President Bush wound up his Middle East tour Wednesday, saying the region's leaders had told him they're willing to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace accord by the end of his term next year. Appearing with him at a final news conference in Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said his government is "keen on supporting peace efforts ... to open new horizons" for the region.

Hamas ruled out the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit – even in an exchange of prisoners – after two days of fighting that killed more than 20 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Among the dead: the son of powerful Gaza leader Mahmoud Zahar and Islamic Jihad's top commander in the West Bank, Walid Obeidi. The Israeli offensives came in response to 46 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hundreds of Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan overran a military outpost Tuesday night, their first seizure of a strategic target since early last fall. The post, on the border with Afghanistan, was still under the militants' control by late Wednesday, their spokesman said. Pakistan's military put the number of dead soldiers at seven and listed 20 others as missing. It said 40 attackers died. The militants' spokesman claimed only two attackers were killed versus 16 defenders and said 12 other soldiers were taken hostage.

President-elect Lee Myung Bak of South Korea announced plans to close the Unification Ministry, the agency at the forefront of efforts to reach out to rival North Korea. Lee said agency staffers would be absorbed into the Foreign Ministry. There was no immediate reaction by North Korea, which so far has not commented publicly on Lee's victory, but analysts said the plan would "be viewed in a negative way" there.

Twenty-seven people were killed and dozens more were wounded in a bombing attack against a bus (above) in southern Sri Lanka as the truce between the government and Tamil separatist rebels officially ended. Attackers also shot and killed four local farmers as they fled the scene, a government spokesman said. The government pulled out of the 2002 cease-fire earlier this month, saying it was pointless to negotiate with the rebels. Above, a policeman approaches the bus for a closer look after the blast.

A police commander, his wife, their two daughters, and three other officers were shot to death Tuesday in Tijuana, in apparent retaliation for the ongoing crackdown against organized crime in northern Mexico. Hours earlier, police thwarted the theft of an armored car in the city's tourist district, setting off a chase and shootout that resulted in the arrests of four suspects. The governor of Baja California said the two sides are in "a state of war" and predicted further violence.

Environmental activists rejected the conditions set by Japanese seamen Wednesday for the release of two protesters who locked up after they boarded a whaling ship in icy waters off Antarctica. Leaders of the whale hunt said the protesters would be freed only if the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Group promised not to attempt any "violent action" and kept its own vessels at a distance of 10 miles. The latter said its protesters were carrying a letter accusing the Japanese of "illegally killing whales." The hunt was suspended, pending the release of the two men.

Zoo keepers in Nuremberg were "cautiously optimistic" that they'll be able to rear Germany's latest celebrity polar bear cub successfully after taking her from her mother for safety's sake. She will not be returned. The 5-week-old animal opened her eyes for the first time (above) Tuesday. The zoo scheduled daily news updates, a practice followed last year by the Berlin Zoo for the male polar bear cub, Knut.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.