RAFAH, Gaza Strip

Troops leave West Bank settlements

Israel pulled the last of its troops out of two isolated West Bank settlements Tuesday, completing the final phase of the withdrawal it began in Gaza last month.

As Israeli soldiers left the empty settlements of Ganim and Kadim, next to the West Bank town of Jenin, thousands of Palestinians streamed in, setting fires as gunmen fired in the air – reprising the scenes in Gaza after last week’s pullout.

Earlier, Israeli forces left two other evacuated West Bank settlements. Unlike Gaza, however, Israeli forces will continue to patrol the area, the military said, as it has not turned over control of the northern West Bank to the Palestinians.

In Gaza, meanwhile, workers put the finishing touches on a border crossing between Rafah and Egypt yesterday as a top Palestinian security official announced the border would be opened over the weekend to allow some Palestinians to cross.

Israel shut the Rafah crossing before it withdrew from Gaza, saying that people and cargo traveling over the border would be temporarily routed through Israeli-controlled crossings, so it could ensure no weapons or militants entered Gaza.

After the Israeli pullout, the border exploded in chaos, with thousands of Palestinians and Egyptians clamoring over the wall to visit the other side.



Inspector calls for Iran nuclear talks

The chief U.N. atomic inspector on Monday called for talks to replace international confrontation over Iran’s nuclear activities, while the United States and European Union pressed efforts to haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council.

A resolution drafted by U.S. and European diplomats asks International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the Security Council “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply” with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The confidential document, shared in part late Monday with The Associated Press, is meant for the IAEA’s 35 board-member nations to vote on this week,

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she expected the council to take up the matter.

“I’m quite certain that at some point in time Iran is going to be referred to the Security Council, particularly if Iran continues to demonstrate that it is not prepared to give the international community assurances that it is not going to try to build a nuclear weapons program under cover of civil nuclear power,” Rice told reporters Monday at the United Nations.


KABUL, Afghanistan

Karzai: Air strikes ineffective against terrorists

Afghanistan yesterday began counting votes cast in its historic parliamentary elections, and al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader criticized the election in a tape aired on Arabic television.

Several of the country’s 34 counting centers began tallying ballots as others waited for votes to be delivered, said a spokesman for the Afghan-U.N. election board, Aleem Siddique. Helicopters and even donkeys were being used to transport ballots in hard-to-reach areas of the country.

Siddique said the counting centers expected to receive all the estimated 6 million ballots by Thursday. Some 7,000 people have been enlisted to count the votes, a process expected to take weeks.

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