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News Briefs

U.S. Unveils Streamlined Air Passenger Checkpoint

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LINTHICUM, MARYLAND

The government Thursday unveiled its model airport passenger checkpoint, designed to prevent gridlock this summer as flights are expected to return to near-normal levels and security screening duties switch from private to federal employees.

The prototype, now operating at a concourse of the Baltimore airport, is better organized and more closely controlled than a typical checkpoint, officials say. It features detectors that can’t be unplugged, special enclosures for passengers who require more scrutiny and electric gates that can be closed quickly if there is a security problem.

Hans Miller, a project manager for the Transportation Security Administration, said the new approach offers measurable improvements in efficiency and weapons detection. The model will be phased in at other airports on a yet-to-be determined schedule.

By summer, the transition to federal security screeners at 429 airports will be in full swing to meet a Nov. 19 deadline. If security isn’t streamlined, industry analysts warn that summer travel could become a maddening experience.

One Killed as Church Standoff Intensifies in Bethlehem

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK

The war of nerves and guns at the Church of the Nativity heated up Thursday. Palestinians accused Israeli troops of killing a mentally impaired bell-ringer and advancing into the church compound, while the Israelis said that Palestinians barricaded inside fired on them without provocation.

An eruption of gunfire and explosions shortly after midnight Friday was an ominous development in the standoff at the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus.

The siege began Tuesday during an Israeli military incursion into Bethlehem. About 200 Palestinians -- at least 100 armed fighters and a number of Palestinian Authority officials and civilians -- took refuge in the compound housing the Church of the Nativity and adjacent Roman Catholic and Armenian houses of worship.

Tensions escalated steadily Thursday. Palestinians said the Israelis were tightening the military vise around them in preparation for an attack. About 1 a.m. Friday, Bethlehem Gov. Mohammed Madani said by telephone from inside St. Catherine’s Church next to the Church of the Nativity that he had heard four explosions and sustained gunfire. Israeli soldiers had entered the east courtyard of the compound, he said.

White Received Enron Support During Transition as Secretary

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

While his confirmation as Army Secretary was pending last spring, Thomas White received significant support from his employer, Enron Corp., including a letter of recommendation from then-chairman Kenneth Lay, and rides to and from Washington on the company’s jet.

The support was entirely appropriate, White said in an interview Thursday, adding that he flew from Houston to Washington “pro bono” to meet with the government’s transition team and to get briefed on the job. Relaxed and voluble during a half-hour interview in his Pentagon office, White said he followed the rules in his transition from Enron to the Bush administration.

“What would be improper?” he said of his several Enron-financed flights to Washington while awaiting Senate confirmation. “The government’s not paying me. I’m volunteering to do this for the benefit of the government.”