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Ban Deplores 'Dangerous Impasse' in Mideast Peace Talks

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned Tuesday that the Middle East peace process was at a "dangerous impasse," and urged Israel to allow Palestinians under administrative detention to contest their imprisonment.

"The Middle East peace process is at a dangerous impasse," he said in a message to a two-day meeting on the legal and political implications of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons.

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ICC's Israel War Crimes Probe Halted Pending U.N. Decision

The International Criminal Court prosecutor said Tuesday he would hold off on a probe into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories until the U.N. rules on Palestinian statehood.

"The office (of the prosecutor) has assessed that it is for the relevant bodies at the U.N. or the Assembly of State Parties to make a legal determination whether Palestine qualifies as a state for the purpose of acceding to the Rome Statute", the court's founding treaty, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

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14 Killed, 80 Wounded in West Libya Clashes

Clashes in western Libya have left at least 14 people dead and 80 others wounded in 24 hours, the ruling National Transitional Council said on Tuesday.

"Four people were killed and 35 others were wounded in Zuwarah," 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Tripoli, near the border with Tunisia, the interim authorities said in a statement published online.

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29 Dead as Syrian Forces Steps Up Assaults

Fierce clashes broke out between Syrian troops and rebels on Tuesday as the regime sent reinforcements into a number of hotspots despite President Bashar al-Assad's pledge to implement a peace plan.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting gripped several parts of the country including the southern province of Daraa, northwest Idlib province, Homs in central Syria and near the capital.

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Egypt Brotherhood Defends Shater Nomination amid Inner Row

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday defended its decision to run its deputy leader in a presidential election amid splits in the movement and accusations that the Islamists are trying to monopolize power.

The Brotherhood backtracked on an earlier pledge not to contest May's presidential election by announcing on Saturday that it would field deputy leader Khairat El-Shater.

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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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