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Analysts: Mideast Christians Easy Target for Qaida

Al-Qaida would seem to have found an easy target in Middle Eastern Christians who have a limited ability to respond, but such attacks could easily escalate into sectarian clashes, analysts say.

Responsibility for the apparent suicide bombing early on New Year's Day at a Coptic church in Alexandria in which 21 people were killed and 79 were wounded has not yet been claimed, although Cairo has indirectly implicated al-Qaida.

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Iran Confirms Tour Invitation to Nuclear Sites

The Tehran government confirmed on Tuesday that it has invited world powers and its allies in the Arab and developing world to tour Iranian nuclear sites before a high-profile meeting late January on its disputed nuclear program.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the invitation went to "the EU, the non-aligned movement and representatives from 5+1 countries."

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Tight Security Dragnet Ahead of Coptic Christmas in Egypt

Egypt was on high alert on Monday ahead of the Coptic Christmas holiday following a New Year's Day church bombing that killed 21 people as investigators raced to identify those behind the attack.

Police cancelled leave for top officers and were tightening surveillance of airports and ports to prevent suspects from leaving the country, as new checkpoints were set up across the nation.

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Court Convicts Israel ex-President Moshe Katsav of Rape

Israeli former president Moshe Katsav faces at least eight years in prison after he was convicted Thursday of two counts of rape for assaulting a former employee, a Tel Aviv court said.

The verdict, which also found Katsav guilty of sexually harassing a second employee, caps a four-year process that saw the former president resign his post and spurn a plea deal that would have cleared him of the rape charges.

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Obama Names Ford Envoy to Syria, Bypassing Congress

President Barack Obama on Wednesday bypassed Congress to name the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in nearly six years, part of his Middle East engagement drive criticized by Republican opponents.

Obama took the controversial step of forcing through the appointments of Ambassador Robert Ford and five other officials while the Senate -- which normally needs to confirm nominations -- was out of session.

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Bombers Kill Colonel Commanding Anti-Qaida Operation in Mosul

Two suicide bombers killed a police lieutenant colonel Wednesday when they blew themselves up inside a police station in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, police said.

"Two suicide bombers attacked the police station in the Qabr al-Binat area in (western) Mosul about 7:00 am (0400 GMT). They targeted and killed Lieutenant Colonel Shamil Ahmed Oglaq," police said.

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Iraqi General Gunned Down in Baghdad

Gunmen with silenced weapons raked an army brigadier general's car with gunfire in a Baghdad street, killing him and wounding his daughter, defense and interior ministry officials said Thursday.

The attack took place Wednesday night in the Mansour district of the capital, the officials said.

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Saudi King Abdullah Leaves NY Hospital

Saudi King Abdullah has left a New York hospital to convalesce, one month after he checked in for back surgery, the royal court announced on Wednesday.

King Abdullah left the hospital on Tuesday evening "for his New York residence for a period of convalescence and physiotherapy," the court said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.

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Assad Says EU Must Accept Turkey as Member

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the European Union must accept Turkey as a member if it wants to avoid being a "Christian club," in an interview with a German newspaper.

Asked whether Turkey should join the E.U., Assad told Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper: "They simply must ask Turkey to become a member because they need it as an Islamic country so the E.U. does not become a Christian club."

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Qatar, Shell Mull Six Billion Dollar Chemical Project

Qatar Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell agreed on Tuesday to study building a petrochemical project worth six billion dollars in Ras Laffan by 2016.

The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding in the Qatari capital Doha under which they will jointly study development of the project, a statement said.

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