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AUSTRALIA: Floods still climbing to peak

Floods that have cut air, rail and road links to the coastal city of Rockhampton are threatening its sewage plant, and the Fitzroy River was expected to rise another few feet before peaking Wednesday. Residents made their way in boats through waist-high waters in some areas but were warned not to wade as snakes and crocodiles could be lurking.


ISRAEL: Appeal for American spy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a public appeal Tuesday for the freedom of an American who spied for Israel, asking in a letter to President Barack Obama for clemency after the spy has spent 25 years behind bars. The case of Jonathan Pollard "unites us all," Netanyahu told his parliament. The request comes at a low point in Israel-U.S. relations over stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. A deal that would have given Israel advanced warplanes and political backing in exchange for an extension of a slowdown in settlement construction to restart peace talks, but it fell through.


EGYPT: Bomb probe goes local

In the weeks before the New Year's Day suicide bombing of an Egyptian church, al-Qaida-linked websites were carrying a how-to manual on "destroying the cross," complete with videos on how to build a bomb and the locations of churches to target, including the one that was attacked. They may have found a receptive audience in Alexandria, where increasingly radicalized Islamic hard-liners have been holding weekly anti-Christian demonstrations, filled with venomous slogans against the minority community. The blast, which struck Saturday as worshipers were leaving midnight Mass, killed 21 people. President Hosni Mubarak has accused foreign groups of being behind the attack, which sparked a wave of angry protests by Egypt's Christians. On the ground, investigators are searching in a different direction, scrutinizing homegrown hard-liners, known as Salafis, and the possibility they were inspired by al-Qaida to carry out the attack. Two or three days before the bombing, several Salafis spreading fliers in Alexandria calling for violence against Christians were arrested, a security official said.

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