13 November 2018

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A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman killed at least 50 people and wounded scores in an attack on Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims at a checkpoint in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Saturday, police said.

The attack at the end of Arbain, one of the main religious observances on the Shi'ite calendar, came as a political crisis in the Shi'ite-led government renewed fears of a return to sectarian violence in the country.

"A terrorist wearing a police uniform and carrying fake police I.D. managed to reach a police checkpoint and blew himself up among police and pilgrims," said a police official at the scene of the bombing.

The pilgrims had been on their way to a major Shi'ite mosque to the west of Basra, police said.

Security forces sealed off the main hospital in Basra, fearing further attacks. Weeping relatives gathered at the hospital as soldiers, police and civilians rushed blood-covered victims there. Some of the wounded were stuffed into car trunks.

A provincial health official who asked not to be named put the toll at 50 dead and 90 wounded.

 (BNA) A US missile strike targeting a militant vehicle killed four rebels on Thursday in the second drone strike in 48 hours to hit Pakistan's tribal region, .

A drone strike on Tuesday signaled apparent resumption of the covert CIA campaign after a two-month lull to avoid a worsening of US-Pakistan relations after a NATO raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, infuriating Islamabad.

The latest missiles struck in the New Adda area, 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region.

"US drones fired four missiles targeting a rebels' vehicle and killing four militants," a local security official told on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Another security official confirmed the strike and casualties. He said the identities of those killed were not immediately known.

On Tuesday two missiles struck a compound, also in the outskirts of Miranshah, in the first such strike since November 17. Four people were killed.

The US drone campaign has reportedly killed dozens of Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters in the remote areas bordering Afghanistan since the first Predator strike in 2004.

But the programme fuels widespread anti-American sentiment throughout Pakistan, which has been especially high since the deadly NATO incident on November 26.

A joint US-NATO investigation concluded last month that a catalogue of errors and botched communications led to the soldiers' deaths. But Pakistan rejected the findings, insisting the strikes had been deliberate.

NATO's probe said that both sides failed to give the other information about their operational plans or the location of troops and that there was inadequate coordination by US and Pakistani officers.

The incident prompted Islamabad to block NATO supply convoys heading to Afghanistan and order the United States to leave Shamsi air base in western Pakistan, from where it is believed to have launched some of its drones.

Others are flown from within Afghanistan.

The region had served as the main supply route for NATO forces operating in Afghanistan before the suspension triggered by the November incident

A French journalist was among eight people killed in a grenade or mortar attack in Syria's central city of Homs on Wednesday, the first Western reporter to have died in 10 months of unrest in the country.

France 2 television confirmed one of its journalists had been killed. Syria's Addounia TV, which gave a total death toll of eight, said a Dutch journalist was among 25 people wounded.

"France 2 television has just learned with a great deal of sorrow the death of reporter Gilles Jacquier in Homs," France 2 said in a statement, adding it did not have details of the circumstances of his death.

Jacquier - a war correspondent who had previously reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other hotspots - had been invited to Syria by the government and was in Homs with other journalists reporting on the situation in the city, the television station said.

Syria barred most foreign media from the country soon after demonstrations against President Bashar Assad's rule began in March, but more journalists have been admitted since the Arab League sent a monitoring mission last month to check if authorities were complying with an Arab plan to halt the bloodshed.

"Gilles Jacquier was just doing his journalist job by covering the violent events in Syria as a result of the unacceptable repression of the regime against the population," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

A Belgian journalist in Homs, who asked not to be named, said a group of reporters had been visiting a pro-Assad neighbourhood of the city when several grenades or mortar rounds landed. One fell on a school that was empty at the time.

People were tending a small girl who was bleeding heavily when another explosion struck nearby. "I saw three bodies," the journalist told Reuters by telephone. "There was a lot of chaos, blood, hysteria."

He said a Dutch freelance journalist had suffered a shrapnel wound in the face, but was not seriously hurt.

Syria's Addounia TV showed footage it said was filmed during the attack. In the video, an explosion is heard and then a man tells the camera in Arabic "this is terrorism". Then the camera shows a group of journalists filming on the roof of a building. Another explosion is heard close to that building.

Footage then shows a man lying on the pavement, bleeding. A group of men rush to the scene and put the casualties in the back seat of several taxis.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe condemned the attack and demanded the authorities carry out an immediate investigation.

"It is up to the Syrian authorities to ensure the safety of international journalists on its territory and to protect the fundamental freedom which is freedom of the press," Juppe said in a statement. He said Paris' ambassador had been sent to Homs.

France 2 had a two-man team in Homs as part of an organized trip by the government with other international media, France 2 spokesman Thierry Thuillier told i-Tele television

(BNA) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Afghan and Taliban statements show there is support for a Taliban political office in Qatar, but said nothing has been concluded yet.

"Positive statements" from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban demonstrate "there is support for such discussions, for the (Taliban) political office to open in Qatar," Clinton said.

"Nothing has been concluded. We are still in the preliminary stages of testing whether this can be successful," Clinton said in a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.

The Taliban announced last week that it planned to set up a political office in Qatar, a move seen as a precursor to peace talks with Washington.

At the same time they  demanded the release of prisoners from the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Clinton said: "We have not made any decisions about releasing any Taliban from Guantanamo."

The chief US diplomat said Washington is prepared to back Afghan-led reconciliation talks.

She added that reconciliation can only occur if the Taliban renounces violence, breaks with Al-Qaeda and supports the Afghan constitution, which protects the rights of women and minorities.

"I have made it clear to President Karzai that we will work with him, under his leadership," she said.

She said she has dispatched US special regional envoy Marc Grossman to travel to Afghanistan next week to continue US consultations with the Afghans and also to visit Qatar to continue "consultations" there.

Sheikh Hamad, when discussing the proposal to open a Taliban office in his Gulf emirate, said "Qatar is trying to be peaceful messengers or peaceful ambassadors, and we are trying to do this with all our capacity.

"That's part of our policy how to defuse the tension in our region," said Sheikh Hamad, who is also Qatar's prime minister.

"And any opportunity we can help our friends to try to find a mutual ground to start a negotiation and dialogue, we think this is the best opportunity to solve the tension in our region," he added

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