US forces arrested 54 people suspected of attacking them and confiscated dozens of weapons in a raid in northern Iraq. But while the mission yielded what a military spokes-man called "quality targets," it again did not turn up Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former top deputy of Saddam Hussein, who was erroneously reported as having been captured or killed earlier this week. The spokesman said "it was pretty clear he had been there recently."

A rare, open spat erupted between the US and Israel, with senior leaders of the latter government bluntly criticizing American receptiveness to a symbolic plan for peace with the Palestinians. The so-called "Geneva Accord," negotiated in secret by out-of-power Israeli leftists and Palestinians described as moderate, would confer shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, require the removal of most Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and allow some Palestinians to reclaim property inside Israel, subject to limitations by the Jewish state. Israel has flatly rejected the document and is angry that Secretary of State Powell plans to meet with its architects in Washington this week. For his part, Powell said, "I do not know why I or anyone else in the US government should deny ourselves the opportunity to hear from others who are committed to peace and who have ideas."

Signs pointed to the postponement of a new round of high-profile, six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions until well into next year, the Bush administration said. The second set of discussions had been expected to open Dec. 17 in Beijing. But earlier this week the Pyongyang government rejected a proposal to trade its nuclear program for a written US guarantee of security - although only if North Korea acts first. China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea also would participate in the talks. Japan's Kyodo news service reported Wednesday that the US and other parties rejected terms for the new talks as proposed by China, saying they were too advantageous to North Korea.

Torrential rains, driven by fierce winds, were causing what a Paris government spokesman called "the floods of the century" across southern France. At least three people were reported dead, two others were missing, and 4,000 more evacuated their homes. Train service westward from Lyon was shut down, along with two nuclear power plant reactors.

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