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SYRIA: Assad persists in defiance

President Bashar Assad, in an interview published Thursday, said his government had fended off everything his enemies had thrown at him and the only remaining threat to his rule was a far-off -- and improbable -- foreign intervention. In comments to the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra, Assad rejected the idea that what has transpired in Syria for more than two years is a revolution. He also praised the overthrow of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, saying it meant the end of "political Islam." His comments coincided with a crushing military offensive on the central city of Homs and a meeting of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul. Khaled Saleh, an SNC spokesman, warned that the fall of Homs would jeopardize any political solution. Meanwhile, a government official told The Associated Press that deputy Labor Minister Rakan Ibrahimn was seriously wounded Wednesday by a bomb attached to his car in the Baramkeh section of Damascus.


WEST BANK: Optimism for Kerry mission

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is closing in on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians to relaunch peace talks for a period of six to nine months, Palestinian officials said Thursday. They said President Mahmoud Abbas is pleased and hopeful a formula can be reached to begin what would be the first substantive peace negotiations in nearly five years. Kerry announced this week that he would soon return to the region to try to wrap up the deal.


BRITAIN: Full probe into lost girl case

Police say they have begun a full investigation into the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and want to trace 38 "persons of interest" in the case. It's possible that Madeleine, who vanished from a holiday resort in Portugal's Algarve region, is still alive, they said. Scotland Yard said Thursday that 12 of the individuals of interest are British, the rest from various European countries. Madeleine vanished on May 3, 2007, days before her fourth birthday.

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