US and Iraqi forces swept through Sunni sections of Baghdad Thursday as the new security crackdown gathered momentum. But although they seized weapons and ammunition, suspected Sunni resistors struck back by exploding car bombs that killed at least seven people. In southern Iraq, British soldiers closed crossings on the border with Iran, increased coastal patrols, and sealed off the city of Basra to try to stop the flow of weapons being smuggled to militants. Closure of crossing points on the border with Syria will follow, an Iraqi commander said.
Hamas and Fatah resolved last-minute disputes over formation of a Palestinian unity government, and the resignations of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet were expected late Thursday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, will reappoint Haniyeh and ask him to organize an administration, sources said. The snags reportedly were over Abbas's reluctance to approve the 5,600-man Hamas militia and over who will take charge of the Interior Ministry, the post responsible for Palestinian security. Regardless of the makeup of the new coalition, Abbas was informed that the US will not recognize it because it won't explicitly accept Israel's right to exist, reports said.
The first of 29 defendants changed his mind and agreed to answer questions after all as their trial for involvement in the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid opened amid tight security Thursday. But Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed refused to acknowledge any of the charges against him. He is one of 20 Arabs accused of murder and stealing explosives used in the March 2004 attacks, which killed 191 people and led to the withdrawal of Spain's military mission in Iraq. The other defendants are Spaniards. Verdicts in the trial are not expected until October at the earliest.
It is "highly unlikely" that there can be a compromise on the future of Kosovo between Serbia's government and the ethnic Albanian majority in the province, the architect of the UN plan for self-rule said. Martti Ahtisaari spoke after Serbia's new parliament overwhelmingly rejected the plan – although it would be internationally supervised – and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica warned that his nation would "not be an accomplice" to it. Last weekend, two Albanians died and two others were seriously hurt in a clash with police as they also protested Ahtisaari's proposal.
By a two-vote margin, parliament in Estonia defied the Kremlin by passing legislation that calls for removal of a Soviet-era war memorial. But President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said he'd veto it because some of its sections are unconstitutional. The six-foot-high statue in Tallinn, the capital, is a rallying point for Estonia's ethnic Russian minority. Kremlin leaders called the measure a "grave mistake" that would have "irreversible consequences."
One crewman of a Japanese whaling ship was reported missing after it caught fire off Antarctica and was drifting near penguin breeding grounds. The incident occurred as Japan's delegate to an International Whaling Commission conference warned that his government "will have to rethink our options" about remaining in the fold unless there is "positive movement" toward allowing the resumption of commercial harvesting. Japan says its whale kills are for research purposes.
Opposition members of Parliament appeared to box Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper into a corner by passing a bill Wednesday that would require his minority government to enforce the Kyoto protocols on climate change. It also is expected to win easy approval in the upper house. If he tries to ignore its provisions, a Liberal Party spokesman said the courts would be asked to force compliance. Another option: a vote of no-confidence that, if Harper lost, would trigger a new national election in the spring. Harper says the protocols are too costly to implement.