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Islamic World News ( 16 Oct 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Mecca super-hotel to offer spa, butler and a chocolate room

Luxury developments at holy site raise concerns hajj will become preserve of elite

Mecca super-hotel

Afghan women still struggle, 8 years on

Vote Sends Gaza War Report to Security Council

Key excerpts: UN Gaza report

Shah Rukh to be honoured by South Korea

Islamic Animal Rights Web Site "" Launched

Suicide Bomber Hits Mosque in Iraq

Bomb kills 12 at Pakistan mosque, police station

Ban on 'torture documents' lifted

Pakistan civilian-military ties hit new low

Court claim over camel 'beauty'

Kashmiris divided over India’s talks offer

Libya frees 88 with Al Qaeda links

Turkey’s strained relations with Israel a cause for concern

4 U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan Blast

Strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake strikes Indonesia

Peru agrees to extradite ex-Israeli official

2 terrorists nabbed, arms recovered in Isla­­­­­mabad

Rural Pakistani Women advised to seek their rights

Violence in Pakistan and a Presidential Run-Off in Afghanistan

Afghan election probe reduces Karzai share of vote

Convicted in Australia's Largest Terror Plot

Israel rebukes Turkey over TV series portraying soldiers murdering children

Photo: An artist's impression of the proposed super-hotel in Mecca. Photograph: Raffles Hotels and Resorts

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Mecca super-hotel to offer spa, butler and a chocolate room

Oct 16, 2009

Luxury developments at holy site raise concerns hajj will become preserve of elite

Mecca super-hotel

An artist's impression of the proposed super-hotel in Mecca.

The pilgrimage to Mecca has always involved hardship and sacrifice, whether months spent travelling on foot through barren valleys and sleeping in the open with no shelter from the elements or stripping oneself of earthly trappings. But help is at hand for the pilgrim who cannot bear to be without comfort while executing the fifth pillar of Islam.

Raffles, which gave thirsty wanderers the Singapore Sling, is opening a luxury hotel in Mecca offering pilgrims a coffee sommelier, a chocolate room where chefs will prepare bespoke pralines and truffles, and a 24-hour butler service.

Undeterred by restrictions on beautifying oneself during the Hajj, the hotel will also have segregated gyms, beauty parlours, grooming salons and a spa.

There are strict rules regarding personal hygiene and behaviour during the hajj, and forbidden activities include sex, the cutting of hair and nails and the trimming of beards. These bars are lifted once certain rituals are complete, but Muslims are generally expected to forget worldly thoughts and activities and focus on the divine.

Mohammed Arkobi, the general manager of the new hotel, did not explain how a chocolate room and spa would help pilgrims achieve spiritual fulfilment. Nor was he able to comment on how the amenities complied with the ethos of the hajj, which is about simplicity and humility.

But he did say that the "comprehensive range of services" were designed to meet the needs of the "discerning" travellers they were targeting.

"Ultimately, the hotel's sophisticated ambience, our range of features and highly personalised service delivery such as those offered through our 24-hour butler service will help to ensure that our residents' overall experience will be enriching."

Arkobi said the hotel was a three-minute walk away from the Grand Mosque, the Masjid al-Haram, and that a "spacious outdoor dining terrace" would provide direct views of it.

It is being developed by the Saudi Binladin Company, one of the largest construction firms in the Arab world, which has also been responsible for overseeing the expansion of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. The company was set up by Mohammed bin Laden, father of Osama, although the family is now estranged from its most infamous son.

Around 4 million people visit Mecca for hajj, with millions more passing through the rest of the year to perform the lesser pilgrimage. Estimates for future numbers vary wildly – from 10 million to 20 million – and the landscape of Mecca has undergone a dramatic transformation over the decades to cope with demand. Homes have been bulldozed, mountains flattened and historic sites razed to provide more hotel rooms and amenities.

One development that will dominate the skyline and the Grand Mosque is the Makkah Royal Clock Tower, operated by international hoteliers Fairmont, which is majority owned by a company chaired by HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, the Saudi king's nephew.

The tower will be among the tallest in the world, 577 metres (1,893ft) high on completion, and its dimensions, including a clockface measuring 40 metres across that will be visible 10 miles away, make it five times larger than Big Ben.

In addition to 1,005 guest rooms, the tower will also house a lunar observation centre and Islamic museum. It lies in the massive Abraj Al Bait complex, part of the King Abdul Aziz endowment project aimed at upgrading the precincts of Mecca and Medina.

Mecca's makeover is alarming international activists, such as Ali al-Ahmed, the director of the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, a thinktank analysing events and issues in the region. Ahmed, an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime, said many factors were driving the changes.

"The al-Sauds want to make Mecca like Dubai, it is a money-making operation. They destroy ancient buildings because they do not want any history other than their own, they see it as competition. They destroy and dispose of artefacts."

He also expressed concern that the arrival of luxury brands would increase the price of a pilgrimage. A 2009 platinum Hajj package from a UK tour operator costs £6,400 for 16 nights full board, based on double occupancy.

"By developing Mecca in this way they are making it inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of Muslims. It will only be for the elite," Ahmed said.

The city's increasing westernisation was a "perversion of the religion", encouraging activities that were at odds with the spirit of the hajj, he said.

"The Saudis may come across as austere but members of the ruling class have billions of dollars between them – even the muftis live in palaces with chandeliers."

Development of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina should not come at the expense of religious practice, he said, before turning his attention to the lack of protest from Muslims around the world.

"Let's take Jerusalem as an example. Muslims are outraged when Israelis do something in the Old City, but in Mecca things are being systematically destroyed and nobody is raising an eyebrow. It is a catastrophe."

Raffles Mecca is due to open in April 2010.

Turning to Mecca

Mecca, or Makkah al Mukarrama, has a population of 1.7m but visitors swell its streets all year round.

According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was born in Mecca, and it is said to be the place where Allah's message was first revealed to him.

Each day Muslims from around the world turn to Mecca to pray and, at least once in their lives if they can afford it, they travel there to perform the hajj.

At the heart of Mecca's Grand Mosque is the Kaaba, a large stone structure constituting of a single room with a marble floor. It stands around 60 feet high and each side is approximately 60 feet in length. The Qur'an says that Ibrahim and his son Ishmael were the founders of the Kaaba, building the shrine dedicated to the worship of Allah.

Even before its association, the city was still a focal point in the region. In ancient times it was a staging post on the trade route linking the spice producers of the east with Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. Its reputation as a commercial centre continues today. Malls and markets line the city's roads and alleys, fighting for attention.



Afghan women still struggle, 8 years on

Oct 16, 2009

CNN) -- Afghan women have seen their status rise and fall repeatedly over the past three decades before the strictly Islamic Taliban muscled their way to power and forced women to again wear the burqa and stay out of school.

Women at the shelter receiving an education.

The U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan in 2001 drove the Taliban from the halls of power, again lifting women to a better place. But now, a leading female member of the Afghan parliament says, those hard-won gains are retreating.

"After 2001, I call it like a golden opportunity for woman in the first five -- three, four, five -- five years," Fawzia Koofi, one of 68 female members of the parliament, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

"However, like you had women in the parliament, you have several movements of women. You have girls going back to school. You have female doctors in the hospitals. You have female teachers who are going to school. With all this, I think the past three years, the situation of women is getting worse."

The problem, she said, lies in political attitudes.

"Unfortunately, there are certain elements within the government, outside the government, nowadays mainly within the government, who don't believe in women's progress, because they think, if women becomes stronger, they will lose the power," Koofi said.

"I think there is need for a strong political government and a civil government that actually is committed to equal rights and opportunities and to the rule of law," she said. "Everybody, according to the Constitution, is equal before the law."

"This is first. Rule of law is the key for progress of women."

Koofi said that polling indicated that "the ordinary people of Afghanistan" were comfortable and in some cases favoured female legislators -- and, perhaps more importantly, were supportive of women's issues.

But, she said, the greater danger lies with Afghanistan's former rulers -- the fundamentalist Taliban.

"I think if they come back to power, women will be the first victim, because they have demonstrated a strong voice of equality," Koofi said.

The Taliban imposes harsh restrictions on women, frequently flogging them for violating their strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

"It's not a time for the international community and Afghan government to talk about bringing back Taliban to power," she said. "I think the situation would go even worse compared to what it was in 1997 and 1998, when it comes to women's issues, because after the removal of Taliban, you had such outspoken women who were asking for their rights, who were asking for democracy, who were asking for equality."

Koofi's comments come as the Obama administration considers its Afghanistan policy. Some argue for a shift to counterterrorism operations and away from counterinsurgency operations, which critics argue might give the Taliban a leg up in the fight for the country.

But the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked for thousands more troops to continue his counterinsurgency strategy.

A key test for Afghanistan will come when the final election results from Afghanistan's disputed election are released, possibly as soon as this weekend. How Afghan leaders react to those results will be closely watched by not only human rights campaigners such as Koofi, but also the United States and NATO countries that are considering their strategy in Afghanistan.

"I think what's important is, first of all, not only for women of this country, for any human being in Afghanistan, we need to, first and foremost, have a stable, strong government to be able to function and deliver," Koofi said. "And then both men and women of this country will be able to benefit.



Key excerpts: UN Gaza report


Israel attributed civilian casualties to collateral damage in legitimate action

A United Nations investigation into Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip earlier this year has concluded that there is evidence both sides committed war crimes.

Below are extracts from a UN statement accompanying the report:

[The report ] concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The report also concludes there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel…

The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip.  During the Israeli military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed… More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation…

The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population…

The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction" in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times…

[The ]report describes a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched "direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome." These are, it says, cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes…

A number of other incidents the Report concludes may constitute war crimes include a direct and intentional attack on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City.

The Report also covers violations arising from Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, including excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators, sometimes resulting in deaths, increased closures, restriction of movement and house demolitions. The detention of Palestinian Legislative Council members, the Report says, effectively paralyzed political life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories…

The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups "constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity," by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. "The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction," the report says. "Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population."

The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks "have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel," as well as "loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population."

The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action, the Report says. The Mission found the Government of Israel had not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.

It recommended that the UN Security Council require Israel to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified in its Report. The Mission further recommends that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions.

If the experts' reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the ICC Prosecutor. The Mission recommends that the same independent expert body also report to the Security Council on proceedings undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with regard to crimes committed by the Palestinian side.

As in the case of Israel, if within six months there are no good faith independent proceedings conforming to international standards in place, the Council should refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor.



Shah Rukh to be honoured by South Korea

October 15, 2009

The South Korean embassy will on Thursday confer two special honours on Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

"The Korean government has decided to confer an honorary belt in taekwondo to Shah Rukh and they are also giving him the title of an honorary ambassador for culture and tourism," said Shah Rukh's spokesperson on phone from Mumbai.

The event will take place at the Taj Lands End hotel. According to his spokesperson, the talks for the honour had been underway for "a couple of days".

This will be Shah Rukh's second international honour this year after he was presented an honorary doctorate in arts and culture by Bedfordshire University in London for his contribution to culture in July.

For the doctorate, the 43-year-old was nominated by Routes to Roots, an NGO that works across the SAARC region to bring South Asian people together, in recognition of his exceptional achievement as a film actor and producer.



Islamic Animal Rights Web Site "" Launched


Oct 15, 2009

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals - 19 Hours Ago

As a Muslim living in America, I know what it is like to feel like a minority. But a recent Pew Forum study suggests that Islam is making inroads towards the cultural mainstream.

According to the survey, one out of four people worldwide is Muslim, and the countries with the largest numbers of Muslims might surprise you. India, for example, which is a majority-Hindu country, is home to the largest number of Muslims outside Indonesia and Pakistan. Russia, China, and Germany (my birthplace) also have large Muslim populations.

In an effort to reach out to the growing Muslim community, a new Web site,, has just launched which includes hadiths (sayings from the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and quotations from the Qur'an and Islamic leaders about compassion for all of God's creation—including animals.

At, people can learn about how modern factory farming techniques—such as branding animals, amputating their tails and castrating them without anesthetics, and burning off birds' beaks—violate the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) teachings to cause no pain to an animal before she or he is slaughtered. Animals raised for food are often fed the ground-up bodies of pigs, chickens, and cattle, along with chicken excrement and other waste products as a supplement in their food, making their flesh haram (forbidden).

Even if you aren't a Muslim, I encourage you to check out You might be interested to learn how much Islamic teachings about kindness to animals have in common with Christianity, Judaism, and other major religions.

This content is inappropriate



October 16, 2009

Suicide Bomber Hits Mosque in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide bomber opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers at a mosque in northern Iraq and then blew himself up after running out of ammunition, killing 12 people, police and hospital officials said.

The attacker walked into the Sunni mosque in Tal Afar and started firing on worshippers with an AK-47 rifle as the imam was delivering his sermon, a local police official said. Sixty-five people were wounded in the attack. When the shooter ran out of ammunition, he detonated his explosives belt, the official said.

The imam, Abdul-Satar Hassan, a member of Iraq's largest Sunni political party, was also killed in the attack, the official said. It was not immediately clear if the slain imam was the intended victim, although Sunni clerics have increasingly become targets in Iraq's sectarian bloodletting.

Sahir Jalal, 37, who was at the mosque for prayers, said the imam had just begun delivering a sermon when a tall man stood up.

''Then he took out a small rifle from under his jacket and started to shoot,'' he said.

Seconds later, the man shouted ''God is Great'' and detonated explosives strapped to his body, Jalal said.

An official with the Tal Afar hospital confirmed the casualty count. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

Last week, a Sunni cleric driving home after delivering a sermon in Saqlawiyah, 45 miles (75 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, was killed by a bomb attached to his car. Earlier this week, the cleric who leads the biggest Sunni mosque in Baghdad was wounded in a similar bombing.

A Sunni cleric in Mosul was killed in September, also by a bomb attached to his car.

al Afar is about 40 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Mosul. While violence in Iraq has dropped dramatically since the height of the insurgency, the area in and around Mosul is considered one of the last strongholds of the Sunni-backed insurgency and the scene of some horrific bombings recently.

Tal Afar, a mostly Turkoman city, is located along one of the major smuggling routes from Syria to Mosul and has gone through cycles of stability and instability for years. The Sunni majority at one time had an alliance with the Shiite police to battle Sunni insurgents and their allies.

Source: NYT


Bomb kills 10 at Pakistan mosque, police station

By RIAZ KHAN, 16 October 2009

A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb at a mosque next to a police station in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Friday, killing 10 people in the latest bloodshed in an unrelenting wave of terror that has hit the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion fell on the Taliban, who have been blamed for two weeks of attacks that have killed more than 150 people across the country and appear aimed at forcing the government to abandon a planned offensive into the militants' stronghold along the Afghan border.

The attacker in Peshawar drove an explosives-laden vehicle into the wall of the mosque and detonated the bomb, badly damaging the mosque as well as the neighbouring police station, said police official Bashir Khan.

The target of the attack in the main city in Pakistan's Taliban-riddled North West Frontier province was not immediately clear. The police station was heavily guarded and surrounded by barricades making it nearly impossible for any attacker to directly hit it.

Television footage showed the upper part of the wall of the brick mosque shorn off. Security forces swarmed the area as ambulances arrived at the scene. A twisted chunk of metal on the ground was in flames, and a small white car's front section was destroyed. In nearby Lady Reading Hospital, rescue workers rushed wounded victims through the hallways on stretchers.

The blast killed 10 people, including two women and a schoolboy, and injured 11 others, said Sahibzada Mohammed Anis, a senior government official.

On Thursday, a car bomb in Peshawar killed a small child at a housing complex for government employees.

Full Report at:


Ban on 'torture documents' lifted

David Miliband: "If we give away other people's secrets, they will give us less information"

The High Court has ruled that US intelligence documents containing details of the alleged torture of a former UK resident can be released.

Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed, 31, who spent four years in Guantanamo Bay, claims British authorities colluded in his torture while he was in Morocco.

The UK government denies allegations of collusion and says it will appeal against the court's judgement.

It had stopped judges publishing the claims on national security grounds.

The key document in the case is a summary of abuse allegations that US intelligence officers shared with their counterparts in London.

Any publication of the material will be delayed until an appeal takes place.

When the High Court gave its original judgement on the case last year, a seven paragraph summary of Mr Mohamed's torture claims was removed on the orders of Foreign Secretary David Miliband.


Detained in Pakistan in 2002, questioned there by MI5 officer

Transferred to Morocco, claims he was tortured in US custody and asked questions supplied by MI5

Later interred in Guantanamo Bay and eventually released in 2009

Mr Miliband argued that releasing the material would threaten Britain's national security because future intelligence sharing with the US could be compromised.

But Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled that the risk to national security was "not a serious one" and there was "overwhelming" public interest in disclosing the material.

'Deep objection'

Their judgement was also delayed on Friday because MI5 insisted part of it - explaining why there was such a significant public interest in the case - should be redacted.

Responding to the ruling, Mr Miliband told the BBC the court had "fundamentally misunderstood" the key principle of intelligence sharing.

"We have no objection to this material being published by the appropriate authorities, in this case the United States," he said.


By Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent, BBC News

This judgement is part of the high-stakes political poker game surrounding what we can and cannot know about the intelligence agencies that act in our name.

They share information confidentially to save lives and co-ordinate a strategy against enemies like al-Qaeda, but the government says they don't do so thinking it will be made public.

The High Court insists the seven key paragraphs it wants to publish are in no way damaging to national security. And it's worth noting that the judges have not ordered the release of 42 other documents in the case.

This ruling looks unprecedented because it strongly defends the public's right to know. But it remains to be seen whether judges have overruled national security and, in so doing, put any special intelligence relationship under strain.

"What I do have a very deep objection to is the idea that a British court should publish American secrets - in the same way that I would have a deep objection if an American court started publishing British secrets."

Mr Miliband said the government stood "firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment", but he vowed to continue to challenge the court's ruling "in the strongest possible terms".

The US also denies any allegations of torture concerning Mr Mohamed and a former senior official in the Bush administration told the BBC releasing the material would have an "enormous chilling effect" on US-UK relations.

'Dirty work'

Mr Mohamed, who once lived in north Kensington, London, was first detained in Pakistan in 2002. He was questioned there by an MI5 officer before being transferred to Morocco.

He says while in US custody in Morocco he was tortured at the behest of the CIA and asked questions supplied by British intelligence agency MI5.

Mr Mohamed was later transferred to Guantanamo Bay and eventually released in February this year.

Before Friday's judgment, Mr Mohamed told BBC the material should be released.

           It is irrational to pretend that evidence of torture should be classified as a threat to national security 

Clive Stafford-Smith

Binyam Mohamed's lawyer

He said: "The public needs to know what their government has been up to for the last seven years.

"There's information in there, which I'm 99% sure, states that the US sub-contracted the UK government to do its dirty work."

Clive Stafford-Smith, Mr Mohamed's lawyer and director of human rights charity Reprieve, said the government was "trying to conflate national security with national embarrassment".

"The judges have made clear what we have said all along - it is irrational to pretend that evidence of torture should be classified as a threat to national security," he said.

Full Report at:


Pakistan civilian-military ties hit new low

There are inherent dangers in continuing tense relations between the army and the government

As a wave of militant attacks hits Pakistan, tensions between the army and the civilian government have hit a new high, despite promises by the military establishment that it would no longer intervene in politics. Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid has this assessment.

The renewed tension comes as feverish speculation has gripped the country about the army's intentions, after it forced the government to backtrack on a US bill which provides Pakistan with millions of dollars as long as it pledges to eradicate Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy.

At least nine Taliban suicide attacks have hit Pakistan's security forces in the days from 5 October - including a devastating and embarrassing siege inside the army's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi that claimed 22 lives, and three attacks on a single day in Lahore.

Over 150 people have been killed and several hundreds injured.

However, these attacks did not stop army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani from challenging the government and the US administration as Washington's crucial aid bill - which has taken more than a year to pass through the US Congress - was finally ready for signing on President Obama's desk.

Caught by surprise

It was while on a visit to Kabul in late September that Gen Kayani first conveyed to Gen Stanley McCrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, that he found the bill insulting and demeaning to the army.

Pakistan is currently been hit by a sustained bout of militant attacks

On 7 October Gen Kayani summoned the army's most powerful assembly - a meeting of the nine corps commanders - who questioned the bill saying it impacted on Pakistan's national security.

In the meantime the military launched a massive public relations exercise, briefing sympathetic TV talk show hosts and journalists, who were encouraged to whip up public opinion against the bill.

Gen Kayani also secretly met the main opposition politician Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, who the army had ostracised until now.

Caught completely by surprise, President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government faced an onslaught of accusations in parliament and in the media that they were traitors who had sold out to the US.

 There had clearly been ample opportunities for the army to voice any objections to the bill months before 

 The US bill will provide Pakistan's civilian and development sector with $1.5bn a year for the next five years while the military would have a separate aid bill worth over $1bn a year.

It would be the first time in the history of the relationship between the US and Pakistan that Washington would be giving so much money to a civilian government - in the past it had lavished its cash on military regimes.

The bill set tough conditions for a military that has never been questioned before or come under democratic supervision.

It demanded that Pakistan remained a democracy and that civilian control was maintained over the army and the defence budget, while the government continued to fight extremism.

However, these conditions were wrapped in a let-off clause that gave the US president waiver rights to continue aid, even if the bill's conditions were not met.

Ample opportunities

The bill had been through multiple drafts and had been watered down considerably after negotiations with the Pakistan government, foreign ministry and army which had objected to language used in earlier drafts, especially about Pakistan's nuclear programme.

The army is arguably Pakistan's most powerful institution

US officials told the BBC that Congress Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman had personally briefed Gen Kayani, while Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry visited Pakistan several times over the past two years and met generals from the army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

There had clearly been ample opportunities for the army to voice any objections to the bill months before.

Moreover, the US bill was critical to convince the European and Arab donors to give more aid to Pakistan. They have held up some $5bn in aid, waiting for the Americans to commit their money first.

Pakistan is battling the Taliban in the midst of a huge economic downturn, massive unemployment and an acute energy shortage - there is no electricity in major cities for up to 10 hours a day.

The government is bankrupt and is surviving on a $11.3bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

US legislators were furious with the army's statement. Mr Berman told the Washington Post that although "billions have gone down a rat hole in the past" in Pakistan, he did not want to "micromanage" the country's use of the new money.

State Department officials said they were trying to restrain angry legislators from saying anything more.

On 14 October Mr Kerry and Mr Berman released an "explanatory" statement saying that the US had no desire to impinge on Pakistan's sovereignty.

The PPP government was left holding the baby, abandoned by everyone and becoming the sole defenders of the bill.

The army is facing a series of Taliban suicide bombings

Not surprisingly they are convinced that the army's move was part of a long term plan to unseat Mr Zardari as president and bring in someone more compliant - or at the very least force the president to sack some of his advisers whom the army loathes.

Mr Zardari, the widower of slain political icon Benazir Bhutto, has long taken a diametrically opposite view to the army on foreign policy - he would like peace with India, closer ties to the US and an end to the safe havens the Afghan Taliban have in Pakistan.

However, the president has not helped build his case with the public because his government is considered weak, incompetent and corrupt.

Moreover it has handed over command and control of the war against the Pakistani Taliban to the army. In the recent army offensive to clear the Taliban out of the Swat valley, the army rather than the civilian government led the relief effort for two million displaced people.

Now with the army promising to launch an offensive against Pakistani Taliban leaders holed up in South Waziristan, the Obama administration cannot afford to annoy the military.

The Pakistan Taliban are not only fighting the Pakistan state but also the US troops in Afghanistan.

However, the problems between the army and the civilian government will not go away and the inherent dangers associated with that have only increased the problems for President Obama as he decides on a strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of the best-selling book Taliban and, most recently, of Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.



Court claim over camel 'beauty'

Camels are highly prized in Arabia and can fetch huge sums of money

A $250,000 compensation claim has been made against Saudi Arabia's oil giant Saudi Aramco for causing the death of a prized camel, local press reports say.

The case, to be heard on Monday, involves a three-year-old black camel which fell into a large hole dug in the desert to store crude oil.

The camel's owner is quoted saying the beast had been entered in one of the region's popular camel beauty pageants.

The compensation claim is based on the value experts put on the camel.

The owner, Abdullah Al-Saiari, said the she-camel was grazing in a desert pasture, about 150 miles (250km) west of Ahsa, when the accident happened.

"She was part of the Camel Beauty Contest," he said, the Saudi Gazette reported.



Kashmiris divided over India’s talks offer

16 Oct, 2009

SRINAGAR, Oct 15: India’s offer to start a ‘quiet dialogue’ with Kashmiri politicians in the disputed region was on Thursday welcomed by moderates but rejected by hardliners.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram, on a visit to Kashmir, said his government was willing to hold talks with “every section of political opinion” — including those who wish to break away from New Delhi’s occupation.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head of the moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference, described Mr Chidambaram’s remarks as “a good beginning and a step forward.” However, hardliner Syed Ali Geelani was not impressed.

“No dialogue process is possible unless India openly accepts the disputed nature of Kashmir,” said Mr Geelani. “There is nothing new in the talks offer. It is meaningless.”

India was trying to dilute international pressure by giving the impression that it wanted to engage with Kashmiris, said Mr Geelani, who wants the region to merge with Pakistan.—AFP



Libya frees 88 with Al Qaeda links

16 Oct, 2009

TRIPOLI: Libya on Thursday freed 88 people with Al Qaeda links from Abu Slim prison in Tripoli, a journalist witnessed.

“45 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and 43 members of other jihadist groups were freed thanks to the efforts of the Islamic Foundation,” lawyers’ groups said in a joint statement with the Foundation, headed by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam.

“Apart from the LIFG members, the other people freed were former Al Qaeda members who were active in Afghanistan or Iraq,” said Saleh Saleh Abdessalem, an aide to Seif al-Islam.

Gathered in the prison courtyard, the detainees met journalists before greeting their families amid ululation by women and cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest). Some broke down in tears in front of their children, wives and relatives.

Ibrahim Buhlig, 35, is free after 11 years in prison. He said that he left Libya at the age of 16 to fight against Russian troops in Afghanistan. He was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 1998, then extradited to Libya.—AFP



October 16, 2009

Vote Sends Gaza War Report to Security Council


GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Friday to endorse a Gaza war crimes report and send it to the Security Council, possibly setting up international prosecution of Israelis and Palestinians accused of war crimes.

The council approved a Palestinian-backed resolution after two days of debate on the Goldstone report, which it had commissioned following the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 conflict in which almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

The resolution passed 25-6, with mostly developing countries in favour and the United States and five European countries -- Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia and Ukraine --opposing.

Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. Russia and China, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, were among those voting yes.

''The clock on the report starts now,'' said Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Authority's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, adding that he hoped the Security Council in New York would take up the report.

If the report is considered by the 15-member Security Council, the U.S. is likely to use its veto to block any call for getting the International Criminal Court involved in the dispute over Gaza or taking action against Israel.

The 575-page report, compiled by an expert group led by Judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into the Gaza Strip to root out Palestinian rocket squads.

It also accused Palestinian armed groups including Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through rocket attacks on southern Israel.

In Ramallah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed Friday's vote.

''What is important now is to translate words into deeds in order to protect our people in the future from any new aggression,'' Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Full Report at:


Turkey’s strained relations with Israel a cause for concern

October 15, 2009

Israel has always resided in a tough neighbourhood. The many wars, intifadas and never-ending security challenges prove that. So when one of Israel’s few local allies — namely, Turkey — starts giving the cold shoulder, it is cause for concern.

Our story on page 12A details the diplomatic dust-up over Turkey’s postponement of regional military exercises because of Israel’s participation. Apparently, Turkey remains mightily displeased over Israel’s Gaza incursion last winter, and is taking no pains to disguise it.

While public statements from the Israeli government downplay the snub, there is more to the story than the cancelled military maneuvers.

For years, Turkey had been a reliable ally. To have this Muslim country of 70 million embrace the Jewish state enhanced Israel’s world standing and provided an enormous strategic bulwark. Cultural and economic exchanges between the two nations had become commonplace.

With the ascent of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strived to Islamicize the country’s staunchly secular society, Israel has had to deal with a new Turkey, one that fosters closer ties with Israel’s enemies.

Considering Turkey shares a border with Iraq and Syria, closer ties would make some sense. But how close is too close? While spurning military exercises with Israel and the West, Turkey did just conclude similar exercises with the Syrian army. That cannot give Israel any comfort.

Full Report at:


4 U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan Blast

Oct. 16, 2009

The U.S. military says four American service members have been killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan.

A U.S. statement Friday said that two of the service members were killed instantly in the blast and two others suffered fatal injuries in the same explosion. Names of the victims and the precise location of the Thursday attack were not released.

More from CBS News' Special Report: The Road Ahead:

The latest deaths bring to 25 the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this month.

Military says Service Members Killed by Bomb Explosion in Southern Part of Country; October Death Toll Hits 25



Strong 6.1-magnitude earthquake strikes Indonesia

16 October 2009

JAKARTA: A strong 6.1-magnitude quake struck off Indonesia's Sulawesi island on Friday, seismologists said, but there were no immediate reports

of damage and no tsunami warning was issued.

The quake struck at 1833 GMT today at sea 216 kilometres northeast of Baubau, in the southeast Sulawesi region at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake jolted the country last month, killing 1,115 people and leaving an estimated half a million homeless.

An expert predicted this week a colossal earthquake may hit Indonesia within 30 years, triggering a tsunami and making last month's deadly quake look tiny by comparison.

Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, said the next big quake would last more than six times as long as the 7.6 magnitude quake which struck western Sumatra on September 30, levelling the city of Padang.

A massive tsunami hit Indonesia and other countries in the Indian Ocean rim in 2004, killing about 220,000 people, most of them in Aceh province in northern Sumatra.



Peru agrees to extradite ex-Israeli official

October 16, 2009

LIMA: A Peruvian criminal court authorized Thursday the extradition of a former Israeli official wanted for taking bribes from German engineering giant Siemens, the Justice Ministry said.

Dan Cohen, a former manager of Israel's electric company who also served as a district court judge, was arrested by Interpol in Lima on August 21.

Israel later requested that Cohen be extradited Tel Aviv does not have an extradition treaty with Lima. A judge froze 3.9 million dollars in bank accounts in Peru belonging to Cohen last month.

A Justice Ministry statement said its decision to extradite Cohen was exempt of "political, military or religious motivations," adding that the charges levelled against him were "common and tried in regular courts."

The next step in the extradition process called for Peru's Supreme Court to deliver the extradition documents to Israel's Justice Ministry, the statement added.



2 terrorists nabbed, arms recovered in Islamabad

October 16, 2009

ISLAMABAD: Two terrorists, carrying arms including hand grenade, pistols and suicide jacket, were nabbed from the limits under Shalimar police station here in Federal Capital Islamabad, Geo news reported Thursday.

According to police sources, the terrorists were reportedly identified as Zain and Abdullah who were arrested during routine checking from a checkpoint here in Islamabad on Thursday, meanwhile, their another associate succeeded to flee taking the advantage of darkness.

Police sources claimed to have kicked off crack down in many parts of metropolitan to arrest the fleeing terrorist.

Also, police seized suicide jackets, arms, grenade and pistol from their possession, sources informed media.

Terrorists were plotting to carry out terror attacks on offices of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA), sources revealed.

Meanwhile, held terrorists have been taken to unknown place for investigation, sources added.



Women advised to seek their rights

16 Oct, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Oct 15: Lok Virsa became the centre of attraction again on the International Rural Women Day as Potohar Organisation for Development Association (PODA) joined hands with the network of women rural support organisation to organise a series of workshops and discussion session on Thursday.

Alice Shackleford of the Unifem in her message said a large number of discussion sessions, activity kiosks, inclusive of music and theatre, full of women participation as well as young and elderly mark the recognition of the importance of this day.

Social reformer Shoaib Sultan Khan highlighted the importance of women participation in development projects, advising them to press for their rights. “No one would be prepared to give your rights. Women ensure the success of development programmes in a much better way; in fact nothing would work if women were excluded from them,” he said.

The noted social worker (SSK) gave guidelines for the success of rural support projects. “You have to go to women and ask what they wanted to do and what the obstacles were,” he said.

His presentation followed statements from women activists including Naseem, Hafiza, Kundan Bibi and Rahim Bano coming from rural areas of Chilas, Gilgit, Peshawar and interior Sindh.

Full Report at:


Violence in Pakistan and a Presidential Run-Off in Afghanistan

By John Hockenberry, October 16 2009

Violence is on the rise in Pakistan. Twelve days of attacks across the country have left well over 150 people dead, and there are no signs yet that security forces are going to be able to beat back the militants. A suicide car bombing targeted a police station in the city of Peshawar this morning. The BBC's Aleem Maqbool joins us from Islamabad, Pakistan.

And directly next door, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has denied allegations of fraud in the recent presidential election and claimed he won a simple majority of votes. Now, according to Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times, the election results may turn out to show no single victor, meaning a run-off election could be announced shortly. She joins us with a look at the potential run-off and the political problem this would pose for the Obama Administration.

For more, read Elisabeth Bumiller's article, "Karzai Aide Says Afghan Runoff Vote Is Likely," in today's New York Times.



Afghan election probe reduces Karzai share of vote

16 October 2009

WASHINGTON - A probe into fraud allegations in Afghanistan’s August elections has dropped President Hamid Karzai’s share of the vote to 47 percent, triggering a run-off, The Washington Post reported late Thursday.

One official told the Post the tally by the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, due to be completed Friday, was “stunning.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission had given Karzai 54.6 percent of the August 20 vote in its preliminary results, which would position him for a second, five-year term.

The results gave Karzai’s main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, around 28 percent of the vote.

Ballots listing both candidates, printed in London in anticipation of a possible run-off, have already arrived at the UN mission in Kabul, a US official in Afghanistan told the newspaper.

The necessary indelible ink was also already on hand and polling station kits are expected to be readied for distribution this week, the daily said.

A run-off was planned if Karzai’s valid votes fall below 50 percent as a result of the investigations, although questions remain about how effective a new poll would be.

“The big challenge (for new elections) is security,” the US official told the Post.

Another official cautioned that “we’ve got to figure out a way to give legitimacy to whoever wins.” A second round, “if clean, and if done properly, basically washes away the sins of the first,” he added.

Karzai’s ambassador in Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, said earlier that a second round of voting was a “likely scenario” but warned it would be “impossible” to hold the run-off within two weeks of the ballots being certified, as required by the Afghan constitution.

But Jawad said a new vote should be held within a month.



Convicted in Australia's Largest Terror Plot

Natasha Chaku, Oct 16, 2009

Five Muslim men were convicted by a court for plotting a jihadist attack after stockpiling bomb making instructions and purchasing explosive chemicals to protest Australia's involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The five, four of whom are of Lebanese descent and one of Bangladeshi origin, now face possible life sentences after New South Wales State Supreme Court found them guilty of conspiring to commit acts in preparation for a terrorist attack.

The court was told that the men had stored firearms, bomb making chemicals and explosives manufacturing instructions from July 2004 to November 2005, in Australia's largest terrorist conspiracy.

The five were arrested after a sixteen month surveillance which ended in November 2005 and in the same year they went on hunting trips in New South Wales, apparently to test their newly acquired firearms skills.

One of the arrested, according to prosecution, had been trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist camp in Pakistan. In raids on their homes, police found pictures and videos showing the 9/11 bombing, as well as beheadings and killings carried out by Afghan militants.

Four other men pleaded guilty in the case and were sentenced up to eighteen years in jail.



Israel rebukes Turkey over TV series portraying soldiers murdering children

16 October 2009

JERUSALEM — An Israeli Foreign Ministry official rebuked Turkey's acting ambassador Thursday over a TV series Israel says depicts Israeli soldiers murdering children.

Naor Gilon, deputy director for the Western Europe desk, said he told Turkish envoy Ceylan Ozen the series was "incitement" and could spark attacks against Jews visiting Turkey.

Gilon met Ozen at ministry headquarters in Jerusalem amid increasing tensions between the countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later joined the chorus of Israeli outrage.

"We are disappointed by the incitement on Turkish television and we are not very happy by the trends we are seeing in Turkey of late," he said at a joint press conference with visiting Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Muslim Turkey's ties with Israel have deteriorated since Israel's winter offensive against Islamic militants in Gaza — codenamed Operation Cast Lead — which killed some 1,400 Palestinians.

Last week Ankara cancelled a military exercise in which Israeli pilots were to have participated.

Clips of the program, screened by Turkey's state-owned TRT television, show a military force in what appear to be Israeli combat fatigues committing acts of murder and violent repression against Palestinians under their control.

Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East War.

In one of the most striking moments of the show, a soldier is portrayed standing in front of a father with a baby held high in his hands and firing a bullet at the baby, killing it instantly.

Producer Selcuk Cobanoglu told Israeli news site Y-net, however, that the characters in his series do not represent Israelis.

"The uniforms ... only look similar. The Turkish and American militaries have uniforms like that as well," he said. "We love the people in Israel. We love the Israelis."

Turkey's state-run TRT television that airs the series has made no comments on the issue so far.

The Web site of TRT includes a brief explanation of the series and announces that the production is "a heartfelt display of the events in Palestine, which was occupied in 1948."

The site said the series "portrays the sorrow of women and children, in particular, and gives a voice to the suffering of mothers whose children and husbands were slaughtered."