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NEWS Distillation – Week of 5-9 MAR 2012 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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5 March 2012

Afghanistan – The Washington Post reported: A suicide bomber killed at least two civilians and wounded four others in an attack near an American military base outside Kabul, police said, the latest violence linked to burning of Qurans at the base. Kabir Ahmad, chief of Bagram district of Parwan province, said a suicide attacker on foot blew himself up close to a vehicle in a small NATO convoy near Bagram Air Field, where U.S. forces burned Qurans and Islamic texts on Feb. 20. The burnings, which the U.S. said were an unintentional mistake, triggered six days of violence that left nearly 40 people dead — including six U.S. soldiers killed by Afghan security forces in apparent retaliation. NATO said that according to initial reports, an explosion occurred outside of Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan today. Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a spokesman, said there were no reports of NATO fatalities, and the base was not breached by the explosion. “Coalition officials are gathering details at this time, and more information may be released as appropriate,” he said. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for the recent burning of Qurans at the base. The Taliban have been seeking to exploit the burnings and are increasingly citing them to justify their attacks. Qurans were among books burned because they were said to contain messages from militants.

IranReuters reported: Iran has tripled its monthly production of higher-grade enriched uranium and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has “serious concerns” about possible military dimensions to Tehran’s atomic activities, the agency’s chief said on Monday. As International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano voiced his concerns at an IAEA meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Washington “has Israel’s back” and would not let Iran get nuclear arms. Amano told a news conference at the IAEA in Vienna there were indications of unspecified “activities” at an Iranian military site which his inspectors want to visit as part of a probe into fears Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons capability. His remarks confirmed comments made by IAEA diplomats to Reuters last week when one said: “we have heard about possible sanitation” of the Parchin site that he called “very concerning,” suggesting Iran may be delaying access while it removed evidence of suspect activities.

Iraq – The Hindustan Times reported: Gunmen disguised as police raided checkpoints and homes in western Iraq on Monday, killing at least 27 members of the security forces, police said, in an attack the authorities said bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda. The attacks in Anbar, once Iraq’s most violent province, raise concern
that Iraq’s branch of al Qaeda may regain a foothold there after the withdrawal of US troops in December. Anbar was almost entirely under control of al Qaeda during the height of Iraq’s insurgency from 2005-07, when the militants were defeated by local tribesmen and US forces. Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Anbar province, said the latest attack bore the “fingerprints of al Qaeda”. A police source, who had been ferrying victims to the hospital morgue, said gunmen dressed in uniforms of the security forces had driven from checkpoint to checkpoint slaughtering police in Haditha, a town 190 km (120 miles) northwest of Baghdad. “The gunmen used security vehicles and from 2:00am (2300 GMT) until 3:30am they carried out attacks on checkpoints in central Haditha and the nearby town of Barwana,” the police source, who did not give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters in Fallujah. Fathi, the governor’s spokesman, said the attackers arrived at checkpoints with fake arrest warrants, confiscated the mobile phones of the police guards and executed them.

Yemen – The New York Times reported: The death toll in the ambush by militants from Al Qaeda on a military post in southern Yemen grew on Monday, making it the deadliest attack on the armed forces in the past year. At least 90 soldiers were killed in the Sunday attack on a Yemeni military base on the road between Aden and Zinjibar, said Mohammed Albasha, a government spokesman. Zinjibar is the capital of Abyan Province and has been a battleground for the militants and the military for nearly a year. Officials initially said about 50 people were killed. Other soldiers remained missing, and the militants were able to make off with some of the military’s heavy weapons, Mr. Albasha said. At least 55 soldiers were captured, The Associated Press reported. The attack appears to have been intended as a challenge to Yemen’s new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has said he intends to keep up the fight with the Qaeda branch in Yemen. Mr. Hadi was not backing down on Monday.

RussiaRia Novosti reported: While observers from former Soviet states hailed the March 4 presidential vote as “transparent” and “fair,” their colleagues from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) pointed to mass procedural violations and a clear bias in favor of Vladimir Putin. (Kommersant, Izvestia) – Russian billionaire-turned-politician Mikhail Prokhorov surprised political experts by coming third in the March 4 presidential polls with 7.88 percent of the vote. How can the “rising star” on the Russian political horizon “play his cards?” (Kommersant, Izvestia, Moscow News) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who won a third presidential term on Sunday, is ready for cooperation with the new party Mikhail Prokhorov plans to create. (Kommersant, Izvestia) – President-elect Vladimir Putin must be quick to introduce radical reforms in all spheres of life to meet expectations of the electorate or face potential snap elections in the country, experts believe. (Kommersant) – Fitch ratings agency estimates that Putin will need $160 billion in the next six years of his presidency to deliver on his campaign promises. (Kommersant, Vedomosti) – The Russian Orthodox Church was among the first to pledge full support of president-elect Vladimir Putin. (Moscow News)

Israel – The Jerusalem Post reported: Netanyahu vows he will never “let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” says Israel has waited years for sanctions to work. Intoning the mantra “never again,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Monday night in an impassioned speech to AIPAC that “as prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.” Just hours after meeting US President Barack Obama for some three hours, much of the time spent discussing Iran, Netanyahu adopted a tough tone toward the Islamic Republic, drawing on the tragic history of the Holocaust to argue that the world, and the Jewish people, cannot “accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs.” While expressing appreciation for Obama’s efforts to impose tougher sanctions, he said that Tehran’s “nuclear march goes on.” “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work,” he said. “We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.”

China-Tibet – The Agence France Presse reported: A teenager has become the third Tibetan to self-immolate in China in as many days, exile groups said, as Beijing tightens security ahead of the sensitive anniversary of deadly 2008 riots. The 18-year-old man shouted anti-government slogans as he set himself alight near a government office in southwestern Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture, Free Tibet and International Campaign for Tibet said in separate statements late Monday. The man, whose name was given as Dorjee, died at the scene and his body was removed by security personnel, London-based Free Tibet said. Police in Aba, which has a large population of ethnic Tibetans and has become a flashpoint for anger against perceived repression of Tibetan culture, language and religion, declined to comment when contacted by AFP. The protest came a day after a mother of four died after setting herself on fire on Sunday in Aba, according to reports by the same groups. Another teenager — a girl reported to be aged between 16 and 19 — set herself alight on Saturday in the northwestern province of Gansu, which borders Sichuan and also has a large population of ethnic Tibetans.

India – The Washington Post reported: A 5.2-magnitude earthquake rattled the Indian capital on Monday as it hit the state of Haryana just outside New Delhi, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake at 1:11 p.m. local time (0741 GMT) caused more than 10 seconds of tremors felt in and around the Indian capital. People ran into the streets after feeling the tremors. There were no immediate reports of damages or injury in the city of 16.7 million. The Indian Meteorological Department said the epicenter of the quake was in Bahadurgarh, a town on the border between New Delhi and Haryana, which sits to the northeast of the capital. The department’s head of seismology, R.S. Dattatrayam, said he didn’t expect significant aftershocks because of the low magnitude of the earthquake.

7 March 2012

Iran – The Boston Globe reported: Satellite images of an Iranian military facility appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear weapon trigger, diplomats said Wednesday. Comments from the diplomats, all nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, could add to the growing international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes. While the United States and the European Union back a sanctions-heavy approach, Israel has warned that it may resort to a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons. Two of the diplomats said crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion. A third diplomat could not confirm that but said any attempt to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.

SyriaCNN reported: The growing ranks of Syria’s disaffected appeared to get a high-profile addition Wednesday, when a man identifying himself as Abdo Hussam el Din, the country’s deputy oil minister, announced in a video posted on YouTube that he was defecting from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “I am joining the revolution of this noble people who will not accept injustice,” says the man in Arabic. “I’ve been part of this government for 33 years and I have acquired many titles, and I do not want to retire serving the crimes of this regime.” He appears to be the same man pictured on the government’s oil website, which says he was appointed deputy oil minister in August 2009. “I decided to join the voice of the righteous despite the notion that this regime will burn my house and harass my family and will invent many lies,” he adds. The announcement came on the same day that the United Nations emergency relief chief met in Syria with top government officials and visited an area ravaged by weeks of government attacks, describing it as devastated.

Afghanistan – The BBC UK Corps reported: Six British soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan by a Taliban bomb have been named by the Ministry of Defence. Cpl Jake Hartley, 20, Pte Anthony Frampton, 20, and Pte Christopher Kershaw, 19, died in the blast. Pte Daniel Wade, 20, Pte Daniel Wilford, 21, and Sgt Nigel Coupe, 33, were also killed when their Warrior armoured vehicle was hit on Tuesday. Yorkshire Regiment commanding officer, Lt Col Zac Stenning, paid tribute to his “incredibly brave men”. Their deaths take the total of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since 2001 to 404.

Russia – The Boston Globe reported: A jubilant Vladimir Putin shrugged off opposition assertions Wednesday that his presidential election victory was unfair and marred by fraud, saying any violations were not significant enough to affect the vote’s outcome. Putin slapped at his foes, criticizing them as failing to offer a constructive program and daring the opposition to become a real political force by proving its worth at the ballot box – a tall order in a country where elections are tightly controlled and opposition parties have been sidelined. The Russian leader’s tough remarks indicate he has no intention of softening his policies in response to massive protests that have revealed the depths of public anger over his 12-year rule. “Those who lose never like their defeat,’’ a beaming Putin said. Putin, who has steadily rolled back Russia’s post-Soviet freedoms to tighten controls over the political scene, suggested that his opponents take advantage of Kremlin-drafted bills yet to take effect that ease restrictive registration rules for political parties and liberalize campaign rules.

Syria – The Jerusalem Post reported: Abdo Hussameldin announces defection in YouTube clip becoming highest ranking civilian official to leave Assad. Syrian Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin has announced his defection on YouTube, becoming the first high-ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago. “I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party,” Hussameldin said in the video, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed. “I join the revolution of this dignified people,” he said in the video uploaded on Wednesday and seen early on Thursday. He said he had been in government for 33 years but did not want to end his career “serving the crimes of this regime”, adding: “I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family.” Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians during the crackdown on pro-democracy protests, according to the United Nations, and the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing.

Washington D.C. – The Boston Globe reported: The Pentagon’s top two officials acknowledged Wednesday that President Obama had asked for preliminary military options that could help end the increasingly violent Syria conflict, but they emphasized the risks and said the administration still believes diplomatic and economic pressure is the best way to protect Syrians from the Assad regime’s vindictive repression. The appraisal by Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Senate testimony reflected increased concern about the year-old uprising in Syria, the most violent of the Arab Spring conflicts. The UN estimates more than 7,500 people have been killed in clashes in Syria thus far. Their comments also reflected Syria’s politicization in the United States during a presidential election year, with Obama’s adversaries accusing him of weakness in the face of foreign crises. They spoke two days after Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, who lost to Obama in 2008, became the first senator to call for US airstrikes on Syria as “the only realistic way’’ to stop what he called a slaughter there. Both Dempsey and Panetta spent much of their testimony fending off McCain’s questions about why the administration was so reluctant. Their exchanges at the Senate Armed Services Committee came as the conflict in Syria took some dramatic new turns.

India – The New York Times reported: An Indian journalist has been arrested as part of an investigation into the bombing last month of a van carrying the wife of an Israeli diplomat, an attack for which Israeli officials have blamed Iran. The suspect, Mohammed Kazmi, appeared in a New Delhi court on Wednesday after his arrest earlier in the week. The blast occurred on Feb. 13 in New Delhi, the same day that an explosive was discovered and defused inside the vehicle of an Israeli diplomat in Georgia. A day later, an explosion occurred, apparently accidentally, at a home in Bangkok used by three Iranians. Israeli officials have said the three episodes are part of a coordinated attempt by Iran to attack Israeli diplomats, a charge denied by Iran. The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Mr. Kazmi, 50, worked for an Iranian news agency in New Delhi. Reuters, citing Mr. Kazmi’s lawyer and family members, said he worked for the Indian state television channel, Doordarshan, and freelanced for Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency. A police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, would not comment directly on specific reports but said obliquely that details reported broadly in the Indian news media on Wednesday were correct.

Gaza – The Boston Globe reported: Political expression in this seaside strip is firmly regulated by the ruling Islamist militant group Hamas, and authorities recently approved a robust street rally against an unlikely target: the government in Syria, long Hamas’s benefactor and host. The demonstration, as well as Hamas leaders’ statements in support of Syrian protesters and the abandonment of their Damascus offices, was an indicator of the Gaza-based movement’s stark break with Syria – and of the rapidly shifting partnerships of a changing Middle East. Although Hamas could once comfortably ally itself with fellow Sunni powers while receiving aid and hospitality from Shi’ite forces in Syria and Iran, the region’s growing sectarian divide means the group will probably have to pick sides. It might seem an easy choice. Sunni Islamic political movements are awakening across the region, and Hamas’s parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, is ascendant in next-door Egypt. But the power and policies of those forces are still evolving, making a wholesale split from Iran, a Syria ally and Hamas’s prime patron, risky. Wavering, on the other hand, carries its own price: Hamas considers itself a populist movement, and polls indicate that Palestinians support the prodemocracy wave sweeping the region. In interviews, Hamas’s leaders depicted ties to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad as a liability, and they distanced themselves from Iran. One senior leader, Salah al- Bardaweel, said Hamas fighters, long viewed as Iranian proxies, would hold fire in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

China – The VOA reported: As a wave of self-immolations continues in Tibetan areas of China, Chinese authorities not only are tightening security, but also are stepping up efforts to discredit those who have set themselves on fire to protest China’s policies in the region. Chinese authorities held press conferences Wednesday on the sidelines of a major political gathering in Beijing to emphasize the government’s point of view and its argument that overseas groups and Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are orchestrating the unrest. Chinese officials held two briefings on the sidelines of the annual National People’s Congress about the situation. At least 25 nuns, monks and other people have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas since last March, and the wave of protests shows few signs of abating.

8 March 2012

IsraelHaaretz reported: Prime minister says he prefers diplomatic pressure be used to stop the Iranian nuclear program and war be avoided. An attack on Iran could take place within a matter of months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a series of television interviews on Thursday. “We’re not standing with a stopwatch in hand,” he said. “It’s not a matter of days or weeks, but also not of years. The result must be removal of the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands.” Netanyahu gave separate interviews to all three Israeli television stations, the first he has given since his return from Washington earlier this week. The full interviews will air on Saturday night, but excerpts were broadcast Thursday. “I hope there won’t be a war at all, and that the pressure on Iran will succeed,” the prime minister stressed, noting that his preferred choice would be for Iran to halt its nuclear program and dismantle the uranium enrichment facility located in an underground site near Qom. “That would make me happiest,” he said. “I think every citizen of Israel would be happy.”

Nigeria – The Times Of India reported: A British and an Italian hostage kidnapped in Nigeria nearly a year ago were killed on Thursday as a rescue operation sought to save them, and Nigeria said their Islamist extremist murderers were arrested. The killing of the two men kidnapped in May 2011 brought a shocking end to their saga and left many unanswered questions after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced their deaths and took responsibility for authorising a rescue. They were killed in far northwestern Nigeria, Nigeria’s president said, and residents reported an hours-long shootout in an area of the city of Sokoto at a building under construction, though authorities had not confirmed details. British media on Friday reported that the mission was led by elite British special forces, citing unnamed government sources. Cameron said he had given the go-ahead for a rescue after “credible information” was received about the location of Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara.

South Korea – The Washington Post reported: Activists and the occasional celebrity have gathered nearly every day in front of the Chinese Embassy for more than two weeks, sometimes scuffling with police or tearing up pictures of China’s president as they protest on behalf of a group of North Koreans they say China holds. The North Koreans’ identities haven’t been released by China: no ages, no names, no official descriptions of why they left their homeland. It’s not even clear exactly how many China is holding, or whether some have already been sent back to North Korea, where human rights groups say their fate will be grim. Since a South Korean lawmaker claimed last month that China planned to repatriate dozens of North Koreans rather than let them defect to the South, the issue has become an irritant in relations between Beijing and Seoul, who share strong economic ties and cooperate on regional diplomatic initiatives but who often are at odds over ways to deal with North Korea. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry has warned activists against “turning up the heat over the issue.”

Afghanistan – The BBC Asia Corps reported: After a council of Afghan clerics issued restrictive guidelines for women, later embraced by President Hamid Karzai, young Afghans streamed to social media sites to lampoon the rulings, reports BBC Persian’s Tahir Qadiry. “It’s outrageous,” wrote one young Afghan on his Facebook page. “The next thing they’ll be saying is that Afghanistan needs to be divided up in two – one half for men and the other half for women.” This was just one of thousands of comments posted on social media sites by young Afghans this week, after their country’s top religious council said that men and women should not mix at school, work or in other everyday situations. When President Hamid Karzai endorsed the council’s recommendation at a news conference in Kabul, the Afghan blogosphere went into overdrive. New sites have been set up to campaign against what critics are calling gender segregation.

South Africa – The WSJ reported: South Africa apologized for deporting 125 Nigerians accused of entering the country with fake yellow-fever vaccination certificates, capping a diplomatic spat that exposed strained ties between two continental powers. Diplomats from both countries portrayed the settlement of the row as a step toward improving relations between two economic rivals that have repeatedly butted heads, as they jockey for political influence in Africa. At a news conference in Pretoria on Thursday, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister and officials from Nigeria’s embassy in South Africa pledged to re-establish a bilateral diplomatic commission and to exchange information on vaccinations more freely. South Africa requires proof of vaccination against yellow fever, a mosquito-borne virus, from anyone entering from more than 40 countries where it views the disease as a threat, including Nigeria. But Nigerian officials pointed out that the World Health Organization has certified Nigeria as yellow-fever free. The government hasn’t recorded a case since 1995.

Egypt – The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported: The last American facing criminal charges here for his work with U.S.-backed nonprofit groups appeared in court Thursday as the trial reopened. The American, Robert Becker, chose to stay in Egypt to stand trial even after his federally financed employer, the National Democratic Institute, paid $330,000 in bail to allow him a chance to leave the country. Mr. Becker and six other Americans had been trapped here under a travel ban pending their trial until last week when, under U.S. pressure, judicial officials withdrew the travel restriction on the condition that the defendants post bail and pledge to appear when the trial reopened. Despite their pledges none did so. Meanwhile, Egypt’s military prosecutor is investigating allegations against 12 of the country’s best-known activists and public figures. The allegations include inciting the demise of the state and inflaming strife against Egypt’s military rulers, the MENA news agency said.

IranThe Scotsman reported: WORLD powers including Britain and the United States have urged Iran to answer questions about suspicions it is working on nuclear weapons, but stressed diplomacy was the way forward, in a carefully-worded statement. The statement yesterday from six countries, which also included Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, urged Iran to open its Parchin military site to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) perusal, amid reports that Tehran might be cleaning it of evidence of nuclear arms- related experiments. They stressed diplomacy was the key to resolving tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. But a European Union statement was stronger, noting “regret” of Iran’s lack of response to international concern. The IAEA has already identified Parchin as the location of suspected nuclear weapons- related testing. In a November report, it said it appeared to be the site of experiments with conventional high explosives meant to initiate a nuclear chain reaction.

9 March 2012

Syria – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is due to hold talks with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, in a fresh diplomatic bid to end the violence. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Mr Annan would call for an immediate ceasefire by the army and the opposition. Activists said government forces killed 77 people across Syria on Friday. Earlier, UN aid chief Valerie Amos said “limited progress” had been made on taking aid to the worst-hit areas in Syria, but much more was needed. Baroness Amos said she had requested full access to the worst-hit areas, but the government had asked for more time. Calls for reform that began with pro-democracy protests a year ago have degenerated into violence that has brought Syria to the brink of civil war. The UN says more than 7,500 people have died as a result of the violence.

Bahrain – The New York Times reported: Tens of thousands of Bahrainis turned out Friday for demonstrations to demand democratic reforms, the largest protest against the government in a year of unrest. The demonstrators began marching along a highway near Manama, the capital, in response to a call from a leading Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, who urged people to renew their calls for greater democracy. A Web camera on a blog showed protesters carrying banners denouncing “dictatorship” and demanding the release of detainees. “We are here for the sake of our just demands that we cannot make concessions over, and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them,” Sheik Qassim said in his weekly sermon in the village of Diraz before the march. He and other Shiite clerics led the protesters. “It is the biggest demonstration in the past year,” said a Reuters photographer after protesters filled the main Budaiya highway in Diraz and Saar, west of Manama. “I would say it could be over 100,000.” Shiites, who make up a majority of the population, complain about political and economic marginalization by the Sunni monarchy, an accusation the government denies.

Uganda – The LA Times reported: In the voice-over introducing his video “Kony 2012,” Jason Russell tells a worldwide audience, “The game has new rules.” The human rights activist’s words seem fulfilled by the phenomenal response to his video about the murderous African warlord Joseph Kony: More than 58 million views had been recorded just four days after its YouTube release Monday. But the response to the video also confirmed that every digital media sensation also invites a large, if not equal, reaction, with the Kony production provoking hundreds of video retorts, uncounted Tumblr posts, countless journalism critiques and millions of comments on Facebook and Twitter. The deluge included a dissection of the finances of San Diego-based Invisible Children, the creator of the video, a slam on the video’s role in what writer Teju Cole deemed the “White Savior Industrial Complex” and suggestions of many relief groups more worthy of public support.

Israel – The Jerusalem Post reported: Escalation in South: Rocket lands in Beersheba, causes damage to building; 8 hurt, 1 seriously, by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza as over 40 rockets in total land in South after IAF Gaza strike kills PRC chief. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted five rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Beersheba and Ashdod early Saturday morning. The latest attacks come after Palestinians in Gaza fired over 40 rockets into the South on Friday leaving eight people injured. Palestinian terrorists fired approximately 40 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel on Friday night after an air strike killed the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair Qaisi. A further Palestinian rocket fired from Gaza landed in Beersheba early Saturday morning, activating air raid sirens and sending residents fleeing for cover. Police said that the rocket caused damage to a building. No injuries were reported. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a total of ten rockets fired from Gaza Friday night and Saturday morning, the IDF said.

Afghanistan – The UK Press Association reported: The US military and the Afghan government have sealed an agreement on the gradual transfer of control of the main US prison in the country, a last-minute breakthrough that brings the first progress in months in contentious negotiations over a long-term partnership. The compromise deal came on the day Afghan president Hamid Karzai had set as a deadline for the Americans to hand over the Parwan prison. The agreement gives the US six months to transfer Parwan’s 3,000 Afghan detainees to Afghan control. However, the US will also be able to block the release of prisoners, easing American fears that insurgents or members of the Taliban could be freed and return to the fight. The deal removes a sticking point that had threatened to derail talks that have been going on for months that would formalise the US-Afghan partnership and the role of US forces in Afghanistan after Nato’s scheduled transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan government at the end of 2014. On Thursday, US president Barack Obama and Mr Karzai discussed the stalled security pact talks in a video conference.

PakistanRia Novosti reported: Pakistani Taliban threatens massive government attacks and attacks on government officials if Islamabad does not release the three widows of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, DawnNews TV channel reported on Friday. According to DawnNews, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsa contacted journalists of local and Western media and said that “if the family of Osama bin Laden is not released as soon as possible,” they will “attack the judges, lawyers and security officials involved in their trial.” “We will carry out suicide bombings against security forces and the government across the country,” he said. Earlier this week Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the three widows of a “number one terrorist” have been charged with illegal stay in the country.

PakistanABC NEWS reported: Pakistan appointed a new head of intelligence on Friday, injecting some uncertainty in America’s dealings with an agency crucial to its hopes of negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban and keeping pressure on al-Qaida. Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam replaces Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who had been in the post since 2008 and was due to retire on March 18. The scion of a military family who is currently army commander in the city of Karachi, Islam was considered a likely man for the job.Islam, who between 2008 and 2010 was the deputy head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, will be a major player in any Pakistani efforts to get the Afghan Taliban to enter peace negotiations to end the war. ISI agents helped build up the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s, and its leaders are believed to be based in Pakistan. The ISI is considered to have some influence over them.

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Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO
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