The Hamas-led Palestinian government was increasingly isolated Monday as Israel severed all relations with it and European Union foreign ministers voted to pull the plug on financial aid, except for food, electricity, and other humanitarian purposes. Meanwhile, France denied visa requests by two Hamas members who'd been invited to attend Council of Europe sessions in Strasbourg later this week.

Prospects for the survival of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's bid for a second term appeared poor Monday after both Kurdish and Sunni leaders said they would not be part of a government with him at its head. A secular bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also is believed ready to veto Jaafari. Jaafari has steadfastly refused to step aside, but his Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance was to meet with Sunni representatives on the matter later in the day, and a spokes-man said, "Without the Sunnis and Kurds, we cannot talk about a government." President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, warned Sunday that Jaafari should not expect the opposition to soften.

Although there is no evidence that its border with Iraq isn't secure, the government of Saudi Arabia is soliciting bids for a fence that would span its entire length, The Times (London) reported. It said authorities have two concerns: the return from Iraq of Saudi radicals who have been engaged in terrorism there, and the rise to power in Iraq of Shiite Muslims with close ties to Iran, a nation that the Saudis do not trust. The border is 560 miles long, and a fence would cost many millions of dollars to build, The Times said.

Five soldiers and two humanitarian aid workers died Monday in northern Sri Lanka in an attack blamed on Tamil separatist rebels. It came a week before Tamil and government representatives are to meet for new peace talks. The casualty count was the highest for any incident on land since the two sides agreed to reopen efforts to stabilize the island nation. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam denied responsibility for the attack and said they "sympathize" with the dead and injured.

On the basis of exit polls, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government appeared headed for defeat as Italians completed the second and final day of voting in their national election. Support for Berlusconi's own Forza Italia Party was off by 8.5 percent from the last previous vote in 2001. If the exit polls were correct, the center-left alliance of former European Commission President Romano Prodi was on course to win between 50 percent and 54 percent of the votes in both houses of parliament. Prodi defeated Berlusconi once before, in the 1996 election, but his government fell two years later.

Leftist President Hugo Chávez ratcheted up the tension between Venezuela and the US still further, threatening to expel Ambassador William Brownfield. In his weekly TV show Sunday, Chávez told a cheering audience, "If you continue provoking us, pack your bags, because I'm going to throw you out of here." Brownfield's car was kicked, pelted with eggs and tomatoes, and chased back to the US Embassy by Chávez supporters on motorcycles Friday after he'd donated baseball equipment to a youth league in a poor neighborhood of Caracas. The embassy has said Chávez is legally obligated to provide better security for the ambassador, who has been at the center of three such incidents in as many weeks. A spokeswoman told reporters that Brownfield intends to continue traveling in Venezuela and "will not be intimidated."

Only 40 people aboard an overcrowded boat are known to have survived when it struck a submerged object and sank in Lake Volta, Ghana, reports said. Authorities said the vessel carried at least 150 people who were being relocated because the island on which they lived had been designated a nature reserve. The accident happened Saturday but was not reported until Monday.

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