In brief: Israel retaliates for rocket from Lebanon
JERUSALEM – In the first border flare-up of its kind in four months, at least one Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, triggering a barrage from Israeli forces in response. No casualties were reported on either side.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a harshly worded statement to his Cabinet, blamed the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah for the rocket strike and condemned the Lebanese army for failing to “lift a finger” to rein in the group.
It was not clear who fired the rockets.
Israel said it detected five rocket launches aimed in its direction. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that at least two fell short of their intended targets, landing instead in Lebanese territory.
Israel fired back with an undisclosed number of artillery shells. The Lebanese news agency said at least 20 of them fell on several southern farming hamlets.
Saudis to give Lebanon military $3 billion
BEIRUT – Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to help strengthen the country’s armed forces and purchase weapons from France, Lebanon’s president said Sunday, calling it the biggest grant ever for the nation’s military.
Michel Sleiman, who made the announcement in a televised national address, did not provide any further details. The Lebanese army has struggled to contain rising violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon and threatened the country’s stability.
“The Saudi king decided to give a generous, well-appreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons,” Sleiman said. “The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, considering the historical relations that tie it to Lebanon and the military cooperation between the two countries.”
U.N. peacekeepers killed in Sudan
CAIRO – The United Nations says two peacekeepers have been killed while in Sudan’s South Darfur region.
A statement Sunday on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a Jordanian and a Senegalese peacekeeper were killed by “unidentified assailants” while in a convoy traveling near Greida, South Darfur. The statement said peacekeepers killed one of the assailants and wounded another.
Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.
The U.N. says some 125 troops have been killed in the Darfur peacekeeping mission.
Syria evacuates 5,000 from town
BEIRUT – The Syrian government evacuated some 5,000 people Sunday from an embattled industrial town near Damascus where al-Qaida-linked rebels have been battling government troops for more than two weeks, the state news agency said.
Opposition fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, swept into Adra northeast of the capital in mid-December, reportedly killing civilians, many of whom are members of the Alawite and Druse sects. Both minority communities largely support President Bashar Assad, who himself is an Alawite, against the primarily Sunni-led rebellion.
Shortly after the rebels pushed into Adra, Syrian soldiers surrounded the area and there has been heavy fighting there since.
Rescuers close in on icebound vessel
SYDNEY, Australia – A rescue ship is within 12 miles of a polar research vessel that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for six days with 74 people aboard, officials said today.
Despite poor visibility because of falling snow, the Aurora Australis is nearing the Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
The Shokalskiy has been stuck since Tuesday about 1,740 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.
The safety authority sent in the Aurora after a Chinese research vessel, the Snow Dragon, had to give up within 8 miles of the Shokalskiy because the ice sheets were too thick for its steel hull.
The Finnish-built Shokalskiy has 48 passengers, 26 of them tourists. The remainder are crew.
Blast hits military intelligence building
CAIRO – An explosion hit a military intelligence building northeast of Cairo on Sunday, the second blast in less than a week to strike an Egyptian security installation. Four people were injured, the military’s chief spokesman said.
State television showed pictures of the damaged two-story building in the small town of Anshas, with a brick wall blown out on both the ground and upper floors. The cause was thought to have been a car bomb, state media reports said.