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Land mine kills four Tunisian soldiers

Four Tunisian soldiers were killed by a land mine Wednesday in the country's northwest, where the army has been battling Islamist militants, the defence ministry said. "Four soldiers aboard a Hummer were killed by a land mine explosion during an anti-terror operation" at Jebel Ouergha in Kef province, said ministry spokesman Rachid Bouhoula. The incident is the latest in a string of fatalities caused by roadside bombs and land mines in the remote border region, parts of which have been declared closed military zones as the security forces press a campaign against militants holed up there. On Tuesday, four soldiers and two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded in the Kef region, two days after a similar attack injured another policeman.

Top Jordan jihadist denounces IS caliphate

A leading Jordanian jihadist ideologist on Wednesday denounced the declaration of a "caliphate" by Sunni militants in Iraq and Syria, warning against more bloodshed. "Can every Muslim and weak person find refuge in this caliphate? Or would it be like a sharp sword against all opponents?" Issam Barqawi, known as Abu Mohammed al-Maqdessi, wrote on Facebook and on jihadist websites. On Sunday, militants previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), declared a "caliphate", an Islamic form of government last seen under the Ottoman Empire, straddling parts of Iraq and Syria.

US, Iran trade barbs in nuclear talks finale

The US and Iran fired opening salvos Wednesday in a stormy Vienna as a final round of nuclear talks got under way with chances of a historic deal by a July 20 deadline on a knife edge. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Iran to scale down its nuclear activities in order to ease long-held fears that Tehran might develop atomic weapons. Iran, subject to damaging UN and Western sanctions, insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful and even wants to expand key parts of it. This sixth round of talks starts officially on Thursday, but preliminary meetings -- including between Iran, the US and the EU -- took place on Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

Oil prices lower after US data

Oil prices fell on Wednesday, hit by the prospect of higher Libyan output but losses were capped by a bigger-than-expected drop in US crude inventories and Iraq unrest, analysts said. Brent North Sea crude for delivery in August dropped 71 cents to stand at $111.58 a barrel in late London deals. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August slipped 43 cents to $104.91 a barrel compared with Tuesday's close. "Brent crude prices have set aside concerns about the situation in Iraq and chosen to focus on the fact that supplies from Libya appear to be on the verge of restarting," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at traders CMC Markets UK.

Judge orders Benghazi suspect to remain in U.S. custody

By Aruna Viswanatha WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Libyan militant accused of involvement in the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya will remain in U.S. custody as he awaits trial, a federal judge said on Wednesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, detained after his lawyers raised no objections to a request from federal prosecutors that Khatallah be held because he has no ties to the United States and posed a "serious danger" to others. Khatallah appeared in court for the second time after being captured on June 15 by a U.S. military and FBI team and transported to the country via U.S. Navy ship. He faces criminal charges over his alleged participation in the attack on the compound in Benghazi that led to the death of four Americans.

British PM condemns 'appalling' killing of Palestinian teen

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned as "appalling" Wednesday the killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack after three Israeli youths were murdered. He also urged Israel and the Palestinians to exercise restraint as tensions rise. At least 65 people were hurt in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in riot gear outside the teenager's house and Israeli police have raised the alert to the second highest level countrywide. "I'm appalled by the murder of a Palestinian teenager," Cameron wrote on Twitter.

Sudanese youth activist tortured, says family

The family of a detained Sudanese youth activist, held for 50 days without charge, on Wednesday alleged he has been tortured in detention. Tajalsir Jaafar, 28, is one of three activists whose condition a United Nations expert raised concerns about last week. Jaafar is "in danger", his mother Sabah Osman Mohammed told AFP, unable to say more through her tears. His body is full of injuries," said Jaafar's younger brother, Ahmed Jaafar Tajalsir, 25.

Ethiopia facing flood of S.Sudan refugees: UN

Ethiopia is facing a huge wave of refugees from South Sudan, where the spectre of famine threatens to heap further misery on a people already blighted by civil war, the UN's food aid agency warned on Wednesday. "The numbers are increasing exponentially in a very short period of time," said Abdou Dieng, head of the World Food Programme's Ethiopia operations. More than 158,000 South Sudanese refugees have already crossed the border to reach camps in neighbouring Ethiopia, according to UN figures released Wednesday. "The situation is not improving in South Sudan, so we expect that they will continue to come.

Egypt nabs militants over bombs claimed by different group

Egyptian police arrested Wednesday four members of an Islamist militant group over bomb blasts near a presidential palace, although another group claimed it had planted the explosives. Separately, the interior ministry said police arrested two people over bombings at Cairo metro stations on June 25 that wounded five people. Two bomb disposal experts, a police colonel and lieutenant colonel, were killed Monday as they attempted to defuse bombs outside the Ittihadeya palace in eastern Cairo. Security forces "arrested four suspected of being involved in the latest blasts that happened near the presidential palace," a security official said.

US condemns apparent revenge killing of Palestinian teen

The United States on Wednesday condemned the killing of a Palestinian youth in apparent revenge for the murders of three Israeli teenagers, warning acts of vengeance would worsen an explosive situation. "There are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. President Barack Obama's national security advisor Susan Rice said on Twitter that the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khder was "heinous" and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid a cycle of retribution and revenge. Kerry noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had condemned the killing and urged Israelis not to take the law into their own hands.

Pakistan amends terror law amid major anti-militant push

Lawmakers passed changes to Pakistan's anti-terrorism law Wednesday, doubling the maximum prison sentence for those convicted of terror offences and allowing security forces to detain suspects for up to 60 days. The Pakistani government had faced a battle to push the tough anti-terror law through, with rights activists and opposition parties attacking it as repressive. The changes come after Pakistan's military launched a massive offensive on June 15 against insurgents in the tribal area of North Waziristan. The Protection of Pakistan Bill 2014 doubles the maximum jail time for terror offences to 20 years.

US private job growth jumps in June

The US private sector revved up hiring in June with broad-based gains that suggest the economy is picking up steam, payrolls company ADP said Wednesday. The private sector added 281,000 jobs in June, surging higher from a lackluster 179,000 in May. "The job market is steadily improving," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, which helps compile the ADP report. Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive of ADP, said the number of construction jobs added was "particularly encouraging" because it was that industry's highest total since February 2006.

Libyan militant faces detention hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Libyan militant now in U.S. custody in the Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans faces a court appearance where federal prosecutors will argue why he should remain in detention.

Republican leaders meet PM on N. Ireland tensions

Republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were meeting Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday for talks on resolving lingering tensions in Northern Ireland, 16 years after a landmark peace deal. The meeting comes alongside six days of talks in Belfast on three "toxic" issues between the province's Catholics and Protestants -- the flying of flags, sectarian parades and dealing with Northern Ireland's troubled past. In 1998, a historic peace deal was signed in Northern Ireland between Protestant unionists, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic republicans, who want it to join the Republic of Ireland, after 30 years of unrest known as "The Troubles". Before meeting Cameron in London, McGuinness, Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein deputy first minister, wrote on Twitter: "His (Cameron's) Govt can't sit back.

75 migrants lost at sea off Italy, shipwreck survivors say

Around 75 migrants are lost at sea in the Mediterranean according to survivors of a shipwreck off Italy who were plucked to safety by the navy, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday. Accounts of the shipwreck were gathered by UN workers in Sicily who spoke to survivors recovered by Italy's "Mare Nostrum" ("Our Sea") rescue operation. "According to the information gathered so far, the shipwreck occurred because the rubber dinghy they were travelling on was in a poor state and was overcrowded," Catania prosecutor Giovanni Salvi was quoted as saying by Italian media. Salvi has opened an investigation into the shipwreck, news of which came just three days after the bodies of 45 migrants were discovered in the hold of an overcrowded fishing boat, where they appeared to have suffocated to death.

HRW demands fair appeals trial for Moroccan rapper

Human Rights Watch warned Tuesday of political motives behind the jailing of a dissident Moroccan rapper and demanded that any appeals trial admit key evidence the judge rejected in convicting him. Lhaqed, a voice of Morocco's February 20 protest movement who spent a year in prison for defaming the security forces, was handed a fresh four-month sentence on Tuesday for assaulting the police and public drunkenness at a football match in May. The 26-year-old musician -- real name Mouad Belghawat -- insists he is innocent and says he was assaulted by a policeman. "This wouldn't be the first time that what looks like an unfair trial on common criminal charges has served to silence a persistent critic in Morocco," said HRW's regional director Sarah Leah Whitson.

U.S. poll: more voters see Obama as worst president in modern times

Two years into President Barack Obama's second term, more voters say they are dissatisfied with his administration's handling of everything from the economy to foreign policy, giving him the worst marks of any modern U.S. president, a poll on Wednesday said. In a survey of 1,446 registered voters, 33 percent said Obama was the worst president since World War Two, while 28 percent pointed to his predecessor, George W. Bush, as the worst, the poll by Quinnipiac University found. Voters were split over which of the two most recent presidents has done a better job with 39 percent saying Obama has been a better president than Bush and, 40 percent saying Obama is worse.

Landmine kills Tunisian youth in closed military zone

A 19-year-old Tunisian was killed overnight by a landmine in the western border region where the army has been battling Islamist militants, an interior ministry source said on Wednesday. The man "entered a closed military zone and was killed when a landmine exploded", the source said, without elaborating. The incident came a day after six members of the Tunisian security forces were wounded by a roadside bombing in the mountainous Kef region, farther north. Since late 2012, security forces have been battling jihadists hiding out in the remote western region, parts of which were declared "zones closed for military operations" in April.

Suleimani: Iran's near invisible Quds Force commander

For a man widely reported to be playing a key role in helping Iraq's routed military recover lost ground, Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's feared Quds Force, remains invisible. It is not a new strategy for Suleimani -- the 57-year-old is rarely pictured, a trait that chimes with his apparent, although officially denied, presence in Baghdad in the past fortnight. Having already helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reverse the gains of Sunni-led rebels in that country's civil war, just when it looked like Assad was finished, Suleimani has cultivated a reputation as perhaps the most formidable security operative in the Middle East. With multiple media outlets stating that the enigmatic general is now in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's forces have as yet failed to repel a Sunni militant offensive, the political parallels are striking.

Syrian chemical weapons transfer takes place in Italy

The international operation to destroy Syrian chemical weapons entered its final phase on Wednesday, as they were transferred by workers at an Italian port from a Danish freighter to a US military ship equipped to dispose of them. After three hours, with the vessels moored stern-to-stern within a wide safety zone set up around the port, 26 containers had been taken off the Ark Futura by crane and manoeuvred onto the MV Cape Ray by a vast climbing platform. "Proud of Italy's contribution to international security, (and) a transparent operation which is environmentally safe," Italy's Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said on Twitter as the transfer began. We have put in a huge amount of effort... to manage the transfer operation smoothly," he said as he watched over the delicate procedure in the port of Gioia Tauro in the southern Reggio Calabria region.