Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared willing to consider a delay in the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, out of respect for a traditional Jewish mourning period that affects many of the thousands of settlers there. Such a delay would push the start of the withdrawal from July 25 to Aug. 15. Observant Jews deny themselves many personal pleasures during the 20 days before Tisha B'av, which marks the destruction of the biblical temples. Meanwhile, the government confirmed that it is planning to build 50 more houses in a West Bank settlement despite President Bush's demand in meetings with Sharon last week that such construction be halted.

Telecommunications tycoon Najib Mikati accepted an appointment as prime minister-designate of Lebanon and quickly began consulting with members of parliament on the formation of a government. Mikati, who has close ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad, succeeds Omar Karami, who also is pro-Syrian and who failed twice to cobble together a cabinet due to anti-Syrian opposition. Mikati said he hoped not to include members of political parties. Parliament must pass enabling legislation if Lebanon is to hold a national election before its term ends May 31.

Emergency meetings were being held between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his political allies to try to keep their coalition government from collapsing. He also was to meet with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi late in the day, and political observers said they expected him to submit the resignations of his deputy and other key members of the Union of Christian Democrats, who pulled out of the coalition last Friday, demanding that he form a new government after a crushing regional election defeat April 4. It was unclear whether Berlusconi would offer his own resignation. His term isn't due to expire until next year, and he has said he wanted to be the first prime minister since World War II to serve a full five years.

The retiring founder-president of Cyprus's Turkish sector welcomed the election of his successor, but indicated he was in no hurry to resume peace negotiations with the Greek Cypriot government. Voters on Sunday gave leftist Mehmet Ali Talat an easy victory to replace Rauf Denktash, who long has opposed reuniting with Greek Cyprus. Talat claimed a mandate to find "a just solution" to the 31-year divide but also acknowledged having little leverage to move the peace process forward without matching enthusiasm from the Greek side. A UN plan for unification collapsed last year because of the latter's opposition.

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