Saturday, March 12, 2011

Demonstrations have spread across parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Here is the latest from each country and the roots of the unrest.

Friday developments:

Hundreds of people were injured in Bahrain Friday, when rival groups clashed over an attempted march in the town of Riffa, a residential area where the ruling Al-Khalifa family lives.

The national health ministry said 774 people were injured and 107 were hospitalized in the wake of the fighting.

Roots of unrest:

Protesters initially took to the streets of Manama to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy. But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century. Young members of the country's Shiite Muslim majority have staged protests in recent years to complain about discrimination, unemployment and corruption, issues they say the country's Sunni rulers have done little to address. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said authorities launched a clampdown on dissent in 2010. It accused the government of torturing some human rights activists.

Arab League officials convened Saturday to vote on backing a no-fly zone in Libya, where a civil war is being fought between forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi and a tenacious opposition movement.

The officials, who represent Arab nations in the Middle East and North Africa, also are considering recognition of the opposition's Transitional National Council as the sole legitimate representative of Libya.

Opposition forces made strides in the early days of the rebellion, but Gadhafi's military has recently gained strong momentum.

The military has been pounding the key oil port of Ras Lanuf, once in the hands of rebel forces, and has taken control of towns such as nearby Bin Jawad. The Gadhafi government appears intent on retaking all territory from the opposition despite growing international pressure.

The league was meeting at its headquarters in Cairo, while hundreds of demonstrators outside urged the international community to step up support for Libyan opposition groups.

Pleading for international help as they continue to lose ground to pro-Gaddafi forces, rebels are asking for a no-fly zone that would theoretically thwart airstrikes.

Japan Relief efforts

The international community started to send disaster relief teams on Saturday to help Japan after it suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami, with the United Nations sending a group to help co-ordinate work.

"We are in the process of deploying 9 experts who are among the most experienced we have for dealing with catastrophes. They will help evaluate needs and coordinate assistance with Japanese authorities," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Reuters.

The team of U.N. disaster relief officials includes several Japanese speakers and an environmental expert, she said.

An explosion blew the roof off an unstable nuclear reactor north of Tokyo on Saturday, raising fears of a disastrous meltdown.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there had been a radiation leak at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake -- the strongest recorded in Japan -- sent a 10-meter (33-foot) high tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast on Friday. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.

Here's a quick glimpse of some of the quirky stories that happened across the United States this week, courtesy of our CNN affiliates.

Twins give birth to babies on same day
A bond between twin sisters is even more extraordinary after they delivered babies on the same day at the same Indianapolis hospital.

Professor cited for punching mascot
A University of St. Thomas math professor is banned from the Sports Pavilion and Williams Arena for one year after he punched Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher in the face.

Coleslaw-covered women wrestle at Bike Week
It's a Central Florida attraction like no other -- coleslaw wrestling during Bike Week.

Gambler forgets $20K cash and ring
 People leave items behind all the time at Nacho Mamma's restaurant in Bristol, Rhode Island. But it's not every day a bag filled with cash and a diamond ring ends up in the lost and found.

Robot solves Rubik's Cube
Two electrical engineering students at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, have built a robot that solves the Rubik's Cube puzzle in nearly record time.

Cops say millionaire used stolen card
A 54-year-old Michigan dentist who told Polk County authorities his net worth was between $3 million to $4 million was arrested Saturday night on allegations of finding a lost credit card and using it to buy two large pizzas with extra olives.

'Witches' cast spell on Charlie Sheen
A group of witches and warlocks from Salem, Massachusetts, cast a spell on actor Charlie Sheen. Witches and warlocks across the country are angry at the actor for mocking their beliefs and calling himself a warlock in his recent rants.

Coach lets injured player score
A basketball coach from Central Missouri is getting accolades for letting an opposing player score a basket -- and he says it just "felt right" at the time.

City selling sinking homes
The city of Lubbock, Texas, is willing to sell seven houses for just pennies on the dollar, but just like the last such sale, there is a catch.
A Swaziland union official says public hospitals closed for three days this week after nurses went on strike in the country with the highest rate of HIV in the world.

Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union spokesman Sibusiso Lushaba said Saturday that the strike for overtime wages would resume next week. He says police armed with rifles and batons tried to stop 400 peacefully marching nurses from protesting Monday and Tuesday ahead of the strike that began Wednesday.

Lushaba called the small southern African nation a "military state," saying nurses could only march with government permission. Swaziland is Africa's last absolute monarchy.

Some 185,000 of Swaziland's 1 million people are HIV positive, and 30,000 are receiving antiretroviral drugs.
New Hampshire is a popular place this week with Minnesota politicians who might have their eye on the White House.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty left the state after a two-day visit ending Friday, just as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was arriving for her weekend visit.

Bachmann, popular with conservatives and tea party activists, attended a private fundraiser Friday night and was meeting with members of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire on Saturday before headlining a state GOP fundraiser in Nashua later in the day.

Bachmann recently has visited two other early nominating states. She's expected to announce whether she's running by early summer.
Pakistani defense minister says the government will extend the term of the country's powerful spy chief.

Ahmad Mukhtar did not say Saturday how long Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha would stay on at the head of the Inter Services Intelligence, or the ISI.

He had been due to step down on March 18.

As well as collecting domestic intelligence, the ISI plays a major role in formulating Pakistan's foreign and defense policies, especially concerning Afghanistan and India.

Pasha is believed to have a good relationship with the CIA, but strains over the country's differing strategic interests cause frequent tensions.

Thousands of people thronged Apple stores on both U.S. coasts as the iPad 2 went on sale on Friday, signaling a strong appetite for a device that dominates the fledgling market it created.

Hordes of fans -- some of whom had queued up overnight -- formed raucous pre-sale lines, and attracted curious onlookers, in the chilly rain in Manhattan, and in San Francisco.

The crowds erupted as a sea of blue-shirted Apple staff threw open the doors at 5 p.m. and gave high-fives to the first iPad shoppers in Manhattan and San Francisco.

The turnout underscores how demand for Apple's tablet remains strong nearly a year after the original proved a smash hit, single-handedly creating the tablet market, and inspiring a wave of imitators from Motorola to Research in Motion.

More than 800 queued outside the Apple store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue ahead of the launch, hoping to be among the first to get the thinner, lighter and faster iPad that Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled last week to strong reviews.

"I wanted to be a part of it," said Andrew Christian, 26, a pharmacy technician from the Bronx who was No. 11 in line after waiting all night in the rain.

He lined his sneakers with plastic Apple bags.

Shares of Apple rose, $5.32, or 1.5 percent, to close at $351.99.

Radiation leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor on Saturday after an explosion blew the roof off in the wake of a massive earthquake, but the government insisted that radiation levels were low.

The blast raised fears of a meltdown at the facility north of Tokyo as officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the world.

The plant was damaged by Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, which sent a 10-meter (33-foot) tsunami ripping through towns and cities across the northeast coast. Japanese media estimate that at least 1,300 people were killed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said there had been no major change in the level of radiation after the explosion because it did not occur inside the reactor container.

"The nuclear reaction facility is surrounded by a steel storage machine, which is then surrounded by a concrete building. This concrete building collapsed. We learnt that the storage machine inside did not explode," he told a news conference.

Edano initially said an evacuation radius of 10 km (6 miles) from the stricken 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture was adequate, but then an hour later the boundary was extended to 20 km (13 miles). TV footage showed vapor rising from the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

An explosion at the unstable nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan, led to leakage of radiation from the facility.

Amidst fears of a disastrous meltdown at the plant, nearby areas, up to a distance of 10 kms from the facility were evacuated. The explosion which destroyed the walls of the No.1 reactor building injured a number of workers.

"We are looking into the cause and the situation and we'll make that public when we have further information," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano informed Reuters.

TV footage showed smoke rising from the 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima, which is at a distance of 150 miles north of Tokyo.

As an aftershock of the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan, officials reported that the air cooling system in the building probably failed leading to pressure rise. This, in turn, may have led to the gradual release of radioactive air and subsequently the explosion.
A rebel leader pleaded Saturday with the international community to approve a no-fly zone over Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's forces gained strength in the east, securing a key port city and oil refinery.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the opposition's interim governing council, also expressed disappointment over the failure to act by the United States and other Western countries, which have expressed solidarity with the rebels in their fight to oust Gadhafi but stopped short of approving any military action.

"If there is no no-fly zone imposed on Gadhafi's regime, and if his ships are not checked then we will have a catastrophe in Libya," Abdul-Jalil told The Associated Press in an interview.

Abdul-Jalil's comments came as the Arab League held an emergency meeting to discuss the possibility of imposing no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Gadhafi regime's fighter jets. But the Arab League's member states are divided over how to deal with the Libyan crisis, signaling it would be a tough debate.

The European Union, which has said any such decision would need sufficient diplomatic backing from the Arab League and other regional organizations, sent its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to Cairo for the meeting.

Another rebel commander, meanwhile, conceded defeat after pro-Gadhafi forces drove out pockets of fighters who had maintained a tenuous hold around oil facilities in Ras Lanouf, 380 miles (615 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Tripoli.

Rescuers plucked dazed survivors from collapsed homes, muddy waters and raging fires Saturday, a day after a powerful earthquake tore through northeastern Japan and unleashed waves that swallowed entire neighborhoods along the coast.

More than 900 were killed and about 700 were missing, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported. The number of dead is expected to go up as rescuers reach more hard-hit areas.

"We'd first like to focus on saving lives and secondly the comfort of the evacuees," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said. "There will be many resources that will be needed for this evacuation process."

The 8.9-magnitude quake was centered about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Sendai, a farming region already battling youth population losses to big cities, leaving aging residents struggling to keep up with the global economy.

In the nearby city of Shirakawa, rescuers dug through rubble with shovels to try and reach 13 neighbors trapped when the earth opened up and swallowed their homes.

Relatives and friends stood in the cold, quietly watching, praying and waiting. Others wept.

In other affected areas, military choppers plucked people from rooftops. In some cases, rescuers trudged along muddy water, carrying survivors on their backs. Weary, mud-spattered residents wandered through streets filled with crumpled cars and other debris.

The original quake struck Friday and left towns and villages along the northeastern coast devastated. Scores of aftershocks followed Saturday.

"The earth shook with such ferocity," said Andy Clark, who experienced the main earthquake at the airport outside Tokyo, which is about 370 kilometers (230 Miles) southwest of the quake's epicenter. "I thought things were coming to an end. ... It was simply terrifying."

The quake also disrupted rail service and affected air travel, but limited rail service was back Saturday. Flight cancellations left at least 23,000 people stranded in two Tokyo airports, Kyodo News Agency said. Flights into and out of both airports resumed Saturday.

Six million households, more than 10% of the total in Japan, were without electricity, said Ichiro Fujisaki, the nation's ambassador to the United States.

Hundreds of people were injured in Bahrain Friday, when rival groups clashed over an attempted march in the town of Riffa, a residential area where the ruling Al-Khalifa family lives.

The national health ministry said 774 people were injured and 107 were hospitalized in the wake of the fighting.

Anti-government demonstrators in Riffa had planned a march. A crowd numbering roughly 8,000 set off on the march, according to Bahrain's ambassador to the United States.

But they were met by hundreds of people carrying swords, hatchets, metal pieces, cricket instruments and pieces of wood with nails hammered into them. The opposing group had already taken up positions in an effort to stop the planned march.

Bahrain's ambassador to the United States took the unusual step of commenting on the clashes in Riffa, which he called a "sectarian conflict" between Shia and Sunni Muslim factions. Law enforcement officers had erected barbed wire fences in an attempt to ward off any fighting, Houda Ezra Nonoo said in a statement.

The conflict began when small groups from opposing sides met at the security fence, he said.

Japanese-Americans and Japanese expats in the United States are expressing shock and concern after a massive quake struck the Asian country.

Nancy Niijima says the images she saw when she turned on the TV in her Los Angeles retirement home looked like a scene from a science fiction movie.

New York City resident Misa Washio says she's been trying to reach a sister in Japan but that the phone lines are always jammed.

And Michi Hirose of the Southern California city of Torrance says has been unable to reach several relatives.

Japan America Society of Southern California president Doug Erber says his office has been fielding a constant stream of phone calls, e-mails and text messages from people who have not been able to reach friends and family in Japan.
Defense witnesses are taking the stand as the appeals murder trial of Amanda Knox has resumed in Italy after a two-month break.

Knox was convicted of murdering her British roommate in Perugia, Meredith Kercher, and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her co-defendant and ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito was also convicted and sentenced to 25 years.

They both deny wrongdoing and have appealed the 2009 verdict.

The defense witnesses were called to refute testimony in the first trial from a homeless man who said he had seen the defendants near the house the night Kercher was killed, Nov. 1, 2007.

The two deny being where the homeless man had placed them.

The witnesses Saturday included people who operate buses and discos in the area.
Call it an above-the-fray strategy.

On hot issues that Democrats and Republicans have found cause to fret about - from spending reductions to state labor disputes - President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile.

Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia want him more publicly engaged in budget negotiations in Congress while others want him to denounce Republican proposed program cuts. Democrats like Rep. Keith Ellison want him to go to Wisconsin to stand in solidarity with public unions fighting to retain their bargaining rights.

Some lawmakers in both parties want him to take a greater lead against Libya's idiosyncratic strongman, Moammar Gadhafi.

But the White House sees no upside in outspokenness.

"There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story," said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer said Obama has enough issues on his agenda and said the White House doesn't believe the public wants the president weighing in on an array of subjects.

"They want him leading the country; they don't want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day," he said.

In a news conference Friday, Obama defended the role he has played in seeking a compromise on spending cuts in the current federal budget to avoid a government shutdown. But he made it clear that resolving the impasse rests mainly with congressional leaders. "This is an appropriations task," he said, putting the issue firmly in Congress' domain.

Manchin this week said an agreement could only be reached if Obama led the negotiations. "And, right now - that is not happening," he said.

Swiss skier Didier Cuche is to receive a written warning and a fine for threatening to "attack" a referee if a dangerous jump was not removed from the Olympiabakken World Cup course.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) says Cuche telephoned race director Gunter Hujara late Thursday and said: "If you don't take the jump down and anything happens, I will not hesitate to attack you in public."

Cuche, the defending World Cup downhill champion, will be fined $5,400 for unsportsmanlike behavior.

"We have no problem with him complaining about the jump," Hujara told The Associated Press. "It's the way he said it that's the problem."

The FIS race jury unanimously decided to sanction the skier, but Hujara said that the offense was "not too serious."

"It's like a yellow card in football," he said.

Cuche was not available for comment.
Officials say 13 people have died when a tour bus accident flipped onto its side and skidded into a sign post in the Bronx.

A New York Fire Department spokesman said the bus overturned on the New England Thruway near the Westchester County line at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday.

The World Wide Tour bus skidded on its side into a sign pole on the southbound side of Interstate 95 at Exit 14 for the Hutchinson Parkway. The sign post sheared off the top of the bus along the window line, nearly two-thirds the length of the vehicle.

The spokesman says the bus was carrying 31 to 33 passengers. He says in addition to the fatalities, six passengers were critically injured and four have been transported to hospitals.

The spokesman says 11 others sustained minor injuries.
A human rights group says an Internet activist has been charged with subversion for spreading calls on the Internet for Middle Eastern-style anti-government protests in China.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy says Guo Weidong was detained on Thursday night and his home in China's eastern city of Haining searched. It says a document was delivered to his wife the next day stating that he was being charged with the vaguely defined charge of "incitement to subvert state power."

The center said Friday that the 38-year-old Guo is the ninth person to be charged for spreading the calls, which began appearing on Internet forums last month. China's authoritarian communist leaders respond harshly to all challenges to their authority.
Moammar Gadhafi's regime drove out pockets of rebel fighters who were keeping a tenuous hold around oil facilities in a key port city, showing growing strength Saturday after days of relentless shelling against protesters-turned-rebels.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah Younis, who was the country's interior minister before he defected to the rebel side, acknowledged Saturday that Gadhafi's forces now control both the town and the oil refinery in Ras Lanouf, 380 miles (615 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Tripoli. It was the latest setback for opposition forces who just a week ago held the entire eastern half of the country and were charging toward the capital.

But Younis vowed a comeback, saying "we should be back today or at the latest tomorrow."

The assault on Ras Lanouf in recent days was a sign the Gadhafi camp had regrouped after it first seemed to reel in confusion for the much of the uprising that began Feb. 15. With Gadhafi's men on the march against rebels, the international community appeared in disarray over how to stop the bloodshed.

Arab foreign ministers were meeting in Egypt on Saturday to discuss a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilian population from the Gadhafi regime's fighter jets. But the Arab League's member states are divided over how to deal with the Libyan crisis, signaling it would be a tough debate.

A Nigerian army spokesman says soldiers have stopped trucks loaded with weapons and explosives in Nigeria's restive north.

Capt. Charles Eckoacha says the trucks carried more than 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) of ammunition along with explosive material, detonators and other equipment used to make bombs. He told journalists on Friday that police seized the cargo and arrested a driver and a policeman who was escorting the trucks.

Jos is the epicenter of religious violence in Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands. Politics, jobs and land often motivate violence that falls along religious lines.
Japan's government spokesman says the metal container sheltering a nuclear reactor was not affected by an explosion that destroyed the building it's in.

Yukio Edano says the radiation around the plant did not rise after the blast but instead is decreasing. He added that pressure in the reactor was also decreasing.

Pressure and heat have been building at the nuclear reactor since an earthquake and tsunami Friday caused its cooling system to fail.

An explosion Saturday blew out the walls of the building housing the reactor. The government has ordered people within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant in Fukushima to evacuate the area.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

An explosion at a nuclear power station Saturday destroyed a building housing the reactor amid fears that it could melt down after being hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.

Large amounts of radiation were spewing out and the evacuation area around the plant was expanded but officials did not know how dangerous the leak was to people. Shinji Kinjo, a spokesman for the Japanese nuclear agency, could not say how much radiation was in the atmosphere or how hot the reactor was following the failure of its cooling system.

Friday's double disaster, which pulverized Japan's northeastern coast, has left 574 people dead by official count, although local media reports said at least 1,300 people may have been killed.

Tokyo Power Electric Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said four workers had suffered fractures and bruises and were being treated at a hospital. A nuclear expert said a meltdown may not pose widespread danger.

The European Union's foreign policy chief says she will go to Cairo to meet with leaders of the Arab League to discuss the situation in Libya.

Following a meeting of the EU foreign ministers, Catherine Ashton said she would fly to Cairo on Sunday.

Ashton said Saturday she would discuss a "collaborative approach" with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa on Libya and the rest of the region. The Arab League was meeting Saturday in Cairo, with discussions about the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya on the agenda.

Ashton said it was necessary to evaluate how effective sanctions imposed on Moammar Gadhafi's regime had been so far and that she was "keeping all options moving forward" regarding any additional measures.
The tsunami warnings moved faster than the waves, giving millions of people across the Pacific hours to flee to higher ground. Now they are left to clean up what the waves had wrought: Destroyed docks and damaged boats.

A deadly tsunami generated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan raced across the Pacific on Friday and into marinas and harbors in Hawaii and on the West Coast, sending boats crashing into one another, carrying some out to sea and demolishing docks.

The damage - the most severe in two seaside towns along the Oregon-California border - was estimated to be in the millions.

"This is just devastating. I never thought I'd see this again," said Ted Scott, a retired mill worker who lived in Crescent City, Calif., when a 1964 tsunami killed 11 people, 17 total along the West Coast.

Still, there was relief that the destruction in the U.S. was nothing like that in Japan. The offshore quake pushed water onto land, sometimes miles inland, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people. Hundreds are dead.

"With everything that could have happened and did happen in Japan, we're just thankful that nothing else happened," said Sabrina Skiles, whose beachfront house in Maui was left unscathed.

Yemeni security forces fired live bullets and tear gas on two pro-democracy demonstrations Saturday, killing three people - including a 15-year-old student - as the government clamps down on a growing protest movement, witnesses said.

The violence began with a pre-dawn raid on a central square in the capital, Sanaa, where thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been camped out for the past month to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. An ally in the Obama's administration's fight against al-Qaida, Saleh has been in power for 32 years.

Doctors and eyewitnesses said security troops surrounded the square with police cars and armored personnel carriers shortly after midnight and began calling on protesters through loudspeakers to go home. At 5 a.m., security forces stormed in, firing tear gas and live ammunition.

Firefighters rigged a precarious gangplank of ladders and ropes and safely rescued 83 people, including former Cincinnati Bengals star Cris Collinsworth, from a floating restaurant that broke free from a pier on the flood Ohio River, authorities say.

Covington Fire Department Capt. Chris Kiely said Jeff Ruby's Waterfront restaurant drifted about 85 to 100 yards down the rain-swollen river during the Friday evening dinner bustle and the popular seafood eatery lodged beside a tall bridge as stunned dinner patrons looked on.

He said 83 people were safely rescued by early Saturday after an effort lasting hours, led off one by one in life jackets.

"Luckily the people on the boat called" for help immediately on their cell phones, Kiely told The Associated Press.

TV footage of the rescue showed dinner patrons pacing aboard the barge as firefighters put up the makeshift bridge of ladders that spanned swirling, debris-filled water. Work boats edged close amid the flashing lights of firetrucks nearby.

Kiely said the regular gangplanks tore away or were damaged enough to leave all those aboard cut off.

"There were three gangplanks on the restaurant already and when it broke loose it destroyed sections ... the last 20 feet of the gangplanks were destroyed as the boat moved downriver," he said by telephone.
The Israeli military launched a massive search Saturday for suspected Palestinian militants after an Israeli family of five - including two young children and a baby - were knifed to death overnight as they slept in a West Bank settlement.

Footage from the scene broadcast on Israeli media showed children's toys covered in blood and furniture tipped over.

Israeli officials said Palestinian militants infiltrated the settlement and killed the couple and the children, ages 11 and 3. A baby also was killed.

Israeli media said two young children were asleep in another part of the house and survived. Another family member, a 12-year-old girl, was away at a youth group function when the attack occurred. She found the carnage when she came home and alerted authorities.

Military officials said they had made arrests, but wouldn't provide details.

"This was a very harsh terror attack, a whole family was wiped out by despicable cowardly murderers who came in the dead of night and killed innocent children, a woman and man as they slept," said Avi Mizrachi, commander of the military's Central Command.

The attack at Itamar settlement is the first against settlers in months and the deadliest in years, marking a rare outburst of violence during a relatively calm period. It comes as Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts are at a standstill and could complicate efforts to restart them.

Itamar is a small, isolated settlement in the northern West Bank that has rocky relations with the nearby Palestinian towns and villages.

Palestinian security forces also were searching for suspects, Nablus governor Jibril Bakri told The Associated Press.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack.

"Violence does not justify violence, we condemn it completely, whoever does it and whoever the victims are," Fayyad told the Associated Press.