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U.N. Aid chief on Syria: We Must all be Ashamed

The United Nation's aid chief on Thursday strongly appealed to world powers to revive the ceasefire in Syria and put an end to the "massive human suffering" that has deprived millions of people of food and medicine.

"We must all be ashamed this is happening on our watch," Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council during a meeting on the appalling humanitarian crisis from the five-year war.

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Israel Renews Opposition to French Peace Initiative

Israel on Thursday reiterated its opposition to a planned French peace conference, calling instead for direct and unconditional negotiations with the Palestinians.

"The best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct, bilateral negotiations," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

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U.N. Envoy 'Positive' as Yemen Peace Talks Enter Second Week

The U.N.'s Yemen envoy on Thursday hailed the "positive atmosphere" at crucial peace talks between the country's warring sides, as negotiations in Kuwait entered their second week without a major breakthrough.

U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has held several rounds of talks with Shiite Huthi rebels and a government delegation over the past two days focusing on key issues.

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Lifeline to Millions in Syria 'May be Broken', Says U.N.

A "catastrophic deterioration" of the situation in Syria is threatening the delivery of aid to millions of people, the U.N. warned Thursday, urging immediate international action to shore up humanitarian access on the ground.

"The stakes are so incredibly high," said Jan Egeland, who heads an international humanitarian taskforce for the war-ravaged country.

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U.S. Vice President Biden on Surprise Visit to Iraq

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden opened talks in Baghdad Thursday on an unannounced visit to Iraq, whose leadership is bogged down in a protracted political crisis even as its forces battle jihadists.

"The vice president has arrived in Iraq for meetings with (the) Iraqi leadership focused on encouraging Iraqi national unity and continued momentum in the fight against ISIL," a statement from Biden's office said, using an acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group.

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Syria Army Readies Aleppo Offensive as Civilian Toll Rises

The Syrian army was preparing an offensive on Thursday to retake the whole of Aleppo, as escalating fighting in the divided second city killed dozens of civilians in another blow to a tattered truce.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in Aleppo in the past week as rebels have pounded government-held neighborhoods with rocket and artillery fire and the regime has hit rebel areas with air raids.

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Iraq Shuts Al-Jazeera Bureau for 'Instigating Violence'

The Iraqi authorities have shut down the Al-Jazeera channel's Baghdad office, accusing Qatar's state-funded TV network of inciting violence and sectarianism.

Iraq's Communications and Media Commission (CMC) sent the Al-Jazeera Media Network a letter informing it of a March 24 decision to withdraw the bureau's license and close its office for one year.

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Saudi Executes Jordanian for Drug Smuggling

Saudi Arabia on Thursday executed a Jordanian convicted of drug smuggling, bringing to 88 the number of foreigners and Saudis put to death this year.

Mohammed Abu Zayed had been found guilty of smuggling amphetamines in his car, the interior ministry said.

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Syria Army Set for Offensive to Retake Aleppo, Says Pro-Regime Daily

A leading pro-government newspaper in Syria said on Thursday that the army is preparing a major offensive to recapture the whole of second city Aleppo and its surrounding province.

The editorial in Al-Watan came as fighting intensifies in and around the divided city despite a February ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States.

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Israel Nuclear Reactor Defects Spark Secrecy Dilemma

Growing safety fears surrounding Israel's largest but ageing atomic research center have provoked fresh questions over its future and a dilemma over the secrecy of the country's alleged nuclear arsenal.

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's sole nuclear power, has long refused to confirm or deny that it has such weapons.

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