Among other items: An ivory pomegranate long touted by scholars as the only relic from Solomon's Temple is a forgery, the Israel Museum said yesterday; one low-ranking Pakistani soldier has been sentenced to death and another given 10 years imprisonment after they were convicted in an attempt to assassinate President Gen. Pervez Musharraf; and police...

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Chávez signs deal with China on energy

BEIJING — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, on a five-day visit to China, has signed agreements allowing Chinese companies to explore for oil, set up refineries and produce natural gas in the South American country.

Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest petroleum exporter — 60 percent goes to the United States, which has been critical of Chávez — is also offering to supply China with 120,000 barrels of fuel oil a month, he said.

“We have been producing and exporting oil for more than 100 years but they have been years of dependence on the United States,” Chávez said.

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In return for access to oil, China is promising Venezuela technical and economic aid to boost agricultural output and to start a state-run telecommunications company.


Jewish temple artifact declared a forgery

An ivory pomegranate long touted by scholars as the only relic from Solomon’s Temple is a forgery, the Israel Museum said yesterday.

A team of experts found the thumb-sized pomegranate dates to the Bronze period, or about 3,400 years ago, meaning it is considerably older than the first Jewish temple, which was built in the sixth century B.C. and destroyed in A.D. 70 and the inscription was added recently, the museum said.

Scholars had believed the cream-colored pomegranate, which has a hole in the bottom, was used as the top of a scepter carried by a temple priest.

The pomegranate was bought from an anonymous collector by the Israel Museum for $550,000 in the 1980s, with the money deposited into a secret Swiss bank account at the time. The museum did not say whether it would ask police to investigate the deal.

Islamabad, Pakistan

Two soldiers sentenced in bid to kill president

One low-ranking Pakistani soldier has been sentenced to death and another given 10 years imprisonment after they were convicted in an attempt to assassinate President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, an army spokesman said yesterday.

Other air force and army personnel are facing similar trials in military courts over last year’s bomb attack, believed to have been plotted by a Libyan al-Qaida operative with help from Pakistani Islamic militants.

The military did not identify the two soldiers, nor give details of their involvement in the Dec. 14, 2003, attack, when a huge bomb ripped through a bridge seconds after Musharraf’s motorcade passed on a major road in Rawalpindi, a garrison city close to the capital, Islamabad. No one was hurt.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Properties raided in search for bank loot

Police raided properties in two Irish Republican Army strongholds of Belfast yesterday in search of the $42.5 million stolen this week from a bank’s underground vault.

Among the properties searched was the home of Eddie Copeland, a prominent reputed IRA commander in Ardoyne, a hard-line Catholic enclave of north Belfast. Police confiscated four cellphones and his shoes — and even opened presents under his family’s Christmas tree.

Scores of officers also searched properties in Catholic west Belfast, the primary power base of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party.

However, they did not report any progress in their hunt for the gang responsible for Monday’s raid on the Northern Bank headquarters — the world’s biggest all-cash robbery in peacetime.

Money-laundering experts say the robbers will have a hard time using most of their stolen loot, because it is newly minted pound notes bearing the Northern Bank’s own name.

These notes, peculiar to this British territory, cannot be spent in large volumes without attracting attention.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Nine killed on highway while looting truck

At least nine Brazilians were killed when a truck rammed into a crowd of people looting a cargo of flowers from another truck that had tipped over on a highway between Rio and São Paulo, police said yesterday.

A crowd of several dozen people that included local residents and people from cars that were passing were rushing to loot the flowers when the truck hit them and several vehicles.


Cargo ship launched to supply space station

An unmanned Russian cargo spaceship streaked toward the international space station yesterday after blasting off with badly needed food for the two-member U.S.-Russian crew, who have been forced to ration their dwindling supplies.

The spaceship was scheduled to reach the station tomorrow morning with about 2.5 tons of food, water, fuel and research equipment for Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao, who are in their second month on the station.

Russian and American space officials were alarmed this month to learn that the two had gone through so much food on the station.

NASA officials said there was enough food to last seven to 14 days beyond today if the supply shipment did not arrive, and called the situation “critical.”


Russia claims success for long-range missile

The Russian military successfully test-fired a mobile version of its top-of-the-line Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile yesterday, officials said.

The missile was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch pad in the northern region of Arkhangelsk and hit a designated target on a testing range on the far eastern Kamchatka peninsula, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement.

The Topol-M missiles, capable of hitting targets more than 6,000 miles away, have been in silos since 1998 and about 40 are on duty now, according to military officials. Russian media reports have said the missile maneuvers in a way that makes it more difficult to spot and intercept. It is also reportedly capable of blasting off even after a nuclear explosion close to its silo.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is developing strategic nuclear weapons superior to anything other nations have.