The Taliban went out of its way to denounce reports of a rift in its leadership amid one of the heaviest days of US bombing to date. The claims, by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw were "being spread by those only to please themselves," Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told visiting journalists. But the Taliban relationship with the UN appeared to be deteriorating, as its representative was ordered not to meet with a special envoy sent by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And, without warning, Taliban troops seized a field office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Above, a Taliban guard ignores refugees behind him at a camp near the Iranian border. (Story, page 1; opinion, page 11.)

Under certain conditions, the Palestinian Authority is prepared to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a senior official said. With Foreign Minister Shimon Peres due to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later this week at a conference in Spain, Sharon announced: "We are ready to negotiate. Myself, I am going to lead [because] I believe I understand the importance of peace, if I may say so, better than many of the politicians who speak about peace." Arafat aide Nabil Shaath said his side was "always ready" for such talks if Sharon "came to the table according to international resolutions."

A leading Palestinian militant died in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron when a barn in which he was hiding was hit by an Israeli rocket. Jamil Jadallah had been involved in recent attacks against Israelis and was planning another, the Army said. But it would not comment on claims that a member of the militant Hamas movement was killed by tank fire elsewhere in the West Bank. Meanwhile, two other Palestinians were wounded by soldiers who saw them shooting at a car carrying Jewish settlers.

In its strongest reaction to date against leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the Bush administration said it was "deeply disappointed" at his criticism of the bombing of Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Statements issued by the State Department and the US Embassy in Caracas rejected Chávez's televised remarks Monday in which he said there was "no justification of any kind" for the "killing of innocents" in the bombing, which he called fighting "terror with more terror." Strains between the US and Venezuela, its second-largest supplier of oil, have become more acute since Chávez took office in 1999. He has been cultivating close ties with the governments of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, and Libya - all listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.

Claiming "we need a stronger mandate" in the wake of growing international terrorism, the prime minister of Denmark announced new elections for parliament Nov. 20 - four months earlier than necessary. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen also cited the fact that Denmark is in line to rotate into the presidency of the 15-member European Union next July 1, which he said the government needed time to prepare for.

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