CAIRO (AP) -- A major Egyptian ultraconservative Salafi group says they will back a moderate Islamist candidate for president, in a setback for the country's powerful Muslim Brotherhood.
The leader of the Al-Nour party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, said Saturday that the decision to back Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh was designed to allay fears among Egyptians over the growing prowess of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abolfotoh is a moderate Islamist who is also popular among some liberals.
Islamist groups emerged as powerful players following the ouster of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Nour party garnered 70 percent of the seats in the parliamentary elections. But many Egyptians worry that the Brotherhood is overreaching.
ElBaradei returns to Egypt politics with new party
CAIRO (AP) -- Reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei has launched a new political party that he says aims to unite Egyptians and save the country's revolution from a messy democratic transition.
The Constitution Party marks a return to public life for ElBaradei, who declared in January that he would not run for president, saying a fair vote would be impossible during a muddled transition period.
ElBaradei said: "We hope through this party to start anew."
He added Saturday that the party aims to unite the youth groups behind last year's uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and prepare them for a future political role.
The move clearly seeks to provide a counterbalance to the rise of Islamists, who trounced Egypt's liberals and leftists in the first parliamentary elections since Mubarak's ouster.
Syria says UN chief biased, troops clash with rebels at sea, near presidential palace
BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria is accusing U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon of being biased.
Ban has blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for widespread cease-fire violations, saying Syria's repression of civilians has reached an "intolerable stage" and demanding Assad's regime "live up to its promises to the world."
A state-run newspaper today called the comments "outrageous," accusing Ban of ignoring "crimes and terrorist acts" against Syria and encouraging more violence.
The rhetorical attack on the U.N. secretary-general is raising new concerns that Assad is playing for time to avoid compliance with a peace plan that could eventually force him out of office.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues. Activists say regime forces battled army defectors near Assad's summer palace in a coastal village today and shelled a Damascus suburb in pursuit of gunmen.
State media says government troops foiled an attempt by armed men in rubber boats to land on Syria's coast. It's the first reported attempt by rebels to infiltrate Syria by sea.
Israeli ex-intel chief slams PM's Iran stance
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office is calling remarks by the former chief of the Shin Bet security agency "irresponsible."
Yuval Diskin accused Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (EH'-hud buh-RAHK') of exaggerating the effectiveness of a possible military strike against Iran and its nuclear facilities. He says a strike might in fact prompt Tehran to accelerate the program.
Diskin headed Shin Bet until last year. At a public meeting yesterday, he said he had no faith in Israel's current leaders, charging that Netanyahu and his defense minister have their judgment clouded by "messianic feelings."
He also attacked the government for not actively pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Barak's office accused Diskin of pettiness, saying he was speaking out of "personal frustration."
Diskin's speech follows remarks by the country's current top military commander that also seemed to disagree with the country's leadership on the likelihood that Iran will pursue a nuclear weapon. Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told The Associated Press this week that he sees Iran ultimately bowing to international pressure and deciding against building a nuclear weapon.
Saudi official urges Gulf unity to confront Iran
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's deputy foreign minister says Gulf Arab states must seek full integration of key affairs such as diplomacy and defense to counter perceived threats including Iran's nuclear ambitions and Arab Spring spillover.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah's comments highlight strong Saudi support for unity efforts among the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
The Western-allied bloc has increasingly discussed closer coordination to battle Arab Spring-inspired opposition and confront regional rival Iran. Last year, a Saudi-led military force came to the aid of Bahrain's embattled monarchy against an ongoing uprising by the country's Shiite majority.
Prince Abdulaziz spoke at a conference Saturday on Gulf youth issues.
Obama releases $147M in aid to Palestinians
JERUSALEM (AP) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has ended a $147 million Congressional funding freeze that shut down Sesame Street and other aid programs to the Palestinians.
An official with the U.S. Agency for International Development said Saturday that the money, which pays for infrastructure, education and health projects, had been restored.
But the official could not say specifically whether Sesame Street would resume.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
In October, a member of Congress froze $192 million earmarked to the Palestinians as a penalty for their United Nations membership bid. Since then, Congress has released about $45 million.
Obama announced Wednesday he would override Congress and release the remaining funds.
Pakistan wants apology for US border killings
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- American attempts to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan appear to be deadlocked on the issue of a U.S. apology for killing 24 Pakistani border troops last November.
U.S. officials visited Pakistan on Friday for talks on rebooting the relationship, but left without agreement.
A statement from the Pakistani president's office said Asif Ali Zardari told the U.S. officials that Washington needed to help Pakistan reach "closure" over the killings of the soldiers on the Afghan border by following recommendations by the Pakistani parliament.
The parliament has asked for Washington to apologize for the incident.
The United States has expressed regret, but has declined to say it is sorry.
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