A spokesman for rebel leader Moqtada al-Sadr yesterday expressed surprise at threats of an imminent attack on his militia by Iraqi forces, saying the Shiite cleric had agreed to demands made by peace mediators. \n"We are surprised by the declaration and threat by the minister of defense ... because we have given our full accord to the initiative presented by the delegation," Ahmed Shibani said on al-Jazeera television. \nDefense Minister Hazem al-Shaalan vowed earlier yesterday that a "decisive" battle would be launched against al-Sadr's militiamen, who he said must surrender within hours in the central holy city of Najaf, where heavy fighting raged earlier in the day. \n"The coming hours will be decisive and we will teach them a lesson they will never forget," Shaalan told a news conference on a visit to Najaf, flanked by the holy city's governor Adnan al-Zorfi. \nUS-led Iraqi government forces have been locked in a standoff with al-Sadr's Mehdi Army for nearly two weeks. \n"In the coming hours they must surrender," Shaalan said, stressing that Iraqi troops were making the "final military preparations" should the militiamen not lay down their weapons. \n"The Mehdi Army should be dissolved and Moqtada al-Sadr brought before the prime minister, who is the one to decide what Moqtada al-Sadr's fate should be," he added. \nIn Baghdad, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the government was determined to restore security in Najaf as soon as possible. \n"The Iraqi government will not sit idly by in the face of this insurgency, but it is serious about restoring security and stability in the holy city as soon as possible," said a statement issued by his office. \nShaalan earlier told al-Arabiya television that a "decisive" battle would be unleashed later yesterday to wipe al-Sadr's militia out of Najaf. \n"Today will witness a decisive battle against Sadr followers," that would "crush the Mehdi Army and force them out of the city" of Najaf, he told the pan-Arab television station. \n"Only Iraqis will enter the mausoleum. There will not be an American intervention" inside the shrine, he said. \n"The American intervention will only be through cover from the air and some ways leading to the mausoleum, but the entrance into the mausoleum will be 100 percent Iraqi," he said. \nShaalan said "we have trained our sons from the National Guards to lead the assault [into the mausoleum], and God willing, it will be completed in a few hours." \nUS Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday the Americans were "unlikely" to storm the mausoleum, which would antagonize Shiites across the region. \nOne day after al-Sadr's apparent snub of peace delegates from a key national conference in Baghdad who braved the violence to visit the holy Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, where al-Sadr's forces are holed up, Zorfi was pessimistic about peace. \n"I think that options for peace have narrowed," he told the news conference. \nEarlier yesterday, US troops, backed by helicopter gunships, pounded militia bastions in Najaf's Old City. \nA mortar round slammed into a busy market in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul yesterday, killing at least six civilians, the US military and hospital officials said. Twenty-three people were wounded in the 1pm attack, officials said.
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did
The military last week sent “no small number” of Marine Corps officers to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Island, 東沙群島) following reports of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill targeting the islands scheduled for this month. In an interview with Hong Kong’s Bauhinia Magazine published on Saturday last week, PLA National Defense University professor Li Daguang (李大光) confirmed that the Chinese army was planning to stage a simulated invasion of the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea this month. The islands comprise three atolls, with Pratas Island, at 1.74km2, being the largest. They lie southwest of Taiwan proper in the South