Israel hits back for rocket fire, killing 9 in Gaza attacks

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - The Israeli army stepped up a broad offensive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least nine Palestinians with airstrikes and shelling attacks after militants fired a rocket that struck deep into Israel.

Palestinians accused Israel of poisoning the atmosphere ahead of President Bush's visit to the region next week.

In strikes all over Gaza, Israeli aircraft and tanks hit buildings the Israelis said were used by militants. In one clash, Israel shelled a house in the southern city of Khan Younis, killing a militant along with his mother, sister and brother. Israeli army spokeswoman Capt. Noa Meir said militants were ""intentionally using civilian areas' to fire at troops and blamed them for the deaths.

After the shelling, the three-story house leaned to one side, barely standing, as an Israeli bulldozer leveled land nearby.

Radical cleric al-Sadr makes overture toward rival leader in Iraq

BAGHDAD - Representatives of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met Thursday with officials from his chief rival's party in an effort to cement a tenuous peace agreement the two signed in October after violent clashes between their followers.

It was at least the second formal overture al-Sadr has made to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and his Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest Shiite political party, in less than a week.

Peace between the two - who each control powerful militias - is seen as key to preventing the outbreak of widespread fighting in oil-rich southern Iraq, where the British military recently handed over responsibility for security to Iraq's government in Basra, the last province it controlled.

China limits Internet video to state-controlled companies

HONG KONG - China has moved to restrict videos online - including those posted on video-sharing Web sites - to state-controlled sites and to require those Internet providers to delete and report a variety of content.

It wasn't immediately clear how the new rules would affect YouTube and other providers that host Web sites based in other countries that are available in China.

A spokesman for San Bruno, Calif.-based YouTube said the restrictions ""could be a cause for concern, depending on the interpretation.', which claims to be China's largest video sharing Web site, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

The new regulations, which take effect Jan. 31, were approved by both the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Information Industry and were described on their Web sites Thursday.

Iran's leader says relations with US could be restored but time isn't right

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's supreme leader said Thursday that he was willing to restore diplomatic relations with the United States but doing so now would make his country more vulnerable to U.S. espionage.

""I would be the first one to support these relations,' state radio quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying at a student group meeting in the central Iranian province of Yazd.

""Of course we never said the severed relations were forever,' added Khamenei, 69, who has final say in all state matters. ""But for the time being, it (restoring ties) is harmful and we should not pursue it.'

Khamenei said restoring ties with the U.S. now would ""provide an opportunity for security agents to come and go, as well as for espionage.'

Suicide attack leaves 7 dead, 12 wounded in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber attacked Indian road construction workers and their Afghan police escorts Thursday in southwestern Afghanistan, killing seven and wounding 12.

The convoy had been traveling on a main road toward the city of Khash Rod in Nimroz province when it was hit by a remote-controlled bomb that was planted on a motorcycle, wounding one policeman, said Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dastagir Azad.

The convoy stopped after the first explosion, and a suicide bomber set off a second attack, killing six policemen and an Indian worker, Azad said. Ten policemen and two Indian workers were wounded.

Insurgency-related violence in the first three days of 2008 has left at least 42 people dead in Afghanistan, including those killed in Thursday's suicide attack.