The prospect of another major Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip loomed after Palestinian rockets fell on the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon. A woman died in Sderot and a guard in Defense Minister Amir Peretz's security detail was critically hurt. Peretz said "terror organizations will pay a heavy price" for the attacks, which came a week after Israel ended an offensive in Gaza against Palestinian rocket-launching capabilities. Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the attacks were revenge for the deaths of 18 Palestinians who died when an Israeli shell fell on their home. Above, police in Sderot pick up fragments from an exploded rocket.

"If I can't protect the lives of the people in my ministry, there is no use my staying," Iraq's higher education chief said, announcing that he'll leave the government until all civil servants kidnapped in Baghdad Tuesday are freed. Abd Dhiab, a Sunni, claimed as many as 80 of the people seized at gunpoint are still being held by their captors. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki played down the incident as being "due to dispute between militias from one side or another" and said most of the hostages already were free.

Hizbullah and seven Islamic nations have been supplying guns to the militiamen who've seized control of much of Somalia, a new UN report alleges. The document identifies the countries as Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. It says Ethiopia, Uganda, and Yemen have been arming Somalia's interim government. Both factions are supposed to be under a UN embargo on weapons. The Union of Islamic Courts, whose pressure on the weak interim government threatens to erupt into all-out war, called the report "a fabrication."

Human rights activists hailed as "historic" the passage by legislators in Pakistan of a bill that offers relief to rape victims. The Women's Protection Bill, a feature of President Pervez Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" initiative, takes rape out from under religious law and transfers it to the nation's penal code. Since 1979, a victim has had to produce four male witnesses to her assault or else she could be prosecuted for adultery. Islamist conservatives fiercely opposed the measure, and their representatives in the lower house of parliament boycotted the vote. The bill still must be OK'd by the upper house before it can become law.

At least 20 more people were hurt in political violence across Bangladesh, but the alliance sponsoring a nationwide strike said it will be suspended beginning Thursday. The latest casualties came on top of about 100 injuries Tuesday as rival groups fought over the demand that the four top members of the national Election Commission resign or be fired. The opposition Awami League previously had said the strike would continue until the four were removed to ensure a fair vote in January. Below, protesters carry an effigy of the chief commissioner through Dhaka, the capital.

In "the first significant success for the Navy" in Nigeria, attackers failed to seize a logistics base operated by oil industry giant Royal Dutch/Shell, a security spokesman said Wednesday. Three attackers were killed and two others were captured, he said. Security details often abandon their posts in the oil-rich Niger Delta when militants attack because they're poorly paid and equipped. The incident was the second involving a Shell facility there in a little over a month. As many as 40 employees of the Italian oil company Agip are being held hostage aboard a platform in the same vicinity while their captors await a response from the local government to a list of demands.

A tsunami alert was called off by Japan's Meteorological Agency Wednesday after a powerful earthquake struck in the North Pacific. The agency urged continued caution by people along the coast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, but only five waves washed ashore, none higher than about 1-1/2 feet. No damage or casualties were reported in Russia either as a result of the magnitude-8.1 quake.

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