The border between Israel and southern Lebanon was quiet but on high alert Tuesday after the Jewish state's defense forces and Hizbullah guerrillas engaged in their fiercest fighting in five years. Four Hizbullah infiltrators were killed and at least a dozen Israeli soldiers were wounded. Alarmed senior Lebanese government officials reportedly were in consultation with Hizbullah leaders to restore calm, but Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that further violence would bring a harsh response by his forces.

The new political party being formed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would win the national election he agreed to schedule early next year, results of two respected opinion polls showed. The surveys, published in the newspapers Maariv and Yediot Ahronot, indicated that Sharon's as yet unnamed centrist party would win between 30 and 33 seats in parliament. Both polls put the opposition Labor Party at 26 seats, and Sharon's former Likud movement at 12 to 15. Meanwhile, seven candidates emerged for the leadership of Likud, which set its internal election date for Dec. 19.

By a 397-to-202 vote, conservative Angela Merkel was elected the first female chancellor of Germany by parliament and accepted the oath of office. But in what analysts said was a sign of potential trouble, 50 legislators from the coalition of her Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union, and predecessor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats voted against her. The vote and inauguration came six months after Schröder gambled that he could win an early election by deliberately losing a vote of confidence in parliament that would make it necessary.

Bird flu has become a "serious epidemic," public health authorities in China said as reports surfaced of three more outbreaks there - totaling five in the past two days. Almost 175,000 chickens will be slaughtered as a result of the latest cases, they said. Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Japan joined the US in banning imports of poultry from the Canadian Province of British Columbia after authorities there confirmed that an infected duck had been found. Amid growing concern over the virus, Australia's chief veterinary officer said a simulated outbreak will be staged next week on top of the national emergency plan that has been drafted in case of a pandemic.

Denying that they've formed either a coalition or an alliance, seven political parties and the communist rebel movement in Nepal said they will nonetheless ratchet up opposition to King Gyanendra. In a statement Tuesday, they announced an agreement resulting from days of secret meetings. Among other points, it would reinstate parliament, which then would form a replacement government to hold elections and draft a new constitution. If all that happens, the rebels said, they will end their insurgency and surrender their weapons under international supervision. The king disbanded parliament Feb. 1, saying that was necessary to quell the insurgency. Instead, it has become more intense.

The three major ethnic groups in Bosnia agreed in principle to change its three-man presidency to a single chief executive with a strong prime minister and parliament. Croat, Serb, and Muslim leaders committed themselves to working out the details of the new constitutional structure by next March. The former Yugoslav republic already has merged its old system of twin armies, chiefs of staff, and defense secretaries into a unified ministry. The Bosnian civil war ended 10 years ago this month with the signing of the Dayton Accords but not before it killed or displaced more than 2 million people in Europe's worst fighting since World War II.

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