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IS Threatens to Execute Soldiers Held Hostage, Slams Hizbullah 'Allies'

A French-speaking jihadist threatened Friday to execute Lebanese soldiers held hostage by the Islamic State group, saying three prominent anti-IS Lebanese politicians would be responsible for their deaths.

The threat was made in a video Agence France Presse obtained from a Salafist cleric, Wissam al-Masri, who is mediating the release of 25 police and soldiers held by IS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaida the al-Nusra Front.

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Iraq Kurds Press Fightback as Top Jihadist Reported Killed

Kurdish forces pressed their biggest offensive against the Islamic State group so far on Friday, buoyed by U.S. reports that jihadist supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's top aide in Iraq has been killed.

Kurdish peshmerga forces were securing the surroundings of Mount Sinjar after breaking a months-old jihadist siege of the northwestern region while fighting was also reported near the city of Tall Afar further east.

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Kuwait Court Jails 3 Islamic State Supporters

A Kuwaiti court has jailed three Arab supporters of the Islamic State jihadist group, in a first for the Gulf emirate, newspapers reported Friday.

The court sentenced a Kuwaiti to 10 years in jail for urging support for the group and also for insulting Kuwait's ruler in public.

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China Criticizes U.N. Call to Send N. Korea to ICC

China on Friday criticized a call by the United Nations for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague over its human rights record.

"It is our long-standing position that countries should engage in constructive dialogue and negotiations to deal with differences on human rights, and we oppose politicizing or using the issue of human rights to put pressure on other countries," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing.

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In Lebanon, Syrian Newborns Risk Statelessness 

Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland.

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Report: ISF Arrests Baathist Network that Kidnaps Anti-Assad Syrians

The Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch has arrested a network allied with the Syrian regime that kidnaps opposition members and hands them over to the authorities in Damascus, al-Mustaqbal daily reported on Friday.

The newspaper quoted a high-ranking security official as saying that the cell is led by Majed Mansour, a Baath Party official in the West Bekaa.

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Larijani in Lebanon over Weekend En Route to Damascus

Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani is expected to arrive in Beirut over the weekend for talks with senior Lebanese officials.

The Iranian official will reportedly hold talks with his Lebanese counterpart Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and prominent Hizbullah officials, al-Joumhouria newspaper reported on Friday.

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U.N. Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help Victims of Syria War

The U.N. appealed Thursday for $8.4 billion to provide emergency aid and longer-term help to nearly 18 million people in Syria and across the region hit by the drawn-out conflict.

For the first time, the United Nations' appeal includes funding for life-saving food, shelter and other humanitarian aid as well as development support, as the bloody war in Syria heads towards a fifth year.

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Australian Police Conduct Counter-Terrorism Raids across Sydney

Australian police late Thursday searched several properties across Sydney, reportedly as part of a ongoing counter-terrorism investigation but not related to the deadly cafe siege earlier this week, officials said.

New South Wales police said the raids were unconnected to the 16-hour standoff at a Sydney cafe on Monday that left the lone gunman, self-styled Islamic cleric Man Haron Monis, and two hostages dead, but would not provide further details about the operation.

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Kurds Press Northern Iraq Offensive against Jihadists

Kurdish forces backed by foreign jets pressed an ambitious operation against the Islamic State group in northern Iraq on Thursday, taking on the jihadists in the heart of their "caliphate".

After mass bombing by aircraft of the U.S.-led coalition paved the way for ground troops Wednesday, Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga retook several villages and closed in on the Sinjar area.

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