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Russian troops were preparing for a major assault on Islamic rebels who surrounded three villages in the restive southern region of Dagestan. Troops and helicopters exchanged fire with hundreds of rebels believed to be from the fundamentalist Wahhabi Islamic movement in what appeared to be the worst fighting in Russia since the 1994-96 war with Chechen separatists. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin described the situation as serious and headed to the region to confer with military commanders.

In a sign of easing Middle East tensions, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's pledge to begin implementing the Wye peace accord starting Sept. 1. Peace talks between the sides have been deadlocked over Israel's reluctance to implement all of the US-mediated agreement, under which it is to withdraw from more than 13 percent of the West Bank.

French peacekeepers clashed with ethnic Albanians trying to break through a barricade protecting a Serb residential area in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica in Kosovo. It was one of many incidents that underscoring the ethnic tensions. NATO officials also reported that a number of grenade attacks on Serbs and their property had injured more than 10 people.

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Rebel activity in Kashmir intensified over the weekend. In the third major attack, in as many days, Muslim militants rained rockets on an Indian Army outpost, killing six soldiers. Indian officials said 10 of the militants were killed. About 1,200 Islamic secessionists are believed to have infiltrated from Pakistani into Kashmir in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee ruled out any talks with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue until Islamabad stops backing the militant forces.

From the Balkans to the Bay of Bengal, millions were heading to prime viewing spots to catch a glimpse of the millenium's last total solar eclipse, set for Wednesday. The eclipse will follow a path across Central Europe, the Middle East, and India. Above, Dominic Cardell, is one of the 4 million people expected to travel to Carland Cross in England to watch the phenomenon.

A defiant North Korea said it will test an advanced version of a ballistic missile that it fired over Japan last year. The US, South Korea, and Japan have warned any missile test would lead to a curb in aid to the impoverished nation. One possible date for a test is Sept. 9, the anniversary of North Korea's founding in 1948.

Burmese exiles staged protests in various Asian capitals, but in Myanmar all was calm on the 11th anniversary of a failed uprising. The incident is known in the numerologically obsessed country as "8-8-88," and exiled groups are hoping for a new revolt on Sept. 9, or 9-9-99. That's unlikely, observers said.

Hopes were high for the release of around 30 hostages held by rebels in Sierra Leone after rebel leader Johnny Paul Koroma ordered them to be freed immediately. The hostages include British soldiers, UN military observers, and Nigerian peacekeepers.

Eritrea accepted a peace proposal drafted by the Organization of African Unity to end a 15-month border war with Ethiopia.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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