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Kerry evokes Mandela in push for Mideast truce

US Secretary of State John Kerry evoked the memory of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela Monday to press his push for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. As he issued a call to young African leaders to break decades of violence and guide the continent towards prosperity and stability, Kerry warned it was never easy to negotiate with warring factions. The top US diplomat, who returned to Washington late Sunday after failing to reach a ceasefire during shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel, quoted late South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela saying "it's always impossible, until it is done. Kerry was addressing the opening of a presidential summit for Young African leaders, and he vowed it was "time to take our partnership to the next level, by investing in the continent's greatest resource of all: its people."

Iraq army kills 17 in anti-jihadist raid

An Iraqi government raid on jihadist targets in a flashpoint town southwest of Baghdad killed 17 people on Monday, including at least three civilians, medical and tribal sources said. "Bombardment targeted the Fadhiyya district at 1:00 am," Sheikh Mohammad al-Janabi, a tribal chief from Jurf al-Sakhr, a town 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Baghdad, told AFP. Both said that 12 people were also wounded and that some of them were transferred to the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in the neighbouring province of Anbar. A lieutenant in the Iraqi army said: "The Iraqi forces used a variety of weapons to target insurgent bases in Jurf al-Sakhr overnight."

Defense: US suppressed evidence in Blackwater

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for Blackwater security guards argued Monday that the government has suppressed evidence favorable to defendants who are on trial in the killings of 14 Iraqis in Nisoor Square in Baghdad.

US data sweep 'harms press, democratic rights'

Large-scale surveillance by the US government has begun to have an impact on press freedom and broader democratic rights, a study released Monday said. The report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch found that the vast surveillance efforts aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks have undermined press freedom, the public's right to information as well as rights to legal counsel. "The work of journalists and lawyers is central to our democracy," said report author Alex Sinha. The report is based on interviews with 92 people in the United States, including journalists, lawyers, and current and former US government officials.

Female suicide bomber kills three in Nigeria's Kano

A female suicide bomber killed three people and injured seven others on Monday in Nigeria's Kano city, after weekend violence blamed on Boko Haram forced authorities to cancel festivities marking a major Muslim holiday. The attacker with explosives concealed under her clothes targeted women who had lined up to buy kerosene at a petrol station in the Hotoro area on the outskirts of Kano, Nigeria's second largest city. The queue was long, said area vendor Habibu Ali, because the widely-used cooking gas is often in short supply and when a new shipment comes in women typically rush to their local vendor. Kano police spokesman Musa Magaji Majia told AFP 10 victims were rushed to the hospital after the blast that went off at roughly 10:30 am (0930 GMT) and that three had died.

Ukraine wrests control of part of MH17 crash site from rebels

The Ukrainian army has seized control of part of the vast crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in the east of the country, pro-Russia rebels said on Monday. "The Ukrainians have taken over a part of the crash site," said Vladimir Antyufeev, self-styled first deputy prime minister of the "Donetsk People's Republic". Ukraine's military said its troops are battling separatist fighters for control of a string of towns around the impact site and had "entered" the town of Shakhtarsk, some 10 kilometres (six miles) from the scene. The rebels, accused by Ukraine and its Western allies of shooting down MH17 on July 17, have kept a close guard over the crash site as international anger has grown over possible evidence tampering.

US slams release of Venezuelan ex-intel chief

The United States said Monday it was "deeply disappointed" after Aruba released a former Venezuelan military chief wanted in the US for drug trafficking charges. A State Department spokesperson said Washington had made a "legitimate request" for the arrest of retired major general Hugo Carvajal in line with its extradition treaty with Aruba and the Netherlands and was "disturbed by credible reports" that the Venezuelan government had threatened both territories to win Carvajal's release. "This is not the way law enforcement matters should be handled," the spokesperson said in a statement, asking not to be identified.

UN warns downing of flight MH17 'may be a war crime'

Shakhtarsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - The downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 may constitute a war crime, the UN said Monday, as explosions and fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to reach the crash site in insurgent-held east Ukraine.

Passport Office workers strike amid applications backlog

Passport Office staff on Monday launched a 24-hour strike over staffing shortages and pay just weeks after extra workers were drafted in to tackle a backlog of tens of thousands of applications. The Home Office criticised the union over the timing of Monday's strike, which it says could "inconvenience" many people and "jeopardise" holiday plans at the height of the summer. Hundreds of extra staff were drafted in last month to deal with a backlog of about 30,000 applications amid mounting complaints about long delays in passports being processed. The Passport Office last month said applications had been at their highest level in 12 years, with more than three million passports issued so far in 2014.

In Egypt, Morsi salutes Palestinian 'resistance' in Gaza

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has praised the Palestinian "resistance" over the 21-day conflict with Israel in Gaza that has killed more than 1,030 people, mostly Palestinian civilians. The Islamist leader, overthrown last July by Egypt's then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is on trial on charges for which he faces the death penalty. Under Morsi's rule, Egypt brokered a truce in 2012 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, after they fought a similar deadly war.

Six children among 15 dead in Aleppo bombing: Syria monitor

Six children were among at least 15 civilians killed in overnight bomb attacks by government and rebel forces in the divided city of Aleppo, a monitoring group said Monday. "At least nine civilians, three of them children, were killed in barrel bombs (dropped by regime aircraft) in Shaar," an eastern district, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Six more civilians, including three children and a woman, were killed in mortar shelling by rebels" of the government-held district of Jabiriyeh, the Observatory said. The northern metropolis of Aleppo, once Syria's commercial capital, has been divided since 2012 into western sectors held by the government and rebel-held areas.

Death toll from Boko Haram Cameroon raids rises to 15

Yaoundé (AFP) - At least 15 people were killed in two attacks blamed on Boko Haram in northern Cameroon, with the wife of the country's deputy prime minister among a dozen people reportedly kidnapped, a security source said Monday. The death toll from the two reportedly simultaneous raids on Sunday by Nigerian Islamic extremists on the palace of the Sultan Kolofata, and the nearby home of one of the country's most senior politicians, deputy premier Amadou Ali, rose on Monday from six to at least 15. The sultan, Seiny Boukar Lamine, his wife and their five children are among the hostages, a government spokesman confirmed. Two gendarmes and a member of the Cameroonian army's elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) were among the dead, a gendarme involved in the follow-up operation against the terrorists told AFP.

MH17 investigators turn back after 'explosions'

Dutch and Australian forensic investigators on their way to the MH17 crash site turned back Monday after "explosions" in the area, a government spokeswoman in The Hague said. "They have returned in the direction of Donetsk," justice ministry spokeswoman Sentina van der Meer told AFP. The Ukrainian military earlier said its forces were battling pro-Russian rebels for control of several eastern Ukrainian towns around the crash site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane.

Syria's Assad joins prayers to mark end of Ramadan

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was given a warm reception by the faithful on Monday when he joined in Eid al-Fitr prayers in Damascus, to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Assad took part in prayers at the Al-Kheir mosque, in Muhajarin, near his home in northwest Damascus. State television showed Assad being greeted by Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun and, at the end of prayers, being surrounded by scores of well-wishers keen to shake his hand.