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UK Urges Assad to Step Down, Summons Syrian Envoy over Intimidation

Britain's Foreign Office has again summoned the Syrian ambassador to London over the alleged intimidation of exiled activists, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday, urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

It is the third time this year that Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami has been summoned by the British government amid unrest in the Arab nation, while it also rescinded his invitation to Prince William's wedding in April.

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Dissident Groups Clash with Syrian Army

Syrian troops and armed dissidents clashed in two towns on Thursday, with at least 14 people killed, as the EU announced sanctions on a key Syrian bank in protest at its deadly crackdown on dissent.

In the first clash reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights five people were killed in Banash town in Idlib province in the northwest.

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Kuwaiti Royal Gets Death for Killing Nephew

Kuwait's lower court on Thursday sentenced to death a member of the Gulf state's ruling family for killing his nephew, also a royal, a court statement said.

Sheikh Faisal Abdullah al-Sabah was convicted of shooting Sheikh Basil Salem al-Sabah to death at the latter's palace in June 2010, the statement said, apparently over a dispute on board membership in a sports club.

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EU Freezes Syrian Bank's Assets over Regime Crackdown

The European Union decided on Thursday to freeze the assets of the Commercial Bank of Syria, in a new set of sanctions over the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown of protesters, diplomats said.

"Today's decision is a direct consequence of the appalling and brutal campaign the Syrian regime is waging against its own people," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

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Gadhafi Loyalists Hit Back in Sirte

Libya's new regime fighters retreated under heavy fire from loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday as their leaders backtracked on an announcement they had captured one of his sons.

The advancing fighters, who had been hoping to mop up the last pockets of resistance in two residential neighborhoods in the northwest of the city, withdrew at least two kilometers to the central police headquarters they had captured on Tuesday, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.

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Iran Urges Saudi to Avoid U.S. 'Trap'

Iran on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia "not to fall into the trap" of believing U.S. claims that Tehran was behind an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, saying the accusations only served the United States and Israel.

"I am asking Saudi Arabia not to fall into the trap, because any disturbance in relations between countries in the (Middle East) region will only benefit the United States and the Zionist regime," said Ali Ahani,Iran's deputy foreign minister in charge of Europe and America affairs, according to the IRNA news agency.

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U.S. Embassy in Damascus Hits Back on Facebook

The U.S. embassy in Damascus has hit back at apparent glee in the Syrian state media over the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeping the United States, posting a Facebook lesson on democracy.

On its official Facebook page, the embassy took a thinly veiled jibe at the regime of Bashar Assad, saying that, while there is dissatisfaction in America over the economy, that did not translate into police shooting "thousands of protesters" or demonstrators being tortured.

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U.S. Envoy to Meet Abbas in Paris

The United States' special envoy for Middle East peace, David Hale, will meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas during his visit to Paris, the U.S. embassy here said Thursday.

"Hale is going to meet with Abbas," embassy spokesman Paul Patin told Agence France Presse. He could not say when the meeting would take place or provide other details.

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Egypt Says Planes Patrolling Sinai without Israel Okay

Egyptian warplanes are patrolling the Sinai without Israeli consent, despite a 1979 peace treaty limiting Egypt's military presence in the peninsula, Egypt's air force chief said on Thursday.

Parts of the Sinai have been off-limits to Egyptian troops under the terms of the 1979 treaty by which Israel agreed to end its occupation but in recent months the army has deployed reinforcements with Israeli consent to tackle suspected Islamist militants.

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Shalit Expected to Return to Israel on Wednesday via Egypt

Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is expected to return to Israel via Egypt by next Wednesday, Palestinian sources and Israeli media said on Thursday

A senior Palestinian official said a first group of 450 Palestinian prisoners would be released next Tuesday, followed by Shalit's release on Wednesday.

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