Israel barricades West Bank, Gaza Strip

JERUSALEM

Israel clamped a total closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday, banning all Palestinians from entering Israel, citing warnings of Palestinian attacks.

Earlier yesterday, Israeli troops killed two suspected Palestinian militants, including an unarmed fugitive, and caught a would-be suicide bomber who hid an explosives-laden suitcase in a hotel.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz canceled measures aimed at easing restrictions during the Muslim feast of the sacrifice holiday this week, the ministry said. Quoting unidentified military sources, Army Radio said there were reports that militants intend to carry out terror attacks in the coming days.

Total closures are infrequent, though Israel had severely restricted access for Palestinians to Israel throughout 28 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

The military had said it would ease restrictions for workers to enter Israel and would allow Palestinians over age 45 to pray at a hotly disputed holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem during the holiday. “The defense minister also instructed the (army) to exhibit extra sensitivity toward the Palestinian population during the holiday,” said a military statement issued earlier yesterday.

Canceling the orders meant that Israeli roadblocks on West Bank roads would remain in place, preventing Palestinians from moving around freely to visit relatives or work.

Officials believe N. Korea to be unarmed

SEOUL, South Korea

South Korea’s No. 2 official said yesterday he believes North Korea does not possess nuclear weapons, contradicting U.S. assertions that the communist nation has one or two atomic bombs.

The comment by Prime Minister Kim Suk-soo appeared to reflect differences in how South Korea and its main ally, the United States, view Pyongyang. Many South Koreans do not think their neighbor’s nuclear development is a serious threat, while President Bush has defined the North as part of an “axis of evil” intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

In Tokyo, U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker warned of a possible North Korean missile test over Japan in what could be an effort to increase tension over the North’s nuclear programs. North Korea alarmed the region by firing a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific in 1998.

“We hear reports that they may engage in a missile test, perhaps overflying the island of Japan,” Baker said, addressing a forum on regional security.

In comments in the South Korean National Assembly, Kim said there was no evidence that North Korea had atomic bombs.

Analysis of left wing shows possible cause

SPACE CENTER, Houston

NASA said yesterday it has recovered part of Columbia’s left wing, a section thought to have played a major role in the space shuttle disaster.

It was not clear where the piece fit in the wing, said Michael Kostelnik, a deputy associate administrator. He said engineers were analyzing the piece at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., after it was found east of Fort Worth, near Lufkin.

“I think they have identified that they have at least one piece of the left wing,” Kostelnik said of searchers.

The piece included some carbon-carbon tile, an extremely dense material that covered the leading edge of the wing, he said.

The fragment could be important, given that all trouble apparently began in the left wing during the final minutes of Columbia’s flight Feb. 1. The shuttle broke up above Texas as it returned to Earth, killing all seven aboard.

Charity leader pleads guilty to terrorism

CHICAGO

The head of an Islamic charity linked to Osama bin Laden pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally paying for supplies for Muslim rebels in Chechnya and troops in Bosnia in exchange for the government dropping a charge accusing him of supporting al-Qaida.

Under a plea deal, Enaam Arnaout, a Syrian-born U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to a single racketeering conspiracy count as jury selection was about to begin.

Arnaout, 41, admitted in court papers that his Benevolence International Foundation had furnished funds to buy boots and uniforms for the Muslim fighting forces while claiming to aid only widows, orphans and the poor.

He did not acknowledge any relationship with bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network. But federal prosecutors said ample evidence remains that Arnaout helped al-Qaida in several ways.

Prosecutors maintain Regan betrayed U.S.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.

Government prosecutors, summing up their case against a retired Air Force man suspected of spying, maintained yesterday that Brian Patrick Regan “betrayed his country” with a willingness to sell classified information to Iraq, Libya and China.

The 40-year-old Regan would have harmed his country for $13 million, the government contended, as Regan’s espionage trial wound down in this Virginia suburb of the nation’s capital.

Regan, of Bowie, Md., has denied that he tried to sell classified information. The retired Air Force enlisted man worked both as a military service member and as a civilian employee for defense contract TRW Inc. at the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office, the government’s spy satellite agency.

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