Secretary of State Powell arrives later today in Israel on a cease-fire mission made more difficult by a surge in Middle East violence. Israel's security cabinet vowed to press ahead with the military offensive Wednesday after a suicide bomber killed at least eight other people in Haifa, Israel, a day after 15 Israeli soldiers died in Jenin on the West Bank. A Palestinian aid group said at least 128 Palestinians have died in the two-week old operation. In addition, an Armenian priest was wounded by gunfire at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where Palestinian fighters are surrounded by Israeli troops. Each side claimed the other was responsible. Elsewhere, Hizbullah militants in Lebanon fired rockets into northern Israel, prompting Israeli air strikes. (See story, page 1; editorial, page 8.)

The US, United Nations, European Union, and Russia called on Israel and the Palestinians to end their confrontations at a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday. In the background, Germany was said to be circulating a draft peace plan that envisions a withdrawal of Israeli troops, declaration of a Palestinian state, and international peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone between the two sides.

A strike by oil workers is part of a plot to cripple the country and trigger a military coup, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claimed in a speech Tuesday night. Anger over his appointment of a new board for the state oil monopoly in February triggered repeated protests, among them a two-day general strike set to end today. Venezuela is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter and No. 3 supplier to the US. Above, demonstrators destroy the truck of a Chavez supporter in the capital, Caracas.

A five-year inquiry into the massacre of 7,500 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica puts blame squarely on Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general whose troops carried it out. The inquiry, commissioned by the Dutch government, found no proof that Serb leaders in Belgrade ordered the killings. It faulted Dutch UN peacekeepers who were supposed to protect the enclave, but said they had been given an "impossible" and "unclear" mandate.

Nine suspects are in custody in connection with an alleged bombing campaign to undermine the interim Afghan government, officials said. Five were detained in Kabul for a missile attack on an international peacekeepers's compound. The other four were arrested for a bombing in Jalalabad, a suspected attack on the visiting Afghan defense minister.

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