Israel and the Palestinian Authority both want a peace agreement before the Bush administration leaves office, Mahmoud Abbas said Monday. The Palestinian president told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "We're serious about using this opportunity to reach this historic [deal]" – a reference to the peace conference the US plans to stage at Annapolis, Md., later this month. Israel plans another release of Palestinian prisoners prior to the talks, the Haaretz newspaper reported Monday.
Hundreds of Palestinian police traded gunfire for hours Monday with militants in a West Bank refugee camp, an incident that analysts said tested Abbas's ability to show Israel that he can implement a future peace deal. The militants were from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. The group is linked to Abbas's Fatah movement, and some of its members have balked at terms of an amnesty that Abbas brokered with Israel, which requires them to disarm.
The US and China agreed Monday to a "hot line" between their defense departments for use in times of crisis. But in Beijing, visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "there was no further discussion" when he raised such issues as the missile test last winter in which China alarmed the world by shooting down one of its own orbiting satellites. The US has been concerned about the double-digit growth of China's military budget.
The largest coalition of Muslim nations announced it will open an office in Baghdad, a breakthrough in efforts to win increased diplomatic representation for Iraq's embattled government. The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference will post an ambassador "to tell the Iraqis, 'OIC stands behind you,'" its chief said. The Arab League also had an office in Baghdad last year, but its ambassador soon quit, citing slow progress in reconciling Iraq's sectarian differences.
Exxon Mobil, the US oil industry giant, lost its place as the world's No. 1 company by market value as investors snapped up shares in PetroChina Co. at an initial public offering in Shanghai. The first day of trading raised a record $8.9 billion. Added to the value of stock traded in Hong Kong and New York, plus shares still owned by the Chinese government, PetroChina's capitalization was put at $1 trillion, more than double Exxon Mobil's.
Police raided a meeting of mafia leaders near Palermo, Sicily, Monday, capturing four who were on Italy's list of most-wanted criminals. Among them: Salvatore Lo Piccolo, believed to be the "boss of all bosses," and his son, Sandro. The elder Lo Piccolo (above, c., in handcuffs) had been on the run from authorities since 1998. He's believed to have assumed command of the Sicilian mafia after his predecessor, Bernardo Provenzano, was arrested in April 2006.
Businessman Alvaro Colom won the presidency of Guatemala on his third try Sunday over a retired Army general who'd made crime-fighting the theme of his campaign. Colom held an insurmountable 5.4 percent lead over Otto Perez Molina. Colom, a leftist and former economy minister, campaigned on a promise to end poverty. Above, he and his wife, Sandra, simulate doves – the symbol of his National Unity of Hope Party – for news photographers.
Plans were announced Sunday for a $6.5 million solar thermal station that will supply all the electricity for a town of 4,500 people in Australia's Queensland State. Cloncurry was chosen for the project because it has almost constant sunny weather. The station, which is expected to be on line by late 2009, will generate power by pumping water through graphite blocks that store heat from 8,000 mirrors. The resulting steam will spin electricity-generating turbines even after dark.