JERUSALEM

Suicide bombing is first in Israel in nine months

After nine months without a suicide bombing in Israel, a Palestinian walked from Egypt across the open desert border, hitched a ride from a wary Israeli motorist and then blew himself up on yesterday inside a bakery in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, Israeli officials said.

Three Israelis who worked in the bakery were killed by the blast; it was the first time that Eilat, isolated at the very southern tip of Israel, has ever been hit by a suicide bombing.

The town was apparently a target because Israel’s web of defenses and travel restrictions on Palestinians has made it extremely difficult for bombers to reach Israel from the West Bank, the source of virtually all suicide bombings in Israel in recent years.

The attack also complicated the latest effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have languished for six years. The United States will be the host of talks on Friday that will include European, Russian, and U.N. officials, but the White House said in a statement on Monday that if the Palestinian government failed to prevent terrorism, it would “undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”

BAGHDAD

Religious cult targeted in battle

Iraqi officials said yesterday that U.S.-backed Iraqi troops had targeted a messianic cult called “Soldiers of Heaven” in a weekend battle that left 200 fighters dead, including the group’s leader, near the Shiite holy city of Najaf. A military commander said hundreds of gunmen planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill clerics on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar.

The Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said the raid on Sunday in date-palm orchards on the city’s outskirts was aimed against the fringe Shiite cult that some Iraqi officials said had links to Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign fighters. Officials said the group, which included families, was hoping the violence it planned would force the return of the “hidden imam,” a 9th-century Shiite saint who Shiites believe will come again to bring peace and justice to the world.

U.S. and British jets played a major role in the fighting, dropping 500-pound bombs on the militants’ positions, but President Bush said the battle was an indication that Iraqis were beginning to take control.

LANSING

Lawmakers renew push for ban on smoking

State lawmakers are reviving a push to ban smoking in Michigan’s bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Earlier efforts have been snuffed out in the Legislature for nearly seven years. But supporters hope a power shift inside the Capitol and momentum from a U.S. surgeon general’s report will add Michigan to the growing list of states with tough anti-smoking laws.

WASHINGTON

Witnesses allege Libby knew about CIA agent

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified yesterday he first heard that a prominent war critic’s wife worked at the CIA from vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He said he thought the information might help deflect critical questions from reporters.

Fleischer said Libby told him about Valerie Plame’s job at the CIA over a lunch in the White House mess on July 7, 2003. But Libby has told investigators he thought he first learned about Plame on July 10 from NBC reporter Tim Russert.

Four other government witnesses also have said they discussed Plame with Libby before July 10.

– Compiled from

Daily wire reports

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