US and Iraqi troops raced to the scene of a confrontation between villagers and gunmen who had seized 10 young people Thursday, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The drama ended with seven of the captives freed and 41 kidnappers under arrest. But others escaped with the remaining hostages. Some of the kidnappers were from radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, police said. Meanwhile, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's senior Shiite cleric, ordered mosques under his control to close until Sunday in a town where a rival Sunni leader was assassinated. An aide said the order would show "solidarity" with Sunnis.

Elders of the rival Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Fatah agreed to a joint resolution calling for acceptance of a state next door to Israel. Those who drafted it are in Israeli prisons, and it was unclear whether their proposal would be accepted by Hamas hard-liners. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was presented with the draft Wednesday, called it "a "deep and realistic political vision that ... represents my point of view." It authorizes him to negotiate with Israel on the basis of an implied recognition of the Jewish state. That would be a major step for Hamas, which was elected to lead the Palestinian government but remains committed to Israel's destruction.

Noncombatants fled their homes in northern Mogadishu, Somalia, as stray mortar rounds landed on them, adding to the casualty count in fighting between Islamist extremists and secular militias. The violence has killed at least 122 people - 26 of them since nightfall Wednesday - and wounded more than 200 others. Analysts said it was possible that the fighting would worsen in the coming days because militias in others sections of the capital have yet to join the combat. An appeal by Prime Minister Ali Mohamad Gedi for all sides to stop went almost unnoticed because his fledgling government is based in Baidoa, 150 miles from Mogadishu.

A return to all-out civil war appeared nearer than ever in Sri Lanka Thursday after a clash at sea between Tamil Tiger rebels and a convoy escorting an Army troop transport. European truce monitors traveling in the convoy said it was attacked by the rebels, sinking one of the escort vessels. As many as 20 sailors were killed, a Navy spokesman said. In retaliation, the Navy said it sank five rebel craft. Earlier this week, a veteran Japanese diplomat failed in his effort to lure the rebels back to the negotiating table, saying relations between them and the government were the worst since the truce was agreed to in 2002.

A protest against punishment for judges who criticized Egypt's government for elections abuses turned violent in Cairo Thursday as thousands of riot and plainclothes police clubbed and kicked demonstrators. Large sectors of the capital were sealed off, traffic was at a standstill, and stores closed for safety reasons. Among the targets of the police were news photographers, one of whom was beaten severely. The opposition Muslim Brotherhood said dozens of its members were arrested. Two judges were fired for accusing the government of rigging last year's parliamentary election.

Petrobras, the state-owned oil and gas giant in Brazil, appeared likely to be offered compensation by neighboring Bolivia after the latter's May 1 nationalization of its energy sector. The two sides met Wednesday to discuss how the Brazilians would be repaid for the seizure of their investment in Bolivia, and reports said government officials were leaning toward offering it in the form of natural gas. Petrobras was the largest investor in Bolivia's energy sector. Meanwhile new leftist President Evo Morales confirmed speculation that nationalization would not stop with oil and gas. At a meeting of Latin American and European Union leaders in Vienna, he told reporters, "We're also [going] to finish with huge land ownership."

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