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>Frail-looking Mubarak returns after surgery

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returned home Saturday three weeks after undergoing gall bladder surgery in Germany -- an operation that prompted him to temporarily hand over power to his prime minister and fueled speculation about the country's leadership.

State television broadcast live footage of Mubarak's arrival at the airport in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. With his wife at his side, the president descended from the plane on an escalator before walking slowly with a slight limp to greet Cabinet ministers and other dignitaries waiting for him on the tarmac.

The president's frail health and three-week absence prompted speculation about the leadership in the Arab world's most populous nation, a U.S. ally that plays a critical role in issues ranging from Mideast peace efforts to curbing Islamic militancy.

In power for nearly 30-years, Mubarak has no clear successor and has never appointed a vice president.


>Israel pulls back troops after Gaza Strip battle

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza Strip on Saturday after some of the fiercest gunbattles with Palestinian militants in the Hamas-run territory since last year's military offensive.

Israeli troops used bulldozers to "remove infrastructure used by terrorists to attack soldiers" before the early morning withdrawal, a military spokeswoman said.

Gaza militants, meanwhile, fired a rocket into southern Israel on Saturday, but no injuries were reported, the military said. Two others fell short of Israeli territory.

The violence began Friday when soldiers patrolling the border crossed into Gaza after spotting Palestinians planting explosives near the fence with Israel.

Two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinian militants were killed in the gunbattle, the military said. Palestinian medics said one civilian was killed and seven were wounded in the fighting.

The violence underscored some of the challenges the U.S. faces as it tries to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

Senior Israeli Cabinet ministers plan to meet today to draw up a response to President Obama's demand for peace gestures toward the Palestinians, Israel's Channel 10 TV reported.


>Iran calls for closer ties with neighbors

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran used an ancient new year celebration to reach out to Afghanistan, Iraq and other neighbors on Saturday, hosting them at a summit meeting that projected Iranian leadership in the strategic region straddling the Middle East and Central Asia.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was the first of what he hoped would be yearly gatherings to mark the Nowruz celebrations and promote closer ties with the six neighboring nations where the holiday is celebrated by Farsi-speaking communities. "That Nowruz promotes affection and social contacts among the people is one of many characteristics of this festival," Ahmadinejad said.

Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad made his second visit to Afghanistan as president. During the visit, Ahmadinejad criticized U.S. policies in the country, arguing that the United States was playing a "double game" in fighting militants it had supported decades earlier in their battle against the Soviets. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was among those attending Saturday's events in Tehran.


>Workers renew strike against British Airways

LONDON (AP) -- British Airways workers took to the picket lines Saturday for a second round of strikes against the struggling airline, causing widespread disruption and frustration among passengers.

Union officials say 12,000 members are taking part in the four-day strike, which comes only a week after another walkout touched off travel chaos.

BA has been taking a hard line against strikers and has promised to fly more than three quarters of booked passengers. But its Heathrow services will be severely depleted.

The airline notified passengers five days ago about the strike action, but that offered little consolation to exasperated passengers at Heathrow's Terminal 5. They included John Cawley, 54, from Liverpool, who swore he'd never fly BA again.

Cawley, his wife and two sons were due to fly to New Jersey before going on a cruise -- but their internal flight between Manchester and Heathrow was canceled. The family needed to hire a van to drive them to London -- a journey that cost 350 pounds ($520). "It seems there are no certainties with BA at all," he said.

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