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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto killed!

Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister, has been killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack at an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

At least 16 others were also killed in Thursday's attack with another report saying at least 20 bodies were seen after the explosion which triggered violent protests across the country.

Bhutto,54, was proclaimed dead after she was taken to the Rawalpindi General Hospital. "

At 6:16pm [13:16 GMT], she expired," Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), present at the hospital, said.

Police said a suicide bomber fired at Bhutto as she was leaving the rally venue in a park before blowing himself up.

"The man first fired at Bhutto's vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up," Mohammad Shahid, a police officer said.

Rising anger
Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, reportedly chaired an emergency cabinet meeting after the blast.

Bhutto's supporters vented their anger
after her killing [AFP]
He later appealed to the nation to remain calm "so that the evil designs of terrorists can be defeated," state TV reported.

But as news of Bhutto's death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and threw stones at cars.

Angry supporters also took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, and raised anti-Musharraf slogans.

Thousands also gathered on the streets of Karachi, the capital of Bhutto's native Sindh province.

In Rawalpindi, at the site of the attack, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.

The interior ministry respondend by putting its forces on red alert.

Grieving nation

Following the blast, body parts and flesh were strewn across Liaqat Bagh park where Bhutto had spoken.

Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescue workers rushed to carry victims in to ambulances.

Nawaz Sharif, also a former Pakistani prime minister, told grief-stricken Bhutto supporters outside the hospital: "I assure you that I will fight your war from now on."

He said he shared the grief of "the entire nation".

Javaid Manzoor, the president of Bhutto's PPP party, told Al Jazeera: "We are shocked. We are stunned. Every single one of us is mouring the loss of our leader."

Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman said questions would now be raised about security there.

Hospital anguish

The killing is likely to deepen the political crisis in Pakistan, where radicals had vowed to disrupt the vote and Musharraf's opponents, including Bhutto, accused him of planning to rig the result.

Manzoor said he believed the poll, sheduled for January 8, would now be cancelled.

Bhutto had served twice as Pakistani prime minister between 1988 and 1996.

She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on October 18.

Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, killing more than 140 people.

On that occasion she narrowly escaped injury.

Sharif rally

Earlier on Thursday, four people were shot dead and three wounded at an election rally of Sharif in Rawalpindi.

Sharif blamed supporters of the party that backs Musharraf.

The attacks are the worst directly related to the January 8 polls since campaigning intensified in mid-December.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

US judge orders CIA tapes hearing

A US judge has overruled Bush administration objections and ordered a hearing into whether the CIA violated a court order when it destroyed videotapes of interrogations.

US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy scheduled a court hearing on the tapes for Friday.

The federal judge had in June 2005 ordered the administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay".

Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos.

The recordings involved al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Not covered

The justice department argued that the videos were not covered by the order because the two men were being held in secret CIA prisons overseas, not at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Lawyers for a group of Guantanamo Bay inmates contesting their detention had requested the hearing to learn whether the government had complied with the preservation order.

They cited reports that information obtained from the interrogations implicated five unnamed Guantanamo detainees.

"We hope to establish a procedure to review the government's handling of evidence in our case ... and generally to require an accounting from a government that has admitted that it destroyed evidence," said David Remes, a lawyer for the group of inmates.

The CIA, pre-empting a news report, admitted on December 6 that it had destroyed hundreds of hours of interrogation tapes, prompting an outcry from congressional Democrats and human rights activists.

The tapes are believed to have shown interrogation methods that included simulated drowning known as waterboarding, which has been condemned as torture.

The CIA said it destroyed the tapes lawfully and did so out of concern for the safety of agents involved if the recordings were ever made public.

The White House has repeatedly denied that the US uses torture.

The justice department declined to comment on the judge's hearing order but the department last week urged Kennedy not to investigate the videotapes.

It also said that in light of other government probes into the tapes, a judicial inquiry into the destruction was inappropriate.

The government has also sought delays in congressional attempts to investigate the tapes' destruction, saying they would hamper a joint investigation by the justice department itself and the CIA.

"Plainly the government wants only foxes guarding this henhouse," Remes wrote in a court filing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tension in Bolivia

Political divisions appear to have deepened in Bolivia after four provinces controlled by the opposition put forward plans for greater autonomy from the central government.

The move comes as large rallies were held in the country both in support and opposition of Evo Morales, the president.

Thousands of Morales supporters marched through the city of La Paz to celebrate the unveiling of a new constitution that has divided public opinion in the country.

"This is a historic day ... the people will never again be marginalised," Morales told crowds outside the presidential palace after the president of the constitutional assembly submitted a copy of the new charter.

Morales accused his opponents of seeking to split the nation. "We're not going to let anyone divide Bolivia," he said.

The president has said a declaration of autonomy in the eastern city of Santa Cruz is illegal and unconstitutional.

Autonomous celebration

Led by the economic hub of Santa Cruz, the four provinces oppose the new constitution and made separate declarations of autonomy to extend the power of their regional governments.

A Santa Cruz "autonomy statute," which voters in the state would have to approve in coming months, would create a separate police force and insist on state control of lands.

In Santa Cruz, hunger strikers called off their days-old protest against the constitution and headed to a city park for a rally to celebrate the declaration of autonomy.

A similar event was staged in natural gas-rich Tarija, and others were planned in the Amazon provinces of Beni and Pando.

"We're going to celebrate the birth of the autonomous regions," Roberto Gutierrez, a pro-autonomy leader in Santa Cruz, said.

The constitutional reform has deepened long-standing divisions between the more affluent east and the highlands, where the indigenous population strongly supports Morales, the country's first leader of Indian descent.

Leaders of the four lowland regions, home to Bolivia's natural gas fields, have called the new constitution an illegal power grab since it was passed by Morales supporters during an opposition boycott.


"In no way do we accept that the text that's being submitted represents the Bolivian people, because not all Bolivians have taken part in its drafting," Lourdes Millares, an opposition member of parliament, said.

Tensions rose ahead of Saturday's declarations of autonomy and Morales, has ruled out declaring martial law but government officials have said he could use force if any attempt is made to divide the country.

It was unclear whether the autonomy declarations would be ratified in provincial referenda.

The new national constitution, which lets presidents seek two consecutive terms and increases the state's role in the economy, must still pass two referenda to take force.

Morales says the constitutional rewrite will empower the poor, Indian majority.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oil spill in Korea

Contamination from South Korea worst-ever oil spill has spread to affect more than 50 kilometres of coastline, killing wildlife and devastating communities that rely on fishing and tourism.

Reporting from the hard-hit fishing town of Eui Hang, Al Jazeera's correspondent Marga Ortigas said that by early Monday the length of coastline affected had more than doubled overnight as tons of crude was washed ashore.

Earlier South Korea's environment minister warned the huge clean-up effort was likely to drag on for at least two months

The area around Mallipo relies
heavily on fishing and tourism
Kang Moo-Hyun said the spill, caused by a collision between a tanker and barge on Friday, had caused serious contamination along a large stretch of coastline, with the oil sludge either glued onto beaches or sinking to the seabed.

The pollution has devastated wildlife and dozens of businesses along the coast of Taean county, where fishing, seafood farming and tourism are the major industries.

Oyster farms say they have seen their stocks completely destroyed while hotels which rely on tourist trade to what had been some of the country's most scenic beaches are reporting cancelled bookings.

Ortigas said that it will take at least a decade to rebuild the oyster farms which had lost their stocks.

Many people are now calling for the government to provide urgent compensation.

South Korea oil slick numbers

10,500 tons of oil leaked into the sea from supertanker Hebei Spirit

263,000 tons of crude carried on the tanker

50 km of coastline affected by slick

$6.5m in initial clean-up funds released by government

8,800 police, troops and volunteers involved in clean-up efforts

138 ships working to contain remaining slick at sea

5,000 tons of oil leaked in South Korea's previous worst spill in 1995, costing $104m to clean up
At Mallipo, one of South Korea's best known beaches, waves of contaminated sea water have dumped a thick, stinking slick of crude oil along the shore.

The area is an important stopover for migrating birds and conservationists say the spill is likely to kill thousands of them.

About 10,000 tons of oil have leaked from the Hong Kong registered supertanker, Hebei Spirit.

The tanker was holed on Friday in a collision with a South Korean-owned barge which came unmoored from its tug in rough seas.

The Hebei Spirit is a single-hulled tanker, considered less safe than modern double-hulled tanker which are more difficult to hole.

An international ban on single-hulled tankers is due to take effect in 2010.

By Sunday officials said the holes in the Hebei Spirit had been plugged and the remaining oil removed from the ship.

Offshore coast guard, navy and fishing boats, backed up by helicopters, led efforts to contain the remaining slick.

Government officials have said they are considering declaring the region a special disaster area.

Such a move would enable the central government to give financial aid to the local government to cover the cost of the clean-up, provide tax cuts to residents and allow them to delay loan payments to banks.

The slick is the word's biggest oil spill in more than four years, since the taker Tasman Spirit leaked about 27,000 tons at the port of Karachi in Pakistan in 2003.

Friday, December 7, 2007

CIA destroyed 'waterboarding' tapes

The CIA has admitted destroying video tapes showing what is described as the "harsh interrogation" of al-Qaeda suspects.

The interrogations of two suspects were taped in 2002 and the tapes were destroyed in 2005, after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq surfaced.

Michael Hayden, the CIA director, told his staff on Thursday that the tapes were destroyed so identities of interrogators would not be compromised.

Scrutiny and scandal

Hayden said congressional intelligence committee leaders were informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA's intention to destroy them.

He said the agency's internal watchdog had watched the tapes in 2003 and verified that the interrogation practices recorded were legal.

But Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said the methods were actually torture and the fact that the CIA had the tapes but did not surrender them when a US commission to look into the 9/11 attacks and congress asked for such information, raised questions about whether the CIA obstructed justice.

The destruction of the tapes comes amid scrutiny over the CIA's "rendition" programme, where suspects were allegedly detained and interrogated in secret locations outside the US.

Amnesty International on Firday called for the destruction of the tapes to be part of that inquiry.

The rights group said in a press release that "the destruction of the tapes falls into a pattern of measures taken by the government that block accountability for human rights violations".
Surprise expressed

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mark Agrast, of the Centre for American Progress, said: "The timing is very disturbing because they [the tapes] appear to have been destroyed at precisely the time that the Abu Ghraib photographs had come out and the stories of highly coercive interrogation practices were becoming known."

During the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004, leaked pictures of US forces abusing Iraqi prisoners caused an international outcry.

Members of the US 9/11 commission and congress have expressed surprise that the tapes existed, saying that the CIA repeatedly claimed it did not record the interrogation of detainees.

Agrast told Al Jazeera: "There will be congressional investigations, because this story was not shared with the house and senate intelligence committees that by law are supposed to be informed of activities of this kind."

Hayden's revelation appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt the New York Times, which informed the CIA on Wednesday evening that it planned to publish a story about the destruction of the tapes.

Hayden said he was informing staff because the press had learnt about the destruction of the tapes.


Protesters outside the US justice department
re-enacted waterboarding in November [EPA]

Hayden's revelation comes a day after the US congress agreed to ban techniques such as waterboarding – where a detainee undergoes similar conditions as drowning – a method of interrogation believed to be filmed on the tapes.

He said the CIA began taping the interrogations as an internal check on the programme after George Bush, the US president, authorised the use of harsh questioning methods.

The methods included waterboarding, government officials said.

"The agency was determined that it proceed in accord with established legal and policy guidelines. So, on its own, CIA began to videotape interrogations," Hayden said in a written message to CIA employees.

The CIA - headed at the time by Porter Goss - also decided to destroy the tapes in "the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them", Hayden wrote, adding that videotaping of the interrogations stopped in 2002.

"The tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the programme, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and its sympathisers," Hayden's message said.

Guantanamo suspects

The CIA says it only taped the interrogation of the first two suspects it held, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah, who told CIA interrogators about alleged September 11 accomplice Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush said in 2006.

Al-Shibh was captured and interrogated and, together with Zubaydah's information, he led to the 2003 capture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the suspected al-Qaeda operative held at Guantanamo who has claimed to be behind the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

Meanwhile, witness testimony has been heard for the first time since the US began prosecuting Guantanamo suspects.

A US major testified that Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, was driving a car that contained two small rockets when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001.

The hearing will determine whether Hamdan, who says he is not an al-Qaeda member or fighter, an "unlawful enemy combatant" who should be tried before a military tribunal.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

US admits shooting Iraqi civilians

One Iraqi civilian has been killed and another three wounded after US troops opened fire on a car north of Baghdad, the US military shas aid.

The US military said in a statement on Tuesday that the shooting took place a day earlier after a vehicle approached troops at Tarmiyah, 60km north of Baghdad.

"Coalition forces fired warning shots to get the vehicle to stop, but it continued to maneouvre towards them at a high rate of speed," it said.

"A second set of warning shots was fired, but the driver again did not comply."

'Perceived hostile intent'

The statement added: "Perceiving hostile intent, coalition forces engaged, wounding the four passengers inside the vehicle.

"The four individuals were evacuated to a military medical facility to receive treatment, but one died during transport."

Major Anton Alston, US military spokesman, said the deaths were "regrettable".

The incident came one week after nine civilians, including three women and a child, were reported killed by US forces firing on vehicles in three separate incidents.

Meanwhile, the SITE Intelligence Group said that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq, had ordered in a new bombing campaign in an audio message broadcast on the internet.

'Fictitious leader'

"This campaign should be based on explosives and its target should be the apostates ... wearing uniforms and all those who fight alongside the occupiers," he said.
"Every soldier is to detonate at least three bombs by the end of the campaign."

The message is his first since Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, in October called on the leaders of Iraq groups to bury rivalries and unite to fight against the US-led coalition.

The US military has said that the group only exists on the internet and al-Baghdadi was a "fictitious leader" created to give an Iraqi face to an organisation led by foreigners.

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have been facing increased opposition from Sunni "Awakening Councils" in recent months as they have formed neighbourhood police forces supported by the Americans.

Casualties have dropped sharply in the past two months and attacks have reportedly fallen by 55 per cent.

The US military says the improvement is partly as a result of 30,000 extra US troops which became fully operational in mid-June.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Youths clash with French police

French riot police are on alert as violence following the death of two teenagers threatens to escalate into a repeat of the Clichy-Sous-Bois riots two years ago.

Dozens of youths clashed with police in a Paris suburb on Sunday night after two teenagers were killed in a traffic accident with a police car.

The authorities boosted security in Villiers-le-Bel, a town north of the capital, where youths set fire to the town's police station. Another police station in neighbouring Arnouville-les-Gonesse was ransacked.

Two teenagers aged 15 and 16 riding a stolen motorcycle were killed in a collision with a police vehicle in Villiers-le-Bel on Sunday, triggering the unrest.

Police said there were reports of looting and of "small groups attacking shops, passers-by and car drivers".

Firemen doused flames that engulfed a garage in Villiers before it could spread to a neighbouring garage and a nearby petrol station.

Tense situation

Nicolas Carrier, the mayor's chief of staff, told Reuters: "The situation is tense tonight. We do not know how it will evolve during the night."

French television showed burning rubbish bins and the charred wreckage of a car at the scene, while witnesses said they saw Molotov cocktails being prepared.

At least seven policemen and a fireman were injured in the incident, a local official said, adding that a youth has been arrested for suspected robbery.

In November 2005, two immigrant youths fleeing the police in Clichy-Sous-Bois a suburb northeast of Paris died after being electrocuted in an electrical sub-station, sparking the worst urban unrest France had seen in 40 years.

But a police union source said the circumstances in Sunday's case were different.

"It was not a chase but apparently a traffic accident," he said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California in flames : Fires cause mass evacuation

At least 900,000 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters in southern California as wildfires rage out of control across the state.

More than a dozen fires blazed from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border, 240km south, destroying more than 1,500 buildings, blotting out the sun with smoke and raining ash on the streets.

Most of the destroyed homes were in the southern end of the state near San Diego, where three major wildfires burned.

The flames, fanned by fierce desert winds, claimed their second victim as they burned for a third day.

Officials said an unidentified civilian had died of burns in Santa Clarita north of Los Angeles on Tuesday, the second reported death after the body of a 52 year-old man was found on Sunday.
California in flames

More than 500,000 people evacuated

Emergency declared in most of California

Two dead and dozens more injured, including firefighters

More than 1,250 homes lost in San Diego, 68,000 threatened statewide

About 6,000 firefighters battling flames

Dozens more have been reported injured, including 16 firefighters.
Walls of flame spread quickly from mountain passes to the coastline as dozens of new blazes threatened to engulf more buildings.
Al Jazeera's Kelly Rockwell, reporting from Rancho Bernardo in South California, said in some areas, the fires were raging out of control.
She quoted one official as saying all firefighters could do was to get out of the way of the fires in one district.

Kirk Humphries, San Diego Fire Captain, said: "If it's this big and blowing with as much wind as it's got, it'll go all the way to the ocean before it stops."

"We can save some stuff but we can't stop it."
Upper hand
Officials were hoping that winds would ease and humidity would rise allowing them to gain the upper hand.
Rockwell said that in some areas, the winds had been starting to die down as of Tuesday evening, but hotter temperatures and fierce wind were forecast.
Hotter temperatures and hot Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert at up to 105kph were expected to last at least until Wednesday afternoon.
The fires were exploding and shooting embers in all directions, preventing crews from forming traditional fire lines and severely limiting aerial bombardment, officials said.
Thousands of evacuees, as well as horses and family pets, sought shelter at fairgrounds, schools and community centres, with the biggest gathering of up to 10,000 at the Qualcomm football stadium.
Rockwell said some evacuees were staying with church groups and strangers who had opened up their homes.
State of emergency
Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, declared an emergency in most parts of the state, saying that 68,000 homes were threatened statewide with at least 18 firefighters injured among the 6,000 manning the fire lines.

A satellite image showing fire hotspots
across California [Reuters/Nasa]
"We have had three things come together – very dry areas, very hot weather and a lot of wind," he said. "This makes the perfect storm for fire."
But he said the response to the fire had been very quick unlike previous calamities.

Schwarzenegger also asked George Bush, US president, to upgrade the wildfires to a "major disaster", which would trigger federal help.

According to Ron Lane, San Diego county emergency services director, damages from the wildfires are expected to exceed $1bn.

He said: "Based on initial estimates, just the homes damaged will be over $1 billion."

State officials estimate that the fires have covered at least 1,510 sq kilometres.
Katrina lessons
Early on Tuesday, George Bush, the US president, declared an emergency in the state and authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency to co-ordinate disaster relief in seven affected counties.

"All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes," he said.

"We send the help of the federal government."
Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the government was applying lessons learnt from Hurricane Katrina in responding to the crisis.
The Pentagon also sent troops, firefighting equipment and humanitarian supplies on Tuesday to help overwhelmed California authorities.
The White House said the president planned to visit the fire-stricken area on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Nato air raid kills 11 from Afghan family

At least 11 members of one Afghan family have been killed in a Nato-led air raid in Wardak province near the capital Kabul, according to local officials.

The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said on Tuesday that it was probing the claims, while the Afghan defence ministry said it was "12 enemies" that had been killed.

"In the bombardment ... 11 people from one family, including women and children were killed," Haji Janan, provincial council leader, told Reuters news agency.

"The only survivor from the family is a man who is hospitalised and can't speak."

Janan also said that eleven of the family's neighbours were wounded in the air raid in the town of Jalrez, 30km west of the capital.

"As of this moment we don't have reports of civilian casualties," Major Charles Anthony, Isaf spokesman, said.

He said about 50 "anti-government militants" were trying to set up an ambush before fighter aircraft dropped two bombs on their position on Monday.

Anthony said soldiers had been on the ground to guide the bombs to their targets. He said Isaf had "no evidence" that the bombs hit a housing compound.

Security 'deteriorating'

A US-funded survey meanwhile said that Afghans feel that security has deteriorated since last year and is the biggest problem facing the country.

Afghanistan is experiencing its worst bout of violence since the Taliban were removed from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

About 46 per cent of adults identified the ongoing violence, which has killed a reported 5,200 people since the start of the year, as Afghanistan's main problem, while 29 per cent said it was unemployment.

"In the 2006 survey, it was unemployment first, followed by security and corruption, and this time around it is security first followed by unemployment and poor economy," the Asia Foundation said in the survey funded by the US agency for international development.

"This further underlines the deterioration in security in the eyes of the common Afghans."

However, despite concerns about the rise in violence, many people thought Afghanistan was heading in the right direction and that life had improved since the Taliban's rule in the 1990s.

About 80 per cent of the more than 6,000 respondents also said that they had confidence in the Afghanistan's national army and the country's police force.

The survey was conducted in all of Aghanistan's 34 provinces and was the largest comprehensive opinion poll ever conducted in the country

Friday, October 19, 2007


The URL for this site has changed from to

Philippines explosion kills 8 in a shopping mall

An explosion in a crowded shopping centre has killed at least eight people and wounded 80 more in the Philippine capital, Manila, police say.

Police initially thought the lunch-time blast at the Glorietta centre had been caused by an exploding cooking gas cylinder, but later discounted that theory.

They said bomb squad detectives were trying to ascertain what caused Friday's explosion.

Norberto Gonzales, the Philippines national security adviser, described it as "the biggest bombing" in Manila so far.

He told Al Jazeera that police and military experts were looking into what kind of bomb was used to give an indication of what group could be behind it.

"We have fielded more than 2,000 police officers in the entire national capital region to increase the security measures," he said.

Speaking from the site after the blast, Al Jazeera's correspondent Marga Ortigas said: "The shopping mall lights are completely shut. The people are not being allowed in.

"Very few rescue workers are now working as they are afraid the foundation of the bomb site might collapse.

"They are worried there are still people buried under piles of rubble."

A general alert was issued for the rest of the city and for the international airport, officials said.

Jonjon Binay, a city councillor, said four people died immediately and four more died in hospital.

Blocks of cement had fallen from an upper storey of the shopping centre, hitting cars parked below and spreading a film of dust. Scores of windows in nearby shops were shattered.

A security guard said: "I was eating lunch when the ground shook. I thought it was an earthquake. Then the electricity went off."

Manila has largely been spared a spate of bomb attacks by

Muslim separatists have been fighting in the southern Mindanao region, but few attacks have been carried out in the capital. A series of bomb blasts in 2000 killed at least 22 people.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Iraqi civilians killed in US raid

US air and ground forces have killed 19 fighters and 6 women and 9 children in raids north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a US military statement said.

"We regret that civilians are hurt or killed while coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism," said Major Brad Leighton, a spokesman for US forces in Iraq, on Thursday.

bomb meanwhile killed a child and wounded 13 others in a playground as they celebrated Eid on Friday in the northern town of Tuz Khurmato.
Police Colonel Abbas Mohammed said a would-be suicide bomber hid the explosives in a cart he was pushing that was filled with children's toys.

US Raids

"These terrorists chose to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence."
US aircraft attacked an area in the Lake Thar Thar region, 120km north of Baghdad, after intelligence reports indicated al-Qaeda members were there, the US military said.
Four fighters were killed during the first raid and the suspects at the scene then moved to another area south of the lake.
US forces came under small arms fire from a building, the US military statement said.
"Responding in self-defence, supporting aircraft engaged the enemy threat," the statement said.
"After securing the area, the ground force assessed 15 terrorists, six women and nine children were killed. Two suspects, one woman and three children were wounded and one suspected terrorist was detained."
George Bush, the US president, ordered 30,000 additional troops to Iraq in June in an attempt to stem sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Thursday's news of the raid comes just days after another raid by US forces on Khalis, a Shia city north of Baghdad, led to the deaths of 25 people.
US troops called in air raids after meeting resistance while hunting suspected arms traffickers from Iran to Baghdad, but village leaders said those killed included civilians.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Iraqi women killed by security firm

Foreign security guards have killed two Iraqi women by opening fire on their car in the capital, Baghdad.
Witnesses said the car got
too close to the convoy
and police said warning was given
before the firing [AFP]
Unity Resources Group, an Australian-owned security firm based in Dubai, said one of its teams was involved in the shooting on Tuesday and "deeply regret" the incident.

An Iraqi government spokesman said an investigation was under way.

The shooting came the same day as Iraq's government demanded that a US security company, Blackwater, pay $8m each to families of 17 people killed in a shooting in September. An Iraqi investigation into that incident found that the guards were unprovoked when they opened "deliberate" fire.

Tuesday's shooting occurred near Unity offices in central Baghdad's Karradah district.

Michael Priddin, Unity's chief operating officer, issued a statement saying: "We deeply regret this incident and will continue to pass on further information when the facts have been verified and the necessary people and authorities notified."

The company further said: "The first information that we have is that our security team was approached at speed by a vehicle which failed to stop despite an escalation of warnings which included hand signals and a signal flare.

"Finally shots were fired at the vehicle and it stopped."

Iraqi police said guards threw a smoke bomb in an apparent bid to warn the car against coming forward.

Several witnesses said the car had moved too close to the convoy.

Ammar Fallah, a shopkeeper and witness to the shooting, said that the guards, who were escorting a civilian convoy through the streets, signalled for a woman driving a white Oldsmobile car to pull over as they passed.

"When she failed to do so they opened fire, killing her and the woman next to her," he said. "There were two children in the back seat but they were not harmed. The women were both shot in the head."

Another witness, Sattar Jabar, said the car had "tried to avoid the convoy of four white SUVs of the foreigners, but it came close to the last vehicle, which then opened fire immediately".

Jabar confirmed that two women were killed, but said a third woman in the back seat had been wounded in the shoulder and one of the children had been struck by flying glass.

Reining in 'gangsters'
A policeman who heard the shots and came running to the scene said that after the shooting the security guards "rode away like gangsters".

The Iraqi government said on Monday it was determined to rein in private security contractors following the Blackwater shooting.

"We have set strict mechanisms to control the behaviour of the security companies and their conduct in the streets," Abdul Karim Khalaf, an interior ministry spokesman, said.

The role of private security companies operating in Iraq has been under investigation since September 16, when Blackwater guards escorting a convoy of US diplomats opened fire in Baghdad's Nisoor Square.

An Iraqi government probe of the incident, which it said killed 17 civilians, found that the guards were not provoked and accused them of a "deliberate" crime.

"Employees of the company violated the rules governing use of force by security companies. They have committed a deliberate crime and should be punished under the law."

The Iraqi government would now take "judicial measures to punish the company", the statement added.

Blackwater, one of the biggest security firms working in Iraq with around 1,000 employees, is employed to protect US government personnel in the country.

It maintains its men were legitimately responding to an ambush while escorting a US state department convoy.

Iraqi and US officials have set up a joint commission

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Israel admits air attack on Syria

Until now, Israel had refused to confirm or deny that any air attack had taken place [GALLO/GETTY]

Israel has confirmed that its air force carried out an air raid inside Syrian territory in September - after remaining silent on the issue for nearly a month.

Israel said on Tuesday that its warplanes had conducted the attack deep inside Syrian territory on September 6, saying it attacked a "military target".

Israeli radio reported: "The military censor has authorised for the first time the publication of the fact that Israeli combat planes attacked a military target deep inside Syrian territory on September 6."

David Chater, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said: "The [Israeli] military censors had no other option but to admit the attack took place because the Syrian president yesterday went on record to say the Israelis had indeed attacked a target in northern Syria - what he described as an unused military base."

Chater reported: "No other details about the scale of the mission, the intent or what intelligence it was based on have been released."

Israeli military censors continue to withhold details, but Damascus says

at least four Israeli warplanes crossed into Syria in the incident.

Syria says its air defence systems confronted Israeli aircraft, which subsequently bombed an area inside the country.

Media speculation

With the Israeli blackout on information in place, most of the speculation on the raid has come from foreign media.

Some US officials have linked the raid to suspicions of secret nuclear co-operation between Damascus and North Korea.

Chater said: "Press speculation - in the foreign press, not in the Israeli press - has said perhaps there was nuclear technology imported from North Korea."

A North Korean ship was reported as docking in Syria a few days before the attack happened.

"This kind of speculation is bound to increase now," said Chater.

Both Damascus and North Korea have denied any nuclear ties, with Syria accusing Israel of spreading what it describes as false reports as an excuse for war.

Faruq al-Shara, the Syrian vice-president, said on Saturday that the raid was meant to provide justification for future aggression against his country.

"Those who continue to talk about this raid and to invent inaccurate details are aiming to justify a future aggression [against Syria]," he said at a press conference.

Some earlier reports had suggested that the raid may have targeted Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has filed a formal complaint with the UN over the air raid, which has raised tensions between the two countries which are still formally at war.

Peace talks between the two powers collapsed in 2000 over the scope of an Israeli pull-out from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Paying the price in Baghdad

James Bays in Baghdad

Despite talk of progress in Iraq by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in the country, residents say innocent civilians are still being killed by US troops. Amar Kadim weeps as he recalls the day he lost his family.

His father, his mother and his sister - herself a mother of four young children - were killed, he says, by US marines.

When they came to this street, the Americans may have been looking for those they call "insurgents" and "terrorists".

Frequent raids

But by the time they had left, an elderly couple and a 30-year-old woman were dead.

"When I turned to my mother, she asked me: 'Where is your father?' I told her he is dead," Amar told Al Jazeera.

"She screamed and ran to the front gate [because] his body was just one metre in front of the gate. When my mother got there the American soldiers opened fire again [and] she was shot dead."

The family live in Sadr City, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Baghdad.

For the last four years, the Americans have mounted frequent raids here looking for armed fighters - supporters of the Shia cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr.

'Enemy forces'

It is easy to see on the streets of the neighbourhood what is left behind after one of those raids - lines of cars mown down by American armour.

"Seeking compensation is useless," one man tells Al Jazeera.

"The US troops are enemy forces [and] there's no way they will offer compensation when they come to hurt people.

"They have no respect for humanity, the civilian population, Islam or Muslims."

Al Jazeera has spoken to other people who, like the Khadim family, have claimed that innocent relatives have been killed by Americans raids.

However, they were too scared to appear on camera.

But more than two months after their relatives were killed and despite approaching the US military, the Kadim family have still received no apology and no compensation for their loss.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

UN warns Israel [ After getting US support ...]

The UN has urged Israel to reconsider its decision to declare the Gaza Strip as an "enemy entity", warning that cutting vital services would violate international law.

The Israeli move to cut off the power, water and fuel supplies on which Gaza is almost entirely dependent was backed by the United States on Wednesday.

The Israeli prime minister's office said Ehud Olmert's security cabinet had approved the "enemy entity" classification and there would be "limitations on imports to the Gaza Strip and a reduction in the supply of fuel and electricity".

The move is seen as retaliation for Palestinian rocket fire.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said Wednesday's declaration intended to interrupt essential services could exacerbate the Palestinians' difficult conditions.

"Such a step would be contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law," he said on Wednesday.

Ban said 1.4 million people in Gaza, including the old, the very young and the sick were already suffering and "should not be punished for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists".

At the same time he said continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel was unacceptable, calling "for it to stop immediately".

"I understand Israel's security concerns over this matter,'' he added.

US backing

Rice assured "innocent Palestinians in Gaza"
the US would not abandon them [AFP]

Israel's move on Gaza was backed by the US on Wednesday, with Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, saying the Hamas was "a hostile entity to the US as well".

Speaking in a joint press conference with Livni in occupied Jerusalem, she said the US, however, would not "abandon the innocent Palestinians".

"We will not abandon the innocent Palestinians in Gaza and indeed will make every effort to deal with their humanitarian needs," she said.

Rice is on a visit to the Middle East in preparation for a US-led peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israelis and Palestinians, however, have very different expectations of the talks.

Israeli leaders are seeking a softer joint declaration rather than a binding deal while the Palestinians are pushing for a firmer "framework agreement" on core issues of borders, the status of Jerusalem and refugees.

'Declaration of war'

Tensions have been on the rise in the area since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June. Hamas responded to the Israeli government's announcement saying the move amounted to a "declaration of war".

Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, said the Israeli cabinet "made this decision according to our legal advisers, so it is according to international law".

But Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator and spokesman for the West Bank-based government, told Al Jazeera the Israeli move was "illegal and null and void".

"I believe Gaza and West Bank are still under Israeli occupation. Under no circumstances can Israel view it as an 'enemy entity'. Gaza is not an independent state, Gaza is under occupation," he said.

Erekat said Israel was in "total violation of international law" and described the move as "a collective punishment and a preparation for further military escalation against the 1.5 million people of Gaza".

"At the end of the day, it will not end the cycle of violence but complicate matters and breed more violence," he added.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dozens die in tourist jet crash

Death toll rises to 88.

The aircraft crashed just off the runway
at Phuket airport [EPA]

A passenger jet that crashed on landing at the airport in Phuket, Thailand, has killed 88 people and left 42 others wounded.

Vorapot Rajsima, the deputy governor of Phuket, said that 130 passengers and crew had been on Sunday's flight from Bangkok, and not 128 as originally reported.

A hospital official said at least five of the survivors were seriously hurt.
Aljazeera's Owen Fay said those wounded in the crash are now being treated at a number of the island's hospitals.

At the crash site, efforts are now under way to identify everyone onboard. The cause of the crash has not yet been identified, Fay reported.

The aircraft was an MD-82, operated by budget airline One-Two-Go, and was carrying foreign holidaymakers, many of them Europeans, to the island.
The aircraft attempted to land during heavy rain, but broke into two and burst into flames on the runway.
Thai television broadcast images of its crumpled fuselage.

Foreign casualties
Hospital officials said eight Britons, eight Thais, five Germans and two Australians were among the survivors.
The MD-82 aircraft was flying to
Phuket from the capital, Bangkok
Chiasak Angkauwan, a civil aviation official, told Thai television: "The first part of the plane is dug into the ground. The tail section is stuck on the runway.
"The airplane asked to land, but due to the weather in Phuket - strong wind and heavy rain - maybe the pilot did not see the runway clearly."
Lieutenant-Major Sokchai Limcharoen, a police chief in the Phuket area, said the aircraft crashed at 3:35pm (0835 GMT).
"The plane was landing and slid off the runway. We are rescuing people and carrying injured people to hospitals," he said.


Relatives gathered at the airport waiting for news.

Nong Khaonual, a Thai who survived the crash with his wife, said he believed the aircraft had descended too quickly.

"The airplane was landing in heavy rain. It landed too fast. I have never seen anything like this. It descended very fast," he told Nation Television in hospital.

"Just before we touched the runway we felt the plane try to lift up, and it skidded off the runway.

"My wife was half conscious and I dragged her out of the emergency exit. There was a man behind us and he was on fire."

Another survivor, an Irishman named John, described the attempts to land in atrocious conditions.

"You could tell there was a problem. The plane was flying around trying to land. It was making some noises and it was bad rain," John, who was travelling with a friend who also survived, told Thailand's ITV television channel.

"The plane was on fire, but I managed to get through."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

[Temporarily Offline]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Children killed in Israeli firing

Sara Ghazal, 10, was critically wounded
and died later in hospital [AFP]

Three Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli gunfire after soldiers shot at them near a rocket-launching site in the northern Gaza strip.
A doctor at the Palestinian health ministry said cousins Mahmoud Ghazal, 10, and Yehiya Ghazal, 12, were killed on Wednesday. Their cousin, Sara Ghazal, 10, was injured and died later in hospital.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops hit unidentified figures spotted near rocket launchers that were aimed at Israel. She voiced regret at the deaths of children.

The children lived in the area and were members of the same extended family.

Witnesses said they were playing and collecting scrap metal in the area, which could have included rocket launchers left by armed Palestinian groups.

A relative of the children, Wasfi Ghazal, said he heard the sound of an explosion and then children screaming. He held both Israel and the militant rocket squads responsible.

"We are victims of the occupation and victims of the misbehaviour of some of the fighters who are randomly choosing our area to target Israel," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, also an adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said the killing of children is unjustifiable, and condemned it in the "strongest possible terms".

"I think violence breads more violence, and hatred. This will add to the complexities and feed the fire," he said.

In Gaza, Taher Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, called the Israeli attack a "war crime" and called on Abbas to halt his meetings with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister. The two met on Tuesday.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Blackout in most of Gaza City

An Israeli army spokesman said that deliveries of fuel had been
stopped for security reasons [AFP]

The electricity company said earlier on Friday that it will cut production by 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).

"We are forced to stop three out of the station's four generators," Rafiq Maliha, the director of the electricity company, said.

Gaza has a single 140-megawatt power plant that provides some three quarters of the territory's needs. All of the fuel for the plant comes from Israel.

The rest of Gaza's electricity needs is supplied by Israel, Egypt and private electricity generators.

Several districts in Gaza City and in the north of the strip lost their power after 6:00 pm, but witnesses said the current continued to flow in the south.

"We have not received fuel since Thursday morning," Maliha said. "We didn't receive any today and tomorrow is Shabat [Saturday] for the Israelis, so there won't be any. The situation is difficult."

He warned that if fuel was not delivered to the impoverished territory before Sunday morning, "electricity production will stop entirely".

Security conditions

Maliha said Israel had stopped fuel deliveries because of security conditions at the Nahal Oz crossing between the coastal strip and the Jewish state.

An Israeli army spokesman confirmed to AFP that deliveries of fuel had been stopped "for security reasons".

"More than 1.4 million litres of fuel crossed from Israel into the Gaza Strip through Nahal Oz" between Sunday and Wednesday, the spokesman said.

Maliha urged "the European Union and the Palestinian Authority to intervene quickly as this will have negative consequences for Gaza, especially for hospitals."

Home to some 1.5 million people, Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated cities.

Israeli raids

Israeli troops killed two Palestinians and wounded six others during a raid near the West Bank city of Jenin on Friday, Palestinian sources said.

Palestinian security officials said that a gun battle broke out between Israeli troops and local gunmen in the village of Kafr Dan. Nour Marey, a 16-year-old boy and one gunman were killed in the attack.

An Israeli army spokesman said that "several gunmen were identified during an activity against terror infrastructure. The troops fired at them and identified hitting them."

The Abu Amar Brigades, an armed group linked to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President's Fatah faction, said that the gunman killed was one of its leaders.

Meanwhile and in a separate raid, Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at Palestinian rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas forces said on Friday.

The missiles missed the launching squad that was on its way back from firing rockets toward Israel and caused no injuries, the forces said.

The army confirmed that aircraft had fired at Palestinian fighters who launched rockets.

More than 15 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel on Friday, some from the area of the air strike, the army said.