Another attempt was under way by senior Palestinians to persuade the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join in a unity pledge that would halt bombing and shooting attacks inside Israel. The first such effort, earlier this month, broke down after those movements vetoed the idea, which they said implied recognition of the Jewish state. The new attempt came as Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer praised Palestinian security officials as "sincere and serious" in their desire to enforce a truce in return for the pullback of Israeli forces from Bethlehem in the West Bank and parts of the Gaza Strip.

In an about-face, the army and police in the southern Philippines blamed bandits for the deaths of two Christian missionaries. The victims were beheaded. They were among eight people kidnapped earlier this week while selling cosmetics for Avon Products. Two others in the group were set free shortly after the seizure. The incident first was attributed to Abu Sayyaf Muslim guerrillas, whom President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo claimed last month had been decimated with the help of American troops. But a Filipino general backtracked Thursday, saying "We want to correct the impression that there is trouble again and that the Abu Sayyaf were responsible."

At a hastily arranged news conference, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien surprised the nation by announcing he will not seek reelection when his term expires in early 2004. Chrétien (above, leaving the podium) acknowledged that he and his Liberal Party had been distracted by months of infighting over his leadership, telling reporters: "This summer, we have not been focused on governing .... Canadians don't like that." Critics quickly attacked Chrétien for what they called a "resignation in slow motion" and predicted "a government where ... there will be no direction, or conflict in direction."

Next week's UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, will be shut down by antiglobalization activists "if we can get the numbers," an organizer vowed. Hundreds of groups plan to demonstrate at the 10-day conference, a follow-up to the 1992 gathering in Rio de Janeiro. But some leaders pledged to keep their protests peaceful unless they are provoked by police. Three confrontations with police this week, however, resulted in dozens of arrests and reports that some activists had been recruited to spy on fellow protesters.

Racing against time, an estimated 900,000 people in China's Hunan province were piling up sandbags to hold back rising waters in a giant lake that threatens to flood. Dongting, which is about the size of Luxembourg and is fed by four rivers, is expected to crest Sunday. It already was eight feet above flood-warning level.

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