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Dozens Are Killed in Raid on Darfur Camp

Dozens of people were killed and more than 100 were injured Monday in a government assault on a huge camp for displaced people in Darfur, the conflict-riddled region in western Sudan, according to witnesses and leaders at the camp.

Workers from the aid group Doctors Without Borders were treating 65 people at the camp for gunshot wounds, half of them women and children. About 45 severely wounded people were later evacuated to a hospital in the regional capital, Nyala, about 15 miles away, said Jose Hulsenbek, the Darfur coordinator for the Dutch section of Doctors Without Borders.

Hussein Abu Sharati, a spokesman for the roughly 90,000 displaced people living in the camp, said dozens of heavily armed vehicles operated by Sudanese security forces surrounded the camp at dawn and opened fire.

The Sudanese police released a statement in Nyala on Monday saying that the operation had been carried out to seize weapons stored at the camp. It contended that Darfur rebel groups were planning to use the weapons to carry out assassinations.

The camp, a sprawling collection of shacks and mud huts known as Kalma, is one of the oldest, largest and most volatile in Darfur, where 2.5 million people have been chased from their homes and 300,000 have died in a 5-year-old conflict pitting non-Arab rebel groups against the Arab-dominated government.

Israel Releases Palestinian Prisoners

Israel on Monday released 198 Palestinian prisoners in a move intended to bolster the Palestinian president, Israel’s negotiating partner, hours before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in the region to try to nudge forward Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Before embarking on two days of talks with top Israeli and Palestinian officials, Rice told reporters on the plane to Tel Aviv that there was a “lot of work ahead” if the sides hoped to reach a peace agreement by the end of the year.

Still, Rice also said it was “extremely important to just keep making forward progress rather than prematurely to come to some set of conclusions,” according to remarks released by the State Department. It appeared to be an acknowledgment of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators’ reluctance to come to a hasty partial agreement, despite the eagerness of the Bush administration for results before its term ends in January.

While Rice’s visits here have become routine — this is her seventh since this round of peace negotiations began in November — the prisoner release was a rare cause for celebration in the West Bank. Jubilant Palestinians clambered atop buses that carried the freed prisoners into Ramallah, while a convoy of cars bedecked with flags, horns honking, accompanied them to the presidential headquarters where hundreds of relatives were waiting.

Afghans Want a Deal on Foreign Troops

The Afghan Council of Ministers decided Monday to review the presence of international forces and agreements with foreign allies, including NATO and the United States, after a series of military operations that have caused mounting civilian losses.

The ministers demanded a status of forces agreement, which would stipulate that the authority and responsibilities of international forces be negotiated, and they said that aerial bombing, illegal detentions and house raids by international forces must be stopped.

The declaration came after several military operations involving U.S. forces resulted in civilian casualties, most recently airstrikes in western Afghanistan on Friday that killed more than 90 people, most of them women and children, according to a government commission. The U.S. military is investigating the latest episode; it earlier said the airstrikes had killed five civilians and 25 militants.

As security has deteriorated in the country and economic conditions have worsened, the government and its international partners have encountered rising popular dissatisfaction.

Heavy-handed bombing raids and house raids, which are seen as culturally unacceptable by many Afghans who guard their privacy fiercely, and the detention of hundreds of suspects for years without trial at the Bagram air base and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have stirred up Afghans’ strong independent streak and ancient dislike of invaders.

Hindu-Christian Violence Flares in India

The remote, destitute state of Orissa, marred for years by Hindu versus Christian violence, erupted in a retaliatory killing on Monday after the murder of a Hindu leader led a mob to burn small Christian churches, prayer halls and an orphanage that had housed 21 children.

The police said a woman’s body, charred beyond recognition, was found inside the church orphanage. The church’s pastor, whom the police did not identify and who was injured in the fire, told the authorities that the body was that of a nun working there. No children were injured.

The attack on the orphanage on Monday, in an isolated district called Bargarh, came after the killing Saturday of a Hindu leader who had been associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, and who was leading a drive to wean local villagers from Christianity. Radical Hindu groups like the council are vehemently opposed to conversions to Christianity, which in India tend to focus on traditionally downtrodden lower-caste and indigenous groups, and have lately taken to conducting mass ceremonies to reconvert them to Hinduism.

The Hindu leader who was killed, Laxmanananda Saraswati, was among five people slain by unidentified armed men who stormed a Hindu school in the nearby district of Kandhamal. The police blamed Maoist insurgents who prevail in the area. Saraswati’s followers, however, blamed Christians, and called for a statewide strike on Monday. The state government ordered all schools closed.