Foreign rescue teams and aid converged on the southern Iranian city of Bam, devastated by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake Dec. 26, as hopes of finding survivors diminished. Iran's interior minister said he expected the death toll to exceed 20,000. Thousands of residents were sleeping in tents after their mud-brick homes were destroyed. Police reportedly fired shots to disperse looters at relief warehouses and shops. "The disaster is so huge that ... no matter how much is done, we cannot meet the people's expectations," President Mohammad Khatami said, appealing for patience on state television.

A roadside bomb killed a US soldier and two Iraqi children in Baghdad while injuring at least 14 other people Sunday, a day after a series of attacks in the southern city of Karbala left 13 dead and more than 170 wounded. The assault on two coalition military bases and the governor's office was the biggest since the Dec. 13 capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. In related developments, Thailand's prime minister rejected calls to withdraw troops after the deaths of two Thai soldiers in Karbala; and US envoy James Baker arrived in Tokyo seeking forgiveness of part of the $8 billion debt incurred by the former Iraqi regime.

An explosion near the airport in Kabul, Afghan-istan, killed six Afghan soldiers in an attack that a local commander blamed on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. The blast Sunday came as a grand assembly, or loya jirga, debated a final draft of the nation's much-delayed new Constitution. Among contentious issues, are the roles of Islam and ethnic minorities in government and women's rights.

A leaking natural-gas well in southwest China was capped Saturday after releasing a toxic cloud that killed least 198 people, sickened some 10,000 others, and prompted the evacuation of 42,000 residents. Medical workers were disinfecting eight villages in remote Kaixian county, while paramilitary police disposed of hundreds of farm animals.

The Israeli military was investigating a shooting incident that injured two peace activists, one Israeli and one American. The activists came under fire Dec. 26 while cutting through the controversial security barrier that Israel is building along the West Bank to deter Palestinian suicide attacks.

Three suspected Islamic militants are in custody following the second attempt to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in as many weeks, officials said. Two suicide bombers tried to ram Musharraf's limousine Dec. 25 near the capital, Islamabad, killing15 people.

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