Egypt’s decision to close the Rafah crossing may cause a health crisis in the Gaza Strip, Gaza’s health officials say. "The decision to close the Rafah crossing to patients and humanitarian cases will add to their suffering and harm their health and could lead to a serious health disaster," Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said on Wednesday. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas took power in the territory in 2007. Since then, the Rafah crossing has been Gazans’ only connection with the outside world. However, Egypt decided to close the crossing after 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in an attack on a security checkpoint in Sinai.
Yemeni authorities say they have foiled a plot by an Al-Qaeda-linked organization to carry out attacks in the capital Sanaa, Reuters reports. According to Yemen’s Defense Ministry, 40 explosive belts were seized and seven militants were detained in the southern town of Jaar, where 45 tribal fighters were killed in a suicide attack earlier this week. The militants belong to the group Ansar al-Sharia, which US officials have described as the most dangerous offshoot of Al-Qaeda.
Russia will deploy two Borei class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with the country’s Pacific fleet, First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Sukhorukov said on Wednesday. Yury Dolgoruky – the lead vessel – and the Alexander Nevsky are currently undergoing test runs but and are likely to be commissioned by year’s end. Sukhorukov maintained that while the two subs will initially be placed with the Northern Fleet, he remains positive that they will ultimately be redeployed to the Pacific fleet.
Syria’s former Prime Minister Riad Hijab completed his defection by crossing into Jordan early Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) says. Jordanian officials have confirmed that Hijab only entered the country on Wednesday - two days after his defection was announced. The FSA spokesman told AP that news of Hijab’s early defection had been a successful ruse to "confuse the Syrian regime over the prime minister's whereabouts."
Eleven people have died and 20 more have sustained wounds after a vehicle packed with explosives ripped through a group of Shiite pilgrims in the village of Al-Tanmiyah near Bagdad on Wednesday. The explosion also set a nearby market ablaze and damaged several houses. In a separate incident, a gunman shot dead a lawyer, his judicial investigator son and six of their family members in a town north of the capital. This puts the total death toll for Wednesday at 19. Eighty-eight people have been killed in Iraq so far in August and 325 more in July after Al-Qaeda warned of a new campaign to regain territories.
Swiss scientists have been invited to Ramallah to test Yasser Arafat's remains for possible poisoning. In July Switzerland's Institute of Radiation Physics said it had detected elevated levels of polonium-210 on stains on Arafat's clothing. It has revived longstanding rumors that the Palestinian leader was poisoned. Arafat died in a French military hospital in 2004, shortly after falling ill at his headquarters in the West Bank, where he spent the last three years of his life under Israeli siege.
Belgium's nuclear watchdog is mulling the closure of two of the country's seven reactors that produce electricity due to safety concerns. Possible cracks were detected in the Doel 3 reactor, and the vessel of the second reactor, Tihange 2, was produced by the same manufacturer.
Libya has officially asked Egypt to extradite four Muammar Gaddafi supporters who are now in Egypt. The four are wanted in Libya for smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars abroad, said Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also said Egypt is ready to confirm the extradition, but only after all the necessary legal procedures have been carried out.
The lawyers of the punk group Pussy Riot have called on the world to come out in protest if their three defendants get convicted by a Moscow court. The defense team is sure the verdict, which is to be announced Friday next week, will not be favorable. Prosecutors are demanding three years in jail for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich. On Wednesday in their final statements the three girls pleaded not guilty to charges of hooliganism driven by religious hatred. The charges stem from Pussy Riot’s controversial performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has fired his intelligence chief and the governor of Northern Sinai following the deadly attack on troops by suspected militants in Sinai, AP said. On Sunday, militants attacked the army posts, killing 16 soldiers, stole armored vehicles and drove into Israel to attempt another attack. Morsi also asked Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi on Wednesday to replace the commander of the military police. The force has been heavily used since the ouster 18 months ago of Hosni Mubarak.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich signed on Wednesday the new law on the language policy. The bill adopted by the parliament on July 3 significantly widens areas of the use of Russian and other languages, giving them regional status. Opponents say the new legislation undermines the status of the Ukrainian tongue. Yanukovich also ordered to create a working group to make amendments to the law and develop a policy of applying regional languages in practice to do away with the disagreements.
Israel charged a group of Israeli Arabs on Wednesday with helping to smuggle 20 kilograms of explosives into Israel via the border with Lebanon. Israeli security forces say Hezbollah militants have smuggled explosives into northern Israel to use them in attacks, AP said. The movement allegedly used a network of drug dealers on either side of the Lebanese-Israeli border. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 14 Israeli Arabs were arrested over the past few weeks in connection with the case. The arrests followed a months-long undercover operation.
The international credit rating agency Fitch on Wednesday affirmed Germany's top-notch triple-A (AAA) debt rating with a stable outlook. The affirmation reflects Germany's “longstanding credit strengths and robust economic performance over the past two years,” the rating agency said. It added that Germany has recorded strong GDP growth and a declining trend in unemployment. Fitch also warned that Germany “remains exposed to the systemic component of the crisis.” Last week, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services affirmed Germany's AAA credit status and maintained a stable outlook on the rating.
An 80-year-old woman set herself alight in Israel on Wednesday, Haaretz daily said. She was reportedly hospitalized in a serious condition with multiple second- and third-degree burns. The woman has become the fourth Israeli to self-immolate since last month amid protests against worsening living conditions.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan dropped 15 per cent in the first six months of 2012, despite a recent surge in militant attacks, the UN reported on Wednesday. The figures showed 1,145 civilian deaths between January 1 and June 30, as well as 1,954 civilians wounded. This is 15 per cent decrease over the same period last year. About a third of those killed or wounded were women or children. “We must remember that Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels,” Reuters quoted Nicholas Haysom, the UN's deputy director in the country, as saying. He called on all parties to increase their efforts to protect civilians. The issue has been one of the biggest irritants in relations between the Afghan government and the Western coalition.
Three Congolese republican guards were killed in an overnight attack at an airport at Lubumbashi, a UN military spokesman said on Wednesday. “Unidentified gunmen attacked Luano airport in Lubumbashi,” AFP quoted Ibrahim Diene of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force as saying. The attack in the country's second city took place late Tuesday. Lubumbashi is 1,600 kilometers from the capital Kinshasa.
At least 31 people have died after a crowded passenger bus has fallen into a mountain gorge in India's remote northeast, police say. Another 34 passengers were injured in the accident in the northeastern state of Meghalaya early Wednesday, state police chief N. Ramachandran said, as cited by AP. The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle. The bus was heading to Gauhati, the main city in neighboring Assam state.
Church shootings in central Nigeria have been followed by a mosque attack that killed two soldiers. Three gunmen on motorcycles shot dead soldiers on patrol in Okene outside the central mosque just after Muslim worshippers ended a prayer, army official Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi said on Wednesday, as cited by AP. The shooting on Tuesday came a day after a church attack in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Okene left 19 Christian worshippers dead. No group has claimed of responsibility for either attack. Boko Haram Islamist insurgency has attacked places of worship in other parts, evenly divided between Muslim and Christian targets.
The verdict on punk band Pussy Riot has been adjourned until next week, the judge has announced. The prosecution has demanded the punker rockers get a three year sentence for their “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Cathedral that has been branded as “blasphemy.” The women have pleaded not guilty to the charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, but have accepted they made an “ethical mistake.”
Some 2,400 people crossed into Turkey overnight to escape the violence in Syria, Turkey's media reported on Wednesday. The group of mostly women and children also included two generals and two colonels defecting from Syria's army, according to the Anadolu news agency. The number of refugees fleeing to Turkey in the past two days has increased as Syrian government troops are fighting rebels in Aleppo.
A suicide attack has killed three coalition troops in eastern Afghanistan, NATO has said. The troops died on Wednesday morning in the province of Kunar as the attack targeted a NATO foot patrol near the headquarters of the provincial government, AP reports. The local government says two suicide bombers on foot detonated their explosives outside the provincial council building. At least one Afghan civilian was killed and three were wounded in the blast. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the assault.
The Russian Defense Ministry has said reports that a Russian general was allegedly killed in Syria are a “brazen lie.” Such claims are rather an apparent provocation targeting Russian servicemen than reporting the news, the ministry's Press and Information Department told Interfax. General Vladimir Kuzheyev, who is mentioned in the reports, “was dismissed from military service in 2010,” the ministry said. “He resides in Moscow and is in good health,” it added.
Rebels fighting Syrian government forces in the city of Aleppo have abandoned their positions in a frontline district, Reuters reports, citing fighters. “We have retreated, get out of here,” a rebel said on Wednesday in the Salaheddine district. A checkpoint that had been manned by rebel fighters for the last week had disappeared. Lebanon's Al-Manar television also quoted a Syrian government security source as saying that Syrian forces were now in control of the Salaheddine district. Rebels reportedly started leaving positions after army tanks had entered Salaheddine.
The Velsk District Court in Russia’s Arkhangelsk Region has partially granted a request by the defense lawyers for Platon Lebedev, a former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky's business partner. Lebedev’s prison term was reduced on Wednesday by three years and four months, Interfax reports. Thus, Lebedev’s two sentences of 13 years have been reduced to nine years and eight months. The court's ruling may be appealed within 10 days. The lawyers urged the former Menatep head’s release from prison. A more lenient sentence is linked with a new version of Article 174.1 Part 3 of the Russian Criminal Code for the laundering of money and other property acquired in the crime. He was arrested in July 2002.
Some of the Iranians kidnapped by Syrian rebels are retired members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and military, according to Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Some of these Iranians “were retired IRGC and military members... and others were from other different departments,” Salehi was quoted by Iranian media as saying on Wednesday. However, he denied they now have any military connection. The FM insisted the Iranians were in Damascus for a religious pilgrimage.
Hurricane Ernesto came ashore on Mexico's Caribbean coast near the border with Belize late on Tuesday. Ernesto started the day as a tropical storm, and had sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour. The US National Hurricane Center said the storm was moving west at 24 kilometers per hour, and was expected to weaken as it moved across the Yucatan Peninsula, AP reports. Authorities earlier moved more than 1,300 tourists from resorts in Mahuahal, Balacar and other spots to Chetumal. The bayside city was expected to see less rain and wind than the coast.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has demanded that the prime minister explain why he has not taken action over corruption allegations against the president. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf must appear on August 27, the head of a five-judge panel said on Wednesday, as cited by AP. The court earlier ordered that the premier ask Swiss authorities to reopen an old corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari. The previous prime minister lost his job in June in a similar showdown, after saying that the president has immunity.
Nearly every fifth member (121 deputies) of the German parliament has signed a petition in support of three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Parliamentarians are referring to the 10th article of European Convention on Human Rights that guarantees the freedom of speech and art. Japanese artist Yoko Ono has joined the list of the band’s supporters, appealing in her micro-blog to the Russian president to free the three young women that are being tried for performing unsanctioned inside Russia’s central Cathedral of Jesus Christ the Savior.
Texas has executed a mentally disabled prisoner on Tuesday after a stay of execution was denied by the higher court just hours before he was scheduled to die. Marvin Wilson, 54, was convicted in 1992 for the murder of a police informant. Since then his legal team had been fighting for his life arguing that he should be ineligible for the death penalty as he had been diagnosed as “mentally retarded.” Wilson had an IQ of 61, which is lower than the minimum competency standard of 70.
Standard and Poor’s ratings agency has revised its outlook on Greece’s long-term rating to “negative” from “stable,” citing concerns about the implementation of budget reforms and the worsening economic conditions. The move means that the ratings firm may potentially downgrade the country’s credit rating should it fail to secure the next disbursement from the EU and IMF. "In our opinion, the deepening contraction in Greek GDP beyond the EU/IMF Program's assumptions and the related worsening of the fiscal position imply a high likelihood that Greece will require additional financing of as much as €7 billion (or 3.7 per cent of GDP) for 2012," S&P wrote in its report.