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AROUND THE WORLD

Airstrikes on Gaza answer rocket attacks

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel on Tuesday launched an unusually heavy series of airstrikes on Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks, raising the prospect of a new round of bloody fighting after a relative lull for two years.

The military said the Israeli strikes hit seven targets. Palestinian officials said eight militants were wounded. In response, the Palestinians fired another rocket at southern Israel, slightly wounding a 16-year-old Israeli girl.

The violence followed the deaths of five Gaza militants Saturday in the deadliest Israeli assault on the coastal strip in months.

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Premier to press U.S. for release of Pollard

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would press President Obama to release an Israeli spy who is serving a life sentence in the United States, a step that could reopen a case that has been a source of tension between the two allies for a quarter of a century.

Netanyahu said he would call for the release of former Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard "in a formal and public manner" in the coming days.

The United States arrested Pollard in 1985 and sentenced him to life in prison after he pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Israel. He enjoys widespread sympathy in Israel, where many believe that the sentence was too harsh.

There was no immediate U.S. comment.

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After 7 years, lighting of tree, carols resume

GIMPO, South Korea (AP) -- As troops stood guard and a choir sang carols Tuesday, South Koreans lit a massive steel Christmas tree that overlooks the world's most heavily armed border and is within sight of atheist North Korea.

The lighting of the tree after a seven-year hiatus marked a pointed return to a tradition condemned in Pyongyang as propaganda. The provocative ceremony -- which must receive government permission -- was also a sign that President Lee Myung-bak's administration is serious about countering the North's aggression with measures of its own in the wake of an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans last month.

While the North has made some conciliatory gestures in recent days -- indicating to a visiting U.S. governor that it might allow international inspections of its nuclear programs -- Seoul appears unmoved.

Earlier Tuesday, a South Korean destroyer prowled the sea and fighter jets tore across the skies in preparation for possible North Korean attacks a day after Seoul held a round of artillery drills from an island.

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Coalition denies report on Special Ops raids

KABUL (AP) -- The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan on Tuesday denied a report that American forces are pushing to expand Special Operations raids into tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan where Islamist militants find refuge.

NATO's deputy chief of communications, U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, said there was "absolutely no truth" to the report in the New York Times.

Citing unnamed American officials in Washington, the Times reported on its website late Monday that U.S. military commanders believe that Special Operations forces could capture militants for interrogation, scoring an intelligence windfall.

Smith said NATO's strong working relationship with the Pakistan military "recognizes the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue insurgents and terrorists operating in their respective border areas."

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