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Missile, bomb, clashes claim 33 in Pakistan

A SUSPECTED United States missile strike killed at least five people yesterday in a tribal region where Pakistan's top Taliban commander is based, intelligence officials said, breaking a lull in such attacks and posing a test for growing anti-Taliban sentiment in the country.

The strike came as violence raged elsewhere in the volatile northwest region bordering Afghanistan: a bombing at a market killed at least eight people, while officials said clashes between the Taliban and security forces killed at least 20 militants in a tribal region supposedly cleared of insurgents months ago.

Local media have reported that the Taliban claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in Pakistan, including one that killed a moderate cleric, calling them revenge for the army's offensive in the Swat Valley.

The attacks seem to have bolstered growing anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan, something the US hopes will translate into support for sustained military action against extremists who use Pakistani soil to plot attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

But US missile strikes could undermine that sentiment because they are deeply unpopular among Pakistanis.

The government has publicly protested such strikes, fired by unmanned drone aircraft, saying they violate the country's sovereignty, even though many analysts suspect the two countries have struck a deal.

The US rarely acknowledges or discusses the missile strikes.

The latest strike - the first since mid-May - occurred in South Waziristan, hitting three vehicles in an area not far from Makeen, a village considered a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

It was not clear who the five people killed were. Two Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed the attack on condition of anonymity.

South Waziristan, which also is an al-Qaida stronghold, is believed to be the target of Pakistan's next offensive against militants.


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