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Israel Concerned About Egyptian Regime Change

Israel warily watched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation unfold Friday, concerned about the countries’ peace treaty.

The 30-year autocrat’s decision to step down from power, which comes after 18 days of widespread protests in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities, was announced by Vice President Omar Suleiman in a televised broadcast Friday night.

While Israel’s government has declined official comment on the new development, Israeli officials are worried that the ouster of their Arab ally could mean trouble.

“We have a tough period ahead of us,” Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador in Egypt, told Israel TV, according to AP. “Iran and Turkey will consolidate positions against us. Forget about the former Egypt. Now it’s a completely new reality, and it won’t be easy.”

After Turkey abandoned its alliance last year, Jordan is the only remaining Arab country that still has a peace deal with Israel, AP reports.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, an Israeli Labor Party Knesset member and former defense minister, voiced concern over Mubarak’s resignation.

“From this day on, I only have lots of questions about what will be, what will be the fate of the peace treaty between us and the Egyptians?” Ben-Eliezer told Israel TV’s Channel 10, as quoted by AP. “There are many questions that we don’t have answers for, how will this affect the entire region now?”

The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has been in effect since 1979.

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Suicide Attack Leaves 30 Pakistani Troops Dead

A suicide attack in an army center in northwester Pakistan Thursday killed more than 30 Pakistani troops and wounded more than 40, officials say.

Geo News reported that a young suicide bomber in a school uniform walked into the heavily guarded parade ground inside the Punjab Regimental Center in Mardan and blew himself up.

The bombing occurred during the soldiers’ morning exercises at the training camp. All of the soldiers present were killed except for one, who was a drill instructor, AP reports.

CNN quoted officials saying that the attacker was 14 years old and was either wearing an explosive vest or caring a bag containing the bombs.

The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the incident. “We will continue targeting the Pakistan military until it stops supporting the U.S,” spokesman Azam Tariq said, according to CNN.

A suicide bomber attacked the same facility in 2006, killing 36 cadets.

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Hosni Mubarak Supporters Gather in Cairo

Supporters of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gathered today in Cairo to counter the past week’s anti-government protests.

On an upscale boulevard in the nation’s capital, thousands of Mubarak defenders – including government workers, men in designer sunglasses and women with expensive hairdos – congregated to peacefully voice their support of the autocratic leader, AP reported Wednesday. A few dozen government-employed nurses chanted, “We love you Mubarak!”

Things were less subdued in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where opposition protesters had been keeping a vigil for days. The two sides clashed violently there today, AP reported, hitting each other with sticks and leaving many injured.

After 30 years in power, Mubarak has buckled to pressure from the protests and promised to stand down at the country’s next election in September. But demonstrators continue to demand that the 82-year-old relinquish his authority immediately.
The Egyptian military also called for Mubarak to step down immediately.

“Your message has arrived, your demands became known … you are capable of bringing normal life to Egypt,” a military spokesman said, according to AP.

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Egypt Gov’t Gains Apparent Support of Israel

As violent street protests imperil President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, Israel is calling on Western countries to end criticism of the 30-year leader “in a bid to preserve stability in Egypt” and the Middle East at large, Al Jazeera reports.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported Monday that Israel’s foreign ministry urged the United States and Europe to “stress…the importance of Egypt’s stability” as widespread demonstrations wrack the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

Egypt has been a key ally to Israel since the two countries reached peace in 1979.

The anti-government protests present a significant threat to Israel, and although Israeli officials have remained largely silent about the unrest, they have reportedly held lengthy strategy sessions this week to address the possibility of Mubarak’s ouster.

“We are anxiously monitoring what is happening in Egypt and in our region,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before his cabinet’s weekly meeting on Sunday, according to Al Jazeera.

“Israel and Egypt have been at peace for more than three decades and our objective is to ensure that these ties be preserved. At this time, we must display responsibility, restraint and utmost prudence,” Netanyahu added.

If Mubarak’s autocratic regime is booted from power, the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s strongest opposition group – could assume control over the country. In all likelihood, that group and its allies would distance Egypt from its relationship with the West and possibly nullify the peace agreement with Israel.

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Kabul: 8 Die in Grocery Store Attack

A Kabul, Afghanistan explosion in a supermarket frequented by foreigners left at least eight people dead Friday.

Afghan authorities said three foreigners and a child were among the dead and that six others were injured.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the bombing was against U.S.-based security contractor, AP said Friday.

An eyewitness said that the blast leveled the first floor of the Finest Supermarket in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, the New York Times reports.

The grocery is just 100 yards from the British embassy, and is popular among diplomats and foreigners.

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Egypt Prepares for “Angry Friday”

Egypt this morning was poised for massive protests calling for the ouster of the 30-year President Hosni Mubarak.

The anti-government demonstrations today, dubbed “Angry Friday,” were organized largely with the help of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. They follow three days of bloody protests in the capital of Cairo and other Egyptian cities like Suez, where demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and stones at police and set the town’s firehouse ablaze, according to UPI.

Bracing for more tumult, the Egyptian government blocked Internet and cellphone service early Friday to prevent anti-government activists from communicating with one another.

Protesters were told that the government was dispatching “thugs” calling themselves “Ikhwan al-Haq,” or “Brotherhood of Truth,” to patrol the streets of Cairo with knives and swords and attack or kill demonstrators if necessary, UPI reports.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry arrested hundreds of demonstrators, including a number of prominent opposition figures. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is backing the protests, told The Associated Press that at least five of its leaders and five former members of parliament had been detained.

Mubarak’s regime posted a special operations counterterrorism force in strategic positions around Cairo, including Tahrir Square.

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Taliban Sets Ablaze 16 NATO Vehicles in Pakistan

Taliban militants in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday attacked a NATO convoy transporting fuel supplies to troops in Afghanistan, officials said.

The attackers set 16 oil tankers on fire before dawn outside the town of Dera Murad Jamali, some 250 miles southeast of Quetta, AFP reports.

Local administration chief Abdul Fatah Khajjak told AFP that the militants rode in a car and opened fire on the vehicles. A driver’s assistant was wounded in the shooting.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed responsibility for the incident, saying the attack was “in retaliation to drone attacks in tribal areas,” according to AFP.

The U.S. doubled such attacks in the last year, killing more than 650 people with about 100 drone strikes, AFP said.

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Tunis: President Dismisses Gov’t Amid Riots

After thousands of demonstrators marched through the Tunisian capital of Tunis to demand the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Friday, the autocratic leader has decided to dismiss his government.

The iron-fisted president, who has been in power for 23 years, also said he would call early legislative elections in six months, The Associated Press reports.

The people of Tunisia have enjoyed relative prosperity since Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup in 1987: Tunis, the North African city on the Mediterranean known for its beaches and ancient ruins, is a thriving tourist attraction. Until recently, Tunisians have tolerated the autocratic government in exchange for political stability and peace.

But simmering frustrations over high unemployment and reports of government corruption have erupted in violence in recent weeks. 23 people have been killed in the demonstrations, which began in mid-December – and that’s just the official death toll, opposition figures say. It’s likely that dozens more have been killed.

In an attempt to placate demonstrators, Ben Ali went on television Thursday, promising freedom of the press and political transparency. He also said he would resign when his term ends in 2014, and ordered price cuts on foodstuffs.

After his speech, thousands held a rally in support of the ruler on the main drag of Avenue Bourguiba, chanting, “Long live Ben Ali!”, AP reports. Some say the event was staged by the powerful ruling RCD party.

Regardless, the speech did not seem to appease the majority of demonstrators, who turned out for a massive riot Friday. Ben Ali’s regime fired rounds of tear gas at thousands of protesters in the center of the capital.

Ben Ali has declared a state of emergency as violence continues to escalate, AP said.

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North Korea Threatens “Sacred War”

North Korea threatened to start a “sacred” nuclear war against South Korea Thursday after Seoul staged more artillery drills near the North Korean border.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that defense chief Kim Yong Chun announced that Korea was “fully prepared to launch a sacred war” against its neighbor. Kim said that the North would make use of its nuclear resources if attacked and warned the South against encroaching upon North Korean territory.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have mounted steadily this week as South Korea staged military drills on Yeonpyeong Island. Last month the North shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines.

South Korea staged the largest live-fire drills on Thursday, mobilizing missiles artillery, attack helicopters, rocket systems, and fighter jets. About 800 troops participated in the exercise, UPI reported.

South Korean officials said the display was meant to dissuade North Korea from provocative action.

UPI reported that the White House maintains its support of South Korea.

“I think exercises that have been announced well in advance, that are transparent, that are defensive in nature should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “Everybody, I think, in the world is aware that they’re happening. And they are exercises that are defensive in nature. The United States is obviously supportive of the Republic of Korea.”

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North Korea Doesn’t Retaliate After South Korean Drills

North Korea appears to be attempting to ease tensions with its neighbor.

Relations on the Korean peninsula have been strained ever since the South conducted military drills last month. The North shelled Yeonpyeong Island in response to the drills, killing two marines and two civilians.

Since then, the North has threatened to retaliate against the South for conducting more artillery drills. But on Monday, the country made no move after the South carried out a 90-minute series of drills.

According to the Associated Press, North Korea called the incident a “reckless military provocation,” but said it would not react because Seoul changed its firing zones so that the South Korean shells landed father south of the North’s shores.

South Korea launched fighter jets and evacuated hundreds of civilians along the border in anticipation of an attack, AP reported.

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