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The London-based journal, Janes Defence Review, has warned that the onset of the bitter Afghan winter by early next month will blunt the chances of any significant military offensive by the United States against the Taliban regime in Kabul. Weather conditions may also limit the US military operations designed to apprehend Osama bin Laden, the report said. Quoting military experts, it said the Afghan winter, which lasts till April, renders all major military campaigns across the country a "logistical nightmare" as the snow blocks all the main passes, especially in Northern Afghanistan, while blizzards and sleet considerably reduce visibility. Meanwhile during a brief stopover in the Philippines the chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Thomas Fargo, has said a war on those behind the air attacks on the United States could last one to two years.

German authorities have found evidence of contacts between a group of men suspected in the hijacking attacks on New York and Washington and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, The Washington Post reported on Thursday. The newspaper, citing senior German officials, said suspected hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi had contact with a Syrian businessman, who was among 27 individuals and companies whose assets were frozen by the Bush administration this week. German authorities have said that several suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were students at the Technical University in the northern city of Hamburg. Meanwhile police in Britain have detained one German national and six Iraqis for questioning under the prevention of terrorism act. The suspects were apprehended hiding in a lorry parked outside the main entrance of the U.S. air base Lakenheath, where American F-15 warplanes are stationed.

British police said on Thursday the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington might have been planned in Britain. Home Secretary David Blunkett said, meanwhile, that 11 people suspected of involvement in the attacks had not been under surveillance while they were in Britain. Police have also confirmed that three men arrested in the central city of Leicester on terrorism charges have been linked with plans to launch a wave of attacks in France and Belgium.

The speaker of the Swiss national parliament in Berne said at least 14 people died when an unidentified gunman stormed a local assembly in the central Swiss town of Zug and opened fire on Thursday. Speaker Peter Hess told the national assembly that three members of the local Zug government were among the dead. About 8 people were seriously wounded including the assembly president. According to eyewitness reports the lone gunman entered the building shouting insults at deputies for failing to react to a complaint he had made and then starting shooting. The gunman, who was disguised as a police officer and armed with a Swiss military weapon, is believed to be dead. A police spokesman said this was a strictly local event and had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA.

A fierce gunbattle erupted in the Gaza Strip early on Thursday, soon after Israel and the Palestinians agreed to try to forge a lasting truce. Three Palestinians were killed in the gun battle with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip. The violence flared after Israeli tanks entered a Palestinian refugee camp and demolished several building, according to agency reports. Following a two-hour meeting at Gaza airport, Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian President said the two sides would resume security talks, a move welcomed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. They also reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the Mitchell Plan. Wednesday's ceasefire talks were also overshadowed by a bomb blast which injured three Israeli soldiers. The militant Moslem group Hamas has claimed responsibilitiy. In Rafah, meanwhile, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenage and wounded 12 others.

In Northern Ireland, a total of 33 police were injured during overnight shooting and rioting in a Protestant enclave of Belfast, police said on Thursday. It marked the fourth consecutive night of clashes in the Crumlin and Ardoyne Road areas of northern Belfast, scene of sectarian confrontations about access to a local Catholic primary school in a Protestant housing estate. Gunmen fired more than 50 shots at police and more than 600 Protestants bombarded police lines with bricks, bottles, fireworks, petrol bombs and homemade "blast bombs". Six blast bombs and more than 125 petrol bombs were thrown at police, who responded by firing plastic baton rounds, a police spokeswoman said. On Thursday morning Protestants sounded car horns and whistles as Catholic parents walked their children to the school escorted by police and British soldiers in full riot gear.

NATO envoys and the Macedonian government have resolved a last-minute row over the size and duration of an alliance force in the Balkan republic after the mandate for "Essential Harvest" expired, diplomatic sources said. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously for the new mission Wednesday night. NATO ambassadors have asked Germany to lead a follow-on force in the former Yugoslav Republic to protect civilian OSCE and EU observers who are to oversee reforms for the country's Albanian minority. Secretary General George Robertson said the details of operation "Amber Fox" were still being finalised. About 1,000 NATO troops are expected to take part in the three-month military operation. A parliamentary debate in Berlin to authorize such a mission is scheduled for this afternoon, following a cabinet decision in favour of the continued German peacemaking duties in Macedonia earlier this mornig.

Australia's government adjourned parliament on Thursday ahead of an expected election, after earlier passing tough new laws to exclude boat people from applying for asylum. The legislation was backdated the law amendments to September 8th, before Australia prohibited five boat loads of refugees from entering Australian territory. Prime Minister John Howard is expected to call a general election any day to try to win a third term for his conservative coalition. Support for the government has climbed 10 points in the last month while support for the opposition Labor Party has dropped five, according to one opinion poll.

Two passenger trains, with many school pupils aboard, collided head on on Thursday morning in southern Germany, injuring at least 100 people, seven of them seriously, German police reported. There were no immediate reports of any fatalities in the crash, which occurred near Lindau, a town on Lake Constance on the border with Switzerland. The two regional Deutsche Bahn trains collided on the local line between Lindau and nearby Friedrichshafen.

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