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News Briefs

Arafat Stays in Compound As Deal Being Implemented

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Israel said Monday that, after weeks of confinement, Yasser Arafat is free to “go where he chooses,” but the Palestinian leader remained in his battered compound as elements of the deal for his release fell into place.

“We have guarantees that the siege on President Arafat will be lifted, and that he will be able to leave the country and return at any time,” said Yasser Abed Rabbo, minister of information in the Palestinian Authority. Israel has restricted Arafat’s movements since December and has confined him to his offices for four weeks.

Expectations for Arafat’s imminent departure came as a large force of Israeli troops, backed with nearly two dozen tanks, rolled into the West Bank city of Hebron and as a standoff continued at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where an estimated 180 militants and civilians have been holed up for a month.

Gun battles broke out in several neighborhoods in Hebron, a predominantly Palestinian town that is also home to several hundred Jewish settlers.

EPA Endorses Ban on Snowmobiles In Yellowstone, Grand Teton

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a report released Monday, recommends that snowmobiles be banned from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, stating that wintertime exhaust from the popular snow machines violates air-quality laws and jeopardizes human health.

The EPA report says that the agency is concerned that as a result of the Bush administration's decision to postpone a phased elimination of snowmobiles, “air quality, human health and visibility continued to be impaired” last winter.

The report is part of a public comment process that will lead to a final National Park Service decision in November on the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Comments on the Park Service's snowmobile regulations will be accepted until May 29.

Oil Companies Manipulate Supplies, Says Senate Subcommittee Report

LOS ANGELES TIMES

The gasoline business is dominated by a handful of oil companies who can manipulate supplies to increase prices and profits, congressional investigators said Monday.

A 396-page report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee does not accuse oil companies of violating federal antitrust laws, but notes that when only a handful of players controls supply then those companies have enormous power to control prices. The problem is worsened by the closure of dozens of refineries during the last 20 years, the report said.

“In a number of instances, refiners have sought to increase prices by reducing supplies,” said the report, commissioned in June by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the subcommittee. The report, citing internal oil company documents from the 1990s, contends that refiners employ a variety of strategies to boost prices, including reducing refinery production and exporting supplies out of the country.

Levin ordered the investigation, which is the subject of hearings Tuesday and Thursday, when a second summer of gasoline price spikes plagued the Midwest. This year, prices jumped again across the country as crude oil prices leaped; on Monday, the U.S. average price for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline was $1.393, down about a penny from last week but up nearly 29 cents since early February, the Energy Department said.