VOA News (Middle East News)

• Pope Demands 'Urgent' Action to Protect Civilians in Iraq
Pope Francis demanded "urgent" action Wednesday to protect civilians in Iraq, saying forces involved in the battle for Mosul have an obligation to protect innocents following a recent spike in civilian casualties.   Francis issued a special appeal for peace in Iraq at the end of his general audience. He greeted an interfaith group of Iraqis on hand in St. Peter's Square, encouraging them in helping Iraq find reconciliation among various ethnic and religious...

• Syria, Rebels Reach New Evacuation Deal for Besieged Cities
The Syrian government and rebels opposing President Bashar al-Assad have reached an agreement to evacuate civilians from towns besieged by fighters from both sides. For several years, rebels have besieged the northwestern towns of Foua and Kefraya, while pro-government forces laid siege to Zabadani and Madaya near Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the six-year conflict in Syria, said the evacuations are due to begin April 4. The agreement also...

• Counterterrorism Campaign High Agenda at Tillerson's Turkey, NATO Meetings
The United States is examining next steps in the campaign to defeat Islamic State militants and to stabilize the refugee crisis with regional allies, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarks on trips to Turkey and NATO this week. The top U.S. diplomat will press NATO allies to demonstrate a clear path to increase defense spending, in his first meeting with counterparts from this security bloc. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.

• Trump Officials Draw AIPAC Cheers for Tougher Line on Israel's Adversaries
The Trump administration has used its first appearance at the annual AIPAC conference of pro-Israel activists in Washington to reinforce a tougher U.S. approach toward the Jewish state's adversaries than the approach of its predecessor, Barack Obama. VOA's Michael Lipin was at the conference and has a report.

• US-backed Forces in Syria Capture Key Village From IS
Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition's air power captured a key IS-held village as they continue on a path to Islamic State's de facto capital, Raqqa. VOA's Zana Omar reports.

• US-backed Forces to Resume Anti-IS Operations at Syrian Dam
After suspending an offensive to assess the safety of Syria's largest dam, U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters said Tuesday they are poised to resume operations against Islamic State extremists who had occupied the massive structure. Ahmed Mohamed, a spokesman in the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, told VOA that Kurdish engineers found no evidence to back an IS claim on social media on Sunday that the four-kilometer-wide hydroelectric dam was at risk of collapse from rising waters and...

• Arab Leaders Seek Common Ground at Summit on Palestinian State
Divided Arab leaders arriving in Jordan for a summit on Wednesday are seeking common ground to reaffirm their commitment to a Palestinian state, a long-standing goal that U.S. President Donald Trump last month put into doubt. The Dead Sea meeting is expected to have a bigger turnout than those of recent Arab summits, Jordanian officials say, and security forces cast a high profile in the capital, Amman, with armored vehicles standing at traffic junctions as leaders flew in. While they...

• Fears of Islamic State’s Long Game Persist as Caliphate Crumbles
Across much of Iraq and parts of Syria, the Islamic State terror group is in retreat. Yet, Iraqi and U.S. officials tell VOA they have a creeping fear that the larger war is still very much undecided. To be clear, few worry IS will again be able to make the kind of sudden, massive land grab it did in 2013 and 2014 when, bolstered by tens of thousands of foreign fighters, it captured one Iraqi city after another. Rather, they fear something more subtle: that the resilient terror group...

• IS Threatens Iran in Persian Language Video
Islamic State has issued a video threatening Iran and promising to conquer the country soon. The 36-minute, Persian-language video is aimed at Iran's Sunni Muslim minority and accuses Tehran of persecuting them. But analysts said the intention behind the video released late Monday may be a desperate effort to show that IS, at its weakest since its declaration of a caliphate in June 2014, is still a potent force. "IS was not successful in recruiting Iranian Sunnis when it was...

• Russia and Iran Vow Partnership in Syria
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed bilateral agreements with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Tuesday during his first visit to Moscow. The two leaders affirmed their commitment to peace in Syria, where they have both backed president Bashar al-Assad, as well as introducing new economic cooperation mostly in energy and industry. In televised comments following the meeting, Putin said that trade between the two countries has increased by 70 percent. "This is truly a...

• Disabled Refugee Urges EU to Improve Conditions in Camps
Refugees in Greek camps are faced with many challenges, but those encountered by disabled refugees make an already difficult life even tougher. Nujeen Mustafa is an 18-year-old refugee in a wheelchair who lived in the Syrian city of Aleppo. “I thought maybe my family cannot evacuate if something happens because of me.  We didn’t have a lift and we lived on the fifth floor.  It makes you feel like you’re a barrier between your family and safety,” said Mustafa. She and her...

• US Arrests Iraqi Refugees Accused of Lying on Immigration Applications
Three Iraqi refugees living in Virginia face charges of immigration fraud after federal prosecutors alleged they hid their family relationship to an accused kidnapper in Iraq, the U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday. Yousif Al Mashhadani, Adil Hasan and Enas Ibrahim are legal U.S. residents who arrived as refugees in 2008. Ibrahim and Hasan are married. The three had applied in 2013 to become U.S. citizens. In an affidavit made public Tuesday morning, an FBI investigator alleged...

• Lawmakers Tout US-Israeli Ties on Final Day of AIPAC
Several U.S. lawmakers spoke Tuesday about the importance of cooperation between the United States and Israel, on the final day of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Senator Chuck Schumer said many younger Americans grew up knowing Israel as a strong and secure country, not witnessing the extreme violence present there during the 1970s and '80s. "The younger generations are blessed to know an Israel entirely capable of protecting...

• Former Pakistan Army Chief Set to Take Command of 'Muslim NATO'
Pakistan’s former army chief, Raheel Sharif, is set to become the first commander of a new Saudi-led counterterrorism coalition of mostly Sunni Islamic states, a move frustrating neighboring Shi'ite Iran in addition to prevailing domestic opposition and criticism. Sharif is likely to travel to Saudi Arabia as early as next month to take charge of what commentators increasingly refer to as the “Muslim NATO”, according to Pakistani officials and close aides. They said that...

• Political, Regional Clouds Gather over Israel Even As Economy Booms
Israel's politics are darkening: the governing coalition, in power for barely two years, is in tumult and regional tensions are rising. Looking only at the economy, things seem bright. U.S. chip giant Intel recently bought local start-up Mobileye for $15 billion, growth is robust and the currency is at record highs. But beyond the boom, speculation of early elections is rife, friction with Gaza's Hamas rulers is intensifying and Israeli air strikes on Hezbollah fighters in...


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