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Crunch time for Gaza truce talks as death toll passes 800

Chief of the Islamist Hamas movement Khaled Meshaal holds a press conference in the Qatari capital Doha on July 23, 2014By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional leaders to nail down a Gaza ceasefire on Friday as the civilian death toll soared, and further violence flared between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Mediators hope any truce in the Gaza Strip can coincide with a Muslim festival that starts next week, and are looking to overcome seemingly irreconcilable demands from Israel and Hamas-led Islamist fighters, locked in conflict since July 8. Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 33 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country's main airport.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:22:59 -0400
EU edges to economic sanctions on Russia but narrows scope

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in BrasiliaBy Adrian Croft and Barbara Lewis BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union reached outline agreement on Friday to impose the first economic sanctions on Russia over its behavior in Ukraine but scaled back their scope to exclude technology for the crucial gas sector. The sanctions on access to capital markets, arms and hi-tech goods are also likely to apply only to future contracts, leaving France free to go ahead with the controversial delivery of Mistral helicopter carriers being built for Russia. After months of hesitation, the 28-nation EU toughened its stance toward Moscow after last week's downing of a Malaysian airliner, killing 298 people, in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists. After a discussion that lasted all day Thursday and part of Friday, ambassadors asked the executive European Commission to draw up a legal text setting out economic sanctions for possible agreement as early as next week.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:56:30 -0400
Bad weather seen as probable cause of Air Algerie crash

Map locating wreckage site of Air Algerie flight 5017By Chine Labb and Tiemoko Diallo PARIS/BAMAKO (Reuters) - Poor weather was the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight in the West African state of Mali that killed all 118 people on board, French officials said on Friday. "French soldiers who are on the ground have started the first investigations," French President Francois Hollande told reporters. An earlier count of 51 French nationals among the dead was also raised to 54 by the French Foreign Ministry to include those with dual nationality. French, Malian and Dutch soldiers from a U.N. peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) secured the crash site, which lies about 80 km (50 miles) south of the northern Malian town of Gossi near the Burkina Faso border.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:56:19 -0400
China probes more than 25,000 people for graft in first half of year

China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores Palace in CaracasChina investigated more than 25,000 people for corruption in the first six months of 2014, state media said on Friday, amid a nationwide crackdown on graft. Nearly 85 percent of the cases investigators pursued involved bribes of more than 50,000 yuan ($8,000) or embezzlement of 100,000 yuan, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the country's top prosecutor, the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP). China's leadership under President Xi Jinping has presided over an anti-graft campaign to shore up a ruling mandate shaken by suspicion that officials waste taxpayer money or use their positions for personal advantage. Xi has said graft threatens the survival of the ruling Communist Party.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 04:22:55 -0400
Iraq's top cleric sends subtle message to Maliki - step aside

U.S. President Barack Obama and Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki arrive to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in ArlingtonBy Raheem, Salman and Isra' al-Rubai'i BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's senior cleric on Friday urged political leaders to refrain from clinging to their posts - an apparent reference to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has defied demands that he step aside. Speaking through an aide who delivered a sermon after Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said leaders should show flexibility so that political deadlocks could be broken and Iraq could confront militants. Last month, Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant swept through northern and western Iraq, posing the biggest challenge to Maliki's Shi'ite-led government since the departure of U.S. forces in 2011. Critics say Maliki is a divisive figure whose alienation of Sunnis has fueled sectarian hatred and played into the hands of the insurgents, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 07:32:22 -0400
Turkey's Erdogan trumpets high-speed rail link as election looms

Turkey's PM Erdogan addresses members of parliament from ruling AK Party during meeting at Turkish parliament in AnkaraBy Daren Butler ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated a $4 billion high-speed train link between Istanbul and Ankara on Friday, the latest in a series of "mega projects" he hopes will help him win a presidential election in a few weeks time. Turkey's economic development - driven partly by major infrastructure projects - has been the foundation of Erdogan's popularity despite deepening discontent among his opponents at what they see as growing authoritarianism. The launch - which comes just over three weeks ahead of the presidential election but a year before the line will be fully operational as it currently runs only to the outskirts of Istanbul - was delayed by a few months due to what officials described as sabotage and a test train crash on July 3.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:20:22 -0400
Top Asian News at 6:00 p.m. GMT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) The Taliban's reclusive leader is warning that a bilateral security pact allowing foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting. In a blow to hopes for peace talks, Mullah Mohammad Omar said Friday in an emailed message that the Islamic militant movement won't end its war until the last foreigner leaves.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:02:42 -0400
Ukraine seeks to skirt political crisis amid tough MH17 probe

Ukraine sought Friday to avoid a political crisis after the shock resignation of its prime minister, as fighting between the army and rebels close to the Malaysian airliner crash site claimed over a dozen more lives. President Petro Poroshenko called on parliament to heed "cold reason" and pass a vote of confidence in the government, a day after premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk stepped down in fury over the collapse of his ruling coalition. The United States has already accused Moscow of supplying the missile system it believes was used by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine to shoot down MH17. It said late Thursday it had evidence that Russia was planning to "deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the insurgents.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:02:40 -0400
Russia transfer of rocket system to Ukraine rebels imminent- Pentagon

By David Alexander WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy-caliber multiple-launch rocket systems from Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today." "We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple-launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range. Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and could happen "potentially today." "We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said. A multiple-launch rocket system is a wheeled or tracked vehicle mounted with multiple tubes capable of firing a half dozen or more guided or unguided rockets in quick succession at targets scores of miles (km) away.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:01:58 -0400
Bigger Russian artillery moving into Ukraine soon

WASHINGTON (AP) The movement of Russian heavy caliber artillery systems across the border into Ukraine is "imminent", the Pentagon said Friday, saying Russia is escalating the military action there.

Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:01:05 -0400
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