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Israeli Troops Mass Near Gaza Border


ISRAEL - PALESTINIANS: Israeli tanks and troops are massing near the Gaza border, as warplanes attack suspected Hamas targets in the Palestinian territory for a sixth day. While Israeli officials debated today whether to send soldiers over the border, Israeli missiles fired from the air and sea destroyed Hamas government buildings, smuggling tunnels and rocket-launching sites. The air strikes have killed at least 400 Palestinians and wounded nearly two-thousand more. The United Nations says about a quarter of the dead were civilians. Hamas rocket attacks have killed four Israelis since Saturday.

NEW YEAR: Massive crowds in New York City, Europe and across Asia welcomed 2009 with displays of fireworks and large celebrations. At New York's Times Square a large crystal ball was dropped as revelers cheered and braved brisk cold winds. At the stroke of midnight, confetti fell and balloons lifted into the air. Revelers in London, Paris and Sydney, Australia celebrated the New Year with fireworks and outdoor celebrations. In Rome, Pope Benedict called for greater sobriety and solidarity in 2009, as the world struggles with economic and social problems.

CHINA - US: Chinese state media say President Hu Jintao and his U.S. counterpart George Bush exchanged congratulations today as the two countries marked 30 years of diplomatic relations. In comments carried by China's official Xinhua news agency, Mr. Hu called the establishment of formal diplomatic ties a key moment in world history and pledged to continue to work with the United States. Mr. Hu said that at a time of deep and complex world change, China was willing to work with the United States to face new opportunities and challenges.

NORTH KOREA - NEW YEAR: North Korea used its annual New Year's message to lash out South Korea Thursday, but avoided criticizing the United States. Editorials in state-run media called for bolstering North Korea's military and for efforts to strengthen the country's economy. They accused South Korea of carrying out a policy of confrontation, but lacked the criticism of Washington included in previous New Year's messages. North Korea instead reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearization and peace.

THAILAND - FIRE: A fire at a night club in Thailand killed at least 59 people and injured more than 200 others as they celebrated on New Year's Eve. Police say the club, Santika, which is popular with young Thais and tourists, was completely gutted. The roof of the building (which is located in the city's Thong Lor district) also collapsed. Officials say the death toll was made worse by the fact that there were few exits from the building and because windows on the upper floors had iron bars on them. Many victims died from severe burns, suffocation and from being trampled.

IRAQ: U.S. troops in Iraq fall under Baghdad's authority for the first time today since the United States pushed the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power in 2003. As a first step, the U.S. returned the Republican Palace in Baghdad to the Iraqi government as the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve. U.S. authorities had used the palace as their diplomatic center since the fall of Saddam Hussein. They will now work from a newly-built embassy compound. Later today, they will hold a ceremony in which Iraqi forces will take over security in the Green Zone, a heavily fortified section of Baghdad.

RUSSIA - UKRAINE GAS: Russia has cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine over a debt and pricing dispute. Russia's state-owned natural gas company, Gazprom, says talks with Ukraine on a price for gas in 2009 have failed. It also says Ukraine has not yet paid its gas bill for November and December. Gazprom chief Alexei Miller blames Ukraine for the situation. Ukraine said Tuesday that it paid the one-point-five billion dollars it owes Gazprom for November and December. Gazprom says it has not yet seen the money, and it claims Ukraine owes more than two billion dollars.

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