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Monday, July 31

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.

Car bomb kills at least 4 in central Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- At least four people were killed and 11 wounded when a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army convoy in the Karadda section of central Baghdad, police said.

An attack in the same neighborhood last week killed at least 27 civilians and wounded 100 others. (posted 2:15 a.m.)

Castro undergoes surgery, hands power to brother

HAVANA (CNN) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro was undergoing intestinal surgery and provisionally handed over power in the Communist island nation to his younger brother Raul, according to a statement read on Cuban television Monday night.

On the news, the streets of Miami's Cuban-exile community erupted in excitement as people poured into the streets waving Cuban and American flags, chanting "Cuba Libre (free Cuba)." The roads were gridlocked with honking cars and fireworks lit the skies.

Fidel Castro, 79, has led Cuba since a 1959 revolution. Raul Castro, 75, is the first vice president of the country, and as such, the designated successor to his brother.

Raul Castro also assumes control over the armed forces and the leadership of the Communist Party, according to the statement. (Posted 1:20 a.m.)

Dems slam Bush's Iraq policy, repeat call for troop withdrawal

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a double barreled move to shake the perception that they're split on Iraq, and keep the focus what they see as a winning campaign issue against Republicans, House and Senate Democratic leaders joined to urge President Bush to start bringing U.S. troops home this year.

"In the interests of American national security, our troops, and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained," 12 Democrats, including the Senate and House minority leaders and ranking members of key committees wrote President Bush on Sunday.

Democratic senators and aides said the letter, obtained by CNN Sunday, was intended to illustrate a unified position on the war, after June debates in the House and the Senate exposed differences inside the party, which Republicans tried to exploit. (posted 1:20 a.m.)

Israeli government OKs expansion of Lebanon campaign

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel's security Cabinet has approved an expansion of the ground campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office announced early Tuesday. (Posted 6:29 p.m.)

Syrian leader urges troops to improve readiness amid Mideast conflict

DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered his armed forces to step up their readiness amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, the state news agency SANA reported Monday.

In a letter published on the anniversary of the Syrian army's founding, al-Assad told troops that the anniversary comes "amidst international circumstances and regional challenges that necessitate vigilance, awareness and readiness." (Posted 5:52 p.m.)

Report: Commercial jets can have missile defense systems, but not quickly

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two years into a study to see whether anti-missile systems on military aircraft can be adapted to commercial airplane use, the Department of Homeland Security on Monday told Congress that the systems probably can be manufactured and installed in wide-bodied jets for the target price of $1 million a plane.

But the 75-page report obtained by CNN is laden with many issues that must be addressed, including the cost of maintaining the systems and who should assume the legal liability for the system.

The report both settles the question that anti-missile systems could be successfully deployed on commercial aircraft and douses expectations that it could happen quickly. (Posted 5:26 p.m.)

Gibson goes into rehab after drunk driving arrest

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Academy Award-winning actor-director Mel Gibson has entered an "ongoing recovery program" in the wake of his drunken driving arrest last week, his publicist, Alan Nierob, said Monday.

Gibson's troubles mounted Monday, as a Web site reported the movie star had been stopped for reckless driving twice before and Hollywood began predicting the fallout from his reported sexist and anti-Semitic remarks during his arrest early Friday. (Posted 5:20 p.m.)

Hagel blasts Bush on Mideast, calls for immediate cease-fire

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading Republican senator blasted the administration's handling of the Middle East conflict Monday, urging President Bush to turn all U.S. efforts toward "ending this madness."

"How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend -- the country and people of Lebanon -- is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?" asked Sen. Chuck Hagel, the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop."

The senator from Nebraska also warned that U.S. troops were becoming "bogged down" in Iraq while all eyes were on Israel's campaign against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas. (Posted 4:11 p.m.)

Gibson faces fallout from "despicable" remarks

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Troubles facing Mel Gibson mounted Monday in the wake of his drunk driving arrest, as a Web site reported the movie star has been stopped for reckless driving twice before and Hollywood began predicting the fallout from his reported sexist and anti-Semitic remarks.

Authorities involved in his arrest also continued to fend off suggestions that they had "sanitized" a deputy's report on the incident.

As details of the incident surfaced in news reports, the future of Gibson's high-profile projects -- including a Mayan-language film called "Apocalypto" due later this year and a mini-series set during the Holocaust -- appeared to hang in the balance. (Posted 4:08 p.m.)

Justice lawyers approve sale of McClatchy papers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an investigation closely watched by the U.S. newspaper industry, the Justice Department's Antitrust Division Monday gave the go-ahead to the purchase of the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times by MediaNews Group, publisher of the Oakland Tribune and four other Bay area newspapers.

In announcing it has decided to close the investigation into the purchase of the two newspapers from The McClatchy Company, the Justice Department said the antitrust lawyers "determined that the transaction is not likely to reduce competition substantially." (Posted 4:06 p.m.)

NY mayor reaches illegal gun settlement with 2 dealers

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The city of New York has reached a settlement with two of 15 gun dealers who are parties to a lawsuit aimed at preventing illegal gun sales, the mayor announced Monday, less than three months after filing the groundbreaking lawsuit.

The 15 dealers were caught up earlier this year in a sting operation in which one undercover agent attempted to illegally purchase a gun for another. Most of the city's gun dealers refused the sale, but the 15 that allegedly allowed it were named in a federal lawsuit filed in May.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained that there will be a special master selected by the city and appointed by the court to monitor firearms sales activities at A-1 Jewelry and Pawn, Inc., of Augusta, Ga. and AAA Gun & Pawn Brokers of Hephzibah, Ga.

The master's powers will have widespread and unprecedented access to the dealers, including unlimited review of their firearms-related records, which include trace requests and multiple handgun sale reports, as well as the ability to conduct unrestricted inspections of all firearm inventories. (Posted 3:20 p.m.)

Military sources: Rebels' bomb kills 18 soldiers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- A roadside bomb planted by Tamil Tiger rebels killed 18 army soldiers and wounded two others Monday in northeastern Sri Lanka, military sources said.

The attack took place in the northeastern city of Kantale in Trincomalee, a port district, the sources said.

The soldiers were going to join other troops fighting to end a rebel blockade of reservoir water. (Posted 2:57 p.m.)

Sens. say they'll hold FDA chief's nomination until agency makes decision on morning after pill

The government said Monday it will now consider allowing over-the-counter sales of a morning-after-pill to women ages 18 and older. this has been a controversial decision for the FDA, one they have put off for some time.

The move comes only a day before the FDA's acting commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, is scheduled to appear at his Senate confirmation hearing where he was expected to face tough questions on why the agency was dragging its feet on Plan B.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said they plan to hold up von Eschenbach's nomination until a decision is made. (Posted 2:45 p.m.)

U.N., Red Cross arrive in devastated Lebanese border town

From CNN's Karl Penhaul

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon (CNN) -- Teams from the Red Cross and United Nations Monday arrived in this southern Lebanese town in an effort to survey the damage and evacuate residents, a day after heavy fighting reduced much of the town to rubble.

The Israeli army said its troops fought Hezbollah militia in Bint Jbeil in some of the heaviest combat in southern Lebanon.

The village is just outside Maroun Al Ras, the Israeli military's "first foothold" in southern Lebanon in an effort to create a security buffer.

The Israeli military says the town is the launch site for many Hezbollah rockets, fired into northern Israel. (Posted 1:40 p.m.)

FDA considers allowing emergency contraception to be sold over the counter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The government said Monday it will now consider allowing over-the-counter sales of a morning-after-pill to women ages 18 and older. this has been a controversial decision for the FDA, one they have put off for some time.

The pill is called Plan B. It's made by Duramed, a subsidiary of Barr Pharmaceuticals, and it's already available by prescription. But for more than two years the company has been trying to get permission to sell the product over the counter, without a prescription.

Plan B works by stopping ovulation or if the egg has been fertilized it increases the chance it won't attach to the uterus. It contains a high dose of traditional birth control pills and when used within 72 hours of unprotected sex it can lower the risk of pregnancy by almost 90-percent. (Posted 1:01 p.m.)

U.N. Security Council calls on Iran to halt uranium enrichment, or face sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United Nations Security Council Monday formally gave Iran until the end of August to freeze its uranium enrichment program or possibly face economic sanctions.

The council passed its first resolution in response to Iran's nuclear program by a vote of 14-1, with Qatar casting the lone opposing vote.

It requires the head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA headed by Mohamed El Baradei, to report to the council by August 31 on whether Iran has complied with the demands listed in the resolution. (Posted 12:58 p.m.)

Olmert defends Lebanon campaign, says no cease-fire

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel is making progress in its campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon and won't accept a cease-fire until its objectives are reached, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday.

Olmert defended his decision to launch a wide-ranging campaign in southern Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed three others in a cross-border raid July 12. He said his government has decided "only to bring it to an end when we had brought back this threat to an end."

Olmert's government has been under increasing pressure to halt the campaign since an Israeli airstrike killed at least 54 civilians in the southern Lebanese town of Qana on Sunday. (Posted 12:52 p.m.)

Peres lays out conditions for peace with Hezbollah

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres laid out Monday what he said are five conditions needed for Israel to reach peace with Hezbollah.

In a briefing with reporters, Peres said Israel must ensure that Hezbollah will never return its border with Lebanon; obtain the release of the two Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah; stop Hezbollah from shooting missiles and rockets into Israel; prevent Hezbollah from re-arming itself with missiles and rockets provided by the Syrians and the Iranians; and free Lebanon from Hezbollah control. (Posted 12:23 p.m.)

Israeli troops enter Lebanese village

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli troops Monday entered the southern Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab (EYE-tuhl SHAAB) where they have been operating since noon (5 a.m.), according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli ground forces moved into southern Lebanon after Hezbollah militants fired rockets on northern Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12. (Posted 11:47 a.m.)

Bush working toward 'sustainable peace' in Middle East

MIAMI (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday said that the United States is working to attain a "sustainable peace" in the Middle East, but withheld criticism of Israel, whose bombing Sunday of a house in southern Lebanon killed at least 54 civilians.

Bush noted that, over the weekend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the region "working urgently to get a sustainable cease-fire" and laying the groundwork "for lasting peace in the Middle East."

He said Lebanon's government "must be empowered to exercise sole authority over its territory," and said a multi-national force "must be dispatched quickly to speed delivery of humanitarian aid" to the region. (Posted 11:26 a.m.)

Fake police kidnap 26 including head of U.S.-Iraqi group

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Armed men dressed in Iraqi police uniforms raided the Iraq-American Chamber of Commerce and a mobile phone company Monday, kidnapping at least 26 people, the Iraqi interior ministry said.

The chamber's president was among those abducted, the interior ministry said.

The mobile phone company, Rawi, is located next to the chamber in central Baghdad.

The gunmen, traveling in at least 10 vehicles, stormed the buildings at around 12:30 p.m. and kidnapped at least 12 employees from the chamber and at least 14 from Rawi, the ministry said. (Posted 10 a.m.)

Israel carries out airstrikes in southern Lebanon; apologizes for hitting army vehicle

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon continued Monday, a day after the Israeli military announced it would temporarily halt its aerial bombardment of the region as it investigates a raid that killed dozens of civilians.

The Israeli military expressed regret Monday for accidentally striking a car carrying Lebanese soldiers outside the southern Lebanese city of Tyre (prono: TIRE). The Israel Defense Forces said it thought the vehicle was transporting a senior Hezbollah militant involved in directing rocket fire on Israel.

The IDF said it was unclear how many people were killed in the strike. A senior Lebanese interior ministry official told CNN an aide to a Lebanese army general was killed, and three soldiers were wounded. The general survived the attack, the official said.

The Israeli military also carried out airstrikes on open fields near Lebanon's Tayba area, close to the Israeli border, to secure the area where the soldiers are operating, according to the IDF. (Posted 8:37 a.m.)

Israeli army expresses regret for airstrike on Lebanese army vehicle

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli military Monday expressed regret for carrying out an airstrike on a vehicle outside the southern Lebanese city of Tyre which was carrying a number of Lebanese army soldiers, including one officer, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF said it was not clear how many people were killed. Earlier, a senior Lebanese interior ministry official told CNN the airstrike killed an aide to a Lebanese army general, and wounded three other soldiers.

The IDF said it thought the car was carrying a senior Hezbollah militant involved in directing rocket fire on Israel. (Posted 8:29 a.m.)

Police: 2 rockets hit northern Israel, after brief lull in Hezbollah attacks

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Two Hezbollah rockets hit near the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona Monday, the first Hezbollah attack in a day, according to Israeli police officials.

The rockets hit an open area and no casualties were reported, the officials said.

It was the first Hezbollah rocket attack into northern Israel from southern Lebanon since Sunday. Police told CNN that on an average day since the start of hostilities earlier this month, at least 30 rockets would have pounded northern Israel by now. (Posted 7:44 a.m.)

Russian oil spill said to be 'huge'

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian officials said Monday there had been a "huge" oil spill in an export pipeline in the Byransk region, which is near Russia's western border with Ukraine and Belarus.

Oleg Mitvol, deputy chief of the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, said the oil spill was "huge," affecting a 10-square kilometre (6 mile) area. He said more than 50 cubic metres of oil had been spilled.

Mitvol added that he was on his way to the affected area, and that rescue teams were already there. He also said that there was no immediate danger to people living in the affected area. (Posted 6:48 a.m.)

Source: Israel carries out airstrike in southern Lebanon, targeting army general; 1 dead

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike hit a Lebanese army general's vehicle in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre Monday, killing his aide and wounding three other soldiers, according to a highly placed Lebanese army source.

The Israel Defense Forces is checking the report.

The Israeli military announced Sunday that it would halt airstrikes for 48 hours in southern Lebanon unless there is an immediate threat.

Lebanon's military does not believe Israel has halted its aerial bombardment, the army source said. (Posted 6:38 a.m.)

Fake police kidnap 17 Chamber of Commerce members, including president

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Armed men dressed in Iraqi police uniforms raided the American-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce in central Baghdad Monday and kidnapped 17 employees, including the chamber's president, according to an Iraqi defense ministry official.

The gunmen, traveling in 10 vehicles, stormed the building around 12:30 p.m. An Iraqi emergency police official initially misreported that the building was a mobile phone company.

There have been numerous similar incidents in Baghdad in which gunmen posing as Iraqi police kidnapped large groups of people.

The Interior Ministry said the men were not real police officers.

--CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq in Baghdad contributed to this report. (Posted 6:36 a.m.)

Source: Israel carries out airstrike in southern Lebanon, targeting army general; 1 dead

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- An Israeli airstrike hit a Lebanese army general's vehicle in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre Monday, killing his aide and wounding three other soldiers, according to a highly placed Lebanese army source.

The Israel Defense Forces is checking the report.

The Israeli military announced Sunday that it would halt airstrikes for 48 hours unless there is an immediate threat.

Lebanon's military does not believe Israel has halted its aerial bombardment of southern Lebanon, the army source said. (Posted 6:23 a.m.)

Fake police kidnap 25 in Baghdad phone store

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Armed men dressed in Iraqi police uniforms raided a mobile telephone store in a central Baghdad shopping district Monday afternoon and kidnapped the 25 people inside the store, according to Baghdad police.

There have been numerous similar incidents in Baghdad in which gunmen posing as Iraqi police kidnapped large groups of people. The Interior Ministry said the men were not real police officers. (Posted 6 a.m.)

Mideast toll: 51 dead in Israel, 483 killed in Lebanon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The latest casualties reports from the Mideast since hostilities began 20 days ago:

Israel has reported 51 deaths, including 18 civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Lebanese Internal Security Forces reported 483 people killed and 1,784 injured. In the Qana attack, they said 62 people were believed to be in the collapsed building, while 54 bodies have been recovered. (Posted 4:06 p.m.)

Rice: "Cease-fire and a lasting settlement" can be achieved this week

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she believes a "comprehensive settlement" to the Mideast crisis can be reached this week, including a cease-fire and an international force to help the Lebanese army control southern Lebanon.

Rice read a statement to reporters before departing Jerusalem to return to the United States. "As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both a cease-fire and a lasting settlement," Rice said. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week."

The Israeli airstrike that killed at least 60 people -- including many children -- in Qana, Lebanon early Sunday interrupted her plan to shuttle between Jerusalem and Beirut for talks to reach a settlement, but gave Rice ammunition to push Israel to announce a 48-hour cessation of airstrikes. (Posted 4:05 a.m.)

4-year cease-fire appears broken as Sri Lankan troops, rebels battle

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Heavy fighting broke out between Sri Lankan government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels early Monday as Sri Lankan troops fought to end a rebel blockade of reservoir water to government-held eastern Batticaloa district, military and government sources said.

Military sources said Sri Lankan troops met heavy rebel resistance, but there was not immediate word on casualties. This is the first time government troops and rebels have engaged in a full frontal battle since a cease-fire began four years ago. (Posted 1 a.m.)

IDF: Airstrikes near Syria were before cease-fire began

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli aircraft fired missiles at targets along a road in eastern Lebanon near midnight, but just before the start of Israel's 48-hour suspension of aerial bombardments, the Israeli military said.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the aerial cease-fire announced by Israel Sunday was set to begin "around midnight" local time.

A Lebanese army official said the airstrike hit Beirut-Damascus road about 200 yards from the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing. The official said there were no immediate reports of casualties but the road was heavily damaged. (Posted 12:31 a.m.)

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