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Israel Razes Four Palestinian Homes near Jericho

Israeli troops on Thursday demolished four villas near the ancient city of Jericho, which Israel said endangered a nearby archaeological site, sources on both sides said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the villas, which are located in Ad-Duyuk at-Tahta northwest of the town, were owned by Palestinians living in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

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Haniya: Support for Palestine a 'Religious Commitment'

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said support for Palestine should be a "religious and nationalist commitment" as he arrived in Tunis Thursday to a welcome from Tunisia's new leaders.

"Palestine is not a banner that we brandish like nobody's business, it's a religious and nationalist commitment," said Haniya after a meeting with Tunisia's moderate Islamist Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali.

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Egypt Prosecutor Demands Death Sentence for Mubarak

A prosecutor in Hosni Mubarak's trial on Thursday demanded the death sentence for him and his former security chief, saying the fallen Egyptian president had ordered the killings of anti-regime demonstrators.

"The law foresees the death penalty for premeditated murder," prosecutor Mustafa Khater told the court during the trial of the former president, who was toppled in a popular uprising in February.

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Free Syrian Army Calls for Pullout of Arab Mission as 20 Killed in Syria

The head of the Free Syrian Army demanded Thursday that the Arab League pull its observer mission out of the country over its failure to halt almost 10 months of bloodshed.

Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad issued the call in an interview with AFP after the Arab League turned to the United Nations for help and admitted "mistakes" in the monitoring mission launched less than two weeks ago.

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Former Syrian Official: Iraq, Iran Funding Crackdown on Protestors

Iraq and Iran are aiding the Syrian regime financially in its crackdown on protests, a former official in President Bashar Assad's regime alleged Thursday in a report on al-Jazeera's website.

Mahmoud Suleiman Haj Hamad made the allegations at a press conference in Cairo after announcing his defection from the regime, according to the satellite network's Arabic-language website.

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Israel Bans 12 Jewish Extremists from West Bank

The Israeli military has banned 12 Jewish extremists from the West Bank for three to nine months because they are suspected in violence against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

The military had no comment when asked why the radicals were not arrested. The extremists were not identified in the military's statement Thursday.

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Syria Frees 552 Prisoners without 'Blood on Hands'

Syria on Thursday released 552 people who were detained over their involvement in political unrest and who have "no blood on their hands," the official SANA news agency reported.

The news agency said that "552 prisoners involved in the latest events in Syria and who have no blood on their hands were released."

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Olmert Indicted for Graft in Property Scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on Thursday indicted alongside a number of other people for allegedly taking bribes in a massive property scandal, judicial sources said.

The allegations stem from Olmert's tenure as Jerusalem mayor and will add to the woes of the former premier, who is already on trial on three unrelated counts of fraud and bribery.

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53 Dead, 100 Wounded as Iraq Bombs Hit Shiites

A spate of attacks against Shiite pilgrims and neighborhoods in Iraq killed at least 53 people on Thursday as the country grapples with a weeks-long political row that has stoked sectarian tensions.

The violence, which wounded more than 100, was the worst since attacks killed 60 people across Baghdad on December 22, soon after the crisis erupted when Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was charged with running a hit squad, and following the U.S. troop pullout.

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France Urges Arab League to Strengthen Syria Mission as Qatar Admits Errors Were Made

France on Thursday urged the Arab League to strengthen its monitoring mission in Syria amid concerns its observers have failed to stem bloodletting in the country.

The French foreign ministry's deputy spokesman, Romain Nadal, also called on the Arab grouping to accept help in organizing the mission, in particular from the United Nations.

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