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SAUDIS MAY JOIN MEETING WITH ISRAEL

JERUSALEM

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said Wednesday that his country would consider attending President Bush's planned Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in the fall, which would put Saudi officials publicly at the same table as their Israeli counterparts for the first time since 1991. But Saudi officials said a precondition of attendance was that the conference tackle the four big "final status" issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979: the fate of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to flee their homes in Israel, mostly before or during the 1948 war; the status of Jerusalem; the borders of a Palestinian state; and the dismantlement of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

TEHRAN, IRAN

7 publicly hanged in collective execution

Iran publicly hanged seven men Wednesday in the second round of collective executions in 10 days, state media reported. "These people were hanged on charges of rape, kidnapping and robbery," the Web site of the state's broadcasting company reported, quoting an unnamed prosecutor. Five of the men were hanged in one execution in the center of Mashad, a town 620 miles northwest of Tehran, the capital, state media said. The report said the two other convicts, both 24, were hanged in a different neighborhood of Mashad, close to where they were accused of having raped a woman in 2005. Rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking are among capital offenses in Iran.

KHARTOUM, SUDAN

Sudan hails U.N. resolution for Darfur

Sudan endorsed a U.N. resolution Wednesday to send 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, raising hopes for a force that could for the first time provide real protection to civilians in one of the world's most embattled regions. If fully deployed, the troops would be the United Nation's largest peacekeeping operation and, under the U.N. resolution passed Tuesday, would be under orders to prevent attacks against civilians. The four-year war in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and driven some 2.5-million others from their homes.

PARIS

As fire sweeps Canary Islands, tourists flee

Thousands of vacationing tourists and homeowners were forced to flee ahead of raging wildfires that have engulfed parts of the Canary Islands since the weekend, the latest in a string of bizarre, weather-related calamities to hit Europe this summer. Local officials said that at least 13,000 people evacuated homes, hotels, campgrounds and other areas of the seven Canaries, Spanish territory in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Morocco. More than 86,000 acres have been burned or otherwise affected by the fires since Friday, mostly on the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

ROME

Disputed antiquities will return to Italy

Italy announced a deal Wednesday that requires the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles to return 40 artifacts, the latest victory in Italy's efforts to recover antiquities it says were looted from the country and sold to museums worldwide. The agreement includes one of the most prized works in dispute, a 5th century B.C. statue of the goddess Aphrodite, which will remain on display at the Getty until 2010, the ministry said. Italian authorities believe the 7-foot statue, bought by the Getty for $18-million in 1988, was looted from an ancient Greek settlement in Sicily.

OTELEC, ROMANIA

Gypsies claim abuse by police in Serbia

More than 100 Serbian Gypsies have crossed the border illegally into Romania in recent days and filed applications for asylum claiming they were subject to abuse and attacks in Serbia. "This is a new phenomenon, to have immigrants from Serbia asking for asylum," Timisoara border police spokesman Viorel Alexe said Wednesday. The Gypsies, also known as Roma, began crossing over the weekend in groups of 20 to 30 in a border region that is not closely monitored near the Romanian village of Otelec. The Gypsies were placed in refugee centers around the country, Alexe said. Asylum seekers are not prosecuted for crossing illegally. The situation is unusual for Romania, whose own Roma live in poverty and face discrimination.

Elsewhere

Floods kill 40, displace 5-million: Monsoon floods ravaging Bangladesh for more than a week have displaced or marooned at least 5-million people and left 40 others dead, officials said Wednesday.

Crowded boat sinks: An overcrowded boat evacuating people from a flooded village capsized in a rain-swollen river in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday, killing at least 28 people, officials said.

Strong earthquake: A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The quake, which hit at 4:08 a.m. local time on Thursday, didn't trigger any tsunamis and originated 108 miles beneath the ocean's surface, said Waverly Person, a geophysicist with U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center.

Bomb blast: A small, homemade bomb exploded outside a Sears store in the troubled southern city of Oaxaca early Wednesday, damaging the entrance but causing no injuries, authorities reported. A similar bomb was found and deactivated outside the entrance of a nearby bank, state Attorney General Evencio Martinez told national radio station W Radio.

Thai attacks: Rebels staged an ambush and set off bombs across southern Thailand in violence Wednesday that left 11 people dead, including two soldiers and five suspected Muslim insurgents, police Lt. Sompien Eksomya said.

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