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Al-Azhar Freezes Dialogue with Vatican which Remains Committed to Talks

The pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world said Thursday it is freezing its dialogue with the Vatican to protest Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks calling for the protection of Christians in Egypt.

The move from Cairo's Al-Azhar comes as Muslim-Christian tensions have been rising in Egypt following the New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria that killed 21 people. Egypt's government has rejected international expressions of concern over the country's Christian minority as foreign meddling in its internal affairs.

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Gazans Mob Alliot-Marie in 'War Crimes' Mix-up

Angry Palestinians mobbed French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Friday as she visited Gaza due to a "war crimes" remark wrongly attributed to her by Israeli radio.

The foreign minister, on her first visit to the enclave since taking over the post in November, was met by angry protesters as her convoy arrived, then again as she visited a hospital in Gaza City.

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Obama Envoy in Israel for Security Talks

Senior White House adviser Dennis Ross and another top U.S. official arrived in Israel on Thursday for talks about Israel's "security needs," an official statement said.

Ross and David Hale, adviser to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, would "hold talks about questions regarding Israel's security needs as well as other issues related to regional security," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

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Suicide Blasts Rock Iraq Holy City, 50 Dead Nationwide

At least 50 people died in a spate of explosions across Iraq on Thursday, including 45 in twin suicide car bombs that rocked the holy city of Karbala, the third major attack in as many days.

The attacks mostly targeted pilgrims marking the Shiite Muslim mourning day of Arbaeen, and were the latest in a series of bombings that have shattered a relative calm in Iraq following the formation of a new government last month.

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13 Afghans Killed in Roadside Bomb in the East

A total of 13 civilians including children and women were killed Wednesday by a Taliban-style roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, officials in Kabul said.

The blast hit a three-wheeled vehicle and killed "13 of our innocent civilian compatriots, including women, children and elderly men," the interior ministry said in a statement.

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Frenchman's Killer Gets Death in Yemen, Awlaqi 10 Years

A court in Sanaa on Monday sentenced to death a Yemeni accused of killing a Frenchman and handed down a 10-year jail sentence in absentia to radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi.

Hisham Mohammed Assem, who was given the death penalty by a Sanaa criminal court after being convicted of killing French energy contractor Jacques Spagnolo near Sanaa in October, said in court he will appeal the verdict.

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Gaza Home-built Rocket Hits Israel despite Truce

A rocket fired by militants in Gaza landed in southern Israel early on Monday, in the first incidence of firing since armed Palestinian groups there agreed to observe a truce last week.

The projectile, a home-built Qassam rocket, caused no injuries or damage when it landed in the Shaar HaNegev regional council which flanks Gaza's northeastern border.

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Barak Quits Labor Party, Forms New Parliamentary Faction

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak abruptly announced Monday that he was leaving his Labor Party and forming a new parliamentary faction inside the governing coalition, completing a split in the iconic party over the handling of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The dramatic and unexpected move did not immediately threaten the stability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's parliamentary majority. Instead, it appeared to strengthen Netanyahu's hardline coalition by leaving it with a smaller, yet largely like-minded majority.

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Hundreds of Protesters March against Tunisian President

Hundreds of protesters marched in the Tunisian capital Friday shouting slogans against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the day after he promised not to seek another term, an Agence France Presse reporter said.

"No to Ben Ali, the uprising continues," they cried.

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Saudi Starts Building New $7.2 Billion Jeddah Airport

Saudi aviation minister has kicked off the construction work on the new terminal at Jeddah airport which will cost 27.1 billion riyals ($7.2 billion).

Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who is also the minister of defense, late Tuesday laid the cornerstone for the project during a ceremony at King Abdul Aziz airport, whose annual capacity should rise to 30 million passengers when the project is completed in 36 months.

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