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Friday, May 9, 2003

Israeli missile strike kills Hamas militant JERUSALEM — Israel killed a senior Hamas fugitive in a missile attack in northern Gaza Thursday, in a clear signal that it would not wait for a promised Palestinian crackdown on militants.

The missile strike killed Iyad al-Baeck, 30, and was similar to dozens of others in 31 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence. It was carried out despite the coming arrival of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is trying to persuade both sides to take up an international peace plan.

The continuing violence weighed heavily against a quick start to the peacemaking efforts. Powell is due to arrive late Saturday for separate talks on Sunday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the first push toward implementing the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, officials from both sides said.

Witnesses said a helicopter fired two missiles at al-Baeck's car, blowing it up, killing him instantly and slightly wounding three bystanders.

The Israeli military said al-Baeck was an aide to Hamas commander Salah Shehadeh, killed in an Israeli air strike last summer. Al-Baeck was held responsible for 16 Hamas attacks that killed 19 Israelis.

SARS death rate calculated at 15% LONDON — The overall death rate from SARS worldwide is about 15 percent — double previous estimates — according to the first in-depth global analysis by the World Health Organization.

Officials at the U.N. health agency said Thursday the calculation indicates the disease is more dangerous, particularly in the elderly, than experts had thought. More than half of SARS patients over 65 are dying.

In addition, a study to be published today suggests the SARS virus is surprisingly stable and not mutating significantly — a finding that could indicate that the virus may have been in humans for a while.

Until now, WHO had estimated the death rate to be between 6 percent and 10 percent. The new estimate was based on more complete and detailed data from China, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.

A study earlier this week estimated the death rate in Hong Kong to be about 20 percent overall, but about 50 percent in patients over 60.

India turns down Pakistan's nuke offer NEW DELHI, India — Days after reaching out to his rival neighbor, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Thursday that India would not accept Pakistan's offer for mutual destruction of nuclear arsenals.

The nuclear disarmament offer came from Pakistan's foreign minister earlier in the week as part of a series of goodwill gestures starting with plans to exchange ambassadors as a first step toward improving relations.

In rejecting the Pakistani offer for mutual nuclear disarmament, Vajpayee said Pakistan had only one target for its nuclear weapons — India — while New Delhi had built its arsenal to counter threats from other countries as well.

"We are seeking friendship with Pakistan, but we will be cautious," Vajpayee told Parliament during a debate on the peace overtures between the South Asian rivals.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is in the region in an attempt to encourage the fence-mending, met with Pakistani leaders Thursday and praised both Islamabad and New Delhi for efforts at reconciliation.

"I don't think it's useful for me to point a finger at India or for that matter to blame Pakistan for what's going on. We're in a situation that's been brought about by 50-odd years of history," Armitage said, denying that Washington was pressuring either side to improve relations.

Relations between the neighbors — who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 — hit bottom last summer. The sides sent hundreds of thousands of troops to their frontier after New Delhi accused Islamabad of backing a suicide attack on India's Parliament in December 2001. Pakistan denied involvement.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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