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Cease-fire in Fallujah holds; Hostage crisis grows

From the "Wolf Blitzer Reports" staff in Washington:

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Wolf Blitzer Reports
U.S. Army

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The unilateral U.S. cease-fire in Fallujah is holding -- barely.

U.S. officials say American Marines are firing when fired on -- and in self-defense -- but their offensive against insurgents in Fallujah remains on hold while Iraqi leaders try to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

A U.S. military official calls the situation stable, but says attacks by insurgents continue, including the downing of an American helicopter near Fallujah. Three people were injured -- but a quick reaction force rescued them and destroyed the chopper before it fell in to enemy hands.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose militia has led an uprising in several Iraqi cities, was seen in public Tuesday in Najaf.

In an interview with Hezbollah television, Sadr said he's ready to die to end the occupation and he called on his followers to continue to fight for that cause regardless of his fate.

U.S. military officials have vowed to capture or kill Sadr -- and they say they now have a significant force outside Najaf conducting preparatory operations.

"The target is not on Najaf, the target is al-Sadr and his militants...We will hunt them down and we will destroy them," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

Meanwhile the hostage crisis in Iraq is growing, with anti-occupation forces increasingly turning to kidnapping to make their point.

Among the latest victims: Four Italians, pictures of whom were shown on the Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera, and a French journalist.

Eight employees of a Russian power company abducted Monday have been released unharmed.

The coalition says some 40 people from 12 countries still are being held hostage in Iraq.

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