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US plane fires at Syrians

Damascus, March 24, (Reuters): A US warplane fired a missile at a bus bringing Syrians home from Iraq, killing five and wounding at least 10, the official Sana news agency said today. It said the incident occurred yesterday morning near Iraq’s al-Rutbeh area, some 160 km from the Syrian border.

“A US warplane fired a missile at 10 am local time yesterday (Sunday) on a civilian bus carrying Syrian nationals in al-Rutbeh... killing five and wounding at least 10,” the agency said. A Syrian official confirmed the incident.

The agency said 37 people were travelling on the bus when it was hit.

Syria, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, has been an opponent of the war on Iraq.

Allied airstrip

Near Najaf (Iraq) (Reuters): US Army engineers put the finishing touches to a new desert airstrip in central Iraq on Monday to help US-led forces spy on Iraqi forces and plan an assault on Baghdad. Earthmoving equipment and rollers worked through sandstorms to turn a patch of bumpy desert and scrub into a one-km flat strip that will allow unmanned spy planes to patrol the skies around Baghdad.

Healing touch

Bahrain (Reuters): A number of Iraqi prisoners of war are being treated for wounds on the US hospital ship, Comfort, in the Gulf, the US military said. It said it was respecting their “privacy” in line with the 1949 Geneva Convention on POWs. “We are treating all injured from either side and giving them the best quality care we can,” said navy Lieutenant Garrett Kasper, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based naval component of the US Central Command.

Morocco talks

Rabat (Reuters): Morocco, a moderate Muslim kingdom which has seen widespread protests against the war in Iraq, is set to postpone talks with the US on a proposed free trade agreement. “We are on the verge of announcing the postponement of the second round of talks,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. She declined to elaborate. The talks were initially set to resume in Rabat on Monday.

Chirac letter

Paris (Reuters): French President Jacques Chirac, the leading political opponent of the war on Iraq, has thanked Pope John Paul II for his outspoken opposition to the US-led attack and suggested that France and the Vatican work together for peace. In a letter published on Monday, he told the Pope that both should work to ensure the primacy of international law, justice and dialogue over armed conflict.

Islamic alert

Paris (Reuters): France’s top Islamic leader has warned in an interview that the Iraq war would polarise the large French Muslim community and could hurt government efforts to promote moderate Islam in the country. The warning by Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, upset a quietly growing consensus in Paris that President Jacques Chirac’s anti-war stand and inter-faith dialogue would help shield France from Iraq-linked tension.

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