By Dan Williams and Matt Spetalnick WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States on Monday that the nuclear deal it is negotiating with Iran could threaten Israel's survival and insisted he had a "moral obligation" to speak up about deep differences with President Barack Obama on the issue. Even as he set the stage for a Washington visit that has strained U.S.-Israeli relations, Netanyahu sought to lower the temperature ahead of his controversial address to Congress on Tuesday, saying he meant no disrespect for Obama and appreciated U.S. ...
By Dominic Evans BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's armed forces, backed by Shi'ite militia, attacked Islamic State strongholds north of Baghdad on Monday as they launched an offensive to retake the city of Tikrit and the surrounding Sunni Muslim province of Salahuddin. The offensive is the biggest military operation in the province since the Sunni Islamist radicals seized swaths of north Iraq last June and advanced toward the capital Baghdad. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the start of the Salahuddin operations on Sunday during a visit to the government-held city of Samarra, where some of the thousands of troops and Shi'ite militia had gathered for the offensive. The pace of their progress in Salahuddin will affect plans to recapture Mosul further north.
By Arshad Mohammed MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry quietly cautioned Israel not to undercut Iran nuclear negotiations that resumed on Monday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to make the case against his diplomacy before the U.S. Congress. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held the first of what could amount to three days of meetings in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux about restraining the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The two men, along with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, shook hands and then met for about 50 minutes late on Monday afternoon. Both sides postured in advance and suggested the other would be to blame if the talks fail to meet an end-March deadline, for a framework accord, with Kerry saying Iran must be prepared to compromise and Zarif calling for the total lifting of sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic as part of any final deal.
Ukraine's military said on Monday one Ukrainian serviceman was killed and four wounded in separatist eastern territories in the past 24 hours, underscoring the fragility of a two-week-old ceasefire deal. Nonetheless, Ukraine reported a sharp drop in attacks from pro-Russian separatists over the weekend and said it was continuing to pull back heavy weapons from the front line. Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko also said pro-Russian rebels continued to receive a "significant" amount of military equipment from neighbouring Russia. Moscow has repeatedly denied that it is arming the separatists.
Twitter Inc and law enforcement authorities are investigating alleged threats made by Islamic State militants against the social media network's co-founder and other employees, the company said in reaction to media reports. "Our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials," a representative for Twitter said in a statement on Monday.
By Elizabeth Piper MOSCOW (Reuters) - A corpse on a bloodstained bridge, with the Kremlin's red stars glowing behind: the perfect symbolic backdrop, Russian media say, for the West to step up a campaign to vilify President Vladimir Putin. Faced with a wave of revulsion around the world at the assassination of leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, the loyal media establishment is on the counter-attack, preparing Russians for a malicious propaganda campaign by a hostile West. "At a time when there is grief, to engage in polemics is disgusting." With the gunning-down of Nemtsov in central Moscow late on Friday, Russia enters a new phase of the 'us or them' tug-of-war that has played out in the media, increasingly pliant to Putin, since Ukrainians took to the streets and overthrew their Moscow-leaning president just over a year ago. Russia accused the West of backing 'a coup d'etat' in Ukraine.
Poland's Senate speaker Bogdan Borusewicz said Monday that Russia had denied him entry for the funeral of outspoken opposition activist Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in central Moscow on Friday. "I wanted to pay respect to the slain Boris Nemtsov and to all Russians who think like him. "The denial of entry for Speaker Borusewicz is retaliation for the fact that Russian parliamentary speaker Valentina Matviyenko is subject to EU sanctions," Poland's foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said on Twitter.
Boko Haram gunmen attacked an island on the Niger side of Lake Chad, with locals reporting heavy casualties among those who fled but no official confirmation of the death toll. A private radio station in Niger said that two people died in a fire in the remote village on Sunday evening but one survivor spoken to by AFP said the death toll was higher. Abubakar Gamandi, the head of the fishermen's union in Borno state, northeast Nigeria, said he received phone calls from members telling him about the attack, which happened on Sunday. Two humanitarian workers in the area confirmed the attack but did not have more details, while a local lawmaker said that the Niger army was not present in the area.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan army is waging its largest-ever solo offensive against the Taliban, hoping to strike a decisive blow ahead of the spring fighting season and prove it can rout the insurgents without the aid of U.S. and NATO combat troops. Afghan troops have been slowly pushing up through a fertile river valley in the southern Helmand province, with special forces mounting nighttime helicopter raids into mud brick compounds and ground troops gradually advancing across the poppy fields that in past years have furnished the insurgents' main cash crop.
Cuba's Fidel Castro met this weekend with the three intelligence agents freed by the United States as part of last December's historic rapprochement, state media said Monday. In photos of the meeting posted on state daily Granma's website, the Cuban ex-president appears visibly thin in a black-and-blue tracksuit, seated in a chair surrounded by the three agents and two others who had previously been released by the United States. Before handing power to his younger brother Raul in 2006, Castro regularly made fiery calls for the release of the so-called "Cuban Five," a group arrested in Miami in September 1998 and convicted in 2001 of spying for Cuba's communist government. Havana admits the men were intelligence agents, but insists they were spying on militant Cuban exile groups, not the US government.
ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch candidate for the FIFA presidency says he wants to increase transparency at global football's governing body, send more money to national federations and boost the number of teams at the World Cup from 32 to 40.
NEW YORK (AP) — Major stock indexes headed higher on Monday as deals and economic news gave stocks a lift. The Nasdaq briefly touched 5,000, the first time the tech-heavy index has hit that mark in nearly 15 years.
Lesotho appeared to be heading for a coalition government on Monday following a snap parliamentary election aimed at bringing stability to the tiny southern African kingdom following an alleged coup attempt. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's party were in the lead with 95 percent of constituencies reporting after Saturday's voting, the electoral commission said. The African Union described the election as "peaceful" but noted continuing security concerns in the wake of the failed coup in August last year which prompted Thabane to flee to South Africa. The Lesotho Congress for Democracy of Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, whose differences with Thabane fractured the outgoing coalition, had two seats.
A senior Hamas military official said Monday his Palestinian Islamist group which controls Gaza is rebuilding its heavily depleted rocket arsenal in case of fresh conflict with Israel. "Any regional or international attempt to lay siege to Hamas or its armed wing is bound to fail," said Marwan Eissa, a commander of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing. Hamas was "not looking for confrontation" with Israel, he said, quoted by Hamas-run news agency Al-Ray. Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel during a July-August conflict in and around the Gaza Strip when an Israeli military campaign killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday warned Israel's prime minister against revealing details at his upcoming speech to US Congress of an Iran nuclear deal that world powers are in the process of negotiating. While he did not mention Benjamin Netanyahu by name, Kerry told reporters in Geneva he was "concerned by reports" that "selective details" of the deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear programme would be revealed in the coming days. Kerry is due to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux later Monday for talks on the Iran agreement. "The best way to deal with the question surrounding this nuclear programme is to find a comprehensive deal, but not a deal which comes at any costs," he told reporters.
By Alastair Macdonald and Pavel Polityuk BRUSSELS/KIEV (Reuters) - Russia rebuffed Ukrainian accusations it was holding back on gas deliveries and warned that Kiev's credit would run out this week as the two sides sat down on Monday for EU-mediated energy talks in Brussels. A "winter package" of Russian gas for Ukraine, brokered and part-financed by the European Union runs out at the end of the month and EU officials are now trying to help Kiev arrange summer supplies from Moscow with the two sides locked in conflict over the pro-Russian revolt in eastern Ukraine. In the latest round of mutual allegations of breaching the current deal, Ukraine's state energy firm Naftogaz said Russia's Gazprom had not delivered what had been paid for.
By Natalia Zinets KIEV (Reuters) - Before she was appointed to head Ukraine's central bank last June, Valeriia Gontareva was praised as one of the most successful investment bankers in the country. Tabloids published photos of her son relaxing in expensive hotels while Ukraine teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. "Sack Gontareva, the looter!" it read. Inflation has jumped to 25 percent from 12 percent, bank deposits have fallen by a third, a quarter of banks have gone bankrupt and the central bank's foreign exchange reserves have shrunk to $6.42 billion from $17.08 billion.
By Ayman al-Warfalli BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Khalifa Haftar, one of the most divisive figures in post-revolutionary Libya, was appointed army commander for the country's internationally recognized government on Monday in a move that could complicate U.N. talks to end the conflict. Four years after Muammar Gaddafi's demise, Libya is mired in a conflict pitting the recognized government against a rival administration set up by an armed faction known as Libya Dawn that seized the capital Tripoli last summer. Responding to Haftar's appointment, the Tripoli government denounced the former Gaddafi ally as a "war criminal" and said his promotion would further exacerbate a power struggle that threatens to tear the country apart. "The House of Representatives has appointed General Khalifa Belqasem Haftar as top military commander," said Tarek Saqer Juroushi, deputy head of the defense committee at Libya's elected parliament.
A news agency describing itself as Africa's "first syndicated multimedia content service", has been launched by a group of leading African entrepreneurs, the agency said Monday. With an initial investment of $20 million and staff in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg the African News Agency (ANA) plans to expand into 15 African countries by July. "We are very excited to be embarking on the first step of providing African news by and for Africans," ANA chief executive Chris Borain said. One of the main figures behind the new agency is Iqbal Surve, whose Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium acquired Independent Newspapers, South Africa's leading newspaper group, in 2013.
OLATHE, Kansas (AP) — A white supremicist accused of fatally shooting three people at Jewish sites in Kansas declared "Heil Hitler!" and asked how many Jews he had killed after the attacks, a police officer who was at the scene testified Monday.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The family of a Washington Post correspondent detained in Iran says authorities there have allowed him to hire a lawyer after more than seven months behind bars, though it is not the attorney they had hoped for.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In a meeting that marks a thaw in diplomatic ties, King Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday discussed regional issues such as the ongoing war in Syria, Iran nuclear talks and turmoil in Yemen.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Padraig Harrington captured his first PGA Tour title in more than six years Monday when he won the Honda Classic by making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation and beating 21-year-old rookie Daniel Berger on the second playoff hole.
UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry criticised the international community Monday over the failure to deliver aid promised for reconstructing Gaza, on his final trip to the Palestinian territory. Israel and Hamas fought a devastating 50-day war in the besieged coastal enclave last summer which killed more than 2,200 people and left 100,000 Gazans homeless and large swathes of the territory in ruins. The UN and other agencies have warned failure to rehabilitate Gaza will lead to further conflict in the near future, and urged Israel to lift its eight-year blockade of the Strip. "Gaza is more isolated than ever, with many restrictions still in place at Israeli crossings for both goods and people and with the Rafah crossing (with Egypt) practically closed," Serry said in a statement.
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner plans to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a bust of Winston Churchill when he speaks to a joint meeting of Congress about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
A former head of Burundi's ruling party and leading dissident has escaped from prison where he was serving a 13 year sentence for plotting against state security, police in the central African nation said Monday. Hussein Radjabu, a leading opponent of President Pierre Nkurunziza and who has been in jail since 2007, "escaped last night between 9:00 pm and midnight along with two others," police spokesman Liboire Bakundukize told AFP. The escape comes amid mounting political tensions in the run up to presidential elections in June, when the president is expected to seek a third term that opponents say is unconstitutional. Radjabu took over the leadership of the ruling CNDD-FDD party in 2005, when Nkurunziza first became president.
A Saudi diplomat kidnapped in Yemen almost three years ago and handed to Al-Qaeda has been freed and returned to the kingdom, the interior ministry said Monday. Abdullah al-Khalidi, deputy consul in the southern port city of Aden, who was kidnapped on March 28, 2012, was freed following "intense efforts" by the Saudi intelligence services, a ministry statement carried by the official SPA news agency said without elaborating. Less than one month after his abduction, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) demanded the freeing of all its members detained in Saudi Arabia as well as a ransom in exchange for the diplomat's release. The Saudi interior ministry said the diplomat had been handed over to Al-Qaeda "in a suspicious deal" after his kidnap in Aden.
The US and Russian foreign ministers expressed cautious optimism after holding talks in Geneva Monday to end fighting in Ukraine, where the UN says more than 6,000 people have died in less than a year. The meeting between John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov in Geneva was just one of several attempts at mediation on the conflict Monday, as high-stakes talks to resolve a bitter gas dispute between Kiev and Moscow took place in Brussels. Speaking separately after their 80-minute meeting, Kerry and Lavrov both cautiously said a February 15 ceasefire was on the right track, despite repeated breaches of the peace deal that have left hundreds dead.