GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Israel threatens to kill all leaders of Hamas

Israel threatened to kill the entire leadership of the Islamic
militant group Hamas after assassinating its founder and hinted
yesterday that Yasser Arafat could wind up on the hit list in the
future.

The accelerated strikes at Hamas are part of an attempt to score
a decisive victory ahead of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip. Israel does not want to be seen as being driven out of the
strip by militants, who already are claiming victory.

The tough talk came on the same day Hamas hard-liner Abdel Aziz
Rantisi was elected as the new leader of the Islamic militant group
in Gaza. The 54-year-old pediatrician replaces Sheik Ahmed Yassin,
who was killed in an Israeli airstrike early Monday.

Also yesterday, the meditator who arranged Yassin’s
release from prison said the Hamas founder offered Israel a 30-year
truce in 1997.

Israeli gunboats fired machine guns toward Gaza’s coast
late yesterday, witnesses said. There were no reports of damage or
casualties, and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Palestinians said the gunboats were firing at Palestinian fishing
boats and piers.

 

WASHINGTON

Officials: Medicare to go broke by 2019

Medicare will have to begin dipping into its trust fund this
year to keep up with expenditures and will go broke by 2019 without
changes in a program that is swelling because of rising health
costs, trustees reported yesterday.

Social Security’s finances showed little change, and its
projected insolvency date remained 2042.

The 2019 go-broke date for the Medicare trust fund, which is
devoted primarily to paying beneficiaries’ hospital bills, is
seven years sooner than what the trustees projected last year.

The deteriorating financial picture for the health care program
for older and disabled Americans is a result, in part, of the new
Medicare prescription drug law that will swell costs by more than
$500 billion over 10 years, according to the annual report by
government trustees.

Provisions of the law that President Bush signed into law in
December “raise serious doubt about the sustainability of
Medicare under current financing arrangements,” the trustees
said.

 

PASADENA, Calif.

NASA: Pool of water once covered Mars

Mars had a shallow pool of briny water on its surface long ago,
NASA said yesterday in announcing what may be the strongest
evidence yet that the now-dry Red Planet was once hospitable to
life.

The space agency’s scientists announced earlier this month
that the Opportunity rover found evidence of water in Mars’
distant past. But it was unclear whether the water was in the soil
or on the surface. The new findings suggest there was a pool of
saltwater at least two inches deep.

A rocky outcropping examined by the rover had ripple patterns
and concentrations of salt — considered telltale signs that
the rock formed in standing water.

“We think Opportunity is now parked on what was once the
shoreline of a salty sea on Mars,” said Cornell University
astronomer Steve Squyres, the mission’s main scientist.

 

WASHINGTON

Military discharged fewer gays last year

The number of gays dismissed from the military under the
Pentagon’s “don’t-ask, don’t tell”
policy has dropped to its lowest level in nine years as U.S. forces
fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a report by an
advocacy group.

The military discharged 787 gays and lesbians last year,
according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which
attributed the decline to the importance of U.S. operations in
Afghanistan and Iraq.

The figure marks a 17 percent decrease from 2002 and a 39
percent drop from 2001, just before the conflicts began in
Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

MADRID, Spain

Basque group may call for cease-fire

The Basque separatist group ETA may call a unilateral cease-fire
in its campaign of violence, a founder and other Basque sources
said, in an effort to win political concessions from the newly
elected Socialists due to take power next month.

Julen Madariaga, a founding member of ETA, said he thought a
truce could be called soon.

“I have the impression that in a very short time —
in coming days, or coming weeks — that ETA will declare a
cease-fire,” he said in a telephone interview Monday night
from his home in southern France.

Within the month, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his
Socialists are to take over from the conservative Prime Minister
Jose Maria Aznar, who cracked down on ETA.

— Compiled from Daily wire reports

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