World Briefs

Obama: ‘Peace possible’ in the Middle East

JERUSALEM – Insisting “peace is possible,” President Barack Obama on Thursday prodded both Israelis and Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations with few, if any, preconditions, softening his earlier demands that Israel stop building settlements in disputed territory.

The president made his appeal just hours after rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza landed in a southern Israeli border town, a fresh reminder of the severe security risks and tensions that have stymied peace efforts for decades.

Obama, on his second day in the Middle East, shuttled between Jerusalem and Ramallah, reaching out to the public as well as political leaders. He offered no new policies or plans for reopening peace talks but urged both sides to “think anew” about the intractable conflict and break out of the “formulas and habits that have blocked progress for so long.”

The deep disputes dividing the Israelis and Palestinians have remained much the same over the years, and include deciding the status of Jerusalem, defining borders and resolving refugee issues. Palestinians have been particularly incensed over Israeli settlements in disputed territories, and the Israelis’ continued construction has also drawn the condemnation of the United States and other nations.

Syria bombing kills pro-Assad preacher

BEIRUT – A suicide bomb ripped through a mosque in the heart of the Syrian capital Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and outspoken supporter of President Bashar Assad in one of the most stunning assassinations of Syria’s 2-year-old civil war. At least 41 others were killed and more than 84 wounded.

The slaying of Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support for Assad among the majority Sunni sect that has risen up against him.

It also marks a new low in the Syrian civil war: While suicide bombings blamed on Islamic extremists fighting with the rebels have become common, Thursday’s attack was the first time a suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a mosque.

A prolific writer whose sermons were regularly broadcast on TV, the 84-year-old al-Buti was killed while giving a religious lesson to students at the Eman Mosque in the central Mazraa district of Damascus.

Cyprus rushes bailout plan as clock ticks

NICOSIA, Cyprus – Cypriot politicians moved Thursday to restructure the country’s most troubled bank as part of a broader bailout plan that must be in place by Monday to avoid financial ruin. Concerned customers rushed to get cash from ATMs as bank employees protested.

Cyprus has been told it must raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) if it is to receive 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) from its fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. If it does not find a way by Monday, the European Central Bank said it will cut off emergency support to the banks, letting them collapse.

100 injured as blizzard hits Canadian highway

EDMONTON – A blizzard sweeping across the Canadian plains caused a chain of traffic crashes south of Edmonton, Alberta, injuring about 100 travelers, officials said Thursday.

One person was seriously hurt and about 80 were treated at the site, said Kerry Williamson of the Alberta Health Services office. Another official had earlier estimated that 300 people were hurt, four seriously. About 22 people were taken to hospitals in nearby communities, Williamson said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police closed part of Highway 2, the main road between Edmonton and Calgary, and were directing traffic away from the collision scene, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Grant MacDonald.

Hugo Chavez backers clash with protesters

CARACAS, Venezuela – Supporters of the late President Hugo Chavez hurled rocks and bottles Thursday in an attack on student protesters who were marching against perceived bias by Venezuela’s electoral council.

At least 10 students were reported injured in the violence that raised tensions in a country already sharply divided ahead of next month’s presidential election.

Hundreds of students had gathered at a central plaza in the morning and were making their way to the electoral council headquarters in downtown Caracas when they came upon a police barricade.

About 100 Chavez supporters had gathered behind the barricade in the middle of broad Avenida Universidad and began throwing rocks and bottles at the approaching students. A few students lobbed the objects back, setting off a fierce volley between the two sides.

Associated Press