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News Briefs

Middle East Fighting Eases, But Both Sides Seem Intractable

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- JERUSALEM

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict slowed Thursday after two weeks of fighting, as Israeli troops mopped up in combat-torn areas, carried out targeted raids and withdrew from 24 Palestinian villages.

The pause was by no means a peace. Aborted plots by suspected Palestinian suicide bombers, one of whom died when his explosives blew up prematurely, showed that Israel still faces a terrorist menace. And Palestinians counted their dead on the battlefields of devastated Israeli-held towns such as Jenin and Nablus, trying to assess the toll of the West Bank offensive.

That panorama greeted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as he arrived here for a high-stakes mediation mission Thursday night. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leaders welcomed Powell with warnings that they do not intend to back down.

Ex-Serbian Official Accused Of War Crimes Shoots Self

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- PRISTINA, YUGOSLAVIA

A former Serbian government official accused of crimes against humanity shot himself on the steps of Yugoslavia’s parliament Thursday, just hours after the passage of a controversial law easing the transfer of war crimes suspects to an international tribunal in the Netherlands.

The incident set off a political maelstrom and almost certainly will undermine the status of the reform government in Belgrade, which has been trying to comply with international mandates in bringing war criminals to justice.

Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a former Serbian interior minister and one of several figures indicted with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for alleged war crimes, went to the parliament building in Belgrade, handed a letter to an ultranationalist legislator, then fired a shot into his head. Late Thursday evening he was near death in a Belgrade hospital.

Bush Calls for Total Ban On Human Cloning

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

On a day tinged with warnings that biologists could misshape the human race, President Bush urged a tentative Senate on Wednesday to pass a total ban on human cloning, even if used as part of research into cures for disease and disability.

“Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specifications. And that’s not acceptable,” the president told about 175 lawmakers, religious activists, researchers and disabled people in the East Room of the White House.

He spoke of human “embryo farms” created by scientists to pursue research. And he warned that even if cloning yielded cures for disease, it “would create a massive national market” for women’s eggs, “and exploitation of women’s bodies that we cannot and must not allow.”

The 15-minute speech marked the second time that Bush has devoted a major address to controversial advances in biology, a reflection of the speedy pace of the science. Last August, the president devoted the first prime-time, televised speech of his term to the subject of embryonic stem cells, the medically promising cells that come from dissected human embryos.

Bush spoke as lobbying intensified in the Senate in preparation for a vote on human cloning, expected before the Memorial Day day break next month.