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In our news wrap Thursday, the Jordanian government demanded confirmation that a pilot held hostage by the Islamic State is still alive before they release a female prisoner in a ransom deal. Also, an Afghan soldier killed three American security advisors and wounded another person at a military airport in Kabul.
Another deadline came and went today, with still no word on the fate of two hostages held by the Islamic State group. Instead, demands and counterdemands played out at long range across the Middle East.
This is the Turkish border with Syria, where the militants wanted the government of Jordan to hand over a convicted terrorist by sunset today. The latest deadline was contained in an audio recording by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto. He said another captive, Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, would be killed unless Jordan released a 44-year old Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi.
She was involved in a plot to strike three hotels in Amman 10 years ago. Her explosive belt never detonated, and she's been on death row there ever since.
But Jordan's government insisted today that, before she goes free, it wants confirmation their pilot is alive.
MOHAMMED AL-MOMANI, Jordanian Government Spokesman:
Jordan is willing to help exchange Sajida al-Rishawi with the Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh. At this point, we want to emphasize that we have asked for a proof of life from Da'esh, and we have not received anything as of yet.
The pilot's father weighed in tonight with another plea for mercy.
SAFI AL KASEASBEH, Father of Hostage (through interpreter): Releasing your Muslim brother, Muath, is going to receive a big positive reaction and appreciation from all Jordanian and Palestinian tribes who share the same faith as you. May God save you and act as a shield for Islam and Muslims.
Japanese diplomats have also been involved in the flurry of negotiations, but it's unclear whether the hostage Goto would be part of any deal.
Until now, Jordan has always refused to negotiate with extremists, but the government is under intense domestic pressure to bring the captured pilot home.
There's been another insider attack in Afghanistan, killing three American security advisers and wounding a fourth.
Officials say an Afghan soldier shot the Americans today at a military airport in Kabul. And, in Egypt, at least 25 people died in attacks on police and military targets in the Sinai Peninsula. Islamist insurgents have carried out a series of strikes there.
Meanwhile, a tense calm prevailed between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah. The two sides signaled they have no interest in escalating clashes along the Lebanese border that killed two Israeli soldiers and a U.N. peacekeeper yesterday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the violence on Hezbollah's main supporter.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter):
It is Iran that is responsible for yesterday's attack against us from Lebanon. This is the same Iran that is now trying to achieve an agreement that would leave it with the ability the develop nuclear weapons. We will continue to defend ourselves against all threats, near and far away.
The flare-up followed an apparent Israeli airstrike that killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general inside Syria earlier this month.
Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine expanded their push today to seize more territory. The separatists announced they'd nearly encircled a government-held town north of Donetsk that hosts a key railway hub. At the same time, more artillery fire smashed into Donetsk itself. Reports varied on civilian casualties, but Ukraine's military said five soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours.
The number of new Ebola cases in West Africa fell below 100 this week, for the first time since June. The World Health Organization reported today it's the strongest sign yet that the epidemic is subsiding. In all, more than 8,800 people have died since the outbreak began.
For the first time, the U.S. Senate voted today to approve the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline. The vote was 62 to 36. Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans supporting the project to carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and that prompted appeals from both sides after the vote.
SEN. JOHN HOEVEN, (R) North Dakota: We don't agree on everything, obviously. But there are things we can work on together. And we are working to build the right kind of energy plan for this country to get to energy security. And there will be more work to do, but I hope the president will join with us now in a bipartisan way and sign this legislation.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, (D) Washington: I hope that he vetoes this legislation, because, frankly, I want him to be able to negotiate. I want him to be able to negotiate with this company the terms and agreements by which this pipeline is going to be built. I want him to protect the American economy. I want him to protect the American farmers. And I want him to protect the American environment.
The House and Senate must now reconcile their different versions of the bill before sending it to the president.
And on Wall Street, stocks swung sharply higher after a batch of better reports on corporate earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 225 points to close near 17417; the Nasdaq rose 45 points to 4683; and the S&P 500 added 19 to finish at 2021.
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