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Residents Flee Fierce Aleppo Clashes amid Heavy Fighting in al-Raqqa

Fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and regime forces has sparked an exodus of residents from the Sheikh Maqsoud district of the northern city of Aleppo, a watchdog group said on Sunday.

Violence also engulfed areas in and around Damascus, where children were among eight civilians killed in shelling of Kafar Batna village, while a missile slammed into Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus costing more casualties.

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Iraq President Improving, Now Able to Speak

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is being treated in Germany after suffering a stroke, is now able to speak and is able to recognize those around him, his doctor said on Saturday.

"The president's health is improving, and he is responding well to treatment," Najm al-Din Karim, who is also the governor of Iraq's northern province of Kirkuk, told Agence France Presse.

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Jordan Gets Trim Cabinet to Cut Spending

King Abdullah II on Saturday swore in a trim cabinet line-up of 19 members led by reformist Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur who merged several portfolios to cut spending, the new information minister said.

The new government, the smallest in Jordan in more than four decades, comprises 13 newcomers including a woman, with the key interior ministry changing hands while veteran diplomat Nasser Judeh staying at the helm of the foreign ministry.

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Gaza's Haniya Heads to Egypt Talks

Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya headed to Cairo on Saturday to discuss his Islamist movement's complaints about Israeli compliance with an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said Haniya would be discussing "Israeli violations of the truce," which ended eight days of deadly violence in and around the Gaza Strip last November.

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Arab Israelis, Palestinians Mark 'Land Day'

Arab Israelis and Palestinians rallied on Saturday, some clashing with Israeli forces, to commemorate Land Day, marking the 1976 killing of six Arab Israelis protesting plans to confiscate Arab land.

Thousands marched from the center of the northern Israeli town Sakhnin to the central event at the memorial site dedicated to the six, killed by Israeli forces during mass protests against plans to confiscate Arab land in the Galilee region.

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Egypt Prosecutor Orders Arrest of Popular Satirist

Egypt's public prosecutor on Saturday ordered the arrest of popular satirist Bassem Youssef over alleged insults to Islam and to President Mohamed Morsi, state news agency MENA reported.

Judicial sources told Agence France Presse that several complaints had been filed against Youssef, whose razor-sharp humour -- delivered on his weekly television programme Albernameg (The Show) -- has spared few public figures.

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Rebels Kill Aleppo Cleric, Parade Body

Syrian rebel forces killed a pro-regime Sunni cleric in the city of Aleppo, with some reports suggesting he was beheaded, and then dragged his body through the streets, a watchdog group said on Saturday.

Sheikh Hassan Seifeddin, imam of a mosque in the northern Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud, "was killed overnight Friday by rebel fighters in the east of the area and his body was dragged through the streets," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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Iraq to Up Searches of Iran Overflights to Syria

Iraq said on Saturday it will step up searches of Iranian flights via its airspace to Syria, days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them.

But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions on Iranian flights to Syria, the head of Iraq's civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October.

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First Direct Cairo-Tehran Flight in over 30 Years

The first direct flight connecting Egypt and Iran in more than 30 years took off from Cairo International Airport on Saturday, airport officials told Agence France Presse.

The Air Memphis plane, chartered by Egyptian businessman Ramy Lakah, is the first direct flight between the capitals since the two countries severed ties after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

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Prison Guard Killed as South Yemen Observes 'Civil Disobedience'

A prison guard was killed and a colleague wounded in a gun attack in the port city of Aden, police said on Saturday, as southern Yemen observed a "civil disobedience" campaign called by separatists.

The overnight attack came as several district of the main southern city, including Mansura, Sheikh Othman and Crater, were brought to a virtual standstill by the protest action.

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