Israel's High Court
Clears Gaza Pullout
JERUSALEM -- Israel's highest court on Thursday rejected a challenge by Jewish settlers to Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, clearing the last major legal hurdle to a pullout in August.
In Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas secured a commitment from militant groups to maintain a truce with Israel that had been shaken by recent violence.
In the closely watched settler case, a High Court panel voted 10 to 1 to leave largely intact, with only minor technical changes, a parliament-approved compensation package for the 9,000 people slated to be evacuated from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank.
Settlers seeking to block any withdrawal from occupied land had filed 12 petitions calling for the "disengagement" law to be invalidated or significantly rewritten on grounds that it violated their human rights.
* TORONTO -- Canada's Supreme Court dealt a powerful blow to the state monopoly on health care, striking down a Quebec ban on private health insurance for services provided under the country's Medicare system of universal coverage.
Although the unanimous ruling applies only to Quebec, it is sure to inspire similar cases in other provinces and give impetus to a growing movement pushing for public and private care.
The court said Quebec's prohibition violated the province's charter of rights by threatening the lives of patients, and the justices noted that other countries have successfully combined private and public care.
THE MIDDLE EAST
* DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria's ruling Baath Party endorsed reforms that include allowing independent political parties, relaxing a state of emergency and granting greater freedom of the press -- big steps for a government that has been slow to change.
The recommendations, approved at a party congress, fall short of the extensive changes sought by many at home and abroad, and must be approved by Syria's legislature -- a process that could take more than a year. Parliament also could modify the reforms.
In addition, the party said Syria should improve relations with Iraq, find a solution to problems with its minority Kurds and commit itself to a strategy of peace to "restore occupied lands," a reference to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the official Syrian TV reported.
* NAIROBI -- A Kenyan judge dropped murder charges against four men accused in the al Qaeda car bombing of a resort hotel that killed 15 people. Prosecutors produced no evidence to tie the men to al Qaeda or the 2002 bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel, north of Mombasa, the judge ruled.
* BERLIN -- A German appeals court upheld the acquittal of a Moroccan accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers, but authorities said the man remained a threat and would be expelled from the country within two weeks.
Abdelghani Mzoudi, 32, was acquitted in February 2004 of charges that he helped Mohamed Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah in their plot to attack the United States. He faced more than 3,000 counts of being an accessory to murder.
Hamburg's top security official, Udo Nagel, said his office would expel Mzoudi because it "stands by its view that Mzoudi threatens the free democratic order and supports terrorist organizations."
* PARIS -- Traffic was paralyzed and Parisians waited in long lines for buses during a protest against changes to the labor code that were announced Wednesday by newly appointed Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin as part of a job-creation initiative.
A key employees' union, which said other demonstrations took place in towns outside the capital, called the protest a prelude to a major labor action set for June 21.
Villepin, 51, blamed Socialist Party policies for the country's 10.2 percent unemployment rate, which he aims to address by instituting flexible hiring policies and making business more competitive.
Villepin won a parliamentary vote of confidence, but opposition lawmakers denounced his plan.
Bernard Thibault, secretary general of the CGT labor union, declared in Le Figaro, a French newspaper, that the government was putting "a knife to our throats" with its proposals.
-- Erika Lorentzsen
* BELGRADE -- The United States lifted its freeze on $10 million in aid for Serbia and Montenegro, saying the Balkan country had improved its cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Congress in January withheld the aid because of Serbia's failure to arrest and extradite several Serb suspects. But since October, Serbia has negotiated the surrender of about a dozen.
-- From News Services