When British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Ramallah last week to leave a wreath at Yasser Arafat's grave, many observers expected the government of Ariel Sharon to protest. But Israeli officials were resigned. "We snubbed officials who went to talk to Arafat when he was alive," sighed one. "We can't very well do that to those who want to talk to him when he's dead."
That tempered response reflects a new mood of conciliation. With Palestinians preparing to vote on Jan. 9 for a new President, Israel last week signaled that it will allow Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote. Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Israel might suspend construction of its separation wall if the Palestinians halt terror attacks. And the Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization
But the signs of progress are still fragile. Palestinian officials are concerned about supporters of imprisoned Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, who lost his bid to be Fatah's presidential nominee. Senior Fatah officials told TIME that as many as 40% of the party's members may now boycott the election. The absence of a credible alternative to Abbas could also embolden the militant group Hamas to attempt to derail his election by attacking Israel. "There is a real sense that this is a moment of opportunity," says a senior U.S. official. "But everyone realizes that it might not last forever."
Long Road to Justice
PORTUGAL The trial opened in Lisbon of seven people charged in relation to an alleged child sex ring in state-run children's homes. Revelations by a whistleblower in September 2002 outraged the nation when it emerged that reports of abuse spanning decades were ignored by authorities.
ZIMBABWE The England cricket team arrived in Harare for a 10-day tour after authorities in a surprise turnaround lifted a ban on 13 British journalists. The England cricketers had delayed traveling to the country because of the ban.
AFGHANISTAN Officials denied the government had made a deal to secure the release of three U.N. workers freed after nearly four weeks in captivity. A Taliban splinter group that held the trio hostage said it let them go in return for a government promise to release 24 Taliban from jail.
INDONESIA Police arrested four suspects in the Sept. 9 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, which killed at least 10 people. Officials say the arrests could lead them to the blast's alleged mastermind, Malaysian Azahari bin Husin.
MEXICO Riot police arrested more than 30 people in connection with the murder of two undercover policemen, who were beaten and set on fire by a mob that suspected them of kidnapping children. A third officer was hospitalized in critical condition. Officials launched an inquiry into why it took reinforcements so long to reach the scene.
Laying Down Arms
COLOMBIA Some 450 members of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) disarmed as part of the ongoing peace process. Authorities suspended arrest warrants against AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso, although the Supreme Court earlier authorized his extradition to the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges.