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News Briefs

With World Attention on America, Israel Launches Military Offensive

THE WASHINGTON POST -- JERICHO, WEST BANK

With the world’s attention diverted by terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Israel has launched a military offensive in Palestinian-controlled territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that has killed a dozen Palestinians in the last three days.

A spokesman for the Israeli army said the operations, including deep incursions by columns of tanks, were intended to “eliminate terrorist activities,” including drive-by shootings. But independent Israeli analysts and Palestinians said Israel is taking advantage of the terror attacks in the United States to carry out raids that might otherwise have attracted criticism from abroad.

Not only was there practically no condemnation from Europe or the United States, but the raids received little attention in the Israeli media as well.

In the latest operation, a column of Israeli tanks accompanied by infantry roared into the sleepy Jordan Valley town of Jericho before dawn Thursday, triggering a smattering of opposition by Palestinian gunmen. The two houses in Jericho hit by Israeli tank shells are around the corner from the home of Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian peace negotiator. Erekat, a moderate who maintains close relations with a wide variety of high-ranking Israeli officials, said the Israeli attack was unprovoked.

He said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking advantage of Washington’s focus on the aftermath of the murderous attacks in America. “He’s using this for two things,” Erekat said. “First, to do whatever he wants without anybody watching him. Second, he’s trying to package this for the world as if he is fighting terrorism.”

By midday Thursday, the army had withdrawn its forces from the centers of Jenin and Jericho but remained in positions on Palestinian territory at the perimeters.

New Trade Agreement with Mexico Moves China Closer to the WTO

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MEXICO CITY

One of the last obstacles to China’s entry in the World Trade Organization was overcome Thursday when China and Mexico reached agreement in Geneva on their trade differences.

The principal remaining barrier is China’s alleged preferential treatment of U.S. insurance giant American International Group, which has provoked the European Union’s ire. But trade experts are optimistic it will be settled by the WTO ministerial meeting in Qatar in November, when China’s admission is expected to be formalized.

Mexico has been slow to agree with China because of concerns for its apparel, toy and shoe industries, which will have a difficult if not impossible time competing against Chinese imports on equal footing.

Terms of the Thursday’s agreement, which came during a WTO meeting in Geneva, seem to indicate a Mexico victory. The nation can keep duties in place for at least six years, with an extension if it can prove Chinese dumping persists. The Mexican government said Thursday’s agreement gives Mexican companies better access to China’s markets.

China’s long-awaited admission to the 142-nation WTO has depended on bilateral accords with all major countries, deals that have followed rapidly since it and the United States came to terms in Spring 2000.

Chinese negotiators must also contend with recent signs of domestic dissatisfaction with the WTO. Employees of China’s state-owned companies are worried that the WTO deals that their government has struck will cost them their jobs in protected industries that will soon face competition.