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U.N. to Discuss Syria after Latest Crackdown

The United Nations Security Council is expected to discuss human rights and the humanitarian emergency in Syria after at least 16 people were killed as thousands of protesters rallied after Ramadan weekly prayers.

The Security Council will hold a special meeting next Thursday, diplomats at the United Nations announced.

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Shiite Opposition to Boycott Bahrain Vote

Bahrain's main Shiite opposition party will boycott next month's by-elections to replace MPs who resigned in protest against a crackdown on demonstrators, a party official said Friday.

The party, Al-Wefaq, "has decided to boycott the by-elections" September 24 to replace its 18 MPs who walked out in February, shortly after a month-long anti-government protest began, official Khalil al-Marzouk told a party gathering in a Shiite suburb of Manama.

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Egypt Says New Israeli Settler Homes 'Major Obstacle' to Talks

Egypt on Friday blasted Israel's approval of 1,600 new homes in an east Jerusalem settlement as a "major obstacle" to the start of new peace talks with the Palestinians.

"We cannot accept this, we condemn it categorically," Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr said in Berlin during his first European visit since taking office last month, according to remarks translated into German by an interpreter.

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USAID Halts Aid to Gaza over Hamas 'Meddling'

The U.S. Agency for International Development is halting humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip over alleged meddling by the enclave's rulers, Hamas, a U.S. official said Friday.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Egypt, tensions between Washington and the country's ruling generals were sparked on news that a notorious Egyptian intelligence apparatus is probing foreign funding of civil society groups.

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Russia Slams New Israeli Settler Homes

Russia on Friday said Israel's approval of 1,600 new homes in an east Jerusalem settlement would worsen an already explosive situation in the Middle East peace process.

The decision to build new homes in the area "cannot but arouse serious concern and disapproval," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

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Yemenis Hold Anti- and Pro-Saleh Rallies

Hundreds of thousands flooded Yemen's streets Friday seeking victory against "tyrants," a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh said a Gulf Cooperation Council proposal for power transfer should be treated positively.

"God most merciful, grant us victory in (the Muslim holy fasting month of) Ramadan," protesters chanted in Sittine Road, in a western district of the capital Sanaa.

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Gul Warns Assad: Change or Be Changed

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has called on his Syrian counterpart to implement overdue reforms before it is too late, in a letter handed over to Bashar al-Assad by Turkey's foreign minister.

"I would not want you to look back some day and regret that you acted too little and too late," the Anatolia news agency quoted Gul as saying in his letter.

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Tunisia Court Sentences 25 Ben Ali Relatives to Jail

A court sentenced 25 relatives of Tunisia's ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to jail Friday, most of whom were caught trying to flee with cash and jewels at the climax of January's revolution.

In one of several trials of figures from the toppled regime, the court in Tunis also issued fines totaling 200 million dinar (more than 100 million euros) for Ben Ali's family and his wife Leila Trabelsi.

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Evening Anti-Regime Demos in Syria after 18 Dead in Day Protests

Syrian security forces opened fire Friday killing 18 people as thousands of anti-regime protesters poured onto streets of flashpoint cities after the Ramadan weekly prayers, rights activists said.

Undaunted, protesters also took to the streets after the Tarawih evening prayers in several suburbs of the capital Damascus and in Homs, Deir Ezzor, Latakia, Hasakeh, Daraa and many other regions.

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France Demands Syria Release Rights Leader

France on Friday condemned the arrest of the head of the Syrian League for the Defense of Human Rights and called for his immediate release.

"The arrest of Mr. Abdel Karim Rihawi... constitutes another unacceptable decision by the authorities in Damascus and goes directly against the expectations of the international community," the foreign ministry said.

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