Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in raids

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Israeli troops looking for weapons-smuggling tunnels raided a Gaza refugee camp early yesterday, killing four armed Palestinians in exchanges of fire and demolishing five houses.

In the West Bank, two Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed by army fire.

East of Gaza City, next to the border with Israel, a Palestinian was shot dead and another wounded as they picked vegetables near the Israeli communal farm of Nahal Oz, doctors at the city’s Shifa hospital said.

In the army raid, soldiers backed by 35 tanks, four attack helicopters and more than a dozen bulldozers entered the Rafah camp near the Egyptian border. A firefight erupted. Four Palestinian gunmen were killed, including one hit by fire from an Apache helicopter, and seven were wounded.

The army said the raid was meant to uncover tunnels used for smuggling weapons from Egypt, and that four houses were razed. Palestinians put the number of demolished homes at five.

No tunnels were discovered but four soldiers were wounded when a bomb went off under a tank. The militant Islamic group Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks, claimed responsibility for the tank attack.

S. Korea pressures North to partake in talks

SEOUL, South Korea

South Korea’s president yesterday urged North Korea to take part in talks amid fears it may pull out of a Cabinet-level meeting next week aimed at reducing tensions.

South Korean officials have said they hope to use the talks, scheduled for next Monday to Thursday, to try to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and better ties with the outside world.

North Korea called off two lower-level meetings with South Korea last week. Seoul fears it may also cancel the Cabinet-level talks, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Jung-ro said.

“Mutual efforts are important. North Korea must sincerely talk with South Korea with an open attitude,” President Roh Moo-hyun was quoted as saying by his chief spokeswoman.

The president’s comments came shortly after diplomats in New York said the U.N. Security Council would meet next Wednesday to discuss the crisis over North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons program. China expressed hope that the talks will lead to a political solution.

FBI detains engineer suspectedof terror ties

HILLSBORO, Oregon

An Arab-American software engineer at Intel Corp. has been seized by armed FBI agents and jailed in solitary confinement for two weeks without charges, friends say.

“They haven’t even questioned him once in the entire two weeks,” said Steven McGeady, a former Intel executive who was Maher Hawash’s boss.

Hawash is being held as a material witness under a federal law that lets the government detain people expected to testify before a grand jury.

The government won’t give any details publicly about the case, including when a grand jury will convene or when Hawash will appear. His attorneys can’t discuss the matter because of a federal gag order. His wife, Lisa, won’t talk about it because she fears repercussions.

But the man’s friends say the arrest could be related to a $10,000 he made to the Global Relief Foundation, an Islamic charity investigated for links to terrorism.

Court to review death sentences of 27 men

PHOENIX

The Arizona Supreme Court said yesterday it will review the death sentences of 27 inmates to determine whether the men should be resentenced.

The inmates had wanted their convictions and sentences thrown out because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that found Arizona’s old death sentencing law unconstitutional because judges – not jurors – decided facts that could lead to a death sentence.

However, the state’s high court said the trials were fundamentally fair and that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t require throwing out all the sentences. But it said the court must now review each case to determine whether individual circumstances require resentencings.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the Arizona Legislature last summer rewrote the death penalty sentencing law to have juries decide both the facts that should be considered and the actual sentence.

State legislatures pore over beer tax hikes

PHILADELPHIA

With cash tight and bills looming, at least 19 state legislatures are either considering plans to boost beer taxes or have already done it.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed one of the heftiest hikes, a plan that would raise the tax on a gallon of beer for the first time since 1947, from 8 cents to a quarter. It would add 14 cents to the cost of an average six-pack and raise $55 million.

At least 23 states have considered raising beer taxes in the past two years, but only a handful of proposals have passed, according to The Beer Institute, an industry lobbying group.

The proposals have generated loud complaints from brewers who say their products are already heavily taxed and from lawmakers who insist that brewers will pass increased costs down to consumers – who for the most part are working class families, lawmakers said.

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