Iran Dismisses 40 Diplomats

As Hard-Liners Pursue Purge

TEHRAN -- Iran announced Wednesday that 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, including supporters of warmer ties with the West, would be fired, continuing a purge of reformers as the government takes an increasingly tough stance at home and abroad.

The changes are part of a government shake-up by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that includes putting Islamic hard-liners in key posts at security agencies. Some Iranians worry that the president will bring back strict social policies.

The MIddle East

* GAZA CITY -- The militant group Hamas said it would not renew an informal nine-month-old truce with Israel, which expires at the end of the year, after Israel killed one of its leading fighters this week in an airstrike in Gaza.

Egypt, which brokered the truce, is expected to invite Hamas and other militant groups to Cairo in the coming weeks to discuss extending the agreement.

* DAMASCUS, Syria -- President Bashar Assad gave amnesty to 190 political prisoners to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.

SANA said that the amnesty was intended to bolster national unity and that similar measures would follow. The move came as Syria faced increasing international pressure over its policies.


* ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani security agencies have arrested two al Qaeda suspects and are investigating whether one is a Syrian believed to be a key figure in Osama bin Laden's terror network in Europe, two intelligence officials and a senior government official said Thursday.

The two suspects were captured this week during a raid on a house in Quetta. A senior government official confirmed the arrests and said authorities were investigating whether one of the suspects was Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, alleged to have had a key role in the March 11, 2004, Madrid bombings.


* BERLIN -- Germany's Social Democrats tapped a state governor from the formerly Communist east to be party chief and neared a deal on tax reform as the country's top parties tried to keep fragile coalition talks on track.

After a hastily called party meeting late Tuesday, the 51-year-old leader of the state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, said he would run for the post of chairman at a party congress later this month.

* LONDON -- Britain's home secretary signaled a willingness to make concessions on broad anti-terrorism legislation as opposition lawmakers and members of the governing Labor Party joined forces in an attempt to block it.

Charles Clarke offered to hold all-party talks on the most controversial proposal -- extending the time terrorism suspects could be held without charge from the current two weeks to three months.

-- From News Services