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Iraq's Presidential Council reversed itself Wednesday and dropped its objection to a law setting up regional elections that could give Sunni Arabs more political power. The move, which came on the fifth anniversary of the start of the war and two days after a visit to Baghdad by Vice President Cheney, was seen as an important boost to US efforts to promote national reconciliation. The election law was approved by parliament Feb. 27. But it was controversial because it gives the central government – rather than local councils – the right to ask parliament to dismiss provincial governors.

Tight security restrictions went into effect in Israel Wednesday as the Jewish state prepared to celebrate the Purim holiday. But although the measures included the closure of border crossings into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there were signs that a new cease-fire with Hamas may be near. A senior Defense Ministry official was in Cairo for discussions on the subject with Egyptian mediators, and Israel reportedly has not ruled out a Hamas demand that it be given a presence at crossings to and from Gaza.

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