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U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Businessman Close to Bashar, Maher Assad

The United States on Thursday stepped up the pressure on Syria over its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, imposing sanctions on a businessman close to President Bashar al-Assad and his family.

The move freezes the U.S. assets of Mohammed Hamsho and his company, Hamsho International Group, and prohibits U.S. entities from engaging in any business dealings with them, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

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Rights Group: At Least 109 Killed Thursday in and around Hama

At least 109 people were killed on Thursday in and around the Syrian flashpoint protest city of Hama, CNN quoted a global activist group as saying.

"The brutality continues in Hama on the fourth day of Ramadan. Communication with the city and surrounding area is very difficult as the electricity supply has been cut off," the Avaaz non-governmental organization said.

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Tantawi Likely to Testify at Mubarak Trial if Asked

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler, will most likely testify in the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak if summoned after a request by the defense, a security official said Thursday.

Fareed al-Deeb, who represented the fallen dictator at his murder trial, asked the judge in its first session on Wednesday to summon Tantawi and military chief of staff Sami Enan along with some 1,600 witnesses.

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U.S. Says Assad Has Put Syria, Region on 'Very Dangerous Path'

The United States warned Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad had put Syria and the Middle East on a "very dangerous path," again toughening rhetoric on a crackdown by Damascus.

Washington appears to be moving towards a first direct call for Assad to go, a step it has so far resisted, and is preparing a new round of sanctions against his regime after an escalation of violence in the revolt hub of Hama.

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EU Says Assad's Reform Offer Must be Put into Effect

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday dubbed Syria's multi-party reform offer "a step in the right direction" but on condition it be put into effect.

"We are still waiting for previously announced reforms to be implemented," Ashton said in a statement issued after President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree allowing opposition political parties.

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Syria Opposition Says New Parties Law a Political Ploy

Syrian dissidents and activists said Thursday President Bashar al-Assad's decision to allow opposition political parties was a political ploy, and that constitutional change is the only way to democracy.

"The regime is not serious about transforming the country from a dominant party into democracy and pluralism. Instead, it is trying to carry out some cosmetic work to improve its image," Anwar al-Bunni, head of the Syrian Center for Studies and Legal Research, told Agence France Presse.

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Medvedev Says Assad Risks 'Sad Fate' if He Fails to Reform

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday called the situation in Syria "dramatic" and expressed "enormous concern" over the deadly violence in the country.

"Unfortunately, people die there in large numbers. This arouses enormous concern from us," the Russian leader said in an interview given to Russian media in the southern resort Sochi.

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Molotovs Hurled at Arab League HQ amid Syrian, Libyan 'Threats'

Saboteurs on Thursday threw two Molotov cocktails at the Arab League headquarters in central Cairo, with no reports of casualties or serious damage, an Arab League source told Agence France Presse.

"At dawn this morning, there were two Molotov cocktails thrown into the Arab League building. There were no casualties, and only minor damage was caused to one of the air conditioning units," the source said.

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Israel OKs 900 East Jerusalem Settlement Homes

Israel's interior ministry has given final approval for the construction of 900 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Har Homa, a ministry spokeswoman told Agence France Presse on Thursday.

"This is a program which was approved by the regional (planning and construction) committee two years ago," spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said.

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France Says Assad’s Multi-party Proposal a ‘Provocation’, Threatens More U.N. Action

France on Thursday slammed as "provocation" a decree by Syrian President Bashar Assad allowing opposition parties, and said instead he should stop his deadly crackdown on democracy protests.

"In a manner that lacks credibility... the Syrian regime recently announced the authorization of multi-party politics. This is almost a provocation," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told French radio.

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