Ties mended, and strained

Dubai Police released images of 11 suspected members of a hit squad who killed a Hamas official, the US will send an envoy to Damascus for the first time in five years, and Harrods in London ejects the 'suspicious'-looking Ukrainian football team.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad  (L) shakes hands with US under secretary for political affairs William Burns (R) ahead of their meeting in Damascus on February 17, 2010. Burns met the Syrian leader a day after Washington named its first ambassador to Damascus in five years in a bid to engage a former foe. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA *** Local Caption ***  879510-01-08.jpg
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A series of photographs were issued by Dubai Police showing members of a gang believed to have carried out the killing of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a senior member of Hamas. The images, taken from passports and supported by security footage, showed 10 men and one woman said to have carried out the assassination last month, at a hotel near Dubai international airport. The ringleader was identified as a French citizen, with the others reported to include six British and three Irish citizens. The British and Irish governments later said the passports were forged, although some names used were of real people, several of whom live in Israel. This increased speculation about whether Mossad, the Israeli secret service, was involved. One of those whose passport was used, Melvyn Mildiner, told The Jerusalem Post that he "went to bed with pneumonia and woke up a murderer".

A leading Italian food writer was suspended from a TV cooking show after recommending a recipe for stewed cat. Beppe Bigazzi, 77, said casserole of cat was "better than chicken, rabbit or pigeon" and suggested soaking the meat in spring water for three days before making the stew. Francesca Martini, the Italian deputy health minister, called for a police investigation into the writer, saying that it was "absolutely unheard of for a public service broadcaster to tell people how delicious cats are to eat". Mr Bigazzi later claimed he had been joking, but added: "Mind you, I wasn't joking all that much. In the 1930s and 1940s, when I was a boy, people certainly did eat cat."

An arrest warrant issued against Sulaiman al Fahim, the former face of Hydra Properties and host of the TV show Hydra Executives, for failing to pay a Dh8 million (US$2.1m) debt was withdrawn on Thursday, granting him a one-month grace period to settle the debt. The Dubai Property Court had previously ordered Mr al Fahim, the former owner of the Premier League side Portsmouth, to repay an Azerbaijani man Dh8,634,000. This was the sum invested in an Al Buraq Development and Investment project at Business Bay Dubai, which failed to go ahead. Mr al Fahim said he would return to Dubai shortly, describing the allegations as "nonsense".

The United States is to send an ambassador to Syria for the first time in five years. President Barack Obama formally nominated Robert Ford, a career diplomat and most recently a deputy ambassador to Iraq. The US withdrew its last ambassador from Damascus after claims of Syrian involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

An amateur photographer was jailed and fined for taking prohibited pictures from the Khalifa Bridge. He was stopped by a man in an unmarked car after photographing the sun setting over the bridge for the Abu Dhabi Through Your Eyes contest, organised by the Office of Brand Abu Dhabi. After the police were called, the man, a Pakistani living in Sharjah, spent two days in prison for photographing a "prohibited area". The court refused to return his Dh14,500 (US$4,000) Canon camera and lens.

Previously secret files from Britain's Ministry of Defence revealed that a giant UFO was spotted hovering over the home of Michael Howard, the former leader of the country's Conservative Party. A witness reported that the object had "lights all around the outside, and this disc attached to the back, and a big light on the front". The sighting was made in 1997 and was included in 6,000 pages released by the ministry through the National Archives.

Pakistan's military confirmed that it had arrested Mullah Abdul Baradar, number two in the Afghan Taliban. Baradar was captured earlier this month in Karachi, but the news was only released after his identity was confirmed. He is understood to have taken charge of the day-to-day organisation of the Taliban's leadership council, headed by Mullah Omar. Baradar was also one of the founders of the Taliban and is the most important member of the movement to be captured to date.

More than 1,500 workers for Dubai Municipality took the Metro to work as part of Car Free Day to cut down on pollution and traffic congestion. Among them was Hussain Nasser Lootah, the director general who boarded a first-class carriage at Al Rashidiya station for four stops before ending his journey with a short walk. Employees were given no choice about using alternative forms of transport - the municipality closed all its staff car parks for the day.

Football players from the Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk were turned away from Harrods in London for what the store described as "health and safety" reasons. The team, who were wearing squad tracksuits, were visiting Harrods two days before a Europa League match against Fulham, who, like Harrods, are owned by Mohamed Al Fayed. According to Shakhtar Donetsk's club website: "Staff said the group of customers was too big and suspicious." The club added that: "The footballers, who have money and are eager to buy a lot, were certain to leave a big sum."

The UAE slumped to the bottom of a table measuring environmental health and public policy around the world. The Emirates was 152nd out of 163 countries, down from 112th in the previous report two years ago from environmental experts at Yale and Columbia universities. The 2010 Environmental Performance Index rates each country in categories that include environmental health, air quality, water resource management, climate change, habitats and agriculture. In the third biennial report, Iceland was ranked first and Sierra Leone last. The UAE came second to last in the Arab world, before Mauritania.

A German snowboarder stuck on a chair lift in the Austrian Alps attracted rescuers by setting fire to his money. Dominik Podolsky, 22, of Munich, spent six hours on the lift after it shut down for the day while he was still on it. As temperatures plunged to -18°C, he began to burn the contents of his wallet using a cigarette lighter to attract attention. As the last of his 120 euros went up in flames, he was finally spotted by a piste maintenance crew.