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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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    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
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    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
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    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
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    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
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    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
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    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
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    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
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    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
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    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
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    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
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    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
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    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
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    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
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    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

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    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora