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Israel severs major Lebanon supply link

BEIRUT, Aug 5: Israel and Hezbollah fought bloody ground battles and exchanged fierce air and missile strikes Friday - including bombing raids that severed Lebanon's last major supply link with Syria and the outside world, and the guerrillas' deepest rocket attack inside Israel to date.

Loud explosions resounded in Beirut's suburbs early Saturday as Israeli warplanes renewed their onslaught, local media said. Israeli helicopters, meanwhile, attacked suspected Hezbollah positions in the southern city of Tyre, though Hezbollah's TV station claimed that fighters repelled helicopter-borne troops who tried to land, killing one soldier. Israel declined to comment.

After days of desultory diplomacy, Washington said it was near agreement with France on a U.N. cease-fire resolution, possibly by early next week. But Israel and Hezbollah showed no signs of holding their fire.

Israeli aircraft on a mission Friday to destroy weapons caches hit a refrigerated warehouse where farm workers were loading fruit, killing at least 28 near the Lebanon-Syria border. And three Hezbollah rockets landed near Hadera, 50 miles south of the Israel-Lebanon border; 188 rockets rained on other towns, killing three Israeli Arabs.

Given the determination of both Hezbollah and Israel to look victorious when the conflict finally ends, the worst of the fighting may still lie ahead with the militant Shiite guerrilla fighters perhaps making good on their threat to rocket Tel Aviv and Israel launching an all-out ground offensive, pushing northward to the Litani River.

Israeli military officials said Friday they completed the first phase of the offensive, securing a 4-mile buffer zone in south Lebanon, though pockets of Hezbollah resistance remained.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz told top army officers to begin preparing for a push to the Litani, about 20 miles north of the border - a move that would require Cabinet approval. Peretz vowed his forces would complete "the whole mission" of driving guerrilla fighters out of missile range, a defiant response to the Hezbollah leader's threat to launch missiles into Israel's largest city.

Israeli airstrikes destroyed four key bridges after dawn, severing Beirut's final major connection to Syria and raising the threat of severe shortages of food, gasoline and medicines within days. The attack in the Christian heartland just north of Beirut killed four civilians and a Lebanese soldier. Israel said it targeted the bridges to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah from Iran through Syria. Those weapons include not only missiles, but sophisticated anti-tank missiles said to be responsible for most of the 44 Israeli soldiers killed in more than three weeks of fighting.

However, aid workers said the destroyed highway was a vital conduit for much-needed food and supplies, with Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Program calling it Lebanon's "umbilical cord." "This (road) has been the only way for us to bring in aid. We really need to find other ways to bring relief in," she said in Geneva, Switzerland.

Hospitals were in danger of closing soon because medicines, hospital supplies and fuel for generators was fast running out. Staples like milk, rice and sugar were growing short across the country. Lines at Beirut filling stations stretch longer by the day. Dr. George Tomey, acting president of the American University of Beirut, said its Medical Center, one of the prime and best known medical facilities in the Middle East, will stop receiving new patients as of Monday, except for emergency cases.

Bush and Blair back UN force to take control in Lebanon

WASHINGTON DC, July 29: The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, and the US President, Mr George Bush, have vowed to push for a UN resolution next week authorising a multinational force to help the Lebanese Army to take over Hezbollah-controlled territory in south Lebanon. The two leaders said that the UN resolution would help to bring closer an end to the fighting - but gave no clear timetable.

Mr Blair emphasised that the planned multinational force would not fight its way in. "This can only work if Hezbollah are prepared to allow it to work," he said.

Potential troop contributors will meet at UN headquarters in New York on Monday. The United States will be represented by Nicholas Burns, the No 3 official in the State Department. France, Italy, Turkey, and Indonesia have signalled their readiness to participate in such a mission. British officials said that the force would not enter the zone until the violence had ended.
Foreign Ministers from the 15 Security Council nations made tentative plans to gather in New York next week.

"A multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly to augment a Lebanese army as it moves to the south of that country," Mr Bush said. "An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory."

Mr Blair and Mr Bush repeatedly invoked UN resolutions calling for Hezbollah to disarm and for the Lebanese Government to extend its authority across the entire country. Mr Bush made clear that the UN resolution would be passed under the "enforcement provisions" of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, making it compulsory for Hezbollah to respect it. But neither leader explained what would happen if Hezbollah refused to abide by a peace agreement to which it would not be a party.

"We've got to make sure that we go in as part of an agreement that the Government of Lebanon have bound themselves to, the Government of Israel has bound itself to, the international community has bound itself to," Mr Blair said.

A ceasefire deal could be agreed within days, not weeks, diplomatic sources in Beirut said. British officials have had "a torrent of contacts" with foreign governments in the past three days to put together a deal they believe will satisfy both sides, and were optimistic that they would succeed.

US, Israel to support NATO-led force in Lebanon

WASHINGTON, July 24: The United States and Israel said on Sunday that they were ready to support an international force led by NATO in South Lebanon to ease tensions. No US troops are likely to be in the force, which according to a US media report could be between 10,000 and 20,000 strong and led by a contingent from France or Turkey.

There could be delicate questions, however, over whether the force`s mission is to disarm Hezbollah or to support the Lebanese army`s efforts to take control in the south of the country.

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said today the US administration would take the idea of NATO leading a buffer force "seriously". In Jerusalem, Defence Minster Amir Peretz said Israel supported the deployment of an international force in southern Lebanon.

As Israel pursues its military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, an operation which has left hundreds dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, the proposed force is to be discussed by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on her mission to Middle East this week.

"It`s a new idea. We`ll certainly take it seriously," Bolton said on a television channel when asked about the possibility of NATO leading the force. "I think we have been looking carefully at the possibility of a multinational force perhaps authorised by the Security Council, but not a un-helmeted force," he added.

Rice had already stated that US was open to the proposal. She is to discuss plans for a possible force during her trip this week to the Middle East and to attend an international conference in Rome on the Lebanon crisis.

Saddam hospitalised due to hunger strike

BAGHDAD, July 24: Saddam Hussein was hospitalised on Sunday on the 17th day of a hunger strike, the chief prosecutor in his trial said. Jaafar al-Moussawi said he visited the prison on Sunday where Saddam and the seven other co-defendants are held and was told that the ex-president's health "is unstable because of the hunger strike."

"We took him to hospital and he is being currently fed by a tube," al-Moussawi said. He refused to identify the hospital. Asked if Saddam's health had improved, al-Moussawi replied: "No, it is not stable yet."

Israel battles Hezbollah, takes village

ON THE ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER, July 23: Israeli tanks, bulldozers and armored personnel carriers knocked down a fence and barreled over the Lebanese border Saturday as forces seized a village from the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

The soldiers battled militants throughout the day and raided the large village of Maroun al-Ras in several waves before finally taking control, military officials said. Tens of thousands of Lebanese fleeing north packed into the port of Sidon to escape the fighting as the United Nations warned of a growing humanitarian "disaster."

Early Sunday, warplanes for the first time hit inside the port city of Sidon, currently swollen with refugees, destroying a religious complex that the Israeli military said was used by Hezbollah. Hospital officials said four people were wounded.

A series of large explosions reverberated through Beirut in the early hours Sunday as Israeli aircraft again pounded Hezbollah's stronghold in the south. Warplanes also hit targets in eastern Bekaa Valley, firing missiles in the cities of Hermel and Baalbek, witnesses said. There was no immediate word on casualties in either strike.

The growing use of ground forces, 11 days into the fighting, signaled Israeli recognition that airstrikes alone were not enough to force Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. But a ground offensive carries greater risks to Israel, which already has lost 18 soldiers in the recent fighting. It also threatens to exacerbate already trying conditions for Lebanese civilians in the area.

Israeli military officials have said they want to push Hezbollah beyond the Litani River, about 20 miles north of the border, with the Lebanese army deploying in the border zone. An Israeli radio station that broadcasts to southern Lebanon warned residents of 13 villages to flee north by Saturday afternoon. The villages form a corridor about 4 miles wide and 11 miles deep.

Israel answers attack with lethal blows

BEIRUT, July 17: Hezbollah and Israel traded fierce barrages for a sixth day Monday, as the latest eruption of warfare in the Middle East showed no sign of easing. Rockets struck deep inside Israel a day earlier, killing eight people in Haifa, and Israeli planes bombed Lebanon from north to south.

Israeli missiles hammered the Lebanese capital on Monday morning, killing two people in Beirut's port, bombing a gas tank in a northern neighborhood and shelling the southern suburbs,
The port was in flames, and the Israeli army said it had launched at least 60 strikes overnight, both with aircraft and artillery. The strikes Monday killed 15 people and wounded more than 53 by mid-morning.

The death toll on both sides rose to more than 200 - at least 180 in Lebanon and 24 in Israel. In addition to the Israeli victims at a rail repair facility in the Haifa attack on Sunday, an Israeli rocket blew up a Lebanese army position, killing eight soldiers, and a sea-launched missile killed at least nine people in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre.

Israel warned of massive retaliation after the Haifa attack, and accused Iran and Syria of providing the weaponry used in it. Israeli military officials said four of the missiles were the Iranian-made Fajr-3, with a 22-mile range and 200-pound payload, and far more advanced than the Katyusha rockets the guerrillas rained on northern Israel in previous attacks.

Foreigners began to flee by the hundreds and several nations drew up plans to get their citizens out. U.S. planners arrived to organize evacuation for any of the 25,000 Americans seeking to leave. Two Marine Corps helicopters evacuated 21 Americans to Cyprus on Sunday.

Italian military flights rushed out some 350 people, mostly Europeans. France, which has more than 20,000 citizens in Lebanon, chartered a Greek ferry expected to pick up some 1,200 people on Monday.

Early Monday, witnesses reported that waves of Israeli airstrikes hit the Lebanese city of Tripoli and Hezbollah strongholds in eastern town of Baalbek. Missiles apparently aiming at a relay station for Hezbollah's al-Manar television missed their target and hit a house south of Beirut. Police said four villagers were killed and 10 wounded. Lebanese police said the village had been hit by missiles fired from Israeli warships, but the Israeli military denied gunboats had participated in the bombings.

Israel hits Lebanon bridges, gas stations

BEIRUT, July 15: Israeli warplanes renewed attacks on Lebanon early Saturday, targeting bridges and fuel storage tanks and gas stations in the east and south, security officials said.

Hezbollah's Al Manar television station said at least three people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Hermel, in the eastern Bekaa Valley. But security officials said six members of a family were injured when a rocket hit their house in Hermel.

Israeli fighter jets destroyed two bridges in eastern Lebanon, Lebanese officials said, declining to be named because they are not authorized to talk to the media. The jets pounded a mountainous area near the border with Syria where radio and satellite TV antennas are located, they said. Another strike targeted three bridges south of Beirut early Saturday, officials said.

Israeli jets also destroyed another bridge in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, the officials said. Jets also hit six gas stations and fuel tanks were also set ablaze in attacks along the coastal highway linking Beirut to the south of the country.

The Arab Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel also reported that Hezbollah's guerrillas had fired dozens of rockets at the Israeli town of Nahariya by the early hours of the morning. In southern Lebanon, Israeli troops warned residents of the Lebanese border village of Marwaheen to evacuate in two hours or else the village would be destroyed, security officials said. No reason was given for the Israeli ultimatum.

About 150 Lebanese Sunni Muslim Bedouins left the village Saturday morning and assembled around a U.N. peacekeeping post seeking shelter, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to give statements to the media.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli army spokesman said Saturday that it attacked 44 Hezbollah targets in the past 24 hours, including the group's headquarters, al Manar broadcasting offices and several bridges in Lebanon, one on a Beirut-Damascus road.

The newed violence came as the Israeli navy searched for four sailors who went missing on Friday after Hezbollah struck a warship off the Lebanese coast. Israeli military officials said the ship had been struck by unmanned Hezbollah aircraft rigged with explosives. Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV reported that guerrillas had targeted the Israeli warship after it fired missiles into south Beirut.

"Now in the middle of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli warship that has attacked the infrastructure, people's homes and civilians - look at it burning," Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said late Friday.

Immediately after Nasrallah's prerecorded audio tape was aired, Arab television showed nighttime footage of what they said was the Israeli warship burning. But the footage was unclear.
Al-Manar TV showed footage of dozens of Lebanese people dancing in the streets to celebrate the announcement of damages inflicted to an Israeli ship. The audiotape was released shortly after Israeli missiles struck Hezbollah headquarters and Nasrallah's house in south Beirut.

Hezbollah has managed to fly unmanned spy drones over northern Israel at least twice in recent years. During the same attack on Friday night, a civilian merchant ship was hit by a Hezbollah rocket, the Israeli army said. It gave no details on the nationality of the vessel or whether there were any casualties.

Israel launched its offensive after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the Israel-Lebanon border on Wednesday and captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel has bombarded Lebanon's airport and main roads in the most intensive offensive against the country in 24 years, while Hezbollah has launched hundreds of rockets into Israel.

At least 73 Lebanese have died, most of the them civilians in the four-day Israeli offensive. Eight Israeli soldiers and four civilians have been killed in the fighting, and the loss of the sailors threatened to drive the death toll higher.

Israel hopes for new cease-fire with Hamas

GAZA CITY, July 8: Israel hopes its violent standoff with Hamas over a captured soldier will eventually produce a new cease-fire with the Islamic militants, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Saturday, as Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen and army bulldozers searched for militants' tunnels.

Until now, Israel had set only two goals for its military campaign in Gaza — to win the release of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Cabinet minister Ofir Pines-Paz said Saturday that Israel wants to go beyond that.

"We have a great interest in changing the rules of the game," Pines-Paz, a member of the moderate Labor Party and of Israel's Security Cabinet, told Israel Radio. "If we reach a situation in which there are no kidnappings, no rockets, no tunnels, no raids into our territory, certainly Israel will have to reciprocate."

Hamas officials offered contradictory responses.

Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for the Palestinian ruling party, suggested rocket fire could end if Israel stops its offensive. However, the group said in a statement on its Web site that rockets "are the only available means for the Palestinian people to defend themselves in the face of the aggression and Zionist incursion into Gaza."

The latest round of fighting, which claimed the lives of 35 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier over the past three days, began two weeks ago with a cross-border raid in which Hamas-allied militants seized Shalit.

Troops initially entered southern Gaza where the soldier is being held. Hamas said Friday he is being treated well, and a senior Israeli defense official, Amos Gilad, said Saturday that Israel also believes the soldier is alive.

On Saturday morning, dozens of tanks drove toward Gaza City, taking up positions about 500 yards from the outlying neighborhoods of Shajaiyeh and Zeitun. The army said the forces were sent to the area to search for tunnels being dug by militants for possible attacks on soldiers.

The air force fired missiles at a group of militants gathered at the outskirts of Shajaiyeh. Two Hamas gunmen were killed in the area, hospital officials said. Also, a Palestinian died of wounds sustained in earlier fighting, bringing the three-day total to 35.

The majority of the Palestinians killed since Thursday were gunmen, but also included a number of civilians, including an 11-year-old boy.

At midday Saturday, about 250 Palestinians conducted a funeral procession in downtown Gaza City, carrying the bodies of two Palestinian militants who had been killed earlier in the day in fighting with Israeli forces.

Also Saturday, 65 U.S. citizens, many of Palestinian origin, left Gaza in a convoy escorted by U.S. consular officials. The visitors had asked to leave Gaza because of the fighting.

North Korea launches missile

July 6: Defying US and its neighbours warning to halt its nuke program, North Korea test-fired six short range missiles in the early hours of the day, however the test fire seems to be unsuccessful while US condemned the latest launches and Japan held an emergency meet.

According to the news agency, the officials in Japan and the US said N Korea launched up to six test missiles at 03:32 hrs (Japan Time) or 00:02 hrs (IST) and all come down in the Sea of Japan. Giving the details of the missile, the agency said, four of the missiles are shorter-range Scud-type weapons. However officials said that two of them are apparently a long-range Taepodong-2 model. One of these missiles - with a potential estimated range of 3,500 miles - reportedly failed less than 40 seconds after being launched.

Alarmed by the latest launch, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shinzo Abe said, "North Korea has gone ahead with the launch despite international protest. That is regrettable from the standpoint of Japan's security, the stability of international society, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

In response to the reclusive state move, Japan said it "strongly protested" against North Korea's actions and held an emergency meeting to discuss the move while the South Korean government said it was also calling a national security meeting.

Meanwhile the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said the United States was "urgently consulting" other Security Council members. According to a White House spokesperson the staff have been in urgent consultations and asserted that the test firing is a "provocation".

Israeli planes attack bridge in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, June 28: Israeli planes attacked a bridge in central Gaza late Tuesday, Israel Radio reported, and Israeli tanks were said to be on the move, possibly signaling the start of a military operation.

Palestinian security forces said Israeli tanks were moving near the Israeli village of Nahal Oz, a main Israeli staging area just outside Gaza, but that they had not yet entered Gaza.

In the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, not far from the border fence, armed militants took up positions across from the blaring headlights of Israeli vehicles, and Israeli attack helicopters hovered overhead. The militants told residents to leave the area.

Israeli military officials said a limited operation has been authorized for southern Gaza, aimed at "terrorist infrastructure." The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Israel has been massing troops and armor around Gaza since Sunday, when Palestinian militants tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli army post at a Gaza crossing, killing two soldiers and abducting a third.

Anticipating an invasion, Palestinian militants piled up sand on roads near the border and in Gaza City. "We are ready to confront any stupid act that the Zionists might commit," said Abu Obeida, spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls the Palestinian parliament. The group also claimed that militants from various factions had taken up positions throughout northern Gaza.

Egyptian officials said the government asked Hamas to release the soldier and has deployed 2,500 extra troops along the border with Gaza to prevent an influx of Palestinians if Israel invades. Egypt also imposed a nighttime curfew on residents along the border.

Saddam's wife 'most-wanted' in Iraq

BAGHDAD, July 3: Iraqi National Security Advisor Muafaq al-Rabaei on Sunday presented a list of Iraq's 41 "most wanted" terror suspects, headed by Al Qaeda's new leader in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer.

The list includes individuals accused of committing or plotting acts of terrorism in Iraq - including the latest Sadr city car bombing which left 68 dead and 102 injured on Saturday.

Al-Rabaei told reporters here that the list had been compiled over a period of nine months and was based on intelligence and security information collected by Iraq's four security organs. He added that the names had also been submitted to Interpol.

The list, which includes three women - including Saddam's wife Sajda Khair Allah and his daughter Raghd Saddam Hussein - is however "not related to the list of 55 wanted individuals drawn up by the US authorities."

The list of 41 wanted individuals, along with their photos, is to be posted in each police station and in mosques with rewards available for information leading to the detention of suspects.

Al-Rabaei called on the assistance of civilians and of neighbouring countries to apprehend the individuals, some of whom are based in Iraq while others are residing in Arab countries, and bring them to justice. "We will apprehend them whether they are in Iraq or outside the country," said the national security advisor.

A number of the suspects are accused of having links with the Al Qaeda terror network, while others are said to have broken off from existing Iraqi political currents and militias to form their own movements. Al-Rabaei described terrorism as "a cancer that recognises no religion or country."

Al-Qaida second-in-command issues video

CAIRO, June 22: Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader has issued a new videotape calling on Afghans to rise up against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in the wake of rioting last month in Kabul.
The video by Ayman al-Zawahri - which would be his sixth this year - was posted Wednesday evening on an Islamic Web site known as a clearing house for al-Qaida and other militants' statements.

"I am calling upon the Muslims in Kabul in particular and in all Afghanistan in general and for the sake of God to stand up in an honest stand in the face of the infidel forces that are invading Muslim lands," al-Zawahri said in Arabic, according to a translation by IntelCenter, an Alexandria, Va.-based contractor that provides counterterrorism intelligence services to the U.S. government.

In the video, al-Zawahri is wearing a white turban and sitting in front of a black backdrop with an automatic rifle next to him, according to IntelCenter. The firm did not say how it obtained the video.

The 3 1/2-minute tape appears to have been made the day after a May 29 accident in which a U.S. military truck crashed into traffic in Kabul, killing up to five people. The incident sparked anti-foreigner riots in Kabul that left about 20 people dead - the deadliest unrest in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

"I direct my speech today to my Muslim brothers in Kabul who lived the bitter events yesterday and saw by their own eyes a new proof of the criminal acts of the American forces against the Afghani people," al-Zawahri said in the videotape.

The tape came a day after the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan warned that "significant fighting" lies ahead as Taliban fighters resist the coalition push to sweep clear the southern region of the country ahead of a security handover to NATO-led forces later this summer, military officials said.

Operation Mountain Thrust began in earnest last week with more than 10,000 Afghan, British, Canadian and American troops deploying throughout four southern provinces to crush a resurgent Taliban force in the largest military operation since the former regime's 2001 ouster.

More than 600 people, mostly militants, have been killed since May amid the deadliest campaign of insurgent-led violence in years. At least 10 coalition soldiers have been killed in combat since mid-May. The new al-Zawahri message is part of a dramatic increase in videos and audiotapes by al-Qaida. Al-Qaida's leader Osama bin Laden has issued three tapes this year, along with the six from his deputy, the Egyptian-born al-Zawahri.

Bin Laden and al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding in the rugged border zone of Pakistan and Afghanistan

Al-Qaida video shows alleged 20th hijacker

WASHINGTON, June 22: Al-Qaida has identified a would-be 20th hijacker for the September 11 attacks as a Saudi operative who was killed in a 2004 shootout with his country's security forces.

In a statement accompanying a new video, the terrorist network's propaganda arm identified Fawaz al-Nashimi, also known as Turki bin Fuheid al-Muteiry, as the operative who would have rounded out a team that ultimately took over United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field before reaching its intended target.

A 54-minute video featuring al-Nashimi was obtained Tuesday by IntelCenter, a U.S. government contractor based in Virginia. U.S counterterrorism officials declined to comment on the authenticity of the video and its claims.

The video included a screen crediting the al-Sahab media committee with producing the message. While no one is known to have forged the group's work, its statements are often difficult to verify.

The video includes footage of al-Nashimi justifying attacks against the West. It also contains 27 minutes of previously unheard audio of a siege that he took part in on oil facilities in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Screeching car tires and gunfire are heard as the terror cell moved from building to building. A voice in Arabic can be heard saying: "Where are the Americans? ... Give me the information." The demands are punctuated with more gunfire.

In the May 2004 attack, militants dressed in military-style uniforms opened fire inside two oil industry office compounds, then moved to an upscale residential area. They took 45 to 60 hostages.

Saudi security forces stormed the complex, but three of the militants escaped, including al-Nashimi. Twenty-two people were killed in the 25-hour rampage, almost all of them foreigners, including one American. Al-Nashimi was killed the following month in gunbattle with Saudi forces.

The Khobar assault was one of a series of attacks against foreigners by al-Qaida's Saudi branch in 2003 and 2004, aimed at undermining its U.S.-allied royal family. If the statements on the new video are true, they would also fill in a missing piece of the puzzle of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

U.S. counterterrorism officials have believed for some time that the original 9/11 plot included another hijacker on United Airlines Flight 93, which only had four attackers. The two planes that flew into the World Trade Center towers and the one that flew into the Pentagon each had five hijackers.

Federal agents at first thought Zacarias Moussaoui was intended to be on Flight 93, but later revised their allegations. Moussaoui further muddied the waters during his terrorism trial, when he claimed - and later recanted - that he was supposed to fly a fifth plane on September 11 into the White House.

During a May audio message, Osama bin Laden said Moussaoui was not the 20th hijacker "as your government has claimed." He didn't provide the actual identity. Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings and is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Colorado.

The September 11 commission identified yet a third person as a possible 20th hijacker: al-Qaida member Mohammed al-Kahtani, who was turned away at Orlando International Airport in Florida in August 2001.

Afghan coalition forces kill 45 militants

KABUL, June 17: Coalition forces attacked Taliban militant camps in southern Afghanistan, killing about 45 insurgents, coalition officials said Saturday. On Friday, Afghan and coalition forces surrounded a "known enemy camp" in Khod Valley, Shaheed Hasas district of Uruzgan province, killing an estimated 40 fighters, the military said in a statement.

"Coalition forces tracked the development of this meeting until there were more than 50 extremists gathered before attacking the compound," said military spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick. "The compound was severely damaged, and we anticipate most of those present were killed."

In a separate incident, Afghan and coalition forces conducted a raid on a Taliban compound near Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan, killing five insurgents, the military said. They also seized about eight pounds of opium.

The combat operations were part of Operation Mountain Thrust, the largest anti-Taliban military campaign undertaken since the former regime's 2001 ouster in an American-led invasion.
More than 10,000 U.S.-led troops were deployed this week across southern Afghanistan to quell a Taliban resurgence and prepare the ground for the imminent takeover of military control by
NATO-led forces.

Earlier this week, coalition forces said they killed an estimated 40 militants in a remote, mountainous area of southeastern Paktika province in operations in support of Mountain Thrust. One coalition member was wounded in that operation.

U.S., Canadian, British and Afghan troops have fanned out over four restive provinces - Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar and Zabul - to hunt down Taliban fighters blamed for the surge in ambushes and bombings.

Extremist forces, primarily Taliban, have been stepping up attacks against coalition and Afghan troops across the country, particularly the south, in the bloodiest campaign of violence launched since 2001. More than 500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in the past month.

Heavy sea battle in Sri Lanka kills 24

COLOMBO, June 17: At least 20 Tamil Tiger rebels and four Sri Lankan naval troops were killed in a major sea battle off the island nation's northwestern coast today, the Defence Ministry said.

The Tigers in a flotilla of 11 boats attacked patrol craft of the navy off the coast of Mannar, just a short distance away from the Palk Straits marking the sea boundary dividing India and Sri Lanka. The navy claimed it destroyed eight of the rebel boats and killed 20 Tigers, while the navy lost three water jet craft together with four sailors killed and three wounded.

Today's rebel attack came after Sri Lanka's military unleashed two days of retaliatory strikes on Thursday and yesterday on rebels Tiger positions, after a bus bombing killed 64 people.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have shelled the police station at Pesalai in the small Mannar islet and the security forces retaliated using artillery. The pro-rebel Tamilnet website said at least 30 civilians were wounded but the Defence Ministry put the figure at between 15 and 20.

The police also reported a huge explosion, possibly at mid sea, off the coast of Negombo district which is south of Mannar. Two men with diving equipment were arrested along the beach and they had taken cyanide, the police said. The two were in a critical condition and admitted to hospital where one succumbed to injuries.

Explosion on bus in Sri Lanka kills 65

COLOMBO, June 15: A powerful land mine ripped through a bus packed with commuters and schoolchildren in northern Sri Lanka on Thursday, killing at least 65 people, the army said. Sri Lanka's air force responded by bombing rebel-held areas in the northeast. The army blamed the Tamil Tiger rebels for the bus explosion, but the rebels denied responsibility.

The explosion - described as "huge" by military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe - was the worst single act of violence since the government and Tamil Tiger rebels signed a cease-fire in 2002, and renewed fears of a return to war.

The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site said two jets bombed areas in the north of the country after the explosion, but it provided no other details. Samarasinghe confirmed the bombings, saying the air force was taking deterrent action, but it will be limited.

A doctor at the hospital where the bodies from the explosion were taken, S.B. Bothota, said 15 schoolchildren were among the 65 killed. Another 78 people were wounded by the blast, which also hit bystanders in a crowded part of Kabithigollewa, a town in the northern Anuradhapura district. Samarasinghe blamed the Tigers, saying their "motive is to create terror."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought for 20 years to carve out a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east for the country's 3.2 million minority Tamils, who are largely Hindu. The majority of Sri Lankans are Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhists. The cease-fire four years ago ended large-scale fighting, but violence has persisted, intensifying in the past several months and killing civilians.

Kabithigollewa is near the northeastern districts of Vavuniya and Trincomalee, flashpoints for violence in recent months between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military.

India-Kuwait hold delegation-level talks

NEW DELHI, June 15: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Amir of Kuwait began delegation-level talks to discuss bilateral issues and sign three important agreements, including one on avoidance of double taxation.

The Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who arrived on Wednesday on a six-day state visit, was given a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning. President A P J Abdul Kalam and the Prime Minister were also present at the reception. The Amir also inspected a guard of honour at the President's House.

During his meeting with Singh, the Amir will ink three pacts Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty (DTAT), Agreement on Drugs and Narcotics and Agreement on Cooperation in Culture. The Amir will also meet Home Minister Shivraj Patil and attend a banquet hosted by Dr Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the day.

During his visit, the first by a ruler of the Gulf country in more than 20 years, the Amir will also meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Leader of the Opposition L K Advani. He will exchange views with Indian leaders on wide-ranging issues including the developments in Iraq, the Iran nuclear issue and the ongoing Indo-Pak peace talks.

He is expected to assure support to New Delhi's claim for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and reiterate his country's strong and historical ties with India. The two countries would also explore ways to increase cooperation in the energy sector and hold discussions on setting up a mechanism for joint fight against terror.

The Amir, accompanied by a high-level business delegation, will travel to Mumbai on June 17, to interact with leading industrialists. With Kuwait deciding to open its oil and petroleum sector to private players, the oil-rich country is likely to seek investment in this field. Kuwait has been a major supplier of India's energy needs and has supplied 11 million tonnes of crude oil worth US$ 2.5 billion till 2005.

Iran says Western proposal 'positive'

TEHRAN, June 7: Iran and the United States had a rare moment of agreement Tuesday, using similar language to describe "positive steps" toward an accord on a package of incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Diplomats said the incentives include a previously undisclosed offer of some U.S. nuclear technology on top of European help in building light-water nuclear reactors. Other incentives include allowing Iran to buy spare airplane parts and support for joining the World Trade Organization.

Tehran is under intense international pressure to accept the deal in exchange for putting on hold a uranium enrichment program that the West fears could lead to the creation of nuclear weapons.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the proposals had "positive steps" but that talks were needed to clear up ambiguities. Iran promised to study the proposals seriously, but gave no timeframe for a response.

And Bush, using the same language, said Iran's initial response "sounds like a positive step."

"We will see if the Iranians take our offer seriously," the president said in Laredo, Texas. "The choice is theirs to make. I have said the United States will come and sit down at the table with them so long as they are willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way."

One diplomat in Vienna described the U.S. offer of nuclear technology as particularly significant because it would, in effect, loosen a decades-long American embargo on giving Iran access to "dual use" technologies - equipment with both civilian and military use.

Crucially, the deal does not demand that Iran outright give up its uranium enrichment program - only suspend it, although likely for a long time. Two earlier diplomatic initiatives by Europe and Russia crumbled over the past year because each demanded Iran scrap enrichment completely - a stumbling block because of the program's wide popularity with the Iranian public.

Iran's leaders fiercely defend their nuclear program as a source of intense national pride, and say the purpose of the enrichment program is to create fuel for electricity - not nuclear weapons, as the U.S. claims.

Enrichment is the centerpiece of a nuclear program that the Iranian government has touted as a technological achievement, proving Iran is on a level with developed Western nations. Iran has dismissed past demands that it give up its right to enrichment as an arrogant insult from Western nations afraid of a high-tech Muslim nation. But it has signaled it would accept some limits.

For the West, enrichment is the center of fears over Iran's intentions. Enrichment can produce either material for a nuclear warhead or fuel for a nuclear reactor.

The latest proposal was revealed a week after Washington changed strategy on Iran and - in an apparent acknowledgment that it lacked support for sanctions against the Islamic republic - conceded to entering into direct talks with Iran under certain conditions. The latest proposal appeared to be even more of a concession on the Bush administration's part - a major attempt to sweeten the package for Iran in a bid to win concessions over the nuclear program.

In Washington, State Department Sean McCormack declined to go into specifics of the proposal. He said diplomacy "is at a sensitive stage" and the United States wants Iran to have a chance to review the proposal without having it discussed publicly. He refused to offer a time frame, but said the Iran's timetable to consider the package was "weeks, not months."

Asked about reports that the offer of Western technology includes U.S. technological assistance, McCormack said: "Well, I've seen a lot of reports flying around the past couple days about what may or may not be in this package. I would just caution everybody, until we actually are able to discuss what is in the package in public, take reports with a grain of salt."

The United States would also lift some sanctions - including allowing Iran to buy the much-needed airplane parts - and join with Europeans in direct negotiations with Iran over the future of Iran's nuclear program. Diplomats said Monday that the United States additionally agreed to open the door for Europe to sell Tehran new Airbus planes. Iran's commercial fleet is largely made up of Boeings purchased before the 1979 revolution, and Tehran frequently complains that the U.S. ban on parts has undermined safety. U.S. pressure has also prevented Iranian attempts to purchase new Airbus aircraft.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented the package to Iranian officials Tuesday in Tehran. "The proposals contain positive steps and also some ambiguities, which must be removed," Larijani said afterward.

Larijani did not identify the ambiguities but said he discussed them with Solana and that more talks would be required. "We hope we will have negotiations and deliberations again after we have carefully studied the proposals," he said. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran would give the proposals "careful study" and then "we will inform our friends of Iran's views."

Solana said of the meeting: "I have a feeling that it has been very, very constructive," and said the two sides would have more contacts in the coming days.

In the talks, Solana also "carried a message" about potential penalties if Iran refuses the offer. But he withheld telling the Iranians the specific threats - including the possibility of U.N. sanctions - so as not to jeopardize the "positive" atmosphere, said one diplomat in Vienna.

If Tehran does not accept, the package threatens Iran with a travel ban against its ruling religious leaders and government officials involved in the nuclear program, plus a freeze of Iranian financial assets abroad, U.S. officials and diplomats in Vienna have said.

The current package's lack of a demand for scrapping enrichment entirely could prove key, said Iranian political analyst Mostafa Kavakebian, who predicted Iran would accept temporary suspension of uranium enrichment but would reject any permanent halt.

In past days, Iranian leaders have combined tough talk with signals that they are open to a deal - perhaps an attempt to portray to the Iranian public that they remain firm, even as they consider reversing their refusal to suspend enrichment.


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