THE MIDDLE EAST

West Bank Land Transfer Begins

NABLUS, West Bank--Israel began a long-delayed handover of an additional 5 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian rule yesterday in a move seen as a boost to the drive for a permanent peace.

The handover, mandated by a September interim peace deal, was to have taken place on Nov. 15 but was delayed by a dispute between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over what areas should be included. They finally broke the deadlock Tuesday, reportedly with an Israeli undertaking to consult the Palestinians on the land that will be covered by a subsequent withdrawal from another 6.1 percent of the West Bank set for Jan. 20.

Yeltsin Begins Jerusalem Visit

JERUSALEM--Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin began a historic trip to the Holy Land to mark the first Orthodox Christmas of the new millennium in Bethlehem, Jesus's birthplace.

Yeltsin, who resigned on New Year's Eve after eight years as president, looked tired and pale when he arrived at the Hilton Hotel, but he joked with reporters and complained about Israel's unusually cold weather.

Despite his resignation, Yeltsin, 68, is being accorded all the honors of a serving head of state during the three-day visit, which will include meetings Thursday with Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Iranian Soccer Team Heads for U.S.

TEHRAN--Iran's national soccer team left for the United States, their first U.S. trip since the 1979 Islamic revolution, state media reported. The 21-man squad left for Frankfurt on their way to Chicago after Iran's soccer federation said it had received assurances that U.S. officials would not fingerprint players on arrival.

Tehran has often protested to Washington over the photographing and fingerprinting of visiting Iranian athletes and scholars.

An Iran-U.S. game is to be played Jan. 16 in Pasadena, Calif.

Calm Restored After Violence in Egypt

CAIRO--Muslims and Christians in a southern Egyptian village, where sectarian violence has killed at least 20 people, were able to go about their normal business after security forces lifted a curfew, police said.

Church sources said Bishop Wissa, the senior Coptic cleric in el-Kusheh, 250 miles south of Cairo, met Tuesday night with Rural Government Minister Mostafa Abdel-Qader in a preliminary attempt to reconcile the two communities.

AFRICA

Ivory Coast Suspends Debt Payments

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast--Accusing the ousted government of plundering state coffers, Ivory Coast's first military ruler said he was suspending the country's staggering foreign debt payments. Junta leader Gen. Robert Guei's announcement was an apparent reversal of a pledge last week to honor international commitments inherited from the elected government he ousted in a coup Dec. 24.

He did not say whether Ivory Coast intended to resume debt payments later to the World Bank, European Union, International Monetary Fund and other lenders.

EUROPE

Pinochet Undergoes Medical Tests

LONDON--Former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet visited a London hospital for medical tests expected to determine whether he will be extradited to Spain to face torture charges or sent back to Chile. He returned home after about seven hours.

The tests were requested by Chile in November after reports that Pinochet, 84, was in poor health. Supporters of Pinochet, who is awaiting the outcome of moves by Spain to extradite him, say he is frail and has suffered a series of strokes.

Iranian Official to Visit London

LONDON--Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will visit London next week on the first official trip to Britain by an Iranian cabinet minister since the 1979 Islamic revolution, officials said. Kharrazi is due in Britain Monday for talks with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. He may also meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair, the officials said.

A Foreign Office source said the trip, agreed at a meeting in New York between Cook and Kharrazi in September, was part of a "cautious, constructive engagement" between the two countries. Relations between London and Tehran have warmed slightly since Iran pledged in 1998 not to carry out a fatwa, or religious order, calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie.

THE AMERICAS

Galapagos Protection Law Approved

QUITO, Ecuador--A law aimed at conserving and controlling development of the Galapagos Islands went into effect when President Jamil Mahuad gave the necessary approval.

The law, passed in March 1998, would halt further migration to the islands, control tourism and fishing and prevent the introduction of foreign animal and plant species to the fragile ecosystem, officials said. The Galapagos archipelago, 600 miles west of Ecuador's mainland, is the country's main tourist attraction.

Family of 22 Killed in Peru

LIMA, Peru--Gunmen wielding pistols and rifles killed 22 members of a Peruvian family, most of them children or babies, after an apparent feud over land in a remote village in the central Andes, authorities said.

The assailants herded the family, including a 1-year-old boy, into a house at night then shot them in one of the worst massacres in Peru for years, villagers reported. The bodies were found in a village in the Huanuco region, where drug traffickers and some Marxist Shining Path rebels operate.

ASIA

Hundreds Killed in Indonesian Islands

AMBON, Indonesia--Refugees fleeing violence between Christian and Muslim militias in Indonesia's eastern islands said hundreds of people were killed in fighting there. More than 10,000 people have reportedly been forced to flee their homes, and official estimates said about 500 people have been killed in the past 10 days. Unconfirmed reports put the number much higher.

Refugees said thousands of soldiers have poured in to try to quell the fighting on Halmahera and Seram islands, about 1,600 miles east of the capital Jakarta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"So, what was all the fuss about?"

--David Higgins, Australian journalist, on the Y2K computer bug --Page A1