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Wednesday, April 11

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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 Time.

Author Vonnegut dies in New York

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Kurt Vonnegut, author of such literary classics as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died in a New York hospital Wednesday night, his wife, photographer Jill Krementz told CNN. He was 84.

According to Krementz, she was holding her husband's hand when died at 9:45 p.m. in Mount Sinai Hospital.

Vonnegut had been hospitalized for several weeks after suffering brain injuries following a fall at his Manhattan home.

Memorial donations can be made to the Turtle Bay Association, a group dedicated to the East Side Manhattan neighborhood Vonnegut loved. (Posted 2:20 a.m.)

Baghdad bridge bombing kills 10, hurts 26

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A suicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in northern Baghdad Thursday morning, sending cars into the Tigris River and killing at least 10 people and wounding 26 others, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

Video of the scene showed two large sections in the middle of al-Sarafiya bridge collapsed into the river.

The al-Sarafiya bridge connected the predominantly Sunni Adhamiya neighborhood and Bab al-Muadham, a mixed district.

The iron bridge, one of Baghdad's oldest, was built by British forces in 1946. (Posted 1:40 a.m.)

2 Canadian soldiers killed, 2 wounded in roadside bombing

OTTAWA (CNN) -- Two Canadian soldiers were killed and two others were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in southern Afghanistan Wednesday evening, a statement from the Canadian military said.

The attack took place about 25 miles (38 km) west of Kandahar as the soldiers were assisting another military vehicle that had been hit by a roadside bomb earlier in the day.

Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, Canadian forces have suffered 53 fatalities. (Posted 1:15 a.m.)

Space station crew prepares for a change-out, ponders shuttle delays

(CNN) -- A day after NASA announced another launch delay for the shuttle Atlantis on the next assembly mission to the International Space Station, astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station continued the business of switching out crews.

Two fresh crew members, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov, along with space tourist Charles Simonyi, arrived at the station Monday in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. They are taking over from current crew members Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who will return to earth along with Simonyi next week.

Lopez-Alegria readily admitted that the delays of the sort that have set back Atlantis, which was damaged on the launch pad by a hail storm in February, will make it difficult for NASA to finish building the station by the time the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

"I think there is no question it is going to be tight," he said in an interview with CNN Wednesday evening. "We can see what a freak hail storm can do to us, and I'm sure nature has a lot of other tricks that it could play on us, and as well as technical problems that could arise. But we sort of know that challenge and all we can do is put our cards on the table and try to press forward. I think we still have a plan that has a little bit of margin in it, and we'll just see how things go." -- From CNN's Kate Tobin (Posted 10:30 p.m.)

McConnell unveils new intelligence plan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell announced a new 100-day plan on Wednesday intended to enhance the intelligence community's capability to protect the U.S. from another terrorist attack.

The proposal includes steps to improve collaboration and increase information sharing among the 16 intelligence agencies; aggressively recruit and retain first-generation Americans with language and cultural skills from key regions such as the Middle East and Southwest Asia; reduce the time it takes to complete security clearances; and increase the acquisition of cutting-edge technology.

McConnell said he would seek additional legislation through Congress if needed, but he thinks most of the changes can be done internally through directives or executive orders.

-- From CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson (Posted 6:52 p.m.)

MSNBC pulls plug on Imus simulcast

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The cable network MSNBC announced Wednesday that it is canceling its simulcast of Don Imus' radio show, in the wake of racially charged remarks by the shock jock that prompted a number of advertisers to drop the program. (Posted 6:30 p.m.)

Senate votes to loosen stem-cell research rules; bill faces veto

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate approved a measure that would roll back President Bush's 2001 limits on embryonic stem-cell research Wednesday afternoon, but the 63-34 margin was short of the two-thirds needed to override a threatened veto. (Posted 6:25 p.m.)

White House considers shake-up in war oversight

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is considering reorganizing the National Security Council to bring in a "higher profile" person to oversee war policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, although no final decision has been made and no one has been offered the job, a White House spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The changes being considered at the NSC are being prompted by the impending departure of Deputy National Security Adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, who has been the point person for the administration's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House wants to create a new coordinator for war policy, with the power to issue instructions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies -- an authority O'Sullivan does not currently have.

Democrats immediately pounced on the idea that President Bush would appoint what was quickly dubbed as a "war czar," after nearly six years of conflict in Afghanistan and four years in Iraq. --From CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry (Posted 6:11 p.m.)

Exonerated Duke players: 'We are just as innocent today as we were back then'

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNN) -- Three former Duke University lacrosse players, declared innocent on Wednesday as authorities dropped sexual assault charges against them, said the past year has been "a nightmare."

But the young men spoke of their hopes of moving forward with their lives -- and making sure no one else goes through a similar experience.

"It's been 395 days since this nightmare began," Dave Evans told a phalanx of reporters. "And finally, today, it's come to a closure.

"We are just as innocent today as we were back then," he said. "We have never wavered in our story." (Posted 6:04 p.m.)

Senate Dems invite Bush to the Hill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying they are "disappointed" with President Bush's renewed veto threat on the Iraq war supplemental, Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday invited the president to Capitol Hill at the end of the week to discuss the measure.

"We respectfully request that you consider coming to Capitol Hill this Friday to meet with Democratic and Republican members of the United States Senate in an effort to begin bridging the differences between your Iraq policy and that supported by the Congress late last month," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote in a letter to Bush.

The letter was also signed by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer of New York, and Majority Conference Secretary Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. -- From CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney (Posted 5:43 p.m.)

Sen. Thompson's lymphoma slow-growing, in remission, doctor says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A doctor for former Sen. Fred Thompson announced Wednesday that the possible presidential candidate was diagnosed in 2004 with a form of lymphoma -- a cancer that begins in cells of the immune system -- and that it is currently in remission.

"Right now, he has no evidence of disease," said Dr. Bruce D. Cheson, head of hematology in the division of hematology/oncology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. Many such patients "can live a normal lifespan," he said.

Cheson described his 64-year-old patient's disease as an "indolent lymphoma -- slow growing."

Patients with this form of disease "can live a normal, productive life, often dying from unrelated causes," Cheson said. He described Thompson's prognosis as "very favorable." (Posted 4:46 p.m.)

Israeli combat jets sent to intercept 'unidentified' plane

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israeli Air Force Wednesday dispatched four combat jets to intercept an unidentified plane that had entered Israeli airspace, an Israeli military spokesman said.

The plane "did not properly contact Israeli authorities" upon entering the country's airspace, the spokesman told CNN.

The plane was intercepted about 40 miles off the coast of Israel, and was identified as a civilian passenger jet, the spokesman said. At that point, the passenger airliner's pilot contacted Israeli aviation authorities as required.

The Jerusalem Post identified the civilian aircraft as a Continental Airlines flight from New York carrying about 300 passengers. The paper said the pilot of the Boeing 777 had contacted Ben Gurion airport from about 200 miles out but contact was lost. (Posted 4:09 p.m.)

Gates to OK 15-month Iraq tours for Army

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon will extend the tours of duty for members of the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 months to 15, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday, but he said the service will guarantee soldiers a year at home after deployment.

The new policy comes as the Pentagon looks for ways to maintain the current force of about 160,000 troops during a push to pacify the country, without relying on piecemeal extensions and early deployments as it has in the past.

"What we're trying to do here is provide some long-term predictability to our soldiers and their families," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.

In exchange for the extension, Gates said the service will be able to give all units a year at home between deployments.

He denied the order was a sign that the Army has passed its breaking point under the stresses of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying the service has met or passed its recruiting and retention goals. But he added that the military has been "stretched" by the conflicts. --From CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr (Posted 3:36 p.m.)

North Carolina drops charges against 3 Duke lacrosse players

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNN) -- North Carolina's attorney general said Wednesday the three former Duke University lacrosse players who faced sexual assault charges are 'innocent' and there is no credible evidence to support the accusations.

In light of that, Attorney General Roy Cooper told reporters, the state is dismissing all charges.

Reade Seligmann, David Evans and Collin Finnerty were accused of sexually assaulting an escort-service dancer at a party in March last year. They had been charged with first-degree kidnapping and first-degree sexual offense. A charge of first-degree forcible rape was dropped in December. (Posted 3:02 p.m.)

Restrictions on movement easing a bit in Iraqi city where coalition, Iraqi forces are fighting militias

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Diwaniya -- the southern Iraqi city where coalition and Iraqi troops have been fighting Shiite militias in an operation that began last Friday -- will get a bit of a respite: an easing on a stiff cordon around the city, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

"Four bridges will be opened to help ease the restrictions on movement into and out of the city," the military said, adding that "this will allow humanitarian aid, food and other needed supplies to reach the people affected by the recent militia violence."

Iraqi and coalition forces last week launched Operation Black Eagle in Diwaniya, the seat of Qadisiya province -- a predominantly Shiite region that had been wracked with what a local official said were "murders and assassinations causing instability."

An 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew remains in effect, as does a city-wide cordon with checkpoints. Some areas of the city will remain closed, but "residents are free to go about their daily activities" during daytime hours. (Posted 2:07 p.m.)

McCain says Democrats accepting defeat in Iraq

LEXINGTON, Va. (CNN) -- Republican presidential hopeful John McCain lashed out Tuesday at Democratic demands for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, accusing party leaders of seeking political advantage in an American defeat.

The Arizona senator, who made a highly publicized trip to Iraq two weeks ago, told cadets at Virginia Military Institute that Democratic leaders in Congress voted to begin pulling U.S. troops from Iraq in "giddy anticipation of the next election."

"Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission," he said. "Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering."

Both the House and Senate have passed a $123 billion war-spending bill that President Bush has requested, but with demands that American combat troops leave Iraq in 2008. Bush has threatened to veto the bill; Democrats say they are reflecting the views of the American people, who polls indicate have tired of the 4-year-old war. (Posted 1:49 p.m.)

CBS board member says Imus should be fired for remarks about Rutgers women's basketball team

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A member of the CBS board who is also a former president of the NAACP said Wednesday he believes radio shock-jock Don Imus should be fired for his racial and sexual slur on the players of Rutgers women's basketball team last week.

"As an African-American, I believe that Imus has crossed the line, a very bright line that divides our country," said Bruce Gordon. "His remarks are so significant that I believe that the right outcome is for him to be terminated."

But speaking as a member of the CBS board, Gordon said he feels that the two-week suspension levied against Imus by CBS Radio is the "right step" for now.

"It affords management the opportunity to do due diligence and evaluate what this means to the company, the brand and what it stands for. Once due diligence is completed, it is my belief that the facts should determine that he should be terminated," he explained.

Gordon served as president and CEO of the NAACP from 2005 until March of this year. (Posted 1:26 p.m.)

Congressional investigators question Justice Dept. aide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Staff from the Senate and House judiciary committees Wednesday are interviewing another Justice Department official as part of their probes into the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys last year.

They are questioning, behind closed doors, Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer.

Mercer was one of the Justice Department officials involved in discussions at the department regarding the record of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego on prosecuting immigration cases. Lam, one of the fired prosecutors, was repeatedly criticized in internal memos about the poor performance on that issue, although she was not directly confronted about it.

Other Justice Department aides are expected to be on the hot seat later this week. Former Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee March 29, is expected to be deposed Friday to ensure all remaining questions are answered prior to the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales next Tuesday before the Senate panel, a source close to Sampson confirms to CNN. Sampson and Gonzales have offered differing accounts of how involved the attorney general was in the process of firing the prosecutors. --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 12:47 p.m.)

Rutgers player: Imus stole their moment

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CNN) -- Radio shock-jock Don Imus' racial and sexual slur on the players of Rutgers women's basketball team last week not only angered the team members and hurt their feelings, it dimmed the joy of their second place finish in the NCAA women's basketball final, they said.

"He just stole the whole moment," team captain Essence Carson said on CNN's "American Morning" Wednesday. "Now we have all the media attention focusing on something that's so negative."

"After ... returning home from Cleveland, we expected a warm welcome from the many fans that have followed us through the entire season. We got that warm welcome for about a couple seconds before we were, as a team, informed about his remarks," Carson explained.

Team members and their parents plan to hold a private meeting with Imus later this week to hear in person the apologies he has been publicly proclaiming for several days. (Posted 12:17 p.m.)

IRNA report: Iranian government report says freed diplomat was tortured by U.S. troops

TEHRAN (CNN) -- Iran's Foreign Ministry claims that an Iranian diplomat who had been abducted in Iraq "was tortured by American troops," Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday.

The diplomat is Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of Iran's embassy in Iraq. Sharafi was taken by unidentified gunmen Feb. 4 in front of a branch of the Iranian state-owned Bank Melli in central Baghdad's Karrada district. He was freed last week.

The claim that U.S. personnel tortured him was made in a report released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Information and Press Department, the IRNA report said.

The IRNA report said the torture of Sharafi was "confirmed based on evidence on Tuesday" when Sharafi "was visited" at a Tehran hospital by an International Committee of the Red Cross representative and the Iraqi ambassador to Iran.

Asked for a response to the story, U.S. military on Wednesday replied with the transcript of a press conference on Feb. 9, in which Gen. George Casey, the former Multi-National Force-Iraq commander, said, "Multi-National Force-Iraq had no involvement in his kidnapping or any aspect of his being held." (Posted 12:06 p.m.)

With frozen funds thawed, U.S. watching for N. Korea action on nuclear reactor

(CNN) -- North Korea has gained access to $25 million in once-frozen funds it sought as part of a deal to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and the United States will assess the status of the agreement on Saturday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday.

North Korea offered in February to begin shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor once it received the money from the account. It was frozen at the Banco Delta Asia in Macau at the request of the United States in late 2005. The United States claimed some of the money came from illegal activities.

The deal -- announced in February following six-party talks involving United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia -- requires North Korea to disarm its nuclear facilities in return for energy, economic aid and humanitarian aid.

The United States had told North Korea that the Department of Treasury would resolve the financial sanctions issue in 30 days from Feb. 13, but it's taken twice as long. North Korea said once the money was released, it would close the nuclear plant in another 30 days. (Posted 12:04 p.m.)

Dual bomb attack rocks North African Algerian capital

(CNN) -- Bomb attacks hit the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station in the northern African city of Algiers Wednesday, killing at least 24 people and wounding 222, the state-run news agency Algerie Presse Service reported.

Al-Jazeera television reported that a telephone caller claiming to represent al Qaeda in the Maghreb (North Africa) said it was responsible for both bombings.

A short time later, an Islamist Web site that has carried statements and videos from al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations posted a claim that described three attacks allegedly carried out by "three martyrdom seekers of the Lions of Islam" -- members of al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The posting included details and pictures about the alleged suicide bombers. .

Algeria's prime minster was not hurt, but 12 people were killed and 118 were wounded when a bomb exploded outside the government palace in downtown Algiers, APS reported, citing civil defense reports.

Another bomb exploded at a police station east of the city in Bab Ezzouar, killing at least 11 and wounding 44. (Posted 12:04 p.m.)

Real estate group sees 0.7% drop in prices this year, first annual decline in nearly 40 years of tracking

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday it expects its measure of home prices to fall this year for the first time since the group began tracking sales nearly 40 years ago.

In its latest monthly forecast, the group said it expects a 0.7 percent decline in the median price of an existing home sold this year. A month ago it had been projecting a 1.2 percent increase. Median is the point at which half the homes sell for more and half sell for less.

The Realtors said the problems in the subprime mortgage market had led it to cut its forecast. It said problems of some potential buyers getting financing has cut its expectation of existing home sales this year by 100,000 homes to 6.34 million. (Posted 11:23 p.m.)

Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson diagnosed with lymphoma

(CNN) -- Fred Thompson, the former Republican senator from Tennessee who has said he might enter the 2008 presidential race, has been diagnosed with lymphoma, but it is treatable, according to a source close to him.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer involving cells of the immune system.

The source is familiar with Thompson's deliberations on whether to jump into the 2008 presidential race, and told CNN's Candy Crowley that Thompson has been discussing his illness privately "for some time."

Asked what this might do to a possible presidential bid, the source said, "This disclosure should indicate to everyone interested in seeing Fred enter the race for the White House how serious he is taking the next steps toward launching a campaign."

Thompson has played the role as gruff district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's three "Law and Order" series. (Posted 10:15 a.m.)

Al-Sadr movement ponders removal of government ministers over PM's stance on withdrawal timetable

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement is pondering the removal of its ministers from government because of the prime minister's recent comments indicating he opposes a coalition troop withdrawal timetable.

Abdulmahdi al-Okaili, an al-Sadr political committee spokesman, told CNN that the bloc is studying a proper response to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's statement in Japan that a timetable should not dictate the withdrawal of international troops from the country.

Al-Okaili said such an issue would be the concern of the parliament and not its executive branch. The committee spokesman said it is possible that the group could withdraw its six ministers from government. The movement controls the ministries of Health, Agriculture, Province Affairs, Transportation, Tourism, and Civil Society Organizations.

Al-Sadr, widely popular in Iraq's Shiite heartland, opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq and his Mehdi Army militia has fought coalition and Iraqi forces during the war. Many opponents of the occupation have demanded a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal and the issue is being debated heatedly in the United States. (Posted 10:11 a.m.)

Attorney general to announce decision in Duke lacrosse case

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNN) -- The state attorney general will announce his decision Wednesday in the case of the Duke lacrosse players charged with a sexual offense and kidnapping, his office announced.

Attorney General Roy Cooper will hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. ET to make public his decision about the case after a thorough review of it in his special prosecutions division, the statement said.

Three lacrosse players faced charges of kidnapping and sexual offense stemming from allegations by a dancer hired to perform at an off-campus party in March of 2006.(Posted 9:40 a.m.)

U.S. asserts Iran training Iraqi extremists, providing support to Sunni groups

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday that Iran is training Iraqi extremists on how to assemble weapons, and that intelligence agents from the Shiite nation are providing "some support" to some Sunni groups.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, speaking to reporters in a news conference, also said that two militants recently detained said they had received training in Syria.

The Bush administration has had growing concerns over the involvement of Iran and Syria in the Iraqi war. The U.S. military has long stated that weapons and parts for them found and being used in Iraq have their roots in Iran.

The U.S. military has charged that armor-piercing roadside bombs called explosively-formed penetrators, or EFPs, have been supplied to Iraqi extremists by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Quds force. Caldwell said extremists are getting training on how to "assemble and employ EFPs."

He said the training inside Iran has been for Shiite extremists, and Caldwell emphasized the use of such weapons requires "very skilled training."

Caldwell didn't say what kind of support Sunni extremists might be receiving from Iranian intelligence agents, but this is a significant development because Shiites and Sunnis are locked in sectarian battle throughout Iraq. (Posted 9:29 a.m.)

South of Baghdad, troops arrest key militant, complete thrust against militants

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Coalition forces early Wednesday arrested a top militant leader of a region south of Baghdad -- a day after troops completed a five-day operation there targeting car bombing networks, the U.S. military said. It did not identify the captive.

The effort took place in Arab Jabour, south of the capital.

"Coalition Forces captured five suspected terrorists, including the suspected al Qaeda in Iraq security emir of Arab Jabour during an operation Wednesday morning," the military said.

The military said "intelligence reports indicate that the security emir is suspected of involvement in planning attacks" against Iraqi and coalition forces in the region. Several small arms were found and destroyed in the operation. (Posted 7:17 a.m.)

Report: 'Humanitarian situation is steadily worsening' in Iraq, affecting all Iraqis

(CNN) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday issued a report that "expresses alarm about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq and calls for urgent action to better protect civilians against the continuing violence."

"The humanitarian situation is steadily worsening and it is affecting, directly or indirectly, all Iraqis," said the report, called "Civilians without protection: The ever-worsening crisis in Iraq." It was issued from the ICRC's home base in Geneva, Switzerland.

The report comes as Iraq enters its fifth year of war in the post-Saddam Hussein era and it centers on the plight of "vulnerable groups such as the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis forced to flee their homes and the families that host them." (Posted 6:52 a.m.)

North Korea will return the remains of 6 U.S. soldiers who served in the Korean War

(CNN) -- In a "humanitarian gesture" North Korea will "unconditionally" return the remains of six servicemembers who served in the Korean War to America after more than 50 years abroad, the leader of a bipartisan U.S. delegation announced Wednesday.

The six are part of the more than 8,100 soldiers reported missing since the Korean War ended in 1953.

"Hopefully this act will help heal wounds and start a process to bring closure for families waiting to hear about their loved ones who perished," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of the delegation leaders. Richardson, who is also a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, made his remarks at a news conference Wednesday in Seoul. (Posted 6:40 a.m.)

13 Taliban militants killed in southern Afghan fighting on Tuesday

KABUL (CNN) -- Thirteen Taliban fighters were killed in fighting on Tuesday with coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, the coalition command said Wednesday in a statement.

The incident occurred near the outskirts of the northeast section of Helmand province's Sangin district, where there has been a coalition push against the Taliban in recent days.

The militants "launched indirect mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire at a combined Afghan National Army and coalition force."

Those forces returned "mortar fire then maneuvered to an observation position to request close air support. Coalition aircraft arrived and dropped munitions, which resulted in the destruction of one enemy compound, a bunker and a vehicle."

The coalition said there were no civilian injuries. (Posted 6:05 a.m.)

Israel disappointed with list of prisoners wanted in release of abducted soldier

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Top Israeli officials expressed reservations and disappointment with a list of prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for an Israeli soldier abducted in a cross-border raid near Gaza last year, a statement from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said.

The statement followed a Tuesday night security meeting that included Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and other top security and government officials.

"As has been made clear in recent days, Israel would like to emphasize that while there has been some progress in the negotiations they are far from being completed," the statement said. (Posted 3:24 a.m.)

Suspected terrorists blow themselves up rather than face arrest in Morocco

(CNN) -- Three suspected members of a terrorist group blew themselves up as they were about to be arrested and a fourth was shot to death by police after a chase in Casablanca's al Fida neighborhood, according to security services quoted by Morocco's state-run news agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse.

A policemen was killed and another was wounded by one of the explosions, the sources said.

The four men were believed to be connected with a March 11 suicide bombing that killed the bomber and wounded four other people in the Sidi Moumen neighborhood. That incident took place at an Internet cafe when the owner of the shop noticed two people who were trying to log onto a Web site advocating terrorism and "behaving in a violent manner," MAP reported. The shop owner threatened to call police, and one of the suspects blew himself up. The other escaped, the agency said. (Posted 2:31 a.m.)

Official: Army proposes extending Iraq tours from 12 to 15 months

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Among the ideas being considered by the Pentagon in order to maintain higher U.S. troop levels in Iraq is a proposal by the Army to extend the tours of most, if not all, soldiers from the usual 12 months to 15, a senior Pentagon official told CNN Tuesday.

"There have been a series of meetings, and a series of options have been discussed," said the official, who requested anonymity because the option may not be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Pentagon is looking at various ways to maintain the current force of 20 combat brigades in Iraq, without piecemeal extensions and early deployments of troops. The current force is part of the troop buildup in Iraq.

The official said no decisions have been made, and stressed that various options are under consideration, including extending the tour only of combat brigades, not support troops. -- From CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre (Posted 10:55 p.m.)

Staples, Bigelow Tea pull ads from Imus show in wake of Rutgers remark

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The office-supply chain Staples and Bigelow Tea Company, both recent advertisers on radio shock-jock Don Imus' morning show, said Tuesday they were pulling their sponsorship to protest remarks he made about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Despite apologies Friday and Monday, Imus has been suspended by CBS Radio for two weeks for describing the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed 'hos." CBS Radio owns New York sports-talk station WFAN, Imus' flagship station.

"While Bigelow Tea has been an advertiser on the 'Imus in the Morning show,' the company does not condone or support in any way the unacceptable comments made by Imus with regard to the Rutgers University women's basketball team," said Cindi Bigelow, the company's co-president, in a statement. "Bigelow Tea is a family company that prides itself on honoring and respecting all individuals."

Bigelow added that the company does support Imus' efforts on behalf of children with terminal illnesses, against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and other causes. But, she said, "We are deeply saddened by his remarks and his comments in no way represent the views of our family or the Bigelow Tea Company. This unfortunate incident has put our future sponsorship in jeopardy." (Posted 10:14 p.m.)


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