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Gates Reassures Israel on Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday that he had reassured Israel about a planned major American arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries, saying that the sale would not threaten Israel's military superiority and that it is necessary to counter the threat from Iran.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other top Israeli officials, Gates said that he stressed the point that Israel faced a greater threat from Iran than from the Arab countries that are to receive the sophisticated American weaponry.

Though the arms package has not been described publicly by American officials, they said that Israel expressed the most concern about one element of the package, satellite-guided munitions that are to be sold to Saudi Arabia for the first time. Israel has received the highly accurate bombs from the United States for years.

Gates said he made clear that the United States would help Israel maintain its military advantage over its Arab neighbors, and urged Israel not to oppose the proposed sale, which the Bush administration sees as a way to counter Iran's growing strength.

He said he told Israeli officials that they "needed to take into consideration the overall strategic environment" in the Middle East.

After Two-Day Visit to New York Waters, Whale Dies

A 12-foot-long whale that had surfaced and frolicked near the mouth of the Gowanus Canal on Tuesday, delighting and surprising even the most hardened of Brooklyn residents, died yesterday, officials said.

The whale — a minke, the second-smallest whale species — had been thought to be in good health because it was surfacing regularly. Like other ocean mammals, whales must surface to breathe air.

Shortly before 5 p.m., during low tide, it was seen churning in the water. Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, "It swam by a bulkhead" near the canal's mouth, "thrashed a little, and then expired." Neither its age nor sex were known.

Earlier in the day, biologists speculated that the whale might have followed krill or another food source into the Gowanus Canal, whose polluted waters have cleared somewhat in recent years.

Kim Durham, the rescue program director for the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which arranges for rescues of dolphins and other sea animals, said the dying whale apparently beached itself after hitting rocks near a Hess oil refinery.

Four Women Are Convicted in Attack on Man in Village

Four young women from Newark were convicted of gang assault Wednesday in the beating and stabbing of an independent filmmaker in Greenwich Village last summer, the jury rejecting their contention that they were defending themselves against an anti-lesbian attack.

But one of the women, Patreese Johnson, 19, was acquitted of attempted murder, the most serious charge in the case. Prosecutors said she had stabbed the filmmaker, Dwayne Buckle, in the abdomen with a steak knife that she carried in her purse. Johnson contended that she had only tried to cut Buckle's arm to keep him from choking two of her friends.

Along with gang assault, the jury found Johnson, who is 4-foot-11 and weighs less than 100 pounds, guilty of first-degree assault, which carries the same penalty of 5 to 25 years in prison as the attempted murder charge.

The young women sobbed and wailed "No-oo!" "Mommy!" and "I didn't do it!" as Justice Edward J. McLaughlin of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ordered them jailed until their sentencing next month, but it was almost impossible to tell who was saying what as they were led away in handcuffs by court officers.

Johnson, who worked as a night cashier at Wal-Mart, turned and mouthed "I love you" to a sister, brother and cousin in the spectator seats.

As New Jersey Cleans up, Surging Floodwaters Offer No Respite

While much of the region on Wednesday was cleaning up from the weekend's record-breaking storm, thousands of residents in towns along the Passaic River were forced from their homes by surging floodwaters.

From Paterson, where 1,500 residents fled, to Little Falls, where more than 400 homes were damaged, the end of the rainfall brought no respite.

The 80-mile river, which is considered one of the most flood-prone systems in the country, drains about 835 square miles of northern New Jersey and southern New York, according to the Passaic River Coalition, a preservation group. Because the Passaic drains so much water from such a large area, it takes longer for the river to crest downstream.

By Wednesday morning, six of seven bridges spanning the Passaic River were closed, because either the bridges or the roads leading to them were impassable. In addition, several roads remained closed in Lodi, New Milford and Oradell.

"Traffic was at bumper-to-bumper levels from 7 in the morning until noon," said Jose Torres, the mayor of Paterson.

While residents fought the swollen river, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey toured the saturated state by helicopter. About 5,000 people in 11 counties were forced to leave their homes in recent days, and at least three people were killed. Search teams retrieved the body of a woman Wednesday who was believed to have accidentally driven into the Ramapo River on Sunday night, the police said.