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Senior Palestinians heaped scathing criticism on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call for a truce and his order for Israeli troops not to engage in further preemptive attacks. Despite Sharon's move, violence continued in the West Bank (below) and Gaza Strip, with Palestinians claiming the Israelis fired first. Although the prime minister's words were welcomed by the Bush administration, Palestinian officials called them "a lie," "misleading," and a "public-relations exercise."

Only isolated resistance is expected today by ethnic-Albanian guerrillas as thousands of Serbian government troops move into the most sensitive sectors of the onetime buffer zone along the southern boundary with Kosovo. NATO peacekeepers abandoning the zone said they'd keep a corridor open to allow for the return of civilian refugees and any guerrillas wanting to give themselves up under an amnesty. But Albanian villagers in the area said they remain suspicious of Serbian soldiers because many of the same commanders at the time of the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict remain in the military hierarchy.

With international condemnation mounting, senior officials of Afghan-istan's ruling Taliban movement defended their decree that members of the Hindu minority wear special identifying labels on their clothes. The ruling also requires Hindu females to be veiled in public. But the Taliban denied reports that Hindus had been ordered to fly special flags from the roofs of their homes. Hindus "can carry out their rituals as before" and "will enjoy full rights," one official said. The Hindu population, which peaked at about 50,000 before the Taliban came to power in 1992, now is estimated at fewer than 1,720.

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"Not a single barrel of oil" will be sold by Iraq if the UN Security Council adopts a new proposal to ease economic sanctions against the Baghdad government, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was quoted as threatening. Iraq opposes the proposal, offered by Britain with US backing, because it also would spell out specific items - such as dual-purpose hardware with military applications - that Saddam Hussein's regime may not import with its oil revenues. Iraq's allies among permanent Security Council members are considered likely to stall action on the proposal before the June 4 renewal deadline for the UN's oil-for-food program on grounds that it is too complex and technical for quick action.

Residents were returning to the streets of Yakutsk, Siberia, with authorities saying the danger from the worst flooding in a century appeared to be over. The Russian diamond-mining capital appeared to have been spared major damage from the swirling waters of the Lena River, although smaller towns downstream remained at risk of inundation since some ice jams from the spring thaw had yet to be broken up.

LOAY ADU HAYKEL/REUTERS

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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