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Israel PM wants broad coalition to handle 'security threats'
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 27, 2013

Syria rebels, troops clash near Damascus train station: NGO
Beirut (AFP) Jan 27, 2013 - Fighting erupted Sunday between Syrian troops and rebels around a train station in Damascus, as regime warplanes pounded insurgent positions to the east of the capital, a watchdog said.

The clashes broke out in the Port Said area and spread to the nearby Qadam train terminal, while the army shelled the Qadam district itself and neighbouring Assali, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The firefight led to the closure of a key highway that passes through the area and connects Damascus to the southern province of Daraa, the watchdog said.

On the outskirts of Damascus, warplanes launched strikes on the Eastern Ghuta region, focused on the town of Shebaa where clashes have raged in recent weeks between the army and insurgents, it said.

Further northeast of the capital, rebels and troops battled around a military vehicle depot located between the opposition strongholds of Irbin and Harasta, the Britain-based Observatory said.

The Syrian Revolution General Council, meanwhile, reported that "heavy artillery and tank shelling hit Daraya from Mazzeh military airport and the Fourth Division headquarters on Moadamiyet mountain as fierce explosions shook the town."

The Observatory said that new army reinforcements had arrived to Daraya, southwest of Damascus, and were shelling the beleaguered rebel bastion, where troops have waged a fierce assault for the past two months in a bid to regain control.

State news agency SANA said the army was chasing "terrorist" groups -- a regime term used to describe rebels.

"Our valiant army continued to pursue armed terrorist groups who had carried out killings and theft and targeted the infrastructure of Daraya," it said late Saturday.

Regime forces also bombarded the southeastern town of Beit Saham, which sits alongside the key Damascus airport road, following rebel attacks on several army checkpoints in the area, the Observatory said.

For months, the army has launched air raids and ground assaults in an attempt to push back insurgents from their rear bases that ring the outer edges of Damascus, specifically in the southwest and across the eastern belt.

On Saturday, 127 people -- 55 civilians, 44 rebels and 28 troops -- were killed nationwide in Syria, including 34 in Damascus region alone, the Observatory said.

Another 10 unidentified people were reportedly shot dead by regime troops on outskirts of Daraya, it reported.

The watchdog, which gathers its information from a wide network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals, put the total death toll since the conflict broke out in March 2011 at more than 50,000.

The United Nations estimates that more than 60,000 people have died in the 22-month conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would seek a broad and stable coalition to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions and the possible transfer of Syrian weapons.

"The entire region is raging and we must be prepared, strong, and determined in the face of any possible development," he told his cabinet ahead of its weekly meeting.

Local media said that the military deployed two Iron Dome missile defence batteries to northern Israel for the first time on Sunday, reflecting growing tension around the border with Syria.

A military official would not confirm to AFP where the batteries were sited but said that moving batteries around was part of routine training.

Netanyahu said that regional tensions were "Why I will strive to form a government as broad and stable as possible, to deal with all the significant security threats facing Israel."

Netanyahu is expected to be formally tasked by President Shimon Peres in the coming days with forming a coalition, after legislative elections last week in which his joint list won most seats in the parliament.

In his remarks, Netanyahu referred to International Holocaust Day, which is marked on Sunday, and accused Iran's leaders of "denying the existence of the Holocaust, while preparing what they think will be the next Holocaust -- destroying the Jewish state."

"They are not stopping their incessant and systematic race to obtain nuclear weapons to reach that end," he said. "We do not take those threats lightly, and will prevent them, this is our first priority as a government and people."

Netanyahu has frequently warned about the danger of Iran's nuclear programme of uranium enrichment, which Israel and much of the West believes hides a weapons drive.

He has refused to rule out the option of unilateral military action if all other ways to halt the programme fail.

Israel is itself widely believed to be the Middle East's only nation with an atomic weapons capability.

The premier on Sunday stressed the need to "look around, at what is happening in Iran and its proxies, what is happening in other arenas with lethal weapons in Syria, which is falling apart."

According to reports in Israeli media, Netanyahu last Wednesday convened an emergency discussion with the security establishment and his inner cabinet on the situation in Syria and the risk of it losing control over its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq MPs appeal for calm after protesters killed
Fallujah, Iraq (AFP) Jan 27, 2013 - Iraqi MPs assigned to investigate the killing of eight anti-government protesters by troops appealed for calm on a visit to the town on Sunday and pledged to publish their findings within days.

Their visit to the predominantly Sunni town 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Baghdad came amid high tensions in the former insurgent bastion, where two soldiers were killed and three kidnapped on Saturday, a day after troops opened fire on demonstrators, killing eight.

The unrest came as lawmakers opposed to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki adopted a measure that would bar him from holding office beyond next year after weeks of angry rallies in mostly-Sunni areas against the Shiite premier's rule.

"We are sorry for what happened in Fallujah," said Shwan Mohammed Taha, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and part of a parliamentary committee assigned to investigate the unrest.

"We hope that everyone calms down until the truth becomes clear."

The shootings have dramatically ramped up tensions in Fallujah, with one Sunni Arab tribal leader giving authorities a one-week ultimatum to hand over the soldiers responsible for the killings.

Meanwhile, the head of the committee Khaled al-Attiya promised that the MPs would submit a report within 48 hours to parliament, after reviewing evidence and hearing witness accounts.

Friday's demonstration had been moving into Fallujah but was blocked by soldiers, who then opened fire after protesters began throwing bottles of water at them. Eight were killed and 59 wounded.

The following day, separate gun attacks on checkpoints and guard posts in Fallujah left two soldiers dead, one wounded, and three kidnapped.

The Fallujah demonstration was one of several across Sunni-majority areas of Iraq that have raged in recent weeks, hardening opposition against Maliki amid a political crisis ahead of provincial elections due in April.


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