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Tuesday, October 31

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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.

Palestinian sources: Israel moves into Gaza, at least 6 dead

(CNN) -- At least six Palestinians were killed and at least 30 were injured early Wednesday in an armed clash with Israeli forces conducting a military operation inside Palestinian-controlled Gaza, Palestinian security sources told CNN.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said a ground operation was underway in northern Gaza and that the IDF has launched two aerial attacks -- one on an armed gunman and a second on a group of armed gunmen "who were planting an explosive against IDF forces operating in the area."

The clash took place in the border village of Beit Hanoun, in an area Palestinian militants had recently been using to launch rockets into Israel. The incursion began about 2:15 a.m. (7:15 p.m. Tuesday ET.)

The IDF spokesman confirmed that militants had been shooting rockets into Israel on "almost a daily basis." (Posted 2:30 a.m.)

'Person of interest' arrested in wildfire arson investigation

(CNN) -- The Riverside County Sheriff's Department said it has arrested a "person of interest" in a deadly Southern California wildfire that killed a five-man U.S. Forest Service crew.

Raymond Lee Oyler, 37, a resident of Beaumont, Calif., was charged on Tuesday afternoon with "two counts of arson in wild land fires" from a June 2006 wildfire in the Banning Pass area, a sheriff's department statement said.

"Oyler is not a suspect in the 'Esperanza Fire,' but is a person of interest," the statement said. "Investigators interviewed the suspect on Friday, October 27, 2006, and a search warrant was served on his residence on Monday, October 30, 2006."

The 40,200-acre Esperanza Fire was 100 percent contained as of Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. All evacuation orders were canceled and 300 firefighters were sent home, leaving about 1,700 on the scene. (Posted 1 a.m.)

Firefighter injured in wildfire dies

(CNN) -- A firefighter who was the lone survivor of his five-man U.S. Forest Service crew when they were overtaken by flames while fighting a Southern California wildfire last week has died, said Jeanne Wade Evans, forest supervisor for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Pablo Cerda, 23, died at 5:08 p.m., Evans said. "Today, more sadness is added to our almost unbearable grief," she said.

Cerda had been in critical condition since the incident Thursday. Doctors said he suffered burns over 90 percent of his body.

Cerda's crew, U.S. Forest Service Crew 57, was fighting the Esperanza fire, which began Thursday near Cabazon, Calif., west of Palm Springs, and spread quickly to the south and west. Four of the firefighters died when the wind shifted suddenly as they were trying to protect a house. The 40,200-acre fire was 100 percent contained as of Monday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

All five firefighters will be honored at a memorial service Sunday, Evans said. (Posted 10:52 p.m.)

'Sopranos' ad in N.J. Senate race linked to Swift Boat backer

(CNN) -- A controversial independent political ad run in the New Jersey Senate race that offended some Italian-Americans has been linked to a wealthy Houston builder who also helped bankroll ads by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth that helped sink Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

Federal Election Commission filings show that Bob Perry has contributed $1 million to the Free Enterprise Fund Committee, an independent group that has run ads attacking Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who is in a tough election battle with Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr.

The anti-Menendez ad at the center of the controversy is a takeoff on the HBO television series "The Sopranos," in which a mobster making a phone call to a shady associate uses the phrase "bada bing" and talks about a federal investigation into a property rental arrangement the senator had with a non-profit group. Menendez has denied any wrongdoing.

Italian-American groups denounced the ad, charging that it played on stereotypes of the criminality of people of Italian heritage. -- CNN's Allan Chernoff contributed to this report. (Posted 9:10 p.m.)

800 observers and monitors to safeguard voters' rights

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department plans to dispatch more than 800 federal observers and monitors to 20 states to protect voting rights in potentially heated environments in crucial polling locations, officials announced Tuesday.

That represents a record number of federal officials watching polling stations in an off-year election.

"Yes, the anticipated closeness of races is one factor in our decisions about where we'll be sending people," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Wan Kim. Kim said he would not identify until Monday the more than 65 cities and counties to which the observers will be sent. -- From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 8:45 p.m.)

North Korea to return to multilateral negotiations

BEIJING (CNN) -- After walking away from the negotiating table nearly a year ago, North Korea on Tuesday agreed to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program. Those talks could resume before the end of the year.

A spokesman for North Korea's foreign ministry, quoted by the state-run KCNA news agency, said Wednesday in a written statement that North Korea's move represented "a self-defensive counter-measure against the U.S. daily increasing nuclear threat and financial sanctions against it."

He noted that the discussions about resuming negotiations sometimes included direct talks between the United States and North Korea. North Korea has long pushed for discussions about its nuclear program to be between only itself and the United States, a request the Bush administration has declined.

The statement said North Korea -- also called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- "decided to return to the six-party talks on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the DPRK and the U.S. within the framework of the six-party talks." (Posted 8:24 p.m.)

Planes bump on runway at Newark airport

CNN) -- A commercial plane with more than 300 people on board bumped an empty plane Tuesday on a runway at Newark Liberty International Airport.

A tip of the wing of Lufthansa Flight LH403, headed to Frankfurt, Germany, brushed the right winglet of a second plane, said Lufthansa spokeswoman Jennifer Urbaniak. A wing on the Lufthansa Boeing 747 was damaged, she said.

In a statement, Lufthansa said there were 291 passengers, three infants and 17 crew members on board. No injuries were reported. The passengers were taken off the plane. The flight was canceled, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The second plane was an empty Continental Airlines Boeing 757, which was being relocated to a remote overnight parking spot "and was in a stationary position" when the contact occurred, the airline said in a statement. It "was apparently brushed by a taxiing Lufthansa 747 aircraft," Continental said. "It appears that the 747's left wing brushed the 757's right wing." (Posted 8:40 p.m.)

Feds drop multi-million-dollar claim against Chevron

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Interior Department has decided to drop claims against Chevron Corporation potentially worth millions of dollars in royalties after learning that an internal appeals board ruled against the department in a similar case, the government said Tuesday.

The decision could make it easier for other energy companies to avoid paying the government millions of dollars in royalties for the use of federal property. The agency, prior to dropping its claim, had argued that Chevron systematically underpaid the government for natural gas produced at a handful of plants in the Gulf of Mexico, and ordered Chevron to pay $6 million in additional royalties.

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), which oversees offshore oil and gas drilling, said that Chevron had understated sales to Dynegy, a gas processing company in which Chevron owns a 26-percent stake. -- From CNN's Zak Sos (Posted 7:33 p.m.)

Judge will allow challenge of immigration law to proceed

HAZLETON, Pa. (CNN) -- The day before tough new immigration laws were set to take effect in Hazleton, Pa., a federal judge agreed Tuesday to allow a legal challenge to the measures to proceed, putting the laws on hold.

Hazleton intended to start Nov. 1 registering anyone who rents in the city. But that plan was blocked by U.S District Judge James Munley, who granted a 10-day restraining order against enforcement of the law. Also on hold is a related ordinance that would have allowed Hazleton to suspend the business license of companies hiring illegal immigrants and impose a $1,000 fine on landlords who rent to them.

The ruling was a victory for the ACLU and Hispanic organizations, which filed suit Monday challenging the measures. Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta said neither side shows any sign of giving up. -- CNN's Lisa Sylvester contributed to this report. (Posted 7:23 p.m.)

Nasrallah: Negotiations under way on prisoner exchange with Israel

(CNN) -- The process of exchanging prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah has begun with "very serious and very extensive" negotiations currently under way, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview airing Tuesday on the militant group's al-Manar television network.

An envoy from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has met with a Hezbollah committee, Nasrallah said, "and they are at the level of exchanging ideas and conditions. ... The process has started." The envoy is also communicating with Israel, he said.

On July 12, Hezbollah abducted Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, spurring an Israeli military response and touching off a monthlong war. Hezbollah has demanded the release of Arab prisoners from Israeli jails, a condition Israel has repeatedly rejected. --CNN's Octavia Nasr contributed to this report. (Posted 6:28 p.m.)

NTSB cites pilot irresponsibility in 2005 N.J. airport accident

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An accident in which a jet crashed through an airport perimeter fence and struck a vehicle on a six-lane highway at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport last year was caused by the pilot and crew's improper loading of the plane, according to a report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday.

Fourteen people -- including the plane's pilots, passengers and crew, and the occupants of the vehicle and building struck by the plane -- were injured when the Bombardier Challenger CL-600 jet ran off the end of the runway while attempting to take off Feb. 2, 2005.

At the time of the accident, the jet, operated by Platinum Jet Management, had a center of gravity well forward of the forward take-off limit, the report said. That made it aerodynamically impossible for it to climb. --From CNN's Mythili Rao in New York (Posted 6:14 p.m.)

Bush, Kerry each demand the other apologize to the military

(CNN) -- A fingerpointing fandango ignited Monday by a "botched" comment from Sen. John Kerry wound up Tuesday with President Bush and his former political nemesis each demanding the other apologize to the nation's military.

The brouhaha began Monday, when Kerry told students at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif., "You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry's remark elicited demands for apologies from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and others.

But a Kerry aide told CNN Tuesday that the senator "mangled" his prepared statement, in which he had intended to criticize not the military but the president. "I can't overstress the importance of a great education," the aide said Kerry had planned to say. "Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq."

That explanation was ignored by the commander-in-chief. In a statement to be delivered Tuesday afternoon at a campaign stop in Perry, Ga., Bush will call Kerry's comments "insulting and shameful," and will say the Democrat from Massachusetts owes an apology to the U.S. military, the White House said. (Posted 5:09 p.m.)

CDC investigating salmonella outbreak

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leading the investigation of a salmonella outbreak across 18 states, a CDC spokeswoman told CNN Tuesday.

The outbreak has sickened 171 people, with 11 of those hospitalized, said CDC spokeswoman Courtney Bolen. No deaths have been reported, she said.

Most of the cases are in adults, and more than 60 percent are women, she said.

The cases have so far shown up in Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. (Posted 3:17 p.m.)

Justices at odds over handling jury's $79 million award against tobacco company

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A puzzled Supreme Court wrestled Tuesday over how to treat an Oregon jury's $79.5 million punitive damage award against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, with company lawyers arguing the family of a longtime smoker deserves only compensation based on individual harm, not harm to the public at large.

At issue is the discretionary power of juries to impose large damages against tobacco and other well-heeled corporations in product-liability cases.

An Oregon jury ruled in favor of the estate of building custodian Jesse Williams, who had smoked cigarettes for 47 years -- up to three-packs a day -- and died of lung cancer in 1997. His widow, Mayola -- who appeared at the high court with her family -- sued Philip Morris, manufacturer of the popular Marlboro brand. The company is now part of the Altria Group.

A majority of the justices appeared ready to throw the case back to state courts for a second time, without issuing a ruling on the merits. Several appeared torn over whether the Williams case followed recent high court precedent that punitive damages should in most cases be limited to "reasonable" harm suffered by the plaintiff, and that defendants cannot be punished for harm done to others, when only one person was suing. --From CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears (Posted 2:30 p.m.)

Checkpoints around Sadr City opening, but not dismantled

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Toughly manned U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints set up around Baghdad's Sadr City during a weeklong search for a missing American soldier were being opened Tuesday, after a general strike prompted Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to order their removal.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, spokesman for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, told CNN the opening of the checkpoints started in eastern Baghdad during the afternoon hours. He emphasized, however, that the checkpoints were not being dismantled.

He said instructions were received along the chain of command to open up the checkpoints along Army Canal -- which leads into eastern Baghdad, including the Sadr City area. The status of each individual checkpoint is unclear.

Presently, coalition and Iraqi forces maintain a presence in the area, but traffic is no longer being stopped and checked, said Withington. Cars and pedestrians are allowed to pass through freely. (Posted 2:19 p.m.)

Halloween increasingly becoming big retail money-maker

NEW YORK (CNN) -- America's spookiest holiday doesn't seem to scare consumers, who are expected to shell out approximately $4.96 billion this Halloween, an increase of $1.67 billion from one year ago, according to the National Retail Federation Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch.

Each Halloween celebrant is expected to spend nearly $60 on Halloween, up more than $10 from 2005, the survey says. Nearly all consumers, or about 95 percent, will be buying Halloween candy, with the average consumer spending $18.72 on sweet treats.

Approximately 1,756 U.S. manufacturers shipped out $19.7 billion's worth of candy products in 2004, the most recent data available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. --From CNN's Katy Byron (Posted 2:11 p.m.)

5 killed in attacks, 5 bodies found in Diyala province

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Five people were killed in attacks and five bullet-riddled bodies were discovered Tuesday in restive Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

Police in Baquba said the five bodies, found in Abu Sayda, were those of two brothers and three cousins from a Shiite tribe.

In the attacks, three people were killed by gunmen in three incidents in the provincial capital of Baquba, and a man and his sister walking down the street were shot dead by gunmen in Khan Bani Saad. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 12:36 p.m.)

Kerry 'stuck in Iraq' remarks make red-staters blue with anger

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry -- the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 and a Vietnam veteran -- has found himself in a campaign-season quagmire after warning students they'll get "stuck in Iraq" if they don't work hard at school.

The comment -- which is being played on YouTube, whose clip is linked off the Drudge Report -- has touched a nerve across the country among Bush administration supporters and others who are supportive of troops.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Kerry should "apologize to American troops."

Kerry, in turn, slammed the criticism from the White House and Republican supporters, saying "if anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy."

Speaking at Pasadena City College in California on Monday, Kerry said, "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Asked about Kerry's remark at the daily press briefing, Snow said he regarded the remark as an affront and noted that the people who have volunteered for a "dangerous" but "important" mission are "America's finest."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- a veteran and former prisoner of war -- also issued a condemnation of the remark and called for an apology. (Posted 12:25 p.m.)

Boeing 757 lands on taxiway at N.J. airport; investigation under way

NEWARK, N.J. (CNN) -- A Boeing 757-200, Continental Flight 1883, landed on a narrow taxiway instead of the runway it was supposed to use at New Jersey's Newark Airport Saturday evening, according to Jim Peters, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

There were no injuries and no damage to the aircraft, Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark told CNN.

"The pilots have been temporarily removed from flying duty and they are assisting in analyzing the incident," she said.

The FAA is overseeing an investigation "to ensure that this kind of incident does not take place again," Peters said. --From CNN's Catherine Clifford in New York (Posted 12:14 p.m.)

2 people questioned in connection with deadly Esperanza Fire

BEAUMONT, Calif. (CNN) -- Two people have been questioned and released in connection with the arson that investigators believe sparked the huge Esperanza Fire that left four firefighters dead, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department confirmed Tuesday.

Sheriff's spokesman Earl Quinata said the two "persons of interest" were brought in Monday, questioned and released.

Other people have been called in and questioned in the past few days as well, based on tips from the public, Quinata said.

No one has been arrested in connection with the arson and authorities urge people to continue calling the tip line with any information they may have, he said.

As of Monday night, the 40,200-acre fire was 100 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Web site. (Posted 10:41 a.m.)

Consumer confidence slips

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Lower energy prices weren't enough to lift consumer confidence in October, a business research group reported Tuesday.

The Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence index fell to 105.4 from a revised 105.9 in September. Confidence is closely watched since it tends to affect consumer spending, which in turn fuels about 70 percent of the nation's economy.

The research group said the survey found a mixed assessment of present-day business conditions and a less favorable view of the job market. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast the index would rise to 107.8. (Posted 10:37 a.m.)

NASA gives green light for Hubble servicing mission

GREENBELT, Md. (CNN) -- NASA will proceed with a shuttle Discovery mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope -- which has dazzled scientists by turning out stunning images of the universe.

"We are going to add a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble space telescope to the shuttle's manifest, to be flown before it retires," Administrator Michael Griffin announced Tuesday, to loud applause.

It will be the final repair mission for Hubble, which was launched in 1990 as the first orbiting telescope ever deployed.

A servicing mission was called off after the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry into the atmosphere, killing the seven-member crew.

"I would not sign up to something that could not succeed, and succeed safely," Griffin said of the Hubble flight, which may occur in 2008. "The safety of this crew on this mission will be as much as we can possibly do." (Posted 10:31 a.m.)

22 killed in Baghdad violence, including 15 in car bomb near wedding party convoy

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- At least 22 people were killed on Tuesday in several Baghdad attacks, including 15 in a strike near a wedding party convoy.

Police said a car bomb exploded near the convoy in Ur, a neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad. Fifteen people died and 19 others were wounded in the incident, which took place around 5 p.m. Among those dead were women and children.

Investigators want to know whether the strike targeted the wedding party.

Police listed other incidents:

-- A car bomb exploded in a busy section of eastern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 10 others.

-- Gunmen stormed a flat and killed three members of a family -- a man, a woman, and their daughter -- in the southern neighborhood of Dora.

-- A roadside bomb struck a police patrol in Dora, killing a police officer and wounding three other members of the patrol.

On Monday, police recovered 10 bullet-riddled bodies in various Baghdad neighborhoods. Police could not immediately identify the bodies. The deaths are typically attributed to sectarian violence. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 10 a,m,)

Saddam Hussein's Anfal trial adjourned until Nov. 7

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein's genocide trial has adjourned for a week.

Judges adjourned the proceeding to Nov. 7 after five witnesses testified at the trial involving the Anfal campaign -- the government's notorious military operation in the country's Kurdish region in 1988.

Hussein, the former Iraqi president, and six co-defendants face war crimes and crimes against humanity counts.

Hussein and another of the defendants, Ali Hassan al-Majid, or Chemical Ali, have been charged with genocide. (Posted 8:55 a.m.)

Court rules Spain train bombing case is ready for trial

MADRID (CNN) - A Spanish court Tuesday ruled that the investigative phase of the Madrid train bombings of 2004 has concluded, and that the case is ready for trial against 29 defendants, although the court did not immediately set a trial date.

A three-judge panel at the National Court - where the case is expected to be heard early next year - said it had considered and rejected numerous pre-trial appeals and motions from lawyers representing the train bomb victims or the 29 defendants, according to a copy of the 11-page court order issued Tuesday and viewed by CNN.

Islamic terrorists are suspected in the March 11, 2004 coordinated bombings against four Madrid morning commuter trains that killed 191 people and wounded 1,755 others. --From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman (Posted 8:29 a.m.)

Chinese FM: North Korea will return to multilateral negotiations

BEIJING (CNN) -- After walking away from the negotiating table nearly a year ago, North Korea Tuesday agreed to rejoin six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program.

The agreement was reached during informal talks in Beijing between North Korea, China and the United States. China's Foreign Ministry said the talks will be held "soon."

The other parties -- South Korea, Russia and Japan -- welcomed the development.

Washington hopes the talks will resume before the end of the year, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told CNN. In the meantime, U.N. sanctions will remain in place.

It is unclear why Pyongyang has changed its opposition to the six-party talks, which it abandoned a year ago in protest over U.S. economic sanctions. McCormack said Pyongyang most likely succumbed to international pressure.(Posted 8:02 a.m.)

3 U.S. troops killed Monday, bringing monthly death toll to 103

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Baghdad area Monday, bringing the American troop death toll in October to 103 -- the fourth highest monthly figure since the Iraq war began more than three-and-a-half years ago.

The U.S. military said a soldier died in western Baghdad when he was hit by small-arms fire while conducting combat operations,

Another soldier was killed when a vehicle in which he was riding was struck by an improvised explosive device south of Baghdad, the military said.

Both soldiers were from Multi-National Division - Baghdad.

A soldier assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade was shot dead by a sniper in eastern Baghdad, the military said.

Since the start of fighting in March 2003, there have been 2,816 U.S. military fatalities.(Posted 8 a.m.)

Strike shuts down Sadr City

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Most shops, schools and government buildings in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood were closed Tuesday, after the office of radical Shiite cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called for a general strike, witnesses told CNN.

"The Sadr office has called for all government employees to stay at home and shops to close in protest at the U.S. siege of Sadr City," said Mohammed al-Kaabi, a spokesman for al-Sadr.

For the last week, U.S. and Iraqi troops have imposed checkpoints at the main entrance to Sadr City, while conducting raids in their search for an American soldier, who was kidnapped in central Baghdad on Oct. 23. (Posted 5:15 a.m.)

U.S. considering increasing Iraqi troops levels, as well as U.S. trainers

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is considering a number of proposals from U.S. commanders in Iraq to increase the overall goal for the total number of Iraqi security forces -- a tacit recognition that more Iraq force will be needed before significant reductions can be made in U.S. troop levels.

According to a Pentagon official, the proposal calls for a "modest increase" in the goal of 325-thousand trained and equipped Iraqi army and police forces. Such a change could require additional U.S. military trainers.

But the official said the increase in U.S. trainers would not affect overall troop levels in Iraq, which vary between 140,000 and 150,000 troops depending on routine force rotations.

Pentagon and military officials said a number reported by CBS news Monday of "up to 100,000" additional Iraqi forces is way too high.

One official suggested a 10-percent increase might be in the works, something on the order of 30,000 additional Iraqi forces. (Posted 11:40 a.m.)


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