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A spokesman for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh says the embattled ruler now plans to sign an agreement to relinquish power, though he rejected it 24 hours earlier. Yemen's opposition reacted to the news with deep skepticism, accusing Saleh of stalling. On Thursday, Saleh spokesman Ahmed al-Sufi said Saleh will sign the agreement during a celebration on Sunday. Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri dismissed the pledge, accusing Saleh of "playing games with time."


Army cracks down in border town

The Syrian army shelled a border town Thursday, sparking gunbattles that killed at least eight people, and the government condemned U.S. sanctions targeting President Bashar Assad for the brutal crackdown that has killed more than 850 people. Talkalakh, a town of some 70,000 people near the border with Lebanon, is known to be a smuggling area where many residents are armed. It has been a hotbed of dissent during the two-month uprising against Assad's autocratic rule.


Gadhafi's forces fire rockets at rebels

Moammar Gadhafi's forces fired rockets at rebel fighters Thursday in the formidable strongholds and training camps they have built up in the strategic mountain heights southwest of the Libyan capital. The two sides appear to be fighting for control of the two highways to the north and south of the Nafusa mountain range, which slices across the desert south of Tripoli to the western border with Tunisia. Rebels, in particular, have used the road, bringing in supplies for camps to train fighters for what they hope will be a future push on the capital.


Muslim-Christian clashes erupt

Muslims and Christians pelted each other with stones in a Cairo suburb Thursday over the reopening of a church that the former regime closed years ago. The church is one of three to be reopened as part of the Egyptian authorities' plan to try to defuse recent religious tensions. They have promised to reopen nearly 50 churches across Egypt in an attempt to appease Christian protesters who have been holding a sit-in for more than a week along the Nile. Also Thursday, Egypt's military rulers announced that they are suspending prison sentences for 120 people who participated in protests after the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.


Cleric is sentenced by security court

A Bahrain security court sentenced a prominent Shiite cleric and eight others to 20 years in prison Thursday for the alleged kidnapping of a police officer. The sentences come during a crackdown by the ruling Sunni dynasty against Shiite-led protesters who have been demonstrating to demand greater freedoms. Western leaders have strongly condemned Bahrain for the crackdown.


West worries about flow of information

Western security officials are worried that crucial intelligence on terror groups in North Africa will dry up as repressive - but effective - security services are dismantled or reorganized after the Arab revolts. Those concerns, expressed by European and Israeli intelligence officers in interviews with the Associated Press, add urgency to reports of foreign fighters with suspected al-Qaida links crossing into Tunisia.

Times wires