|Seven UN staff killed
in Afghan Koran protest
|MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - A mob enraged by a
Koran burning in the US stormed a UN compound in Afghanistan
and killed seven staff, the worst attack on the world body
in the country since the 2001 invasion.
Four Nepalese guards fought desperately against armed
protesters Friday but were overwhelmed and died with three
workers they were protecting at the compound in the normally
relatively calm city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the violence
following a battle lasting more than three hours in which
part of the building was burned down amid small-arms fire
and explosions, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
US President Barack Obama condemned the attack “in the
strongest possible terms”, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said
it was “an outrageous and cowardly attack”.
The UN did not announce the nationalities of the three
civilian staff killed. But Sweden named one as 33-year-old
Swede, Joakim Dungel. Norway said Lieutenant Colonel Siri
Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot, was killed. Diplomats
said the third was a Romanian.
The attackers broke away from a large demonstration in the
city against the burning of a Koran, Islam’s holy book, by a
US pastor in Florida.
“Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the
building” and set it on fire, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le
Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council at UN
headquarters in New York.
“The security guards, who were the Gurkhas, tried their best
but the number was so high that they were not able to
He denied reports that two of the dead were beheaded but
said one victim had his throat cut.
UN officials said the Gurkhas, security mainstays in many
world trouble spots, were believed to have killed a number
of assailants before they were overcome.
Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor said five other
people, thought to be protesters, were also killed while at
least 20 people were wounded in the fighting. About 20
people were arrested, he said.
A police spokesman said demonstrators seized weapons from
guards before turning them on the staff.
An unknown number of UN staff were wounded and had been
evacuated, Le Roy said. But the Mazar-i-Sharif base would
remain open, he insisted, adding that he did not believe the
United Nations had been a specific target.
Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and a top peacekeeping
official had left for Afghanistan to conduct a review of
security at UN facilities, Le Roy said.
The 15-nation UN Security Council held a special meeting on
the incident, calling on the Afghan government to step up
protection for UN workers.
Hundreds of people had taken to the streets of
Mazar-i-Sharif to protest against last month’s Koran
burning, and local police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai
said Taliban militants had infiltrated the demonstrators.
He told AFP that “two of the killed UN staff were beheaded”.
But accounts of the killings were conflicting, with police
official General Abdul Rauf Taj saying that “according to
the initial reports... none have been beheaded. They were
shot in the head”.
Friday’s attack was the worst suffered by the world body
since a bomb blast at the UN compound in Algiers in 2007 in
which 17 staff died.
In the last major attack on the UN in Afghanistan, five of
its foreign staff were killed when three gunmen wearing
explosives-packed vests attacked a Kabul guesthouse in
In 2003 an attack on the UN’s office in Baghdad killed 22
staffers, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Before Friday’s violence Afghanistan had condemned the
“disrespectful and abhorrent” burning of the Koran at the
Dove World Outreach Center, an evangelical church in
Gainesville, Florida, calling it an effort to incite tension
Pastor Terry Jones, the head of the church, told AFP that
“we don’t feel responsible” for the attack, adding: “The
radical element of Islam takes (the burning) as an excuse to
promote their violent activities.”
The protest in Mazar-i-Sharif began after the traditional
The crowd called on the Afghan government to cut ties with
the United States if the cleric behind the Koran burning was
not prosecuted, and to declare the presence of foreign
troops in Afghanistan illegal.
Palestinians killed in Israeli Gaza strike
|GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - Hamas on
Saturday warned Israel of “consequences” after its latest
air strike on Gaza killed three members of the radical
Islamist group’s armed wing.
Medical staff and witnesses said earlier one Palestinian was
also wounded in the air strike in the southern Gaza Strip.
They said the target was a car driving between the town of
Khan Yunis and the Deir al-Balah refugee camp.
Witnesses said they saw three charred bodies dragged from
the burnt-out vehicle.
An Israeli military spokesman said the raid, planned jointly
with the Shin Bet domestic security agency, was a preemptive
strike against militants planning to kidnap Israelis during
the coming Jewish festival of Passover.
“An Israel Air Force aircraft hit a Hamas terror cell...
planning to carry out kidnapping attacks in the Sinai
Peninsula and in Israel during the Passover holiday,” he
The Sinai coast of neighbouring Egypt is a popular
destination for Israelis during the week-long holiday which
begins on April 18 and commemorates the biblical Exodus of
the Israelites from Egypt.
Hamas said in a statement the three dead were members of the
Islamist group’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas identified them as Ismael Lubbad, Abdallah Lubbad
and Mohammed Eldayah.
The air strike is a “serious escalation” and Israel “will
bear all the consequences”, the Brigades warned.
Israeli public opinion is still inflamed over the capture by
militants of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border
raid into Israel in 2006.
Shalit is still missing, believed held somewhere in the Gaza
On Wednesday an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza killed
an Islamic Jihad militant and wounded another, but generally
the past few days have seen a return to relative calm after
a spate of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and
Israeli counterstrikes on Gaza.
The spate of tit-for-tat violence began on March 16 when
a rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in southern
Israel, without causing casualties or damage.
Within hours, the Israeli air force hit back, killing two
militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in what some
saw as a disproportionate response.
Two days later, Hamas militants responded, firing a barrage
of around 50 mortar shells at the southern Israeli city of
Beersheva in the fiercest bombardment in two years.
On Sunday the Israeli military made a trial deployment
outside Beersheva of the first batteries of its “Iron Dome”
short-range missile defence system. But officials said that
the multi-million dollar system, the first of its kind in
the world, could not yet provide complete protection from
all the rockets and mortar bombs fired from Gaza into
Israel. Each battery comprises detection and tracking radar,
state-of-the-art fire control software and three launchers,
each with 20 interceptor missiles, military sources said.
Despite the spike in tensions, both Israel and the
militant Islamic Hamas, which rules Gaza, appear reluctant
to be dragged into another bloody confrontation along the
lines of the December 2008-January 2009 war, which killed
more than 1,400 people, the vast majority Palestinians.
|Arming Libyan rebels
risks diplomatic showdown
UNITED NATIONS, (AFP)
- The nations staging air strikes on Moamer Kadhafi’s forces
will be heading into a diplomatic minefield if they arm
Libyan rebels as well, according to experts and envoys at
With international law specialists warning that any supplies
would breach the UN Security Council arms embargo that the
United States, Britain and France all voted for, diplomats
say a council showdown would certainly follow if evidence
emerges of deliveries.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Prime
Minister David Cameron have both said they believe UN
resolutions on Libya allow arming the rebels.
“Many countries would certainly strongly oppose any attempt
to interpret the current resolutions as permitting arms
supplies,” one senior diplomat on 15-nation council
responded, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Western allies stress that no decision has been taken to
arm the rebels, but experts on both sides of the divide are
frantically scanning past UN resolutions and international
Resolution 1970 passed on February 26 ordered the Libya arms
embargo. Resolution 1973 voted by 10 nations, with five
abstaining, on March 17 called on all nations to cooperate
to ensure “strict implementation” of the prohibition.
Britain and America are arguing, however, that part of
Resolution 1973, which allows member states “to take all
necessary measures ... to protect civilians” gives the
wiggle room for military assistance to the rebels.
“It is our interpretation that 1973 amended or overrode the
absolute prohibition of arms to anyone in Libya so that
there could be legitimate transfer of arms if a country were
to choose to do that,” the US secretary of state said this
Most international legal experts scoff at that
Philippe Sands, a specialist on international law at
University College London, said it would be “curious indeed”
for the Security Council to strengthen the embargo whilst
simultaneously authorizing arms supplies to protect
“Whilst the matter cannot be free from all doubt, the better
reading of resolution 1973 is that it does not allow the
supply of arms to anyone involved in the conflict,” he told
“Whilst a clever argument can be made to the contrary, it is
not immediately attractive or persuasive, and it would take
us back into the dangerous and divisive situation of Iraq
and Resolution 1441. Anyone who wants to be able to supply
arms to the rebels should go back to the Security Council or
its Sanctions Committee and get proper, clear authorisation.”
Philippe Moreau Defarges, a specialist on international law
at the French Institute for International Relations in
Paris, agreed that Resolution 1973 “clearly” does not allow
arms deliveries to the rebels.
But he added that it probably would not stop the countries
that decide to start supplies.
“The history of international relations shows that in these
cases states can always justify these deliveries. In this
case they are going to say that Kadhafi was a tyrant who is
committing crimes against his people. They will say that it
is a duty of all civilized states to give help.”
With the contradictions, no country is openly calling for
arms for anti-Kadhafi fighters and NATO chief Anders Fogh
Rasmussen said Thursday he opposed such a move.
“I’m not ruling it out. But I’m also not ruling it in. We’re
still making an assessment,” US President Barack Obama said
on Tuesday. Cameron gave a similar comment.
France is “prepared to discuss this with our partners,”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at a London
conference on Libya this week. But he and Defence Minister
Gerard Longuet have said such assistance is not compatible
with Resolution 1973.
NATO has taken over the military command for the air strikes
but even talk of arming the rebels causes tensions in the
alliance. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said
on Thursday that it would be “conducive to terrorism.”
gunmen kidnap 16: Police
(AFP) - Philippine tribal gunmen kidnapped 16 teachers and
students and were threatening to kill them if a rescue
attempt was launched, police and local officials said
Members of the Manobo tribe seized the hostages -- who
include several minors -- from a number of schools in La
Prosperidad, on the southern island of Mindanao on Friday, a
police official and the local mayor said.
Alvin Magdamit, mayor of La Prosperidad, said a negotiating
team was in contact with the kidnappers’ leader Reyjoy
Speaking to negotiators by cellphone, Brital threatened to
kill the captives if a rescue attempt was launched.
“They should behave because if they continue to come into
our area we will make an example out of the hostages,”
Brital was heard saying in the local dialect.
Brital, a former communist insurgent who later returned to
legal activities, is demanding the release of fellow
tribesman Ondo Perez, who was jailed for kidnapping 79
people in 2009.
Government negotiators had promised not to arrest Perez if
he freed his hostages but police seized him once they were