ZAMBARANIYAH, Iraq

U.S. launches air strike against al-Qaida insurgents

U.S. warplanes unleashed one of the most intense airstrikes of the Iraq war yesterday, dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives in a thunderous 10-minute onslaught on suspected al-Qaida in Iraq safe havens in Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad.

The mighty barrage – recalling the Pentagon’s “shock and awe” raids during the 2003 invasion – appeared to mark a significant escalation in a countrywide offensive launched this week to try to cripple remaining insurgent strongholds.

But it also fits into the endgame strategy of last year’s U.S. troop buildup, which seeks to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas as a buffer zone for the capital. U.S. commanders are now attempting to subdue the last insurgent footholds around Baghdad before the Pentagon faces a possible reduction in troop strength.

JERUSALEM

Bush: Mideast peace can be reached in a year

President Bush called for a halt to Israel’s military occupation of land the Palestinians claim for a state and an end to the terrorist threat over the Jewish homeland, spelling out the U.S. bottom line yesterday for ending the long and bloody Mideast conflict.

“Now is the time to make difficult choices,” Bush said. An agreement will require “painful concessions” by both sides, Bush said, but he predicted one could be reached within a year, putting himself more firmly on the line than ever for an achievement considered unlikely by many experts.

The White House said Bush would return to the Mideast at least once and possibly more this year, including another stop in Israel for its 60th anniversary celebrations in May.

LAHORE, Pakistan

Suicide bomber kills 24, injures dozens in court

A suspected Islamic militant walked into a crowd of police guarding a courthouse and blew himself up yesterday, killing 24 others and wounding dozens in the first major attack in Pakistan since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The blast at Lahore High Court, minutes before a planned anti-government rally by lawyers, was a bloody reminder of the security threats facing this key U.S. ally ahead of Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

Echoing an extremist tactic in Iraq, suicide attacks have become as commonplace in Pakistan as in neighboring Afghanistan, adding to rising pressures on President Pervez Musharraf as he struggles to stay in office eight years after seizing power in military coup.

CHARLESTON, S.C.

Kerry backs Obama for White House

John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, gave Barack Obama a timely endorsement Thursday, snubbing Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as his own vice presidential running mate.

Kerry came to South Carolina to embrace Obama, two weeks before the state’s primary and with Obama needing a boost after Clinton’s emotional victory over him in New Hampshire.

Quoting a black American hero in endorsing the man who hopes to be the first black president, Kerry told a cheering crowd, “Martin Luther King said that the time is always right to do what is right.”

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

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