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China buys Russian ground-attack jets

China plans to buy $2-billion worth of Russian ground attack aircraft, according to Russian press reports and diplomats, which would improve China's ability to invade Taiwan.

Russian press reports and diplomats said Chinese officials signed the contract with the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association. One Russian report, by the Itar-Tass news agency, put the number at 38 Su-30 MKK jets.

The Su-30 will provide China's modernizing air force with a potent ground attack complement to the Su-27 fighter that China purchased from Russia in 1992.

"China had tried for years to make the Su-27 into a ground attack aircraft, and it didn't work," said Ken Allen, a former U.S. Air Force officer and an expert on the Chinese air force. "The Su-30 gives them a long-range air-to-ground attack aircraft. That's arguably more important than having the Su-27."

However, Taiwan's air force has powerful countermeasures: American-built F-16 fighters, French-built Mirage 2000s and a Taiwanese-designed fighter.

Extremists claim attack killing 3 Palestinians

HEBRON, West Bank _ Three Palestinians, including an infant, were shot and killed Thursday in an attack claimed by a Jewish extremist group. The killings came as the world's most powerful nations called for monitors to be sent to the region to help implement a cease-fire.

Witnesses said Israeli settlers opened fire on a Palestinian car near the Palestinian village of Idna, west of Hebron, killing three people and wounding four. A Jewish extremist group called the Road Safety Group claimed responsibility, Israel radio reported.

The three dead were from the same family. They were identified as Mohammed Salameh Etnizi, 22, Mohammed Hilmy Etnizi, 20, and 3-month-old Amira Wael Etnizi.

The settlers' leadership council issued a statement saying that if an Israeli was responsible, the council "strongly denounces the despicable act."

Earlier, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight, who are meeting in Italy, endorsed the idea of sending observers to the region as a step toward putting an end to the violence.

American rape suspect indicted on Okinawa

TOKYO _ Japanese prosecutors pushed ahead quickly with their case against a U.S. airman on Thursday, charging him with rape in an alleged attack on a woman outside a bar in Okinawa.

The indictment of Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland, 24, came a day after a judge on the southern island pushed up the deadline for prosecutors to file charges by four days, to Thursday.

Woodland, who faces a minimum of two years in prison if convicted, has denied raping the 20-year-old woman, and Japan's Kyodo News agency quoted Deputy Prosecutor Junichi Okumura as saying the sergeant insists the two had consensual sex.

Prosecutors, however, were confident of their case.

"We've collected enough evidence to conclude he is guilty," Kyodo quoted Okumura as telling reporters in the Okinawan prefectural capital of Naha.

Woodland's attorney, Tsuyoshi Arakaki, was expected to meet with Japanese prosecutors to set a date for the trial.