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Arab League blames Israel for talks stalemate

Arab foreign ministers gathered on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said Israel was "wholly responsible for the dangerous stalemate" in US-brokered peace talks scheduled to end on April 29. The emergency meeting was requested by Abbas after Israel backtracked on releasing a final batch of Palestinian prisoners and reissued tenders for 708 settler homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem. tgg-sbh/jk

Kuwait royal court urges calm over 'plot' video

Kuwait's royal court appealed for calm Wednesday as the country was abuzz with rumours about a videotape allegedly showing former senior officials plotting to overthrow the oil-rich Gulf state's government. The appeal comes two days after Sheikh Ahmad Fahad al-Sabah, a senior member of the family and former minister, was questioned by the public prosecutor for five hours about the tape, which he said he had handed over to Kuwait's leaders.

Netanyahu orders cutback in contacts with Palestinian Authority

By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel announced on Wednesday a partial freeze in high-level contacts with the Palestinians in retaliation for their signing of international conventions, deepening a crisis that threatens to wreck U.S.-brokered peace talks. A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, said Israeli-Palestinian ministerial meetings were rare but voiced concern that the step could be followed by economic sanctions.

Saudi authorities asked to allow school sport for girls: agency

By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi authorities have been asked to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls, according to the official SPA news agency, in a religiously conservative country that included women in its Olympic team for the first time only two years ago.

US air strikes on Syria not 'devastating'

Threatened military strikes against Syria would not have affected the course of the country's civil war, US Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said US military action -- ultimately abandoned by President Barack Obama at the 11th hour last year -- would not have had a "devastating impact" on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Obama scrapped plans to launch strikes against Syria after Syria's key ally Russia helped broker a deal to dismantle Damascus's chemical weapons arsenal.

Wife of slain Iraq journalist breaks down in court

The wife of an Iraqi journalist shot dead at a Baghdad checkpoint for a "trivial reason" burst into tears when faced with his alleged killer in court on Monday. Rafaa Jaafar demanded his killer receive a "fair punishment", speaking at the opening of the trial of an Iraqi Kurdish officer charged with murdering her husband Mohammed Bidaiwi. Other witnesses recounted how an argument at the checkpoint had quickly escalated before the accused, Lieutenant Ahmed Braiyim, allegedly opened fire.

Syria's Assad says political Islam project has failed

The "project of political Islam has failed," Syria's President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday, calling for the separation of religion from politics, state television said. Assad's regime has been battling an uprising that has come to be dominated by Islamists, ranging from moderates to radicals, who want to see Syria run as an Islamic state. "The project of political Islam has failed, and there should be no mixing between political and religious work," he said in comments on the 67th anniversary of the founding of his Baath party.

U.S. presses on with Mideast talks rescue attempt

By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. efforts to save Middle East peace talks from collapse showed little sign of progress on Monday after negotiators met amid threats from Israel to retaliate for what it saw as unilateral Palestinian moves towards statehood. The U.S.-brokered negotiations plunged into crisis last week after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking after the end of the month, failed to carry out a promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.

Assad tells Russian ex-PM 'active phase' of Syria war over this year

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A former Russian prime minister who recently met Bashar al-Assad said the Syrian president told him that much of the fighting in the country's civil war would be over by the end of the year, Itar-Tass news agency reported on Monday. Russia has been Assad's most powerful supporter during the three-year conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people, blocking Western and Arab efforts to drive him from power.

Kuwait to invite bids for new refinery: oil official

OPEC member Kuwait will invite bids for a new multi-billion-dollar oil refinery next month as part of a drive to modernise the key sector, a top executive said on Monday. "We will invite bids for the new refinery project in May," CEO of national conglomerate Kuwait Petroleum Corp. (KPC) Nezar al-Adasani said. "Another project costing $1.0 billion for the development of heavy oil from northern oilfields will be awarded later in April," Adasani told reporters on the sidelines of the second Gulf Petroleum Forum.
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