As German society debates about whether circumcision amounts to grievous bodily harm, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed his German counterpart, arguing that the ritual is “at the core of Jewish identity," AFP reports. The move comes after criminal charges were filed against a German rabbi for performing circumcision less than two months after a Cologne court ruled that the religious act causes bodily harm to children. Circumcision is "a Jewish ritual that has been at the core of Jewish identity for thousands of years and defines the Jewish people, from the time of the first commandment given by God to Abraham," Peres wrote in the letter. "I am therefore confident, Mr President, that Germany, in keeping with its values, will remain committed to conduct their Jewish religious traditions in freedom."
Israel's foreign ministry summoned South Africa's ambassador to formally protest Pretoria's decision to mark goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with labels reading "Occupied Palestinian Territory", AFP reports. Ambassador Ismail Coovadia was summoned to the ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. Israel blasted Pretoria’s decision as "blatant discrimination" against the Jewish state, while South Africa argued the move was consistent with its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "This is in line with South Africa's stance that recognizes the 1948 borders delineated by the United Nations and does not recognize occupied territories beyond these borders as being part of the state of Israel," said South African government spokesman Jimmy Manyi.
Iran is said to have installed a large number of uranium enrichment machines in an underground bunker in its Fordow facility, unnamed diplomatic sources said. The Fordow facility, located near the city of Qom, is buried deep inside of a mountain to protect it from potential attack. A Vienna-based diplomatic source said that while they understood Iran was continuing to install new centrifuges at the site, none of them were yet operational, Reuters reports. While the sources say the expansion proves Iran is preparing to ramp up its uranium enrichment activity in order to make a bomb, Tehran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful in nature.
Cairo’s criminal court ordered the chief editor of an Egyptian newspaper to be detained pending trial. He’s charged with insulting the country’s president and “spreading lies,” the AP reported Thursday. The trial of Islam Afifi of the privately owned el-Dustour daily was scheduled for mid-September. Afifi`s case has been criticized by human rights organizations who have noted a number of recent trials aimed at silencing criticism of Islamists and the government.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is forming a special Iran team composed of experts in weapons technology, intelligence analysis, radiation and other relevant fields as it seeks to beef up its probe on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, diplomats told the Associated Press. The reorganization will see a “dedicated team” of some 20 experts drawn from the UN nuclear agency, though Russia has expressed concern that too much attention would be put on intelligence gathering. The move comes as the international standoff over Tehran’s uranium enrichment program has led some Western powers to threaten a military strike against the Islamic republic.
Three Syrian warplanes entered Iraqi airspace while carrying out raids on alleged Free Syrian Army (FSA) positions on Thursday, Iraqi officials said. The fighters reportedly remained within Iraq for 15 minutes over the western province of Anbar to carry out air strikes against the Syrian border town of Al Bukamal. But the mayor of Al Qaim, the Iraqi town across the border from Al Bukamal, said that while there had been attacks on the Syrian side of the border, the planes did not cross into Iraqi airspace.
A Ugandan activist group has threatened demonstrations if the country's military does not withdraw its troops from Somalia. Bernard Luyiga, head of the Citizen Coalition on Somalia, on Thursday criticized the secrecy surrounding Uganda's involvement in Somalia, where Ugandan servicemen form the bulk of an African Union peacekeeping force, AP said. Three Ugandan army helicopters recently crashed in Kenya en route to Somalia, killing seven soldiers. Officials have not revealed how many soldiers have been killed by Islamist insurgents in Somalia. Ugandan military spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye dismissed the threat of protests, saying Uganda has “a substantial interest in the stability of Somalia.”
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on the government on Thursday to adopt an “economy of resistance” to confront Western sanctions. The country’s “full potential” should be used, he said, as cited by AFP. “In this kind of economy the nation's progress is preserved and vulnerability of the economy against the enemies’ plots is decreased,” Khamenei told cabinet members and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader did not specifically mentioned sanctions or Iran’s nuclear program.
More than 900 German police officers raided homes and clubhouses of suspected neo-Nazis on Thursday, security officials said. The raids to collect evidence came after North Rhine-Westphalia state Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger banned three local neo-Nazi groups, AP said. Jaeger described the groups as “anti-foreigner, racist and anti-Semitic.” Police seized far-right propaganda material and weapons in the crackdown. Officials last month estimated that the wider membership of neo-Nazi groups in Germany fell to 22,400 last year from 25,000 in 2010. However, the number of far-right extremists prepared to use violence reportedly grew to 9,800 from 9,500.
Norway’s confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will not appeal if he is sentenced to prison, according to his defense lawyer. But he will challenge any ruling that declares him insane, lawyer Geir Lippestad said. He spoke to the client on Thursday, and said Breivik would accept a prison sentence. He will only appeal “if committed to psychiatric care,” AP quoted Lippestad as saying. The Oslo District Court is due to present its judgment against Breivik on Friday.
Turkish and US officials reportedly began their first "operational planning" meeting on Thursday aimed at bringing about the end of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. The meeting is intended to coordinate military, intelligence and political responses to the crisis in Syria. The delegations at the Ankara meeting are reportedly led by Turkish Foreign Ministry Deputy Under-Secretary Halit Cevik and US Ambassador Elisabeth Jones. Intelligence agents, military officials and diplomats are involved in the talks, a Turkish Foreign Ministry source told AFP. US President Barack Obama recently warned Syria that any movement or usage of its chemical weapons would be a “red line” and would change his perspective on how to respond to the conflict.
Cracks in the steel reactor vessels of two nuclear plants in the Belgium were first found in 1979, a paper said on Thursday. The country’s nuclear regulator announced this month that ultrasonic tests had showed the possibility of hairline cracks in the steel vessel housing the reactor at the Doel 3 nuclear plant near Antwerp, AP said. The plant was offline this summer for a regular safety check. De Morgen newspaper said, however, that it had reported that cracks had been found in the reactor vessels of both plants 33 years ago. It also quoted Roger De Wulf, the minister of labor at the time, as saying in December 1979 that there were abnormalities and possible cracks in reactor vessels at the plants.
Slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam will go on trial in September in the town of Zintan, the prosecution's spokesman said on Thursday. Seif has been held in the town since last November. “A committee from the prosecutor general's office has completed its investigation into the crimes committed by Seif al-Islam [Gaddafi] from the start of the revolution on February 15  and has prepared the charge sheet,” spokesman Taha Nasser Baara told AFP. The International Criminal Court in The Hague had issued a warrant for Seif's arrest on charges of crimes against humanity.
A Bahrain judge on Thursday overturned a conviction against a prominent human rights campaigner for posting alleged anti-government comments on social media. But Nabeel Rajab remained jailed while appealing another prison sentence, AP reports. He is facing next month’s challenge of a three-year sentence for his role in allegedly encouraging protesters to clash with security forces. Rajab has already served more than half of his three-month sentence. Bahrain's government attributed the judge's ruling to “uncertainty regarding the evidence submitted to support the lawsuit.”
Italy will host international talks on the future of Syria after President Bashar al-Assad leaves power, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said on Thursday. The talks, to be held “in the coming days,” will concern security, institution building, economic reconstruction and humanitarian aspects, the minister wrote in La Repubblica daily. The Foreign Ministry officials told AFP the meeting “will be held next week in Rome at the level of senior officials from like-minded countries.”
At least two people were killed on Thursday and 18 injured, six of them seriously, when a hot air balloon crashed and caught fire in Slovenia. Other reports said four passengers had died after the balloon crashed into a tree in a storm. Police said six children were among the passengers. The incident south of the capital Ljubljana happened at around 06:00 GMT. The hot air balloon was reportedly carrying 32 passengers.
Clashes between gunmen in the anti-Assad Sunni stronghold of Bab al-Tabbaneh and in the Alawite-dominated pro-Assad Jabal Mohsen district, in Lebanon’s second-largest city of Tripoli are continuing despite a ceasefire agreement between rival groups. At least 12 people have been killed, including a soldier, and wounding over 76 since Monday, media reports say. The army denied that it had withdrawn from conflict zones and called on political leaders “not to intervene on the ground.” UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said that “the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate” and the Lebanese government needs international support.
A man has reportedly thrown a Molotov cocktail at the motorcade of Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she visited Chisinau on Wednesday. Security services officers immediately detained a 24-year-old man, whose motives were not immediately clear. The car carrying Merkel was not damaged. Other reports say the man only planned to hurl a bottle, but it started to burn in his bag. Merkel traveled around Chisinau in an armored Audi car leased by Moldovan security services in Germany, Interfax said.
The nominal head of North Korea will visit Iran to attend an international summit next week, Pyongyang’s state media said on Thursday. As Kim Jong-un is de-facto ruler of the country, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-nam represents North Korea in most diplomatic affairs. Iran and North Korea are suspected of being close partners in nuclear and missile technology. The Non-Aligned Movement summit will run from Sunday to Friday.
Beijing will provide US$4.76 million worth of emergency humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Two batches of aid will soon be delivered to the states, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. The aid was offered to “show Chinese people's friendly sentiments toward Syrian people,” the ministry stressed. China provided $2 million in cash assistance to Syrians through the International Committee of the Red Cross in March.
Editor-in-chief of Egypt’s Al-Dustour newspaper Islam Afifi is set to stand trial on Thursday on charges of publishing “false information” insulting to Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi. He will stand before the Giza Criminal Court in Cairo. Human rights groups have urged the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood to accept public criticism without applying Mubarak-era laws limiting freedom of expression. Afifi is accused of having published information which could “undermine and destabilize” Egypt. Tawfiq Okasha, owner of the private channel Al-Faraeen, was also accused of “incitement.”
The first unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) will become operational by October 2012, Minister of State in the prime minister’s office V. Narayanasamy said. Another 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor will start work in September 2014, he told parliament in a written reply on Wednesday. The two 1,000 MW units of KNPP were initially scheduled to be completed in December 2008. “The project was initially delayed due to non-sequential receipt of equipment from the Russian Federation and subsequently due to local protests impeding the work,” the minister said. The government of Tamil Nadu state resumed the construction of the plant in March despite continuing protests of opponents of atomic energy. The plant is being constructed in cooperation with Russia’s Atomstroyexport company based on the 1988 agreement.
Nine policemen and servicemen were killed and four injured in militants’ attacks in Russia's North Caucasus from August 11-17, police have said. Five civilians also died and three others were injured in attacks by militants, Interfax reports. As North Caucasus militants were more active during the week, 20 terrorist attacks were registered, including 13 gun attacks and seven bombings. Most of the attacks were organized to attempt on the lives of law enforcement personnel and to intimidate local entrepreneurs. Two militants were killed and two others were arrested during 23 security operations that week.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear program and the situation in Syria. The 120-member organization of mainly developing countries will convene in the Iranian capital on August 29-31. UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Wednesday that Ban will participate in the summit because he is determined to carry out his responsibilities to the Nonalignment Movement. The UN secretary general is also expected to meet with Iran’s leadership and raise concerns over their calls for the destruction of Israel, which violate the UN Charter. His visit came despite strong opposition from Israel and Jewish groups that were outraged at Tehran’s threats.