Bethlehem enjoys merry Christmas as thousands of pilgrims flock to Jesus' biblical birth town
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Thousands of Christians from the world over packed Manger Square in Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town where he was born.
For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that so often clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations' recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine.
Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's Church, next to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.
"From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the suffering in the Middle East," said the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal in his annual address. "Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land."
In his pre-Christmas homily, Twal said the road to actual freedom was still long, but this year's festivities were doubly joyful, celebrating "the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine."
Jack Klugman's son Adam says the veteran actor has died in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jack Klugman, the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who was loved by millions as the messy one in TV's "The Odd Couple" and the crime-fighting coroner in "Quincy, M.E.," died Monday, a son said. He was 90.
Klugman, who lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s and trained himself to speak again, died with his wife at his side.
"He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it and he would encourage others to do the same," son Adam Klugman said.
Adam Klugman said he was spending Christmas with his brother, David, and their families. Their father had been convalescing for some time but had apparently died suddenly and they were not sure of the exact cause.
"His sons loved him very much," David Klugman said. "We'll carry on in his spirit."
10 Things to Know for Tuesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Tuesday:
1. WHO'S KEEPING TABS ON SANTA
Hundreds of volunteers at "NORAD Tracks Santa" receive tens of thousands of calls from kids curious about St. Nick's progress on Christmas Eve.
NY gunman kills 2 firefighters, injures 2 others in ambush at blazing house near Lake Ontario
WEBSTER, N.Y. (AP) -- An ex-con gunned down two firefighters after luring them to his neighborhood by setting a car and a house ablaze early Monday, then took shots at police and committed suicide while several homes burned.
Authorities used an armored vehicle to help residents flee dozens of homes on the shore of Lake Ontario a day before Christmas. Police restricted access to the neighborhood, and officials said it was unclear whether there were other bodies in the seven houses left to burn.
The gunman's sister, who lived with him, was unaccounted for. The gunman's motive was unknown.
William Spengler fired at the four firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze in Webster, a suburb of Rochester, town police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first police officer who arrived chased the gunman and exchanged shots.
Spengler lay in wait outdoors for the firefighters' arrival, then opened fire probably with a rifle and from atop an earthen berm, Pickering said.
1 killed, 1 wounded in bar shooting at upscale shopping center near Seattle
BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) -- A 30-year-old Seattle man was killed and another man wounded in a shooting at a crowded suburban bar early Monday, police said.
Police issued an arrest warrant Monday evening for a 19-year-old man in connection with the shooting.
The shooting broke out just after 1 a.m. at Munchbar at Bellevue Square, an upscale shopping center about 10 miles east of Seattle, said Carla Iafrate, a spokeswoman for the Bellevue Police Department.
Police officers were outside the bar when gunfire erupted because a large crowd had gathered there, she said.
More than 600 people were inside the venue at the time of the shooting. "It was a very complicated scene," Iafrate said.
Volunteers track Santa Claus' progress, answer questions from Colorado Air Force base
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) -- Most of the thousands of children who call the annual Santa-tracking operation at a Colorado Air Force Base on Christmas Eve ask the usual questions: "Where's Santa, and when will he get here?"
So volunteer Sara Berghoff was caught off-guard Monday when a child called to see if Santa could be especially kind this year to the families affected by the Connecticut school shooting.
"I'm from Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting was," she remembers the child asking. "Is it possible that Santa can bring extra presents so I can deliver them to the families that lost kids?"
Sara, just 13 herself, was surprised but gathered her thoughts quickly. "If I can get ahold of him, I'll try to get the message to him," she told the child.
Sara was one of hundreds of volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa who answered more than 88,000 calls by Monday evening, program spokeswoman Marisa Novobilski said.
Gulf Coast Christmas likely to include severe storms, winds, tornadoes from Texas to Florida
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Nasty weather, including a chance of strong tornadoes and howling thunderstorms, could be on the way for Christmas Day along the Gulf Coast from east Texas to north Florida.
The storms held off long enough, though, to let Christmas Eve bonfires light the way for Pere Noel along the Mississippi River, officials said.
Farther north, much of Oklahoma and Arkansas were under a winter storm warning, with freezing rain, sleet and snow expected on Christmas. A blizzard watch is out for western Kentucky. And no matter what form the bad weather takes, travel on Tuesday could be dangerous, meteorologists said.
The storms could bring strong tornadoes or winds of more than 75 mph, heavy rain, quarter-sized hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi, the National Weather Service said. The worst storms are likely from Winnsboro, La., to Jackson and DeKalb, Miss., according to the weather service's Jackson office.
"Please plan now for how you will receive a severe weather warning, and know where you will go when it is issued. It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
Bolivia's Morales silent on Hugo Chavez's health after trip to Havana, feeding uncertainty
HAVANA (AP) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales made a lightning trip this weekend to Havana where ally Hugo Chavez is convalescing after cancer surgery, but was mostly silent Monday on the details of his trip or even whether he met with the ailing Venezuelan leader.
The secrecy surrounding his visit was sure to add to the uncertainty surrounding Chavez's condition, despite reassurances Monday from Venezuelan officials that the president was slowly improving.
The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since his Dec. 11 surgery. Venezuelan officials have given few specifics about his condition and have offered no information about his long-term prognosis.
Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis, said the government's daily but vague updates on the president's health seem designed to calm anxious Chavez supporters rather than keep the country fully informed. For government opponents, however, he said the updates likely raise more questions than they answer.
"It's more for the Chavez movement than the country in general," Leon said. "There's nothing that one can verify, and the credibility is almost nil."
As Newtown, Conn., continues to mourn, some residents look to transform mourning to activism
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- People drawn to Newtown to share in its mourning brought cards and handmade snowflakes to town Monday while residents prepared to observe Christmas less than two weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.
On Christmas Eve, residents said they would light luminaries outside their homes in memory of the victims. Tiny empty Christmas stockings with the victims' names on them hung from trees in the neighborhood where the children were shot.
"We know that they'll feel loved. They'll feel that somebody actually cares," said Treyvon Smalls, a 15-year-old from a few towns away who arrived at town hall with hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state.
Organizers said they wanted to let the families of victims know they are not alone while also giving Connecticut children a chance to express their feelings about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
At the Trinity Episcopal Church, less than 2 miles from the school, an overflow crowd of several hundred people attended Christmas Eve services. They were greeted by the sounds of a children's choir echoing throughout a sanctuary hall that had its walls decorated with green wreaths adorned with red bows.
NY lifeguard who rescued stranded neighbors during Superstorm Sandy drowns in Puerto Rico
NEW YORK (AP) -- A lifeguard widely praised as a hero after Superstorm Sandy for rescuing neighbors endangered by rolling floodwaters and a fire that destroyed several homes in a small community where grief has been a frequent visitor has died in a surfing accident in Puerto Rico.
The death of 23-year-old Dylan Smith on Sunday brought sadness again to residents of the Belle Harbor section of the Rockaways, which lost several police officers and firefighters in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and was the site of a deadly plane crash just months later.
As word spread that Smith, who used his surfboard to ferry so many people to safety during the late October superstorm, had lost his life, a Heroes of Rockaway Facebook page said: "R.I.P. to Dylan Smith, our Rockaway Hero, tragically died this morning surfing in Puerto Rico. He will never be forgotten."
Troy Bradwisch, who lives on the same street as the Smith family, said the presumed drowning death was "crushing" for the neighborhood.
"It was more shocking than anything," he said. "You can go through the storm and all that, and he goes on vacation to get a sense of normalcy and something like that happens."