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Revenge Attacks Widen Rift Between Gaza and Israel

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired at least eight imported, Katyusha-style rockets on Thursday at Ashkelon, on the Israeli coast, in what Israeli officials said was a serious broadening of the conflict.

Ashkelon has been an occasional target of these longer-range rockets, but never of so many in one day. The attack scored a direct hit on a house there for the first time.

The rocket attacks came on the second day of deadly Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. These attacks killed at least 19 Palestinians, among them four young boys, Palestinian hospital officials said.

Many of the others killed were from the military wing of Hamas, known as the Qassam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the latest rocket fire.

Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, also continued to fire locally made rockets known as Qassams at Sderot, on the Israeli border, where a civilian was killed by rocket on Wednesday.

Thousands of these rockets have been fired at Israel over the past seven years.

The 122 mm Katyushas, based on a Russian design, are manufactured in many countries and have a range of at least 10 miles, longer than the relatively crude Qassams. Israelis refer to the Katyushas fired at Ashkelon as “grad” rockets.

China to Loosen One-Child Limit, Official Suggests

China is studying how to move away from the country’s one-child-per-couple restriction, but any changes would come gradually and would not mean an elimination of family planning policies, a senior official said Thursday.

The official, Zhao Baige, vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told reporters at a news conference that government officials recognize that China must alter its current population-control policies.

“We want incrementally to have this change,” Zhao said, according to Reuters. “I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers.”

With more than 1.3 billion people, China is the most populous nation and is home to one of the most stringent family planning regimens. Most urban couples are limited to a single child unless they pay hefty fines. Farmers are generally permitted to have a second child if the first is a girl. Minorities often are allowed to have two or more children.

For more than three decades, the restriction on births has been a centerpiece of government economic and social policy. Local officials receive performance ratings based partly on how well residents adhere to the restrictions. In the 1980s, officials routinely forced women to abort fetuses that would have resulted in above-quota births, and both men and women were often forced to undergo sterilization operations.

Panel is Set to Examine Security at U.N. Sites

The director of a new panel that will look into attacks on U.N. offices said Thursday that the organization had to accept the fact that in many parts of the world it was no longer viewed as impartial and was therefore increasingly vulnerable.

“We have got to recognize that things have changed, and our blue flag does not protect us any more,” said the official, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria and a longtime U.N. troubleshooter, made the comments in announcing the makeup of the panel. It will study security at U.N. offices around the world in the aftermath of the bombing of its building in Algiers, Algeria, on Dec. 11, which killed 17 staff members.

The six-member panel includes officials from the police and security services of Egypt, India and South Africa, a retired senior diplomat from Turkey and a former assistant secretary-general from Sweden.

Responsibility for the Algiers bombing was claimed by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a regional militant group that has sworn allegiance to al-Qaida. The attack deepened fears at headquarters that the United Nations had become the target of anti-Western terrorist groups.

In addition, U.N. officials and leaders of the staff union contended that Algeria had not provided adequate security before the attack and had ignored recommendations for improvements.

Officials Split On Viability Of Border Fence Project

A top Homeland Security official said Thursday that a pilot project to create a virtual fence along parts of the Mexican border had been a success, but he said the technology was never intended to be used and would not be used — across the entire length of the border.

“It is working, and it met the requirements,” Jayson P. Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said of the pilot project during a briefing with reporters in Washington.

Ahern’s assessment was in line with an announcement Feb. 22 by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff but contradicted testimony on Wednesday by an official from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog arm of Congress.

The official, Richard M. Stana, who handles domestic security and justice issues for the accountability office, told a House subcommittee that the pilot project had “resulted in a product that did not fully meet user needs.” He also said “the project’s design will not be used as the basis” for future development of a virtual fence along the border because of the problems.

The conflicting accounts about the pilot project and its applicability elsewhere add to the confusion and debate that has surrounded the virtual fence almost since its inception.