Belgium releases 14 terror suspects

BRUSSELS, Belgium - A judge released 14 suspected Islamic extremists yesterday for lack of evidence of their involvement in a plot to free an al-Qaeda prisoner convicted of planning an attack on U.S. air base personnel.

Prosecutors said that the investigation would continue and that heightened security measures imposed across the country after Friday's arrests would remain in place through the New Year. A government spokeswoman said intelligence that an attack could be imminent meant the security forces had to act without waiting to gather the evidence.

The government had said it had information the suspects were plotting to use explosives and other weapons to free Nizar Trabelsi, a 37-year-old Tunisian.

- AP

Ivory Coast starts disarmament

TIEBISSOU, Ivory Coast - Hundreds of government soldiers withdrew yesterday from a vast buffer zone dividing Ivory Coast, the first stage of a long-delayed nationwide disarmament program.

Rebels were also expected to pull back and eventually hand in their weapons and be integrated into the army or demobilized.

Ivory Coast's warring parties first agreed to disarm during a peace accord reached several months after a brief war erupted in 2002, splitting the nation into a rebel-controlled north and a government-held south. In 2004, the government announced the start of disarmament, but the bickering parties delayed the process repeatedly.

- AP

Israel official open to Hamas truce

JERUSALEM - Another high-ranking Israeli official said yesterday that he would support a conditional cease-fire with Hamas if the Islamic militant group that controls the Gaza Strip halts rocket fire into Israel. Cabinet Minister Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, added his voice in favor of the proposal.

Israeli infrastructure minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, said Friday that he also favored a conditional cease-fire with Hamas.

Ben-Eliezer said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may consider discussing a long-term cease-fire with Hamas if the group stops smuggling arms into Gaza and negotiates the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-affiliated militants last year.

- AP

Elsewhere:

A minibus fell off

a ferry and sank in the Nile River in southern Egypt yesterday, killing 16 people, security and local officials said. Police blamed the driver, who survived by jumping out of the vehicle, because he had failed to apply the emergency brake. The vehicle was being ferried to a landing near the village of Deir Mawas, said the province police chief.

Brazil's premier

modern art museum had no insurance on paintings by Pablo Picasso and Candido Portinari stolen in a brazen burglary, the museum's spokesman said yesterday. "None of the museum's 8,000 works of art are insured," Eduardo Cosomano said. "Insuring all of them would be financially unviable."