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Dec. 28, 2012 at 4:59 PM
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Obama, congressional leaders meet on 'cliff'

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner met with congressional leaders Friday in a last-ditch effort to avert the "fiscal cliff."

The meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., began at 3:10 p.m., a White House official said. The meeting lasted little more than an hour.

Unless Congress takes action by Monday, the last day of 2012, tax rates will go up for all Americans, 2 million people receiving extended unemployment benefits will lose their stipends and severe federal spending cuts will kick in, potentially sending the U.S. economy back into recession.

In advance of the meeting, McConnell said he'd review Obama's latest plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

"We'll see what the president has to propose," McConnell said. "Hopefully, there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly preventable economic crisis."

Obama was expected to outline elements he thinks should be in a deal that could get majority support in both chambers of Congress, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Obama was not expected to put forward a specific bill or legislative language, the Journal said.

3 police officers wounded, shooter killed

LAUREL SPRINGS, N.J., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Police in Gloucester Township, N.J., said a man who wounded three officers at the town's police station Friday was killed when officers returned fire.

Police Chief Harry Earle said the shooter has been identified as Eddie Jones III, a communications officer for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Jones, 39, of Willingboro, N.J., had been arrested at about 5:30 a.m. Friday after police received a complaint of a suspicious person outside a home. Earle said Jones had been stalking a former girlfriend and was arrested on "numerous offenses."

As Officer Ruth Burns was processing him at the police station, he attacked her and grabbed her gun. As Sgt. James Garber and Sgt. Kevin Thyne responded to the altercation, Jones "unleashed a barrage of gunfire" toward them, and was killed by return fire, Earle said.

Garber, a 13-year veteran of the force, was shot multiple times in the chest and abdomen and sustained a "grazing wound to the head," Earle said. Garber -- who was wearing a protective vest -- was listed in stable condition after surgery for two bullet wounds, WTXF-TV, Philadelphia, reported.

Thyne, an 8-year veteran, and Burns, in her first year on the force, sustained wounds described as non-life threatening.

Arrest made in Christmas Eve ambush

GREECE, N.Y., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A New York state woman faces charges related to the guns used to kill two firefighters and wound two other Christmas Eve, authorities say.

Dawn Nguyen of Greece was arrested Thursday afternoon at a home where she and her mother, Dawn Welsher, were staying, The (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle reported.

State Police Senior Investigator James Newell said Nguyen will have a court hearing Jan. 8 on a felony charge of first-degree falsifying business records. He said the hearing will be in Henrietta Town, where the guns were bought.

Newell said an unspecified federal charged also would be brought against her.

Nguyen's attorney, Dave Palmiere, said Friday his client "purchased the weapons legally, and they were stolen." He said she didn't recall whether she had reported them stolen, the newspaper said.

Palmiere said the charges were related to a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, not a handgun also found in the possession of William Spengler Jr.

Two Syrian generals among defectors

BUKULMEZ, Turkey, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Several Syrian military officers, including two generals, have reportedly fled their civil war-torn country for Turkey

Today's Zaman reported that Friday's defections mean 49 Syrian generals have left the Assad regime for Turkey.

The latest generals to defect were reported to have been regional commanders in the Syrian air force. The other officers included five colonels, two majors, two captains, four lieutenants, three major sergeants and their families.

They entered Turkey at the border village of Bukulmez, Today's Zaman said, and were taken to the Apaydin camp where Syrian army members are being housed.

Iron Dome stopped 421 Hamas rockets

TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The cost to operate Israel's Iron Dome rocket-intercepting system during Operation Pillar of Defense last month was about $27 million, an official said.

Israeli officials said the Iron Dome's five batteries had a kill rate of about 86 percent for the 421 rockets fired that would have hit populated areas, the Washington Post reported. Altogether there were more than 1,500 rockets fired at Israel.

The Israeli air force said Hamas had a less than 7 percent success rate at hitting populated areas, Ynetnews.com reported.

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Thursday the cost of using the Iron Dome system was worth saving lives.

"Show me another [$27 million] investment that yielded such a return," he said.

"In the Second Lebanon War some 4,000 rockets were fired at Israel and about 1,000 hit populated areas. The Iron Dome system would have intercepted most of those rockets, and it would have cost us $50 [million]-$100 million," said the head of the Iron Dome project in the Defense Ministry.

"If we had to choose between the terror that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis over a period of only a few years and the 1,500 rockets (fired at Israel) during Pillar of Defense, which we can deal with, then dealing with the rockets is preferable," Dichter said.

Harsh Sharia punishments meted in Mali

BAMAKO, Mali, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Authorities in northern Mali are ordering severe punishments, including cutting off limbs and public whippings, under Sharia law, human rights activists say.

At least 14 people suspected of thievery have had hands, and sometimes their feet, lopped off, Human Rights Watch and other independent observers say. Dozens of other people have been flogged with whips or tree branches for minor infractions such as smoking or listening to music on the radio, they say.

The New York Times reported Friday one police chief amputated the hand of his brother in carrying out prescribed punishments.

The Times after Moctar Toure, who was accused of stealing guns, was tied to a chair and blindfolded, a doctor gave him a shot and Toure's brother administered his punishment with a type of knife commonly used on sheep.

"I myself cut off my brother's hand," Aliou Toure, a police chief in northern Mali said. "We had no choice but to practice the justice of God."

The U.N. Security Council last week approved military intervention to retake the northern region from the Islamist extremists.

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