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Israeli Troops Raze Bethlehem Homes, Electricity Pylons

Israeli forces on Tuesday razed four homes and dozens of electricity pylons near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinian witnesses and an Agence France Presse correspondent said.

"At 4:00 am (0100 GMT) army tractors demolished four homes and 52 electricity pylons in the al-Makhrureh area of Beit Jalla," Mazen al-Azzeh, coordinator of the Popular Campaign to Fight Settlements in Bethlehem, told AFP.

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Qatar Rejects Iraq Demand to Hand over VP Hashemi

The Gulf state of Qatar rejects Iraq's demand to hand over fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Attiyah told reporters on Tuesday.

"Diplomatic norms and the post of Hashemi prevent Qatar from doing such a thing," he said when asked about Baghdad's request to hand over the Sunni leader, who is accused of running a death squad.

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Advance U.N. Team to Begin Syria Mission this Week, Damascus Vows to Cooperate with Red Cross

An advance U.N. team preparing the deployment of observers in Syria is expected in Damascus within the next two days, the spokesman for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday, as Damascus pledged it will do its utmost to ensure the success of a Red Cross mission to the strife-torn country.

"We expect the U.N. advance team on the deployment of monitors to arrive in Syria in the next 48 hours. They are there to work on the modalities of the deployment of monitors," the spokesman told Agence France Presse.

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Syrian Opposition Figure Urges Support for Annan Plan

Syrian opposition figure Riyad Turk urged on Tuesday support for Kofi Annan's peace plan as he called for a national dialogue in Syria, but insisted that President Bashar Assad must first step down.

The "need to put an end to the cycle of killings and massacres ... urges us to accept Kofi Annan's plan," said Turk, a member of the Syrian National Council, whose leaders have not yet given a clear stance on the U.N.-Arab League envoy's peace proposal.

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Rafsanjani Urges Better Ties with Saudi Arabia

Iran should forge better ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia to counter Western sanctions on Iranian oil, a former president who now chairs an advisory body to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged on Tuesday.

"If we had good relations with Saudi Arabia, would the West have been able to impose sanctions (on Iran's oil)?", Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani asked in the latest issue of the International Studies Journal, a three-monthly Iranian publication.

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Saudi Beheads Pakistani Heroin Smuggler

Saudi Arabia beheaded a Pakistani man on Tuesday after he was convicted of smuggling a "large amount" of heroin into the kingdom, the interior ministry said.

"Salim Shah Sayed Shah, a Pakistani, was accused of smuggling a large amount of the heroin drug into the kingdom," said an interior ministry statement carried by state news agency SPA, adding that he was executed in the holy city of Mecca.

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Yemeni Forces Kill 38 Qaida Suspects

Yemen's armed forces killed 38 suspected members of al-Qaida in two days of air raids and shelling of their hideouts in the country's south, a government official said Tuesday.

"Thirty-eight members of al-Qaida were killed in shelling and air strikes that targeted their positions in Huroor throughout the past 48 hours," said the official who spoke from the nearby al-Qaida stronghold of Jaar.

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Netanyahu Seeks Hebron Settler Eviction Delay

Plans to evict a group of Israeli settlers from a contested home in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron appeared to be on hold on Tuesday, after Israel's prime minister intervened to seek a delay.

On Monday, Israel's civil administration, the military body which manages civilian affairs in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control, ordered the settlers to evacuate the property by 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday.

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Saudi Media Attacks Iraq PM over Syria Stance

Saudi newspapers on Tuesday waged a scathing campaign against Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over his implicit criticism of the kingdom and Qatar for their calls to arm Syrian rebels.

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146 Dead in Syria as Rights Group Says Crackdown Killed More Than 10,000

Some 146 deaths were reported on Monday as Syrian forces pressed their crackdown on dissent, pounding rebel bastions mainly in the restive north which also left many hurt, monitors said.

The Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, reported the 146 deaths, which included 75 bodies that were found at a hospital in the central province of Homs.

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