Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Netanyahu Plan Calls for Fresh Approach to Peace With Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for what he says is a fresh approach to peace with the Palestinians. But Mr. Netanyahu is making no mention of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu has dispatched key officials in his administration to the United States and Europe to sell his government's new policy - one that analysts say will be difficult for the international community to accept.

The Netanyahu administration wants to abandon the old formulas of trading land for peace and creating a separate Palestinian state; plans that the new Israeli leaders say are not working.

His administration says Iran and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah - militant groups that want to destroy Israel - are the real problem.

Mr. Netanyahu addressed members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, via satellite from Jerusalem late Monday. He said he believes it is possible to achieve a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, but that it requires a fresh approach.

"The fresh approach that I suggest is pursuing a triple track toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians: a political track, a security track, an economic track," he said. "The political track means that we're prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay and without any preconditions, the sooner the better."

The Israeli leader wants to boost the Palestinian economy, saying that jobs and prosperity will give young Palestinians hope in the future and prevent them from being - in his words - "hostage to a cult of death, despair, and hate."

Mr. Netanyahu made no mention of a two-state solution, putting him at odds with the United States, which has called on all sides to work for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders say they are prepared restart negotiations only if a two-state solution is one of the goals.

Swine flu goes person-to-pig; What's next?

Now that the swine flu virus has passed from a farmworker to pigs, could it jump back to people? The question is important, because crossing species again could make it more deadly.

The never-before-seen virus was created when genes from pig, bird and human viruses mixed together inside a pig. Experts fear the virus that has gone from humans back into pigs in at least one case could mutate further before crossing back into humans again. But no one can predict what will happen.

"Could it gain virulence? Yes," Juan Lubroth, an animal health expert at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, said Sunday. "It could also become milder. It could go in both directions."

Canadian officials announced Saturday that the virus had infected about 200 pigs on a farm — the first evidence that it had jumped to another species. It was linked to a farmworker who recently returned from Mexico, where 19 people have died from the virus. The farmworker has recovered, and the mildly infected pigs have been quarantined.

Agriculture officials believe the worker may have sneezed or coughed near the pigs, possibly in a barn. About 10 percent of the herd experienced loss of appetite and fever, but all are recovering.

Experts say pork — even from infected pigs — is safe to eat.

Lubroth stressed that sick people should avoid contact with swine, but said healthy farmworkers don't need to take any extra precautions because the chance of catching flu from a pig is small.

Unlike the H5N1 bird flu virus, which infects the blood, organs and tissue of poultry, most swine flus are confined to the respiratory tract, meaning the risk of a human getting infected by a pig is "probably 10 or a 1,000 times less," Lubroth said.

But pigs are of special concern because they share some basic biological similarities with humans, and they have served as "mixing vessels" in which various flu strains have swapped genetic material. That's what happened to create the current swine flu strain.

Scientists are unsure when the virus leaped from pigs to humans — possibly months or even a year ago — but it was identified as a new strain about a week and a half ago. Since then, nearly 800 cases have been confirmed worldwide. The only death outside Mexico occurred when a Mexican toddler died in a Texas hospital.

There have been sporadic cases of pigs infecting humans with influenza in the past. Most cases resulted in mild symptoms, typically among people who were in close contact with sick pigs. A few deaths have been recorded, and limited human-to-human transmission also has been documented, but nothing sustained.

Dr. Tim Uyeki, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has worked on SARS and bird flu outbreaks, said there may be more pig-to-human cases that have gone unnoticed because surveillance among swine populations tends to be weaker than among poultry stocks.

Given that the past three flu pandemics — the 1918 Spanish flu, the 1957-58 Asian flu and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 — were all linked to birds, much of the global pandemic preparedness has focused on avian flus.

"The world has been watching and preparing and trying to prevent a pandemic from an avian influenza reservoir," he said. "The focus has been on birds, and here is a virus that's coming from a swine reservoir. Now it's a human virus."

LeBron James wins NBA MVP award

Unstoppable at both ends of the floor this season, Cleveland superstar LeBron James is the NBA's Most Valuable Player.

James, who led Cleveland to a team record 66 regular-season wins and the top overall seed in the playoffs, will receive the award Monday afternoon, a person with knowledge of the choice told The Associated Press. James has chosen Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, his alma mater, as the site for the award presentation, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement has not been made.

James is the first Cavaliers player to win the award. The 24-year-old averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists this season, his sixth as a pro. He also finished second in voting for defensive player of the year, making him perhaps the league's most dominant two-way player since Michael Jordan.

At 24 years, 106 days, James is the youngest player to win the award since Moses Malone (24 years, 16 days) in 1978-79. Wes Unseld was 23 when he won it in 1968-69.

Focused from the start of the 2008-09 season, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James sharpened his magnificent skills this season.

He started a career-high 81 games and set personal bests in field-goal (49) and free-throw (79) percentages. James became just the second player to post five straight seasons of at least 27 points, six rebounds and six assists. The other is Oscar Robertson, whose well-rounded game is the one James' is most often compared.

James was in a three-way battle all season with Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Miami's Dwyane Wade for MVP honors. The trio — teammates last summer on the U.S. Olympic team that won gold — seemed to upstage each other on a nightly basis.

It's not a surprise that the loyal James would select his high school for the ceremony. It's where he won three state basketball championships and where he burst onto the national scene, becoming a cover subject for Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old. He announced his intention to skip college in the Fighting Irish's quaint gym and recently filmed a "60 Minutes" interview there.

RI authorities to announce charges in hotel attack

WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — The Boston medical student charged with killing a masseuse he met on Craigslist is expected to face new charges soon in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island prosecutors said Monday that they will announce an arrest warrant in the attempted robbery of a stripper inside a hotel last month.

They've previously said Philip Markoff, who is charged in Boston with killing the masseuse, was the suspect in the April 16 robbery attempt at a Holiday Inn Express in Warwick.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity previously told The Associated Press that investigators found Markoff's fingerprint in the hotel. They also believe he sent text messages from there.

An exotic dancer from Las Vegas who offered lap dances told Rhode Island authorities that she was bound with cord and held at gunpoint by a man she met through Craigslist, a classified advertising Web site. She said her assailtant fled when her husband came up to the hotel room.

Markoff, 23, was arrested April 20 on Interstate 95 while driving with his fiancee to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

He was charged with the April 14 killing of Julissa Brisman, a 25-year-old New York City resident who advertised on Craigslist, at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel, in the historic Back Bay district.

He has also been charged in a separate robbery at a hotel of another masseuse police say he met through the site.

He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, John Salsberg, did not return a phone message Monday.

Markoff was put on suicide watch at the Boston jail where he is being held.

Warwick police officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

Pakistan suicide attack, residents flee Swat

A suicide bomber rammed a car into troops in northwest Pakistan killing five people as panicked residents fled a key town under gunfire Tuesday, fearing that a peace deal would collapse.

The deadly attack came on the eve of President Asif Ali Zardari's first face-to-face talks with US counterpart Barack Obama, with Washington concerned that emboldened militants are threatening Pakistan's very existence.

The bomber ploughed a car packed with explosives into the back of a paramilitary jeep at a checkpoint near Bara, where the northwest city of Peshawar runs into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-infested tribal area of Khyber.

Rescue workers picked charred bodies out of the wreckage, as police and hospital officials said four civilians and a paramilitary soldier were killed.

Police said 21 people were also wounded, including several children who were waiting for a van to take them to school.

"As the vehicle stopped at a police checkpoint the bomber hit his explosive-laden car from behind," police officer Abdul Ghafoor said.

There was no claim for the attack but Pakistan's paramilitary are locked in a fierce offensive in the northwest against Taliban bitterly opposed to the government's cooperation with the United States in the "war on terror".

Zardari is in the United States preparing for talks with Obama on Wednesday, hoping to secure a massive US aid package to better equip the military and boost development in his cash-strapped nuclear-armed country.

His weak civilian government is under US pressure to crush militants in the northwest, where Washington says Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other Islamists pose the biggest terror threat to the West and an "existential threat" to Pakistan.

The White House talks, which also involve Afghan President Hamid Karzai, are part of a sweeping new US strategy designed to defeat militants threatening the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Zardari's administration came under fierce criticism at home and abroad for ratifying a February agreement with an Islamist cleric to put three million people in the northwest under sharia law in a bid to end a Taliban uprising.

Frightened residents fled suburban areas in the main town of Swat, where the Taliban concentrated a two-year insurgency, after the army issued an evacuation order that ignited fears of an imminent new offensive, witnesses said.

The military ordered four neighbourhoods on the edge of Mingora to evacuate and announced a break in an indefinite curfew for the displaced to flee to a special camp as bullets rattled through parts of Mingora.

Local residents said "large numbers" were leaving in panic, weighed down with whatever belongings they could carry on foot, waiting at bus stations or driving away in private cars, although the military withdrew the order.

"We have now suspended this order and people are directed not to vacate their homes because the government has no immediate plan to launch an operation in these areas," said local military spokesman Major Nasir Khan.

A government official said five people died overnight in crossfire between militants and security forces in Swat, where a once-thriving tourist industry has been decimated by the brutal Taliban insurgency seeking to impose sharia law.

The violence broke out with the government and Islamist hardliners at loggerheads over an Islamic appeals court -- which the Taliban demanded under the peace agreement but rejected for being created without proper consultation.

The military has also been fighting hundreds of armed Taliban who thrust further south and east out of Swat into the districts of Lower Dir and Buner.

Late Monday, top US senators unveiled plans to expand and overhaul civilian US aid to Pakistan, calling it an urgent step to help defeat Islamists who threaten the nuclear-armed ally's stability.

But the US national security adviser, General James Jones, told the BBC that Washington needed further guarantees about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, despite reassurances that the weapons are out of Taliban reach.