WEST BANK: Abbas to head unity regime

After months of wavering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a decisive step Monday toward reconciliation with Hamas, a move Israel promptly warned would close the door to any peace talks. In a deal brokered by Qatar, Abbas will head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the Palestinian territories. The agreement appeared to bring reconciliation, key to any statehood ambitions, within reach for the first time since the two sides set up rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007. Monday's deal, signed in Doha by Abbas and Khaled Mashaal of Hamas, put an end to recent efforts by the international community to revive long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the terms of statehood.


EUROPE: Winter woes continue

Overwhelmed by deep snow and harsh temperatures, some countries closed schools and struggled to continue public transport and garbage pickup Monday. Rains caused a dam to collapse in Bulgaria, flooding a village and killing at least four. Another four people were killed by floods in southern Bulgaria, and 10 people are missing. Across the continent people were digging out from heavy snow after a week of bitter cold in which the number of dead, most of them homeless, continued to rise. Temperatures have fallen as low as minus 33 Fahrenheit in Ukraine. The big freeze has caused traffic chaos throughout Europe, blocking roads, shutting down airports, and trapping thousands in remote mountain villages in the Balkans.


AUSTRALIA: Thousands flee floods

Thousands have been forced out of their homes as floods engulfed the northeast. The Balonne River at St George, a town of 3,000 people 310 miles west of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, was expected to peak at around 46 feet Monday. The flooding could damage 10 percent of the cotton crop in Australia, the world's third-biggest shipper,Olam International Ltd. said.

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