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Amid cease-fire, clash in Gaza Strip kills two

GAZA CITY: Palestinian militants killed one Israeli soldier and seriously wounded another in a cross-border bombing yesterday morning, prompting an Israeli counterattack that killed a Palestinian farmer and wounded a Hamas fighter. The clash, near the central Gaza border crossing of Kissufim, is the most serious threat so far to the separate cease-fires declared by Israel and Hamas that have largely held since Jan. 18, after a three-week Israeli offensive. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the morning attack. Israeli officials maintain that they hold the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible for the actions of all Palestinian resistance factions.

Salazar to review late rulings by Bush

WASHINGTON : Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday he is reconsidering a series of energy and environmental decisions handed down in the waning days of the Bush administration, including a move to open federal land near national parks for oil and natural gas drilling. Opening parts of the West for oil shale development - a sensitive issue because of the huge quantities of water required to extract oil from the rock - will also be reviewed, he said in his first formal news interview since winning Senate confirmation last week. Salazar said the list of the late decisions to be reviewed included starting the process for resumption of oil exploration in coastal areas and several rulings on the Endangered Species Act.

Leader chosen for Russian Orthodox

MOSCOW: Metropolitan Kirill, a prominent and politically astute priest with a reputation as a modernizer, was elected patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church yesterday. With his enthronement Sunday, Kirill will become the first patriarch inducted since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. He takes charge at a time when the Russian Orthodox Church enjoys wealth and political influence unmatched since the days of czarist Russia. About 700 priests, monks and powerful laypeople gathered for the vote in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, the hulking temple flattened under Josef Stalin and rebuilt in the 1990s as a potent symbol of the Orthodox Church's resurgence. As the head of the tabulation board proclaimed the result, bells clanged in salute from the cathedral and the nearby Kremlin. A 62-year-old native of St. Petersburg, Kirill had taken over as interim leader after the death last month of Patriarch Alexei II.

VA to pay veterans for ID theft exposure

WASHINGTON: The Veterans Affairs Department agreed yesterday to pay $20 million to veterans for exposing them to possible identity theft in 2006 by losing their sensitive personal information. In court filings yesterday, lawyers for the VA and the veterans said they had reached agreement to settle a class action lawsuit originally filed by five veterans groups alleging invasion of privacy. The money, which will come from the Treasury, will be used to pay veterans who can show they suffered actual harm, such as physical symptoms of emotional distress or expenses incurred for credit monitoring. A U.S. District Court judge must approve the terms of the settlement before it becomes final. The lawsuit came after a VA data analyst in 2006 admitted that he had lost a laptop and external drive containing the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of up to 26.5 million veterans and active-duty troops.

Group says Myanmar persecutes minorities

BANGKOK, Thailand: The "forgotten" Chin people, Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar, are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, a human-rights group has said. A report by New York-based Human Rights Watch said tens of thousands have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar. It said the regime also continues to commit atrocities against its other ethnic minorities. Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely accused of widespread human-rights violations in ethnic minority areas where anti-government insurgent groups are fighting for autonomy. The government has repeatedly denied such charges. An e-mailed request for comment on the new report was not immediately answered. A top official for India's Mizoram state, Chief Secretary Vanhela Pachau, said he hadn't seen the report and could not comment.

Human Rights Watch said insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses, including the extortion of money from villagers.

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