Israeli navy intercepts Gaza-bound protest ship

JERUSALEM -- Israeli navy commandos early Saturday intercepted a Gaza Strip-bound ship carrying about 30 pro-Palestinian activists as it attempted to break through a maritime blockade of the  impoverished seaside territory.

Israeli military officials said that after the ship refused to alter its course, soldiers took control of the vessel and directed it toward the Israeli port of Ashdod.

No injuries were reported.

The ship, called Estelle, was the last attempt by activists to bring attention to Israel’s naval blockade around Gaza. The boat carried cement and other supplies that Israel currently restricts from entering Gaza because it says they could be used to build military bunkers or weapons. Among the passengers were parliament members from Greece, Norway, Sweden and Spain, activists said.

In 2010, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists on a similar protest ship when passengers violently resisted being taken over.

The Israeli government has called the protest ships a provocation and defended its naval blockade as necessary to ensure that militant groups in Gaza do not receive weapons.

Critics say Israel should relax its restrictions on land borders to permit the importation of more building supplies.

“If Israel wants to exercise its authority as occupying power to stop ships from reaching Gaza, it must fulfill its obligation to allow free movement of people and goods via the land crossings, subject only to individual security checks," said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, an Israeli group that has criticized the blockade.

-- Edmund Sanders

Jaded Mexicans air doubts about killing of top Zeta leader

MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican Navy says it is "100% certain" that it was Heriberto Lazcano, notorious leader of the notorious Zeta paramilitary cartel, who was killed in a shootout with marines over the weekend.

But try telling that to the average Mexican.

Ever skeptical, and distrustful of governments that historically concealed the truth, Mexicans on Wednesday were debating whether the corpse really was the man known as "The Executioner," expressing lots of doubt and asking many questions.

Authorities did not help their credibility, of course, when they managed to lose the body.

“In Mexico, we can believe in chupacabras [a mythical blood-sucking monster], in UFOs and even in [cult favorite] Saint Death,” Maria Olmos, a secretary, said as she worked out Wednesday morning in the gym, which was abuzz with theories about Lazcano. “But we will never believe what the authorities tell us.”

“Maybe they threw his body in the Rio Bravo, imitating what the U.S. did with Osama [bin Laden],” a man identifying himself as Jose Luis Morales said via Twitter.

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Panetta lifts ban on New Zealand naval ships

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Auckland, New Zealand,

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday that New Zealand naval ships would be allowed to dock at U.S. bases, lifting a 26-year-old ban.

The decision, announced by Panetta at a news conference, eases the long-running dispute between the two countries over New Zealand's refusal to allow U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons or using nuclear power into its ports.

The U.S. move is an overture to New Zealand at a time when the Pentagon is rebuilding military relations in the region, in part to counter China's growing clout in the South Pacific.

But there are few signs that New Zealand will reciprocate by easing its anti-nuclear law to allow a return of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships to its ports.

"While we acknowledge that our countries continue to have differences of opinion in some limited areas ... we are embarking on a new course that will not let these differences stand in the way of greater engagement on security issues," Panetta said.

Asked whether the decision to give New Zealand access to American bases could lead to a resumption of U.S. Navy ship calls in New Zealand, Panetta said, "Let's see where it takes us."

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