Beirut – Syrian state-run TV reported Friday that the leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked rebel group has been killed – a claim that if confirmed would be a huge blow to fighters trying to topple President Bashar Assad. At least one rebel commander denied the report.
Questions remained over whether Abu Mohammad al-Golani, head of Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, had indeed died. State TV said he was killed in the coastal province of Latakia, but did not say when or give details. Later Friday, it removed the report from its website without explanation.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria, said senior Nusra Front leaders contacted by activists in Latakia and the eastern Deir el-Zour province denied al-Golani had been killed.
Al-Golani, who fought previously in Iraq, is a shadowy figure who is believed to have spent time recently in rebellious suburbs south of Damascus. Rebels have also gained footholds in mountainous regions of Latakia, which is largely loyal to Assad, and he may have gone there to direct fighting.
Earthquake hits Japan; no damage noted
Tokyo – An earthquake of magnitude 7.3 struck early today off Japan’s east coast, the U.S. Geological Survey said, triggering small tsunamis but causing no apparent damage.
Japan’s meteorological agency said the quake was an aftershock of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the same area in 2011, killing about 19,000 people and devastating the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunamis of up to 15 inches were reported at four areas along the coast, but a tsunami advisory was lifted less than two hours after the quake.
The quake hit at 2:10 a.m. Tokyo time 170 miles off Fukushima, and it was felt in Tokyo, some 300 miles away. Japan’s meteorological agency put the quake’s magnitude at 7.1.
Satoshi Mizuno, an official with the Fukushima prefectural government’s disaster management department, said the operator of the troubled Fukushima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said no damage or abnormalities have been found.
Straw retiring from Parliament
London – Jack Straw, a former British foreign secretary and elder statesman of the opposition Labour Party, said Friday he will stand down as a member of Parliament in the next general election.
Straw, 67, has sat in Britain’s House of Commons for 34 years. In addition to serving as foreign secretary between 2001 and 2006 in the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Straw served as Britain’s home secretary and justice secretary.
Britain’s next general election is expected to take place in 2015.
Straw said Friday that while it would be a “terrible wretch” to leave the House of Commons, he doesn’t want to “push his luck” by staying on as a lawmaker into his 70s.
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