A "high-level" meeting between security officials of Israel and the Palestinian Authority - the first since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government cut ties with Yasser Arafat - was to be held as the Monitor went to press. Word of the talks came as a senior Israeli official said the government was prepared to "stop our operations" in the West Bank city of Nablus as an incentive to Arafat to crack down on Islamic militants.

US military operations against terrorism in Afghanistan will "have priority" over the new international peacekeeping force there, and the two must maintain close coordination, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard Myers said. He spoke as Al Qaeda captives being taken to jail in neighboring Pakistan seized some of their guards' weapons and began a gunfight. As many as 12 people on both sides were reported killed, and an unspecified number of the prisoners were surrounded after trying to flee. (Related stories, pages 1, 6, 7.)

"All efforts must be made to prevent war," India's Prime Minister said in his first address to Parliament since the Dec. 13 suicide attack by terrorists accused of being supported by rival Pakistan. But Vajpayee rejected a call by Pakistan for a joint investigation of the incident, in which 13 people died. He said he'd first try diplomatic means to convince Pakistan to close down the Kashmiri separatist groups blamed for the attack. (Editorial, page 8.)

Looting by angry Argentines worsened in Buenos Aires and in President Fernando de la Rua's hometown, Cordoba, as the growing economic crisis took on social dimensions. Newscasts showed stores being ransacked and trash fires burning in streets as police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund turned up the heat on the government, calling its economic policy "unsustainable."

A 30-day cease-fire to begin Christmas Eve was declared by Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka, and the new government indicated "we'll probably respond positively." The initiative was timed for the first session of Parliament and just before Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe leaves on a mission to win international backing for new peace efforts with the Tamils.

US naval forces were accused of intercepting and firing on an oil tanker leased to Iran, resulting in wounds to two crewmen. The incident took place in the northern Persian Gulf, Iranian officials said in lodging a "strong protest." The countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, and there was no immediate US response to the accusation.

Government troops were back in control of an island in the Comoros chain after an invasion by a dozen masked gunmen. The attackers briefly seized a communications center and a police station, but responding Army units killed five of them and captured another. The Comoros, often the scene of military coups, are scheduled for a referendum Sunday on a proposed new constitution.

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