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THE KOREAS: South mobilizes for new drills

South Korea mobilized hundreds of troops, tanks, helicopters and jet fighters Wednesday for a massive military exercise aimed at sending North Korea a message of strength. The firing drills set for later in the day near the Koreas' heavily armed land border signaled that South Korea is willing to risk further escalating tensions with North Korea, which shelled a southern island off the Koreas' western coast on Nov. 23, killing four South Koreans. The attack was portrayed by Pyongyang as retaliation for southern military exercises on Yeonpyeong island that day.


GAZA: Israel seeks to counter Hamas arms

Israel will deploy tanks equipped with a new defense system along the Gaza border after Palestinian militants for the first time used a sophisticated, tank-piercing missile believed to be the most advanced weapon in their arsenal. Israeli defense officials said the laser-guided Kornet came from Iran, the top backer of Gaza's Hamas rulers. Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah guerrillas, also backed by Iran, used the Russian-made Kornets in their 2006 war against Israel, destroying or damaging several dozen Israeli tanks. Israel's answer is called Trophy, an Israeli-made system carried by tanks that is designed to shoot down missiles like the Kornet. Violence has been escalating along the Gaza border in recent weeks.


IRAQ: Wary Christians avoid celebrations

No decorations, no midnight Mass. Even an appearance by Santa Claus has been nixed after Iraq's Christian leaders called off Christmas celebrations amid al-Qaida threats on the tiny community still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church. Christians have been living in fear since the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church as its Catholic congregation was celebrating Sunday Mass. Sixty-eight people were killed. Days later Islamic insurgents bombed Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital.


MEXICO: 50 migrants missing in Oaxaca

Authorities said Wednesday they are investigating the possible kidnapping of 50 illegal migrants in the southern state of Oaxaca, a day after saying there was no evidence of the crime. Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran migrants were being interviewed at the federal attorney general's office about an assault last Thursday, the National Migration Institute said. The migrants - 30 men, 15 women and five children - were held up by gunmen while trying to cross the country by train and are now missing, said the Foreign Ministry of El Salvador, which first reported the crime. The alleged abduction was along the Oaxacan isthmus, which many migrants from Central America cross on their way to the United States.

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