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Briefs (left)

UN Says Aids Effort
For Children Falls Far Short

By Lawrence K. Altman
THE NEW YORK TIMES

Some countries are making progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing others from becoming infected, but the overall global response is “tragically insufficient,” UNICEF said Tuesday.

“Children affected by AIDS are now more visible and are taken more seriously in global, regional and national forums where they had received little consideration before,” the UN children’s agency said in a report. Better testing to find children with HIV, the AIDS virus, and simpler formulations of the antiretroviral drugs that combat the infection have increased the number of children under treatment, UNICEF said. Additional factors were lower prices for the drugs and improved skills among health workers.

But the overall statistics for children are grim, UNICEF found. It took stock of changes in 2005 and 2006, when the agency began a program to put what it called the “missing face” of children at the center of the world effort to halt and reverse the spread of the AIDS virus by 2015.

Private Israelis and Syrians Write
Plan in Secret to Return Golan

By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES JERUSALEM

Prominent private citizens from Israel and Syria drafted a document in secret, unofficial talks that calls for returning the Golan Heights to Syria and offers a possible outline for peace negotiations, one of the participants said Tuesday.

However, the Israeli and Syrian governments dismissed the document, which was first described Tuesday in the Israeli daily Haaretz. They said they were not involved in the talks, which included sessions from September 2004 to July 2006 at undisclosed sites in Europe.

“No one in the government was involved in this matter,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said. “It was a private initiative.”

In Syria, Bushra Kanafani, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, told the Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that the Israeli report was “mere fabrication and a test balloon.”

Israel and Syria last held formal peace talks in 2000, when they appeared close to a deal to return most or all of the Golan Heights to Syria. But the negotiations broke down and the two countries routinely trade recriminations.

Massachusetts Likely
To Freeze Tax Exemption

By Andrea Estes Globe Staff
THE BOSTON GLOBE

For the first time in four years, Massachusetts taxpayers will not receive a higher personal tax exemption in 2008 under current projections, a sign of a slowing economy that could force difficult decisions on Beacon Hill this spring.

Department of Revenue officials announced at a legislative hearing Tuesday that a freeze in the personal income tax exemption was likely. At the hearing, several economists predicted minimal growth in state tax collections next year, because of stagnant corporate profits and capital gains.

An increase in the exemption, which is triggered the year after a rise in tax revenue of at least 2.5 percent after inflation, would have saved individuals $15 and couples $29 and cost the state about $60 million, according to an agency spokeswoman. Taxpayers have seen an increase for the last three years. Couples can now deduct $7,700 and individuals can deduct $3,850.

“We’re assuming it’s not likely the exemption will kick in,” said Revenue Department spokeswoman Jennifer Parent.