The three-week lull in Middle East violence was shattered further as Israel retaliated for the deaths of four soldiers at the hands of Islamic militants Wednesday by bulldozing dozens of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Within hours, Islamic Jihad announced it was calling off a three-week-old agreement with Yasser Arafat to refrain from attacking Israelis.
Army units were out in force in Colombia's capital as peace negotiations between the government and the largest rebel movement collapsed and President Andres Pastrana gave the insurgents 48 hours to vacate their security zone. Pastrana's grant of the Switzerland-size haven to the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) was to expire Jan. 20, and the rebels had hoped to keep the talks going until then. But the president blamed FARC for refusing to discuss such key issues as a cease-fire. He did not say what could cause a resumption of the talks. (Story, page 7.)
Difficult terrain was hindering US efforts to recover the remains of seven Marines who died in Pakistan when their KC-130 tanker plane crashed as it neared a landing strip. The loss was the US's largest to date in the counterterrorism campaign. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's interim government was on the defensive over allowing seven high-ranking Taliban officials to go free earlier this week as the State Department said bluntly that captured Taliban members should be in US hands. (Related story, page 1.)
Two controversial new laws calculated to enhance President Robert Mugabe's prospects for reelection in Zimbabwe won Parliament's OK. Among other restrictions, they deny the vote in the March 9-10 election to Zimbabweans living abroad and impose jail time for "engendering hostility" toward Mugabe. In another move weakening the election hopes of Mugabe's main rival, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, senior military and police commanders warned they wouldn't accept a president who did not fight in the nation's 1970s war against white rule. (Editorial, page 10.)
Bitterly disappointed migrants wept (above) as Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal ruled that all but a few of them must be repatriated to the Chinese mainland, ending their dream of a permanent home in the affluent ex-British colony. The decision appears to affect 4,800 people, many of whom likely will have to leave family members behind. Only an estimated 200 seemed certain to be able to stay under the qualifications for residency. The issue has been a source of embarrassment since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1999.
The expected lifting of a three-week ban on currency trading in Argentina was delayed again, and the nation's top economic official announced it would be "difficult" to end a freeze on savings-account withdrawals. It was not clear as the Monitor went to press when banks would be allowed to reopen.