Today's Story Line

Russian generals are backing away from their ultimatum to Grozny residents to leave the city by tomorrow or face a bombardment. But Russian troops continue to tighten their Chechen noose. Flush with oil money, Russia can certainly afford the campaign: The government has its first surplus in nine years.

The Syria-Israel peace talks slated to begin in Washington next week could be a key development that alter the dynamic of the other Mideast peace track, the Palestine-Israel talks.

Quote of note: "To move this up to the high political level ... is a major change in this area and a change that will echo around the Middle East in profoundly important ways." - a senior US official.

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Human rights activists worldwide are increasingly effective in pressing their causes. But there's also a growing backlash by institutions and individuals in power who feel threatened by these groups, says a new report.

Quote of note: "As human rights activists have gotten more effective ... governments have retaliated," - a Human Rights Watch director.

David Clark Scott, World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB

*DIVIDE AND CONQUER? When a story is breaking and a deadline is approaching, reporters often feel they ought to be in two places at once. The news of the revival of Syria-Israel peace talks reached Jerusalem late on Wednesday evening local time. Correspondent Ilene Prusher went to a scheduled 10:30 p.m. US briefing at the Hilton Hotel, but it was postponed. Fearing it would not happen (once before a late-night US briefing was canceled), Ilene left her tape recorder at the Hilton with another reporter and went out to get reaction from Israeli sources. She missed the press briefing, which did finally begin an hour later. "Normally, I would have stayed to ask questions and see how US officials answered. But there was a risk I would be left empty-handed, so I relied on a colleague for a favor," says Ilene.

CULTURAL SNAPSHOT

RAMADAN MOSAIC: Malaysian Muslim women celebrate Ramadan. The month of fasting commemorates the revelation of the Koran, Islam's holiest book.

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