Obama: Syrian chemical strike would force U.S. to ‘rethink’

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the United States would “rethink” its policy on Syria if he receives proof that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.

But he expressed caution about recent intelligence reports, telling a White House news conference: “I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.”

“If I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident in the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer,” he warned.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has been accused of using weapons loaded with nerve agents against targets in civilian areas during its battle with an armed rebellion against his rule.

Washington has previously warned that the use of so-called weapons of mass destruction would be a “red line” that Assad must not cross if he is to avoid triggering an international response.

Obama did not rule out eventual U.S. military action, but remained cautious.

“By game changer, I mean we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us. We are invested in trying to bring back a solution inside of Syria,” he told reporters.

AFP / Al Arabiya

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CIA-funded corruption: Karzai admits to being on secret US payroll

Top Afghan officials have been on the CIA’s payroll for over a decade, receiving tens of millions of US dollars in cash. Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted to receiving the clandestine financial support, but dismissed the sum as a “small amount.”

A New York Times report has revealed that unparalleled corruption in the Afghan government has been encouraged by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Since the start of the decade-long war, CIA agents have delivered cash to Afghan officials in “suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags.”

“We called it ‘ghost money,’” said Khalil Roman, President Hamid Karzai’s former chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, adding that it “came in secret, and it left in secret.” There is no evidence that President Karzai was a recipient of any of the money, as Afghan officials claim the cash was distributed by president’s National Security Council, the report said.

Russia Today, Moscow

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Deep-seated animosity trumps Palestinian calls for unity

After Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned, Palestinian politicians immediately called for elections and a national unity government to reconcile bitter rivals Fatah and Hamas.

But entrenched animosity between the two sides, stretching beyond disagreement over Fayyad, suggested that any thaw in relations between Fatah and Hamas, which control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively, would be slow.

In Fayyad’s first weekly radio address after resigning, the now caretaker premier called for “a general election as the only way to rebuild our political system and achieve our national goals,” namely statehood, which would first require intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

“Just as there is no state without Jerusalem as its eternal capital, there is no state without the Gaza Strip, a part that cannot be partitioned from it,” Fayyad said.

Hamas leaders met Friday in Doha, the base of the Islamist movement’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, saying they would discuss “Palestinian reconciliation and developments in the Palestinian arena following Fayyad’s resignation.”

A senior member of President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah party, meanwhile, called on his leader to “hold consultations with Palestinian movements to form a national unity government and set a date for elections.”

AFP / Al Arabiya

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Iraqi PM calls for dialogue, warns of attempts to spark new sectarian war

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned on Thursday of a return to “sectarian civil war,” with 169 people killed in three days of violence and troops surrounding a town held by gunmen.

Maliki urged ordinary Iraqis “to take the initiative, and not be silent about those who want to take the country back to sectarian civil war,” in remarks broadcast on state television.

“Demands will be met through dialogue,” Maliki said. “What can be achieved through dialogue can never be achieved with terrorism.”

“If a sectarian conflict stirs up in the country, there will be no winner; everyone will be a loser,” Maliki added.

Al Arabiya, United Arab Emirates

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Netanyahu says Lebanon drone incident ‘extremely grave’

The Israeli air force on Thursday shot down an unmanned drone several miles off the coast of the northern port city of Haifa after it entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon, the military said.

“I view with great gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel’s citizens,” Reuters reported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying in a statement.

The military said the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was detected in Lebanese skies and intercepted by a F-16 fighter jet some five nautical miles (9 km) from the Israeli port city of Haifa.

The Israeli navy was searching for the wreckage in the sea.

It is the second known instance in which the Lebanese militant group, a bitter Israeli enemy, has sent a drone into Israeli airspace. Last October, the Israeli air force shot down an unmanned aircraft in a similar incident.

Al Arabiya, United Arab Emirates

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Serbia president ‘apologises’ for massacre

Serbia’s nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic has personally apologised for the first time for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims, but stopped short of calling it genocide.

“I kneel and ask for forgiveness for Serbia for the crime committed in Srebrenica,” Nikolic said on Thursday in an interview to be aired on Bosnian national television parts of which have been released on You Tube.

“I apologise for the crimes committed by any individual in the name of our state and our people,” he said in the interview.

Nikolic’s office confirmed to AFP news agency the authenticity of the statement.

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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Musharraf arrested over Bhutto murder case

General Pervez Musharraf has been formally arrested in relation to the Benazir Bhutto murder case.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said that Musharraf will remain at his Chak Shahzad farmhouse residence but will be produced at the anti-terrorist court in Rawalpindi on Friday.

“The Musharraf case has many implications given the fact that the country is less than two weeks away from election,” he said.

“It will be the responsibility of the new elected government to deal with this important issue.

“He has admirers no doubt. Many of the powerful political parties were all on board with the former military ruler.”

AL Jazeera, Qatar

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