World

An Islamic Jihad commander was shot to death and two local leaders of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades died when a rocket struck their car Tuesday in the latest attacks by Israeli forces before the formation of a new Palestinian government. The air-strike occurred in the Gaza Strip against the men, whom the Jewish state said had been involved in firing rockets at Israeli towns. The shooting came in a raid in Nablus, in the West Bank. Meanwhile, in his first interview with journalists since assuming power, interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he intends for Israel to keep all three major Jewish settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem, plus smaller blocs along the border with Jordan. But he hinted that unilateral withdrawals from elsewhere in the West Bank were in the offing, with Hamas set to take over the Palestinian government.

Radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri was found guilty by a court in Britain Tuesday of fomenting racial hatred and inciting murder of non-Muslims - "in particular Jewish people." He was sentenced to seven years in prison. However, he also is wanted in the US on charges of attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and could be extradited for prosecution. His Finsbury Park mosque in London was a hotbed of radicalism, attracting followers from all over Europe, among them convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reed. Hamza pleaded not guilty to the charges and said the case against him was politically motivated. After the verdict, police discussed evidence of terrorist training camps in Britain that was seized in a raid on the mosque but could not be disclosed earlier.

In another apparent about-face, the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels of Sri Lanka appointed six delegates to represent them in peace negotiations with the government. But the starting date, in neutral Switzerland, was pushed back a week to Feb. 22. The rebels said Sunday they would not participate in the talks on how better to implement the mutual cease-fire because of the kidnapping of Tamil humanitarian aid staffers by government-backed paramilitaries. But reports said the reversal of that decision came after a private meeting Monday between chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and the Norwegian envoy who has been mediating between the two sides. More than 65,000 people have died in the Tamil campaign for autonomy, which began in 1983.

In a blunt new warning, the government of China said the gap between rich and poor in the cities has reached alarming levels. That is especially significant, the Xinxua news agency said, because most of the focus until now has been on the disparity between urban and rural areas. In a finding by the National Development and Reform Commission, the wealthiest one-fifth of urban residents received 20 times more of the total income than the poorest fifth, Xinxua reported. Without being specific, it cited commission sources as saying the government would use "tougher" measures to promote equality in the future. In another development, China's Environmental Protection Agency ordered that all chemical spills and other pollution- related accidents, be reported directly to government authorities within one hour of being discovered. There have been 45 such accidents this winter, six of them considered serious.

A breakthrough in negotiations between Muslim separatist rebels and the government of the Philippines was reached Tuesday, a joint statement said, and the two sides expect to sign a "comprehensive" peace agreement by year's end. Reports said the talks "successfully wrapped up ... the ancestral domain issue" - a reference to the territorial claims in the southern Philippines over which government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been fighting for more than two decades. The sides agreed to a cease-fire in 2003.

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