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Hamas and Fatah agreed to try to end the strife between their competing factions in the Palestinian government in intensive negotiations that didn't end until early Sunday. But hours later, a new incident threatened to undermine the progress when a group of armed men tried to call on Hamas Health Minister Bassem Nain to protest his $2 million cut in payments for medical treatment abroad. Nain called for Hamas militants to protect him, and three people were wounded in the ensuing gunfight. Neither Hamas nor President Mahmoud Abbas has been willing to back down in conflicting demands for control over the Palestinian Authority's security forces.

In the first audiotaped message in three months, a voice purported to be Osama bin Laden's urges followers to go to Sudan and fight the proposed UN peacekeeping force for Darfur. As broadcast over the Arab satellite TV channel Al Jazeera Sunday, the tape also draws on the controversial caricatures of the prophet Muhammad and Western efforts to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority as proof of a "crusader war" against Islam in which "the public" shares responsibility. Bin Laden was based in Sudan before being expelled and relocating to Afghanistan. The authenticity of the tape could not be confirmed independently.

Two teams of surveyors sent by Japan to map islands also claimed by South Korea are expected back in Tokyo as soon as Tuesday after negotiators reached a compromise that averted an armed showdown at sea. In talks that lasted until late Saturday, the Japanese agreed not to survey the remote islands in return for at least a delay in efforts to reregister the area under Korean names. The islands lie astride a rich fishing ground that's also believed to hold natural gas deposits.

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Tamil separatist rebels refused even to meet with an international mediator over the weekend, solidifying their pullback from peace negotiations with the government of Sri Lanka. Analysts said Sunday it is not clear where the situation will go next. Meanwhile, violence worsened, with four Army soldiers killed and 10 wounded Saturday in attacks blamed on the rebels and three more hurt in incidents Sunday. Three rebels also died in confrontations with troops Sunday and another bit down on a cyanide capsule at a police checkpoint in an apparent suicide attempt. He was hospitalized in serious condition.

About 200 whites have filed applications to return to the farms in Zimbabwe from which they were evicted under President Robert Mugabe's six-year-old land redistribution program, the BBC and other news organizations reported Sunday. The government has admitted that much of the formerly white-owned land has fallen into disuse because blacks who took it over lack farming expertise, equipment, cash, or all three. Mugabe's critics go further, blaming the program for devastating the economy and causing massive hunger. But the government said last week that all farms are state property and may only be leased.

More peacekeeping troops poured into the Solomon Islands over the weekend from Australia and New Zealand and still others will arrive in the next few days, their governments announced, to try to keep ethnic tensions under control as parliament meets for the first time since rioting erupted there. Opposition leaders in the legislature said they've already filed a no-confidence motion against new Prime Minister Snyder Rini. Rini, according to rumor, won with the help of financial aid from China and/or Taiwan, which triggered last week's violence. Under guard, 240 Chinese from the islands' business community were flown to safety Saturday and Sunday.

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