Israeli tanks and troops withdrew from Palestinian-controlled Ramallah in the West Bank, leaving two towns still occupied since the murder of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi last month. The move had special symbolic importance because Ramallah is the seat of Palestinian government and commerce. But senior Palestinians denounced as a "dangerous dream" Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan "to bring another 1 million Jews to Israel." And an Israeli cabinet minister warned Yasser Arafat against declaring unilateral Palestinian statehood at this weekend's UN General Assembly meeting. (Related story, page 7.)

A Northern Alliance assault on Mazar-e Sharif appeared nearer as Afghanistan's anti-Taliban forces claimed to be within 10 miles of the strategic city on two sides. But, while acknowledging that his side had lost control of at least two "districts" outside Mazar-e Sharif, a Taliban spokesman said preparations for a major counterattack were under way. (Stories, pages 1, 6; opinion, page 11.)

In related developments:

• Pakistan's Foreign Ministry "reminded" the Taliban of diplomatic rules that forbid the use of its embassy in Islamabad for news briefings of the type regularly used to accuse the US of "genocide" and "terrorism." (Story, page 7.)

• Almost $250 million was set aside by Germany's cabinet to cover the possible deployment of 3,900 Army and Navy personnel for support roles in the US-led campaign in Afghan-istan.

• The OK was expected from Italy's parliament for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's pledge of 2,700 troops to support the campaign.

All election monitors except those provided by Zimbabwe's government will be banned in next year's voting for president, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. The election is expected to be the most serious challenge yet for 21-year incumbent Robert Mugabe. The newspaper quoted Mugabe's justice minister as saying most outside observers are "foreign-funded, loyal to their funders, and therefore ... partisan." The opposition Movement for Democratic Change voiced "serious concern" at the development, and the European Union already has said it may impose economic sanctions should independent observers not be allowed.

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