Palestinian leaders called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council as the conflict with Israel threatened to become all-out war. In retaliation for an ambush that killed six of their soldiers, Israeli forces pounded Palestinian positions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Reports said 15 Palestinians died, only one a civilian. In rival threats, the Palestinian leadership said resistance would continue until the Israeli Army and Jewish settlers left both areas. But settlers vowed to "liquidate the Palestinian Authority" unless Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government does so. (Story, page 1.)

Slobodan Milosevic, who is conducting his own defense, scored the first point in his war-crimes trial in The Hague, with the judges ruling that the testimony of the prosecution's senior investigator was based on inadmissable hearsay. The ruling came on the heels of Tuesday's vigorous cross-examination by the former Yugoslav president of the first prosecution witness, an ethnic Albanian policeman, which legal experts said was "very, very forceful."

Results of the latest opinion poll in Zimbabwe held potential bad news for President Robert Mugabe with 17 days remaining before the election he hopes will prolong his 22-year rule. Only 11 percent of respondents said they'd vote for him, versus 20 percent for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Ominously, 60 percent of those polled refused to declare themselves.

A forbidden cooking stove or gas cylinder carried by a passenger was believed responsible for a fast-spreading fire aboard an Egyptian train that killed at least 373 people, authorities said. The overcrowded Cairo-to-Luxor train was carrying passengers home for a Muslim holiday and traveled four miles while ablaze before coming to a stop (above). The accident was being called the worst in the history of Egyptian railroading.

An estimated 2 million pilgrims from around the world were camped near the Saudi city of Mecca as the annual hajj, the first major gathering of Muslims since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US, neared its climax. Saudi authorities vowed to prevent any attempt to politicize the ritual, but the official news agency reported no incidents as the Monitor went to press.

The runoff election for president in Madagascar was postponed from Sunday to March 24 by the same court that proclaimed it necessary. But opposition leader Marc Ravaloma-nana said he'd seize power tomorrow regardless. Ravalomanana, who insists he won the first round of voting outright Dec. 16, has refused to participate in the runoff against incumbent Didier Ratsiraka.

Suspicion fell on the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for the hijacking of a commercial airliner that was later forced to land on a rural highway. The hijackers and "two or three" passengers, one of them a prominent senator, disappeared before authorities arrived. The remaining passengers and crew were unhurt.

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