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Israel Closes Access Ramp to Aqsa Compound

Israel has closed a controversial wooden access ramp to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on public safety concerns, police said on Monday in a move likely to spark a backlash.

"Based on an order from the city council, they have closed the ramp," police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Agence France Presse, referring to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation which is responsible for the upkeep of the structure, known as the Mughrabi ramp.

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Obama Meets Maliki as U.S. Exits Iraq

President Barack Obama meets Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Monday, marking America's exit from a war launched in an aerial "shock and awe" assault that went on to deeply wound both nations.

Obama will hold talks with Maliki at the White House, have a press conference and join his visitor at nearby Arlington National Cemetery where many of the nearly 4,500 U.S. war dead lie buried following the 2003 U.S. invasion.

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U.N. Chief Urges 'Reconciliation' in the Middle East

Reconciliation is crucial in countries emerging from political turmoil, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday at the opening of a U.N. Alliance of Civilizations forum.

The fourth annual forum, hosted this year by Qatar, includes delegates from several states touched by the Arab Spring revolts.

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U.S. Says 5,000 Surface-to-Air Missiles Secured in Libya

A top U.S. official said on Sunday that a team of U.S. and Libyan bomb disposal experts has secured about 5,000 surface-to-air missiles stockpiled during the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

"We have identified, disbanded and secured more than 5,000 MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems), while thousands more have been destroyed during NATO bombing," Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs told a group of reporters.

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Barak: Assad Downfall would be a Blessing for Mideast

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is doomed and his exit is a "blessing" for the Middle East, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying Sunday.

"A downfall of Assad would be a blessing for the Middle East," Barak was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency (APA) at an event in Vienna.

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Syria Embassy in Jordan Says Dissidents Beat Staff

The Syrian embassy in Amman said on Sunday that a group of people broke into the mission and attacked the staff after claiming they had paperwork to complete.

"More than 10 people broke into the embassy today and when the security guard tried to kick them out, they beat him with tools they carried," the embassy said in a statement.

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Shas Leader OKs Release of Palestinian Convicted of Murder Attempt

France's ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, met Sunday with a senior rabbi to seek his approval for the release of a French-Palestinian convicted of trying to assassinate the religious leader.

Bigot met with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, along with interior minister and Shas chief Eli Yishai, to discuss the early release of Salah Hamouri.

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White House Hopeful Defends Remarks on 'Invented' Palestinians

Leading Republican White House contender Newt Gingrich has stood by remarks that Palestinians are an "invented" people, which have sparked outrage as he seemed to call into question long-held U.S. policy on statehood.

"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," Gingrich said during a thorny moment in the latest debate among the Republicans vying to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

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Egypt Islamists Reject Army Interference in Constitution

Egypt's Islamists said on Sunday they would not accept any interference from the ruling military council over the future constitution amid uncertainty about the army's role in the process.

"No one except the elected parliament has the right to draft legislation," Khairat al-Shater, the number two in the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest Islamist movement, said on Twitter.

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Syria Opposition Chief Says State Bodies Must be Preserved

Syrian anti-regime protesters want to preserve state institutions to avoid repeating the mistakes made in Iraq, opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun said in an interview published on Sunday.

"The opposition is no longer ready to negotiate with murderers," Ghalioun, the head of the Syrian National Council, told Der Spiegel weekly, referring to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

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