Saying, "All we can do today is stop additional tragedies," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinians several concessions that he hoped would lead to resumed peace negotiations and, ultimately, an independent state. In a major policy speech, Olmert said he extended a hand "in the hope it won't be returned empty." He promised to reduce military checkpoints, free Palestinian prisoners, release funds that are frozen in Israeli banks, and withdraw from West Bank land. The address came on Day 2 of a new cease-fire agreed to by both sides, although two Palestinian rockets fired from the Gaza Strip fell harmlessly on Israeli soil. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority called the offer "a conspiracy," but a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas said both sides know "we need to shoot for the end game."
"A significant milestone" – using a guided missile to shoot down an incoming rocket – was achieved Monday by India's military, the Defense Ministry said. The test, a first for India, will push it into the elite club of nations with working missile shields if transformed into a reliable system, analysts said. The interceptor was a Prithvi II missile, which previously had been used only for tactical, surface-to-surface purposes. It has a range of 155 miles. The test also has significant implications for Paki-stan, which has a nuclear missile capability and is India's archrival, the analysts said.
Efforts to persuade the government of Turkey to change its policy on Cyprus failed Monday, and European Union diplomats said "circumstances do not permit us to continue." The collapse means "There will be consequences" for Turkey in its bid to join the EU, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said, and consultations with the bloc's executive commission on whether to suspend that bid were expected to begin immediately. The EU had given Turkey's leaders until Dec. 6 to agree to open trade with the Greek half of Cyprus, but they reject that ultimatum, Tuomioja said.
Despite daily protests demanding their resignation, elections commissioners in Bangladesh announced Jan. 21 as the date for voters to choose a new parliament. By law, an election must be held within 90 days of any change in government, and the current caretaker administration assumed office Oct. 29. The announcement came as Monday's protest was to take place in front of the presidential palace in Dhaka, the capital. But 5,000 Army troops and police manned barricades, keeping the demonstrators from coming close.
There is "no other option but an independent state" for Tamils in Sri Lanka, separatist leader Velupilai Prabhakaran said Monday in his annual address to the island's minority. He called the cease-fire deal with the government "defunct" but left unclear whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will pull out of the 2002 agreement. He said President Mahinda Rajapakse's government "will never put forward a just resolution" to the question of Tamil nationhood and asked "the international community ... to respect our freedom struggle." More than 3,500 Sri Lankans have been killed since the rebels and government forces resumed hostilities earlier this year.
At least 36 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard died Monday when the military plane in which they were riding crashed and burned on takeoff. Investigators said engine failure caused the Russian-built craft to go down while still over an airfield outside Tehran. Iran has a poor aviation maintenance record, and the crash was the fourth involving a military or civilian transport in the past 12 months.
The third coal-mine explosion in China in two days – and the seventh this month – killed 24 men, the Xinhua news agency reported Monday. The accident occurred in northern Shanxi Province at a mine whose production and safety licenses had expired. Fifty-three miners died Saturday in separate explosions unrelated to the latest accident.