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As ties warm, Syria to host a 2024 Arab energy conference

Syria will host an Arab energy conference in 2024, the country’s energy ministry said Thursday, the latest sign that Arab countries are moving to re-engage with the government of Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad.

The announcement followed a unanimous vote from members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries during a virtual meeting Thursday, the ministry said. The conference will be held in Damascus, according to a ministry statement on Facebook and the official state news agency SANA. Qatar is hosting the 2023 conference.

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Arab countries have in recent months been making limited moves to improve relations with Syria, a decade after it was shunned and kicked out of the Arab League at the onset of the country’s civil war in 2011.

The rapprochement has included the reopening of several embassies, visits by Arab officials to Damascus and restoring some commercial ties with the war-torn country. The moves are a recognition of the facts on the ground — after years of war and despite the initial support by some Arab countries to his opposition, Assad’s government has survived and his forces have regained control of much of the country.

Syria’s civil war has displaced half of its population, killed hundreds of thousands and driven the country’s economy into the ground.

Before the war, Syria produced 350,000 barrels of oil a day, exporting more than half of it. It now averages around 24,000 barrels a day, covering only a fraction of domestic needs. Most of its oil fields are in the hands of Kurdish-led forces, who administer an autonomous region in the country’s northeast. Assad’s government has relied on a top ally, Iran, for oil supplies.

In recent weeks, a deal was signed with Egypt to extend natural gas through Syria to Lebanon using an Arab oil pipeline that has been out of service for a decade.

OAPEC was founded in Beirut in 1968 with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya as its first members. Its headquarters are in Kuwait. Algeria, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain joined three years later. The organization’s charter was later changed to allow members where petroleum is an essential source of income, though not the main one. Syria and Egypt also subsequently joined the group.

The organization’s website says the total reserves of the member states are estimated at 704 billion barrels a year.

Read more: UAE's renewed diplomacy with Syria could lead to more Arab overtures

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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