NEW YORK

Lunar eclipse coincides with winter solstice

Millions of skywatchers got an early holiday present this year: A total eclipse of the moon.

Hanging high in the sky, the moon slowly turned from bright silver into a red disk early Tuesday.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow on the full moon, blocking the sun’s rays that otherwise reflect off the moon’s surface. Some indirect sunlight still pierces through to give the moon its eerie hue.

The 3 1/2 hour celestial spectacle was visible from North and Central America where skies were clear. Portions of Europe and Asia only caught part of the show.

The totality phase – when the moon was completely immersed in Earth’s shadow – lasted 72 minutes.

Since the year’s only total lunar eclipse coincided with winter solstice, the moon glowed high in the sky.

The last time this occurred was more than three centuries ago on Dec. 21, 1638. It will happen again on Dec. 21, 2094, according to U.S. Naval Observatory spokesman Geoff Chester.

BARTOW, Fla.

Author of pedophile guidesays his book isn’t obscene

A Colorado man who wrote a how-to guide for pedophiles said Tuesday that his book is not obscene.

Phillip Greaves, 47, of Pueblo, Colo., arrived at the Polk County jail in central Florida on Tuesday morning and is due in court Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

He was arrested Monday in Colorado and charged with violating Florida’s obscenity law, a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in state prison.

Speaking to reporters outside the jail Tuesday, Greaves denied the book is obscene and said he plans to fight the charge.

“I characterize it as a book of showing people who have been improperly represented,” he said.

SAN FRANCISCO

Government ordered to payfor illegal wiretapping

A federal judge has ordered the government to pay more than $2.5 million in attorney fees and damages after he concluded investigators wiretapped the phones of a suspected terrorist organization without a warrant.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said Tuesday the attorneys for the U.S. chapter of the now-defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation should receive $2.5 million for waging their nearly four year legal challenge to the Bush administration’s so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Earlier this year the judge found that investigators illegally intercepted the principals’ electronic communications without warrants.

VATICAN CITY

Condoms not for birth control, Vatican clarifies

The Vatican on Tuesday sought to clarify the pope’s controversial comments about condoms and HIV, saying he by no means suggested condom use could be condoned as a means of avoiding pregnancy.

The Vatican’s moral watchdog, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement Tuesday saying some commentators had misunderstood and misrepresented the pope’s remarks in a book-length interview released last month entitled “Light of the World.”

The Vatican has been under pressure from conservative theologians to issue such a clarification amid widespread confusion about what Pope Benedict XVI meant and whether he was breaking with church teaching.

In the book, Benedict said that condoms weren’t the real or moral solution to battling HIV and AIDS. But he said that condom use in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, could be a step toward a more moral and responsible human sexuality.

JERUSALEM

Israeli airstrikes hit sevenGaza targets, raising tension

Israel on Tuesday launched an unusually heavy series of airstrikes on Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks, raising the prospect of a new round of bloody fighting after a relative lull for two years.

The military said the Israeli strikes hit seven different targets in Gaza.

Palestinian officials said eight militants were wounded. Then the Palestinians fired another rocket at southern Israel, lightly wounding a 16-year-old Israeli girl.

The violence followed the deaths of five Gaza militants Saturday in the deadliest Israeli assault on the coastal strip in months, indicating a trend of escalation. Two years ago, incessant rocket barrages from Gaza led Israel to launch a punishing three-week invasion that left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, including many civilians.

LONDON

12 British suspects held in connection to terror plot

A large-scale terror attack was aimed at British landmarks and public spaces, officials said Tuesday as more details emerged and police searched the homes of 12 British suspects being held for questioning.

The men were arrested Monday in the largest counterterrorism raid in nearly two years. At least five were of Bangladeshi origin.

Lord Carlile, the government’s independent watchdog for terror legislation, said Tuesday the alleged plot appeared significant and involved several British cities, but he did not identify the targets. Police have up to 28 days to either charge the men or release them.

Possible targets include the Houses of Parliament in London and shopping areas around the U.K., according to a security official.