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Syria's Assad pays Easter visit to recaptured Christian town

By Firas Makdesi MAALOULA, Syria (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited an ancient Christian town recaptured from rebels last week, state media said, as he seeks to persuade minorities that the government is their best protection against hardline Islamists. Assad's Easter visit to Maaloula - a rare appearance outside central Damascus - also highlighted growing government confidence in recent gains against insurgents around the capital and along the Lebanese 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.

U.N. urges end to Syria's 'convoluted' aid restrictions

By Louis Charbonneau UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos on Friday urged Syria's government to end needless restrictions on access to areas where besieged Syrians are in desperate need of aid after three years of civil war. She also voiced concern about opposition groups, especially those such as al Qaeda-linked extremist al Nusra, which has said it will not allow foreigners to operate in Syria.

French mother says baby taken by husband is a 'hostage'

A young French mother on Saturday called on authorities to declare her daughter a hostage after her estranged husband smuggled the 23-month-old out of the country, and possibly to Syria. The woman, 25-year-old Meriam Rhaiem, told an emotional press conference the French government must recognise her baby girl as "the youngest French hostage". "I want her to be called a hostage like all other hostages, journalists or priests," she added.

French mother says baby taken by husband is a 'hostage'

A young French mother on Saturday called on authorities to declare her daughter a hostage after her estranged husband smuggled the 23-month-old out of the country, and possibly to Syria. The woman, 25-year-old Meriam Rhaiem, told an emotional press conference the French government must recognise her baby girl as "the youngest French hostage". "I want her to be called a hostage like all other hostages, journalists or priests," she added.

Syria air force raids Lebanon's Arsal

Syria's air force has carried out fresh strikes against Lebanon's border town of Arsal, causing no injuries, a Lebanese security official said on Thursday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strikes may have been targeting rebels fleeing the Qalamun area where Syria's forces are on the offensive. "Syrian helicopters carried out two strikes against the areas of Wadi Ajram and Khirbet Yunin on the outskirts of Arsal, just after 9:00 pm (1900 GMT)" on Wednesday, said the official. "The strikes caused no injuries," he told AFP.

U.S. urges Syrian diplomats to suspend work and leave

The U.S. State Department urged all Syrian diplomats Tuesday to suspend work at the embassy and consulates and leave the United States, citing atrocities by President Bashar al-Assad against his people. "We have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States," Daniel Rubinstein, special U.S. envoy for Syria, said in a statement.

U.S. urges Syrian diplomats to suspend work and leave

The U.S. State Department urged all Syrian diplomats Tuesday to suspend work at the embassy and consulates and leave the United States, citing atrocities by President Bashar al-Assad against his people. "We have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States," Daniel Rubinstein, special U.S. envoy for Syria, said in a statement.

Syria suffers $31 bn in war 'damage'

Syria has suffered damage estimated at $31 billion as a result of its three-year civil war, Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi has said, a figure nearly equivalent to its GDP. "The damage caused by the war in Syria stands at 4.7 trillion Syrian pounds," or $31.3 billion dollars (22.5 billion euros), Halqi told the ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper. He did not say whether he was referring exclusively to property damage or to some broader measurement. The Economist Intelligence Unit has forecast that GDP will reach $34 billion this year.

3,300 people killed in Syria rebel infighting this year: monitor

BEIRUT (Reuters) - About 3,300 people have been killed in fighting between rebel factions trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. The small but powerful al Qaeda-splinter group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been caught up in clashes with other insurgents in Syria, including al Qaeda's official Syria branch, the Nusra Front.
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