Hamas responded to Israel's decision postponing its planned offensive in the Gaza Strip by vowing more suicide operations against Jewish targets. Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin said such attacks are "a natural response" because "the entire Israeli population is military and is involved in slaughtering the Palestinians." Israeli reservists, called up as part of the planned operation, were being sent home. Reports said the Gaza offensive was on hold because of concerns that sensitive details had been leaked, giving Palestinian militants too much time to prepare. Left, militants practice a defensive drill in Jabalay, north of Gaza City. (Related story, page 1; opinion, page 11.)

With the scent of cleaning fluids hanging in the air, worshippers crowded into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Sunday for its first service in 39 days. The site believed to be the birthplace of Jesus was invaded April 2 by Palestinian gunmen who quickly were besieged by Israeli forces. When the final group of Palestinians was allowed to leave for exile in Cyprus, the church's interior was found to be littered with trash, garbage, and graffiti.

An uneasy calm returned to the streets of Sierra Leone's capital after weekend clashes between supporters of rival political parties participating in tomorrow's presidential and parliamentary election. The vote will be the first since the end of 10 years of civil war that claimed an estimated 200,000 casualties. UN peacekeepers intervened Saturday to break up stone-throwing in Freetown by backers of incumbent Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and his People's Party directed at their counterparts in the Revolutionary United Front. The latter group is made up of former antigovernment rebels.

Ignoring the month-long cease-fire called by communist rebels, Nepal's Army engaged them in a firefight Friday, killing at least 27, the Defense Ministry said. But troops were being pulled out of two areas in western Nepal because of a shortage of men and guns. The rebels said last Thursday that if their truce wasn't observed by the Army and police it would end in a major counteroffensive, and intelligence sources said captured documents indicated a new attack was being planned.

Vandalism was suspected as a possible cause for the latest rail accident in Britain, which has experienced a rash of such fatalities since 1997. Seven people died and more than 70 others were hurt Friday at a station north of London, when a commuter train left the tracks and hit the platform at which it was to stop. Investigators found that bolts at a switch over which the train had just passed at high speed were missing their nuts.

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