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Hamas appealed through Israel's news media Wednesday for a truce in the Gaza Strip. A TV reporter said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (above, leaving a Muslim prayer service in Gaza City) complained to him that Israeli raids – one Tuesday killed 13 Palestinian militants – were thwarting his efforts to stop rocket fire into the Jewish state by "all factions." Israeli strikes, plus sanctions against Hamas, have left Gaza isolated and in deeper poverty than before. The Israeli government would not confirm receiving Hamas's appeal.

US and Turkish military officials consulted Wednesday on new procedures to cover raids against rebel bases in northern Iraq. The issue is sensitive because the US provided intelligence that helped facilitate last Sunday's airstrikes against Kurdish camps, yet was not informed of them until they'd begun. Turkey defended the attacks as well as those Tuesday by its ground troops inside Iraq, saying it would continue doing "whatever is necessary" to counter the Kurdish rebels. But Iraq's government called the incursions a violation of its sovereignty.

Al Qaeda invited "all media" to pose questions in writing to its No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It set a Jan. 16 deadline for submission and said he would answer "as much as he is able" but without indicating whether that would be in writing or on tape. Neither he nor Osama bin Laden has been interviewed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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A nine-day peace conference beginning just after Christmas was announced by the government of Congo to try to end fighting in the eastern sector of the country. A spokesman said all parties, especially rebel chief Laurent Nkunda, would be invited. Nkunda, a dissident Army general, claims to be protecting the region's Tutsi population from Hutu rebels who've based themselves there since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Nkunda has said the government must disarm the Rwandan Hutus before he'll participate in negotiations.

All-night negotiations between Dutch- and French-speaking parties in Belgium produced an interim coalition government, ending a political vacuum that had lasted six months. Caretaker Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is to be sworn in Friday for a term that will last until the end of March, when he must yield to the Dutch-speaking leader of the Christian Democrats. The latter and the Liberal Party won a majority in parliament last June but have failed to forge a ruling coalition due to disputes over regional autonomy.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups protested bitterly as European Union negotiators increased the quota of fish that may be caught in Continental waters next year. For their part, commercial fishermen said they were "cautiously optimistic" about the decision, although it scales back the number of days they may spend at sea. Especially contentious was the agreement to raise the quota for cod caught in the North Sea by 11 percent. Conservationists argued that stocks are too fragile to allow larger catches.

Sabotage was ruled out as the cause of a train derailment (above) in southern Pakistan Wednesday that killed at least 58 passengers and injured more than 100 others. It happened about 2 a.m. as the train was en route from Karachi to Lahore. Many of those aboard were returning to their hometowns to observe the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha Friday. Investigators said a welded joint had broken, perhaps because of cold weather.

A preteen student from Cardiff joined senior government officials Tuesday to plant the first tree in what's envisioned as a new national forest for Wales. To encourage environmental preservation, Natalie Vaughan proposed planting a sapling for every child born or adopted in Wales beginning Jan. 1. That number has averaged 35,000 a year recently. Woodlands cover less than 15 percent of Wales.

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