Woman dies in Israeli military strike

JERUSALEM

The Israeli military demolished the home of a Palestinian militant in the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing an elderly woman inside, while in the West Bank, troops shot dead a Palestinian policeman, officials and witnesses said.

Also, the army said 15 wanted Palestinians were arrested in raids throughout the West Bank early yesterday, and seven more Palestinians were taken in for questioning.

In central Gaza, Israeli forces entered the Maghazi refugee camp and tore down the house that belonged to Baha Abu Said, a militant who died during a November 2000 attack in which he killed two Israeli soldiers.

Abu Said’s stepmother, Kamla Abu Said, was in the home when it was demolished, and died of chest injuries, according to relatives and doctors at the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah. It was not clear why she was still in the house at the time of the demolition.

Israeli troops call for people to leave a house before tearing it down, though there have been instances where deaf people were unaware of the impending demolition, and were trapped inside. Abu Said’s relatives said her hearing was poor, but that she was not deaf.

NASA doubts that debris doomed Columbia

SPACE CENTER, Houston

After days of analysis, NASA backed away yesterday from the theory that a piece of foam that struck Columbia during liftoff was the root cause of the space shuttle’s disintegration over Texas.

Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said investigators now are focusing more closely on the desperate effort of Columbia’s automatic control system to hold the speed of the spacecraft stable despite an increasing level of wind resistance, or drag, on the left wing.

Dittemore said that after a careful study of the damage possible from the fall of a chunk of foam insulation that was believed to be 20 inches and 2 1/2 pounds, investigators are “looking somewhere else.”

“Right now, it just does not make sense to us that a piece of debris would be the root cause for the loss of Columbia and its crew,” he said. “There’s got to be another reason.”

Dittemore said investigators are now asking if there was “another event that escaped our attention” that might have caused Columbia to break up just minutes before the end of its 16-day mission, killing all seven astronauts.

Kerry has best shot in 2004, union says

WASHINGTON

Democratic Sen. John Kerry has the best chance of defeating President Bush in the 2004 presidential race, providing he can “break the bubble” of public support Bush enjoys on foreign policy, says the AFL-CIO’s political chairman, Gerald McEntee.

But the labor federation probably will withhold its endorsement until after the primary season, McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said yesterday in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors.

McEntee’s support carries weight – his 1.3 million-member union in the 1992 presidential race came out very early in favor of Bill Clinton, providing the Arkansas governor with political infrastructure at a time when most other unions were backing Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. AFSCME is one of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO.

Economists predict return of recession

WASHINGTON

Worried about a possible war, Wall Street has been in a funk this year and the news on Main Street hasn’t been any better. Business executives are freezing new spending and hiring, fearful of big commitments in the face of so much uncertainty.

Some analysts think the national anxiety, heightened by the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, could be enough to derail the feeble recovery and throw the country back into recession.

“The probability of a double-dip recession has certainly risen,” said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis. “The economy is still mired in a pretty soft patch and we have not made it to firmer ground.”

“Soft patch” was the phrase Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan began using last fall to describe a significant slowdown in economic growth. The economy, which had been growing at a solid 4 percent rate in the summer, screeched to a near halt during the final three months of the year, managing to eke out a tiny 0.7 percent growth rate.

World Court tells U.S. to stay executions

THE HAGUE, Netherlands

The United States must temporarily stay the execution of three Mexican citizens on death row in Texas and Oklahoma, the World Court ruled yesterday.

In a unanimous decision, the 15-judge panel said that the delay was needed while the U.N. court investigates in full whether the men – and 48 other Mexicans on death row in U.S. prisons – were given their right to legal help from the Mexican government.

The World Court, officially known as the International Court of Justice, is the U.N.’s court for resolving disputes between nations.

It has no power to enforce its decisions, and the United States has disregarded them in the past.

It is the third World Court case in five years against the United States dealing with the death penalty.

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