Pact could accelerate pullout from Arab lands

JERUSALEM – Israel could begin evacuating Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories within four months if the opposition Labor Party joins Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coalition, Labor leader Shimon Peres said Saturday. Labor and Sharon’s Likud Party are negotiating to form a broad-based coalition that would allow Sharon to proceed with his “disengagement plan” to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. Sharon also is conducting parallel negotiations with smaller, religious-oriented parties for an alternative coalition. Sharon has committed to completing the pullout by Sept. 30, 2005, but nationalists in his coalition and the Likud have threatened to scuttle the plan.

Gunmen killed a local government leader and four of his bodyguards in an ambush in southern Afghanistan Saturday, and a mine injured three election workers. Two rockets also exploded inside a building in the Afghan capital overnight in what NATO troops trying to shore up the country’s shaky security said was an attempt to lure police and troops into a trap. More than 650 people have died in violence across Afghanistan this year, from militants and soldiers to government officials and aid workers.

A militant group claiming links to al-Qaida said it carried out an assassination attempt against Pakistan’s prime minister-designate, saying in a Web message Saturday that the suicide bombing was a response to Pakistan’s handing of militants over to the United States. Pakistani officials have focused their suspicions on Osama bin Laden’s terror network in the attack against Shaukat Aziz, which killed eight people and wounded three dozen others. Among those killed was Aziz’s driver, who had not yet closed the bulletproof door on the car when a man approached and detonated a bomb.

A 10-day manhunt for the suspected killer of a policeman ended Saturday in bloodshed before horrified tourists in central Rome, where the fugitive, known as “The Wolf,” grabbed a French woman at gunpoint before he was mortally wounded in a shootout with police, officers and witnesses said. “What does it matter, I’m already dead, I’ll kill her,” Luciano Liboni yelled as police demanded he surrender outside a subway entrance, police said. The woman was not harmed.

Bangladesh: Floodwaters recede

Flood-weakened riverbanks in South Asia collapsed around villages Saturday, pushing the death toll from this season’s monsoons above 1,500 and stranding more than 30 million people in homes and schools, along highways and atop mud embankments, officials said. As some floodwaters began receding, more bodies were found, raising the death toll from six weeks of monsoons in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to 1,509. The deaths have been caused by drowning, landslides, electrocution and waterborne diseases.

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