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Briefs (left)

Israeli Missile Kills
Two Palestinians

By Greg Myre

Violence in the region escalated as an Israeli missile strike killed two Palestinian militants inside a house in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, and a Palestinian stabbed to death an Israeli soldier at a military checkpoint on the northern edge of Jerusalem.

The relative calm of the past several weeks was broken by a Palestinian suicide bombing on Monday that killed five Israelis at a shopping mall in Netanya.

The renewed shooting is also threatening a diplomatic breakthrough by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who brokered a deal last month to provide for Palestinian movement in and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel said it had suspended talks on bus convoys that were supposed to shuttle Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank beginning Dec. 15.

Medical Journal Criticizes Merck
Over Vioxx Data

By Alex Berenson

An influential medical journal accused Merck on Thursday of misrepresenting the results of a crucial clinical trial of the painkiller Vioxx to play down its heart risks.

In a statement Thursday evening, Merck denied that it had acted improperly.

The New England Journal of Medicine’s allegation could play a critical role in the thousands of lawsuits that Merck faces over Vioxx, a once-popular arthritis and pain drug. Vioxx was taken by an estimated 20 million Americans before the company withdrew it last year after a recent study linked it to heart attacks and strokes.

In the three lawsuits that have reached trial so far, Merck has claimed that it promptly disclosed information about Vioxx’s heart risks.

But in an interview on Thursday, Dr. Gregory D. Curfman, the journal’s executive editor, sharply criticized Merck for the way it presented data from the clinical trial. The study, called Vigor, covered more than 8,000 patients and was published in the journal in November 2000, almost four years before Merck stopped selling the drug.

“They did not disclose all they knew,” Curfman said. “There were serious negative consequences for the public health as a result of that.”

When Christmas Falls on Sunday,
Some Churches Take a Day Off

By Laurie Goodstein

Some of the nation’s most prominent megachurches have decided not to hold worship services on the Sunday that coincides with Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to “put the Christ back in Christmas.”

Megachurch leaders say that the decision is in keeping with their innovative and “family friendly” approach and that they are compensating in other ways. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for this occasion that features a heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale.

“What we’re encouraging people to do is take that DVD and in the comfort of their living room, with friends and family, pop it into the player and hopefully hear a different and more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message, that God is with us wherever we are,” said Cally Parkinson, communications director at Willow Creek, which draws 20,000 people on a typical Sunday.