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US Troops Close Down Illegal Oil Pipeline to Syria - 2003-04-16

American troops have arrested a major Palestinian terrorist in Baghdad and closed down an oil pipeline that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says has been illegally pumping oil to Syria.

Abu Abbas, the man who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achilli Lauro, was captured in a raid in Baghdad. He is believed to have been living in Iraq since his group, the Palestine Liberation Front, hijacked the ship off the coast of Egypt, demanding Israel free 50 Palestinian prisoners.

The hijackers were arrested after a U.S. fighter jet forced their getaway plane to land in Sicily, but Abu Abbas escaped. Although he was not at the trial, an Italian court later sentenced him to five consecutive life terms. Last week, U.S. Marines uncovered what is believed to be a large Abu Abbas training camp east of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said American forces shut down a pipeline that sent an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil from Iraq to Syria every day, in violation of U.N. sanctions. "We have been told that they have shut off a pipeline. Whether it's the only one and whether that has completely stopped the flow of oil between Iraq and Syria, I cannot tell you," said Mr. Rumsfeld.

In southern Iraq, thousands of Shiite Muslims took to the streets to demonstrate against a meeting of former Iraqi opposition leaders, organized by the United States to discuss the country's future government.

The meeting was boycotted by some key groups, but about 80 Iraqis present agreed on a 13-point statement that advocates turning Iraq into a federal democracy and outlawing the Baath Party, through which Saddam Hussein ruled the country for more than two decades.

Meanwhile, President Bush says a military victory in Iraq is certain, but not yet complete. "The centralized power of the dictator has ended. Yet in parts of Iraq, desperate and dangerous elements remain. Forces of our coalition will engage these enemies until they surrender or until they are destroyed," he says.

Lingering security concerns are keeping humanitarian groups from working in some parts of the country. The World Food Program's Christiane Bertiaume says the agency has hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid ready to go to Iraq once conditions become safer. "Security is improving. We have been accompanying those security teams and we are really hoping to go back really, really quickly," she says.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says getting proper medical treatment in Iraq remains a problem because of sporadic fighting and looting, as well as insufficient supplies of electricity and water.

An Argentine camerawoman has become the first woman journalist to die while covering the war in Iraq. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that 28-year-old Veronica Cabrera, of America TV, was killed Monday when the car in which she was traveling burst a tire and veered off the road on the highway linking Amman, Jordan to Baghdad.

A colleague, Mario Podesta, also died. Thirteen journalists have been killed while covering the war.

The White House says President Bush will host Australian Prime Minister John Howard at his Texas ranch for talks next month focusing on rebuilding Iraq and eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

Australia is a member of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, having sent some two-thousand personnel for mostly non-combat roles.