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No holiday for weapons inspectors

President Bush phoned nine rank-and-file members of the U.S. military, in a series of seasonal greetings to the troops overseas.
President Bush phoned nine rank-and-file members of the U.S. military, in a series of seasonal greetings to the troops overseas.

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• Special Report: Showdown: Iraq 
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN BAGHDAD: "Well, we haven't had any official reaction to those allegations by the Israeli prime minister (that Syria had hidden weapons on behalf of Iraq), and if there is going to be any reaction, it might take a while before Iraqi officials do anything about that or say anything about that formally.

"This might put a lot of pressure on Syria. Of course, there are still allegations. But you know that Syria and Iraq have improved ties dramatically over the past few years, and Syria is the only Arab member at the United Nations Security Council. So although Syria has also been keen to sort of claim it has got very friendly ties with Iraq and sometimes try and defend it, it also hasn't been able to resist U.S. pressure. So this might add more pressure on Syria in weeks to come."

(CNN) -- With events moving closer to a possible war on Iraq, here is a look at some of the latest developments around the world:


• CHRISTMAS INSPECTIONS: U.N. weapons experts pressed ahead with inspections on Christmas Day, visiting at least five suspect sites in central and southern Iraq. More than 100 inspectors passed up the chance for a holiday to continue their search for weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)

• SYRIAN CONNECTION DENIED: Syrian officials deny allegations that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has transferred to Syria weapons he wanted to hide. When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his country is looking into the reports, the Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the assertion "aims to divert attention from Israel's arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, which other countries support by money and weapons to protect Israel and help it develop." (Full story)

• HOLD FOR THE PRESIDENT: President Bush spent the morning before Christmas phoning several members of the military to thank them for their service. Nine rank-and-file service members each got the call from Camp David, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. (Full story)

• SADDAM'S CHRISTMAS MESSAGE: A television announcer delivered a Christmas Eve message from Saddam, denying that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and accusing the United States of making up lies to excuse attacking "Iraq and our peace-loving people." (Full story)


The U.N. weapons inspectors "are in Baghdad to work and they will work their butts off as long as they are there," Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, tells Reuters. "We will continue work throughout the holiday."

"We are in the process of verification of these reports," says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "What we assume, and again I say, we have not yet finalized the reports, is that weapons that he (Saddam) wanted to hide -- chemical weapons, biological weapons -- were indeed transferred to Syria."


• Pope John Paul II used his Christmas Day address to urge the world to avoid war in the Middle East, an apparent reference to the crisis over Iraq. The pope said efforts for peace were urgently needed "in the Middle East, to extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided." His remarks echoed recent comments about Iraq by top Vatican officials, who have reiterated Catholic teaching that "preventative" war is not justifiable, according to The Associated Press.

• Germany will not give a single euro to any war effort in Iraq, its finance minister has declared. Hans Eichel said Germany's weak economy could not cope with providing any financial assistance to a U.S. strike on Iraq. Berlin contributed $5.5 billion to U.S.-led efforts during the 1991 Gulf War at a time when it was constitutionally unable to send troops. That restriction has now been lifted, but the government of Gerhard Schroeder has voiced opposition to a military strike on Baghdad. (Full story)

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