Israel Criticizes E.U.

For Talks With Hamas

JERUSALEM -- Israel on Thursday protested rising European contacts with Hamas, urging the European Union to keep the group on its list of terrorist organizations and warning that talking to the Islamic militant group undermines Palestinian moderates.

Three senior members of Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, said their group had been talking regularly to E.U. diplomats. E.U. officials denied the contacts but acknowledged that meetings with Hamas might be inevitable after Hamas won control of dozens of towns in the West Bank and Gaza in recent local elections.

"We believe Europeans should be strengthening moderate Palestinians," said Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "Anything that demonstrates acceptance of Hamas as a legitimate player is a problem."

ASIA

* KABUL, Afghanistan -- Osama bin Laden and the Taliban chief, Mohammad Omar, are no longer believed to be in Afghanistan, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. His comments came a day after a purported Taliban commander said the two men were alive and well.

* BEIJING -- China said a jailed dissident and longtime U.S. resident was in good health, following an appeal for his release by 40 U.S. senators who say he has been tortured. Yang Jianli, who runs a group in Boston, was detained in 2002 while meeting with Chinese dissidents.

THE AMERICAS

* BRASILIA -- A top cabinet official resigned over accusations he knew about a vote-buying scheme in Brazil's Congress, becoming the highest-ranking official hit by a scandal that has shaken the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Jose Dirceu, the chief of staff, denied the accusations in a televised statement.

AFRICA

* KIGALI, Rwanda -- World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz defended the U.S. role in Iraq when his former job as deputy defense secretary triggered a hostile question on his first trip to Africa as head of the world's biggest development institution.

Asked at a youth conference why the United States was "murdering people in Iraq," Wolfowitz replied: "I ask you and anyone else who thinks the way you think to stop and think what it means to 8.5 million Iraqis who were threatened with death but still voted. That to me is a powerful, powerful act."

EUROPE

* MADRID -- Forensic experts are trying to obtain DNA samples from Iraq to determine whether a suspect in the Madrid train bombings in 2004 committed a suicide attack there, a police official said. Officials allege that Mohamed Afalah, a Moroccan, staged the attack in Iraq between May 12 and 19.

* VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI said the search for unity between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christians was "irreversible," underlining his desire to improve relations and heal the 1,000-year rift with the Orthodox Church. Benedict made the comments in a meeting with the leader of the World Council of Churches.

-- From News Services