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U.S. Envoy Meets Palestinians In Bid to Revive Peace Plan


The American-led peace plan showed signs of life Tuesday, as Palestinian officials said they were nearing a cease-fire agreement with three militant groups, including Hamas, responsible for the greatest number of suicide attacks against Israelis.

But in an atmosphere of little trust, Tuesday’s tentative steps forward were marred by renewed violence: A 7-year-old Israeli girl was shot and killed late Tuesday night, and her 5-year-old sister seriously wounded, when at least one Palestinian gunman opened fire on the car they were riding in near Kibutz Eyal, inside Israel to the northeast of Tel Aviv, the army reported.

The shooting took place near the Palestinian town of Kalkilya. Two adults, either parents or grandparents, were also injured in the attack, the army said.

Without a cease-fire agreement from Hamas, most experts agree, the peace plan introduced by President Bush two weeks ago has little chance. Tuesday, Hamas members carefully signaled their willingness to halt attacks on Israeli civilians, at least temporarily, as new American monitors visited Palestinian leaders for the first time and the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, met with the militant groups.

“It is the proper time for hudna,” Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader, said in an interview Tuesday, using the Arabic word for truce. “But it should not be without a national price.”

Massachusetts Now Alone In Microsoft Antitrust Lawsuit


Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly was left standing Monday night as the lone state attorney general still challenging the proposed settlement of the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case, after West Virginia said it was abandoning further appeals.

West Virginia's attorney general, Darrell V. McGraw Jr., late Monday said his state would withdraw its challenge as part of a broader settlement that also resolves antitrust suits filed under state law in West Virginia and class-action lawsuits against Microsoft in West Virginia. West Virginia and Massachusetts had been the last two states refusing to go along with the proposed settlement of the decade-long antitrust case against the software giant.

Reilly and other state attorneys general had argued that, after initially threatening to have Microsoft broken up like Standard Oil or AT&T, the government's proposed restrictions on Microsoft's conduct and exploitation of its monopoly in computer operating system software were far too weak.

Reilly Monday night said through a spokeswoman that he was unfazed by West Virginia's settlement. “Nothing has changed with West Virginia’s decision to withdraw,” Reilly spokeswoman Beth Stone said. “Last year we made the decision to appeal the Microsoft ruling and pursue a remedy that will protect consumers, bring back competition, and ensure corporate accountability. Those goals remain.”

Oldest Tree in World Gives Birth


A tree known as Methuselah, famed as the oldest in the world, has just produced evidence that life begins at 5,000, give or take a few years.

Today that evidence -- a dozen baby bristlecone pine trees -- are about nine inches long with green, bushy tops and long healthy roots.

A mere sprout itself when the pyramids of Egypt were being built, Methuselah clings to a dry windswept mountaintop in the Inyo National Forest of east-central California.

Last fall, there in the White Mountains, nearly two miles above sea level, a tree farmer named Jared Milarch harvested cuttings and pine cones from Methuselah with special permission from the U.S. Forest Service, which normally keeps the tree’s location secret. After failing in an attempt to clone the tree, he planted seeds from the cones in a growing medium and, much to everyone's surprise, they sprouted.

Next month, a ceremony is being planned to recognize the new offspring, and one will be presented to the U.S. Botanic Garden on the grounds of the Capitol.

Experts are unsure whether Methuselah has borne any offspring in its native setting, a 28,000-acre preserve called the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Very few seeds of the eerie small trees, some sculptured by the wind into fantastic bows and knots and waves, survive in that harsh environment. But with the help of humans, Methuselah is known to have reproduced itself at least one other time, in the 1970s.

“It had a 100 percent germination rate,” said Le Roy Johnson, former director of the Institute of Tree Genetics in Placerville, Calif., who led the earlier effort.

“That’s more than we get on most trees, let alone the oldest tree in the world,” he said. Animals and plants lose their ability to reproduce as they age.