Afghan capital had few voters

By wire services
Published September 23, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan - Only about a third of Kabul's registered voters cast ballots in legislative elections, an official said Thursday.

Reports from nearly all polling centers across Afghanistan indicate about 6.6-million voters cast ballots, which would put national turnout at about 53 percent, said Peter Erben, chief electoral officer of the U.N.-Afghan body that organized the polls. But he estimated turnout in Kabul and the surrounding province was just 36 percent.

And in response to complaints by Afghanistan's president, a top U.S. general said Thursday that airstrikes have been decisive against insurgents and that American troops usually search homes jointly with Afghan soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the coalition's operational commander, said U.S. forces need air power as they expect to be battling Taliban rebels well into next year after fierce fighting that killed more than 1,200 people in the six months before Sunday's election.

President Bush expressed similar sentiments in Washington.

Their comments appeared at odds with President Hamid Karzai, who on Tuesday questioned the need for major military operations by foreign troops, saying his government did not think a "serious terrorist challenge" remained. He also said airstrikes were no longer effective.

Israel evacuates base used for West Bank pullout

DOTAN, West Bank - Israeli forces evacuated a West Bank army base that was used as a staging area for removing residents of two Jewish settlements last month, and soldiers shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian teenager who entered the base too quickly.

Allah Khamtouni, 19, and nine other Palestinians entered the Dotan base near the Palestinian town of Jenin early Thursday, mistakenly thinking it had been abandoned, Palestinian officials said.

Israeli Col. Shmulik Kalmi said soldiers feared the Palestinians might be suicide bombers.

Both the Israeli army and the Palestinians said Khamtouni was unarmed.

Violence erupted later in the West Bank with the shooting deaths of two Palestinian militants. The Israeli military said its troops entered the village of Alar early today to arrest suspects and were fired upon by two Palestinians. The soldiers returned fire, killing them. Palestinians identified the dead as Islamic Jihad militants.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Bush asked Jordan's King Abdullah II to visit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to help advance the Middle East peace process. Bush said Abdullah "graciously agreed" to meet with Sharon and Abbas.

In another development, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he intends to reopen the Gaza's Rafah border crossing in January and, beginning next week, Palestinians would be able to use the new Kerem Shalom facility at the junction of the Israeli, Egyptian and Gaza borders. Israel had said the Rafah crossing would be closed for six months.

Twin bombings kill six people in east Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan - Two bombs exploded about 90 minutes apart Thursday in Lahore, leaving six people dead and two dozen wounded, police said.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed condemned the blasts, which he said were carried out by "enemies of Pakistan." There was no immediate claim of responsibility and security officials said they were investigating.