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U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Saudi Arabia

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to meet with Saudi King Abdullah, as the Arabian Peninsula is shaken by spiraling unrest in Yemen.

The meeting, which will be Gates' first with King Abdullah since the monarch returned home in February after months of treatment abroad for a back ailment, comes amid mounting international anger over bloodshed in the kingdom's southern neighbor Yemen and pressure on its president to stand down.

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HRW: Syria Must Stop Shooting at Protesters

Syrian President Bashar Assad should immediately order his security forces to stop using unjustified lethal force against anti-government protesters, Human Rights Watch said.

"For three weeks, Syria's security forces have been firing on largely peaceful protesters," Sarah Leah Whitson, the New York-based rights group's Middle East director, said in a statement late Tuesday.

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Obama, Peres See Urgent Need for Middle East Peace

Reaching peace in the Middle East is more urgent than ever as pro-democracy uprisings rock the Arab world, President Barack Obama said Tuesday after meeting his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres.

Separately, the United States warned that it was concerned about Israeli plans to build more than 900 new homes in east Jerusalem, reopening an old controversy between Washington and the Israeli government over settlements.

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Gunmen Kill 2 Police near Capital as Syrian Regime Prepares Talks with Opponents

Gunmen killed two policemen just east of the Syrian capital Damascus on Tuesday, state-run SANA news agency reported.

"Unidentified gunmen killed two policemen on Tuesday afternoon in Kfar Batna, as they were conducting a patrol," the news agency said. It did not give further details.

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NATO Says 30% of Libyan Military Destroyed as Rebels Pushed Back

Libya's government said Tuesday it is ready to negotiate reforms but only provided Moammar Gadhafi is not forced out, as loyalist troops pushed rebel fighters back from the key oil port of Brega.

NATO-led air strikes have destroyed 30 percent of the regime's military capacity since the U.N.-backed bombing campaign started on March 19, an alliance commander said, even as the rebels suffered their first significant loss of territory in almost a week.

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Syrian in Daraa Hold General Strike

The southern Syrian town of Daraa, the center of pro-democracy protests, was hit by a general strike on Tuesday and braced for fresh rallies after midday prayers, a rights activist said.

"The general strike was largely observed," he told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity, adding that activists had distributed leaflets urging shops to remain closed on Tuesday.

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Palestinian Killed by Israeli Fire in North Gaza

A Palestinian was killed by Israeli fire in northern Gaza on Tuesday, medical sources said, as Palestinian factions met to discuss tensions with Israel along the border.

"A Palestinian was killed by an Israeli tank shell near Erez," Adham Abu Selmiya told AFP, identifying him as 21-year-old Mohammed Ziyad Shalha.

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Syria Braces for 'Martyrs Week'

Syria was on Tuesday braced for the start of "Martyrs Week", a series of rallies organized by a Facebook group in honor of those killed in security clampdowns on pro-reform demonstrations.

"The Week of the Martyrs will be a thorn in the regime's side," the organizers of Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011 said, designating Tuesday as the first day of protests focused on coastal towns "far from the capital".

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Yemen Police Shoot Dead Two Protesters

Security forces shot dead two protesters in the western city of Hudaydah during demonstrations that broke out overnight after bloody protests elsewhere in Yemen left 17 dead, witnesses said Tuesday.

Thousands of protesters took to the street in the Red Sea city denouncing the killing of 17 anti-regime protesters Monday in the city of Taez, 200 kilometers south of the capital Sanaa.

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Libya Says Open to Reforms, But Gadhafi Must Stay

The Libyan government said Tuesday it was ready to negotiate reforms, but refused any talk of Moammar Gadhafi stepping down saying he was a unifying figure after ruling the nation for four decades.

"What kind of political system is implemented in the country? This is negotiable, we can talk about it," government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told journalists. "We can have anything, elections, and referendums."

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