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Official silence in Israel over Sudan’s attack accusations

JERUSALEM — Israel maintained its official silence Thursday over Sudan’s accusation that the Israel military was behind an air attack that destroyed a weapons factory in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, early Wednesday.

But senior Israeli officials spoke openly about what they described as Sudan’s destabilizing role in the region, accusing it of serving as a transit point in a weapons supply route from Iran via the Sinai Desert to Palestinian militant groups in Gaza and other places like Lebanon.

Israeli newspapers splashed reports from Sudan on their front pages Thursday, and analysts posited that if Sudan’s accusations were true, Israeli warplanes would have flown an impressive 1,180 miles each way to carry out their mission, a feat, they said, that should serve as a warning to Iran.

While Iranian leaders have derided Israel’s veiled threats to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, some newspapers here carried maps showing that the distance from Israel to the major Iranian nuclear sites is about 200 miles shorter than the direct flight path from Israel to Khartoum.

A top Defense Ministry official, Amos Gilad, called Sudan “a dangerous terrorist state,” telling Israel’s Army Radio that “the regime is supported by Iran and it serves as a route for the transfer, via Egyptian territory, of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists,” referring to the dominant militant groups in Gaza.

In Khartoum on Wednesday, Ahmed Belal Osman, the Sudanese minister of information, told reporters that four combat planes coming from the east had bombed the weapons factory in the Yarmouk industrial complex before dawn.

—Isabel Kershner, The New York Times

Berlusconi’s retreat upends political field

ROME — Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rose to power in 1994 in a moment of chaos after the collapse of Italy’s postwar political order. This week, as he prepares to exit a stage he once dominated, he is leaving new chaos in his wake.

On Wednesday, Berlusconi announced that he would not lead his party in Italy’s national elections next spring, ending months of wild, market-sensitive speculation about his intentions, but ushering in greater instability six months before the voting to replace the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti.

“I won’t run for prime minister,” Berlusconi, 76, said in a statement published on the website of his new People of Liberty party, or PDL, in which he called for his party’s first primaries. “But I will remain next to younger players who need to play and to score goals.”

Berlusconi said he would not leave politics, and he is widely expected to lead from behind the scenes. But analysts say his decision to step to the sidelines could easily precipitate the demise of a party that has long been a charismatic movement. His move radically reshuffles the political deck — and opens up a race for the center — after nearly two divisive decades in Italian politics.

“The main fault line of the Second Republic was pro-anti-Berlusconi,” said Duncan McDonnell, a political scientist at the European University Institute in Florence, referring to the Berlusconi years.

“His announcement brings the end of the PDL nearer. And once the PDL goes, then all bets are off,” he added.

For years, Berlusconi’s center-right coalitions managed to unite the quasi-separatist Northern League, the nationalist hard-right National Alliance and its offshoots, former Christian Democrats and other politicians who were driven more by loyalty to Berlusconi than by any particular ideology.

Without Berlusconi, the puzzle is coming undone. The party has also been dragged down by a series of corruption scandals at a regional level.

—Rachel Donadio, The New York Times