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American tanks pulled to within 250 yards of Najaf's Iman Ali Mosque and snipers took up positions on the rooftops of surrounding buildings to increase pressure on the Shiite militants holed up there. But a US Marine spokesman denied that his troops were "doing any offensive operations," while interim Iraqi government officials repeated assertions that they "have a vested interest in a peaceful settlement." Militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr has called for control of the shrine to be turned over to senior Shiite cleric Ali al- Sistani. But the grand ayatollah's aides demand that Sadr and his followers evacuate it, lock the doors, and hand over the keys without conditions.

A one-year delay in construction of a major section of Israel's West Bank security barrier was ordered by the government. At the same time, however, it announced plans for 533 new housing units in existing settlements there, following indications that the US would not oppose the move. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon makes no secret of his wish to expand settlements in the West Bank in connection with the plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The Supreme Court ruled in June that a 20-mile section of the security barrier must be rerouted because it would impose too much hardship on Palestinians.

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Peace negotiations were off to an uncertain start between rebel delegates and the government of Sudan to try to bring an early end to the Darfur conflict. Government representatives rejected an offer by the host African Union to provide troops who would disarm the rebels, saying their forces were up to the job. For their part, the rebels said they wouldn't accept disarmament by Sudanese soldiers because "they are still killing us" in collaboration with Muslim Janjaweed militiamen.

Another grenade was thrown into a demonstration by opposition party supporters in Bangla-desh even as security units went on high alert to try to prevent more political violence. The resulting explosion injured one person in a city 160 miles northwest of Dhaka, the capital. The incident followed an attack Saturday on the opposition Awami League's headquarters in Dhaka that killed 17 people and wounded hundreds more. Seven similar attacks have taken place in the city of Sylhet this year, with no claims of responsibility. Bangladeshis are expected to stage a two-day strike beginning Tuesday to protest the violence.

A massive power failure left all of Bahrain without air conditioning for hours Monday amid 130-degree F. temperatures and high humidity. The outage also stalled auto traffic at intersections, stranded people in the elevators of high-rise buildings, and forced businesses that make heavy use of computers to close. The US Navy, which uses Bahrain as the headquarters for its 5th Fleet, switched to backup generators for power.


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