[Tolo News] The Afghan Ministry of Education said that the school poisoning in Takhar Wednesday was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan and called on those responsible to cease their attacks.
Deputy Minister of Education Asef Nang urged the Taliban and any other Death Eaters to stop attacking schools and students and to allow children their freedom to receive an education.
Wednesday's incident in northern Takhar province saw as many as 100 school girls from Bibi Hajera high school in the lovely provincial capital Taluqan poisoned with what appears to be an air-borne material, and sent to hospital.
The incident was the second of its type in Takhar and at least the fourth in Afghanistan this year.
"Such incidents are so worrying," Nang told TOLOnews Thursday. "Whether it's school burnings or student poisonings, the enemies of Afghanistan and education are behind such incidents."
"We can't specifically pin this on either the Taliban or Hezb-e-Islami unless they claim the responsibility, but I say it's the job of the enemies of education."
[Tolo News] Several politicians have criticised recent statements made by Afghanistan's Minister of Economy where he accused foreigners of spending money heedlessly in Afghanistan.
The reactions from other political players have largely contradicted the Minister Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal's comments, with one critic arguing that without that foreign money, there would be no Minister of Economy.
"The current government was established with the help of foreigners. If there were no foreign donations, there would have been no minister holding his position today," Afghanistan's National Front party member Fazel Rahman Oryakhil told TOLOnews.
Arghandiwal said Wednesday that the foreigners have come to Afghanistan for their own interests and accused them of corruption and poor accountability in spending as much as $49 billion in country.
Another member of Afghanistan's National Front said that if the Afghan Foreign Ministry fails to correct such statements, Afghanistan will face a major political confusion.
"The Foreign Ministry should not allow every government official comment on the country's politics from any tribal, political and regional point of view," the member said.
Rights and Justice Party member Abdul Abbas Noyan also called for the government to prevent such comments saying that it showed a lack of good governance.
"All such statements are due to lack of good governance. President Karzai should question him about his statements," Noyan said.
Others commented that it was also wrong to say such things because the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan was very important at this time in order to prevent invasion of neighboring countries.
Tehran funding a third of Afgan media in attempt to gain foothold in country to counter US influence.
With most foreign combat troops set to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, Iran is is using the media in the war-ravaged nation to gain influence, a worrying issue for Washington.
Nearly a third of Afghanistan's media is backed by Iran, either financially or through providing content, Afghan officials and media groups say.
"What Iran wants, what they are striving at, is a power base in Afghanistan that can counter American influence," said a senior government official, who like others for this report, spoke to Rooters on condition of anonymity.
"They are without a doubt doing this through supporting and funding our media."
Iran spends $100 million a year in Afghanistan, much of it on the media, civil society projects and religious schools, says Daud Moradian, a former foreign ministry adviser who now teaches at the American University in Kabul.
"It is using Afghanistan to send a message to America that it can't be messed with. Afghanistan becomes a managed battlefield as a result."
Officials in Tehran could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts and the Iranian embassy in Kabul said it was not prepared to talk about the issues raised in this report.
Iran is indeed a problem for the Afghans, and the challenges are not limited to the media.
Infiltration of Pakistan, Iran in Afghan Medias: NDS
He also said, a number of Pakistani spies are also working in Shamshad TV which broadcasts in Pushto language
Officials in the Afghan Intelligence Department (National Directorate for Security) announced a number of the local TV channels and a News Agency was financially supported by neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
A spokesman for the Afghan National Directorate for Security Lotfullah Mashal said, a number of the programs broadcasted by these TV channels and News Agency are displayed with a motive to disrupt the thinking of the Afghan people.
(Sh.M.Network)-The Kenya Defence Force is scheduled to join the second and final stage of the operation to flush out al-Shabaab ... Somalia's version of the Taliban, functioning as an arm of al-Qaeda... Orcs and similar vermin from Somalia next month.
The offensive will be launched after the KDF sign a Memorandum of Understanding to formally join the African Mission inSomaliaby the end of the month.
A Kenyan delegation is scheduled to sign the MoU between May 26 and 28 after which it is expected to flush out the Orcs and similar vermin from the portof Kismayu where they will set up base.
In the latest strategy, KDF is expected to dislodge al-Shabaab from Kismayu and jointly occupy it withSierra Leonetroops who have joined the Amisom. The area comprises Gedon, Upper andLower Jubba.
The deputy Amisom spokesperson Captain Gilbert Nitunga said KDF is expected to sign the MoU before the second stage of operation against the terror group is launched in four fronts by Amisom in June.
Sector one, which includes Banadir area with Mogadishu as it's headquarters, comprises middle and lower Shabelle, Marka port, Balcad and Barawe, will be under the Ugandan and Burundi forces which will also take care of Bay, Bakool and parts of the Gedo region.
Sector four of the offensive will be under the Djibouti military in Amisom who will take over Hiraan, area and set up base at Beledweyne.
Amisom says that the strategy is to flush Al-Shabaab out of the country and make it governable. "The next step is to move out further into other regions of the country after securing Mogadishu especially are troop levels from all troop contributing countries rises to the expected 17,731 from all the rive countries participating. We have cut out all routes used by the Orcs and similar vermin to launch attacks inMogadishu," Captain Nitunga said.
South Korea plans to increase the number of ballistic and cruise missiles with a view to incapacitating North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in an emergency. The government and military aim to spend some W2.5 trillion (US$1=W1,170) over the next five years to secure 500-600 new cruise and ballistic missiles.
A government source on Sunday said, "Given the mounting threat of provocations from the North since Kim Jong-un took power, the Defense Ministry reported to President Lee Myung-bak last month a plan to increase missile capabilities in response to asymmetric threats from the North."
The military will boost the number of new Hyunmu-3 series cruise missiles, which have a range of between 500 and 1500 km and the Hyunmu-2 ballistic missiles, which have a 300 km range. Both were unveiled last month. They are supposed to incapacitate the North's nuclear weapons facilities, Rodong and Scud missile bases, biochemical weapons facilities, command facilities, and Air Force bases in the early stage of a war to prevent or minimize damage to South Korea.
The Hyunmu-3 cruise missile can hit targets with 1-3 m accuracy, and the Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile with 50 m accuracy. Each of the new missiles costs about W4 billion.
They need to find a way to neutralize their heavy artillery, which they roll in and out of hidey-holes. Perhaps cluster munitions dropped in suspected areas that blow up on command from a video drone or if they sense movement or something.
Two senior U.S. figures apparently flew to Pyongyang aboard a U.S. Air Force plane in a secret mission six days before North Korea's failed rocket launch on April 13.
But don't tell anyone because it was a secret...
"At around 7:40 a.m. on April 7, a U.S. Air Force Boeing 737 entered North Korea," a diplomatic source in Seoul said. "The aircraft flew from Guam and into North Korea along the same route on the West Sea used by former President Kim Dae-jung during his visit to the North back in 2000."
Experts speculate that the plane carried Joseph Di Trani, a nuclear negotiator in the George W. Bush administration, and Sydney Seiler, a National Security Council advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama.
The secret visit appears to have been a last-ditch effort by Washington to stop North Korea from pressing ahead with the rocket launch.
Chinese security forces launched a massive crackdown on North Korean defectors in Jilin Province's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on May 15. Chinese officials say the crackdown is part of a nationwide bust of illegal aliens, but there are suspicions that the drive specifically targets North Korean defectors hiding out in northeastern China as well as South Korean activists and religious organizations who are helping them.
Security forces in Yanbian told reporters the crackdown will continue until October and aims to wipe out all the places where North Korans hide, Chinese media reported on Thursday. "Due to its proximity to the border [with North Korea], Yanbian has been the scene of illegal border crossings and other crimes," said Yanbian immigration chief Li Yong-xue. "If we find illegal immigrants or foreigners without proper documentation, we will investigate immediately."
He also pledged to "root out activities by foreign NGOs or religious activists that violate laws or have a negative impact on national security and social stability."
North Korean defectors caught in Yanbian or neighboring areas are expected to be arrested and sent back to the North, while South Koreans who help them worry about criminal investigation and deportation.
Around 10,000-15,000 defectors and other illegal migrants from the North are believed to be living in Yanbian. Some 10,000 South Koreans live there as well. "State security agents already informed Korean residents groups there that they will boost screening of immigration and residency requirements," said one South Korean businessman in Yanbian. "North Korean defectors here are going into hiding."
"There was no hacking involved at all," says William McCants, a jihadi research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research and development center serving the Navy. "They [the State Department team] overtly message on non-jihadi forums that anybody can sign up for. They represent themselves as a member of the US government. By law they have to identify themselves." Not covertly hacking. Counter-advertising.
The State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was set up about a year and a half ago with the goal of doing better at countering Al Qaeda propaganda and recruiting efforts that occur on public forums across the Internet, which is located at the State Department offices but includes representatives of many other branches of the US government.
Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department who won Clinton's backing, was an early backer of the center, he says. President Obama in September issued a directive formally establishing the center and laying out its mission. So now that you know who started it, you can appreciate its real purpose was to provide bragging rights for the re-election.
"The challenge was that for so long the Bush US government wasn't really doing any messaging against Al Qaeda," McCants says. "Whenever one of their statements went out, nothing was said -- which makes sense at a high level since you don't want to dignify it with response. But there was also a feeling that we were missing a chance to meet Al Qaeda at a tactical level as it tries to target their propaganda at populations they want to recruit. Now we've got digital engagement set up to go into places where Al Qaeda is pushing their message and to push back against it."
In the specific instance mentioned by Clinton, Al Qaeda supporters apparently posted a picture of coffins holding US servicemen -- draped with American flags and prepared to be loaded onto a cargo airplane, according to McCants. The message bragged about how many Americans Al Qaeda had killed.
What the State Department did was to run a counter message with a similar picture -- but with the coffins draped with Yemeni flags and noting how many Yemenis the terrorist group had killed -- the flags apparently Photoshopped onto the picture. Clever, eh? High-tech hacking? No.
A US man convicted of trying to help al-Qaeda is learning his sentence from a federal judge in Texas.
Barry Walter Bujol Jr. was convicted last year of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and of aggravated identity theft. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Thursday.
A court action brought by a Pakistani student whose father was killed in a suspected US missile strike last year could force Britain to reveal whether it gives America intelligence for drone attacks on terrorist suspects.
Human rights lawyers acting on behalf of Noor Khan are seeking a judicial review aimed at forcing the Foreign Secretary to say whether there is such a policy, in a case which threatens to expose ministers to allegations of war crimes, it was reported.
The US has used hundreds of drone strikes against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan since 2004 -- a tactic it has also deployed to attack militants based in Yemen.
It has been seen to have played a key role in thwarting terror plots against the West.
Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, told a newspaper he would be "astonished" if British agents were not giving their US counterparts information to help them locate terrorist suspects.
"I believe it to be true that our intelligence information in certain cases has pinpointed targets for attacks and those attacks do amount to extra-judicial killing," Mr Clarke said.
"From a political point of view the whole question of our intelligence involvement in drone attacks is a political hot potato."
Mr Khan, whose father is one of hundreds of civilians who say they have lost innocent friends or relatives in the drone attacks in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.
Daud Khan and at least 40 other people from the same tribe died when a meeting of elders was struck by a missile thought to have been fired from a CIA drone on March 17, 2011.
[Tolo News] Afghan refugees living in Pakistain's semi-autonomous region Kheybar Pakhtunkhuwa have been given one month to either leave the country or they risk facing detention, Pak media reported.
To send "illegal" Afghans back to their country, the district administration in Beautiful Downtown Peshawar had initially set May 25 as a deadline to leave before local police would apprehend the Afghans and deport them or detain them.
Some Afghan refugees currently staying in the Kheybar Pakhtunkhuwa refugee camp raised their concerns about the issue, asking the government of Afghanistan to pay serious attention in order to solve the problem.
"Pakistain gave us one month notice to exit, but we are working here, we have built a living here," one of the refugees told TOLOnews in Peshawar.
"The [Afghan] government should try hard to tackle this issue."
Representative of Afghanistan's Ministry of Immigrants and Repatriates Abdul Hamid Jalili said that government together with the Afghan general consulate in Kheybar Pakhtunkhuwa are in negotiations with Pak officials.
"To solve the issue, Ministry of Immigrants and Repatriates together with General Consulate of Afghanistan in the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa are negotiating with Pak officials," Jalili said.
[Tolo News] Afghanistan's former minister of commerce and economic analyst said that Pakistain's decision to hike the transit price for US containers headed for Afghanistan is a clear violation of international norms and standards.
Mohammad Amin Farhang said that Pakistain's actions may be an attempt to recover its decreased income on the back of reduced US financial aid.
"As Pakistain is recently [more] isolated, it is trying different ways to overcome the situation - the decrease of US financial aid to Pakistain has been disastrous for it," Farhang said.
"One of its efforts is to ask $5,000 per NATO ...the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A single organization with differing goals, equipment, language, doctrine, and organization.... truck, which is extortion. Pakistain is trying to compensate for the decrease of US aid in this way."
US senators denounced Pakistain's new fee - its latest condition to reopen the supply route across its border - saying the US would not pay anywhere near that amount.
Senators John Maverick McCain ... the Senator-for-Life from Arizona, former presidential candidate and even more former foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution... , who also described the fee as "extortion" told US media: "We can't look at aid in that light. It's now becoming a matter of principle."
Senator Carl Levin also said that the US should not pay Pakistain fees anywhere near that level, according to media reports.
Last week, Pakistain said it wanted as much as $5,000 for each US or NATO truck that passed through its territory, whereas the fee before the border crossing closed six months ago was around $250 per truck.
Pakistain blocked the supply route in November after a deadly NATO Arclight airstrike killed 24 Pak soldiers near the Afghan border.
[Dawn] A Senate panel expressed its outrage Thursday over Pakistain's conviction of a doctor who helped the United States track down the late Osama bin Laden ... who doesn't live anywhere anymore... , cutting aid to Islamabad by $33 million, $1 million for every year of the physician's 33-year sentence for high treason.
The punitive move came on top of deep reductions the Appropriations Committee had already made to President Barack Obama I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money... 's budget request for Pakistain, a reflection of the growing congressional anger over its cooperation in combatting terrorism.
The overall foreign aid budget for next year had slashed more than half of the proposed assistance and threatened further reductions if Islamabad fails to open overland supply routes to US and NATO ...the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A collection of multinational and multilingual and multicultural armed forces, all of differing capabilities, working toward a common goal by pulling in different directions... forces in Afghanistan.
Pushing aside any diplomatic talk, Republicans and Democrats criticized Pakistain one day after the conviction of Shakil Afridi.
The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in Abbottabad ... A pleasant city located only 30 convenient miles from Islamabad. The city is noted for its nice weather and good schools. It is the site of Pakistain's military academy, which was within comfortable walking distance of the residence of the late Osama bin Laden.... where US commandos found and killed the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
The United States has called for Afridi's release, arguing that he was acting in the interest of the United States and Pakistain.
Palestinian Contractors Union forbids members to collaborate with Israelis
A number of Israeli companies have recently won UN tenders for reconstruction projects in the Gaza Strip, enraging Palestinian contractors who claim they were outbid by the country that destroyed their infrastructure.
More than three years after Israel inflicted widespread damage on the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, an offensive aimed at curtailing relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel, two Israeli companies won bids issued by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to construct water plants in Gaza, London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Thursday.
Osama Kahil, deputy head of the Palestinian Contractors Union, told the daily that a number of Israeli companies have contacted contractors in Gaza offering them half of the bids' revenue to execute the projects.
"It is unreasonable for the Israeli occupation to be rewarded for its destruction of Gaza's economy," Kahil told Al-Quds Al-Arabi. "It waged a relentless war on our livelihood, and now our markets are being opened to its companies."
Kahil said his union sent letters to all contractors in Gaza, warning them against cooperation with Israeli companies.
Diplomatic sources stressed Wednesday that no official information had been received about an announcement by Turkey that it planned to indict former IDF commanders over the Marmara affair, but said "If it's true, this won't bring us to a good place. We will need to weigh our steps."
"We also have ways to bother them in the international arena. If this is the path they want, we also know what to do. They have plenty of Achilles' heels. We don't want escalation, but if this is the game -- we'll play," the sources said.
The head of the Paleostinian Authority's preventive security, Ziad Hab Al-Rih, said that without progress in the peace talks, the PA won't be able to preserve stability within its territories.
Al-Rih made the remarks during a meeting with representatives of the Paleostinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum, diplomats and former defense establishment officials. He added that the PA will do everything within its power to prevent a third intifada.
"Nice country ya got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it."
The thing is, the last time they tried something like that, it hurt them a lot more than it hurt Israel.
Iran has raised its potential capacity to make sensitive nuclear material by installing hundreds more uranium enrichment machines at an underground site, a UN watchdog report said, a day after world powers failed to convince Tehran to halt such activity.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also said on Friday satellite images show "extensive activities" at the Parchin military complex which inspectors want to check over suspicions that nuclear weapons-relevant research was done there.
The activities could hamper the IAEA's inquiry, it said - an allusion to what Western diplomats have said may be Iranian efforts to remove incriminating evidence. Iran has denied pursuing a clear weapons capability there or anywhere else.
Obtained by Reuters, the confidential report further said inspectors had found traces of uranium particles enriched to up to 27 percent at Iran's bunkered Fordow site, compared with the 20 percent level Tehran has officially reported to the IAEA.
Israeli officials regard as credible recent reports of an assassination attempt on top Syrian figures, including President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, despite denials by Damascus, Haaretz reported Friday.
The paper said Israel had information confirming claims by the Free Syrian Army that it had managed to poison Shawkat, who heads General Intelligence, and five other top officials: Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha, Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar, Hassan Turkmani, an aide to the vice president, National Security chief Hisham Bakhtiar and Mohammad Said Bakhitan, the national secretary of the Baath Party.
The information, Haaretz said, indicated that prompt medical treatment saved their lives.
In a video posted online Sunday, the "Special Operations Company of the Al-Sahabah Battalions" said it had carried out a covert military operation against the six men, which it said were part of a so-called "crisis cell," after two months of surveillance.
A spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council for Damascus told a British newspaper that the method of attack was poisoning and that it was unclear how many of the men were injured or dead.
Haaretz said Israel viewed this as an "important milestone in the ongoing revolution."
[Emirates 24/7] Iran accused world powers on Thursday of creating "a difficult atmosphere" hindering talks on its atomic energy programme, signalling a snag in diplomacy to ease a stand-off over fears of a covert Iranian effort to develop nuclear bombs.
The nub of the dispute was not immediately clear as the high-stakes negotiations in pursuit of a framework deal to stop a feared drift towards a new Middle East war went into a second day in the Iraqi capital Storied Baghdad ...located along the Tigris River, founded in the 8th century, home of the Abbasid Caliphate...
But Iran had served notice that it wanted immediate relief from economic sanctions as part of any deal to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment, a pathway to nuclear arms, whereas Western powers insisted Tehran must first shut it down.
Iranian media close to Tehran's delegation said it was insisting on a "principle of "reciprocity" of concessions they said was promised by the powers in preparatory talks in Istanbul last month but was not guiding the Storied Baghdad negotiations.
"Iranian diplomats close to the negotiations believe that the (powers') approach in Istanbul was more positive and encouraging than what is being seen in Storied Baghdad," the Iranian student agency ISNA reported.
"It remains to be seen whether Iran is prepared to continue negotiations in the ambiguous conditions that the West is following in the new round of talks, or not," ISNA said.
[Emirates 24/7] Syrian government forces have executed entire families in their homes as part of a crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar Al Assad, U.N. Sherlocks said on Thursday.
Both Assad's troops and opposition fighters were committing gross human rights When they're defined by the state or an NGO they don't mean much... violations despite a six-week-old ceasefire in the conflict, but the army and security forces were responsible for most of the crimes documented since March, a U.N. report said.
Children were often victims, it said.
Government abuses included heavy shelling of residential areas, executions and torture. Syrian forces routinely drew up a list of wanted persons and their families before blockading and then attacking a village or neighbourhood, the report said.
Rebels, who are increasingly armed and well-organised, have executed or tortured captured soldiers and pro-government supporters, it said. They have also kidnapped civilians in an apparent bid to secure prison exchanges or ransoms.
"Most of the serious human rights violations documented by the commission in this update were committed by the Syrian army and security services as part of military or search operations conducted in locations known for hosting defectors and/or armed persons, or perceived as supportive of anti-government gangs," the report said.
Children were frequently among those killed and maimed during attacks on protests and the bombardment of towns and villages by state forces, it said.
"Entire families were executed in their homes - usually the family members of those opposing the government such as the family members of Colonel Riad Al Asaad," it said, referring to the extended family of the head of the Free Syrian Army.
The team of Sherlocks, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, has not been allowed into Syria but based its report on more than 200 interviews of victims and witnesses.
They confirmed 207 deaths during the two-month period. The United Nations ...a formerly good idea gone bad... has said that as of December, government forces had killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising against Assad that began in March 2011.
The world body is deploying up to 300 unarmed military observers in Syria to monitor an April 12 truce mediated by U.N.-Arab League ...an organization of Arabic-speaking states with 22 member countries and four observers. The League tries to achieve Arab consensus on issues, which usually leaves them doing nothing but a bit of grimacing and mustache cursing... envoy Kofi Annan ...Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh and so far the worst Secretary-General of the UN. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for something or other that probably sounded good at the time. In December 2004, reports surfaced that Kofi's son Kojo received payments from the Swiss company Cotecna, which had won a lucrative contract under the UN Oil-for-Food Program. Kofi Annan called for an investigation to look into the allegations, which stirred up the expected cesspool but couldn't seem to come up with enough evidence to indict Kofi himself, or even Kojo... that has yet to take hold.
Security forces used lethal force against demonstrations in Aleppo ...For centuries, Aleppo was Greater Syria's largest city and the Ottoman Empire's third, after Constantinople and Cairo. Although relatively close to Damascus in distance, Aleppans regard Damascenes as country cousins... , Damascus ...The place where Pencilneck hangs his brass hat... , Deraa, Hama, Homs, Idlib and in numerous villages across the country since March, the report said.
"Other unlawful killings took place during government military operations undertaken to weed out defectors, anti-government gangs, their families and other opponents perceived to be supporting anti-government gangs."
Often Syrian forces issue a warning to hand over the wanted defectors or organisers of the anti-government protests, usually within a deadline, it said. Males in the area would hide or try to evacuate women, children and the elderly.
"Anyone seen trying to leave the area by avoiding the blockades were presumed to be members or supporters of anti-government gangs and were shot," it said.
The U.N. panel said it had received multiple reports of the armed opposition executing members of the army and security forces, suspected informers and collaborators, and it gave details of two such incidents in Homs.
"A defector who fought in the ranks of Al Farouk Brigade ("FSA") in Homs city stated that members of the government forces, including what he claimed were three Iranian snipers, were summarily executed after they apparently confessed.
"One anti-government gang fighter also admitted that he and his associates had killed government soldiers when the captives refused to join them," it said.
The U.N. panel has already drawn up a secret list of Syrian officials suspected of ordering crimes against humanity and given it to U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay. She has said that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court ... where Milosevich died of old age before being convicted ... (ICC) for prosecution.
[Iran Press TV] Syrian Hereditary President-for-Life Bashir Pencilneck al-Assad Oppressor of the Syrians and the Lebs... says his government has successfully overcome the political crisis and the deadly violence in the country.
"Syria has been able to overcome the pressures and threats it has faced for years and is able to get out of this crisis thanks to the strength of its people and commitment to unity and independence," SANA cited Assad as saying on Thursday.
Syria has been the scene of deadly unrest since mid-March 2011 and many people, including security forces, have bit the dust in the violence.
The West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of killing protesters, but Damascus ...Capital of the last remaining Baathist regime in the world... blames ''outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups'' for the unrest, stating that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
Assad's Thursday comments came during a meeting with the Iran's diminutive PresidentMahmoud Short Round Ahmadinejad's special envoy and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taqipour.
Taqipour described the crisis in Syria as part of a broader scheme targeting the entire Middle East region, and reiterated Iran's sustained support for the Syrian nation in the face of the circumstances they are faced with.
On Thursday, the new Syrian parliament began work under a new constitution approved by a majority of voters in a February referendum, and three members of the independent judicial body, the Supreme Constitutional Court, were also sworn in before the president
On May 7, Syria held the first parliamentary elections under the new constitution that paved the way for a multi-party political system in the country.
About 7,195 candidates, including independent and opposition figures, contested for the 250 parliamentary seats.
The general polls, which saw more than half of the eligible voters cast their ballots, were part of the reforms promised by President Assad.
[An Nahar] The rebel Free Syrian Army said on Thursday it is making "every effort" to locate and release a group of Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped in Syria's northern province of Aleppo ...For centuries, Aleppo was Greater Syria's largest city and the Ottoman Empire's third, after Constantinople and Cairo. Although relatively close to Damascus in distance, Aleppans regard Damascenes as country cousins...
"The leadership is making every effort to find out where the abductees are, and to make sure they are freed," FSA official front man Colonel Qassem Saadeddine said in a statement.
Saadeddine reiterated that the FSA had no involvement in this week's kidnappings, condemning "all kidnapping operations, regardless of their nationality or religious belief or sect."
At the same time, he complained over the treatment of Syrian refugees and anti-regime figures in Leb.
"Revolutionary Syrians in Leb have faced persecution, kidnap and murder," he charged. "We will no longer be silent on any action carried out by any Lebanese parties affecting Syrians in Leb."
The FSA front man urged "the Lebanese state to take full responsibility in hosting and protecting Syrian refugees in Leb."
Leb's state news agency on Tuesday reported that the FSA had kidnapped a group of Shiites in Aleppo on a bus returning via Iraq and Syria from a pilgrimage to holy sites in Iran.
Syria's main opposition coalition has called for the prompt release of the group, blaming Assad's regime for a "security vacuum" in the unrest-swept country.
The Syrian National Council "does not think it is impossible that the regime is involved in this operation," in order to sow "disorder" in neighboring Leb, the group said.
News of the kidnappings prompted their families and thousands of supporters to pour out onto the streets of Beirut's mainly Shiite southern suburbs on Tuesday night to demand their release.
Iran killed one of its own nuclear scientists but blamed his death on a so-called "Israeli spy" who it executed last week, a leading Arabic news channel reported Wednesday.
Iranian authorities on May 15 executed Majid Jamali Fashi, who was convicted of assassinating nuclear scientist Masoud Ali Mohammadi in a car booming in January 2010. The New York Times ...which still proudly displays Walter Duranty's Pulitzer prize... speculated that the liquidation of Mohammadi was "part of a shadow war played out between Iran and Israel."
But Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya, quoting Iranian opposition sources, said that Iran used Fashi as a scapegoat to please local public opinion. The opposition sources said they even doubted that Fashi was really executed, noting that the footage of his execution aired on public television was short and blurred.
The sources speculated that Iranian intelligence assassinated Mohammadi, the nuclear scientist allegedly killed by Fashi, because it had discovered that he intended to defect to the West.
Al-Arabiya said that the Israeli passport attributed to Fashi by Iran was so badly forged it "was not becoming of a country capable of building nuclear facilities."
The channel reported that certain characteristics of the passport indicate that it was issued in the 1990s, not in 2003 as printed on it. Other obvious faults in the travel document include a misplaced passport number and a photo which displays the face tilted to the side rather than directly facing the camera.
"The Mossad would not place an illegal photo on a passport given to an agent in order to travel in Europe and elsewhere, as airport authorities would easily suspect it," the report claimed.
Emanuele Ottolenghi of Commentary magazine also noted that Fashi is looking away from the camera in the alleged passport and that he appears to be an adult. If the 2003 date was accurate, Fashi would have been 15.
The Harry's Place blog said that the facsimile displayed by Iranian TV shares exact details with a facsimile of an Israeli passport available through Wikipedia: Both were issued on Nov. 17, 2003 in Netanya.
Iran has repeatedly accused Israel of assassinating nuclear scientists in an attempt to thwart its nuclear program. Israel has not commented on such accusations.
If we had a CIA worth anything at all, we'd be offering every Iranian nuclear scientist asylum, pointing out to them that it's a race between Mossad and their own government as to who's going to whack them first.
And the ones who refuse our offer of asylum? I'd finger them to the Mad Mullahs™ for having talked with the CIA.
IIUC, Al-Arabiya is trying hard NOT to say SAVAK'S Boyz aren't par wid MOSSAD [yet], + that their mistakes vee assassination of their own country's scientists has exposed the Tehran Govt to major internal brouhahas???