The US government will send more than $40 million in immediate aid to the Palestinians and will resume a "very active" role in promoting peace in the Middle East, new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. She also announced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have accepted invitations to meet with President Bush in Washington in the spring. Tuesday, however, the US is expected to maintain a low profile as Abbas and Sharon hold their first summit.

Iraq should be able to assume full control of internal security in the next 18 months, interim Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said. But as he spoke at an international counterterrorism conference in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for two more bomb explosions Monday. The blasts, in Baquba and Mosul, killed at least 27 people and wounded 21 others.

Al Qaeda also slammed the forum in Saudi Arabia as a conference of "infidels and tyrants" from more than 50 countries that are warring against Islam. It vowed not to stop its attacks "until God enables [us] to reach your necks." The host government warned Saturday, as the conference opened, that its own counterterrorism efforts would be "long and bitter."

Two senior UN officials were suspended by Secretary- General Kofi Annan as repercussions began to flow from last week's report on the independent investigation into corruption in the Iraqi oil-for-food program. But Benon Sevan, who headed the $64 billion program, and the chief of the Security Council Affairs Division may appeal the penalty. The report accuses both of misconduct. Sevan retired last year but remains on the UN payroll for the duration of the probe. Joseph Stephanides, the affairs division chief, is due to retire later this year. Meanwhile, the Associated Press said it has learned that at least two Swiss trading companies implicated in the probe paid kickbacks to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein for oil contracts.

In a reversal of fortune, Mexico's resurgent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was routed in a key state election Sunday that had been expected to be close. In Guerrero, home of Acapulco and other Pacific coast resorts, the leftist Democratic Revolution Party ended 76 years of PRI control, embarrassing polling organizations whose data showed a statistical tie in the race for governor. Last year, the PRI won seven state elections and appeared on track to return as a major contender for the national presidency. President Vicente Fox's National Action Party won barely 1 percent of the vote in Guerrero.

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