CAIRO, Egypt

Militant group calls for truce with Spain

The Islamic militant group that claimed responsibility for last
week’s Madrid train bombings has called a truce with Spain to
give the new government time to withdraw troops from Iraq, a
London-based Arabic-language newspaper said yesterday.

The Al Hayat daily newspaper said it received a statement from
the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, which earlier said it
orchestrated the bombings to punish Spain for supporting the
U.S.-led war in Iraq. The blasts killed 201 people.

But the United States believes the group, which takes its name
in memory of al-Qaida’s fallen No. 3, lacks credibility and
its ties to al-Qaida are tenuous. In the past, the group has made
claims about various events to which it was not connected —
such as blackouts last year in the United States, Canada and
London.

Elsewhere, in Spain the country’s new leader intensified
his criticism of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq yesterday, saying
it was “turning into a fiasco.”

Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also refused
to reconsider his pledge to pull his 1,300 troops out of Iraq by
June 30, in a sharp break with the Bush administration.

 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Israeli missiles kill four more in Gaza attacks

Israeli helicopters fired two missiles into a crowd of suspected
gunmen in a Palestinian refugee camp yesterday, killing four people
in a stepped-up campaign to root out militants in the Gaza
Strip.

Two unarmed teenage boys and one militant were among the dead,
Palestinian officials said.

Islamic militants traded fire with Palestinian security forces
in downtown Gaza City during morning rush hour after a car carrying
armed men refused to stop for a police inspection, witnesses said.
One civilian was killed and 17 people were hurt, Palestinian
officials said.

Israel launched the offensive into Gaza late Tuesday in response
to a double suicide bombing at the Israeli seaport of Ashdod that
killed 10 Israelis. Security officials have also said they want to
strike hard at militants ahead of a possible Israeli withdrawal
from Gaza. “The extremists should know that they cannot be
immune when they send terrorist groups to kill Israelis time and
time again,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

 

WASHINGTON

Pentagon to withhold Halliburton funding

The Pentagon plans to withhold about $300 million in payments to
Halliburton Co. because of possible overcharging for meals served
to troops in Iraq and Kuwait, defense officials said yesterday.

Starting next month, the Defense Department will begin
withholding 15 percent of the money paid to Vice President Dick
Cheney’s former company on a multibillion-dollar contract to
provide services such as food, housing, laundry and mail to
American forces in Iraq.

Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said the company disagreed
with the decision and hoped to persuade the Pentagon to drop its
plans.

If the Defense Department does withhold the money, Halliburton
will in turn withhold 15 percent of its payments to its
subcontractors, Hall said.

The withholding won’t affect Halliburton’s bottom
line, Hall said.

 

WASHINGTON

Budget cuts may lead to fewer park service

National park superintendents are being told to cut back on
services — possibly even closing smaller, historic sites a
couple days a week or shutter visitor centers on federal holidays
— without letting on they are making cuts.

Former employees of the National Park Service, critical of how
cuts are being handled, released yesterday a memo e-mailed last
month to park superintendents in the Northeast from the Park
Service’s Boston office.

Among the memo’s suggestions for responding to tight
budgets are to possibly shutter visitor centers on federal holidays
or during the winter, close parks Sundays and Mondays, and
eliminate all guided ranger tours and lifeguards at some
beaches.

 

OSOVSKA MITROVICA, Serbia-Montenegro

Kosovo attacks mark renewal of violence

Ethnic Albanians traded gunfire with Serbs yesterday after
blaming them for the drownings of two boys. The clashes left six
dead and more than 300 injured.

The worst outbreak of violence in this ethnically divided city
since a bus bombing three years ago illustrated the failure of U.N.
and NATO efforts to quash hatred and set the province on the path
of reconciliation.

Riots also broke out in at least five other towns, touching off
one of the worst days of Serb-Albanian bloodshed since the end of
the Kosovo war in 1999.

NATO said 13 peacekeepers — 12 French and one Danish
— were injured.

 

— Compiled from Daily wire reports

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