Hebron Commander

Of Hamas Is Arrested

GAZA CITY -- Israeli forces on Wednesday arrested a West Bank leader of Hamas accused in a bus bombing in August. Separately, at least four members of the militant Palestinian group were killed in airstrikes Wednesday and Thursday in the Gaza Strip.

Imad Kawasme, the Hamas commander in the city of Hebron, was arrested on suspicion of planning the Aug. 31 suicide attacks on two buses in the Israeli city of Beersheba, witnesses and Israel's Army Radio said. The attacks killed 16 people.

Meanwhile, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl died of injuries a day after being hit by Israeli gunfire at a U.N. school in southern Gaza. A military source said troops had fired toward gunmen.

And in Gaza's Rafah refugee camp, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old Palestinian while he was playing soccer, witnesses said. An Israeli military source said soldiers had suspected he had been planting a bomb.

Also, the Israeli army retracted an accusation that Palestinians in Gaza used a U.N. ambulance to transport a rocket to be fired at Israel, officials said. The U.N. relief agency had said it needed a full public apology to safeguard the security of its staff.

In another development, an Israeli platoon commander was suspended on suspicion that he emptied an ammunition clip into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl at close range after she had already collapsed under army fire in Gaza.

In Jerusalem, officials said Israel would severely limit the access of Muslim worshippers to the city's most volatile holy site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, during the month of Ramadan, asserting it could collapse.

THE AMERICAS

* RIO DE JANEIRO -- Police killed the city's most-wanted drug lord and occupied the slum where he had been hiding to prevent an outbreak of gang violence. The death of Irapuan David Lopes, known as "Gangan," came a day after authorities answered media criticism of Rio's high murder rate by pledging to confront drug trafficking. Police said Gangan, 34, was gunned down after he resisted arrest and opened fire on officers.

Meanwhile in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, Paulo Salim Maluf was charged with money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes while he was mayor in 1993-96. Maluf denied wrongdoing.

* PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Former soldiers who led a deadly revolt that helped to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide gathered in Haiti's capital, saying reinforcements were coming to help end violence that has killed at least 46 people.

ASIA

* NEW DELHI -- Voters in India's wealthiest state cast ballots in an election widely seen as a key political test for the five-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Nearly 3,000 candidates were competing for 288 state assembly seats in Maharashtra, which includes the country's financial capital, Bombay.

In national elections that ended in May, a Congress Party-led alliance unexpectedly ousted the coalition government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

A Congress defeat in Maharashtra could help revive the BJP's political fortunes; a Congress victory could strengthen Singh's hand as he seeks to promote free-market reforms over the objections of communist parties supporting his coalition. Results are expected Saturday.

-- John Lancaster

* BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- A Russian rocket carrying a new Russian-U.S. crew to the international space station lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on Thursday.

For Russians Salizhan Sharipov and Yuri Shargin and American Leroy Chiao, it was the first mission in a Soyuz spacecraft -- breaking a nearly 30-year tradition of having at least one crewman with experience in piloting the capsule.

Chiao and Sharipov both have flown U.S. space shuttles, while Shargin is a rookie. The Soyuz TMA-5 lifted off at 7:06 Moscow time and was due to dock with the station in two days.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports