Israel approves construction in West Bank

Israel has approved construction of 117 houses in the Ariel settlement in the heart of the West Bank, the government said yesterday, signaling it will not relinquish the sprawling community that Palestinians complain would cut up their future state.

The announcement came despite the risk of a U.S. reprimand, just as Israel was reaping the diplomatic benefits of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, the first clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators since Israel emptied its settlements there resulted in the death of a Palestinian.

Witnesses said about 200 young Palestinians marched on an empty settlement, and Palestinian police tried to stop them. An Israeli tank approached, and some youths threw rocks at it while others stormed into the settlement, Neve Dekalim. Soldiers opened fire, killing one and wounding three others, doctors said.

The Israeli military said soldiers opened fire after 40 to 50 youths ran into the settlement and others climbed on the tank.


MANILA, Philippines

Philippines legislators vote to keep Arroyo

Philippine legislators threw out all three impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday despite warnings that the move could worsen her political crisis and spark a new “people power” revolt.

The 236-seat House of Representatives — overwhelmingly dominated by pro-Arroyo legislators — voted to uphold last week’s decision by the House justice committee to reject the complaints alleging that Arroyo rigged last year’s election, was involved in corruption and condoned human rights violations.

The nationally televised session dragged on for about 23 hours — one of the longest ever — and was marked by intense debate and impassioned pleas from opposition lawmakers for justice and fairness.

Arroyo was ecstatic after the vote and thanked Filipinos for not supporting calls to oust her by force.


CAIRO, Egypt

Egypt election-day demonstrations banned

The government warned yesterday that it would not tolerate election-day protests, and the opposition fretted about possible ruling party dirty tricks in Egypt’s first contested presidential vote.

President Hosni Mubarak, who has led Egypt for 24 years and is certain to win Wednesday’s balloting, calls the election a major step toward greater democracy in a country that has seen only authoritarian rule for more than a half century.

But many Egyptians are skeptical, and the opposition says the vote will do nothing to diminish Mubarak’s power.

Hours before voting started, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif took a tough line, warning that demonstrations were banned for election day.

The reformist group Kifaya had called for a rally Wednesday in one of Cairo’s main squares to protest “corruption and oppression” and the continuation of Mubarak’s rule.


DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia

Saudi forces attack Islamic militant group

In a barrage of gunfire and explosions, Saudi special forces overran a seaside villa yesterday where Islamic militants had been holed up, ending three days of heavy fighting that killed at least nine people.

Security forces that swept into the building in the eastern city of Dammam found several charred bodies, apparently those of militants killed in explosions — suggesting the death toll from the fighting would rise. It was the fiercest clash in months in the kingdom’s two-year crackdown on al-Qaida-linked militants.

Officials in the conservative, oil-rich nation — a key U.S. ally — say they have been winning that fight. In October, Saudi forces claimed to have killed the leader of al-Qaida in the kingdom in a series of raids in the capital and the holy city of Mecca.

King Abdullah, who took over the throne last month after the death of his half brother, Fahd, has vowed to push ahead with the crackdown, and some have suggested he may intensify it.




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