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Prospect of annexation looms for settlements

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel is considering the annexation of major West Bank settlement blocs if the Palestinians unilaterally seek world recognition of a state, an Israeli official said Tuesday -- moves that would deal a grave blow to prospects for negotiating a peace deal between the two sides.

Israel has refrained from taking such a diplomatically explosive step for four decades. The fact that it is considering doing so reflects how seriously it is concerned by the Palestinian campaign to win international recognition of a state in the absence of peacemaking.

The Palestinians launched that campaign after peace talks foundered over Israeli construction in West Bank settlements. Israel captured both East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in 1967.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, home to shrines sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, immediately after seizing it. But it carefully avoided annexing the West Bank, where 300,000 settlers now live among 2.5 million Palestinians.



Clooney may testify in Berlusconi defense

ROME (AP) -- Silvio Berlusconi's defense lawyers Tuesday named George Clooney, the Italian foreign minister and a bevy of showgirls as witnesses for the prime minister's upcoming prostitution trial, according to an attorney and news reports.

Prosecutors have asked to hear from 136 witnesses, including the Moroccan teenager at the center of the scandal and 32 other women who allegedly worked as prostitutes during parties at Berlusconi's villa, according to Italian news reports.

Both sides presented their lists of witnesses at the Milan tribunal where the trial opens next week. A judge must now decide on which ones to admit.

Berlusconi, 74, is accused of having paid for sex with the Moroccan, who is known as Ruby and was 17 at the time, and then using his influence to try to cover it up. The prime minister denies wrongdoing.

Clooney was listed because Ruby once said she had seen the Hollywood star and his Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis at one of Berlusconi's parties, according to the law firm representing Berlusconi.



Carter says intent isn't to bring captive home

HAVANA (AP) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that he has met with Cuban officials and discussed the case of a U.S. government contractor who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against state security but that he is not in Cuba to bring the man home.

Carter said he talked with Cuban officials about Alan Gross, who was arrested in December 2009 while working on a democracy-building project backed by the Agency for International development, but added, "I am not here to take him out of the country."

"We are here to visit the Cubans, the heads of government and private citizens," Carter said in Spanish during a visit to a senior citizens center, accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn.



Piracy burden is factor as new prison debuts

HARGEISA, Somalia (AP) -- A new maximum-security prison opened in northern Somalia on Tuesday, raising hopes that it can help relieve the burden on other piracy-affected nations that are reluctant to imprison pirates.

The United Nations, which paid for the $1.5 million refurbishment of the prison here, says the facility is equipped to receive international transfers of prisoners. Compared with the overcrowded, rusty lockups elsewhere in Somalia, its cream corridors and 10-inmate dormitories seem spacious, sanitary and relatively comfortable.

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