Israel will speed up its military operation and withdraw from Palestinian territories once the mission to "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure of [Yasser] Arafat" is complete, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday. In a speech to Israel's parliament, Sharon added that he was ready to hold peace talks with what he termed "moderate and responsible" Arab leaders, and would discuss such a meeting with Secretary of State Powell later this week. In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, meanwhile, Israeli forces traded fire with Palestinian gunmen holed up inside the Church of the Nativity. The exchange set off a fire within the church compound that was quickly put out. (Related stories, pages 1, 14.)

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared an immediate suspension of oil exports, to last 30 days or until Israel withdraws troops from Palestinian areas. Iraq exports nearly 2 million barrels a day. Prices for future oil contracts jumped in response, but analysts said Iraq's move would not affect world oil supplies because major producers Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rejected Iraq's call for a boycott.

At least four people were killed when a bomb went off near a convoy carrying Afghanistan's Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim. Afghan officials said Fahim was not hurt during what they termed an assassination attempt, as he traveled to a meeting with local commanders and tribal leaders in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. (Related story, page 7.)

Venezuela's biggest union called a one-day, nationwide strike for today in a mounting conflict with President Hugo Chavez over the state-owned oil monopoly. Chavez said Sunday that seven Petroleos de Venezuela executives had been fired, and 12 more sent into early retirement, after leading a month of protests against his appointment of a loyalist board of directors. Venezuela is the world's fourth-largest oil producer.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II was to pay tribute to the late Queen Mother in a televised speech as The Monitor went to press. Buckingham Palace said the queen would thank the tens of thousands of supporters who waited as long as 12 hours in line to pay their respects to the Queen Mother, who died March 30. First Lady Laura Bush will be among a host of foreign dignitaries and leaders attending today's funeral service at London's Westminster Abbey.

In the first presidential runoff in Costa Rica's history, Abel Pacheco (above), a former television commentator and candidate of the ruling Social Christian Unity Party, claimed victory over Rolando Araya of the opposition National Liberation Party. Sunday's voter turnout of about 60 percent was a record low.

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