Under growing international pressure, the Syrian government said it has decided to pull back its occupation troops in Lebanon. But the pullback will be only to the eastern Bekaa Valley on the Lebanese side of their common border, and no timetable was announced. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami told the Reuters news agency an immediate and total Syrian withdrawal, as demanded by US and European leaders, "would shake the stability" of his country. Still, Syria's Foreign Ministry said it had a "keen interest" in cooperating with a UN Security Council resolution that demands a complete withdrawal.

Laying down their marker on the future of Iraq, Kurdish leaders said they'd decide which Shiite candidate to support for prime minister only if their ethnic minority is given control of areas "Arabized" by former dictator Saddam Hussein. Thousands of Kurds were pushed out of their homes in and around the strategic northern oil city of Kirkuk by Hussein in a bid to change the ethnic makeup of the region. Kurds finished second in Iraq's Jan. 30 election, and their backing is needed before Shiite candidates Ibrahim al-Jaafari or interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi can form a new government.

At least seven loyalists of the late Yasser Arafat were replaced by people with technical expertise as the Palestinian parliament gave its OK to Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia's cabinet. The final vote was 54-12 with four abstentions. Qureia (above, in glasses, celebrating his victory), who had failed twice before to muster enough support for the slate, would have had to resign had the legislators voted down his choices. Meanwhile, in another move to deal with lawlessness, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought a ruling from Islamic legal experts on resuming the executions of convicted murderers. The practice was stopped two years ago in the face of European displeasure.

Questions about whether Pope John Paul II might now choose to resign for health reasons appeared all but certain to arise after he was rushed back to a Rome hospital for treatment of breathing problems for the second time in less than a month. A spokesman said "necessary specialized assistance" and further tests would be administered. While the elderly pontiff was hospitalized three weeks ago, a senior Vatican official declined for the first time publicly to rule out the possibility of his retirement, saying that would be up to his conscience.

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