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MIDDLE EAST

U.S. close to deal on new peace talks

The Obama administration said Thursday that it was close to securing an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume direct peace talks. Some U.S. officials said an announcement could be imminent.

The State Department said an agreement was “very, very close” but that details had not been settled. An announcement could be made as early as Friday or Saturday, said administration officials familiar with the matter.

Israeli and Palestinian officials refused to comment. They said they would react after an official announcement is made about the talks, adding that they did not have advance information about the content.

CHINA

Car bomb kills 7 in Uighur region

URUMQI | A bomb attack in China’s restive Xinjiang region killed seven people and wounded 14 on Thursday, and an exile group claimed victims included members of the local police force and its auxiliary unit.

The attack was the deadliest violence reported in Xinjiang since bloody rioting in the regional capital of Urumqi last year that left 200 people dead.

The vast region bordering Central Asia has long been beset by ethnic conflict and separatist violence, leading to a massive and ongoing crackdown by security forces.

The bomb exploded after a man of the region’s native Uighur ethnic group drove a three-wheeled vehicle laden with explosives into a crowd of people in a suburb in Aksu city in southwestern Xinjiang.

THAILAND

‘Merchant of Death’ optimistic on ruling

BANGKOK | The suspected Russian arms dealer known as “the Merchant of Death” is tired of prison life but optimistic that a Thai appeals court will rule in his favor Friday and refuse to extradite him to the United States, his attorney said.

Viktor Bout, a 43-year-old former Soviet air force officer, is reputed to be one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers.

His high-profile arrest in a 2008 U.S. sting operation in Bangkok ended nearly a quarter-century of cat-and-mouse chases. It also raised Washington’s hopes for a quick transfer of a man who has never been prosecuted despite being the subject of U.N. sanctions, a Belgian money-laundering indictment and a travel ban.

Instead, it spurred a diplomatic tug of war between Moscow and Washington that led to delays and prompted a lower-court judge to seek input from the Foreign Ministry, saying he was in “a tough position” and feared ties with both countries could be at stake. The Bangkok Criminal Court rejected the U.S. extradition request in August 2009.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday that the Thai ambassador in Washington was summoned to the State Department this week so that U.S. officials could “emphasize that this is of the highest priority to the United States.”

LEBANON

Gaza-bound ship to try Cyprus passage

TRIPOLI | A Lebanese ship carrying aid and female activists hoping to break Israel’s Gaza blockade will set sail Sunday from Lebanon despite warnings that they will not be allowed to make it past Cyprus, organizers said Thursday.

The ship cannot travel directly to Gaza from Lebanon because Beirut is still technically at war with Israel, forcing the vessel to pass through a third country - in this case, Cyprus - before heading for the blockaded Palestinian territory.

On Thursday, the Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon told the Associated Press that the boat, the Mariam, will be turned back when it reaches Cyprus.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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