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Friday, August 28, 2009

Report: Meshal to fly to Cairo to approve Shalit deal

Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal is expected to fly to Cairo next week to approve a deal that includes the release of captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, the London-based Arabic language newspaper al-Hayat reported on Friday.

Meanwhile, a German intelligence official has arrived in Cairo to help mediate on the Shalit deal, senior German officials told Haaretz on Thursday.

As part of the efforts, the German official will "interview" senior Israeli, Egyptian and Hamas officials in order to find out the reasons for the standstill in negotiations and to offer a path to bring about a breakthrough.
The German sources told Haaretz that Hamas sees German intelligence as an honest broker. They added that the German official would not replace Egypt's mediator in the negotiations, but would rather act as an external adviser.

The sources said that the German mediator had already held talks with the Hamas leadership in Damascus and had even had meetings with senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip. He had also met with Israel's chief Shalit negotiator, Haggai Hadas, and with other Israeli officials, the sources said.

Last Monday, a Hamas delegation led by Ahmed Jabari, the head of the group's military wing, arrived in Cairo for talks on a prisoner swap.

Jabari, who was accompanied by top Hamas figure Mahmoud Zahar and two other advisers, is considered the leading Hamas figure on prisoner exchange talks.

Abbas to call election if talks with Hamas fail

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday he would press ahead with a January parliamentary and presidential election opposed by the rival Hamas movement if reconciliation efforts failed.

"We are still offering the same proposal, but if it's refused, then the sole alternative is to go to presidential and parliamentary elections," Abbas said, referring to a unity government including his secular Fatah party and Islamist Hamas.

Abbas was speaking at the first meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in 13 years.

More than 300 members of the PNC, the top legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, convened to determine how to replace, whether by appointment or vote, six deceased members of the PLO's 18-member Executive Committee.

Hamas, which won a 2006 parliamentary election and seized control of the Gaza Strip a year later in fighting with Fatah, says it will not accept a new poll in January unless a "package deal" is reached with Abbas's party.

"Going to an election without a (unity) accord is not acceptable because it will not be based upon a national agreement," Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said in Gaza.

He said that without a reconciliation deal, Hamas would not allow a ballot to be held in the Gaza Strip. Hamas opposes the Western-backed Abbas's peace efforts with Israel.

Missing US girl bore two children

A US woman found after being abducted as a girl in 1991 gave birth to two children fathered by her alleged kidnapper - the first when she was 14.

Jaycee Lee Dugard and her daughters, 11 and 15, were kept in a "hidden backyard within a backyard", police say.

Alleged kidnapper Phillip Garrido, 58, and his wife Nancy Garrido, 54, are being held in custody in California.

DNA tests are being done to confirm Ms Dugard's identity, but meanwhile she has been reunited with her mother.

"She was in good health, but living in a backyard for the past 18 years does take its toll," El Dorado County Undersheriff Fred Kollar said.

Ms Dugard disappeared in 1991, aged 11, apparently taken by two people who bundled her into a car.

Mr Kollar said that since the kidnapping she had lived with the couple, isolated from view at a property in Antioch near San Francisco, 170 miles (273km) from her home in South Lake Tahoe.

"The tents and outbuildings in the backyard were placed in a strategic arrangement to inhibit outside viewing and to isolate the victims from outside contact."

She and the children spent "most of their lives" there, he said, adding that they had never been to school or seen a doctor.

Their identities were revealed after police spotted Mr Garrido as he handed out religious literature at the University of California Berkeley campus with the two young children.

He raised suspicions because as a registered sex offender he was not allowed to be with young children.

He was called in by his parole officer for questioning, and brought the two children and a young woman he called Allissa with him.

During questioning he revealed that Allissa was actually Ms Dugard. She also confirmed her identity to police.

In a telephone interview from prison with the KCRA-TV station, Mr Garrido said he had not admitted to abduction and that the birth of the first child 15 years ago had changed his life.

"If you take this a step at a time, you're going to fall over backward and in the end you're going to find the most powerful, heart-warming story," he said.

"I tell you here's the story of what took place at this house and you're going to be absolutely impressed.

"It's a disgusting thing that took place with me in the beginning. But I turned my life completely around," he said.

Some of those who had had contact with Mr Garrido over recent years said he had developed increasingly strong religious beliefs.

Tim Allen, who did business with Mr Garrido's printing firm, told Associated Press that Mr Garrido gave the impression he was planning to establish a church. "He rambled. It made no sense," Mr Allen said.

'Given up hope'

Police said they had found a vehicle hidden in the backyard of the Antioch property that matched the vehicle described at the time of the abduction.

Although Mr Garrido was previously visited by a parole officer, there was nothing odd noticed about the backyard.

The area occupied by Ms Dugard and her children was concealed by shrubs, rubbish bins and a tarpaulin.

Ms Dugard's stepfather, Carl Probyn, who witnessed the abduction on 10 June 1991, said he had "given up hope" she would be found alive.

"It broke my marriage up. I've gone through hell, I mean I'm a suspect up until yesterday," Mr Probyn, 60, told AP.

Mr Probyn saw the young girl being taken away by two people as she walked from her home to a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe.

He said a stranger drove up and grabbed Ms Dugard, bundling her into a grey car even as she tried to resist by kicking and screaming.

Mr Probyn believed a man and woman were in the vehicle. Despite several false reports of sightings in the intervening years, Ms Dugard was never seen again.

"She sounds like she's okay," Mr Probyn said. "I hope she's been well-treated this entire 18 years.

Kidnapped California Girl Found 18 Years Later

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California girl who was kidnapped at the age of 11 in 1991 has been found alive, having spent 18 years living in sheds and tents behind the home of her accused abductor, a convicted rapist who fathered two children with her, police said on Thursday.

Jaycee Dugard had been missing since she was snatched off a street by two people in a gray sedan while walking to a bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, east of San Francisco, on June 10, 1991.

Dugard, now 29, was found after a parole officer for her accused kidnapper became suspicious, leading to a search of his home near the town of Antioch, about 100 miles southwest of where she was abducted.

Police say the search turned up a hidden "backyard within a backyard" at the home of registered sex offender and convicted rapist Phillip Craig Garrido, where Dugard and the two children were confined in a series of sheds and tents.

"She was in good health but living in a backyard for 18 years must take its toll," El Dorado County Undersheriff Fred Kollar told a news conference.

Carl Probyn, Dugard's stepfather, said on television he and her mother "cried for about 10 minutes" after they were told by authorities that she had been found alive.


Garrido, 58, and his wife Nancy Garrido, 54, were arrested over Dugard's abduction and prosecutors said they were likely to be charged on Friday.

Authorities said Garrido was suspected of fathering two children with Dugard, girls now aged 11 and 15.

"None of the children had ever been to school, none had been to a doctor. They were kept in complete isolation in this compound," Kollar said.

While the case of Dugard's abduction had remained open for the past 18 years, police had never found a trace of the missing girl or the gray sedan until Tuesday, when Garrido tried to enter the University of California, Berkeley campus with the two girls to pass out religious leaflets.

A campus police officer found his interaction with the girls suspicious and investigated his background, ultimately alerting his parole officer.

During a visit with the parole officer, Garrido brought his wife, the two girls and a woman identified as "Allissa" -- who proved to be Dugard.

Authorities said Garrido had served time in a Nevada prison for a 1971 kidnapping and rape conviction.

The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported Garrido was described as strange by his neighbors, who said he conducted religious revivals in a tent and claimed to have invented a device to control sound with his mind.

Asked by reporters why the parole officer, who had visited Garrido's home, had never found Dugard or the secret backyard compound, authorities said it was well hidden behind a fence, vegetation and a tarpaulin.