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Middle East Update: Syrians Battle for 2nd Largest Airport; Iran Selecting Nuclear Plant Sites

By: AP
By: AP
Syria activists say battle for airport intensifies... Iran says it has captured a foreign `enemy drone

This undated image taken from video broadcast on Iranian state television purports to show a U.S. drone landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Iran's state TV has broadcast footage on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, allegedly extracted from the advanced CIA spy drone captured in 2011, the latest in a flurry of moves from Iranian authorities meant to underline the nation's purported military and technological advances. (AP Photo/Iranian state TV via AP video)

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian activists say the battle between rebels and government troops for the country's second-largest airport is intensifying.
The director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, says the fighting Saturday near Aleppo International airport is concentrated around a section of a highway connecting the city with a strategic facility the rebels have been trying to capture for weeks.
Rebels have recently taken control of two military bases protecting the airport. They have also cut off a highway the army has been using to transport troops and supplies there.
President Bashar Assad's troops have been locked in a stalemate with the rebels in Aleppo since July, when Syria's largest city became a major battlefield in the nearly two-year conflict.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard says it has captured a foreign unmanned aircraft during a military exercise in southern Iran.
The official IRNA news agency on Saturday quoted Gen. Hamid Sarkheili as saying that the Guard's electronic warfare unit spotted signals indicating that foreign drones were trying to enter Iranian airspace. Sarkheili, a spokesman for the military exercise, says Guard experts took control of one drone and brought it down near the city of Sirjan where the exercise is being held.
Sarkheili didn't say if the drone was American. He referred to it only as a "foreign enemy drone."
In Washington, a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.
Iran has claimed to have captured several U.S. drones, including a RQ-170 Sentinel advanced drone in December 2011 and at least three ScanEagle aircraft.

Iran draft budget reduces reliance on oil
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran says its proposed national budget greatly reduces the country's reliance on oil revenues that are down because of Western sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech late Saturday that his government will seek to compensate the fall in oil revenues by cutting spending and increasing taxes in the next Iranian calendar year, which begins March 21.
Iran has long depended on oil sales for about 80 percent of its foreign currency revenue.
Iran's income from oil and gas exports has dropped by 45 percent as a result of sanctions.
The West fears Iran may ultimately be able to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has selected 16 locations as suitable for new nuclear power plants it intends to build to boost its energy production over the next 15 years, authorities said on Saturday.
The Islamic republic says it needs 20 large-scale plants to meet its growing electricity needs over the next one-and-a-half decades. It currently operates a 1,000-megawat nuclear power plant at Bushehr, a coastal town on the Persian Gulf, and is planning to build a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.
"The whole country has been studied in the past years," said Vice President Fereidoun Abbasi, who also heads Iran's atomic energy organization. "Adequate locations, on the basis of global parameters, were probed and 16 locations at various parts of the country were identified," he said in comments published by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.
A statement released by his organization said the sites were chosen in part for their resistance to earthquakes and military air strikes.
"Geologic, demographic, topographic, seismic, meteorological and hydrologic criteria as well as access to power transmission lines ... were given into consideration," it said.
Separately, state TV said the country has discovered new uranium resources in what it characterized as a "big discovery." As U.N. sanctions ban Iran from importing any nuclear material, it has focused on developing domestic uranium reserves.
The U.S. and some of its allies fear that Iran could ultimately be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied the charges, saying its nuclear program is geared merely toward peaceful purposes such as generating electricity and producing nuclear medical radioisotopes for medical use -- not atomic bombs.
Iran also has a considerable stock of yellowcake uranium, a lightly processed substance it acquired from South Africa in the 1970s under the former U.S.-backed shah's original nuclear program. It also has unspecified quantities of yellowcake obtained from China before U.N. sanctions came into effect.


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