Israel signals call for cease-fire
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 17 (UPI) -- Israel eased its cease-fire terms Monday, with a senior official saying the return of two kidnapped soldiers and a Hezbollah withdrawal would be adequate.
Previously, Israel has demanded the disarming of Hezbollah as a condition, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking from Syria, suggested a prisoner exchange could be a precondition for an end to the fighting. Hezbollah apparently sought an exchange when it crossed the border into Israel last week and killed eight soldiers, abducting two.
Israel's change of position came as foreign leaders at the G-8 summit called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, the week-long violence had gone far enough.
"The only way we are going to get a cessation of hostilities is the deployment of an international force to stop the bombardment of Israel and get Israel to stop its attacks on Hezbollah," Blair said.
Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen told the Los Angeles Times that talk of a larger U.N. force was premature. She said Israel wanted to be sure Hezbollah was not sitting on its border. Israeli military officials have demanded a half-mile, no-go zone north of the border.
Scores dead in Java tsunami
JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 17 (UPI) -- An earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale shook the Indonesian island of Java Monday, spawning a tsunami that killed scores of people.
Government geologists told the Antara news service the center of the tremor was around 385 miles south of Bandung, 20 miles below sea level. The southern coast of Java and Australia's Christmas Island were included in a tsunami warning from Hawaii's Tsunami Warning Center, Voice of America reported.
Fitri Sudikah of the Indonesian Red Cross told the New York Times in a telephone interview that at least 80 people had been killed. She said most of the dead were swept out to sea and then carried back in again. Scores more were missing.
The area hit hardest by the tsunami was Pangandaran, a coastal resort and fishing village. Beach cottages were demolished by the wave.
Buildings in Jakarta, some 200 miles away, swayed but there were no immediate reports of damage. At least two aftershocks were reported, local media said.
The tsunami was far smaller than the one that killed more than 200,000 people in the Indonesian province of Aceh and elsewhere around the Indian Ocean. In May, central Java was struck by a 6.3 magnitude quake that killed nearly 6,000.
Al-Qaida claims deadly attack on market
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 17 (UPI) -- Dozens of people died Monday in an attack in a market in a town south of Baghdad that Sunni militants said was aimed at the Shiite Mahdi Army.
While U.S. military officials put the death toll at 40 in Mahmudiya, an emergency room doctor said 73 were killed and 35 injured, the Washington Post reported.
Al-Qaida posted a sign at a mosque claiming responsibility for the bombings and said the attack was in retaliation for the killings of Sunni Muslims during the weekend in Baghdad. While Mahmudiya is in the heavily Sunni part of Iraq known as the Triangle of Death, the marketplace is used mainly by Shiites.
The sign said al-Qaida plans to "eliminate the heads of the Mahdi Army and their supporters" and promised more attacks.
Some witnesses said the attack began with three car bombs exploding followed by a barrage from armed men who sprayed gunfire and hurled grenades. Others said there were no car bombs and most of the damage was done by grenades.
Also Monday, a U.S. soldier was shot and killed in western Baghdad. His name was withheld pending notification of his family.
U.S. may stay in Iraq until 2016
WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- Commanders think U.S. military forces in Iraq may not be completely withdrawn before 2016 but their presence will have the support of a majority of Iraqis.
Quoting an assessment by U.S. commanders at a spring meeting with retired military officers in Fort Carson, Colo., the Washington Times also reported that the United States tactically is getting better at detecting IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, especially using unmanned spy planes.
At the same time, the assessment concluded the insurgents are growing more sophisticated. A raid on an IED factory produced two bomb makers with master's degrees in chemistry and physics from U.S. colleges.
The commanders noted that insurgent infiltration of the Iraqi Security Forces remains a big problem.
Afghan religious department may return
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 17 (UPI) -- Afghanistan may reintroduce a religious department which the fundamentalist Taliban used for its brutal religious repression, a report said Monday.
In a move that raised concerns among human rights groups, President Hamid Karzai's cabinet approved a proposal from the country's council of clerics to reintroduce the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, reports Britain's Independent newspaper. The plan now goes to Parliament.
"Our concern is that the Vice and Virtue Department doesn't turn into an instrument for politically oppressing critical voices and vulnerable groups under the guise of protecting poorly defined virtues," Sam Zia Zarifi of Human Rights Watch told the newspaper. "This is especially in the case of women, because infringements on their rights tend to be justified by claims of morality."
Defending the move, Afghanistan's Minister for Haj and Religious Affairs said, "The job of the department will be to tell people what is allowable and what is forbidden in Islam. In practical terms it will be quite different from Taliban times." He said the department will not have police powers, the report said.
Some Western diplomats told the newspaper they believe the move is partly designed to defuse Taliban propaganda.
Rain kills at least 20 in South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea, July 17 (UPI) -- Heavy rains in central and northeastern South Korea have caused the deaths of at least 20 people and left 33 missing, relief officials said Monday.
An official at the Central Anti-Disaster Headquarters said more than 20 inches of rain caused floods and landslides in the cities of Inje, where 12 people were reported dead and 25 missing, and Pyeongchang, where three were killed and one was missing, the Yonhap News Agency reported Monday.
The rain, which damaged about 1,600 houses, forced nearly four thousand people to evacuate their homes to take shelter in schools and town halls, the report said.
The torrential rain was expected to continue and spread to parts of South Jeolla and South Gyeongsang provinces.
"We fear the number of casualties will likely climb because there are still more isolated areas. Currently, the first priority is to map out measures to stabilize the livelihood of the victims," a Central Anti-Disaster Headquarters official said.