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Cease-fire to allow evacuation of civilians

GENEVA, Switzerland (Bloomberg News) -- The Syrian army and rebel groups have agreed to a pause in fighting so that hundreds of civilians trapped in Homs can be evacuated, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday.

"Hundreds of civilians are stuck in the old city of Homs, unable to leave and find refuge in safer areas," said Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Near and Middle East.

"It is critical that the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent be immediately given safe and unhindered access to those in need of life-saving assistance."

The two humanitarian groups have received assurances from both sides, according to the statement.

The evacuations have not yet begun, according to a later statement from the ICRC. While a joint team of the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are on stand-by to enter the town, they are still negotiating the number of vehicles that can be used and the destination of the evacuees, spokesman Sean Maguire said.


Police storm bank, capture gunman

TOULOUSE, France (AP) -- French police stormed a bank and captured a gunman who took four of its employees hostage Wednesday while claiming he was acting for religious reasons. The six-hour standoff jarred a region still reeling from a terrorist shooting spree that killed seven people earlier this year. But prosecutors waved off French media reports that the latest suspect had ties to the al-Qaida terror network, saying he had psychiatric problems.

The hostages were released unharmed, while the suspect was hospitalized with two bullet wounds in the left hand and the left thigh -- neither of which were life-threatening.

Authorities refused to identify the suspect by name, confirm French media reports that he was 26 or name what religion the suspect referred to in making his claims.

Tensions have been high in Toulouse since March, when gunman Mohamed Merah, who police said claimed links to al-Qaida, killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in the area.


Missile attack kills Gaza militant

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli aircraft fired missiles Wednesday at Gaza militants involved in a deadly infiltration from Egypt earlier in the week, killing one and severely wounding the other, the military claimed. It was Israel's first official linking of the ambush to Gaza militants.

The infiltration Monday was part of a broader spike of attacks drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, including one Wednesday that killed a 14-year-old Palestinian youth and brought the week's death toll in Gaza to nine, Palestinian officials said.

More than 100 rockets and mortars have crashed into Israel this week, wounding several Israelis, according to Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Late Wednesday, Hamas released a statement offering to stop the fire if Israel stops its attacks. It said Egypt urged implementation of a truce..