21 killed in west China clash Kerry hosts Afghan-Pakistan talks Famed Syria minaret destroyed
Hagel: Syria chemical weapons 'suspicions'
CAIRO -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday described Israeli claims of Syrian chemical weapons use as unproven "suspicions."
Hagel has instructed defense intelligence agencies to investigate allies' reports that the Syrian regime used a sarin-based nerve agent in attacks against rebels March 19, U.S. officials said. Britain and France last week made similar assessments, but Hagel said the United States wouldn't rush to make its own determination
"Suspicions are one thing, evidence is another," Hagel said in Cairo, his latest stop in a weeklong Mideast swing.
Hagel stressed that he wasn't questioning the Israeli assessment, which came in a speech Tuesday by Brig. Gen. Itai Brun.
Hagel learned of Brun's speech as Hagel was wrapping up a third day of meetings in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials. None shared the assessment with him, Hagel said.
BEIJING -- A violent clash between authorities and assailants described as a terrorist gang left 21 people dead in China's restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, the local government said Wednesday.
Among the dead in the Tuesday afternoon fighting were 15 police officers and local government officials, the Xinjiang government propaganda office said in a news release. It said six assailants were killed on the spot and another eight were captured .
"Initial investigations show this was a gang plotting to carry out terrorist acts and the case is now being further cracked open," the release said.
A leading activist from the region's indigenous Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group questioned the official account, saying local sources said that police sparked the incident by shooting a Uighur youth during an illegal search of homes.
BRUSSELS -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought senior Afghan and Pakistani officials together Wednesday for security talks aimed at improving relations between the two nations ahead of next year's withdrawal of NATO combat forces from Afghanistan.
Kerry met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at Truman Hall, the estate on the outskirts of Brussels that is home to the U.S. ambassador to NATO. The meeting lasted about three hours, but apparently did little to ease the tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan as all sides try to lure the Taliban to peace talks.
BEIRUT -- The 11th-century minaret of a famed mosque that towered over the narrow stone alleyways of Aleppo's old quarter collapsed Wednesday as rebels and government troops fought pitched battles in the streets around it, depriving the Syrian city of one of its most important landmarks.
President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels trying to overthrow him traded blame over the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site and centerpiece of Aleppo's walled Old City.
"This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This mosque is a living sanctuary," said Helga Seeden, a professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut.