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World News: Kerry in Turkey for Mideast Talks; Syria, Afghanistan Updates

By: AP
By: AP
FILE - This file citizen journalism image taken on, Sunday, March. 10, 2013 and provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians standing next to dead bodies that have been pulled from the river near Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, Syria. More than 6,000 people were killed in the Syrian civil war in March alone, according to a leading activist group that reported it was the deadliest month yet in the 2-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC, File)

FILE - This file citizen journalism image taken on, Sunday, March. 10, 2013 and provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians standing next to dead bodies that have been pulled from the river near Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, Syria. More than 6,000 people were killed in the Syrian civil war in March alone, according to a leading activist group that reported it was the deadliest month yet in the 2-year-old conflict. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC, File)

ISTANBUL (AP) -- Secretary of State John Kerry is in Turkey on the first leg of a 10-day trip to Europe and Asia.
Kerry, who arrived in Istanbul early Sunday, is expected to encourage Turkish leaders to continue improving ties with Israel. Relations between the two former allies spiraled downward after Israel's deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip.
Hopes for rapprochement improved after Obama brokered a phone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (REH'-jehp TY'-ihp UR'-doh-wahn), while President Barack Obama was in Israel last month.
Kerry also will coordinate with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on efforts to halt the violence in neighboring Syria.
Kerry plans to fly from Turkey to Jerusalem for meetings with leaders of both Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to revive long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Kerry will also visit Britain and then South Korea, China and Japan, where talks will focus on North Korea's nuclear program and escalating threats against the U.S. and its allies.

BEIRUT (AP) -- Activists say a Syrian government airstrike on a heavily contested neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday killed at least 15 people, including nine children.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the air raid hit the neighborhood, which rebels seized parts of last weekend after days of heavy fighting with regime troops.
Meanwhile in Damascus, the state-run SANA news agency says mortar rounds hit A residential district on the city's western outskirts, killing one person and wounding at least 13. According to SANA, the attacks also caused material damage to stores in the district and set several parked vehicles on fire.
Aleppo and Damascus are Syria's two largest cities and key fronts in civil war between President Bashar Assad and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime. Opposition fighters have managed to seize control of several neighborhoods in Aleppo since storming the city last summer. Meanwhile the regime has largely kept the rebels at bay so far in Damascus, although opposition fighters control several suburbs of the capital and look increasingly capable of threatening the heart of the city -- and Assad's power.

BAGHDAD (AP) -- A member of an Iraq Shiite militant group was killed in Syria, an official with the group said Saturday, highlighting how the increasingly sectarian conflict there is drawing in its fragile neighbors that already experience unrest among religious sects.
Other Shiite militias in Iraq have acknowledged sending members to Syria, but it is the first time that the Iraqi Hezbollah has hinted that its members are fighting there.
The fighter, Afrad Mohsen al-Hemedawi, was killed while defending a Shiite holy shrine in Syria, according to the official of the Hezbollah Brigades, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue. The official said the man was killed on March 30 and buried on April 1.
An official statement from the group also confirmed his death.
A video posted on YouTube showed thousands of men and Shiite clerics, clad in robes and turbans, marching at al-Hemedawi's funeral. Men carried his coffin, which was covered with red flowers and wrapped in the yellow-and-green flag emblazoned with an assault rifle that is the symbol of the Hezbollah Brigades. Young men in black uniforms and caps bearing the Hezbollah Brigades flag walked alongside. Another two men carried a large portrait of the slain fighter.
The Hezbollah Brigades official said the public funeral for al-Hemedawi was designed to send a message to their Sunni militant rivals fighting in Syria that they will not abandon their holy sites.
Iraq and Syria's other neighbors -- Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel -- all fear the spillover effects of the two-year civil war, which has killed 70,000.
Iraq, Lebanon and Syria all have populations with a mix of rival sects and officials fear the conflict could cause sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites to spread throughout the region.
Iran and many Iraqi Shiite militants support Syrian President Bashar Assad, while many Iraqi Sunnis back the largely Sunni rebels trying to oust him. Most of the hard-line Sunni extremists fighting with the Syrian rebels appear to have coalesced around the Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of al-Qaida militants in Iraq.
The Hezbollah Brigades is not connected to the better-known Lebanese Hezbollah, but both are backed by Iran and have been designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. State Department.
The official said al-Hemedawi and other fighters were sent to Syria particularly to protect Shiite holy sites, including the prominent shrine in Damascus for the Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter, Zainab. The official said they feared the shrines would be attacked by Sunni jihadists if they were left undefended. Sunni extremists see the presence of shrines as heretical, and also have attacked those visited by Sunni Muslims.
He said their fears stem from the 2006 bombing of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra. That attack was blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq and set off years of retaliatory bloodshed between Sunni and Shiite extremists that left thousands of Iraqis dead and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- A young female diplomat is among the six Americans who died in a pair of militant attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday.
An Afghan doctor was also killed. It was the deadliest day for the United States in the war in eight months.
Officials and the State Department says the three U.S. service members, two U.S. civilians and the doctor were killed when the group was struck by an explosion while traveling to donate books to students in a school in the south.
Secretary of State John Kerry says the Americans included a department of defense civilian and the foreign service officer.
Kerry says the diplomat "tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future." He goes on to say "We also honor the U.S. troops and Department of Defense civilian who lost their lives, and the Afghan civilians who were killed."
The U.S. military says another American civilian was killed in a separate insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan.

CAIRO (AP) -- Thousands of Egyptians demonstrated across the country to denounce the president and purse the goals of the 2011 popular uprising.
Saturday's protests marked the fifth anniversary of the formation of the April 6th Youth Movement started in 2008 under former President Hosni Mubarak. Workers in Mahalla tore down a poster of Mubarak in what was a daring move at the time.
The group also played a crucial role in the uprising that toppled Mubarak.
The movement initially backed President Mohammed Morsi in election run-offs last June, but has since turned against him.
The opposition accuses him of acting like his autocratic predecessor and of not having an inclusive political process. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood party says Morsi should be challenged at the ballot box, not in street protests.

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian security officials say at least five people have been killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians just outside Cairo.
Investigators say they are waiting for autopsy reports to confirm how the five men were killed.
Police say the clashes started before dawn when young Muslims drew upside down crosses on an Islamic institute. Christian onlookers and Muslims nearby began quarrelling and soon residents wielding guns began firing on one another.
Residents interviewed by satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera Mubashir had different accounts of what sparked the violence, and said police arrived hours after the fight ended.
A fire also broke out near a church in the neighborhood where the clashes took place.
Egypt's Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's 85 million people, the largest Christian community in the Middle East. They have long complained of discrimination by the state.

ISRAEL-CYBERATTACK
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's media is reporting that the country's websites are under cyberattack, but most targeted sites do not appear to have been affected.
Posters using the name of the hacking group Anonymous had warned they would launch a massive attack on Israeli sites in a strike they called (hash)OpIsrael.
Israel's Bureau of Statistics was down on Sunday morning but it was unclear if it was hacked. The media said the sites of the Defense and Education Ministry as well as banks had come under attack the night before but they were mostly repelled. Israeli activists hacked sites in Pakistan, the media said.
Hackers have tried before to topple Israeli sites.
A concerted effort to cripple Israeli websites during November fighting in Gaza failed to cause serious disruption.


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