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    Donors Pledge $2.4 Billion in Aid for Syrians

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says international donors have pledged more than $2.4 billion to help those affected by the fighting in Syria.

    Mr. Ban made the announcement Wednesday after a donors' conference in Kuwait as part of a U.N. effort to raise $6.5 billion this year, the largest-ever funding appeal for a single crisis. He said the fighting in Syria has set the nation back "years, even decades."

    Kuwait pledged $500 million, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced $380 million in new aid from the United States.

    Also Wednesday, a Syrian official said European intelligence agencies have secretly met with President Bashar al-Assad's government to discuss at least 1,200 European militants operating inside the country.

    Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, told British media that several Western intelligence services had visited Damascus for talks.

    His comments come a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that French, German, Spanish and British spy services had made contact with Mr. Assad's government. French media have carried similar reports.



    The newspaper quoted unidentified Western and Middle Eastern officials as saying the talks are narrowly focused on European concerns that the extremists could pose a threat when they return home and on al-Qaida's growing influence in Syria.

    The Journal, citing the unnamed sources, reported the discussions do not represent a broader diplomatic opening to Syria.

    The meetings come a week before long-sought Geneva II peace talks are scheduled to begin in Switzerland, where the opposition is supposed to meet with Mr. Assad's government to negotiate a political transition to end the crisis.

    On the ground in Syria, a car bomb blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant killed at least 26 people - mostly rival rebel fighters - in the northern city of Jarablus.

    Elsewhere in the rebel-held north, activists said a Belgian ISIL commander was killed in clashes between rebel groups for the northern town of Saraqeb.

    ISIL supporters denied reports that the local Saraqeb "emir" - known as Abu Baraa al-Jazairi - had been killed. Activists said rival rebels ambushed a convoy of ISIL fighters and killed Jazairi, who is believed to be a Belgian citizen of Algerian origin.

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