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MIDDLE EAST DEVELOPMENTS Israel's chief rabbis declared yesterday, the 10th of the Jewish month of Tevet, traditionally a day for fasting, as a time for praying that the Gulf crisis does not erupt into war.... The largest US amphibious task force to leave the Pacific coast in 25 years yesterday arrived in the Philippines on its way to bolster allied forces in the Gulf.... Belgium yesterday sent 10 military experts to Turkey to study possible deployment of Belgian fighter planes following a request from Ankara for NATO aid to deter any attack by Iraq.... Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu made an urgent appeal to Baghdad to withdraw from Kuwait, and promised to normalize economic relations after Iraq's full compliance with UN resolutions.


Final census figures confirm that there now are 249,600,000 Americans, 10 percent more than a decade ago. The Census Bureau said the West and South experienced the largest population increases. California will add seven congressional seats, Florida four, and Texas three. New York and Massachusetts will lose seats.... California gun owners are defying a state law requiring them to register an estimated 300,000 semiautomatic weapons, state officials said yesterday. Four days before the deadline, fewer than 7,000 of the weapons have been registered.


In Yugoslavia, Slovenia declared itself an autonomous state in formalizing results of a weekend independence plebiscite a day before a crucial meeting of national leaders on resolving the fate of the crisis-ridden multi-ethnic federation.... Albania's ruling communists abandoned decades of Stalinism Wednesday and welcomed political competition ahead of next February's multi-party elections.... In Lyon, France, Garry Kasparov's chess victory Wednesday over archrival Anatoly Karpov enabled him to keep the world champion title.


In New York, Pan Am Corporation said Wednesday it believes Trans World Airlines Inc. is not prepared to pursue its previously announced $375 million merger bid. Pan Am executive vice president Richard Francis did, however, welcome further negotiations.... In Dallas, a federal judge ordered American Airlines pilots to halt any activities contributing to a slowdown after an unusually high number of pilots called in sick during one of the year's busiest travel times. The Airline Pilots Association denied the allegation that the sickout was orchestrated by the union.


Tuesday: New Year's Day.... Polar Bear Swim in Lake Michigan, in Sheboygan, Wis.... Thursday: The 102nd United States Congress convenes in Washington, D.C.

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