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Israeli-Palestinian Fighting in Gaza Leaves at Least 18 Dead

At least 18 Palestinians, including 13 members of the military wing of Hamas, were killed in Gaza early Tuesday by Israeli army fire, the highest death toll there in half a year.

During the army operation, a volunteer from Ecuador working in an Israeli kibbutz was killed by sniper fire from Gaza, the Israeli army said.

Palestinian militants shot at least 25 Qassam rockets and 25 mortar bombs into Israel, and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that took control of Gaza last June, threatened revenge. Five of the rockets landed in Sderot, an Israeli border town. One hit a house. Five residents were wounded, some moderately and some lightly, including a 5-year-old girl, according to the ambulance service. One rocket landed several miles north of Gaza, on a road in southern Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city of 120,000, causing no casualties.

The violence escalated a day after top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators — the latter representing the West Bank leadership, which is alienated from Hamas — formally started peace talks.

Among the dead in Gaza was a son of Mahmoud Zahar, a senior leader and hard-liner of Hamas, the second son of his killed by Israeli forces in five years. The son killed Tuesday, Hussam Zahar, 21, was a member of the Hamas military wing, the Qassam Brigades, and was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the car in which he was traveling, said Taher Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza. At least two Palestinian civilians were also killed in Gaza, and 45 Palestinians were wounded, hospital officials there said.

Blast Near U.S. Embassy Van Kills Three Civilians Near Beirut

A bomb exploded next to a U.S. Embassy vehicle on Tuesday, killing at least three civilians and wounding many other people, including an American bystander and an embassy employee, Lebanese and U.S. officials said.

The explosion, which occurred as President Bush toured the region, was the first attack on U.S. interests in Lebanon since the 1983 truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. service members at the U.S. Marine barracks here.

Lebanese and Western officials said the embassy vehicle was probably the target of the attack, though no one claimed responsibility for the bomb and initial investigations could not determine if it had been placed under a car or on the side of the road.

The bomb blew up as the U.S. Embassy’s armored sport utility vehicle passed, narrowly missing it but wounding its driver and killing two Lebanese in the car behind it, and a Syrian bystander, security officials said.

At least 20 other passers-by and workers in nearby shops and offices were wounded.

The blast occurred on a coastal road north of Beirut, the capital, in a busy industrial district called Bourj Hammoud. It destroyed at least six cars, shattered windows nearby and tore masonry from buildings as workers prepared to finish for the day.

“The scene was inhumane; it was devastating,” said Alaa al-Hatil, 35, an Egyptian worker at a nearby shop. “There was blood and flesh everywhere. I could not look.”

Kenyan Opposition Wins Round One in Parliament

Judging from the opening session of Parliament on Tuesday, it looks like it is going to be a long political year in Kenya.

Parliament members, meeting for the first time since Kenya’s election crisis erupted last month, shouted at one another for an hour and a half over how to vote for a new speaker — whether the vote should be in secret — and then shouted some more when it came time to decide where to put the ballot box.

In the end, opposition leaders prevailed in the first political skirmish since the disputed election, installing their candidate in the influential position of the Parliament’s speaker.

It took three heated hours. Both sides hurled bitter accusations, with opposition leaders jumping out of their seats to accuse the party of President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the vote in the Dec. 27 election, and the president’s party yelling back that the opposition had instigated the burst of ethnically driven violence that followed it. On Tuesday, Red Cross officials said the nationwide death toll had risen to at least 612.

Short on Fundraising, Red Cross Will Cut Jobs

Facing a $200 million operating deficit, the American Red Cross is preparing to cut as much as one-third of its headquarters staff, up to 1,000 employees, and pare regional management.

The cutbacks will not diminish the relief operations and other services provided by the organization, said Suzy C. DeFrancis, the Red Cross’ chief public affairs officer.

“We’ve just come to the conclusion that we’ve gotten too top heavy,” DeFrancis said, “that we are spending more than we are bringing in and that the fundraising environment is competitive.”

But she added, “We believe this exercise will make us strong” in delivering service.

She said the 126-year-old organization had not tapped its $800 million endowment to cover the deficit but relied instead on loans that it uses as part of its normal cash-management process. Its budget in 2007 was $3.45 billion, which includes its blood operations as well as its disaster services.

DeFrancis said she needed more time to determine whether the deficit was the largest in Red Cross history.