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Allawi Appeals to Insurgents to Lay Down Weapons

Iraq's interim prime minister has appealed to insurgents in the flashpoint city of Fallujah to lay down their weapons, as U.S. and Iraqi troops move closer to the city's center with a goal of crushing them.

Iyad Allawi's spokesman Thaer al-Naqib said Tuesday a political solution is still possible, even while military operations are ongoing.

Despite that appeal, pressure on the insurgents has not eased, as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops advance toward Fallujah's center on the second day of their assault.

Most of Fallujah's residents have fled ahead of the expected offensive, leaving gunmen to battle troops on deserted city streets and in alleyways.

Some residents reported continued heavy aerial attacks and artillery fire. Smoke from smoldering fires was seen in numerous locations.

Senior Iraqi officials say the effort to seize control of Fallujah is going according to plan. They say this Tuesday morning U.S and Iraqi troops began moving into parts of the city where insurgents are believed to be deeply entrenched.

Reporters traveling with advancing forces say several hundred U.S. Marines moved into the Jolan neighborhood and captured a key railway station after fierce battles overnight.

There were no new reports of casualties.

Hospital officials in Fallujah said 12 people were killed Monday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he does not think there will be large numbers of civilian casualties during the operation to retake Fallujah. U.S. officials say at least half of the city's residents have evacuated but as many as 100,000 remain.

The military operation is intended to wipe out insurgents and foreign terrorists who have taken shelter in Fallujah and to restore law and order ahead of January's elections.

Insurgents Launch More Attacks

Meanwhile, insurgents have stepped-up their attacks in several other Iraqi cities and are reported to have seized the center of Ramadi.

Residents of that flashpoint city, west of Fallujah, say hundreds of armed insurgents have taken control of the city center, following reports that U.S. troops withdrew to its outskirts earlier in the day.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi imposed an indefinite nighttime curfew on Baghdad and surrounding areas. Also in the capital, at least four explosions rocked the heavily guarded Green Zone, but no casualties were reported.

To the north, near Baquba, local officials say insurgents attacked two police stations, wounding more than a dozen people. Four attackers were reported killed.

And near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, two construction workers were killed and several others wounded when a car bomb exploded.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.