President Barack Obama walks on the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, prior to his departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday, March 22, 2013, (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
HAVANA (AP) -- New Secretary of State John Kerry faces a deadline in a few weeks on a normally routine decision that could have a big impact, this time, on U.S. Cuba relations.
The decision is whether or not to recommend taking Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.
The decision could usher in a long-stalled detente or slam the door. Either way, current travel restrictions to the island nation would remain.
Cuban officials have told visiting American delegations privately that they view Kerry's recommendation as a litmus test for improved ties.
Inclusion on the list means a ban on arms sales to Cuba but also on items that can have dual uses, including some hospital equipment. It also requires that the United States oppose any international loans to Cuba.
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- President Barack Obama has reassured Israelis who wondered if he recognized the Jewish nation's biblical roots.
When Obama delivered his 2009 speech to the Muslim world, many Jews felt he reinforced their enemies' charge that modern Israel was only founded out of Western guilt over the Nazi Holocaust.
So on arriving in Israel, Obama said, "More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here." He added that "the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth" following "centuries of exile and persecution."
In New York, the Orthodox Union's public policy director, Rabbi Nathan Diament, said it also was "wonderful and encouraging" that the president referred to modern Israelis as descendants of the Bible's Abraham and Sarah.
Kerry to see Abbas, Netanyahu after Obama trip
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- U.S Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to further explore options for relaunching stalled peace talks after President Barack Obama's Mideast trip this week.
Following up on Obama's visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the State Department said Kerry would see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Saturday. After that meeting, Kerry will return to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president, Obama called on Thursday for resumption in negotiations. He offered no new plan on how to get there but said Kerry would be spending considerable time on the matter.
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- There's no deal agreement yet on a plan to raise the money Cyprus needs to qualify for a bailout package.
Cypriot officials and international representatives ended torturous negotiation in the early hours of Sunday with no deal.
Talks are set to resume later Sunday in Brussels, but time is running out: Failure would mean Cyprus could declare bankruptcy in just two days and possibly have to exit the eurozone.
The president of Cyprus and his finance minister will travel to the Belgian capital early Sunday. A viable plan must be cemented before finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro currency meet in Brussels in the evening.
Cyprus has been told it must raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) in order to secure 10 billion euros in rescue loans from other European countries that use the single currency, as well as from the IMF.
The European Central Bank has said it will stop providing emergency funding to Cyprus' banks after Monday if no new plan is in place.
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's prime minister says concerns over the security of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile were the motivating factor in restoring relations with Turkey.
Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that Israel and Turkey, which border Syria, need to communicate with each other over the issue.
The Syrian "crisis" and the possibility that al-Qaida-linked groups could acquire chemical weapons was "the main consideration," in restoring ties, he wrote.
Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart Friday and apologized for a botched raid on a Gaza bound flotilla in 2010 that left eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead. Turkey demanded an apology as a condition for restoring ties.
Netanyahu had until now refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists. Relations were tense before the flotilla incident.
BEIRUT (AP) -- Activists say Syrian rebels have seized control of a major air defense base in a strategic region of southern Syria.
A statement posted Saturday on militant websites by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a rebel group active in southern Syria, says several rebel groups stormed and liberated the 38th division air defense base after besieging it for 16 days.
The rebels also claim they killed the base commander.
The base lies in the southern Daraa province in a village near the strategic highway linking Damascus to neighboring Jordan.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies of a network of activists on the ground, has confirmed the report. It says the fighters included members of the al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group.
Push for Assad's ouster in Syria weakened
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Foes of Syrian President Bashar Assad are distracted by fragmentation within their ranks, foreign meddling and new finger-pointing over chemical weapons. And all that comes as the regime more firmly entrenches itself, giving no sign of stepping down any time soon.
With the two-year civil war slogging on in Syria, the United States appears closer than ever to sending military support to rebels in hopes of breaking the bloody impasse that has left more than 70,000 dead and forced more than 1 million refugees to flee their homes.
Beyond at least the threat of military intervention, there is growing consensus among the U.S. and its allies that little can be done to put new pressure on Assad to go.
Members of Syrian leader's sect meet in Cairo
BEIRUT (AP) -- Members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's own minority sect who are opposed to his regime are meeting in Cairo amid concerns about their fate in a post-Assad Syria.
Organizers say the two-day meeting, which began Saturday, is the first of its kind for opposition members of the Syrian community. Most have either rallied behind Assad or stayed quietly on the sidelines of the 2-year-old civil war.
Rebels fighting to topple Assad are mostly from the country's majority Sunni sect. Assad is Alawite, a Shiite offshoot of Islam.
The meeting of about 50 Alawites reflects fear within the tiny sect that they would fall victim to revenge killings and assassinations should Assad's regime fall.
They plan on seeking assurances from opposition chief Mouaz al-Khatib who may attend the meeting on Sunday.
Radical Islamists attack Malian city of Gao
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- The mayor of Gao confirms that radical Islamists attacked his city in northern Mali, but were pushed back by Malian soldiers.
Mayor Sadou Diallo says the Islamists infiltrated from two different directions late Saturday, including from villages across the Niger River, but Malian troops later regained control of the city.
For nearly 10 months, Gao was under the control of the Movement for the Oneness of Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, which imposed a brutal form of Shariah law, amputating the limbs of accused thieves in a square that became known as "Shariah Square." In January, the city was liberated by French troops, but since then it has repeatedly been attacked by suspected MUJAO fighters who have carried out suicide attacks.
BEIJING (AP) -- Hailstorms that hit southern China this week have killed 12 people, injured hundreds more and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.
The official Xinhua News Agency says nine people were killed in the city of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province after a Wednesday hailstorm. It says 272 others were injured from the storm, which caused economic losses of 357 million yuan ($57.5 million).
Three other people died from hailstorms that began Tuesday in neighboring Hunan province, where 1,900 houses have collapsed, according to Xinhua's report Saturday.
Southern China has seen thunderstorms, hurricanes and hailstorms in the past few days. China's Meteorological Administration says the severe weather is expected to continue through the weekend.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The city of Kiev has declared a state of emergency after the Ukrainian capital was paralyzed by an unprecedented snowstorm that has stalled car, railway and air traffic.
The city was hit by about 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snow in the past day, more than it usually receives per month during this season.
Tractors, armored vehicles and other heavy equipment were dispatched Saturday to clear roads blocked by kilometers-long traffic jams. Desperate to get home, some Kiev drivers simply abandoned their stalled cars on the roads and set out on foot.
Kiev's main airport, Boryspil, was working with delays, the smaller Zhulyany airport was closed and Ukraine's International Airlines grounded all its planes until Sunday morning.
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