Documents seen by The Associated Press show that South Sudan’s committee overseeing the fragile transition from civil war has approved almost $185 million in spending on vehicles, food and home renovations while the country’s peace deal suffers from an alleged lack of funds.

As the East African nation emerges from a five-year conflict that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions, experts warn the government’s lack of financial transparency will gut the confidence of international donors being encouraged to donate to the peace transition fund.

The internal government documents show that on Nov. 5, two months after warring parties signed the peace deal, the committee that includes government and opposition representatives authorized payments for 1,000 vehicles and food including 50,000 tons of sorghum to be delivered to the capital, Juba.

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Jordan’s King Abdullah II is vowing to keep protecting Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, calling it a "red line" for his country.

Abdullah said Wednesday, during a visit to the Zarqa governorate outside Amman, that he’s under pressure to alter his country’s historic role as custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites but that he wouldn’t. Abdullah says: "I will never change my position toward Jerusalem in my life." He added that "all my people are with me." He did not specify what kind of pressure he was encountering.

A Jordanian-appointed council oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Noble Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction. Tensions often escalate at the site.

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The governor of the West Bank city of Bethlehem says Israeli soldiers have shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man near the city.

Kamil Hamid said on Thursday that Israeli troops in the adjacent village of al-Khader fired at a car and wounded the driver the previous night. He says Ahmad Manasra was driving behind him and got out of his vehicle to help the wounded man. As he was returning to his car, Hamid says the Israeli soldiers shot and killed Manasra.

The Israeli military says a soldier stationed at a military post near Bethlehem identified rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles. In response, he fired his weapon. The military says it is investigating the incident, which comes amid heightened tensions in the West Bank.

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Dozens of migrants are suffering from malnutrition in a detention center in Libya’s capital, an international charity said Thursday.

Doctors Without Borders said its survey showed that over 300 people, including more than 100 children, are being held in the Sabaa detention center in Tripoli. Around 75 detainees are malnourished or underweight, with children significantly more likely to suffer moderate or severe malnutrition, it said. Several people reported receiving only one meal every two to three days, with new arrivals waiting four days before receiving food.

"What we see today in this single detention center is symptomatic of an uncontrolled, unjustified, and reckless system that puts the lives of refugees and migrants at risk," said Karline Kleijer, Doctors Without Borders’ head of emergencies.

She urged Libyan authorities to release those held in Sabaa, almost half of whom have been detained for six months or more.

Libya was plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, and has since emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking a better life in Europe.

Rights groups say migrants face exploitation and abuse in Libya at the hands of smugglers and local militias.

In recent years, European countries have provided training and funds to Libyan authorities to reduce hazardous sea crossings, which have claimed thousands of lives. But critics say those efforts leave the migrants trapped in Libya.

Sam Turner, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Tunisia, said the EU policies to address migration "are directly resulting in people being held in these conditions in Libya."

"It is an extremely cynical approach … and the cost is human lives," he said.

Last month, Libyan police moved in to end a protest by migrants held at the Trig al-Sikka detention center in Tripoli, setting off clashes in which around 50 people were wounded, according to the U.N.’s migration agency.

Doctors Without Borders says an estimated 670,000 migrants are in Libya, including 5,700 held in detention centers, where they are regularly exposed to human rights abuses including extortion, torture, sexual violence and forced labor.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hopes to use his first visit to Lebanon this week to step up pressure on Iran and its local ally, Hezbollah. But he could face resistance even from America’s local allies, who fear that pushing too hard could spark a backlash and endanger the tiny country’s fragile peace.

Hezbollah wields more power than ever in parliament and the government. Pompeo will meet Friday with President Michel Aoun and will also hold talks with Lebanon’s parliament speaker and foreign minister — all three of whom are close Hezbollah allies. He will also meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a close Western ally who has been reluctant to confront Hezbollah.

"We’ll spend a lot of time talking with the Lebanese government about how we can help them disconnect from the threat that Iran and Hezbollah present to them," Pompeo told reporters earlier this week.

But isolating Hezbollah, whose military power dwarfs that of the Lebanese armed forces, could prove impossible.

The Iran-backed group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. Its battle-hardened cadres fought Israel to a stalemate in 2006, and have fought alongside President Bashar Assad’s army since the early days of the Syrian civil war, securing a string of hard-won victories. Over the past year, the group has translated this power into major political gains unseen in the past.

Hezbollah and its allies today control a majority of seats in parliament and the Cabinet, after it managed in 2016 to help Aoun, an allied Christian leader, be elected president. The group has three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever taken, including the Health Ministry, which has one of the largest budgets.

That has angered Washington, where U.S. officials have called on Hariri’s national unity government to ensure Hezbollah does not tap into public resources. Last month, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Cabinet, saying it does not contribute to stability.

Lebanon has long been a political battleground in the region-wide struggle between Washington and Tehran. But tensions have risen since President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

The United States backs a coalition of groups opposed to Hezbollah led by Hariri’s Sunni-led Future Movement and the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, but Washington’s local allies are proceeding with caution. Memories are fresh of the clashes that erupted in May 2008, when the Shiite Hezbollah rapidly defeated a group of Sunni opponents on the streets of Beirut.

"Washington should be careful not to push Lebanon to the brink, as Hezbollah would retaliate if its survival is at stake," said Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. "In the current status quo, the most effective way to restrain Hezbollah remains within the intricate parameters of the Lebanese political system," he said.

The Trump administration appears to be aware of the difficulties it faces, and while it has talked tough about Hezbollah, it has done little beyond strengthening already tough sanctions on the group, which has long been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Western countries.

The United States is a strong supporter of Lebanon’s national army, supplying it with arms and more than $1.5 billion in aid over the past decade. But Hezbollah, the only group that did not disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war, takes credit for ending the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and says it is the only force capable of repelling another Israeli invasion.

During his visit to Lebanon, Pompeo is expected to reiterate Washington’s support to the Lebanese army. In return, he is expected to demand that Lebanon’s Central Bank act to prevent Iran from using the country’s banking sector to evade sanctions.

Asked by journalists on his way to the Middle East about his meetings with Aoun, who helped facilitate Hezbollah’s rise to power, Pompeo responded: "In my business we talk to a lot of people that we’re hoping to change their way."

Aoun is scheduled to visit Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The two are expected to discuss a number of topics, including the return of Syrian refugees and oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, which has been a source of tension between Lebanon and Israel.

Pompeo will likely offer continued U.S. mediation to try and resolve the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon plans to begin offshore oil and gas exploration later this year.

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A spokesman for Yemen’s internationally recognized government says recent comments by the country’s rebels that they won’t give up the key port city of Hodeida, the focus of months of U.N.-brokered talks with the government, amounted to a "declaration of war."

Rajeh Badi said at a press conference on Wednesday that such remarks risk igniting vicious fighting once again in Hodeida, a key entry point for international aid to the war-torn country. He also said they violate a tentative peace agreement reached by the two sides in Sweden late last year.

Senior rebel leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi told The Associated Press earlier this week that the Saudi-led coalition, which back’s Yemen’s government, is trying to change the terms of the agreement and that a rebel withdrawal would therefore be "impossible."

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says tensions between his country and Turkey have eased after conciliatory comments from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office on Wednesday.

A diplomatic row flared in the wake of Friday’s gun massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, when Erdogan warned Australians and New Zealanders going to Turkey with anti-Muslim views would return home in coffins, like their ancestors who fought at Gallipoli in World War I.

Morrison slammed the comments as "highly offensive," but on Wednesday a spokesman for Erdogan said the president’s words were "taken out of context," saying he’d framed them "in a historical context" since he was speaking near commemorative sites near the Gallipoli.

Morrison told reporters Thursday progress had been made over the row after a "moderation of the president’s views."

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U.S.-backed Syrian forces are conducting search operations in tunnels a day after seizing an encampment where Islamic State militants had been making their last stand in Syria.

Ciyager Amed, an official with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, says they are searching for any IS militants still hiding in tunnels in a riverside pocket in the village of Baghouz.

Associated Press journalists saw SDF soldiers loading women and children into trailer trucks on the hilltop over Baghouz, in a sign evacuations were ongoing Wednesday. Black smoke could be seen rising from a part of the village.

U.S.-backed Syrian forces on Tuesday seized control of the encampment held by IS after hundreds of militants surrendered overnight, signaling the group’s collapse after months of stiff resistance.

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The U.N. envoy to Libya says rival factions will meet next month to set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Ghassan Salame told a press conference Wednesday that 120 to 150 Libyans will take part in the gathering in the town of Ghadames, near the border with Algeria, on April 14-16.

He says the meeting will bring together representatives of rival authorities in the east and west, and will not include any foreign parties. He says the U.N. hopes for "a new beginning for the country for stability."

Libya slid into chaos after the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country is currently governed by rival authorities in Tripoli and the east, each backed by an array of militias.

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Officials in North Macedonia say seven of the country’s nationals have pleaded guilty to joining the Islamic State group and fighting with it in Syria and Iraq.

The North Macedonian prosecutor’s office said late Tuesday the men on trial in a Skopje criminal court were arrested last August in Syria by members of the international coalition fighting IS.

They were subsequently handed over to North Macedonian law enforcement agencies.

All were charged with membership of an extremist group, while one also allegedly recruited for IS.

If convicted, they face up to five years in jail.

The prosecutor’s office said verdicts will be announced on Thursday.

North Macedonian authorities say more than 130 of the country’s nationals have joined IS. The predominantly Orthodox Christian Balkan state has a large Muslim minority.

Source: Fox News World

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