Hamas Rejects Offer

To Join Government

GAZA CITY -- The Islamic militant group Hamas on Monday rejected an invitation to join the Palestinian government, snubbing President Mahmoud Abbas, who had sought a unity government to help him control the Gaza Strip after Israel's withdrawal.

Abbas, facing public pressure to curb growing lawlessness in Palestinian areas, last week offered a place for armed groups in his government to foster a smooth evacuation of Israeli settlers from the occupied territory, due to begin in mid-August.

"Forming a unity government at this late time will not be useful," said a spokesman for Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Asia

* VADODARA, India -- Indian military helicopters dropped food packets to thousands of people stranded in vast bodies of water following floods and monsoon rains that killed 132 people.

Army and civil medical teams in motorboats and rubber dinghies struggled to deliver aid to far-flung villages in western Gujarat state, where torrential rains have left 400,000 people homeless.

As the rains ebbed, hundreds were still living in relief shelters or camping on highways.

* TOKYO -- A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationed on Japan's southern island of Okinawa has been arrested on suspicion of having molested a 10-year-old Japanese girl, local police said. The incident was condemned by the governor of Okinawa, home to about half of the U.S. military forces in Japan.

Armando Valdez, 27, stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, was arrested by police on Sunday on suspicion of having touched the breasts of the girl, Okinawa police officials said. Valdez denied having done so, said Choei Arata, an official at the Okinawa police department.

* JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A judge agreed to hear new evidence in defense of an Australian former beauty school student convicted of smuggling drugs into Indonesia, including testimony from witnesses who claim someone planted marijuana in her surfboard bag.

Schapelle Corby's attorneys will be allowed to present 12 new witnesses at a court hearing, said Made Gusti Lingga, chief of the Bali High Court. The High Court will then decide if her 20-year prison sentence should be reconsidered.

The Americas

* MONTREAL -- Canada's most notorious female inmate was secretly spirited from prison after serving 12 years for the rapes, torture and killings of three teenage girls, including her younger sister.

Correctional Service Canada said Karla Homolka was no longer in its jurisdiction, but she was nowhere to be seen by the horde of news reporters lining the road from the prison in rural Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, about 20 miles northwest of Montreal.

Africa

* NAIROBI -- The U.N. World Food Program said it had suspended aid shipments to Somalia after gunmen hijacked a vessel chartered by the organization and demanded a $500,000 ransom.

On average, the group provides 3,000 tons of aid a month to 275,000 people in the Horn of Africa country. It said the group had only two weeks' worth of food stockpiled in Somalia.

EUROPE

* PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac cracked jokes to Russian and German leaders about bad British food and mad cow disease, a Paris daily newspaper reported, in comments that could further strain Anglo-French relations.

Chirac's office said the comments in Liberation "did not correspond at all with the tone or the content of the meeting" he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday in Kaliningrad.

"The only thing they [the British] have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow," Chirac quipped, according to the paper, prompting laughter from Schroeder and Putin.

The Middle East

* TEHRAN -- Iran's president-elect dismissed as "baseless" allegations of his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and in killing dissidents. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said Iran was seeking "fair and expanding" relations with the world.

"The dissemination of baseless information by Western countries despite enjoying advanced intelligence gathering capabilities is questionable," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a meeting with Iranian lawmakers.

-- From News Services