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Christians gather in Bethlehem...Belgium arrests 9th suspect linked to Paris attacks...Assessing damage from fierce storms

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Christian faithful from around the world are descending on Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. But the mood in Bethlehem has been dampened by a three month-long wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that shows no signs of relenting. Hundreds of people have begun crowding into Manger Square. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through Israel's concrete separation barrier, which surrounds much of the town.

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities say they've arrested a ninth person allegedly linked to last month's Paris attacks. They say the suspect is a man who had been in contact with the cousin of the alleged ringleader several times after the Nov. 13 attacks in which 130 people died. Suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaooud and his female cousin were killed when French police raided their hideout near Paris.

BEIRUT (AP) — The Islamic State group has seized a district previously held by Syrian government forces in the city of Deir el-Zour, expanding its presence in the contested region. The IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency says the industrial district fell to the group last night following daylong clashes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 26 soldiers were killed.

HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — Residents in northern Mississippi are beginning to take stock after fierce storms that killed at least six in three states yesterday. A tornado damaged or destroyed at least 20 homes in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In Holly Springs, a 7-year-old boy died when a storm picked up and tossed the car he was riding in. In parts of Georgia, there's the possibility of flooding through Friday. High temperatures in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, today are expected to be in the mid-70s.

BEND, Ore. (AP) — The FBI says a 28-year-old man faces federal and state charges after he robbed a credit union in Bend, Oregon, and then went on a shopping spree that included buying a Christmas tree. The FBI tells the Oregonian that Brett Gillispie-Comstock walked into a Selco Community Credit Union, told a teller he was ready to open an account and handed her a note demanding $5,000. He left with $1,373 in an envelope. He told authorities that he and his mother lost $400 gambling and they needed money for rent, Christmas presents and a Christmas tree.

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