Israel won't go to war over Gaza rockets; Olmert gets bad news

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his top security chiefs yesterday rejected calls for a massive ground offensive in the Gaza Strip following a renewal of rocket attacks on southern Israel by the Hamas militant group.

The decision gave a five-month cease-fire one last chance to succeed, despite repeated warnings by military officials that Hamas has been using the lull in fighting to smuggle large amounts of weapons into Gaza. But Israeli officials warned of "harsh steps" if the rockets keep falling.

In a separate development, the government's chief watchdog recommended opening a criminal investigation into a 2001 government transaction that involved Olmert before he became prime minister. The announcement further weakened the embattled Israeli leader ahead of a potentially explosive inquiry report next week on last year's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the Gaza truce in late November, declaring an end to Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli attacks, including airstrikes.

Some Palestinian militant groups have continued sporadic rocket attacks but Hamas, which leads the Palestinian coalition government, has kept its distance from the violence. According to the Israeli army, militants have fired 230 homemade rockets at Israel since the truce, compared with about 600 launchings in the five months before the deal. The rockets have caused no serious injuries since the truce.

Yesterday, state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a lengthy report charging that Olmert used his influence to steer a government grant to a colleague while he was trade minister in 2001. Olmert also has been accused of shady real estate deals and improperly intervening in a bank privatization deal.

EU wants Wolfowitz out

at World Bank; he fights back

Calls for the resignation of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz grew yesterday as the European Parliament voiced its displeasure over allegations that he showed favoritism in arranging a promotion and hefty pay raise for his girlfriend.

The demand by the European Union's legislature that the development chief step down comes as a special bank panel is probing whether Wolfowitz violated bank rules in his handling of the 2005 promotion of bank employee Shaha Riza to a high-paying State Department job.

For his part, Wolfowitz accused the bank's board of directors in a letter yesterday of treating him "shabbily and unfairly" and appealed for more time to defend himself against allegations of favoritism and other matters.

The letter was not made public but was described by people who had seen it.

Many of the bank's staff, former World Bank executives, aid groups and some Democratic politicians have pressed for Wolfowitz to resign. They fear the matter has tarnished the reputation of the institution, which is focused on fighting global poverty, and could hobble efforts to raise billions of dollars for a World Bank program to help poor countries.

The EU assembly said it wanted to "signal to . . . Wolfowitz that his withdrawal would be a welcome step toward preventing the bank's anticorruption policy from being undermined."

Wolfowitz has acknowledged making a mistake and apologized, but he has said he won't quit.

Fishermen caught in sanctuary, had 80 sharks aboard vessel

BOGOTA - Colombia's navy intercepted a boat with nearly 80 dead sharks off the country's Pacific coast and officials charged the crew with illegally fishing in a protected sanctuary.

The Colombian-registered boat and its eight-man crew were discovered Sunday, carrying roughly two tons of shark meat, 18 miles southwest of the island of Malpelo, which the United Nations declared this year a World Heritage site, officials said yesterday.

"It's an unprecedented operation - the first time a boat has been caught, in the act, fishing in a protected sanctuary," said Sandra Bessudo, who runs the private Malpelo Foundation, which has been campaigning for a moratorium on shark fishing, worried it is driving some shark species to extinction.

Sharks are coveted in Asia for their fins, where the shipment was likely headed, said Bessudo.

Among the nearly 80 sharks trapped were several blacktip sharks, a species listed as threatened by the World Conservation Union, Bessudo said.

Reports: GIs took advantage

of Japanese 'comfort women'

TOKYO - Japan's abhorrent practice of enslaving women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After its surrender - with tacit approval from the U.S. occupation authorities - Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for American GIs.

An Associated Press review of historical documents and records - some never before translated into English - shows American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The Americans also had full knowledge by then of Japan's atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered.

Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to U.S. troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut the brothels down.

The documents show the brothels were rushed into operation as American forces poured into Japan beginning in August 1945.

"Sadly, we police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops," recounts the official history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, whose jurisdiction is just northeast of Tokyo. "The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls." *

- Daily News wire services