Among other items: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he will seek final Cabinet approval for a Gaza withdrawal in February, four months earlier than planned; the Japanese government will establish an advisory council to begin deliberations early next year on the wisdom of granting female members of the imperial family the right...

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Moscow

Once-bitter rivals Russia and China will hold an unprecedented joint military exercise in Chinese territory next year involving submarines and possibly strategic bombers.

“The Russian side will not bring big numbers of servicemen, but mostly state-of-the-art weapons — navy, air, long-range aviation, submarines — to practice interaction with China in different forms of military maneuvers,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying.

“It’s a response to a series of political defeats Russia has suffered, most recently in Ukraine [where President Vladimir Putin backed the losing candidate],” said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of Russia in Global Affairs Magazine. “It’s a reminder that Russia is still a great military power.”

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Jerusalem


Sharon to seek early OK for withdrawal

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that he will seek final Cabinet approval for a Gaza withdrawal in February, four months earlier than planned, and he threatened harsh retaliation if Palestinian militants try to disrupt the pullback.

Sharon said he wants to give settlers six months to prepare for their evacuation. The early vote does not change the schedule for the actual pullout, which is to begin in July, but it was the latest sign of Sharon’s determination to carry it out.

Under Sharon’s plan, Israel will pull out of the entire Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements next year. The Palestinians suspect it is a ploy to ensure the existence of larger settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians want for an independent state.


Tokyo


Japan to study ascent of female to throne

The Japanese government will establish an advisory council to begin deliberations early next year on the wisdom of granting female members of the imperial family the right to ascend the throne, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said yesterday.

No male child has been born into the imperial family since the birth of Prince Akishino, the younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito, in November 1965. Since the birth of Princess Aiko, the first child of the crown prince and Princess Masako on Dec. 1, 2001, there has been public debate about revising the law in the face of a potential crisis in the imperial lineage.


Mulhouse, France


Gas explosion kills 17 in eastern France

A gas explosion tore through a five-story apartment building in eastern France, killing 17 people and injuring 15, authorities said yesterday.

Rescue workers, who initially found two bodies in the wreckage of Sunday afternoon’s blast, discovered 15 more bodies yesterday.


Amman, Jordan


Eleven Muslims sentenced over explosives

Jordan’s military court yesterday acquitted 13 Muslims, including three Saudis still at large, of conspiring to commit terror attacks against U.S. targets, but sentenced 11 of them to prison terms of up to 15 years for possessing explosives. Two defendants were acquitted.

The prosecution charged the 13-member cell — 10 of them are Jordanians — with possessing and intending to use explosive material and conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks. The prosecution charged the 13 men with targeting the U.S. Embassy in Amman and Jordanian military bases near the eastern Iraqi border.

No attacks had been carried out when police uncovered the plot in December 2002. None of the accused has al-Qaida links, officials said.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Seven bodies found in slum turf war over drugs

Police found seven charred bodies, some of them beheaded, in the Morro da Mineira slum yesterday after a drug gang invaded over Christmas weekend to seize distribution spots owned by a rival group.

“Drug traffickers from the neighboring slum of São Carlos showed up in force on Sunday, grabbed a number of people from their homes and killed them. … Everything leads us to believe the victims were drug traffickers,” an officer said.

The latest turf war broke out despite an increased police presence during the holiday season.