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  • IMF says West Bank economy dips on slower aid, Israel blockade 

    Palestinians work at a construction site to rebuild houses which were destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the summer of 2014, in Gaza City's eastern suburb of Al-Shejaiya on July 22, 2015The International Monetary Fund said Thursday that economic growth in the Israeli-occupied West Bank slowed to an estimated 2.8 percent in 2015 and was likely to remain below 3.0 percent this year. In a statement concluding a week-long visit to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the IMF said Gaza rebuilding after the destruction of the 2014 summer war with Israel gave some boost to the coastal strip's economy. "Unemployment remains stubbornly high in the West Bank and higher still in Gaza, where two-thirds of young people are without a job," it added.

  • The Latest: Syria talks underway in Munich 

    German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier briefs the media prior to the Syria talks in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and security talks in Munich, Germany. (all times local):

  • George Clooney hopes to meet Merkel to discuss refugees 

    Actor George Clooney attends a press conference for the film 'Hail Caesar' at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt)BERLIN (AP) — Actor George Clooney says he plans to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Syria, which has contributed to the surge in refugees coming to Europe over the past year.

  • Pentagon chief predicting 'tangible gains' in Iraq, Syria 

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. NATO defense ministers met for a second day on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s request to help deal with Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis and the current situation in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter predicted on Thursday that recent U.S.-led efforts to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group would produce "tangible gains" in Iraq and Syria by March, even as coalition partners pledged to expand and deepen their military contributions.

  • AP appoints Zeina Karam news director for Lebanon and Syria CAIRO (AP) — The Associated Press has named Zeina Karam as its news director for Lebanon and Syria, a new position that consolidates leadership in video, text and photo coverage.
  • NATO launches sea mission against migrant traffickers 

    Georgia's Minister of Defence Tinatin Khidasheli and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address a NATO-Georgia Commission defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in BrusselsBy Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO ships are on their way to the Aegean Sea to help Turkey and Greece crack down on criminal networks smuggling refugees into Europe, the alliance's top commander said on Thursday. Hours after NATO defense ministers agreed to use their maritime force in the eastern Mediterranean to help combat traffickers, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said he was working quickly to design the mission. "We are sailing the ships in the appropriate direction," Breedlove told a news conference, and the mission plan would be refined during the time they were en route.

  • U.N. rights expert accuses Israel of excessive force against Palestinians 

    The mother of Palestinian youth Omar Madi, who was shot and killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday, mourns during his funeral in Arroub refugee camp, north of HebronBy Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights investigator for Gaza and the West Bank called on Israel on Thursday to investigate what he called excessive force used by Israeli security against Palestinians and to prosecute perpetrators. Makarim Wibisono, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, also told Israeli authorities to charge or release all Palestinian prisoners being held under lengthy administrative detention, including children. "The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders," he said in a final report to the Human Rights Council.

  • Gay imam helps young Muslims balance religion, sexuality 

    In this Wednesday, February 2, 2016 Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, poses on the Old-Port, in Marseille, southern France. A gay imam from Algeria is working with an LGBT association in Marseille to counsel and protect young gay Muslims who make their way to the ancient port city. The Le Refuge group says it has helped 26 gays find shelter and start a new life in Marseille last year. Some eventually go back to their families. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Growing up in Algeria, Shaira had almost everything a young man could wish for. But he also had a big secret.

  • Aleppo victory seen giving Russia first Syria exit ramp, if it wants it By Andrew Osborn MOSCOW (Reuters) - Aleppo's return to full Syrian government control could give Russia an opportunity to scale back or suspend its air strikes, but Moscow is keeping its options open, experts close to the Kremlin and the defense ministry told Reuters. Russia's aim, which it believes it is close to achieving, is to decisively alter the balance of power so that the Syrian government, the Kremlin's closest Middle East ally, holds a strong set of cards if and when it negotiates with its enemies. The past two weeks have seen one of the biggest advances of the five year civil war by Syrian government forces, backed since the autumn by Moscow's military intervention.
  • NATO sends warships on Aegean migrant mission 

    NATO ships are to help secure Turkey's shoreline against people-smugglingNATO launched Thursday an unprecedented naval mission in the Aegean Sea to tackle people smugglers taking refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The alliance will deploy at least three warships after alliance members Germany, Greece and Turkey called for help earlier this week to cope with Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II. The move came despite a threat by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send millions more refugees to Europe amid a row with the European Union (EU) over responsibility for handling the crisis.

  • Greeks at frontline of migrant crisis angry at Europe's criticism 

    File photo of a Greek Coast Guard officer carrying a baby from the Agios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel following a rescue operation at open sea, at the port of the Greek island of LesbosBy Karolina Tagaris ABOARD THE AGIOS EFSTRATIOS, Aegean Sea (Reuters) - Greek Captain Argyris Frangoulis lifts his binoculars and with eyes fixed on the Aegean Sea horizon, steers his patrol boat out near the Turkish border to a dinghy full of stranded refugees. "Everybody safe, OK?" he yells at the passengers, mainly Syrians and Afghans, approaching the coast guard vessel bewildered and in near-silence. By midday, the Agios Efstratios, a gunboat with 29-member crew who work in shifts, had plucked more than 600 people from sea and ferried them to the port of Lesbos, the island on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis.

  • Russia proposes March 1 ceasefire in Syria; US wants it now 

    In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather in a street that was hit by shelling, in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015. Russia has proposed a March 1, 2016, ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials said Feb. 10, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups. The U.S. has countered with demands for the fighting to stop immediately, the officials said. Peace talks are supposed to resume by Feb. 25. The conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. (AP Photo/SANA)MUNICH (AP) — Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups.

  • Nigeria faces new rift over alleged Shi'ite massacre 

    The Wider Image: Nigeria's restive northBy Ulf Laessing ZARIA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Piles of rubble are all that remain of the residence of Nigeria's most prominent Shi'ite Muslim leader after it was demolished by bulldozers in the northern city of Zaria. Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky's compound was leveled after three days of clashes between the army and Shi'ite residents of the city in December in which rights groups say hundreds of Shi'ites were killed. The violence and its repercussions could further fracture a country battling a northern insurgency by hardline Sunni group Boko Haram, a secessionist movement in the southeast, militancy in the oil-rich Delta, as well as a growing economic crisis.

  • Australia mulls helping orphans of Islamic State couple 

    Up to 49 Australians have been killed in the conflict in Iraq and Syria, with an estimated 110 nationals currently fighting or working with militant groups, domestic spy chief Duncan Lewis told a parliamentary hearing this weekAustralia said Thursday it will "carefully consider" if it can help the orphans of an Islamic State fighter and their Sydney-born mother, who both reportedly died in Syria, warning the children could pose a threat later in life. Tara Nettleton, whose husband Khaled Sharrouf made headlines in 2014 when he posted an image on Twitter of his then seven-year-old son holding a severed head, died from appendicitis or a kidney condition, the Sydney Morning Herald and other media reported. Sharrouf is widely believed to have been killed in a drone strike last year in Iraq, an attack in which fellow Australian jihadist Mohamed Elomar also perished.

  • Iran seeks tourism millions as nuclear chill ends 

    Tourists from Hong Kong visit the "Gate of All Nations" at the ancient Persian city of Persepolis in southern IranLong seen as a destination strewn with shortcomings, Iran is making a fresh pitch for tourists, with the recent lifting of economic sanctions providing an opportunity to cash in. The tourism industry has been overlooked by successive governments in Tehran but the deal Iran struck with world powers over its nuclear programme last summer could change that. Along with nine companions including Americans and Germans, China-based Frenchman Yannick Lequelenec said he aims to make "one unique journey" every year.

  • Pope takes bridge-building mission to Mexico 

    A man rides a bicycle past a poster welcoming Pope Francis to Ecatepec, Mexico on February 5, 2016Prior to embarking on his long-planned February 12-17 tour of Mexico, the 79-year-old pontiff will stop over in Havana for a historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. The son of Italian emigrants to Argentina, Francis was not under any pressure to go to Mexico, which was graced by the presence of previous pontiffs six times between 1998 and 2012. "I want to come as a missionary of mercy and peace," Francis said in a pre-trip video message.

  • Israeli opposition leader wants to begin separating from Palestinians 

    Israeli co-leader of the Zionist Union party and Labour Party's leader Isaac Herzog (C) listens to journalists during a press conference at the Jerusalem Press Club, on February 10, 2016Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Wednesday that no peace deal was possible for now and his country must begin unilaterally separating from the Palestinians "as much as possible" to restore security. Herzog made the comments while laying out his new security and diplomatic initiative that has caused waves in Israeli politics and sparked criticism from within his own party. The head of the Labour-led Zionist Union coalition said he still wants a two-state solution, but does not believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas are capable of a breakthrough.

  • Pope on Ash Wednesday: charity's not to please ourselves 

    Pope Francis places ashes on the head of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during the Ash Wednesday mass, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Pope Francis has smudged ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The ritual marks the start of Lent, a period of penitence, prayer and self-sacrifice as faithful prepare for Easter. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis rubbed ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics Wednesday, and had them smudged on his own head, too, to usher in the Lenten season of prayer and sacrifice he said must be done out of authentic love, not to satisfy one's conscience.

  • Poland to join fight versus Islamic State in return for NATO help in east 

    A WOMAN WALKS PAST THE NATO LOGO IN BRUSSELS.By Wiktor Szary WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will join the fight against Islamic State, its defense minister said on Wednesday, though he signaled that the scale of its involvement would depend on NATO's response to Russia's renewed assertiveness on the alliance's eastern flank.     The announcement, made by Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Brussels, confirmed an earlier Reuters report that Poland would boost its Middle East involvement in an attempt to convince its allies to shift NATO forces eastwards. ...

  • NATO sends 'clear signal' to Russia with eastern presence 

    NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg talks to the media at headquarters in Brussels on February 10, 2016NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said the alliance had approved plans for an increased presence in eastern member states alarmed by a more assertive Russia, sending a "clear signal" to any aggressors. Stung into action by the Russian intervention in Ukraine and shock 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO has boosted its resources and readiness to meet any new threat but its nervous former Soviet allies in the east are pushing for more. Former Norwegian premier Stoltenberg said the 28-nation alliance's defence ministers had agreed at a meeting in Brussels on plans for an "enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance".

  • Germany says would participate in NATO refugee mission 

    German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in BrusselsBy Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany would take part in a potential NATO mission to help slow refugee flows in the Aegean Sea, the country's defense minister said on Wednesday, a day before the alliance is due to discuss a request for help. Struggling to stop refugees streaming into Greece despite a deal between Ankara and the European Union to combat the flows, Germany and Turkey surprised partners this week by saying they would raise the issue with NATO. One idea could be for NATO to monitor the flow of migrants from Syria trying to reach Europe across the Aegean and pass the information on to Turkish authorities to go after people smugglers.

  • Middle East crises test donor support for Palestinians: UN 

    Palestinian children play in old damaged cars in Gaza City's eastern suburb of Al-Shejaiya on Febrauray 3, 2016Desperate humanitarian needs elsewhere in the Middle East are increasing "competition" for funding for Palestinian refugees, the UN warned on Wednesday. Bo Schack, Gaza director of the UN's body for refugees, admitted there was concern crises in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East meant donors have less money to spend. Negotiations between Palestinian factions over a unity government have stumbled, while Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza, leaving some governments to question whether funding for Palestinians is well spent.

  • North Korea satellite in stable orbit but not seen transmitting: U.S. sources 

    A passenger walks past a TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea's long range rocket launch at a railway station in SeoulBy Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea's recently launched satellite has achieved stable orbit but is not believed to have transmitted data back to Earth, U.S. sources said of a launch that has so far failed to convince experts that Pyongyang has significantly advanced its rocket technology. Sunday's launch of what North Korea said was an earth observation satellite angered the country's neighbors and the United States, which called it a missile test. It followed Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January.

  • Putin may benefit from meeting of pope and patriarch 

    Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch talks during an interview with Reuters in RomeBy Philip Pullella and Maria Tsvetkova VATICAN CITY/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A meeting between Pope Francis and Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday could not happen without a green light from President Vladimir Putin, diplomats and analysts say, and he may be one the beneficiaries. "There is no doubt the Kremlin took part in making this decision," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former Kremlin adviser in Moscow. "Otherwise the meeting would not have happened." Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making Friday's two-hour private meeting not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria.

  • UAE picks woman to be first "happiness" minister 

    This undated image released by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, shows Ohood Al Roumi, the Minister of State for Happiness of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the seven-state federation's vice president and prime minister in addition to the hereditary ruler of Dubai, announced his new Cabinet in a series of Twitter posts Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. He named Al Roumi as its first minister of state for happiness and appointed a 22-year-old to a ministerial post overseeing youth affairs in a Cabinet shake-up designed to inject fresh thinking into the oil-rich country's government. (WAM via AP)DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Forget the negative headlines pouring from the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates thinks it's time to focus on something brighter instead.

  • Saudi Arabia says ready to send forces to Syria if coalition decides Saudi Arabia would be willing to commit special forces to Syria should the international coalition decide to deploy ground troops against Islamic State, the country's foreign minister said on Wednesday. It was the Saudi minister's second reference to sending special forces since he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday for talks on the war in Syria and the crisis in Yemen. President Barack Obama, anxious to avoid being sucked into another Middle East conflict after the long and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been deeply reluctant to commit U.S. ground forces in Syria.
  • Syrian Kurds open Moscow office, amid Kremlin push 

    A Kurdish man waves a large flag of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD)Syrian Kurdish separatists on Wednesday opened a representation in Moscow amid a push by the Kremlin to have them included in Syria peace talks despite Turkey's objections. "This is a historical moment for the Kurdish people," Merab Shamoyev, chairman of the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations, said at the ceremony in an industrial neighbourhood in southeast Moscow. "Russia is a great power and an important actor in the Middle East.

  • Citing security, Davos organizers postpone Egypt conference GENEVA (AP) — Organizers of the World Economic Forum, which holds an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, have postponed a similar conference planned to take place in Egypt this spring over security concerns.
  • Iran to purchase Sukhoi-30 fighter jets from Russia TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will sign a contract with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, Iran's defense minister said Wednesday.
  • Egypt activists recall Mubarak ouster as a distant dream 

    Egyptian anti-goverment demonstrators perform the Friday noon prayer during protests in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011As the sun began to set on February 11, 2011, the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square wavered between hope and despair, waiting for a signal that Egypt's autocrat would step down. Hosni Mubarak had been expected to resign the day before, after 30 years in power. Mubarak was gone, the army was now in control and Cairo exploded in euphoric celebration.

  • UN experts: North Korea continues to evade UN sanctions UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say North Korea is continuing to evade U.N. sanctions, using airlines, ships, and the international financial system to trade in prohibited items for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs raising important questions about the sanctions regime.
  • Australia drops charge against suspected Kurdish militant CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The government has dropped a charge against an Australian man accused of preparing to fight with Kurdish militants against the Islamic State movement.
  • The Latest: FBI chief says encryption blocks investigations 

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, while testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the worldwide threat assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies (all times local):

  • West's advantage in military tech 'eroding': think-tank 

    International Institute for Strategic Studies stresses that 21st century military power was about technologies such as drone, like this MQ-1B Predator remotely piloted aircraft seen on October 21, 2015 in Nevada, as well as traditional meansWestern superiority in military technology is "eroding", notably at the hands of China and Russia, a leading think-tank said Tuesday in its annual report on the state of militaries around the world. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London said in its Military Balance report that increasingly easy access to technology by non-state groups means the world faces "an increasingly complex balance of military power". It also highlighted that Russia and China are pushing to modernise their militaries and are "increasingly active in the development and deployment of advanced military capabilities".

  • North Korean shipping firm skirts U.N. sanctions, gets port access By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company continues to evade sanctions through its use of foreign-flagged ships, name changes and other means of obfuscation, according to a new report by United Nations monitors. The U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang, also said the reclusive communist nation has continued to export ballistic-missile technology to the Middle East and ship arms and materiel to Africa in violation of U.N. restrictions. "Given the stated intentions of (North Korea), it continued efforts to enhance the scope of its nuclear and missile programs ... there are serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime," the panel said in its latest confidential report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
  • EU executive to push Greece, Italy more on migration 

    Refugees and migrants are seen on a dinghy as they approach the Ayios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel, during a rescue operation at open sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of LesbosBy Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive will push Greece and Italy on Wednesday to do more to control migrants arriving across the Mediterranean, as time runs out for Athens to fix frontier chaos or be suspended from Europe's free travel zone. More than a million people reached Europe last year, putting pressure on security and social systems in some EU states and exposing deep rifts within the 28-nation bloc. "If half of the decisions and resolutions that have been taken by the European Union last year had been implemented, the situation now would be much better," William Spindler, a spokesman for the U.N. Refugee Agency UNHCR, said on Tuesday.

  • Palestinian government says willing to step down for unity 

    Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, pictured on April 21, 2015, is "ready to resign to support the formation of a national unity government"The Palestinian government said on Tuesday it was ready to step down to enable a new national unity government, as rivals Fatah and Hamas engaged in a new reconciliation effort. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was "ready to resign to support the formation of a national unity government and to take every effort to achieve genuine reconciliation", a statement read. The government is the remnant of the cabinet of independent technocrats that the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza rulers Hamas agreed on in 2014 when they announced their reconciliation.

  • Poland, courting NATO, plans to boost Middle East military involvement By Wiktor Szary and Justyna Pawlak WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland signaled on Tuesday its willingness to play a more active role in tackling the Middle East security crisis, in an apparent attempt to persuade its NATO allies in return to boost their presence in eastern Europe. Alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Poland hopes NATO will agree at a summit in Warsaw in July to send more troops to former communist eastern Europe. "We have announced an increase in our participation, also military, in actions in the Middle East," Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski said at a panel discussion ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels later this week.
  • Aleppo siege spells doom for West's goals in Syria: analysts 

    A Syrian man injured in Syria kisses a children near Oncupinar crossing gate, on February 9, 2016, in Kilis as around 30,000 Syrians are at the Turkish border after fleeing a Russia-backed regime offensive on the northern region of AleppoThe siege of Aleppo has taken the West even further from achieving its key goals in Syria of stemming the refugee flow, removing the Assad regime and tackling the Islamic State group, experts say. As the joint forces of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Syria encircle the divided northern Syrian city, the so-called "moderate" opposition faces a potentially devastating turning point in its five-year war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "The civil war is feeding a horrific humanitarian crisis with obvious significance for the twin Western concerns of refugees and extremism," said Julien Barnes-Dacey of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

  • The Latest: Norway investigating migrant child abuse cases 

    A woman reacts after her arrival with other migrants and refugees on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. The International Organization for Migration says Mediterranean crossings in the first six weeks of this year are running at nearly ten times the rate in the same period last year, and 409 people have died trying to cross this year. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)GENEVA (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):



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