.
Under McChrystal, the U.S. military has made reducing civilian casualties a top priority, as the American strategy has shifted from killing insurgents to protecting the Afghan people. The military has issued rules aimed at limiting the harm and humiliation that U.S. operations cause civilians, such as restricting the use of air power, night raids and driving speeds. These changes came after a recognition that killing civilians has inflamed the insurgency and turned villagers against NATO and Afghan troops.
"You kill the wrong people, you're suddenly making things a lot worse," a senior U.S. military official said. In terms of civilian casualties, "zero is perfect," the official said. "That's what we're after. We're going for zero."
Also Monday, a suicide bomber in Nangahar province, in eastern Afghanistan, killed 15 people. The dead included Mohammad Zaman Ghamsharik, a tribal leader who took part in the failed attempt to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001, according to the Associated Press.
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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen says the military is making "steady progress" in its effort to retake the Taliban stronghold of Marjah but that the nation "must be patient." Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon ...
Read more here :
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Monday, February 22, 2010
Israel's prime minister has announced a controversial plan to add two major religious sites in the West Bank to the country's national heritage list.
Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem would now be included in the $107m restoration plan.
Israeli media said the two sites had been included on the list only after pressure from nationalist ministers.
The Palestinian Authority warned the decision would "wreck" peace efforts.
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for more than a year, with the PA refusing to participate until Israel halts settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel has scaled back construction in the West Bank, but it does not consider areas within the Jerusalem municipality to be settlements.
Addressing a cabinet meeting, Mr Netanyahu unveiled the two additions to the national heritage list.
He said the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb had to be preserved because they showed Israel's ancient ties to the land.
"Our existence here doesn't just depend on the might of the military or our economic and technological strength," he added. "It is anchored first and foremost in our national and emotional legacy."
The Tomb of the Patriarchs - which Muslims call the al-Ibrahimi mosque - is where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives.
It has been a flashpoint for decades, with 500 Jewish settlers living in enclaves near the disputed site, surrounded by 170,000 Palestinians.
The Tomb of Rachel - a shrine to the Biblical matriarch holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims - has also been a source of controversy.
Israel's West Bank barrier juts far into Bethlehem so that the tomb is located on the Israeli side, ostensibly for security reasons. However, Palestinians say it impedes their access and represents an illegal land grab.
Jewish settlers and nationalists, who oppose giving up control of any of the West Bank, said they were pleased with Mr Netanyahu's announcement and that they would press for additional biblical sites to be added to the list.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority condemned the decision, particularly the designation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and warned it could take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a dangerous direction.
Palestinians have complained they are denied access to Rachel's Tomb
"We believe that this particular violation is very dangerous because it might add to the religious nature of the conflict," Ghassan Khatib told the Associated Press.
But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the list was not meant to draw borders ahead of a final status agreement.
"The purpose of the list... is to single out sites that are of great importance to the Jewish people," he said.
Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem. They are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010
AP - Sun Feb 21st, 2010 9:40 AM EST
MARJAH, Afghanistan - Marines and Afghan units converged Sunday on a dangerous western quarter of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, with NATO forces facing "determined resistance" as their assault on the southern town entered its second week.
Fighter jets , drones and attack helicopters hovered overhead, as Marine and Afghan companies moved on a 2-square-mile (5.2-sq. kilometer) area of the town where more than 40 insurgents have apparently holed up.
"They are squeezed," said Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment . "It looks like they want to stay and fight but they can always drop their weapons and slip away. That's the nature of this war."
Insurgents are putting up a "determined resistance" in various parts of Marjah, though the overall offensive is "on track," NATO said Sunday, eight days after thousands of Afghan and international forces launched their largest joint operation since the Taliban regime's ouster in 2001.
Late last week, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, head of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, said he believed it would take at least 30 days to complete securing the Nad Ali district and Marjah in Helmand province, a hub for a lucrative opium trade that profits militants.
The Marjah operation is a major test of a new NATO strategy that stresses protecting civilians over routing insurgents as quickly as possible. It's also the first major ground operation since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan .
Once the town is secure, NATO plans to rush in a civilian Afghan administration, restore public services and pour in aid to try to win the loyalty of the population and prevent the Taliban from returning.
Twelve NATO troops and one Afghan soldier have died so far in the offensive. Senior Marine officers say intelligence reports suggest more than 120 insurgents have died.
NATO said one service member died Sunday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, and two died Saturday — one by rocket or mortar fire in eastern Afghanistan and another in a bombing in the south. None of the fatalities was related to the Marjah area fighting. Their nationalities were not given.
Marine spokesman Lt. Josh Diddams said that the Marines and Afghan troops are continuing to run into "pockets of stiff resistance" though they are making progress. "We've established a presence," he said.
Diddams said no area is completely calm yet although three markets in town are at least partially open.
"Everywhere we've got Marines, we're running into insurgents," Diddams said. In many cases, the militants are fighting out of bunkers fortified with sandbags and other materials.
On Sunday, Marine squads in the western section of Marjah used missiles to destroy a large, abandoned school compound that had been booby-trapped with explosives in Marjah. The school had been shut down two years earlier by the Taliban, residents told Marines.
"They said they would kill the father of any child that went to school," said farmer Maman Jan, deploring that his six children were illiterate.
Marines also found several abandoned Kalashnikov rifles along with ammunition hidden in homes. Sporadic volleys of insurgent machine-gun fire rang out through the day.
"They shoot from right here in front of a house, they don't care that there are children around," said Abdel Rahim, a Kuchi nomad.
On Sunday, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said that they had been more prepared for large numbers of planted bombs than for the sniper shooting and sustained firefights that have characterized the last few days of the Marjah operation.
"We predicted it would take many days. But our prediction was that the insurgency would not resist that way," he said. Azimi said progress through the contested areas is slow so that troops can clear bombs and take care to prevent civilian casualties .
He said the operation has always been planned to last a month and noted some aspects are ahead of schedule, including the deployment of Afghan police units to the town.
On Saturday, President Hamid Karzai urged NATO to do more to protect civilians during combat operations to secure Marjah, although he noted the military alliance had made progress in doing that — mainly by reducing airstrikes and adopting more restrictive combat rules.
NATO forces have repeatedly said they want to prevent civilian casualties, but acknowledged that it is not always possible. On Saturday, the alliance said its troops killed another civilian in the Marjah area, bringing the civilian death toll from the operation to at least 16.
Karzai also reached out to Taliban fighters, urging them to renounce al-Qaida and join with the government.
But the process of reconciliation and reintegration is likely to prove difficult.
On Sunday, Mohammad Jan Rasool Yar, spokesman for Zabul province, said authorities arrested 14 police in the Shar-e Safa district on Saturday who had defected to the Taliban's side last week and were found on a bus heading to Pakistan .
NATO said that two insurgents, including a suspected Taliban commander, were captured Friday in northern Helmand province . The men are believed to be involved in manufacturing roadside bombs. They, along with three others earlier in the week, had been caught as part of an operation to break up the Taliban's weapons supply line.
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The Best Foods for Your 30s
The likely reason: After you pass 30, your testosterone levels decrease by up to 1 percent a year. This means it becomes harder for you to build—or even maintain—metabolism-boosting muscle. (See the connection?) Another side effect: By 40, more than half of men develop some degree of erectile dysfunction.
But sagging testosterone levels aren't your only health hazard. Starting at age 30, your systolic blood pressure rises 4 points per decade, and joint degeneration begins to occur.
Here's how to turn back your biological clock—and keep midlife years in front of you.
Every Lunch is a Business LunchDining out means restaurant megaportions—and, most likely, a mega-gut.
The fix: Trade that grilled-chicken sandwich for a grilled-chicken salad. U.K. researchers found that men who ate a low-glycemic lunch—one without bread, rice, or pasta—burned more fat for 3 hours after eating than those who ate a high-glycemic meal, even though both groups consumed the same number of calories. More smart choices: chicken stir-fry, fajitas sans the tortillas, or even a 6- to 8-ounce steak with a side salad or steamed vegetables.
You Can't Lift as Much WeightAs testosterone levels start to drop, it takes longer for your muscles to return to full strength after each workout.
The fix: Eat broccoli and bell peppers. Together, they're packed with vitamins C and E, two nutrients that fight free radicals—rogue molecules that slow the repair of exercise-induced muscle damage, impeding recovery. Try this 15-minute meal from resident "Muscle Chow" columnist Gregg Avedon. It's infused with the most effective ingredients for speeding muscle recovery after a hard workout—vitamins C and E, high-quality protein, and slow-digesting carbohydrates.
In a deep saucepan, sauté 1 tablespoon of chopped onion, ¼ of a red bell pepper (cut into long, thin strips), and a pinch of black pepper on medium heat for 2 minutes. Next, add ½ pound of turkey-breast strips and 1 teaspoon of sage. Brown the turkey for 2 minutes, then add 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup of broccoli florets. Bring to a boil for 1 minute, then stir in ½ cup of plain, uncooked couscous. Cover the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Your Metabolism is SlowingBy snacking on the right foods—those that are low in sugar but rich in protein—you'll keep your metabolic furnace stoked, and be less likely to binge between meals.
The fix: Have one slice of hard or semihard cheese—for instance, Cheddar, Swiss, or provolone—two or three times a day. Cheese has 7 grams of protein per slice and contains no sugar. That means it doesn't raise blood-sugar levels, so your body stays in fat-burning mode. Want an alternative? Opt for a cup of low-fat plain yogurt or a stick of beef jerky, or multitask with a handful of almonds. (See "Waning Sex Drive," to the left.)
Waning Sex DriveDon't wither away down under.
The fix: Munch on two handfuls of walnuts, peanuts, or almonds every day. Research shows that men with diets high in mono-unsaturated fat—the kind found in nuts—have higher testosterone levels than those who don't eat enough of the healthy fat. Nuts are also the best food source of arginine, an amino acid that improves bloodflow throughout your body—including below the belt.
Rising Blood PressureSome men are always close to their boiling points. And new research from the Netherlands may explain why. The scientists discovered that besides the obvious factors—obesity, lack of physical activity, and high salt consumption—diets containing too little potassium were the primary cause of hypertension. In their analysis, the scientists used 3,500 mg daily as the cutoff for defining a low potassium intake. The average intake for a man in his 30s? Only 3,100 mg.
The fix: Add ½ cup of beans, a banana, or a handful of raisins to your daily diet. Each will increase your potassium intake by about 400 mg a day, boosting you above that 3,500 mg benchmark.
Corroding JointsEven though arthritis doesn't usually set in until your 50s, the damage that causes it is happening now.
The fix: Eat three 6-ounce servings of cold-water fish weekly. Specifically, have salmon, mackerel, trout, halibut, or white tuna—each packs more than 1,000 mg of fish oil. A U.K. study found that regularly consuming this amount of fish oil appeared to halt cartilage-eating enzymes in 86 percent of people who are facing joint-replacement surgery. Fish oil slows down cartilage degeneration and reduces factors that cause inflammation, says lead researcher Bruce Caterson, Ph.D.