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In this undated and unknown location photo, the new leader of Taliban fighters, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada poses for a portrait. Springtime in Afghanistan usually brings a spike in violence as the Taliban takes advantage of the thaw to launch a wave of fresh attacks. But the Taliban’s leader has just issued a statement calling on Afghans to plant more trees.<br>Afghan Islamic Press via AP

Taliban leader encourages people to plant trees

The statement does point out that the Taliban remain, "actively engaged in a struggle against foreign invaders and their hirelings" - a reference to the Kabul government that the militant group seeks to overthrow.

UN suspends Gaza staffer amid allegations of Hamas ties

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees suspended a Palestinian staffer Sunday, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said as Israel alleged the employee was elected to a leadership position with the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


Casualties mount as Iraqi troops advance in IS-held Mosul

As Iraqi forces push deeper into western Mosul, the assault is bringing a surge of casualties - at least 30 Iraqi security forces and more than 200 civilians killed or wounded in the last three days.


Syrian warplanes pound rebel-held area in central city

Government warplanes pounded a rebel-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs on Sunday, killing at least three and wounding dozens, Syrian opposition activists said, and President Bashar Assad's forces pushed ahead in Syria's offensive on the historic central town of Palmyra that is held by the Islamic State group.


Israeli hospitals demand funds to continue treating Syrians

An Israeli health official says Israel's hospitals will stop treating Syrian patients in non-emergency cases beginning next week unless the Israeli government fully reimburses the hospitals for years of medical treatments to those wounded in the Syrian civil war.

Syrian warplanes pound rebel-held area in central city

The airstrikes appear to be in retaliation for militant attacks in the city on Saturday that killed a senior security officer and at least 31 others.


Iran begins navy drill off Strait of Hormuz as US wary

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the U.S. and Iran.


Conditions deteriorate in west Mosul as Iraqi advances slow

The Iraqi advance into Mosul's western half slowed Saturday as combat turned to urban warfare and Iraqi forces met stiff resistance from the Islamic State group.


middle east bureau

Pentagon: Review of Islamic State strategy could include call for new war authorization

The Defense Department’s 30-day review of operations against the Islamic State group will be delivered to the White House on Monday, but that does not mean major battlefield changes are imminent, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.



Deadly insurgent attack in Homs weighs on UN-led Syria talks

A deadly terrorist attack in central Syria on Saturday threatened to thwart efforts to wrest a political solution at peace talks in Geneva, with the U.N. mediator decrying "spoilers" who try to derail the efforts to end the country's disastrous six-year war.


Iraq's secretive security unit hunting down sleeper cells in Mosul

Using tips from Mosul residents, Iraq's National Security Service is taking the lead in tracking suspected Islamic State sleeper cells that have managed remain behind as Iraqi forces fight to retake the country's second largest city.


Gallery

Journey to the front lines with the Islamic State

The journey took us more than 400 miles across the breadth of the newly emerging Kurdish region in northeastern Syria, a remote stretch of mostly desert land that covers as much as a third of the country.

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