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Top Palestinian cleric says Israel threw stun grenades into al Aqsa; Israel denies

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The most senior Islamic cleric in Jerusalem said on Sunday Israeli police hurled stun grenades into al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, to quell the latest in a string of Palestinian protests at the politically sensitive holy site. Israeli police denied the allegation, saying officers threw the non-lethal devices, which emit a loud noise, on a plaza outside the mosque after protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at them.

Syria's Assad pays Easter visit to old Christian town

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad paid an Easter Sunday visit to a historic Christian town newly recaptured from jihadist-backed rebels, as opposition fighters counter-attacked his forces in a key battleground city. The surprise visit to Maalula, just north of Damascus, came as Pope Francis said in his Easter message that it was time for warring parties to "boldly negotiate" peace in Syria after three years of conflict estimated to have killed 150,000 people.

Mixed emotions for Christians back in Syria town for Easter

Residents of Maalula returned to the historic Christian town on Sunday to mark Easter, glad that the Syrian army freed it from rebel control but pained at the widespread destruction. As they strolled into the picturesque town, flanked by reporters on a government-organised tour, President Bashar al-Assad also paid a rare visit less than a week after his troops recaptured Maalula. Ruba, a Christian woman in her 20s, cast her eyes over the destruction of her one-time home and said: "Maalula is ours again even though it is destroyed."

Two injured in Turkey by Syrian shelling

Two people were injured in southern Turkey on Sunday when a shell fired in Syria landed on the other side of the border, a Turkish news agency reported. The incident happened in a rural area near the village of Yayladadi, according to a report by the Dogan agency. The two villagers were injured when the shell fell near a tractor, it said. Turkey normally responds when shrapnel or shells fired by government forces or rebel groups in Syria land on its soil. Earlier this month it fired artillery after shrapnel from Syrian shells reached its side of the border.

France has 'information' Assad regime using chemical weapons

France has "information" but no firm proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is still using chemical weapons, President Francois Hollande said Sunday. "We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof," Hollande said in a radio interview after he was asked about reports that Assad was currently using chemical weapons. "What I do know is what we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition," he told the Europe 1 radio station.

Eighty percent of Syrian chemical weapons shipped out: monitors

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria has shipped out or destroyed approximately 80 percent of its declared chemical weapons material, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said on Saturday. Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said if the momentum was sustained, Syria should be able to meet its April 27 deadline to hand over all declared chemical agents.

Kidnapped foreign journalists still held in Syria

Several foreign reporters remain captive in Syria, dubbed by a media watchdog as the most dangerous country for journalists, after four French colleagues were freed Saturday after 10 months in captivity. Thirteen major international news organisations, including the New York Times, BBC News, Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, said in December that more than 30 journalists were being held in the war-ravaged country.

French journalists free after 10-month Syria hostage ordeal

Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria last year were freed on Saturday after a 10-month ordeal in the world's most dangerous country for the media. French President Francois Hollande announced the release of Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres, saying they were "in good health despite the very challenging conditions of their captivity". Turkish soldiers found the four men abandoned in no-man's land on the border with Syria overnight, wearing blindfolds and with their hands bound, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.

French journalists free after 10-month Syria hostage ordeal

Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria last year were freed on Saturday after a 10-month ordeal in the world's most dangerous country for the media. French President Francois Hollande announced the release of Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres, saying they were "in good health despite the very challenging conditions of their captivity". Turkish soldiers found the four men abandoned in no-man's land on the border with Syria overnight, wearing blindfolds and with their hands bound, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.

Four French journalists free after Syria kidnap

Four French journalists taken hostage in Syria last year were freed on Saturday after a 10-month ordeal in the world's most dangerous country for the media. French President Francois Hollande said Edouard Elias, Didier Francois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres were "in good health despite the very challenging conditions of their captivity". Turkish soldiers found the four men abandoned in no-man's land on the border with Syria overnight Friday-Saturday, wearing blindfolds and with their hands bound, the Turkish news agency Dogan reported.
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