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New special envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair said he saw "a sense of possibility" for peace after his first talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Neither side contradicted that view, but Hamas spokesmen warned the ex-British prime minister that his role would be "useless" if he snubbed their organization, which controls the Gaza Strip.Blair isn't authorized by the so-called Quartet of peace brokers (the US, Russia, European Union, and UN) to meet with Hamas. Above, he acknowledges news cameramen on his arrival at Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank.

Some progress was reported in Afghanistan as tribal leaders, Taliban representatives, and South Korean diplomats were in intensive talks over the fate of 23 Christian hostages. But the Afghan Foreign Ministry would release no details "because that would jeopardize the lives" of the hostages. The Taliban had extended until midafternoon Tuesday its deadline for resolution of the matter and warned that any effort to free the Koreans by force would result in their execution. Afghan officials said "by no means" would military operations be used.

Government troops cornered a senior Taliban militant in a house in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan Tuesday, but he killed himself rather than surrender. Abdullah Mehsud returned to terrorist operations in 2004 after two years in prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His death brought to at least 54 the number of militants killed since Saturday night in tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Tamil separatist rebels inflicted heavy casualties on government troops and local police Tuesday in two attacks on a district in northern Sri Lanka. At least 14 people were killed and 14 more were wounded near Vavuniya. The area is a staging post near the dividing line between government-held and rebel-held territory. It has become the focus of fighting since the last sizable force of rebels was evicted from the eastern side of the island earlier this month.

The annual application by Taiwan for reinstatement to the UN was turned down Monday, and mainland China's government noted the rejection by calling President Chen Shui-bian "scum." In a departure from previous practice, Chen chose not to file for admission as the Republic of China, the name under which the island was expelled in 1971. China has held the seat since then. Despite the rejection, Chen said plans for a national referendum on UN membership remain in effect.

An estimated 30,000 leftist protesters failed to stop the opening of the year's biggest tourist attraction in Oaxaca, Mexico. But despite heavy security precautions, hotels in the area reported hundreds of cancellations by would-be visitors to the Guelaguetza festival after rioting earlier this month that resulted in dozens of arrests and injuries. Protest leaders accused state Gov. Ulises Ruiz of disguising police as festival-goers to make the opening day appear successful.

Calling international air traffic control officials "a bunch of idiots," the chief of Brazil's airport authority rejected their call for outside help to oversee operations in the wake of last week's fatal crash. Jose Carlos Pereira said Brazil did not need help. The July 18 accident at São Paulo was the nation's worst aviation disaster and second in less than a year, and operations at Congonhas Airport there have yet to return to normal. In addition, the radar system failed last weekend, causing massive disruption of scheduled flights.

Opposition politicians claimed massive fraud after Cameroon's ruling party was declared the landslide winner of last weekend's election. President Paul Biya's People's Democratic Movement won all but 28 of the 180 seats in parliament, with six still to be decided, and at least 309 of 363 slots on municipal councils. Voter turnout was low, reports said. Biya has ruled without interruption since 1982. His term does not expire until 2011.

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