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No Survivors in Air Algerie Crash, French President Says


Purestock/Thinkstock(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- French troops are headed to a remote area in Mali to secure the site of Thursday's Air Algerie jet crash, the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

French President Francois Hollande announced Friday that there were no survivors in the crash of the MD-83 aircraft, which disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, for Algiers. The plane had requested permission to change course due to bad weather.

The jetliner -- owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier -- had 110 passengers and six crew members on board.

President Hollande, who spoke after a crisis meeting, also announced that one of the aircraft's two black boxes have been located in the wreckage, in the Gossi region near the Burkina Faso border. It is being transported to the northern Mali city of Gao.

French forces, stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, are tasked with securing the crash site and gathering information. Much of the region is desert, rugged and remote, with few roads and an average high temperature of 101 degrees Farenheit this time of the year.

The airline said that among the passengers were 51 French nationals along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members were Spanish.

News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.

The crash of the Air Algerie plane is the latest in a series of aviation disasters. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people on board. No wreckage from the plane has been found.

And last week, a Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down over a war-torn section of Ukraine, with U.S. officials blaming it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile.

On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.

While fliers are jittery about the tragedies, air travel remains relatively safe. There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. Travelers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane.

There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.


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Clashes Break Out as Palestinians Declare 'Day of Rage'


iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Could the conflict in Gaza spark a third intifada -- or Palestinian uprising -- in the West Bank?

Following a deadly strike on an United Nations school in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians from Ramallah demonstrated at a checkpoint near Jerusalem late Thursday night.

On Friday, clashes are breaking out in the Old City, where Israel put restrictions on who could attend Friday prayer services at Dome of the Rock.

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli police during a violent demonstration at the Kalandia checkpoint that drew an estimated 10,000 people. Israel says it responded to protestors who opened fire with automatic rifles.

Palestinians have declared Friday a so-called "Day of Rage," so Israel is bracing for mass protests again at Kalandia, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Extra police and border patrol units are on duty the capital.

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US Pins Hopes on Last-Ditch Cease-Fire Proposal for Gaza


State Department photo/ Public Domain(WASHINGTON) -- The last best chance for a quick resolution to the crisis in Gaza could come Friday, after Israel and Hamas review a cease-fire proposal drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry.

With the conflict becoming increasingly bloodier, Kerry is not much concerned with the Israeli response as he is with the militant group Hamas, which has so far rejected every plan to end the 19-day air and ground war.

According to Israeli officials, the proposal is in three parts and includes a one-week cease-fire in Gaza in which Israel will not totally withdraw its force; negotiations toward a more lasting agreement; and assurances from the U.S., European Union and United Nations that there will be serious talks about disarming Hamas of rockets and tunnels and the lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

Apparently, the major stumbling block is Hamas political wing chief Khaled Meshal, who has taken a harder line than other members of his militant organizations.

Foreign ministers from Qatar and Turkey will try to convince Meshal to accept the cease-fire plan. Failing to do so will likely mean Israel will escalate its offensive in Gaza, which has cost 800 Palestinian lives as well those of 32 Israeli soldiers.

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Iraqi Lawmakers Pick New President


iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- Iraq moved one step closer to forming a new government Thursday, as lawmakers overwhelmingly approved veteran Kurdish politician Fuad Masum as the country's next president.

Masum's appointment comes a week after parliament chose a new speaker. Lawmakers now have 15 days to select Iraq's next prime minister, without question the most crucial decision to be made as Iraq deals with the Sunni extremists who've taken over large swaths of the north and west.

According to the constitution, the prime minister must be a Shiite. Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, who has been blamed for fomenting much of the political unrest in Iraq, wants to remain prime minister.

Maliki has resisted calls to form a unity government in order to better defeat the Islamic State, which has shown no signs of stopping its efforts to wrest control of Iraq from the central government in Baghdad.

Although returning Maliki to power would demonstrate some continuity, parliament also runs the risk of completely disenfranchising Sunnis and Kurds if he wins another term as prime minister.

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EU Approves More Sanctions Over Ukraine Crisis


iStock/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- The European Union approved further sanctions linked to the crisis in Ukraine, adding more Ukranian and Russian individuals and entities to its list Thursday.

The Council's Committee of Permanent Representatives implemented further restrictions as a result of the annexation of Crimea. The subjects of the prohibitions will have their assets frozen and undergo a visa ban.

The individuals and entities added follow 72 people already listed under EU sanctions.

"The meeting also reached agreement on extending the designation criteria," representatives said in a statement. "This will pave the way for imposing asset freezes and visa bans on persons and entities that actively support or are benefiting from Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine."

In addition to sanctions, the group discussed additional measures to restrict trade with and investment in Crimea and Sevastopol.

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Wreckage From Algerian Jetliner Found in Mali, Says Office of French President


iStock/Thinkstock(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- The wreckage of an Algerian airliner that disappeared from radar Thursday was found in Mali near the border of Burkina Faso, according to a statement from the office of the French president.

"The device has been clearly identified despite its disintegrated state," read the statement.

The Air Algerie jetliner had 110 passengers and six crew members when it took off from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, en route to Algiers, the airline said.

Air navigation services lost track of the plane, an MD-83 model, about 50 minutes after it took off.

French forces, which are stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, sent two planes searching for the airliner.

Earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the aircraft "probably crashed."

A French military detachment was dispatched to the area to secure the site and gather first information on the wreckage.

The airline said that among the passengers were 51 French nationals along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members were Spanish.

News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair, the Spanish company that operated the plane, released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.

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Prince George's Birthday Gifts from President Obama Revealed in New Exhibit


John Stillwell - WPA Pool /Getty Images(LONDON) -- Ever wonder what President Obama got Prince George when he was born?

This weekend, the Buckingham Palace children's exhibit will answer that question and more.

President Barack Obama sent the son of Kate Middleton and Prince William a blue alpaca wool baby blanket shortly after his birth last year on July 22, according to the Palace.

George, who turned one earlier this week, was also sent a handmade rocking horse with the presidential seal on its saddle, and a polo mallet with a head made from the branch of an oak tree that once stood on the south lawn of the White House.

These lavish gifts will be on display at the Palace for the “Royal Childhood” exhibit, which opens Saturday and lasts for eight weeks. It is a yearly tradition that starts with the Queen leaving for Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

While the Queen is on holiday, visitors can come into the palace and tour the exhibit.

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US Says Russian Military Has Fired Artillery into Ukraine


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Russian military forces have fired artillery rounds into eastern Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions, and plans to send even more heavy multiple rocket launchers to Russian separatists, U.S. officials said for the first time Thursday.

A Pentagon official labeled the Russian activity as “a clear escalation” of the conflict in that region that has drawn worldwide attention since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the skies over Ukraine, apparently by a Russian-built missile system.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

Harf did not provide additional information as to how the U.S. concluded that the Russian military had been shelling Ukrainian military positions. However, she said that the information that the heavier rocket launchers were headed into Ukraine had been gleaned from what she referred to as “human intelligence.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren later said, “We do know now that the Russians have been firing artillery from Russia into Ukraine to attack Ukrainian military positions.”

“This has been happening, we believe, for several days,” said Warren. “This is a military escalation, there’s no question about it.”

As evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine, Warren referred to activity at a site in southwestern Russia where the Russian military has provided training for Russian separatists and gathered heavy military equipment for their use.

Senior intelligence officials referred to the site outside of Rostov on Tuesday when they made their case for why Russia had “created the conditions” for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner with a Russian-built SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Since the shoot-down, “there’s been ongoing multiple rocket launcher activity at the Rostov site and multiple rocket launchers continue to depart and return to Rostov at irregular intervals,” Warren said.

For the last month, the Russian military has gathered between 10,000 and 12,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, officials said. The forces are deployed along the border at varying distances, with some elements coming as close as five miles to the border with Ukraine, one official said.

It has been difficult to determine what the Russian intent is for these forces, the official said, but the information released Thursday indicates at least some of them have been engaged in artillery fire targeting Ukrainian military positions.

Ukrainian officials have alleged direct Russian military support for separatists for weeks. Over the past 24 hours, pictures have appeared in Ukrainian media outlets that were purportedly taken by a Russian soldier displaying the artillery equipment his unit has used during its deployment to the border. The images have since been taken down from the Russian social media site on which they were originally posted.

While officials did not provide a precise time as to when the Russian military began to fire artillery across the border, a U.S. official said it began as early as July 15.

Videos posted on social media on July 16 appeared to show Grad rockets being fired from inside Russia into Ukraine. The Grad system is a multiple rocket launcher system used by the Russian military that has been provided to Russian separatists.

NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove tweeted his concerns about the videos the following day. “I am deeply concerned by this latest video that appears to show Russia engaging in military action against Ukraine,” he wrote.

Senior intelligence officials said Tuesday that the flow of Russian heavy military equipment has continued into eastern Ukraine since the crash of the Malaysian airliner.  The flow of weapons included tanks, armored personnel carriers and Grad multiple rocket launcher systems.

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Peace Corps Suspends Kenya Program


iStock/Thinkstock(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- The Peace Corps is suspending its entire volunteer program in Kenya as a result of security concerns in the region, a U.S. State Department official announced Thursday.

The organization has been monitoring the environment in the country, along with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

"The Peace Corps plans to continue to monitor the security environment and reassess the security situation at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return," the official said in a statement. "The Peace Corps has enjoyed a long partnership with the government and people of Kenya and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there."

Violent attacks in the country, along with the incident at Westgate Mall in 2013 that killed at least 67 people, have raised concerns over safety.

The United States has kept up a partnership with Kenya for more than 50 years, set on improving Kenya's economy and developing its health, education, and security sectors. The U.S. provides between $700 million and $1 billion in annual assistance, and the embassy in Nairobi will remain open and staffed for its regular operations.

"The commitment of the United States to Kenya is unwavering. We remain a strong and steadfast partner of the government and people of Kenya," the State Department official added.

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Official: Terrorists in Syria Now as Dangerous to US as Those in Yemen


iStock/Thinkstock(ASPEN, Colo.) -- Syria has risen as a top threat to the U.S. homeland that rivals Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate known for its innovative bombs successfully smuggled aboard airplanes, a top Pentagon official said on Thursday.

"Syria is probably the number one threat -- or, with... threats out of Yemen -- to the American homeland right now and elsewhere in the west," said Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s under secretary for defense intelligence.

In answer to a question by moderator Brian Ross of ABC News at a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of national security veterans, Vickers, himself a former Special Forces operator, said that the foreigners flocking to Syria are hard to track and are a "serious problem."

"Foreign fighters who are western passport holders, including Americans, a subset of that, numbers in the four digits," Vickers said.

Since 2010, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has held the top spot in the minds of counter-terrorism officials after the terror group tried unsuccessfully to use four different improvised explosive devices, hidden in underwear on a bomber or inside printer cartridges, in an effort to blow up U.S.-bound commercial passenger and cargo jets.

But a portion of the thousands of foreign fighters joining extremists for training and jihad against Syria's embattled dictator Bashar al Assad over the last few years are viewed as likely to eventually try to attack western targets, many officials have said.

Top U.S. officials have spoken more openly about the threat emanating from Syria this year.

John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, has established a prosecutors unit to focus on Americans fighting in Syria or aspiring to, because of the enormity of the threat.

"The number of foreign fighters that are already in place in Syria, and a number of other westerners in that group, is one that is unprecedented, and is a larger number than we ever saw in ungoverned spaces in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Carlin said during the panel discussion.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said it's all his European colleagues want to discuss, their fears are so pronounced.

"It's number one on the list of discussion topics," he told the security conference.

The tactical threat still remains rooted in the disturbing expertise provided by AQAP's master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, officials said.

Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole, on a separate panel, said that the type of device he worries about most, "from everything I'm aware of, [is] still a non-metallic IED."

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UN Shelter in Gaza Comes Under Fire


iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- The United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees  -- UNRWA -- reported Thursday that one of its designated shelters in Northern Gaza was hit.

Initial reports suggest at least 15 Palestinian civilians were killed and scores more were injured.  

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the explosion tore through the courtyard of a school in Beit Hanoun filled with Palestinian civilians waiting to obey evacuation orders.

Eyewitnesses blamed the bloodshed on an Israeli tank shell.

Gunness said Israel knew the coordinates of the school and had not granted his requests for safe passage.  

But the Israeli Army denied this. It said a Hamas rocket may have been responsible and it has opened an investigation.

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Sudanese Woman Condemned to Hang Reportedly Flies to Italy


iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A woman sentenced to death for marrying a Christian has flown to Italy, according to a report from the BBC.

Meriem Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to be flogged and hanged to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian and converting from the Muslim faith to Christianity. Ibrahim's story drew outrage from people across the globe as her story went viral on social media under the "#savemeriam" hashtag and world leaders condemned the harsh sentence.

Ibrahim, who was raised by her Christian mother, was eight months pregnant at the time of her sentence and has since given birth.

Ibrahim and her family flew on an Italian government plane, accompanied by Italian minister Lapo Pistelli, the BBC reports. Pistelli posted a photo to Facebook showing the group with the caption, “With Miriam, Maya, Martin and Daniel, in a few minutes of Rome. Mission accomplished.” 

Pope Francis reportedly met with Ibrahim and her family for about 30 minutes in his private residence at the Vatican. The pope thanked Ibrahim for "her steadfast witness of faith," a Vatican spokesman said, according to the Catholic News Service.

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Hockey Player Shares Story Behind Queen Elizabeth's Photobomb


@_JaydeTaylor/Twitter(LONDON) -- Photobombs happen all the time. A photobomb by Queen Elizabeth -- smiling no less -- does not.

Jayde Taylor, an athlete competing in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games with the Australian women's hockey team, was warming down with her teammate Brooke Peris when the Queen stopped by to say hello. It was at that point that Taylor snapped the photo.

"Brooke and I planned it so that when she came out the door she would be behind us. And then she came out and smiled at the camera!" Taylor told ABC News. "We were in the right spot at the right time."

However, meeting the royal may have surpassed the experience of taking a photo with her.

"She asked us a bit about the pitch, how we were going and told us to enjoy our time here," Taylor said. "She was lovely. Really, really lovely."

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Seven Hundred Dead or Missing this Year in Plane Tragedies


Purestock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The numbers are stark, and chilling.

Four commercial planes have crashed or disappeared in just four months this year and, perhaps more startlingly, 700 lives have been lost.

The latest news of tragedy in the skies came Thursday morning, when an Air Algerie plane flying over Africa with 116 aboard disappeared off radar.

The disappearance comes on the heels of two other high-profile incidents: the crash of TransAsia Flight 222 in Taiwan Wednesday, which killed 47, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine last week, which had 298 aboard.

Earlier this spring, the world was stunned when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, taking 239 people with it. It has not yet been found.

The countries hit hardest by these plane tragedies have been the Netherlands, with 193 dead or missing, and China, with 153 dead or missing.

Malaysia had a high number of passengers on both MH370 and MH17, and lost 81 of its residents this year.

France, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia have all lost dozens of citizens in the tragedies.

The United States lost three residents aboard MH370 and one dual U.S.-Dutch resident aboard MH17.

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Woman in Stilettos Ascends Kilimanjaro


Rima Suqi(NEW YORK) -- If Rima Suqi was going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, she resolved to do it in style. The writer, who called herself "a little bit of a shoe person," reached the top of the spectacular summit in a pair of stilettos.

Suqi told ABC News that she had devised the solo trip to Tanzania almost a year in advance as a meaningful way to fete her 40th birthday, which she celebrated the day after the ascent. But she admitted that her choice of footwear was not quite so intentional.

"I don't honestly know what made me think to do it," she said, before adding that she figured it would be "an opportunity for a good picture."

"It's 40," she said. "Forty is kind of a big deal. You've got to do something."

Besides, she reasoned, were she at home to mark the milestone, she would "probably be in a heel and red lipstick, too."

As she wrote in a postcard published on Fathom.com, Suqi toted the strappy sandals up the face of the mountain. After she arrived at the peak, she swapped her hiking boots for the stilettos, slicked on a layer of berry-red Chanel lipstick, and asked her bemused guide to snap "a mini photo shoot."

"He loved it," she said. "I think at first he looked at me like I was slightly crazy, but then he loved it and he did say nobody had ever done that before."

According to Suqi, the sartorial stunt was not just for show.

In a diary entry dated from the trip, Suqi wrote: "This climb is really a metaphor for life. Ups, downs, easier patches, rough patches. People who look after you, feed you, provide shelter, help you when you are sick and provide encouragement when you are down. You just take it slow -- pole, pole -- and try to find your way at your own pace."

And as in life, so too at Kilimanjaro: It never hurts to look your best.

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