Fallujah ceasefire extended

And police are being deployed in the central Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Najaf following an agreement for the pullout of armed militiamen from the streets.

“An agreement has been reached between the coalition and the office of Sadr,” said Najaf police chief Ali al-Yaseri, referring to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Under the terms of the agreement, coalition troops will not enter the city, which will be under Iraqi security control, said Mr Yaseri.

The city had been under the control of Sadr’s banned Mehdi Army militia.

But a coalition spokesman said he is not aware of the deal, adding that the situation in Najaf is under control.

The ceasefire in Fallujah has dramatically reduced the fighting, but there has been fighting between Iraqi guerrillas and US Marines overnight.

And US forces have suffered more losses, with three marines killed during an attack in western Iraq.

Another six were reported killed in Baghdad and Samarra over the past three days, taking the US death toll to 62 since April 4.

Also, a US Apache attack helicopter was shot down, killing two crew members.

“The ceasefire was extended by 24 hours last night, so it is supposed to last until Monday evening,” said Alaa Makki, a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party which is involved in the mediation efforts.

“It had initially been due to last until today morning, but the two sides agreed to 24 hours [more],” he said.

Many of Fallujah’s 300,000 residents have fled, and fighters are the main group out on the streets.

Hospital officials said hundreds of Iraqis have died in the past week in Fallujah, where the local soccer pitch has been turned into a makeshift cemetery.

Mr Makki said more than 600 Iraqis have been killed and 1,250 wounded since the start of hostilities.

The ceasefire came into force after coalition forces suspended its offensive and waved the white flag.

An Iraqi delegation, led by members of the Iraqi Governing Council, has held meetings to mediate an end to the bloodshed.

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