Top news: Speaking in Rome during his first trip abroad as secretary of state, John Kerry announced that the United States will more than double its aid to the Syrian opposition and begin sending non-lethal aid directly to the rebels. The announcement came as a disappointment to members of the opposition who had hoped to receive weapons, but it represents a shift in the administration's stance nonetheless. "The U.S. decision to take further steps now is the result of the brutality of superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah," Kerry said on Thursday at a "Friends of Syria" meeting. "President Assad is out of time and must be out of power."
The additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance could include items such as night vision gear, communications equipment, and vehicles, the New York Times reports. The United States will also likely step up efforts to train rebels at a base in the region. Most significantly, however, the assistance will go directly to the Free Syrian Army as opposed to unarmed groups within Syria.
Meanwhile in Aleppo, Syria's second city, rebels captured the historic Umayyad Mosque as heavy fighting raged throughout the city. According to U.N. estimates, at least 70,000 people have died in the 23-month long conflict.
Iran: Following two days of nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers in Almaty, Kazakhstan that failed to yield a comprehensive agreement, U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation that would tighten sanctions on the Islamic Republic. If fully implemented, the New York Times reports, the new measures would amount to a commercial trade embargo.
- U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said Wednesday that the number of refugees fleeing Syria will reach 1 million in less than a month.
- A Bahrain court acquitted two police officers charged in the shooting death of a protester.
- Yemeni tribesmen released a Swiss national who has been held hostage since March 2012.
- A car bomb exploded at a Touareg checkpoint in the northern Malian town of Kidal, killing seven people.
- Anti-government protesters clashed with security forces in Conakry, Guinea Wednesday, leaving more than 50 people injured.
- A bus crash near the town of Mwingi in eastern Kenya killed at least 35 people.
- The Thai government agreed on Thursday to begin peace talks with Muslim BRN rebels.
- Japan's government nominated Haruhiko Kuroda, the current head of the Asian Development Bank, to be the next central bank governor.
- Chinese authorities arrested five Tibetans for allegedly recruiting people to carry out self-immolations.
- The Mexican government estimated that 26,122 people have gone missing in the country since December 2006.
- A court in Mexico charged Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the country's powerful teachers' union, with using illicit funds and conspiracy.
- Argentine lawmakers approved plans to set up a truth commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires.
- Italy's post-election political crisis deepened Wednesday when two different party leaders rejected possible coalition alliances.
- EU officials agreed to a provisional deal to cap bank bonuses.
- Pope Benedict in his final day in office pledged "unconditional" obedience to the next pontiff.