WASHINGTON

Bush urges Israeli, Palestinian leaders to focus on peace

President Bush told the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian territories yesterday he is personally committed to their mission of peace, urging them to stick with it and not lose sight of their goal.

Bush met separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House, and then with the two men jointly before the trio emerged for a presidential sendoff from the Rose Garden. The stagecraft capped three days of U.S.-sponsored diplomacy centered around an international Mideast peace conference held Tuesday in Annapolis, Md.

“No matter how important yesterday was, it’s not nearly as important as tomorrow and the days beyond,” Bush said, with Olmert on one side and Abbas on the other.

“I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t believe that peace was possible,” the president said.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan

Musharraf retires from army duties

A tearful Pervez Musharraf ended a four-decade military career yesterday, giving up his army commander’s ceremonial baton on the eve of taking an oath as the purely civilian president of Pakistan.

The United States, keen to promote democracy while keeping Pakistan focused on fighting Islamic extremism, praised Musharraf’s relaxation of his grip on power as a “good step” forward.

But it gave him no slack on the other key demand that he end a state of emergency that has enraged political rivals, strained his close ties with the West and cast doubt on the ability of opposition parties to campaign for parliamentary elections in January.

HAWIJA, Iraq

Sunni Arabs join U.S. forces in security agreement

Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces yesterday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance – called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began – covers the “last gateway” for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias – mainly Sunnis – that had turned again al-Qaida and other groups.

TULSA, Oklahoma

Oral Roberts president says God told him to resign

Richard Roberts told students at Oral Roberts University yesterday that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but he did so because God insisted.

God told him on Thanksgiving that he should resign the next day, Roberts told students in the university’s chapel.

“Every ounce of my flesh said ‘no'” to the idea, Roberts said, but he prayed over the decision with his wife and his father, Oral Roberts, and decided to step down.

Roberts said he wanted to “strike out” against the people who were persecuting him, and considered countersuing, but “the Lord said, ‘don’t do that,'” he said.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports

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