Briefly: Middle East

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ISRAEL

Holy Land patriarch voices hope for peace

JERUSALEM — The top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land says he remains hopeful for Mideast peace despite the current breakdown in negotiations.

In his annual pre-Christmas address in Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told his followers not to give up. He noted that Palestinian firefighters helped Israel battle a massive forest fire earlier this month and said that could mark the beginning of a “fruitful collaboration” between two sides.

The patriarch will lead Christmas services in the West Bank town of Bethlehem this weekend.

ISRAEL

Violence escalates along Gaza border

JERUSALEM — The Israeli air force hit seven suspected militant sites in the Gaza Strip in an unusually large operation early Tuesday, and Palestinian militants retaliated by sending a rocket crashing down near a kindergarten in southern Israel.

Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said three Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes. A 16-year-old girl told Israel Radio she was slightly wounded by shattered glass in the rocket blast.

The violence was the latest sign of escalating tensions along the Gaza-Israeli border, where five militants were killed Saturday in the deadliest Israeli assault in the coastal strip in months.

In testimony Tuesday before parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, described the situation as potentially “fragile and volatile.”

IRAN

Strong earthquake kills 7 in southeast

TEHRAN — Rescue teams managed to pull all survivors from under the rubble Tuesday after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck a remote area in southeastern Iran late the previous night, killing seven and injuring 33 people.

Iranian state TV said the strong quake hit Hosseinabad, a small town of a few hundred residents in a sparsely populated Chah Malek region in the country’s southeast late on Monday.

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