Barring last-minute complications, the long-awaited trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity is scheduled to open Tuesday. Under a combination of Iraqi and international law, a five-judge panel will hear the first case gainst him and seven other defendants: their alleged involvement in the roundup and executions of 143 residents of a predominantly Shiite town for a 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein. On Sunday, the group Human Rights Watch issued a report questioning whether any trial of Hussein could be fair and impartial.

An estimated 70 terrorist suspects were killed in airstrikes by US warplanes and helicopters that had taken fire from villages near the Sunni triangle city of Ramadi, a hotbed of resistance to Iraqi reconstruction efforts. The clashes occurred as Iraqis awaited the final, official results of Saturday's referendum on the proposed constitution. All indications pointed to acceptance, and President Jalal Talabani decreed a new national election Dec. 15 to choose legislators who will replace those in the interim parliament.

Still more pressure mounted on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to crack down on radical groups after drive-by shootings Sunday killed at least three Israelis in the West Bank. On the eve of Abbas's departure for Washington and a meeting with President Bush, Israel cut off contact with the PA and sealed off the city of Bethlehem. Meanwhile, citing a "crucial security need," the Supreme Court OK'd the erection of Israel's West Bank separation barrier through Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The decision reversed earlier rulings that the barrier had to be rerouted so as not to impose undue hardship on Palestinians.

In a move almost certain to anger Syria's government, the prime minister of Lebanon said he'll seek an exchange of ambassadors and a formal demarcation of their border. Syria, which dominated Lebanon for 29 years until last April, has always insisted that official diplomatic relations aren't needed because they are so close.

Jittery public health officials in countries bordering Romania were testing both domesticated and wild fowl even though the Bucharest government said no new cases of bird flu had been found there. The European Union said it will send 700 protective suits to Turkey, where about 10,000 birds have been culled after the virus was found on a farm 80 miles from Istanbul.

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