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Israel Closes Golan Area as Syria Rebels Seize Crossing

Israel closed off the area around Quneitra on the occupied Golan Heights on Wednesday after an officer was wounded by stray fire as Syrian rebels seized control of the crossing.

The U.N. peacekeeping force which monitors the armistice line said several mortar rounds struck near its positions as rebel fighters, including some from al-Qaida affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed the crossing in deadly fighting with government troops.

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Iraq Forces Mass in Bid to Break Jihadist Siege of Turkmen Town

Iraq was massing forces Wednesday for an operation to break a two-month jihadist siege of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amerli, amid growing fears for residents short of food and water.

The imminent counter-offensive comes amid reports that U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing a decision to authorize air strikes and aid drops in the area to assist around 12,000 residents trapped in the northern town.

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Saudi Arabia Beheads Three Convicted of Murder

Saudi authorities on Wednesday beheaded three citizens after they were convicted of murder in separate cases, the interior ministry announced, bringing to 41 the number of executions there this year.

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U.N.: Executions 'Common Spectacle' on Jihadist-Held Syria

Public executions, amputations, lashings and mock crucifixion are a regular fixture in jihadist-controled areas of Syria, a U.N. probe charged Wednesday, also accusing Damascus of repeatedly using chemical weapons against civilians.

"Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays" in parts of Syria under control of the jihadist Islamic State (IS), the independent Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria said.

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Iran Modifies Arak Reactor over Nuclear Concerns

Iran said Wednesday it has started to modify its Arak heavy water reactor and limit plutonium output, a cause of Western concerns over the country's nuclear program.

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Qatar Says Ready to Rebuild War-Battered Gaza

Key Hamas backer Qatar hailed a Tuesday ceasefire that ended seven weeks of conflict in and around Gaza and offered to throw its huge gas earnings behind reconstruction efforts.

Qatar, which hosts the Palestinian Islamist movement's exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, paid tribute to the "resistance and the sacrifices" of the Palestinians in 50 days of conflict with Israel.

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Iran: Hamas 'Brought Israel to its Knees'

Iran said Wednesday that Palestinian militants had emerged the victors and brought their Israeli foe "to its knees" during the bloody 50-day Gaza conflict.  

"The heroic Palestinian people have forged a new era with the victory of the resistance which has brought the Zionist regime to its knees," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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American Woman is Being Held Hostage in Syria

The Islamic State militant group is holding hostage a young American woman who was doing humanitarian aid work in Syria, a family representative said. The 26-year-old woman is the third American known to have been kidnapped by the militant group.

The Islamic State group recently threatened to kill American hostages to avenge the crushing airstrikes in Iraq against militants advancing on Mount Sinjar and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

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Life Stirs in Gaza as Ceasefire Holds

Life in Gaza resumed some semblance of normality Wednesday as a long-term truce took hold following a deal hailed by Israel and Hamas as "victory" in the 50-day war.

Millions in and around the war-torn enclave enjoyed a welcome night of peace during which there were no strikes on Gaza, nor Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, the Israeli army said.

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American Fighting for IS Killed in Syria

An American fighting for the Islamic State was killed over the weekend in Syria, U.S. officials said Tuesday, underlining growing concerns about Westerners signing up for extremist groups in the Middle East.

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