World Briefs / Syria raps rebel backers

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BEIRUT -- Senior Syrian officials lashed out Sunday at foreign governments that have recognized the opposition, while armed skirmishes around the country included a fresh salvo across the border with Israel.

Syria's information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, accused France, Turkey and Qatar of supporting "terrorism" in Syria by extending diplomatic recognition to the new National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, including the acceptance of an official envoy in Paris, according to a summary of his remarks carried by SANA, the official news agency.

The new coalition does not represent anybody, Mr. al-Zoubi said, calling it a creation of foreign states and thus ineligible to participate in any national dialogue.

In Tehran, Iran held a meeting Sunday of some 200 members of the officially sanctioned opposition, but no members of the new coalition were invited. It was unclear who those attending actually represented.

Iran has backed the government of Syria, its most important Arab ally, throughout the conflict, reportedly providing arms and training for government forces.

Bleak picture in Greece

ATHENS, Greece -- Employment in the Greek commerce sector shrank by over 12 percent in the past year and there is going to be no improvement in 2013, a report by the sector's main association claims.

In a preview of its annual report, set to be released today, the National Confederation of Greek Commerce says the sector lost 93,500 jobs in the past year, or 12.2 percent, with the total number of employees in the sector, at 673,400, the lowest since 1999.

The report says most jobs were lost at bigger commercial firms; 8 in 10 small firms chose not to lay off personnel.

According to the report, 7 out of 10 businesses expect sales and profits to slide further in 2013, while 6 out of 10 struggle to meet payments.

Army, protesters fight

CAIRO -- Egyptian army troops fought a four-hour gun battle with protesters in southern Cairo on Sunday, sparked by a dispute over land on an island of the Nile, security officials said. Three protesters were killed.

The officials said the disputed plot of land on Qursayah island is owned by the armed forces but was illegally seized by residents taking advantage of the chaos that followed last year's ouster of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.

The clashes broke out when troops moved in from the mainland to retake control of the plot. The officials say three civilians were killed and seven others wounded in the firefight on a road on the mainland across from the island. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

2 Pakistani Shiites killed

KARACHI, Pakistan -- A police officer said a bomb exploded Sunday outside a Shiite Muslim mosque in the largest city of Pakistan, killing at least two people.

Azhar Iqbal said the bomb was planted on a motorcycle outside the mosque in the eastern part of Karachi. At least 10 people were injured by the explosion.

The attack came as Shiites were celebrating the holy month of Muharram.

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