Hamas Leader Signals

A Joint Effort in Gaza

CAIRO -- The leader of the militant group Hamas said his followers were willing to sign on to a strategy among Palestinian groups on how to run Gaza after the planned Israeli withdrawal, and he said no Palestinian security force should try to disarm guerrillas.

Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, said in an interview that the group would continue to fight for other lands it considered Palestinian. Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, has carried out numerous suicide bombings in Israel and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States.

"There is no talk about halting the resistance or disarming it as long as there is occupation," Mashaal said Monday.

"If the enemy really pulls out of the Gaza Strip, then the Palestinian forces will agree among themselves on a political program and a joint position. Hamas will commit with the Palestinian forces to the joint formula and program that all agree to."

The Middle East

* CAIRO -- President Hosni Mubarak and his son promised sweeping reforms at the ruling party's convention, but neither gave specifics on what Egyptians could expect before next year's elections.

In a speech read for him by the party secretary general, President Mubarak said the party had to focus on drawing up plans "to push forward the comprehensive reform policies," which would "contribute to raising the living standards of the Egyptian citizen."

* JERUSALEM -- An Israeli soldier caught on videotape beating Palestinians at a busy West Bank checkpoint was sentenced by a military court to six months' imprisonment, the army said.

Human rights groups have long complained of routine army abuse of Palestinians at roadblocks and the military's failure to punish the soldiers responsible. But a staff sergeant, commander of the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus, was court-martialed after an army camera crew making a training film about checkpoint duty videotaped him punching, slapping and kicking two Palestinians.

Africa

* JOHANNESBURG -- A former apartheid policeman who helped jail Nelson Mandela 40 years ago has given back to him two notebooks of letters Mandela wrote in prison.

At the opening of the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory and Commemoration, the policeman, Donald Card, who is now retired, told the former president he had waited more than three decades to return the notebooks, in which Mandela wrote drafts of prison letters between February 1969 and April 1971.

"Thirty-three years have flown by since 1971, when I put these two notebooks on my wardrobe," Card said.

Card had testified against Mandela and his co-defendants in their sabotage trial. All were sentenced to life in prison in 1964.

* ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Up to half a million HIV-positive Africans die each year because health chiefs have failed to coordinate the fight against HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis, the United Nations said.

Expanding access to tuberculosis treatment, combined with introducing HIV testing and delivery of life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs into TB programs could save those lives, health experts said at the end of a two-day conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The strategy is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure the survival of HIV-positive people, experts said at the conference. The purpose of the conference was to promote combined treatment of the world's two leading killer diseases. AIDS kills 8,000 people a day worldwide, while another 5,000 die from TB.

TB is the most common infection among -- and leading killer of -- people living with HIV-AIDS.

The Americas

* ASUNCION, Paraguay -- Thousands of Paraguayan peasants invaded 18 private ranches to protest what they see as an inadequate government plan to hand over land to poor families.

Earlier this year, the Paraguayan government unveiled a $10 million plan to give about 62,000 acres of land to 1,300 poor peasant families. The goal is to lift peasants out of poverty by giving them small plots of land that can produce crops for consumption and perhaps sale.

But some peasants fear the government will not deliver on its promises and argue that it needs to spend more money on the program.

Protesters, many wielding sticks, erected tents inside the ranches on Tuesday. They said they intend to occupy private lands and stage other protests until the government commits more funding to the land redistribution plan.

EUROPE

* MOSCOW -- An army colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen woman withdrew his request for a pardon after it drew outrage and protests in Chechnya and opposition from prosecutors and human rights groups, Russian news agencies reported.

Col. Yuri Budanov was convicted in July 2003 of the kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Heda Kungayeva. He admitted the killing, but said he thought Kungayeva was a rebel sniper.

Last Wednesday, a commission in Ulyanovsk, where Budanov is serving his 10-year sentence, recommended he be pardoned.

-- From News Services