Hamas is scheduled to follow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's speech to the new members of parliament Saturday by detailing its plans for governing the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But against that backdrop, Israeli officials were meeting Thursday to consider their response. Among their expected recommendations: the cutoff of millions of dollars in tax and customs payments collected on behalf of Palestinian merchants and laborers, new limits on Palestinians seeking work inside Israel, and a ban on travel for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal met with senior officials of Turkey's government. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the two sides would discuss efforts to guide the Palestinians on "the right path toward peace."
Iraqi authorities opened an investigation into claims that police have been operating "death squads" that target the nation's Sunni minority. A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party said the probe validated his group's claims that such squads "raid houses and arrest people who are [later] found executed" in and around Baghdad. Hundreds of Sunnis have been found dead in apparent extra-judicial killings - four of them earlier this week, the BBC reported. It cited US Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, who is in charge of training Iraq's police, as saying 22 traffic officers were arrested late last month in the act of leading a Sunni away to be executed.
A potential setback for the recent improvement in relations between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan appeared Thursday over an incident in the Arabian Sea. Indian government officials summoned a senior Pakistani diplomat to protest the shooting death of an unarmed fisherman earlier this week and to demand the immediate release of 25 other fishermen whose boats were seized by Pakistani mari-time patrols. At the same time, Pakistan's government accused Indian planes of violating its airspace by making "low-altitude passes" over the patrol boats. The government said the Indian fishermen were "poaching" well inside Pakistan's exclusive economic zone.
The Basque separatist group ETA is preparing to announce a unilateral truce with the government of Spain, two leading newspapers and the region's president said Thursday. But they cited no sources for the claim, and a government spokesman said he was not aware of any new developments suggesting a cease-fire is imminent. The newspapers both said a declaration by the group would be followed by a two-part process: discussions among all Basque parties on the political future of their region and negotiations with the government in Madrid on what would happen to ETA members, among them almost 800 who are serving prison sentences. Regional President Juan José Ibarretxe appeared to go further still, suggesting that ETA also would announce that it is surrendering its weapons.
Seeking to stave off a new political crisis, the interim government of Haiti and the elections council agreed Thursday to declare front-runner René Préval the winner of the Feb. 7 presidential election. The move followed negotiations in which it was decided to subtract tens of thousands of blank ballots from the total number of votes cast. That put Préval over the threshold needed for a majority and avoided a runoff with his closest rival that threatened to cause new political violence.
By a two-vote margin, justices on Thailand's Constitutional Court rejected a petition seeking the trial of embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for alleged conflict of interest in a controversial business deal. The majority said Thaksin's opponents had failed to show how he was involved in the $1.9 billion sale of his family's telecommunications business to a Singapore company. The deal was structured in a way that allows the sellers to avoid any taxes. Had the prime minister been found guilty at trial, he'd have been obliged to resign. Anti-Thaksin demonstrations have drawn huge turnouts in Bangkok over the past two weeks, and his political enemies vowed to continue their efforts to push him out of office.