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WHO lifts its SARS warning on Beijing

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2003

BEIJING - The World Health Organization declared on Tuesday that Beijing had effectively conquered SARS, signaling victory over the disease in the country where it originated and took the most lives.

The announcement prompted expressions of relief and celebration around the city, where just a few weeks ago people had stopped going to work, eating at restaurants or even leaving their homes for fear of catching the sometimes-fatal respiratory illness.

Government officials hailed the suppression of SARS as a victory for Communist Party leadership, seeking to gain public credibility from their recent handling of the disease even though official dissembling and inefficiency contributed to its rapid spread last winter.

The lifting of the warning against travel to Beijing and the removal of the city from the list of SARS-infected areas came after WHO found SARS had not been transmitted locally in more than three weeks, though some SARS patients are still being treated in hospitals.

But WHO officials cautioned that they have not excluded the possibility that SARS could prove seasonal, like influenza, and re-emerge as a threat when the weather turns cold next winter.

Beijing was the last area subject to a WHO travel warning because of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which has infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed more than 800. In China, 5,326 people contracted SARS and 347 died most of them in Beijing. In the past weeks, the WHO has lifted its travel advisory to four Chinese provinces, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Israelis arrest dozens as Hamas weighs cease-fire

JERUSALEM - Israeli soldiers swept through a West Bank city Tuesday, arresting more than 130 suspected Hamas activists as Palestinian officials awaited a response from the Islamic militant group about a proposal to suspend attacks against Israel.

Palestinian officials and Egyptian mediators have expressed optimism that Hamas would accept a moratorium on attacks against Israel.

Supporters view the proposal as a means of winding down 33 months of Mideast violence, but skeptics in Israel fear any moratorium would give Hamas time to regroup for more violence.

Hamas has walked away from seemingly promising truce efforts in the past, and the violence and recriminations that have accompanied recent talks between Hamas and Palestinian officials have added a measure of uncertainty.

Still, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Tuesday in Cairo, "There is a feeling of optimism that something like this (a truce) will be announced in the next few days."

Also Tuesday, leaders of the Israeli Arab Islamic Movement were indicted on charges of helping Hamas through illegal transfers of millions of dollars.

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