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New Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fired three senior security chiefs in the Gaza Strip within hours of a mortar and rocket barrage on Jewish settlements by Hamas. No one was hurt in the attacks, but they represented the first major test of the cease-fire agreed to by both sides Tuesday. The barrage came even though Prime Minister Sharon told a newspaper that he was ready to release large numbers of Palestinians from jail, even if they had been involved in deadly attacks against Israelis.

Boasting publicly for the first time that it has nuclear warheads, North Korea upped the ante in its confrontation with the US. The Pyongyang government said it would not participate in further six-sided negotiations on disarmament and is compelled to "bolster" its nuclear arsenal since the US had "disclosed its attempt to topple the political system at any cost." Neighboring China and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said they hoped North Korea could be brought back into negotiations.

Iran also ratcheted up its war of words with the Bush administration, warning that any invader seeking to destroy its nuclear program will encounter "a burning hell." Diplomats said the Tehran government's increasingly tough stance on the issue appears to put it on a collision course with the UN Security Council, which can impose economic sanctions. New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, winding down her first trip in the post, spoke on the matter for the second straight day, telling reporters: "Iran's internal politics are not moving in a positive direction."

Iraq's borders will be closed next week to prevent millions of people from crossing for the annual Shiite Muslim observance of Ashura, the interim government announced. The emergency measure is intended to prevent a repeat of the violence that marked last year's ceremonies, when terrorists exploded bombs that killed at least 171 people. In other developments Thursday, another 12 Iraqis were killed - 10 of them policemen in a gunfight with terrorists and two in the explosion of a remote-controlled bomb that appeared aimed at a passing US military convoy in Baghdad. No Americans were hurt.

Pope John Paul II was to leave a Rome hospital after a 10-day stay, with the Vatican announcing he is "cured" of a breathing problem and will follow as busy a schedule as his personal physician recommends.

Led by Queen Elizabeth II, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britons generally were supportive of Prince Charles and his longtime love interest, Camilla Parker Bowles, on the news that they'll marry April 8. The ceremony will be private and the bride will assume the title of Duchess of Cornwall. But she will not become queen when Charles ascends to the throne.

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