Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anti-West Hard-Liner Gains in Iranian Race

Newsha Tavakolian for The New York Times
Saeed Jalili, waving at a rally in Tehran on Friday, is one of eight candidates in the June election. »

TEHRAN — At his first presidential campaign rally, Saeed Jalili on Friday welcomed the cheers of thousands of young men as he hauled himself onto the stage. His movements were hampered by a prosthetic leg, a badge of honor from his days as a young Revolutionary Guards member in Iran’s great trench war with Iraq.
“Welcome, living martyr, Jalili,” the audience shouted in unison, most of them too young to have witnessed the bloody conflict themselves but deeply immersed in the national veneration of its veterans. Waving flags belonging to “the resistance” — the military cooperation among Iran, Syria, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and some Palestinian groups — the crowd roared the candidate’s election slogan: “No compromise. No submission. Only Jalili.”
Mr. Jalili, known as Iran’s unyielding nuclear negotiator and a protégé of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is emerging as the presumed front-runner in Iran’s presidential election on June 14, an unsettling prospect for future relations with the West. Mr. Jalili, 47, who many analysts say has long been groomed for a top position in Iran, is by far the most outspoken hard-liner among the eight candidates approved to participate in the election.
Opposing “détente a hundred percent” and promising no compromise “whatsoever” with the West over matters like Iran’s nuclear program and involvement in Syria, Mr. Jalili seems set to further escalate Iran’s standoff with the United States and its allies if elected president.
“He seems to be Ahmadinejad Phase 2,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert based in Virginia, referring to Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “He would probably not be a partner to negotiate for the nuclear issues, as we have seen before when he was heading the delegations.”
An analyst based in Iran, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said Mr. Jalili was “the perfect follower of Khamenei.”
“If he gets elected I foresee even more isolation and conflict, as he doesn’t care about foreign relations, the economy or anything,” the analyst said.
In recent weeks, Mr. Jalili has garnered the open support of Iran’s governing establishment, a coalition of conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders known as the traditionalists. High-ranking Shiite Muslim clerics have begun speaking out in his favor, and a nationwide network of paramilitary volunteers, the basij, is now helping to organize his election campaign.
He has been featured in flattering terms in recent weeks in the semiofficial Fars news agency, which is connected to the Revolutionary Guards, as well as in dozens of Web sites and other news outlets. By contrast, the other candidates now sometimes discover their campaign appearances canceled for unclear reasons and often find themselves under sharp attack in interviews on state TV, while Mr. Jalili gets softball questions.
“He’ll easily get 30 percent of the vote,” said Amir Mohebbian, an analyst close to Iran’s leaders, pointing to the well-organized groups supporting Mr. Jalili. “The remainder will be divided between the other candidates.”
That would lead to a runoff election that Mr. Jalili would be heavily favored to win, since under Iranian law the president must receive at least half of the vote.
Iran’s presidential elections, lacking independent opinion polls and subject to manipulation, are notoriously unpredictable. In 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad came out of nowhere to win. In 2009, millions of people took to the streets to protest what they said was widespread fraud in the voting that returned Mr. Ahmadinejad to office over the more popular opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi.
But the major threats to Mr. Jalili’s candidacy were apparently eliminated when the representatives of two influential political factions, one led by Mr. Ahmadinejad and the other by a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were disqualified from the election by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council. That decision underscored not just the determination of the traditionalists to consolidate power, but their ability to ensure the result.
In a recent opinion article, Mr. Mohebbian said that while Mr. Jalili’s relative inexperience in domestic politics might make him appear as an outsider, the support of Iran’s governing establishment made it likely that “the conditions of the day will create an atmosphere which will put Mr. Jalili in a leadership position.”
While Ayatollah Khamenei is officially neutral, Mr. Jalili’s speeches and viewpoints closely resemble the leader’s worldview of an Iran engaged in a multifaceted battle with the West.
“The best president,” Mr. Khamenei said on Monday, speaking to students at a military academy, “is the one who powerfully resists the enemy and will turn the Islamic republic into an international example for the oppressed people of the world.”
Mr. Jalili, who sports a gray beard and prefers collarless shirts, headed Ayatollah Khamenei’s office for four years, starting in 2001, before emerging in recent years as the chief nuclear negotiator. But little is known about his views on other issues.
“Mr. Jalili is like a watermelon,” said Mohammad Khoshchehreh, an economist and professor at Tehran University. “He looks ripe on the outside, but we don’t know what color he is inside.”
Partly because of Western sanctions, Iran’s economy is reeling from high inflation and a battered currency, but Mr. Jalili has addressed the problems only obliquely. During a televised interview on Sunday he said that Iran should cut its dependency on oil revenues and establish a “resistance economy in order to foil the conspiracies against Iran.”
Such talk has left economists baffled. “His theory of resistance economy doesn’t mean anything,” Mr. Khoshchehreh said. “If it is based on looking at our weak points, that can be good, but we have no idea if he has a deep knowledge. We are worried about him.”
On Friday, during the campaign event in Tehran, Mr. Jalili chose to explain his policies by citing the first imam of the Shiites, the martyr Ali.
“All across the region we can hear our battle cry, ‘Ya Ali,’ ” said Mr. Jalili, who wrote a dissertation on the Prophet Muhammad’s foreign policy. “We heard it in Lebanon with the victory of Hezbollah. We hear it in our resistance against the Zionist regime. Time and time again we have proved our strength through this slogan.”
As songs played memorializing the battles in the border town of Shalamcheh during the Iran-Iraq war, men punched their fists in the air and shouted, “The blood in our veins belongs to our leader.”
The goal of Iran and its allies, Mr. Jalili said, is to “uproot capitalism, Zionism and Communism, and promote the discourse of pure Islam in the world.”
He did not directly mention the Western sanctions that were imposed over the country’s nuclear program — which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes but the West says is a cover for developing nuclear weapons — or the possibility that they will be tightened in response to Tehran’s intransigence. Nor did he speak about the potential for deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war, where Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has recently intervened in support of the Syrian government.
If his supporters harbored worries over what these policies might mean for the Iranian economy, they kept them to themselves. “We are fighting an ideological war — nobody cares about the economy,” said Amir Qoroqchi, 25, a smiling electrical engineering student from the holy city of Qum. “The only thing that matters is resistance.”
For decades, Iran’s presidents have staked out an alternative power center, frequently in conflict with the supreme leader and the more conservative elements in the government. With the rise of Mr. Jalili and the apparent elimination of serious opposition candidates, those on the losing end of Iran’s political spectrum fear a developing imbalance.
The republican and authoritarian religious parts of the government “have been in conflict from Day 1,” Mr. Nafisi, the Iran expert, said.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ex-Gillibrand Aide Signs With Anthony Weiner

Another campaign staffer has joined Team Weiner.
Our Jonathan Lemire reports:

weiner ap photo.jpgCamille Joseph, a former aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a veteran of President Obama’s campaigns, has been hired as political director of Anthony Weiner’s still-to-be-announced mayoral bid.

Joseph is the second major hire made by the former congressman in recent days. Last week, he brought aboard Danny Kedem, a veteran of several House races, as his new campaign manager.

Weiner, who blew up his career in a 2011 sexting and coverup scandal, has yet to announce his run for City Hall, though rumors are swirling that it could happen any minute.

Joseph was described by a former co-worker as “young and smart” who worked tirelessly during her three years on Gillibrand’s staff.

She had several titles there, including director of intergovernmental affairs, director of public engagement and policy and special advisor.

Joseph also worked on both Obama presidential campaigns, holding the title of National African-American Vote Deputy Director last year.

Her hiring was first reported by Capital New York. An email to Weiner was not immediately returned.

Neither Joseph nor Kedem have experience in a grueling five-borough mayoral campaign. Kedem did helm a successful mayoral campaign in New Haven, Conn. and worked on Democrat Mark Murphy's failed challenge to Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm.

Many former Weiner staffers have moved on or signed with other Democratic hopefuls

Man kills himself at Notre Dame Cathedral

By Stephanie Halasz and Jessica King, CNN
updated 2:38 PM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
Policemen outside Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, on May 21, 2013.
Policemen outside Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, on May 21, 2013.
  • A man committed suicide in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, police say
  • The site was evacuated
  • The man, identified as Dominique Venner, regularly lashed out against same-sex marriage and Islamists
  • Right-wing politician Marine Le Pen expressed respect for him
(CNN) -- A right-wing historian and author killed himself inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris Tuesday in front of horrified tourists, police said.

About 1,500 people at the cathedral were evacuated, CNN affiliate BFM reported. The site is one of the world's most prominent churches and a huge tourist attraction in the French capital.
BFM identified the man as Dominique Venner, 78.
Le Monde newspaper quoted a rector at the cathedral, who said the man placed a letter on the altar and then shot himself
On his blog, Venner has lashed out against same-sex marriage and what he called a future Islamist takeover of France.
In a post published Tuesday, he wrote, "The essence of a man is in his existence and not in another world. It's here and now that you have to play out your destiny until the last second. And this last second has as much importance as the rest of the life."
In the blog, Venner voiced his support for those expected to take part in a massive demonstration in Paris May 26 against same-sex marriage. But he said their fight should not be limited to that issue, and they must also denounce what he predicted would be the replacement of the French and European population with Muslims.
"There certainly have to be new actions, spectacular and symbolic, to shake up the sleepiness, to shake the numbed consciences and wake up the memory of our origins," the blog said. "We're entering into a time when words must be authenticated by actions."
Right-wing politician Marine Le Pen tweeted about her "respect" for him. His "last gesture, which was highly political, was to try to wake up the people of France," she wrote.
Some took to Twitter to slam Le Pen for the remark.

Monday, May 20, 2013

North Koreans holding Chinese boat hostage

BEIJING – Armed North Koreans are holding a Chinese fishing boat and its crew ransom despite the protestation of Chinese officials, the boat’s owner said Monday.

The boat’s seizure – which occurred in early May, but was only revealed by Chinese officials Sunday night — is latest dust-up between North Korea and China, which Pyongyang has long relied on to prop up its economy and defend it international censure efforts by the United States and others.
The vessel’s owner, Yu Xuejun, was not on board when the boat was seized. He has posted increasingly desperate message about the situation on his microblog in the past two days. In the latest post Monday morning, Yu described a call he received from North Koreans, who demanded ransom and then handed the phone to his boat’s captain.

“His voice was trembling. I could feel he was very afraid,” Yu wrote about his captain. “I suspected that my crew has been mistreated. I can’t imagine what North Korea side could do.”

Chinese officials at the embassy in Pyongyang have asked North Korea to release the vessel and crew and ensure their safety, China said in a statement posted late Sunday on the foreign ministry’s official microblog. The statement was the first public acknowledgment by China that the boat had been taken.
Beijing has shown increasing signs of frustration with North Korea in recent months, ever since the renegade country ignored China’s pleas not to carry out a recent nuclear test.

Sensing an opening amid Chinese frustrations, the Obama administration is trying to push Beijing to take a much stronger stance against North Korea than it has in the past.

Chinese officials, who value stability above all else, are unlikely to abandon North Korea anytime soon. But state-run newspapers in China have increasingly published stories questioning the upside of China’s ties with Pyongyang. And earlier this month, the state-run Bank of China suspended transactions with the North Korea Foreign Trade Bank, in what appeared to be a calculated expression of China’s unhappiness.

Seizures of Chinese fishing boats have been a problem in the past. In May of last year, North Koreans seized three Chinese boats and held 29 crew members hostage for two weeks. Upon their release, crew members described being beaten and starved, with some stripped of everything including their clothing.
An article in th
e Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s most respected newspapers, quoted unnamed police officials who said North Koreans had sized at least three other Chinese vessels so far this year, demanding almost $50,000 ransom in one case. It is unclear whether the seizures may be an indication of financial desperation among some North Koreans.

Yu, the boat owner, did not respond to attempts on Monday to reach him. But in online posts, he said the North Koreans have demanded almost $100,000 in order for his boat and crew to be released. In a post on Saturday, Yu described the North Koreans boarding the boat armed with guns, and said the ones he talked to by phone were “rude and unreasonable.”

China’s government-run Xinhua news agency said Chinese officials had demanded North Korea release the boat as long ago as May 10, when Yu first contacted them for help.
Li Qi in Beijing contributed to this report

Monday, May 13, 2013

May 13, 2013 10:57 am

China banks rein in support for North Korea

Top Chinese banks have halted most dealings with North Korea, an unprecedented move to use financial leverage against Pyongyang that reflects Beijing’s exasperation with Kim Jong-eun’s regime.

The Chinese financial blockade against North Korea goes beyond what Beijing had agreed to implement in UN resolutions, with several leading banks saying they have stopped all cross-border cash transfers, regardless of the nature of the business. A UN resolution this year only called for sanctions in cases where money might contribute to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Nevertheless, the blockade is far from watertight. A smaller bank based in northeastern China across the border from North Korea said it was still handling large-scale cross-border transfers, an indication that Beijing is not willing to entirely cut off North Korea.

China is overwhelmingly North Korea’s most important economic partner. Trade between the two countries has grown rapidly in recent years, providing a vital cash lifeline to the isolated, impoverished state.

But diplomatic relations between the two neighbours have suffered over the past year. Mr Kim has yet to visit China since taking power at the end of 2011 and has rebuffed Chinese entreaties to refrain from nuclear bomb and missile tests.

Concerned about the consequences for regional security and also angered by Mr Kim’s disregard for China, Beijing has started to use the financial sanctions to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea.
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China – China’s three biggest banks – said they had suspended all financial dealings with North Korea.
“CCB strictly adheres to all decisions taken by Chinese regulators and the UN Security Council,” CCB said. “At present, CCB has no business contact whatsoever with North Korean banks and all representative accounts [of North Korean] banks are closed.”

Bank of China, the country’s primary institution for foreign exchange transactions, said last week that it had closed the account of Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank. However, asked whether it had also frozen other financial dealings with North Korea, Bank of China declined to comment.

Cai Jian, an expert on North Korea at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said it appeared to be the first time that Chinese banks had taken such co-ordinated action against Pyongyang.

“Previously even when China signed on to sanctions against North Korea, there
  was still a lot of economic activity between our two countries,” he said. “This time, I think, China’s banks received orders from the government to cut ties.”

Among China’s smaller banks, the picture is more mixed. A manager at the Bank of Dalian branch in Dandong on the border with North Korea said transfers to the country were still possible. “As long as the company is doing normal trade, not sensitive goods like arms, we can process the transfer,” he said.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

California governor signs bill to speed up gun seizures

  • jbrown12z.jpg
    June 30, 2011: California Gov. Jerry Brown signs the state budget. (AP)
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Wednesday that he has signed legislation expanding the ability of state agents to seize firearms from nearly 20,000 Californians who are not allowed to have them.

They collectively own more than 39,000 handguns and 1,670 assault weapons but are prohibited from owning firearms because they have been convicted of crimes, ruled mentally unstable or are subject to domestic violence restraining orders.

The bill authorizes $24 million for the state Department of Justice's Armed and Prohibited Persons program. The money will go to hire more agents to confiscate the weapons and reduce the backlog over the next three years.

The program, which is unique to California, cross-checks five databases to find people who bought weapons they are no longer legally allowed to own.

SB140 by Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authorizes $24 million to hire more agents to confiscate the weapons and reduce the backlog over the next three years.

The bill is the first of numerous firearms bills introduced by lawmakers in response to recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. The Democratic governor signed the bill without comment.
"California is leading the nation in a common-sense effort to protect public safety," Attorney General Kamala Harris, who oversees the state Department of Justice, said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat from St. Helena, introduced HR848 earlier this year to create a U.S. Department of Justice grant program for states that want to develop similar programs.

Read more:

Boston police chief says feds never shared warnings about bomber

Boston and Massachusetts law enforcement officials confirmed Thursday that federal agents left them in the dark on the growing warning signs about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the run-up to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, in testimony on Capitol Hill, said his officers on a joint terrorism task force were never told about an explicit warning from the Russian government or about Tsarnaev's travel to the Chechnya region last year. Davis said he would have liked to have known about that activity, and that it "absolutely" would have merited a second look at Tsarnaev.
Davis and Massachusetts homeland security official Kurt Schwartz testified that their officers were not looped in on Tsarnaev until after the bombing.

"At no time prior to the bombings did any member of the Massachusetts State Police or the fusion center have any information or knowledge about the Tsarnaev brothers," Schwartz said.
Current and former lawmakers at the committee hearing Thursday expressed disbelief at the lack of information-sharing.

"The idea that the feds have this information and it's not shared with the state and locals defies why we create the Department of Homeland Security in the first place," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a witness at Thursday's hearing, called the failure to tell Boston police about the brothers "a serious and aggravating omission."

"This may be one of the most significant and painful takeaway lessons," he said.

Officials continue to question what warning signs were missed about the Tsarnaev brothers. Attention has been drawn to a 2011 warning from the Russian government to the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI has revealed it was told Tsarnaev was a "follower of radical Islam" and was preparing to travel overseas. The FBI says it interviewed Tsarnaev and found no evidence of terrorist involvement.

Tsarnaev ended up traveling to Russia for six months in early 2012.

Even in the federal government, information may not have traveled across all relevant agencies. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said the government's internal system "pinged" when Tsarnaev left the country in 2012, though a Republican senator has said the FBI claimed they were not aware of that trip.

Davis said Thursday his department was not told of any of those developments, and repeatedly said he would have liked to know.

"We were not aware of Tamerlan's activities," he said. Davis said he can't say he would have reached a different conclusion than the FBI, but the developments would have prompted another look.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Former Atlanta Braves Center Fielder Otis Nixon Arrested in Cherokee

Nixon, 54, has been charged with felony possession of cocaine after he was arrested along I-575 near the Airport Road interchange.
Former Atlanta Brave Otis Nixon is in trouble with the law.

The former center-fielder for the Braves was arrested just after midnight on Saturday for felony possession of cocaine and possession of a drug-related object, according to a police report from the Cherokee Sheriff's Office.

He remains at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center on a $11,880 bond.

Nixon, who had a 66-year-old female passenger in the truck with him, was pulled over after Cherokee County dispatchers put out a be-on-the-lookout for a possible intoxicated driver traveling in a red Dodge Ram truck northbound on Interstate 575.

Dispatch received the tip from a caller who witnessed the truck allegedly weave over the roadway.
An investigator with the sheriff's office pulled the truck over near the Airport Road interchange and asked Nixon to step out of the vehicle.

When Nixon got out of the car, the investigator discovered a "small rock substance suspected to be crack cocaine" on the driver seat of the truck, according to the incident report.

The report also notes deputies discovered drug paraphernalia that appeared to be a pipe in Nixon's pants pocket.

Nixon was given an breathalyzer for alcohol, but it came back negative. He was also found not to be under the influence of crack cocaine or any other stimulants after deputies conducted field sobriety tests.

Nixon allegedly told deputies the drugs and the pipe didn't belong to him, but belonged to his son. Nixon later told deputies his son used the truck and "must have left the crack cocaine in his truck" and he planned to dispose of the pipe.

Deputies found no illegal drugs or weapons on Nixon's female companion and the woman told deputies she was "unaware of the illegal drugs and Otis was just driving her home."
Once deputies collected evidence, the passenger was allowed to drive Nixon's vehicle away from the scene.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Syria crisis: UN's Del Ponte says evidence rebels 'used sarin'
Carla Del Ponte: "I was a little bit stupefied by the first indication of the use of nerve gas by the opposition"
Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve gas agent, sarin, according to a leading United Nations investigator.
Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof".
Ms Del Ponte did not rule out the possibility that government forces might also have used chemical weapons, but said she had not seen evidence.
The US and UK have said their inquiries suggest the government has used them.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the evidence was quite compelling last week, but that it would need to be incontrovertible before the case for an international response could be made at the UN.
On Monday, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said it was "deeply concerned by signs that world public opinion is being prepared for possible military intervention" in Syria.
On the question of whether chemical weapons had been used, he called for an "end to the politicisation of this issue" and to the "whipping up of an anti-Syrian atmosphere".
On Monday, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a statement saying it wished to clarify that it had "not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict".
"As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time," it added.
The statement came a day after Ms Del Ponte, one of its commissioners, told Swiss-Italian TV: "Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals.
This is not the first time rebel forces in Syria have come under suspicion for using chemical weapons.
The Syrian government has accused them, and some independent commentators have speculated some groups could conceivably have got hold of stocks when storming government facilities.

But allegations about sarin gas use, possibly by Syrian rebels, coming from a senior UN official is a different matter. Carla del Ponte is a former war crimes prosecutor and serves on a UN commission looking into human rights abuses in Syria. So any comments from her carry weight.

However, this is hardly a formal UN position. She was speaking informally in TV and radio interviews, and freely admits that looking at the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not part of her remit.

All her team did was collect testimony, which they will now, no doubt, pass on to the separate UN team of weapons inspectors waiting in Cyprus for permission to enter Syria to make a full investigation.

In the meantime her comments are likely to make Western governments even more cautious in their preliminary assessments.
"According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated."
Sarin, a colourless, odourless gas which can cause respiratory arrest and death, is classed as a weapon of mass destruction and is banned under international law.
Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed.
"I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got... they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition," she said.
Ms Del Ponte gave no details of when or where sarin may have been used.
The UN Commission of Inquiry was established in August 2011 to examine alleged violations of human rights in the Syrian conflict since March 2011. It is due to issue its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.
Ms Del Ponte's comments might also complicate matters for the US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his visit to Moscow this week, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.
If Mr Kerry was hoping to cite fears that the Assad regime was now using chemical warfare as a reason why the Russians should shift their position, that argument will not be so easy to make, our correspondent adds.
Mutual accusations
A separate United Nations team was established to look specifically into the issue of chemical weapons.
It is ready to go to Syria but wants unconditional access with the right to inquire into all credible allegations.
Both the Syrian government and the rebels have in the past accused each other using chemical weapons.
The US and the UK have said there is emerging evidence of Syrian government forces having used sarin, with Washington saying it had "varying degrees of confidence" that chemical weapons had been deployed.
President Barack Obama called in April for a "vigorous investigation", saying the use of such weapons would be a "game changer" if verified.
President Assad's government says the claims do not have any credibility, denouncing them as "lies".
Israeli raids
Ms Del Ponte's allegations concerning the use of sarin by rebels came after Israel carried out a series of air strikes on Syrian military targets early on Sunday.
Israel, whether intentionally or not, has made itself a perceived ally of the Syrian rebels”
End Quote Haaretz newspaper, Israel
The Israeli government made no official comment, but security sources said the strikes were aimed at preventing the transfer of advanced Iranian-made missiles to Lebanon's Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.
The Syrian government said the Jamraya military research centre, north-west of Damascus, was hit.
A later statement gave more details, saying military positions in the Jamraya area were struck along with other facilities at Maysaloun, near the Lebanese border, and a military airport at Dimass.
The statement said there was massive damage at those locations and nearby civilian areas with many people killed or injured. It also denied that the targets had included missiles for Hezbollah.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad said the Israeli air strikes amounted to a "declaration of war" and threatened retaliation.
The New York Times quotes an unnamed senior Syrian official as saying dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace had been killed. The AFP news agency quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, as saying 42 soldiers had died and another 100 were unaccounted for.
Images on state TV showed large areas of rubble with many buildings destroyed or badly damaged.
Picture from Syrian national news agency Sana, which it says shows damage after an Israeli air strike near Damascus (05/05/13) Syria said the latest Israeli air strikes hit three locations
The Arab League condemned the raids and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern.
He said all sides should "exercise maximum calm and restraint" and "act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict".
Russia's foreign ministry warned that the "further whipping-up of armed confrontation" sharply increased the risk of "pockets of tension" in Syria and Lebanon, and along their shared border