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  |   Aug. 20, 2010 at 8:23 AM
Clinton expected to announce Mideast talks

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to resume direct talks, setting a one-year time limit, officials said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to announce the agreement Friday, The New York Times reported. The negotiations would be the first in 20 months.

Officials close to the discussions said President Barack Obama plans to invite Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington next month.

While the Obama administration has not confirmed any agreement for talks, there were hints of movement Thursday.

"We think we are very, very close to a decision by the parties to enter into direct negotiations," Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said at a press briefing. "We think we're well positioned to get there."

Whether negotiations will have any result is another question, the newspaper said. The Palestinians want a state based on Israel's 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.


Lebanon, Algeria sending ships to Gaza

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Organizers of a Lebanese humanitarian effort said a ship that Israel has linked to Hezbollah will head for Gaza Sunday and an Algerian ship is already en route.

Sources in the Israeli army said the navy would intercept any ship attempting to reach Gaza.

Arab media reports said an aid ship sponsored by the Algerian government, with political and religious officials on board, headed for Gaza Thursday.

Palestine Today said the ship was funded by Algerian businessmen and religious officials to express solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. No details were given concerning the route the ship planned to take or the cargo it carried.

At a news conference in Tripoli Thursday, Samar al-Hajj, organizer of the Lebanese humanitarian effort, said the Mariam will leave for Cyprus Sunday evening from the port of Tripoli, Arab and Lebanese media said.

Al-Hajj told reporters that all 50 activists on board the ship are women and said the cargo includes cancer medication, books and toys.

She is the wife of an officer in the Lebanese security service who was jailed for four years for alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Israeli officials said she and her husband met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in May.

The ship is reportedly funded by Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian businessman of Palestinian descent who heads the "Free Palestine Organization."

Israeli government officials said the ship would not be permitted to reach Gaza, but can dock at an Israeli port and the goods will be dismantled and transferred overland to Gaza.

The Lebanese ship is a Bolivian-flagged cargo vessel originally called the Junia Star.

The Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon said the ship would not be allowed to dock in Cyprus.

"We decided that such a ship will not be allowed to enter Cyprus, and if such a Gaza bound ship docks in a Cypriot port the crew and the passengers will be deported to their country of origin," Israel media quoted Kyriacos Kouros as saying.

Cyprus has a "moral and legal responsibility" to those allowed into its waters, and a blockade-busting ship could endanger lives and "regional peace and stability," he said.

In May, Israel intercepted a flotilla heading for Gaza and commandos raided the ships. Nine activists were killed on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara.


'Merchant of Death' faces extradition

BANGKOK, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- A Thai appeals court reversed a lower court decision against extraditing a presumed Russian arms dealer to the United States and set a three-month deadline.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the "illegal, political decision" against Viktor Bout -- subject of a book titled "Merchant of Death" -- and said Moscow would still seek his return to Russia, The New York Times reported Friday.

"Based on the information we have at our disposal, the decision was made under very strong outside pressure," Lavrov said. "This is lamentable."

Bout, a Russian businessman, is suspected of running a huge arms trafficking organization that supplied weapons to governments, insurgents and rebels across the world.

The appeals court decision, which reversed a 2009 ruling, is seen as a win for President Barack Obama's administration, which had summoned the Thai ambassador in Washington to the State Department to "emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States," a U.S. official said.

Russia had been seeking to prevent Bout from being placed in the U.S. legal system. Bout was arrested in Bangkok in a sting operation two years ago.

"I assure you that we will continue to do all that is necessary to ensure his return to his homeland," Russia's top diplomat said.

In 2009, a panel of Thai judges said Bout's "guilt cannot be determined in Thailand." In its ruling Friday, the appeals court did not contradict the 2009 finding, but said enough evidence was present to extradite Bout to the United States, the Times said.

"This case has to be further pursued in a court in the United States that has jurisdiction," said Siripan Kobkaew, one of the judges.

Bout's infamy was the basis of the 2005 movie, "Lord of War," and his arms dealings are detailed in the book "Merchant of Death."


BP accused of withholding information

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Transocean, operator of the drilling rig that exploded and sank April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, says BP is hampering its investigation.

Transocean acting co-counsel Steven L. Roberts signed a letter sent to BP accusing the oil giant of withholding test results and basic information about the accident, The Washington Post said Friday.

It appears BP is withholding evidence "in an attempt to prevent any entity other than BP from investigating the cause of the April 20th incident and the resulting spill," the letter said.

BP associate general counsel James Neath responded Thursday, saying Transocean's claim is a "nothing more than a publicity stunt evidently designed to draw attention away from Transocean's potential role in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy."

Neath said BP has already provided Transocean with more than 100,000 documents and demanded that Transocean make public results of its own investigation, the report said.

Transocean operated the drilling rig under contract to BP.

The two companies are working together to kill the Macondo well, site of America's worst oil spill. Nine of those killed were Transocean employees.

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