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Back-to-Back Losses in Iraq and Syria Deal Blow to IS

The Islamic State group's self-proclaimed "caliphate" is far from dead but back-to-back losses in Syria and Iraq have turned a series of setbacks for the jihadists into a losing streak.

IS's seizure of Ramadi in Iraq in May along with Palmyra in Syria sent the alarming signal that it could still expand a year after seizing swathes of the two countries.

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IS Gains and Losses in Iraq and Syria

Following the Iraqi forces' victory in Ramadi, here is a recap of key cities and towns in Iraq and Syria seized by the Islamic State group or recaptured from them.

- IRAQ -RAMADI: This Sunni Arab city 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad is the capital of Anbar, the country's largest province, which stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to just west of the capital.

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Merkel Takes Center Stage in EU's Year of Crises

In a year of crises for Europe, from the Ukraine war to Greece's debt turmoil to the historic refugee influx, Germany's Angela Merkel emerged as the continent's de facto leader, drawing more praise and fire than ever.

Whether spearheading EU diplomacy with Moscow, bargaining with Athens over tough bail-out terms or responding to the world's biggest refugee wave since World War II -- Merkel was in the middle, again and again.

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Rebel Chief Death May Hurt Syria Talks, Boost IS

The killing of Syrian rebel chief Zahran Alloush, fiercely opposed to both the regime and the Islamic State group, has eliminated a key bulwark against the jihadists and could derail U.N.-brokered peace talks, analysts say.

The head of Jaish al-Islam, the foremost rebel group in Damascus province, was killed on Friday in an air strike claimed by Syria's government.

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Gazans Celebrate Christmas with Heavy Hearts

It is a bitter Christmas for Elias Manna, who will celebrate alone for the first time because his five sons have left the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory hit by three wars since 2008.

"At first, they left to study there," Manna, 62, said as he stood before the large wooden cross in front of a church for Latin rite Catholics in Gaza City, explaining that his sons moved to Europe.

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Japan PM Faces Make-or-Break Test Three Years Later

It was an irresistible promise: elect me, I'll bring back Japan's once-soaring economy and restore its battered national pride.

Three years later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing the enormity of his grand ambitions, and the clock is ticking.

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Iran's Growing Clout Spurs Saudi Action on Syria

After years of tense relations with President Bashar Assad, Saudi Arabia has adopted a bolder approach towards Syria, prompted by rival Iran's growing regional influence.

The kingdom recently brought Syrian political and armed opposition factions together for unprecedented talks in Riyadh, the culmination of months of manoeuvring by the Sunni Muslim power.

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Blood and Terror on the Streets as Protests Grip Ethiopia

Two lifeless bodies lay on the ground as the terrified crowd, armed only with sticks against gun-toting Ethiopian security forces, fled the fierce crackdown on protesters.

Blood seeped through a sheet covering one of the bodies on the road outside Wolenkomi, a town just 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa.

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Obama's Final Year to Test Presidential Powers

Barack Obama has reveled in defying predictions that 2015 would make him a lameduck president, but securing his final year goals -- from closing Guantanamo to enacting gun control -- will test the limits of White House power.

The last year of a U.S. presidency can be a pitiful thing.

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Assad Allies Russia, Iran in Mideast Resurgence

After years of waning influence, Russia and Iran made a dramatic comeback in the Middle East in 2015 as they threw their support behind Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad.

A decades-long backer of the Syrian regime, Moscow dramatically raised the stakes this year by deploying its air force to bomb rebels fighting Assad's army.

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