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TEHRAN: Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said it has brought down an Israeli stealth drone above the Natanz uranium enrichment site in the centre of the country.

“A spy drone of the Zionist regime (Israel) was brought down by a missile... This stealth drone was trying to approach the Natanz nuclear zone, “the corps said in a statement on its official website

“This act demonstrates a new adventurism by the Zionist regime... The Revolutionary Guard and the other armed forces reserve the right to respond to this act,” the statement added.

Natanz is Iran's main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges. Around 3,000 more are at the Fordo plant, buried inside a mountain and hard to destroy.

Israel has often threatened to attack Iranian nuclear installations.

Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- reached a six-month interim agreement under which Iran suspended part of its nuclear activities in return for a partial lifting of international sanctions.

In July that deal was extended by four months until November 24 to give the two sides more time to negotiate a final accord aimed at ending 10 years of tensions over Iran's nuclear programme.

The sides remain split on how much uranium enrichment Iran should be allowed to carry out.

Washington wants Tehran to slash its programme by three-quarters, but Iran wants to expand enrichment ten-fold by 2021, chiefly to produce fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Israel, a sworn enemy of Iran, opposes any agreement allowing Tehran to keep part of its uranium enrichment programme, saying Iran could use the material to make an atomic bomb.

Iran has consistently denied wanting to make nuclear weapons.

BAGHDAD: Militants released a video apparently showing the beheading of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria, in the most direct retaliation yet to US air strikes against them in Iraq.

The video, in which the Islamic State (IS) group also threatens to kill another reporter if US air strikes in Iraq continue, sparked global outrage on Wednesday.

Posted online late Tuesday, it shows a masked militant beheading a man resembling James Foley, who has been missing since he was seized in Syria in November 2012.

News of Foley's apparent beheading comes as US air strikes appeared to yield some results, helping Kurdish and federal forces push IS fighters back from some recently-conquered areas in northern Iraq, including the strategic Mosul dam.

According to Kurdish officers, another US air strike was carried out early Wednesday, targeting an apparent jihadist meeting at a school near the dam.

Washington did not immediately confirm the raid.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people,” Foley's mother Diane said in a Facebook message to supporters.

“We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

“The White House said US intelligence was studying the video, and that President Barack Obama had been briefed on it as he flew from Washington to resume his vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends, “National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

Foley was an experienced correspondent who had covered the war in Libya before heading to Syria to follow the revolt against Bashar al-Assad's regime, contributing to news site GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and other media outlets.

AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog described Foley “as a brave, independent and impartial journalist” whose work in Syria and other war zones was “widely admired”.

According to witnesses, Foley was seized in the northern Syrian province of Idlib on November 22, 2012.

British accent

In the nearly five-minute video, titled “A Message to America,” IS declares that Foley was killed because Obama ordered air strikes against IS in northern Iraq.

The beheading is carried out in an open desert area with no immediate signs as to whether it is in Iraq or Syria by a black-clad masked militant who speaks English with a British accent.

Foley is seen kneeling on the ground, dressed in an orange outfit that resembles those worn by prisoners held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

“Any aggression towards the Islamic State is an aggression towards Muslims from all walks of life who have accepted the Islamic caliphate as their leadership,” the masked militant declares.

He threatens to kill another man shown in the video and said to be Steven Sotloff, whose kidnapping in August 2013 has not been widely reported.

He has written for several US newspapers and magazines, including Time, Foreign Policy and The Christian Science Monitor.

France on Wednesday slammed the apparent killing as “a barbaric act that plays on fear,” while British premier David Cameron termed it “shocking and depraved” as he cut short a holiday.

Germany, denouncing the militants as “barbaric”, said it would send arms to Iraqi Kurdish forces battling them.

The group, which led an offensive that has overrun large chunks of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, has declared a cross-border caliphate - a successor state to historic Muslim empires.

Expanded strikes

Earlier this month, Obama reacted by ordering US warplanes to strike the militants arguing they threatened US personnel in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil and risked carrying out a genocide against religious minority groups.

Obama has insisted the scope of the strikes would remain limited but Iraqi officials and observers have argued only foreign intervention could turn the tide on militant expansion in Iraq.

Shiite militia, federal soldiers, Kurdish troops and Sunni Arab tribes have been battling IS for weeks in some areas but have been unable to clinch a decisive victory.

An offensive launched on Tuesday against Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit was presented as a major push to liberate the city, but it appeared to have stalled a few hours later.

Shellfire periodically hit the city on Wednesday while Iraqi security forces remained positioned outside it, police and witnesses said.

US and Iraqi officials say the strikes have already had an impact on IS morale but the intervention may also have galvanised some fighters as fighting Americans is a source of prestige in global jihad.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah broke his silence on Friday over the three-week-old conflict in Gaza, condemning what he saw as international silence over Israel's offensive and describing this as a war crime and “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Saudi Arabia, which regards itself as a leader of the Sunni Muslim world, has played only a background role in the diplomacy to reinstate calm in Gaza, leaving the main Arab pursuit of a ceasefire to close ally Egypt and fellow Gulf monarchy Qatar.

“We see the blood of our brothers in Palestine shed in collective massacres that did not exclude anyone, and war crimes against humanity without scruples, humanity or morality,” Abdullah said in a brief speech read out on his behalf on state television.

“This (international) community, which has observed silently what is happening in the whole region, has been indifferent to what is happening, as if what is happening is not its concern. Silence that has no justification.”

His speech, which focused mainly on what he described as a Middle East-wide threat from militancy, followed criticism by some Saudis on social media, including prominent clerics, over Riyadh's quiet response to the Gaza crisis.

Political complications

The kingdom's policy towards Gaza is complicated by its mistrust of the territory's ruling Hamas, a movement with close ideological and political links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Riyadh regards as a terrorist organisation.

Saudi Arabia believes the Brotherhood has a region-wide agenda to seize power from established government leaders, including the kingdom's al-Saud dynasty, and has quarrelled with Qatar over its support for the group.

Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates, said the speech was a bid to rebut accusations that Saudi Arabia - along with allies Egypt and the UAE - was happy to see Hamas weakened by Israel's offensive, which was prompted in part by increasing Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

“People want to see a stronger position from these three countries and it is not coming over very strongly,” he said.

The kingdom's muted response to the crisis so far has been echoed across a region already absorbed by a series of civil wars, insurgencies and internal political strife that have erupted in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Since the Israeli air and ground onslaught began, Saudi Arabia's public expressions of condemnation over the violence have been mostly limited to statements following the weekly cabinet meetings, and to pledges of humanitarian aid.

Newspaper coverage, which often follows the official line in Saudi Arabia, has often relegated the conflict to inside pages in sharp contrast to previous Israeli incursions into Gaza.

Some editorials have taken the rare step of blaming Hamas for the bloodshed, in which 1,509 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed, rather than Israel. There have been 66 Israeli deaths, 63 of them soldiers.

Riyadh took a far more prominent role at past junctures of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It sponsored the 2002 Arab peace initiative offering the Jewish state an end to conflict with all Arab states in return for the creation of a Palestinian state and return of Palestinian refugees. Israel rejected it.

Since the offensive began, however, King Abdullah has met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to discuss the crisis.

Ceasefire collapse

The conflict in Gaza has coincided with Saudi attempts to navigate multiple regional crises, including political chaos in Egypt, two separate insurgencies in its neighbour Yemen and wars in Iraq and Syria.

This regional turmoil is set against Saudi Arabia's bitter rivalry with Shia power Iran and its fears of rising influence exerted by Sunni militant groups the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which seek to topple the al-Saud dynasty.

In his speech, Abdullah condemned militants who he said were killing innocent people and mutilating their bodies in contravention of Islamic teachings.

He also called on the region's leaders and religious scholars to prevent Islam from being hijacked by militants.

He further said he was disappointed by the lack of any follow-up from other countries to his proposal two years ago to establish an international centre to combat terrorism.

Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over on Friday only hours after it was announced, saying Hamas militants violated the pact 90 minutes after it took effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers.

The truce was the most ambitious attempt yet to end the fighting and followed increasing international alarm over the soaring Palestinian civilian death toll.

GAZA CITY: Israel vowed Thursday it would not pull troops out of Gaza until they finish destroying a network of cross-border tunnels, despite sharp United Nations criticism over the Palestinian death toll.

Speaking at a special cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not accept any ceasefire that did not allow troops to continue destroying tunnels used by militants to attack Israel.

“Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission -- with or without a ceasefire,” he said at the start of the meeting.

“So I will not accept any (truce) proposal that does not allow the (military) to complete this work for the security of Israel's citizens. “

His remarks came after the army confirmed mobilising another 16,000 reservists, hiking the total number called up to 86,000. Israel does not say how many troops are currently fighting inside the Gaza Strip.

Washington also said it had agreed to restock Israel's dwindling munitions supplies, despite increasing international concern over the death toll in Gaza, where 1,397 people have been killed in 24 days of violence.

UN figures indicate two-thirds of the victims were civilians, nearly half of whom were women and children.

The top UN refugee official in Gaza told the Security Council on Thursday that his UNRWA Palestinian refugee agency was stretched to breaking point by the massive humanitarian fallout from the fighting.

“I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation,” Pierre Krdhenb|hl said.

Following the shelling of a UN school in northern Gaza on Wednesday which killed 16, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay slammed Israel for attacking homes, schools and hospitals, accusing it of “deliberate defiance” of international law.

“None of this appears to me to be accidental,” she told reporters.

“There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel. “

Tunnel vision

The shelling of the school also drew sharp condemnation from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who described it as “reprehensible”, as well as from Washington.

But Israel's army suggested the deaths may have been the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket.

“It is not clear if the school was hit by fire from IDF soldiers or from Hamas terrorists,” military spokesman General Moti Almoz told army radio.

Despite rising international calls for a halt to the bloodshed, the Israeli security cabinet decided Wednesday to press on with the Gaza operation just hours after troops had made a significant advance into the narrow enclave.

The offensive began on July 8 with the aim of ending militant rocket fire, but expanded on July 17 with a ground operation aimed at destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels which Israel has vowed to dismantle.

Major General Sami Turgeman, head of the army's southern command, said Wednesday the army was “just days” away from completing its mission to destroy the tunnels.

Cabinet ministers were briefed on the progress of the operation Thursday in their first meeting since the ground assault began.

Despite a heavy death toll in Gaza on Wednesday when 111 Palestinians were killed, including 17 who died in a strike on a crowded market place and another 16 at the UN school, Washington said it had restocked the army's munitions suplly.

The Pentagon confirmed it had granted a request for ammunition, including some from a stockpile stored by the US military inside Israel for emergency use by the Jewish state.

Rights group Amnesty International had previously urged Washington to halt arms supplies to Israel.

15 hurt in UN school -

There was no let-up Thursday in the bloodshed with at least 15 Palestinians killed, another 13 dying from injuries suffered in earlier attacks and a growing number of bodies pulled from under rubble in areas near Khan Yunis, medics said.

Gaza's emergency services put the toll at 1,397 dead, with more than 8,100 wounded.

And another 15 people sheltering in the UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp that was struck on Wednesday were wounded when Israeli warplanes attacked a mosque next door, medics said.

In Israel, 56 soldiers have died and Hamas rocket fire has killed three civilians, two Israelis and a Thai national.

Despite the loss of life, there appeared to be little Israeli appetite for a truce, with a senior official telling Haaretz newspaper that a ceasefire was not even close.

Nevertheless, an Israeli delegation travelled to Cairo late Wednesday to discuss a possible ceasefire with Egyptian officials, an official at the airport told AFP.

Cairo, a key mediator in previous truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.

THE Saudi economy may run into problems if the MERS virus — which has killed hundreds of people in the kingdom — is scientifically proven to have been carried by camels imported from the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia. The country may ban the import of all such cattle.

The kingdom has been battling to overcome the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus for quite some time.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for livestock from the region, with at least 70pc of Somali exports going to the kingdom. The rest mostly go to other Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Qatar and Egypt. Somalia exported about 4.7m animals in 2013. There has been much speculation about the link between the coronavirus and camels, which prompted local scientists to investigate the matter. Results are expected any time now.

The question is, which countries can fill the gap if the ban on camel imports from Africa goes in effect? Pakistan, with the sixth largest camel population in the world, has the potential to fill the gap and become a significant exporter of camels, and their meat and milk.

Pakistan may be able to fill the gap if Saudi Arab bans camel imports from Somalia. There is a great demand for the export of live animals from Pakistan to the Middle East, but it is subject to official policy under which exports of animals are banned every now and then by the government

But the problem is that the concerned authorities have never given a serious thought to this potential, and the result is that most of the camels are smuggled out of the country and sold in Iran and Gulf countries at low prices.

Pakistan may not have much to export to Arab countries, but the royal families there are certainly interested in its camels, goats, buffaloes, bulls and cows. In 2009, 16 royal families from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar imported over 3,000 animals on a non-commercial basis, the National Assembly was informed during its question hour session on August 10. A majority of the animals, mainly camels, were imported by various families of Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan is considered the cradle of animal genetic resources, and camel is one of them. It is home to more than 20 breeds of camel, which live in various habitats and ecosystems.

There is a great demand for export of live animals from Pakistan to Middle Eastern countries and Afghanistan, but it is subject to official policy under which exports of animals are banned every now and then by the government.

For instance, on October 1, 2013, the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet imposed a ban on commercial export of live animals. Before the ban took place, a total of 8,995, buffaloes/cattle and 4,880 sheep/goats were exported from July to September 2013, mostly to Arab countries. Besides, 58,730 metric tonnes of meat and meat preparations were exported during July-March 2013-14.

The size of the global camel population is over 19m. In 2013-14, the number of camels stood at one million, which has been the same for the last three years. But camel milk, whose demand is on a slight increase, was 851,000 tonnes in 2013-14. Balochistan has the largest population of camels, having 36pc of the country’s total.

The global trade in camel meat is worth $10bn and that of camel milk is worth $7bn. The global trade in these two commodities is very small, and the World Trade Orga­nisation lists them as ‘negligible’.

Former Punjab livestock minister Mumtaz Minhas recently said, “The meat, as well as the milk of white camels, is revered in the Arab world and is sold at high prices. We have the potential to export them to these countries and earn hefty foreign exchange”.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation data on national camel stocks showed Somalia had 7m camels in 2012, against 260,000 in Saudi Arabia. Experts say if Saudi Arabia does ban imports from Somalia, it could have an adverse impact on its economy. A previous Saudi ban on Somali livestock exports in 2000 on similar grounds had badly affected the economy. The ban was lifted in 2009.

For African traders, the peak export season has only just started. Most shipments are made on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha. However, it will soon become clear what shape the trade will take this time.

The sale of camel meat in Saudi cities plummeted after the acting health minister advised residents not to consume camel meat and milk as a preventive measure against the MERS coronavirus. Livestock traders say the impending ban may cause a 50pc decline in prices of camel. But there is simply no major market for camel meat anywhere in the world except Arab countries, at least not of a size to justify a government-sponsored export strategy.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, July 7th, 2014

DUBAI: An Iranian pilot was killed defending Shia holy sites in neighbouring Iraq, Iran's state news agency said, in the first official report of an Iranian death related to an upsurge in violence there since June.

Shoja'at Alamdari Mourjani, who was buried in the Iranian city of Shiraz on Friday, was killed while fighting "terrorists" in Samarra, north of Baghdad, the news agency said.

Iraq's Shia-led government is fighting an insurgency by Sunni rebels led by an al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State, who consider Shias heretics.

There was no information in the IRNA report to indicate whether Mourjani was flying aircraft in Samarra, and whether he went there on his own initiative or on behalf of the Iranian state.

Iran has said it will not hesitate to defend Shia holy sites in Iraq if necessary, but it has also said Iraq itself is capable of putting down the rebellion.

The Islamic State group has seized territory across the north and west of Iraq, as well as border posts, oilfields, and the north's largest city, Mosul, since June 10. Shia militias have also joined the fray on the Baghdad government's side against the militants.

In recent days there has been fighting in Samarra near an important Shia site, the Imam al-Askari shrine.

A 2006 bombing at the same site exacerbated already severe sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia, fuelling a war that killed tens of thousands of people over the next two years.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in violence across Iraq this year, as its sectarian balance comes under acute strain from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

KABUL: Taliban suicide bombers struck Nato fuel trucks at a key border crossing in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, setting off explosions that destroyed dozens of trucks and triggering a gunbattle with police guards that left all the attackers dead.

The attack in eastern Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, began early in the morning, according to a spokesman for the border police in Nangarhar, Idris Momand.

Three Taliban bombers targeted a parking lot of the Nato outpost near the Torkham border crossing, a key supply route for the alliance.

Momand said 37 Nato trucks were destroyed in explosions set off by the gunbattle with the guards.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said two of the attackers were killed by police while one blew himself up.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said his group was behind the attack.

Moreover, Nato helicopters also arrived and were targeting the attackers in the surrounding hills.

Most Nato cargo shipments go through the Torkham crossing, toward Pakistan's port city of Karachi.

The Taliban have intensified their spring offensive in Afghanistan in a bid to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of the year.

Pak-Afghan border closed

The Pak-Afghan Torkham border was closed after Afghan Taliban attacked a Nato terminal on Afghan side near Torkham.

The official sources say that scores of containers and oil tankers were burning after the attack but the casualties could not be confirmed right now.

The Afghan authorities have completely sealed the border and the clash is continuing


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