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Senior Palestinians were meeting in emergency session in the West Bank as reports indicated Yasser Arafat's medical condition had deteriorated to critical. Checks on his status in a French military hospital were being made every half-hour, reports said. Should he not survive, leadership would pass automatically to Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Rawhi Fattouh for 60 days. But Fattouh is widely viewed as a figurehead, and important decisions probably would be made by others during that time, the reports said.

For their part, Israeli military commanders were ordered to place their units on high alert for deployment to potential problem areas in the event of mass protest or other forms of instability at Arafat's passing. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared he will not allow the Palestinian leader's burial in Jerusalem, and a decision on where to inter his remains was not expected to be made until necessary.

Military jets pounded barricaded insurgent targets in Fallujah in what appeared to be preparation for a major offensive to bring the volatile Iraqi city under control now that the US presidential election is over. But the order for the assault had yet to be given by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was touring Europe and calling on governments that he said have been "spectators" of the war to become involved in Iraq's reconstruction. In Rome, Allawi won a pledge from his counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, that Italian troops would remain in Iraq as long as they were wanted. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, broadcast a threat by insurgents to sabotage oil installations if the anticipated assault on Fallujah materialized.

Nine more people were shot to death by Islamist militants in southern Thailand in another day of retaliation for the government's crackdown last week on a riot by separatists. Schools across the region remained closed because of warnings that the militants might try to abduct teachers and students, and the website of the Islamic Pattani United Liberation Organization urged minority Buddhists to leave. Last week, seven Muslims were killed in the crackdown, and 78 others suffocated to death in trucks taking them to detention camps.

"The war has started again," a separatist leader in Ivory Coast said after government warplanes bombed the largest city in the rebel-held north of the country. He said the attacks seriously wounded 25 people, but that could not be confirmed independently. A shaky cease-fire has been in effect for more than a year, but the power-sharing deal it was supposed to include failed to take hold. An Army captain told Reuters his forces had orders to "reconquer the territory ... and we think we can finish the war in six days."

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