DAMASCUS, Syria

In rare deal, rebels free 48 Iranians for 2,000 prisoners

Rebels freed 48 Iranians on Wednesday in exchange for more than 2,000 prisoners, including women and children, held by Syrian authorities – a deal struck after rare negotiations involving regional powers Turkey, Qatar and Iran.

It was the first major prisoner swap since the uprising began against President Bashar Assad nearly 22 months ago.

Iran is one of Assad’s main allies, and the Iranians, who were seized outside Damascus in August, were a major bargaining chip for factions trying to bring down his regime in the civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

The exchange also highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of detainees languishing in Syrian prisons, many of whom were picked up at street protests and have not been heard of since.

NEW YORK

High-speed ferry hits dock, injuring more than 70 riders

A high-speed ferry loaded with hundreds of commuters from New Jersey crashed into a dock in lower Manhattan on Wednesday during the morning rush hour, seriously injuring 11 people, including one who suffered a severe head wound falling down a stairwell.

Scores of people who had been standing, waiting to disembark, were hurled to the deck or launched into walls by the impact, which came after the catamaran Seastreak Wall Street slowed following a routine trip across New York Bay and past the Statue of Liberty, passengers said..

The accident, which ripped open a small part of the hull like an aluminum can, happened at 8:45 a.m. at a pier near the South Street Seaport, at Manhattan’s southern tip. Around 70 people suffered minor injuries.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Hamas to teach Hebrew, the language of its arch-foe

Hamas’ flagship university in Gaza has a new diploma on offer – Hebrew, the official language of its arch-foe Israel.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers say they want to produce qualified teachers as the government gradually introduces Hebrew studies in its high schools. The aim is simple: It wants Palestinians in Gaza to learn their enemy’s language.

“As Jews are occupying our lands, we have to understand their language,” said Education Ministry official Somayia Nakhala.

There are 19 students enrolled in the first one-year Hebrew diploma course offered at the Islamic University in Gaza City, a stronghold of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007.

STOCKHOLM

Warrants issued in hunt for smugglers of Chinese garlic

Swedish prosecutors have issued international arrest warrants for two Britons suspected of masterminding a smuggling ring involving Chinese garlic.

The men first shipped the garlic to Norway by boat, where it entered the country duty-free since it was considered to be in transit, prosecutor Thomas Ahlstrand said Wednesday. They then drove large shipments of garlic across the Norwegian-Swedish border, avoiding customs checks and thus Swedish import duties. It was not the first time smugglers have shown a preference for garlic from China, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of world output and is often significantly cheaper than local varieties.

– From news service reports