World news briefs: 1/1/13

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Iraq blasts kill scores Attacks kill 23 in Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents launched a wave of attacks across Iraq on Monday, primarily targeting Shiite communities and pilgrims and killing at least 23 people, officials said.

The attacks appeared aimed at undermining security and confidence in the government by fomenting sectarian conflict. Attacks of a sectarian nature come almost daily, and government forces seem powerless to prevent them.

The deadliest attacks on Monday were in the town of Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital, where militants planted bombs around two houses, one belonging to a police officer. Two women, two children and three men were killed in the pre-dawn explosions, a police officer said.

In Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Karrada, a car bomb went off next to a tent for Shiite pilgrims making their way to the southern city of Karbala to mark the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, police said. Five were killed and 25 wounded, he said.

Taliban prisoners released

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan released eight members of the Afghan Taliban from prison on Monday, including the former justice minister under the Taliban, in a bid to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, the government said.

Pakistan is seen as a linchpin in efforts to bring about peace in Afghanistan as foreign troops plan to depart the country in 2014. Kabul has been pressing its neighbor to release more prisoners who they hope would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table before the U.S. troops go home.

The Pakistanis appear to have an interest in promoting peace across the border, as a resumption of the civil war there could bring harsh consequences on its side as well.

Gaza restrictions eased

JERUSALEM -- Israel has started allowing long-banned building materials into the Gaza Strip, its first key concession to the Palestinian territory's ruling Hamas movement under the cease-fire that ended eight days of fighting in November, the military said Monday.

The military says the shipments will continue so long as the border remains quiet. But a Hamas official said the amount sent so far is "cosmetic," and Gaza economists say it would take years of round-the-clock shipments to even make a dent in the gap left by five years of blockade.

Palestinian population

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The number of Palestinian Arabs and Jews in Israel and the occupied areas will be equal by 2016, but the number of Palestinians will exceed that of Jews by 2020, a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said Monday.

It forecast that, with a Palestinian fertility rate at 3.3 births inside Israel, and 4.4 million in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, compared to 3 births among Jews, the number of Palestinians will exceed that of Jews by 2020, to reach 7.2 million Palestinians compared with 6.9 million Jews.

Also in the world ...

Syria has blamed rebels for blowing up a natural gas pipeline Monday in the country's oil-rich east, disrupting distribution. ... As efforts to broker a deal to stop a rebel advance failed, residents of the capital of the Central African Republic are packing up their belongings and fleeing into the country's vast hinterlands, fearing a major battle between government troops and guerrilla fighters.

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