JERUSALEM

Former Prime Minister Sharon in ‘grave condition’

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s health deteriorated sharply Thursday and he was in “grave condition” with his family by his bedside, the hospital treating him announced.

Sharon, who has been in a coma since suffering a stroke eight years ago, experienced a setback last week with a decline in his kidneys and other key bodily organs.

The Sheba Medical Center called his condition “grave” but gave no further details.

TOKYO

Explosion at chemical plant kills at least five, injures 12

An explosion at a chemical factory in central Japan on Thursday killed at least five workers and injured 12 others, authorities said.

Investigators suspect chemical reaction involving hydrogen caused the blast at metal and chemical company Mitsubishi Materials Corp.’s Yokkaichi plant, about 220 miles west of Tokyo.

MOSCOW

Russia responds to six deaths with counter-terrorism effort

Russia Thursday began a counter-terrorism operation in a southern province that borders the Krasnodar region, where the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi in less than a month, after six bodies were found in abandoned cars.

The security swoop started Thursday at midnight in two districts of the Stavropol region and will include “special measures and temporary restrictions,” the local government said in a website statement. Six bodies riddled with bullets were found yesterday in parked cars, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported.

An explosive device planted near one of the vehicles blew up without causing any injuries as police examined the scene, the regional branch of the Interior Ministry said on its website.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.

Search called off for sailor lost in helicopter crash

Rescuers called off their search Thursday for a sailor missing since a Navy helicopter with five crew members aboard crashed in the ocean off the Virginia coast, the Coast Guard said.

Two people died in the Wednesday crash, and two others were hospitalizd.

MCLOUD, Okla.

Man allegedly kills stepfather with underwear waistband

Authorities say a 33-year-old man in Oklahoma allegedly killed his stepfather over the holidays by yanking the stepfather’s underwear up his back and over his head so that the undergarment’s waistband was around his neck.

Records show that Brad Davis was arrested Tuesday and booked into the Pottawatomie County jail on a complaint of the death of his stepfather, Denver St. Clair.

– From news service reports